Win Or Lose, Make Sure You Learn

Have you heard the phrase "Win or learn"? I don't agree with it and let me explain why.

03 August 2023 / 4-Min Read / Translate

Awareness is very important in improvement. Getting better requires you to look at what you are doing and make changes. A lot of club squash players, play matches and hope that somehow they get better. They do this because when you first start to play a sport, that's often the way it works. But not after a certain point in standard.

But what is that "certain standard" I just mentioned? Well, I can't say for sure because it depends on a lot of factors. It probably occurs when a player can hit nearly all of the shots in squash, move around fairly effectively and notice different playing styles of their opponents. At that point training other than just playing is required.

There is something to learn from every match and the idea that you can only learn if you lose is misjudged. The difference between winning and losing could be just two points (yes, I know that's unlikely: 11-9, 11-9, 9-11, 9-11, 11-9 is highly unlikely, but still possible). It's not who wins or loses that decides whether you learn or not, it's your awareness. Do you honestly think you you would learn much if you lost 0-11, 0-11, 0-11? I don't. The same if you won 11-0, 11-0, 11-0. Unless you are put under-pressure, it's difficult to see what needs improving.

As a quick side note: there's a difference between learning and improving. Learning might mean realising that your forehand straight drop is too high. Improving means practicing so that you hit it lower in matches.

As I was just saying about pressure, it's the close points that really matter. The points where you made silly mistakes or made less-than-optimum shot selection. Those are the points that open your eyes to existing issues or possible opportunities to improve. The matches that push you to your limits are the ones that bring the biggest opportunities to learn.

None of that "learning" and "improving" happen without reflection and analysis. Playing in close matches, either winning or losing, and simply forgetting about it, brings very little. You actually need to spend time thinking about the match. Some players have the ability to remember the crunch points (often where you can learn the most) and objectively assess what happened. It's generally the last few shots of each rally that really count - the previous ones are just the build up to those actions.

Others don't. Myself included. I can't remember anything from matches, except the strangest non-important things - like the time I scrapped my knee retrieving a drop shot and only realised because I had blood on my T-shirt near my shoulder (yes, strange, I know). That's why recording matches and watching them a day or so later can bring so many benefits. I often hear "But I'm not a coach Phillip, how can I analyse myself?". Well, often patterns or shot selection choices ARE obvious when you watch the match. I am not expecting you to notice the finer details of technique, just patterns and critical mistakes.

Make it a habit to spend some time after a close or important match to reflect on what happened. That action will begin a process of becoming more aware of what happens on court. But there's more. Actually write down, either with pen and paper or electronically, the things you noticed. That reflection could be performed in a few ways: watching the video, replaying some things in your mind and talking with somebody who watched it. Use that information to adjust your gameplan in future or make changes to training. Observation without action is almost a waste of time..

Final Thoughts

Nobody enjoys losing. Many successful people use it as motivation for improvement. In addition to motivation, use the experience to learn about your squash, both the physical and mental aspect, then use that knowledge to update your training plan so that you can turn knowledge into progress.

From this point forward, walk onto the court and say to yourself "Whatever happens in the next 45 minutes, I will give 100% AND I will learn".

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