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Losing your head

Published: 29 Nov 2008 - 21:39 by aprice1985

Updated: 29 Jan 2009 - 15:13

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I need help with what seems to be a mental block in my squash.  In practice games and friendlies i can play deep shots well, that is how i win them, when i go out to play a ladder/league match it all just falls apart, every shot clips the wall or falls short leaving my opponent an easy kill, i then get angry at myself, try to avoid throwing racquets (generally successful until recently), get angry at myself for being angry and never quite manage to get out of the rut.  This is worst when i play people i know i should beat and could if i played deep, people with poor technique but a good reading of the game so to speak.  Any help?

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From raystrach - 05 Dec 2008 - 21:51

hi aprice

the point you made about running over things time and again and not being able to put them out of your mind is the key to it all. as for changing behaviour easily, it isn't. it can take years of practice but this is where the mechanical processing comes in.

you need to learn the triggers of your unwanted behaviour. we can all do it in the cold light of day, but when under pressure in a squash match, it is much harder. this is where the visualisation comes in.

you associate certain actions or thoughts with far deeper processes. eg i watch the ball intently on serve to bring myelf away from everything except the task at hand. this is linked to practiced behaviours that i have spent some time in refining.

part of that is to close off the last rally - i do it after a very quick assessment of where i went wrong or right in the rally - it takes about half a second, then i let it pass -it is over! this appears to be a crucial part for you - you want to hang on.

come and lay down on my couch...

  • how do you feel when you start getting annoyed - try to replay those feelings in your head
  • now take steps to erase those feelings and focus on something you need to do
  • pin point your concentration as hard as you can on this need to do action
  • learn to identify the danger signs in a match
  • practice the strategies you have to deal with the anger and frustration
  • when you identify the danger signs in a match, try to implement the strategy to have been using to return from the emotional state to the concentrated state
  • practice and refine the strategy
  • creating routines and cue words associated with the stategy can assist in triggering it
  • part of the thing you need to concentrate on in a match is the preformulated game plan (parts a and b) this has to be the starting point for all that you do

that will be all today. see the receptionist on the way - remember, i only take cash.

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From rippa rit - 05 Dec 2008 - 07:26   -   Updated: 05 Dec 2008 - 07:27

well, when things are coming good for me under pressure, the focus is on the process, eyes very much within the court, definitely not within the opponent, with an almost "burrowing in" feeling of intensity, and if I can sustain that can win 6 or 7 points in a row with great determination.  Sometimes it seems almost as sure as you blink the concentration can break, and the damn process has to start all over again, but usually not until you get some composure.   The worst thing of course is to then lose patience.

Challenging but good character building stuff just the same, yeah!  Forget getting cranky 'cos that does not work.

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From aprice1985 - 05 Dec 2008 - 02:27

Like you Ray i tend to be a bit of a perfectionist over things, it seems to be ingrained in medical students that perfection is a must!  And once we qualify we will all be told it is impossible according to the doctors i know.  I just find it strange, off court I am known for not being emotional in any sense, other than a sick sense of humour!  yet i walk on court and all the barriers seem to just collapse.  The guru seems to have some interesting thoughts about taming the wild dog, having tried CBT style things for other issues I am not convinced that one can change their mental attitudes so easily.  For me a lot of it is not being able to put the poor shots out of my mind, i tend to run them through over and over and just get more annoyed about them each time.  Yes we learn a lot of psychology but very little of it is any use (medically or sportingly!).  I can tell you about stages of grief, effects of long term illness but not how to do anything about it!

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From raystrach - 05 Dec 2008 - 00:03

hi aprice

the mental side of the game is probably the hardest to perfect. it takes a lot of effort to overcome mental weaknesses

like going down to the club to practise, you must also practise your mental game

this old guru article about wild dogs might help -also try the relevant content links to browse similar topics

This recent article about overcoming some of these issues might also be helpful.

the one thing i do know, is that getting upset is very counterproductive and always results in a subpar performance. instead of getting upset about losing, or doing poorly, look for the reasons behind these undesirable outcomes.

i can say with complete confidence, that you need to know yourself better so that you can address the key issues behind the subpar performance.

I have some glaring weaknesses, but work i have been doing over the past 12 months or so is finally starting to pay off and I am bringing myself under control.

identify the times when you are getting upset and work on strategies to change the coursse of history. if you are really serious, write down after each match, the things your beleived contributed to your defeat (including things the opponent did). you might also get a team mate or friend to do the same for you - you might eb surprised how differently he/she saw it.

anyway, work on one or two points at a time and try to get some of those things off each consecutive list. i know how hard it is to do!

by the way, don't  they do any psychology in med school?

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From rippa rit - 30 Nov 2008 - 20:49   -   Updated: 30 Nov 2008 - 20:54

jimbob - this arvo I played table tennis in a singles match.  I knew the opponent's game, she is not an aggressive player but a very consistent retriever and makes few errors, and places the ball well, mostly taking you from one side to the other, takes the ball early which makes you feel rushed, and that is a tremendous strength in her game.  Mind you she could not KILL the ball to save herself.  So I go to a 7:2 lead serving into the backhand corner, and being patient to attack; then all of a sudden I was struggling to keep the lead.  She remarked "you are playing so well" (it was probably an innocent remark but it got to my head) and I felt myself trying to keep up that reputation, but all of a sudden I started to make mistakes, eg tried to change the pattern of play, overhitting, being impatient, going for winners, and I knew that, but the game slipped away and I lost.  My mind got a bit confused, ie should I rally more, should I attack more, can I vary the shots more, and of course that 7:2 lead kept coming back into my mind which did not help either as that meant I was not really focussing on the game at hand. It kind of rattles you to know you can do so well and lose the plot too, so that also keeps coming to your mind.  It does not take much, and then my opponent would laugh and make comments, all things that seems to cut across your concentration. Yes, I played ok in patches but my length of concentration was too short, I am out of practice at really getting in the "zone" and staying there for the whole game, as I play mostly socially these days.  I had too many things cutting across my mine, then I would settle down and win several points in a row, and keep doubles you can get away with flexing in and out of the "zone" but in singles the pressure is on all the time to "keep your head down".  During practice I need to practice concentrating, stop listening to my opponent, focus on what I am doing, keep it simple stupid (KISS rule).

Not sure how much this helps you, but it happens all the time as we wax and wane. I need to play more competitive singles to get "tougher" too.

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From jimbob1965 - 30 Nov 2008 - 09:19   -   Updated: 30 Nov 2008 - 09:23

aprice, I know exactly where you are coming from and you have anticipated a question I have been meaning to ask.  I also tend to play much better in friendlies when the pressure is off.  As Rita has said, it's mainly down to taking your time to play the shot and thinking more, and I definitely feel myself rushing more when I put pressure on myself due to worrying about the result of the match.  Trying to relax though is easier said than done.  I have tried to adopt a friendly match mindset when walking onto court for a league game but soon revert to type a few rallies into the match, especially if things don't start well.

What is most frustrating though is that when I play against players ranked much higher than myself, I tend to play my best squash (or at least think I do).  For instance, I can play someone from our top division and at least get a game, and sometimes two, off them, but then in the very next league game lose easily 3-0 (and I am presently 3 divisions off the top so there is definitely a noticeable gulf in class).

I am finding it very frustrating that I cannot translate these good performances against better players into league success and it is even making my performances in league games even worse as I tend to dwell on the whys and wherefores much more.  Like you, I soon get sucked into a downward spiral of getting angry with myself, which just makes me rush shots even more. 

I think a lot of this is down to different styles of play, as my worse defeats seem to be against players who may not necessarily be that good technically, but seem to be able to upset my rhythym more easily by restricting the amount of time I have to play my shots.  They do this by intercepting on the volley, by hitting hard and low and by being just too damned quick around the court!  Their objective seems to be to end the rally as quickly as possible and fair play to them, their tactics are spot on in order to beat me.  The better players on the other hand are more willing to rally as they are used to having to play that way to win their games and will thereby give me more time to play my shots.  Some of this as well is down to pure perception, as I probably just feel like I have played better against these players as I have simply had more opportunity to play more squash due to longer rallies!

All this goes to demonstrate that squash is not just about the technicalities of playing shots, and is just as much about mind over matter.  The players who rise to the top of the pile, be that in a league like mine or in the pro arena, simply are blessed with the mental faculties to be able to adjust their play to suit different players so that they make time for themselves to play the shots they need to.  I know in reality what I should do to beat the hard hitting volleyers in my league - take the pace off the ball, hit wide and deep and into the space where they are not on the court and keep them behind me as much as possible.  It's just that my mind is presently not set up adequately to see it through, especially when something is riding on the outcome of the match.

Short of seeing a good hypnotist, does anyone have any good tips on improving the mental side of the game?  It is probably a much neglected side of training, but one that we ignore at our peril if we want to take our games on to the next level!




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From rippa rit - 30 Nov 2008 - 06:49   -   Updated: 30 Nov 2008 - 07:09

Aprice - it looks like I might have known you were going to ask!  Here is an article from the Gold Library - Hang onto your head.  The Relevant Content has brought up a huge post also.

Examples of positive actions, ball goes too short, means you need to aim higher - it could be you are trying to hit too hard and throwing yourself into the swing so much causing the racket face to close slightly.....relax, deep breath, take your time, slow down.

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