Tournament play can be very taxing both mentally and physically ...
There are several difficult matches spaced out throughout a day and throughout the weekend. There are spectators and crowds that can be distracting or nerve-wracking depending on what you are used to. There could be people there you haven’t seen for a while that wish to catch up and socialize, as well as individuals that may want you to see their matches and give advice.
The food provided might not be available when you need it, or it may not be what you need to properly fuel your body. Depending on where the tournament is, you may not be sleeping in your own bed or have the comfort and convenience that home offers.
All of these factors affect game play. If you wish to perform well and have goals of success at a tournament (or tournaments), it is essential to prepare accordingly.
Now, how does one prepare? It is a personal thing, and you need to figure out what works best for you. That said; there are some basics that should be taken into consideration with the two vital buckets being Physical and Mental.
BUCKET 1 = PHYSICAL
Everyone knows that squash is physically demanding at the best of times. Training to be fit enough to play multiple matches and ensure you can recover between games is par for the course.
- Trust that you have done the proper pre-work for fitness and endurance.
- The key to the physical part of the tournament is the RECOVERY.
- The keys to recovery are - REST. HYDRATION. NUTRITION.
Lack of sleep can have significant negative effects on performance and recovery. It can slow the body down physically as well as cognitively (you need to move and think in squash). Making sure you are getting proper sleep leading up to a tournament can help prepare the body as well as the mind.
Rest doesn’t only mean sleep it also refers to taking a body break. Leading up to the tournament, take at least the day before off of squash. Do some solo drills and light hitting to keep the confidence up, but if you can avoid the hard grinding matches a day or two before the tournament, your body will thank you!
The week of the tournament make sure you are hydrating. Take in less sodium and less alcohol and drink LOTS and LOTS of water. Proper hydration helps reduce the soreness that you will feel after hard matches. Staying hydrated during the tournament will also help reduce stiffness. Finally, make sure you are drinking enough water after your matches to replenish the fluids lost during your games.
It’s true, you are what you eat. Consume crap, perform like crap.
In other words, eat well. Skip the processed and fast foods. Instead, fuel your body with whole foods with high nutritional value. You will have the proper energy required for high-intensity aerobic and anaerobic activity, as opposed to the quick burn and burn out energy of processed food. Make sure you also pack food to have with you. As noted above, you may not be able to tap into the food available at the tournament due to match times, or food options. I always have several protein bars, apples, bananas, etc. in my bag that I can tap into if and when needed to maintain the fuel required to perform.
BUCKET 2 = MENTAL
Now that we have the physical basics covered, we can tap into the mental portion of preparing for a tournament.
As much as squash can be mentally demanding, tournament play is even more draining. There is something about the intensity and environment that can make a seemingly regular match feel very wearing. Call it nerves if you wish or tension; the fact of the matter is that tournament play amplifies our internal personal pressures and expectations of performance (even if we are consciously unaware of them – they are there).
How do you counterbalance the additional fatigue of amplified expectations and nerves? Know that it is coming! Once you are aware of the intensification, you can offset it.
Have a routine that you know relaxes you. It could be listening to music or sitting in a dark silent room. It could be meditating or going for a walk, or simply some deep breathing. Whatever it is that gives you a sense of calm, practice that and be able to tap into it. Calm the mind and reduce the surrounding clutter. Not only is this routine important to do before a tournament, but also after your matches. This should be part of your warm down to reset your frame of mind. There are a great deal of distractions at a tournament; matches to watch, people to socialize with entertainment and events etc., etc. My advice is to carve out some down time for yourself before and after your matches to get the mind focused and prepared.
If you have been to the host location before, visualize the courts - see the environment. Put yourself there and get comfortable with it. If you have never been, perhaps look it up on the web to get a visual sense of the layout etc. Having a sense of a place and layout can help reduce potential anxiety.
When visualizing match play, make sure you add people to the crowd, those who will be cheering for you as well as your opponent. This will help prepare you for extra bodies and extra noise outside the court.
Last but not least, when visualizing your match see yourself in success mode. See yourself making winning shots. A positive mindset will help you be more confident and more confidence provides the right frame of mind required for squash, that ever so difficult combination of “Calm, Energized, Patient and Attacking”.
Squash is an exciting and challenging game, which is only further exaggerated by a tournament environment. Knowing how to deal with this environment and the emotions that competition can create will help you be more successful at tournaments.
The competition season is heating up.
Dip into both the MENTAL & PHYSICAL buckets for a little sip of help!
Squash Pro & Program Director
Brantford Movati Athletic