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The Worst is the Best

Published: 21 Nov 2008 - 21:35 by raystrach

Updated: 22 Nov 2008 - 08:07

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I am the type of Squash player who is constantly working on his game. Trying to become a better player. I am sure many people believe I am too hard on myself.

Be that as it may, it has resulted in me coming from the point of near hopelessness to the point of permanent hopefulness. Whatever that may be.

Talking to some squash colleague last night, I realised that it has been almost 4 years since I started to try to get into competitive Squash again after years of injury. Those four years have been mainly 2 steps forward one step back.

Back in my twenties and early thirties, it would take me a two or three months to get fit, now it takes years. However, you will all be pleased to know that I purchased a bike a couple of months ago and sold the car. Now I ride down to Squash about 3 times a week (about 16klms return) and that is having a very positive effect on my fitness.

Whilst the riding sometimes has a negative effect on how i am feeling, overall, I can now have long rallies if I have to and not feel that I am going to expire at any minute. All the work I have done is starting to pay off!

But I have found the biggest adjustment that I have had to make is the mental change. Learning how to rally again and  trying to be more patient against better opponents is something that I had lost the art of. Having the confidence to be able to do that and still feel that you can win, is something that I have found that i have had to re learn.

For the past 5 or 6 weeks, I have felt that I had made some improvement ot my overall game. I had high hopes of doing well in the local club championships. But instead of playing well, I was beaten for the first time by someone who I was finding it easy to beat.

A combination of looking forward too much to the next match, good play by Clinton, my opponent, and a certain amount of choking on my part saw me crash and burn, having been comprehensively outplayed.

I learnt a lot from that match and put into practice a couple of weeks ago at a masters tournament. After starting off well in the final, leading two games to nil, it all started to unravell. My mind went on me and you guessed it - crash and burn. I could not keep control of my emotions, I lost my cool and lost the match.

The following night, I played the region's number 1 player and while both of us were a little down (i am not used to playing a number of matches on consecutive days, he was not used to getting on the grog for a week for the melbourne cup carnival), we started off with a really tough first game.

Problem was, we get near the end of the game, and instead of digging in and making it tough, I handed it to him on a platter. Here we go again, I thought.

But no!

I had been working on some techniques to help me calm down and to focus on what was important. I finally started getting into a really good between point routine.

  • Split second summary of the previous rally and my overall plan
  • Then thinking about nothing - yes nothing until the time I was to serve or receive
  • Focus on the ball as I was serving, receiving it

I had previously practiced this routine about 15 years ago when I was coming back from an extended lay off. All of a sudden, all the things I associated with that routine started to come back to me.

  • I was worrying less about the opponent
  • I was watching the ball better
  • I was more patient
  • I was less emotional
  • I was playing tough!!

I did end up losing the match in five very tough sets, but it was the first time I had taken a game off  Wayne, the victor.  It was really good to see him under pressure for a change. I did not play brilliantly, but I played patiently, which was my plan.  I had made more progress.

Finally, in the last few days, I had to play Clinton again in the final of the local team league. I had a very hard bike ride the previous day and was not feeling great. He started really well and took every advantage, taking the first game easily. I fought back in the second, but lost concentration at the end of the game, allowing him to take a two nil lead.

It was not looking good in the third as he took the first 4 points in the game, but I was not the same player of a few weeks ago, when in a similar position, I reacted with all the wrong decisions. This time, some of the calmness that I had been developing over the past few weeks returned - I was aware of what I had to do and what I must not do.

That calmness and awareness saw me through the third, blitz the fourth and then stay steady in a close fifth game to take the match. A month ago I would have lost the match in 3, instead I won in five.

I did not play particularly well at any stage of the match, but that is what makes it pleasing. Previously I could play brilliantly or abysmally. I did not think much of my own standard knowing that the gulf between the two standards was so great.

Now at least I know I can still play ordinarily, but still maintain a reasonable level of play despite it all. I have proven to myself that I can now fnd other ways of winning.

Although I know I am still not playing all that well, my own opinion of my standard has gone way up. The measure of a player is not how well or poorly they play when they are playing well, but how well they play when they are playing poorly.

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From mike - 22 Nov 2008 - 08:07

Sometimes winning has nothing to do with how well you're playing. It can be an almost separate battle to the actual mechanics of the game. As you describe Ray it can simply be a decision not to accept a loss before you've actually lost.

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