Is your mental game setting you up for failure?
In the court, being successful is 95% mental and 5% physical.
Are you playing the kind of squash that you’re capable of? Do you regularly play better in practice matches than at tournaments? Are there particular opponents who you consistently lose to who have no business beating you? Do you consistently have trouble closing out your games or matches? Are you the kind of player who regularly steals defeat from the jaws of victory?
If some of these questions bother you, then you probably already know how critically important the mental part of this game is. If you want to take your squash to the next level, you have to be willing to take your training far beyond where most squash players stop. Most serious athletes religiously work on the physical part of their game. They’ll work on their strength, fitness, and quickness. They’ll work on their stroke production and executing shot sequences to set up certain points. Is this stuff important? You betcha! You can’t become successful without “paying your physical dues” in this way. Hard work is definitely one of the main keys to your success on the court. Without it, you’ll be lost.
Concentration is the heart of mental toughness. To reach your potential as a squash player, you must learn to stay focused both before and during your matches.
- Championship Focus starts with your pre-match routine. Develop one to help keep you calm and composed before your matches and in between your games.
- Leave your goals/expectations at home! When you bring your goals onto the court with you, you’ll make yourself too nervous to play your best game.
- Keep your focus in the NOW, on one game at a time, on one point at a time, on one shot at a time.
- Whenever your focus drifts ahead to the future (winning or losing) or back to the past (a mistake or blown lead), quickly bring your focus back to the now and this shot.
- Focus only on yourself and playing YOUR game. Focusing on who’s watching or the skills/reputation of your opponent will only make you nervous.
- Each and every time your focus drifts from what you are doing to anyone else, quickly “reset.”
Unfortunately, this is where most good squash players stop. When they go into their matches, they hope they’ll play well; they hope that they have their “A” game with them today; they hope that they’ll win. You would never leave your conditioning or stroke production to chance. i.e. “I hope I’m in good shape today.” So why would you leave the most important part of your game – the mental side – to chance?
Think about this: Getting good in squash in practice is 95% physical and 5% mental. However, once you step into that court for a match, success is ALL mental! You have the conditioning and muscle memory to play well. Now you have to make sure that you can stay calm under pressure, rebound quickly from mistakes, keep your composure when your opponent makes a run and avoid getting psyched out or intimidated. And, your most important mental skill is to stay focused on the right things.
You have to believe in yourself and have the self-confidence to play your own game – not your opponent’s – when you’re under pressure. Learning how to control your pre- and during match focus will help you do this.
With a little work, this concentration skill along with a few other crucial mental skills mental skills can be systematically trained to the point where you develop the reputation as a mentally tough player.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is the former #1 singles tennis player for the UMass Minutemen and twice Conference Champion. He has taught tennis professionally for 22 years. As a Sports Performance Consultant, he has worked extensively with junior level, high school, and collegiate squash players from around the country helping them overcome performance fears and blocks and play to their potential. He is the author of the revolutionary book, This Is Your Brain On Sports, along with over 30 other books and audio programs. Dr. G has presented at numerous squash camps across the country. Check out his popular Mental Toughness Training Package.
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