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Squash Mind Meld Needed

Published: 27 Feb 2009 - 15:28 by raystrach

Updated: 01 Mar 2009 - 09:41

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Use it or lose it applies equally to our physical conditioning and our mental conditioning, although if you look at some professional athetes you would never know it.

To illustrate...

Samantha Stosur is an underperforming Australian tennis player. She is extremely fit and has, according to some experts, the best serve on the women's pro tour. Her best ranking has been in the late twenties and currently sits about 40.

Now you would think that a committed athlete playing on  one of the most financially attractive sporting tours would do everything to improve their game?

Apparently not.

According to Layne Beachley (7 times world women's surfing champion) - no not a misprint - samantha has done virtually no mental training. (Layne has just started helping Sam with her mental approach.) No one who has seen Sam play would be surprised by this revelation, as she routinely chokes on big points and turns to water when she is on the verge of a big upset win. (I have a feeling the top girls may well know this)

Anyone who knows anything about sport knows that it is the mental abilities of the top players that set them apart from the also rans. Temperement sets apart the talent. Is it that players have a blind sport when it comes to their mental approach or is it that this mental training uncovers some home truths when you undertake this training?

Whatever the reason, a talented professional athlete has chosen/forgotten/avoided any metal training when the said skill is her biggest weakness. It is no surprise then, when local hackers choose not to impove their mental skills.

Which leads me to one of my favourite topics - me.

As I am one of the few aforementioned local hackers who does mental training (I can feel the glazing over of eyes as  Squashgame readers start reading this) , I am qualified to talk about my very first assertion in this post about training.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am fitter than I have been in a while. When the new competition season started last week, I had to play the one person I have not been able to beat since arriving in Hervey Bay, wonderful wayne(ww).

With each match I have been getting closer and had hoped to push even further this time. Things started quite well as I was competing for every point and winning my share.

So much so that I opened up a small lead towards the end of the first game. As we neared to magical number of 9, I knew ww would exert extra pressure, but was ready for it.

I maintained my lead through 5 - 6 - 7 until I got to eight. All good so far.

Even though I was a little tired, I still had plenty left to fight for the game win. However, when I got to 8 my mental routine went out the window and I played exactly how I should not have

  • No real plan
  • Too conservative
  • Waiting for ww to make a mistake instead of applying pressure
  • poor decision making on choice of shots

  result? lost game 9 - 8.

and so the pattern went in the next two games. Play well, lose the plot, play well, lose the plot, etc etc.

As he got away to a little lead, I would commit myself to quality squash, eventually catching up. At that point I knew he would reapply the pressure, but instead of me keeping the ball deep restricting his opportunities, I would present attacking opportunities on a platter which he gladly took.

I then had to dig in again to try to catch up. If I had unlimited fitness, it would have been ok, but I don't. It was not ok.

After the game, which was reasonably competitive, I apologised for not giving him a decent run. He responded by saying that a little more fitness will get me closer.

Really all that was only partly true. What I meant to say was that I really did not challenge him in a true sense.

  1. At no stage did I put enough pressure on him to help make him falter.
  2. When ever he really put his foot to the floor, he ran right over me - I offered no resistance.
  3. Fitness did play a part, but that was not the reason I lost - A better mental game whould have won me the first set and put me in with a chance to take him

At the end of last year, my mental game had started to work well. I was concentrating well and making good decisions at key points. Since then, I have no really tough games and had no chance to keep using those mental skills. I lost at least some of those mental skills.

Last night I had a game against a player who was capable of beating me if I did not play well. However I was able to make the right decisions at the right times and used mental techniques to do so. So even though I probably should have won in three, I could easily have dropped a game or two.

Using my mental techniques I was able to overcome some slackness from time to time to win in 3. The lessons learned from the previous week had some immediate effect. At key times, my mental game came to the fore and worked for me.

Now that I am using it again, It should return to full strength in time.

As for Sam Stosur, If she puts a quarter of the effort into her mental game as she does in the gym, she end up in the top ten. If not, Layne will find herself out of a job. (Ahtletes have a habit of shooting the messenger) Best of luck Layne with the new job - I think you might need it!

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From rippa rit - 01 Mar 2009 - 09:36   -   Updated: 01 Mar 2009 - 09:41

Yep, this losing story is not uncommon.  Believing, or knowing, you are technically and physically as good as your opponent does help the confidence needed to keep going/fighting for every point right to the end; however, continually getting pipped at the post does take some wind out of your positive attitude and allows negative/doubting thoughts to creep into your mind.  Each one of those doubting thoughts take time, time a player does not have in-between points, so every bit of time in-between points must have a positive focus on what is needed right now, almost like a ritual, every time this pressure is applied by the opponent. If the time is spent on negative responses a few seconds has elapsed and the next thought is "the opponent is ready to fire the next serve" and often you are not really ready to continue as the bit about what to do now (with this serve coming at you) has not been addressed.  This shows just how precious every second on court is and one response, eg I'm a winp, I hate playing this person, what a fluke, I should not have lost that point, etc is a dead give-away.

Many times against different opponents it happens to me, as I play a handicap event once a week with about 10 opponents, and when you have to give your opponent ten or more points in 31 there is not much time for error, and that creates pressure.  In fact the pressure seems less when the opponent is about your equal standard opposed to one where the opponent has this huge lead yet is not such a good player, and puddles the ball back too.  This is good training for your "head" and unless you have prepared yourself mentally, it is easy to just "throw" the game with lack of patience, and to be beaten by a person who does not have an attacking shot and lacks variety, is very frustrating too, yet a good mental workout. Also, your timing has to stay exactly in tune in the final stages of a game, and any thoughts or actions that upset that rhythm can lead to a loss. My head keeps wanting to go down this track, eg this is a boring game, cannot wait to get off the court, want to hit winners and end the rallies too soon - all the wrong stuff.

Some people opt out of competition for this reason, yet there is only one way to beat it and that is to get in there regularly and fight till you drop, and conquer this fear.

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