Ron Beck © 2004 , Acton
MA USA. March 2004:
the first installment, I introduced you
to the mental side of squash with a few different types of examples.
This column will talk about getting your mind focused inside the
court, on the game.
walk around a squash tournament and instead of watching the matches
going on inside the court, let's observe the players who have matches
coming up later in the evening. What are they doing to get their
"head into the game" - to get themselves totally focused
on the match?
to any squash player - in fact any athlete - and they will tell
you that this is one of the most critical, and one of the most elusive
aspects of being successful in competition. No player can tell you
for sure how they will play the next day, or an hour from now, or
five minutes from now. The most successful athletes have worked
out a routine and approach that works most successfully for them.
And its a surprisingly individual exercise. To succeed you need
to intellectualize a few key elements:
performance doesn't just happens, you have to prepare for it mentally.
need to have an individual method that works for you, that you
understand, that is repeatable, that is not dependent on another
certain person (for example a coach, partner, parent) being present.
begins sometimes weeks in advance - your mental state on the day
of the match may depend on your self confidence about your preparations.
You can control this by maximizing those preparations.
environment (crowd, court conditions, time of day, temperature)
can impact your performance; do everything you can to mentally
prepare for the environment in advance.
for a specific opponent. Scout how your opponent will act on court,
and mentally prepare for his tactics, gamesmanship, approach.
can impact your opponent's mental focus. Be aware of this, and
also of your opponent's ability to impact your mental focus.
go back to that walk around the squash tournament. First let's go
to a pro tournament. Jonathon Power is up next. What's he doing?
First of all, he's alone. That's an important ingredient for success
for many (BUT NOT ALL) players. Jonathon want it all internal. Second
of all, he's under the grandstand. That's Power's favorite place
- under the stands. I think it accomplishes a few things for him.
First, noone will think to look for him under the stands. So he
gets the solitude he wants to concentrate. Second, he can't see
the court from under the stands. So he won't get distracted by what's
happening on court. Third he's stretching. Most top players go through
an extensive set of warmups, from stretching to jogging to sprinting,
to make sure they're ready for peak performance at the opening bell.
Peter Nicol. He's got a different approach — Peter is up in
the stands. He's already done all his stretching and warmups in
the locker room. So its invisible to his opponents and the fans.
Now he's in the stands talking to well wishers and watching the
previous match. Evidently, he's looking for a different preparation
experience — by chatting with fans he relaxes from the pressure
and tension to come. By watching the court, he gets mentally in
tune with the flight of the ball, the tempo on court. He takes in
the audience, the environment.
to a junior tournament. There are a lot of different strategies
going on here. The most popular one is the headphones and the CD
player. Many players find that the music can psych them up and tune
players coaches are anxious to speak to their charges before they
play. Is that the right thing? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the
we have a few observations to work from.
to develop your own personal approach. It might be taking a shower
before your match. It might be a walk outside. It might be a very
repetitive routine. It might be arriving a specific amount of time
before your match. It might be warming up on the court an hour in
advance. It might be talking to your opponent. It might be staying
away from your opponent. It might be putting your clothes on in
a particular order.
approaches until you discover how to empty your mind of everything
except the match upcoming.
such a routine, lets go through a few essential elements in YOU
developing your PERSONAL methodology for focusing on squash.
enough Sleep. This may seem like a strange one to start with.
But absolutely this is critical. Without sleep your mental focus
can't be at its best during your game or match. Especially if
you have traveled to a tournament — you are out of your
normal routine; it's especially easy to miss the sleep you need.
If your mental confidence depends on fitness, for example, do
the preparation weeks ahead and imprint those in your mind. Whatever
your training entails - windsprints, court sprints, mile runs,
pressure drills. Do them. And think about your upcoming game.
Then when you are preparing for the match; run this through your
mind. One successful strategy I often used was to compare my current
situation with my training. It works both ways. When training,
I would visualize playing against a key opponent, telling myself,
for example, "run this stretch harder now, I'm in the fifth
game against ___ it's 8-8...". When in the match, "I
can't really be tired now, I've run a mile a day for three weeks,
this is nothing..." Fitness is just one example. Maybe it's
practicing your serve so you feel confident using a particular
serve for variety in a critical moment.
for your environment. The courts, the temperature the
crowd. If you know you are going to be playing in front of a crowd
rooting for your opponent, prepare for that in advance. Think
about it. Focus on knowing it. Focus on overcoming it. If the
courts are playing a particular way - for example very lively,
think that through in advance. What elements of your game will
work well on a lively court? Which won't? What about your opponent's
game? If you can get access to the court you will be playing on
ahead of time, absolutely get onto the court and get used to exactly
how it plays in advance.
for your opponent.
Do you know your opponent? Have you played him/her before? Did
you win or lose last time? Why? Focus on three things: (1) What
will your opponent do to beat you (shots, pace, tactics), (2)
What can you do to take your opponents strengths away from him
(control pace, control use of the court, tactics), (3) What are
your strengths and how can you impose those? If you can, watch
your opponent in a previous match. Analyze his/her tendancies.
Does she always hit a cross court off of a forehand drop, etc.
your game plan. Keep your game plan simple. Go over it
again and again. Have a specific plan for the situation when you
want to close out a game and for the situation when you stand
way behind in a game.
your opponent's mental preparation. Your own body-language,
mental focus and mental self confidence can put a dent in your
opponent's confidence. The best way to put doubt in your opponent's
mind is to put all doubt out of yours.
believe that you can and will win. Anyone can win on
any given day. All the best preparations (outlined above) can
maximize your chances. I really fail to understand any player
who steps on court not believing they can win.
on, to explore the next installment of the mental aspects of
the game of squash: Developing your game plan]
[or return to Mental Game - Overview]