26 December 2022 / 4-Min Read
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This article was inspired by a tweet by Aaron Walsh. It starts with "Potentially unpopular take: we overestimate the importance of the mental side of performance while simultaneously under-training it." and goes on to say that most coaches don't include it in their training. I'm not going to respond directly to the tweet in the article, but it did get me thinking that many club squash players might not even know what things are considered "Mindset".
This is not going to be an exhaustive list, partly because I'm not qualified to give one and partly because all I want to do is make you aware of how much our mind influences our performance. In addition, I am not going to delve deeply into each point because this is an overview article, not a specifics one.
Some coaches might say that including this in a list of mindset points is overstretching the definition, and I would respond by saying that for me, almost everything outside of the physical aspects is mindset. At its core, shot selection is decision making. I believe nearly all club players could win more matches if they simply made better decisions. That's not to say they shouldn't improve their skill and fitness, it's just that most are making the right decisions based on their skill and fitness level. Here is my Brief Introduction To Shot Selection which may help you make better squash decisions.
I didn't start playing squash until I was 15 years old, but even if I had started much earlier I don't think I would have made a top pro because I was never very good at controlling my nerves. I've lost too many matches purely because of this mental aspect of squash. if you don't play competitive squash, it's no problem, but as soon aas you enter local graded tournaments, inter-club team leagues or even just internal leagues, not managing your nerves can be the difference between success and failure.
Match and tournament preparation should include some form of mental training or at the very least relaxation. Believe it or not, I also suffered from what I call the "Don't care" attitude. I would swing from feeling a match was the most important thing in the universe to not caring if I won or lost. I needed some sensible middle ground.
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Some club players become fixated on venue or court issues. Squash courts vary more than other racket sports, at least I believe so, and consequently they can have a serious effect on how we perform. I have seen a few players beat themselves before a ball has been struck, by creating negative thoughts about the temperature of the court "It's too hot for my game" or "that ceiling is too low", bot of which might be partially true, but deciding you are going to play badly before you even have started is not good mental preparation.
Another aspect is how club players deal with broken strings or rackets. Some become so focused on having to sue a different racket that it takes over the whole thought process. One of the things I used to do in clinics and training squads, is give everybody an aluminium racket for 30 minutes and see who didn't complain and who did.
What is important about these things is how we respond. Being adaptable and positive is often more important than the situations themselves.
Ever watched a training montage or some video of another person training and then get motivated to train yourself? Of course you have. We don't always have motivation, which is why discipline is so important, but there's a simple trick you can do to help stay motivated and that's to watch, read or listen to things that motivate you. It might be the trumpets of the Rocky tune, or the image of a person running in the rain, it doesn't matter what it is, but use it. use it consciously and regularly.
I think the bets example of this concept is the boxer who has a photo of his next opponent taped to a mirror. It reminds him of why he is doing his training and of his goal.
Talking of goals, compared to pros, club players don't set enough objectives. By the way, the word we use for something to aim for is not important for most people. I don't expect club players to have a lot of goals set, but having something to aim for will improve your training and performance. I recently wrote about Setting Yourself Monthly Tactical Targets that are not related to success or failure, just focusing on condition games.
There are plenty of good guides available for free on the internet, and I highly recommend you spend some time learning and implementing goal setting if you really want to become a better squash player.
Being motivated to training and improve is great, but in the middle of a really close match, where you feel you are at the edge of your fitness, that final mental toughness to keep fighting is so important. Just like natural talent, some people have natural mental toughness and others don't, but you can develop what you have.
As with Goals, there are plenty of resources on the internet to help you develop this aspect of your squash mental training.
Nearly everybody gets injured during their time playing sport. Sometimes it's because we don't heat up properly before we play, other times it's just bad luck. How you approach an injury is important. Some immediately stop playing and do what they can to minimise the situation, others think that stopping is "for whimps" and continue, only yo make the injury worse. Some try to see a specialist if they suspect it's serious, others do nothing and hope for the best - Yes, I recognise sometimes there is a cost involved in seeing a medical professional, but often it's the attitude that defines the action, not the cost.
Then there is the post-injury situation. Some players take action to prevent its reoccurrence, while others carry on as before. Some do strength, stretching and other training, other don't care. Which type of person are you?'
Following on from injuries, but also related to it, is how we deal with adversity. Sometimes we train well, we train hard, we train effectively, but we still lose. In training our shots are great, but in a match we suck. There could be many reasons for this, but ultimately what is important is our response to this adversity. Some go into a downward spiral that takes weeks or even months to recover from, other accept that we can't always play our best and try to remain focused on the positive.
Squash isn't a team sport. Yes, there are competitions where you are part of a team, but not in the same way as football, rugby, basketball, or hockey. For some, that's great (me), for others that might not be so good. You might enjoy or even need the interaction with other players. That feeling that you are all working together for success.
I'm an only-child, so being alone or doing things alone is natural for me. Perhaps it's one reason why I love solo drills so much. Learning to be a "one-man mission" can be difficult for some.
To reach your potential, you need coaching. Some people are more coachable than others. Some people are open to new ideas and ways to improve, others are very fixed and set in their ways. The term "coachability" is used a lot in team sports where players are evaluated and judged. Being selected to join a team can depend on your coachability.
In squash, that aspect of coachability is not so important, but being able to get the maximum from coaching can be. How coachable are you? Is it something you can improve?
As sports performers, we self-talk all the time. Some players make an effort to learn how to effectively self-talk, others don't even believe its important. Managing your internal dialogue can be crucial to performance. Not just controlling any negative thoughts, but also controlling your positive ones. We can easily jump from 7-5 in the final game to imagining ourselves at 11-5 and forgetting we actually have to win those four points first (I am very guilty of that!).
Sorry to keep repeating myself, but again, there are lost of resources available on the internet for improving your self-talk - go check them out.
This is another area that amateur club players could really improve their understanding and use of. I've written about visualisation before as well as making a video about it. Put simply, it's imagining various situations in your mind's eye and learning from that process. It can be used in getting more ball control, dealing with nerves and adversity, plus any other aspect of mentality in sport. Used extensively in professional sport, it's possibly the biggest area of amateur sport waiting to be exploited.
Remember, this is not an extensive or detailed list. I just want to to become aware that the mental aspect in sport is much bigger than just being in the right mood the moment before an important match.
My objective for this article is to introduce you to the different aspects of mindset and also to try to encourage you to take it a little more seriously. Playing sport for recreation is wonderful, and I am not trying to turn everybody into a professional, but those among you who are ambitious need to understand that addressing the mental side of sport is needed for success.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions regarding squash mindset, send me an email and I will do my best to help.
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