Archive for the 'Squash Tips' Category

September 13th

For some, the number 13 is unlucky, not for me. In fact it’s a very special number.

When it comes to sports psychology, there is a fine line between rituals and superstitions and what I call “routines” for success. The former create a false sense of certainty (with no benefit) whereas well designed “routines” significantly improve your chance for success because YOU control them and they are directly tied to the outcome you want.

A superstition can be:

  • Not walking on the white lines of a tennis court after a rally is over
  • Placing your water/juice bottles with the labels all facing one direction
  • Not leaving the squash court without hitting a nick
  • Always being the last player on or off the court
  • Tying and untying your shoes 3 times each time you put them on

A routine can be:

  • Making sure you have no less than 3 wristbands in your sports bag
  • Having 3 or 4 rackets strung at the same tension
  • Warming up for 15 minutes at least an hour before your match
  • Getting up 2 or 3 hours before a morning match to be fully awake.
  • Taking the time to tie your shoes properly

When superstitions get out of hand, you’ll slip into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)… That is something you want to avoid at all costs. It IS preventable, but breaking the superstitions as soon as they “Start”.

Coaches and parents should STOP this behaviour immediately in young, junior players who don’t fully understand the long-term ramifications of developing OCD tendencies. Many top players now afflicted with OCD readily admit (in their published biographies) that they shouldn’t have started them in the first place, but are now “stuck” with them.

 

 

 

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Minutes make a difference

If you weren’t sure if practicing makes a difference, here is an interesting chart showing that minutes make a difference.

Minutes-hours-in-a-day-chart

Of course if you are going to practice, you need to use Deliberate Practice techniques to make sure you are improving while you are practicing.

Practice does NOT make perfect – Practice makes permanent.

Only perfect practice makes perfect

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Turning negative self talk into positive affirmations

Negative self talk is hard to stop, but at least now you have a fun way to stop it!

Sports psychologists have known for decades that the mind can:

  1. Only have one thought at a time and
  2. It cannot focus on the REVERSE of an idea or thought.

What that means if you are a squash player, is that if you say “don’t tin the ball, or don’t choke or don’t boast“, the brain only hears “tin the ball, or choke or boast.”

You need to replace your negative statements with positive affirmation statements, as suggested below.

Worrying

 

Negative self talk Positive Affirmation
Damn it! OK, next point.
F$@##$#%#!!! FOCUS!
Idiot /Stupid C’mon, you can do better!
Bad shot Think of the RIGHT shot
Shot is too good Next time I will be ready
Can’t get there I almost got to it
Lucky shot I’m next to get lucky
Bad call (by the ref) The next call will go my way
No let?!?!? Next time I will strike the ball
Stroke?!?!? OK now I know how he’s calling it (the ref)
It was up! I know it was up, the next time he will too!
(Serve called down/out) Focus – this is an EASY error to fix!
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Negative Self Talk: Stop It!

I recently presented mental toughness strategies at the East Coast Squash Academy‘s Adult Squash camp organised by squash professional Aaron Frankcomb at Willoughby Squash Club in Sydney. Attended by a wide range of squash players, it became quite obvious that squash is a very demanding sport physically and technically where attention to stroke execution, shot selection and court movement can provide beneficial results.

While focusing on technical improvement can yield incremental results over time, today’s lesson can produce INSTANT results and in some extreme cases, a quantum leap forward!

Please watch this video and then scroll down.

The next time you are on the squash court and hear yourself talking negatively about something you just did or that just happened…

STOP IT!

Think back to this video as your pattern interrupt.

The first step is to Stop it – then you will need to replace the negative self-talk with something positive.

Sports psychologists have known for decades that the mind can (1) only have one thought at a time and (2) it cannot focus on the REVERSE of an idea or thought. What that means is that if you say “don’t tin the ball, or don’t choke or don’t boast“, the brain only hears “tin the ball, or choke or boast.”

First things first – Stop It and come back to this blog for more on how to replace negative self talk with positive self affirmations. There are a few “tricks” to getting this right…

Just like today’s distinction – most players don’t know this stuff!

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Games are won or lost mentally or technically

I recently presented mental toughness strategies at the East Coast Squash Academy‘s Adult Squash camp organised by squash professional Aaron Frankcomb at Willoughby Squash Club in Sydney. Attended by a wide range of squash players, it became quite obvious that squash is a very demanding sport physically and technically where attention to stroke execution, shot selection and court movement can provide beneficial results.

Many players readily admit the mental side of the game is something they struggle with, in large part because they don’t know much about it and also because once they do learn about it, implementation is a very personal thing.

The first step in adopting what I call the Mindset Of A Champion is the admission that games are won or lost either technically or mentally.

Once that has been realised, then a player can start to self-assess him/herself on both dimensions.

Determining which one will yield the quickest result is simple.

Think back to your most recent match. How many points did you lose because of mental lapses (choking, nervousness, poor shot selection, going for a winner when under pressure, missing a shot you can easily make, tinning ‘easy’ shots, etc.) versus technical errors (poor racket preparation, no follow through, incorrect contact point, improper racket head speed, hitting the ball off-centre ball on the strings, etc.)

Chances are, quantum leaps are available to you with mental toughness training.

The benefit of mental toughness training is that it is often EASIER and QUICKER to improve mentally than it is physically. Technical improvements can take weeks and months to become natural within your “muscle memory” whereas mental strategies can have an IMMEDIATE impact as of your next game, match or tournament.

The first step is for you to determine how many mental mistakes you are making, as a percentage of the points you are losing…

Do that and stay tuned for future blog posts that will start to lay the groundwork for mental toughness within the context of the Mindset Of A Champion.

Not sure how to determine if a point was lost mentally or technically? Here is an example from this year’s 2014 Australian Open Tennis Championship. The last 2 points played by Novak Djokovic… that cost him the match in the fifth set.

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Can you tie your shoe laces?

Can you tie your shoe laces? Are you sure? Watch this TED TALK video and you might realise you are part of the 80-90% who don’t tie their shoe laces correctly!

It’s totally normal to wonder why a video on tying your shoelaces would be on a blog dedicated to the Mindset Of A Champion…

The reason is simple: A Champion makes sure he/she eliminates ALL sources of error or potential problems. The all-time greatest Basketball Coach John Wooden would teach ALL his new recruits how to tie their shoe laces as part of their initiation because in his words “the last thing I want is to lose a point because your shoe laces come untied at the worst possible moment.”

Without becoming superstitious, you can establish a disciplined regimen to remove as many imponderables as possible. For example, I cut about 4″ or 10 cm off my squash shoe laces IMMEDIATELY when I unpack them from the box. I have 3 to 4 shoes that I rotate at any given time so that I am never stuck competing or training intensively with new shoes that aren’t broken in.

These are some of the many details that make a difference.

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From breaking rackets to breaking strings

Today’s discussion is one of those topics that appears self-evident but really isn’t – to most people.

That is, the transition from one performance level to the next.

As a squash player, I’ve transitioned from breaking rackets to breaking strings. With the level of intensity and high frequency of play, I used to break more rackets than strings. As I was acquiring my skills, I would often hit and scrape the wall as I got to more balls and played increasingly better players.

Without the consistency in my racket skills, the contact point with the ball would vary widely on the racket strings. Eventually, the racket frame would give way and a replacement racket had to be purchased.

In 2010, that changed. With increased focus and attention on my racket skills, I stopped hitting/scraping the wall and the contact point with the ball narrowed to become the center of the racket (sweet spot). You can see it in the centre of the blue racket.

Squash Racket, Sweet Spot

That meant I started to break more strings than rackets. At one point, I was re-stringing rackets every week! (Averaging 10-15 hours of play with brand new strings!)

That’s when I raised my game to the next level – hitting with 60-80% pace instead of “bashing the ball” at 80-90-100%. It’s a widely held (false) belief that hitting hard and faster is better…

There are multiple lessons to be learned – the sports lesson is that if you are a competitive athlete, you need to assess where you’re at. I discussed this with my squash coach. We purposefully focused on improving my racket skills and strokes – primarily with direction to the ball and foot placement.

Many (most?) athletes are not aware of the distinctions involved here and therefore have no clue where they are nor where they should be.

The most important lesson to become a champion in sport or business is to…

Establish what I call Management By Metrics. Specific targets and milestones and focus on improvement. In today’s blog post, it’s about breaking fewer rackets and more strings, not to save money because it’s a trade off and about the same price when it all works itself out.

Management By Metrics requires that:

  • You determine WHAT you’re measuring and
  • WHY you’re monitoring that specific characteristic.

Once the measurement takes place, then you can gauge, assess and analyse progress or development.

Without measurement, you’re blind and hoping for the best. You won’t be a champion in sport with that approach and you certainly won’t have an optimally profitable business without systems and procedures in place to create SPECIFIC OUTCOMES.

Too many people still believe that champions are born rather than made. Champions are made – manufactured with metrics.

Every single Champion’s biography reveals (at least some of) the secrets that made the SUPERIOR at what they did.

The key is for you to identify where you are to close the gap between that and where you want to be.

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Lessons from a champion

Mindset Of A Champion, Jahangir Khan, Squash Book, Rahmat Khan, Squash CoachingI recently visited a bookstore in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast (Australia), which has a great collection of used books, and found the ultimate squash classic by World Champion Jahangir Khan aptly named Winning Squash.

Once you’ve mastered the basic strokes and court movement principles, as an elite squash player, you need to get into “A Champion Mindset” as often as you can.

What I picked up from Winning Squash was Jahangir’s reliance on his cousin Rahmat Khan’s coaching skills and abilities. As a top squash player, reaching world #12 and a Khan, he understood and appreciated what it takes to be a champion.

Without a mentor, coach, friend and advisor, there is no doubt in my mind (or Jahangir’s) that his achievements would have been much less prolific than they were.

The key for any aspiring athlete is to get multiple points of view and then choose ONE that works. Listen, obey and respect that ONE voice. That ONE direction. That one FORCE.

Otherwise what happens is you get splintered into multiple, divergent directions and lose momentum and confidence. Confidence makes a big difference in a quick-response sport like squash. With mere fractions of a second to choose a shot (or return), the brain needs to feel it’s capable of pushing the envelope to select the best shot to make, instantly calculating the risk/reward ratios involved.

The second and almost as important revelation was Jahangir’s training regimen and mental focus. I expected this from the all-time-best squash player, but what I found interesting was how much of it was ‘trusting the coaching process’.

Even back then (the book was published in 1985), Jahangir noticed that young players had difficulty succumbing to authority (elders, teachers and coaches). I can attest to that with adults of all ages. There is something inherently arrogant with athletes who think “they know it all” even though they continue to languish in the “B” leagues.

Being coachable is a trait all champions possess. They recognise the need to have an outside perspective that focuses on them from a much more objective viewpoint with a set of skills designed and developed to extract the best from them.

You can’t be ON the court AND watch the game at the same time. Each has a role and responsibility to the process of creating and sustaining excellence. Today’s elite athlete has to invest in the best technology and training which now includes psychological training well beyond the traditional visualisation and pre-match preparation techniques.

Winning Squash is a classic – it captured the essence of the Champion Of All Champions – Jahangir Khan – at his apex of achievement.

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Intensity: How Much is Enough? Too Much?

In peak training phases, Michael Phelps will swim at least 80,000 meters a week, nearly 50 miles. That includes two practices a day, sometimes three when he was training at altitude.

All elite athletes face the dilemma: How much is enough versus too much?

Most athletes however it’s a case of too little and too infrequently.

Too often, there is a reluctance to going full-on with training when it’s the fastest and usually the safest way to create breakthroughs.

Intensity, Focus, Drive, Determination, Sports Psychology, Champion Mindset, Mindset Of A Champion

The challenge is knowing WHAT to do to push yourself beyond your current limits into a new realm of possibility. Unless you “up” the intensity, you’re simply not going to get those all-important quantum leaps you want.

Depending on your sport and level of proficiency, intensity can means doubling your on-court time, doubling or tripling your running or swimming distance, increasing your gym visits, yoga or aerobics classes to 2/day instead of 3/week…

You are the best judge of what ‘intensity’ means to you – one thing is for sure, you need to go beyond your comfort zone – ideally to total exhaustion (without injury or pain) or as close to it as you can.

What you’ll quickly realise is that you’re capable of much more than you’re currently doing.

What set Michael Phelps apart from all other swimmers is that he aimed to become the best swimmer HE could become.

Michael Phelps and his coach NEVER set any limits. His autobiographical book’s title reveals his and his coach’s mindset “No Limits“.

My message to you today is simple and straightforward – what limits have you placed on your training or playing?

What time limits?

What frequency limits?

What intensity limits?

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Get to it somehow and hammer it somewhere

Every once in a while someone comes up with a saying that encapsulates what you need to be doing – succinctly and elegantly.

Today’s blog post is short and sweet – for racket sport athletes as Chester Barnes, a table tennis champion said “get to it somehow and hammer it somewhere!

Champion Mindset, Mindset Of A Champion, Sports Psychology

There are two parts to this – Doing whatever it takes to get to the ball and then doing something with it.

Easier said than done!

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