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Mental Training for squash players

  • Mental training, is about training your mind to focus on  the appropriate playing task.
  • Initially, it is about learning how to identify what is actually happening during the game, and being able to take confident effective steps to "pick up your game".
  • Becoming aware of what area of  skill is being exploited.
  • To acquire mental skills requires a planned approach.
  • Each person needs to try various methods of mental training to find what works for them
  • All areas of skill, eg physical, psychological, tactical, etc are controlled by ones thoughts, which in turn  affect the level of performance.
  • Try the following methods of mental training and gauge improvements in performance

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Goal setting

  • Goals give direction and provide feedback on your progress.
  • Have a goal other than "winning the match".
  • This should be related to recent training/goal setting eg improving recovery technique
  • Carry out the game plan which exposes the opponent's weaknesses.
  • Put into practise a skill that you have been working on and evaluate later.
  • Use the opportunity to help work towards a longer term goal.
  • Visualise your success.

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  • A high level of anxiety can have a negative affect on performance.
  • To control your arousal level and remain in a ideal performing state.
    • Hum a tune and get a fluent walking pattern.
    • Swing the racket to gain rhythm.
    • Breath deeply and slowly and exhale slowly.
    • Flex, and hold, and relax all muscles in the body individually.
  • Mental imagery can assist in setting optimum arousal.
  • Stretch
  • Approach the match positively (think of what you can gain from the match)
  • A low level of anxiety which prevents premium performance.
  • To lift your spirits, and become motivated, and want to try harder, and control fear increase your heart rate by:
    • Going for a short run
    • Ride a bike
    • Walk up stairs quickly,
    • Stretch
  • Approach the match positively (think of what you can gain from the match)

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Cue Words

  • Cue words can help in concentrating on the immediate task at hand and taking the right options when under stress
  • The use of "cue" words will help the mind centre on aspects of the match and prevent frustration
  • Cue words act as triggers to more appropriate action
  • Sometimes players mutter to themselves in between points which usually does  very little to assist the state of the match.
  • It is better to act on those thoughts positively. eg·instead of saying "I feel slow", say "Energise!"
  • Cue words in between games can help get a message across simpler and quicker
Cue Word Action
 Speed Move
 Nonsense words  Blow it!
 Timing  Be patient; delay; wait for it.
 Strength Attack; push hard
 Power Hit the ball
 Body tension Inhale/Exhale 
 Form Chest out; shoulders up; playing well. 
 Movement     Get on toes
 Rhythm  Take your time
 Swing Wait-hit-swing through the ball 
 Persistence Hang in; get every ball back.
 Quality Good length; basics; no errors 
 Concentration Focus; keep it simple 
 Emotion Lean and mean fighting machine! 

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Cue Words

Cue Words and Focus


Squash can be a very tactical game.
 Always change a losing game. Clever players can change a game around therefore
it is important to know when and how to counteract their tactics.


A brief description

Your interpretation – what to do about it!

“Be aggressive” – “Attack

Get in front of your opponent.
Hit and move away quickly.
Move to the centre.
Get to the ball quickly, balance (pause/steady) and make a decisive stroke.
Give your opponent less time to play their shot.
Hit hard when in position.

Problems from aggression:  Rushing; hitting the ball too hard without placing the shots; over hitting; over running the ball cramping the stroke.

“Play your game”

We all have a style of play that suits us best, eg

Hard hitting

Steady and controlled (crafty)



Playing touch.

Remember you are the boss, so play it your way as much as possible.  It is easy to forget our style of play (our strengths) and get talked into playing the game our opponent wants us to, when we lose our initiative and play “negative”.

“Move them around”

Play to the four corners, eg Length, volley, drop, length, boast, toss, etc.

By playing the backhand wall all the time, often we only play three corners and the opponent only has to run half the court distance.  By moving your opponent around the four corners, the distance travelled is increased considerably.

“Mix up the game”

Mixing up the speed, and angles, throws the player out of rhythm and balance.

“Break up their game”

If your opponent is  -

Hitting hard – slow them down, toss from the back but tight.

Playing slow – speed it up, hit hard, volley.

Deceptive up front – keep them out of the front of the court unless you’re in front of them.

“Slow them down”


If the game flows too quickly (fast) it is difficult to –

play drops

catch them out of position

get them going the wrong way

Play fight tosses from shots off the back wall.

Play cross-court tosses or floats off the boasts.

Attack when the ball is loose

A brief description

Your interpretation – what to do about it!

“Put more pace on the ball”

A touch player likes time to play the ball.

If you rush them around they get anxious to play shots, so keep the pace on the ball and keep the rally going.

“Keep them behind you”

Keep touch players behind you.

Go for the shot when you’re in front.

“Play short when they hang back”

Often, as the rally gets longer, the player gradually edges back from the T.

“Hit the ball back to where they came from”

Fast running players often do not really move back to the T but hit, watch, and take off forwards.

By delaying the front court shot, hitting it back to where they came from catches them “careering” forwards towards the front.

“Be patient”

When we feel psyched up to play we try to win too quickly.

Remember your game plan.  Always have a plan before going on the court.

Wait for the right time to play the winner.

Still go for the shots when the ball is loose but be sure not to hit the “tin”.

“Motivate/Arouse yourself”

It is too late, once on the court, to worry about your state of mind.  Use three stages of warming-up and take about 15/20 minutes, eg

Stretch and flex

Mentally rehearse the game. 

Think about what you are going to strive for.

If you know the player, and his game, you should have a “game plan” to suit.

“Trying to do too much”

When we are anxious to win, we can try to do too much too soon and get confused; changing your mind and making errors.  Do things, point for point.

Take things one-step at a time, eg.

First, good length

Second, tight length

Third, move to the centre   etc.

And, be patient.


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Visualisation is mental imagery of a performance or element of a performance.
  • While driving or sitting prior to the match visualise your game plan.
    • Hitting good length
    • Wall targets and landing  points.
    • Imagine the ball coming off the "sweet spot" of the racket.
    • Key strategies of your game plan
  • Mentally rehearse key aspects of the game as you think it may pan out. Dealing with the Referee decisions - It is imperative that the visualisation technique will improve the performing state and hence more control.

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Mental Rehearsal

Rehearsal is mental practice of the process of a skill or behavior at the same time "feeling" the physical and emotional sensations.
  • Role play - pre-play the game. Set a scene in your mind:
    • At home, pick up your racket and rehearse
    • "Up 2 nil" and walk at an ideal pace in between points, picking up the ball, pause before serving, moving to the T.
    • Role play the third game, keeping up the game plan.
    • Think about what the opponent might do that could upset you, and role play your way around it.

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Extrinsic/Intrinsic Factors

  • Outside factors have an influence on behavior
  • Control what and who you see
  • Before and during a match be selective in who you listen to and who you look at. eg:
  • A grading committee member might make you feel nervous if they are in the audience
  • Laughing and joking before going on the court will affect the mood
  • Listening to an opponent complain "I feel so tired, I played golf today" can be a "foxes" trick so beware
  • Internal influence on behhavior
  • Building up feelings inside can promote negative
  • Good feelings - Positive
  • Looking forward to a good game
  • Eating the correct meal before playing
  • Get physically ready.  More on preparation...
  • Avoid bad feelings - negative attitude
    • Feel scared
    • Ate too much
    • This opponent is too good for me
    • Rushing and running late
  • It is normal to feel a little nervous - use it to sharpen your skills

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Looking at our Inner thoughts

Looking at our inner thoughts

Obstacles in Performance Thoughts
Fear Losing to a player seeded below me
Not looking the player I feel I am
Being beaten by a younger player
Being beaten by a woman/man
Of being hit with racket/ball
Of being pushed and shoved
Freezing on crucial points in a tournament
Of making mistakes
Lack of Self Confidence I don't think I will win
I had a late night so..
I'll be happy to get 2 games
I'll be ok if they keep them deep, but I hate those drop shots.
Self Condemnation  I get angry and self-destrictive
I get negative when I am losing
I keep thinking about my bad shots
 Poor Concentration  Distraction - My mind wanders onto other things.
Duration - I sustain concentration for about 4 points and then...
I seldom become deeply absorbed in the game, but seem to stay on the surface.
 Trying too hard  The harder I try the worse I seem
I get too tight, and have difficulty relaxing
Lack of will to win   I don't have the killer instinct
I'm not Hungry enough for the ball
I get ahead 5:1 and then blow it
I seldom play with full effort
I cannot sustain my dedication toreach my goals.
 Perfectionism  My progress never seems good enough
I feel I will do better next time
 Self Conscious  I'm constantly thinking how well or badly I am playing
 Frustration  After I miss a few shots, I become frustrated and feel like quitting.
 Anger At myself
My opponent, and their lucky shots.
The Referee.
The ball, the lighting or dirty walls.
 Boredom  I work hard but don't enjoy training.
I don't have much fun playing

Each person has sa pre-determined amount of "anti-stress antidote" and it can be used up by exercise, worry, excitement, illness or other daily stresses.

  • If a log book is kept and honest feelings expressed, for example, "felt super", "hate training", "coach in unfair", on examining the log book it would be possible to see the reasons for behavioural change.
  • Stress is an integral part of our lives.
  • Do not overload any one part of the body or mind disproportionately by repeating the same activity to exhaustion. The same task can be repeated easier after sleep or after a period of doing something else.
  • A training programme with variety is important.


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  • To keep ones mind on the job during a difficult game can be near impossible, with all the other pressure during the heat of the moment.
  • The important thing is to only be concerned with the things that are within your control.  The follwing ideas will assist focus on the things that can be controlled.
Control element Suggested Action
How to serve Lob; soft or high, hard
What you think about Positive thought process, eg get to the T
Arrive on time for the match Stretch, warmup, visualise your basic game plan
Check your gear/equipment Grip, Shoe laces, clothing
Use strengths Volley the serve
 Hit ball away from opponent
Exploit opponent's weaknesses Hit shots to the back corners
Attitude on court Move around the court confidently; stay positive
Find out who the opponent is Set up a basic game plan

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Reading the opponent's cues

  • Anticipation is sometimes confused with speed.
  • A person who anticipates well does not necessarily have to be fast.

The following is a guide on  how to prepare early for the opponent's shots.

Long back
Be ready for a length drive.
Angle of the racket face Indicates the height of the ball trajectory.
Speed of the swing Soft or hard shot
Well placed shot
Loopy swing Speed but not much control
Fast on feet Will get to every ball
Cannot boast All returns will hit the front wall

Squashgame Gold: Advanced Text and Video Content

Knowing what to do

How to flex from wide to narrow focus
In squash, because it is so intense, watching only the ball (narrow focus/narrow eyes) can be very tiring, and cause strain.
The best method to practice is to flex from wide to narrow focus/eyes, eg
  • Wide eyes is when lots of information is being taken in and processed mostly during a rally and in-between points. Attention at this level is to body positioning, shot selection, opponent's actions, ball characteristics like speed, distance, angle, height, backswing, etc..
  • Narrow eyes is when the eyes have been wide, taken in lots of information, and then narrow to the point of contact with the ball and taking in clues like position of the swing, length of the swing, wrist, angle of the racket face, body position, and contact point.
During a match we are continually switching from a more open state of mind, to a narrow intense state of mind, and so on.

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