Squash News From Around The World - Serious Squash
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Dec 14 2017 2:34PM
The mental game has always been one of the most interesting areas of sport for me. I've studied it at school and read a number of books on the subject, but understanding and teaching it are two entirely separate things. In this post we are going to look at some various sport psych areas that are critical to playing and competing at a high level and also getting the most of your practice sessions. Below are a variety of some diagrams from chats I've had with my kids this season so far about the importance of focus, refocusing and capitalizing on opportunities when your opponent has a lapse of focus. When someone loses their focus, especially a kid it can lead to easy points and often this quick run of points can be the turning point in a match. Let's take a closer look at each diagram.
This first photo is an analogy of a simple screw a carpenter would use. We discussed how if you are a threaded screw you are prone to becoming unscrewed quite easily. A list of times when people are most vulnerable were made under this section. On the left we discussed how a tougher screw would be hard to get out of it's place. A really experienced and tough screw would also be able to screw in a bit tighter when they feel they've let it slip a bit. We made a list of a few ways that people can be tougher to unscrew; basically becoming tougher to crack mentally no matter how challenging the situation.
In the main part of this diagram we talked about chipping away at your opponent mentally and physically. As you get to a higher level it takes time to wear out your opponent and make them lose hope in winning. Greg Gaultier and Paul Coll are great at doing this because they are so tough to win a point against as they get everything back and don't make mistakes. They make any player dig super deep just to win a point, let alone 3 games. In this list we discussed signs of someone who has lost hope and the symptoms of someone who has been broken mentally and/or physically. Perhaps you lost the game, but it took everything out of your opponent, so if you are fresher and they are spent you are still in a great position even down a game.
We also talked about potentially doing this after a big rally where you and your opponent are hurting, but you feel you can disguise your pain and by serving right after can also psychologically defeat your opponent because they may be expecting you to take time and could be shocked that you are not experiencing the same pain that they are. This of course is risky as if you can't physically or mentally back it up and your opponent calls your bluff you can be in trouble. Finally we talked about when you should take time prior to a serve, which is basically the opposite of the times you shouldn't.
In the next diagram we made a list of when people tend to lose their focus. Staying focused can be incredibly difficult in challenging environments or when you get tired, upset or into long rallies. What the kids did after discussing focus was they made a little chart on the inside of their court. Each kid has their own little table where they would simply make a little dot after every rally they played where they were not focused or lost their focus during the point. I found this exercise beneficial for the kids because it helped them understand their concentration during the match and made them take time to sort of reset to write up the dot and put the marker down by the court door. This of course has to be built upon so they can use a refocusing strategy which we have also talked about on numerous occasions.
In the fifth diagram (below) we discussed the area that your zone for your best squash is. I drew a diagram of a dial and scaled it from 1 to 5 with 1 being sleepy, fatigued which are all low and negative arousal levels for playing a high level of squash. At the opposite end of the spectrum, at 5 was angry and nervous which can both be detrimental to your performance as well. Depending on the individual personalities and your style of squash you'll probably play your best squash somewhere between 3 and 4 on this range. We need to constantly be self-regulating our emotions and arousal levels while we're competing and also training. Experienced players will be able to make adjustments quickly before they get too far from their optimal range, while kids generally wear their emotions on their sleeves, both positively and negatively and often need a lot of encouragement and pep talks between games and after matches to help them reset.
If you enjoy sport psychology as much as I do or have played a lot of competitive squash you'll appreciate many of the issues discussed today. All of the concepts sound simple enough and possible to execute, but are just as challenging to learn as any other skill set. Strategies that worked for me may not work for someone else, so finding new ideas to help people come up with a strategy that works for them is key. Sport psychology is an expanding area of elite level sport and many kids have begun not only learning more about this area, but working with sport psychologists too. From time to time I also use visualization and relaxation, breathing techniques to help people focus, relax and imagine themselves playing their best squash and handling challenging situations successfully.
Serious Squash is having a merch sale. It's currently 50% off all merch with the code 'iamserious' on SeriousSquashShop.com I am trying to clear out stock and make room for some new ideas. We will see what comes next. Also, if you haven't already done so check out the two Serious Squash instructional films, Mastering Deception and The Secrets Of Solo Hitting. They can both be downloaded from the Serious Squash Shop and come with a money back guarantee. Below is a short preview of the films.
Nov 30 2017 1:23PM
Earlier this week I did the 120 shot ghosting routine. Many years ago Squash Canada would use this as a fitness test for it's top athletes. Even watching my own movement here I noticed how I made technical errors in routine skills near the end of the drill as fatigue set it. Let me explain how the ghosting works and then at the bottom I'll post the video of my attempt.
As you can see in the image below I drew this out. In diagram 1 there are 2 separate movements patterns, both going front to back. You hit 20 shots per side with no break between. The middle diagram is the diagonals so after you complete these this is 80 shots. Finally you ghost the back 2 corners for 20 shots and the 2 front corners for a total of 120 shots, equivalent to a 240 shot rally! I believe back in the day they wanted this test completed in under 6 minutes, possibly under 5, but I'm not certain. I did it 6 minutes and 27 seconds, but I'm definitely not training to play professionally so I'd say it's pretty good for a coach.
Some tips when you do this:
1) try and hit a variety of shots and visualize the ball you are striking
2) don't worry about stopping at the T since it's a timed test
3) use both legs to hit off of
4) hit some drives and drops and lobs from the front. Drops are easier to clear and it's easier to stay further from the ball so yes I could have went faster if I did all drops from the front, but I wanted to practice my movement off of other shots to and from the front corners
5) get right into each of the corners for each shot
6) I like focusing on shaping up early for my shot anytime I do ghosting so remember this isn't simply a footwork and aerobic exercise
Here's my video:
Currently all Serious Squash mech is 50% off with the code 'iamserious' I leave for the Canadian Junior Open on the 8th and am on holidays until the end of December. So if you want to get some new squash gear for the new year order before the 8th. Also, be sure to check out the 2 Serious Squash instructional films (The Secrets Of Solo Hitting and Mastering Deception) which are both also available at SeriousSquashShop.com
Nov 24 2017 10:02AM
I've entered a recent skill challenge onto a Canadian Sport Centre contest. It's for TSN and anyone who has a cool trick or play from their sport can submit an entry. We'll see how squash stacks up to the other sports and plays. Here's the link to the video if you'd like to have a look at it.
Nov 13 2017 11:21PM
It was just over 1 year ago that Serious Squash and Eye Rackets joined forces. Eye Rackets was a cutting edge company which has signed many of the top PSA players and I really liked how they had no bumper guard on their frames (I always shaved all of mine off previously). I was extremely picky about racquets so switching from the Harrow Vapour I used for more than 6 years was a big deal. I thought it was super cool that they saw a unique opportunity and potential in what I was doing with Serious Squash and so much so that they made me a great offer to join their team. A year later and we've decided to go our separate ways.
Hopefully you all enjoyed the skill challenges I produced for Eye Rackets. Now as I figure out which company I will team up with next, Serious Squash will continue to put out the best and most creative squash squash content on the net. I've already been in touch with a couple of companies about partnering up with them so stay tuned for updates as I expect something to get worked out by the new year. I intend to be thorough with the next company to ensure the best possible fit and am in rush to make this decision. Until then best of luck with your squash game and thanks for all the support.
Oct 25 2017 2:23PM
To become a top level athlete, in particular squash, we need to learn how to push ourselves when our body or mind sometimes would rather take a break. As both an athlete and coach I have found this to be both interesting philosophically and invaluable to understand. If you or a kid your coaching is having really tired or just not feeling it that day we normally want to push them or ourselves to get going. We might be more flat footed than normal, have less energy in general and also have trouble focusing.
There's a common fallacy that we think quantity of practice and the 10,000 hours will help guarantee we reach an elite level and that the quicker we get to that level the better. As a squash coach for a number of years now you can sense the expectations from coaches and parents on their athletes and how we all want, hope and even expect immediate rewards. When someone isn't achieving the success we want for them we think they need to do more or work harder or make changes to their game. One problem with squash is how much we compare ourselves against other people and get so caught up in results instead of becoming the best possible player you can be and play at a consistently high level. I wanted to win as much as the next person, but I believe that if you focus on improving your own game and have the proper work ethic the results will come eventually.
What good will we get out of that session if we are only able to give 50% of what we normally can give? Is that really a productive session? Was there something else that we could have done that would have had more benefit? Perhaps some recovery rolling or stretching or easy biking? Maybe some video analysis or a look at our training plan? Maybe even some feeding with a ball machine or solo hitting would have been more beneficial and perhaps the next day we would have felt better and been more mentally and physically prepared to push ourselves closer to our limits.
See it's very difficult to push yourself to your mental and physical breaking point each and every day. Understanding that sometimes less is more is a difficult concept for an athlete and also a coach or parent to understand. We instinctively think someone is being lazy and demonstrates poor work ethic and a lack of desire. We are all human and finding this balance of when to push yourself when you feel flat or off that day and when to mix it up is important.
If we look back at the above example, but instead imagine we had a rough start and weren't feeling up for it, but someone once we got going we were able to get closer to 80 or 90% off our normal level that could be incredibly powerful for when we are in a tournament and aren't feeling great. In competition we have to play unless of course we decided to withdraw from the competition. But in a tournament, assuming there is no injury or illness we have to learn to play and not be fresh. At the US Junior Open kids were having 7 matches in 3.5 days; nobody is feeling good going into their last few matches. But if you know you can still get close to your best squash even when you are stepping on court with less than 100% in the fuel tank your mind might indeed be stronger than your opponent.
This mental muscle is a skill we need to be a good squash player and one of the differences I've noticed in Canada versus when I've seen kids train and play in other countries is that we don't push our kids as hard; right or wrong. Passion and letting kids have choices in what they want to do is not always a luxury all kids get. There are pros and cons to both side of this perspective, but coming from a Canadian point of view I've always felt that intrinsic motivation can get the job done. There is a lack of structural support and funding here compared to other countries, but if you can find a good coach and people to train with you can become a top class player with years and years of dedication.
My final point on this topic is about the title, keeping the quality high. If a coach or parent is the one pushing a kid constantly at some point they are not going to want to step back out on court or they will not be totally mentally engaged in their practices. Some coaches simply try and push their athletes as hard as possible every single time they work with them, but harder isn't always smarter, especially on low energy days. I know a woman who is using a heart rate watch which gives her a red, amber or green signal each day to let her know if she is good to train depending on her average heart rate and I believe quality of sleep. Tools like this can be used to avoid risk of injury and decide on when to push yourself hardest and when to focus more on technique or quality and keep practice sessions high, and the hard ones hard.
In university I knew I couldn't physically push myself in every on court session daily, so I would solo hit 2-5 times per week so I could let me brain and body recover proper and still improve my racquet skill. It would have been nice to have fancy devices like the heart rate street light watch and some of this perspective and knowledge back in those days.
Check out all the cool squash merch for both on and off the court as well as the 2 instructional films at SeriousSquashShop.com
Oct 19 2017 3:18PM
Today I received an email from a father asking for advice for his son who is a strong player, but a perfectionist. His boy is having trouble handling making mistakes and appears like he is close to quitting the game because of the amount of pressure he's putting on himself to play perfect squash. As I started writing my response I realized that what I was writing about was probably quite a popular issue that good squash players face. This is a psychological issue and something that can be improved. I've included below the email I responded with.
Thanks for the email. Being a perfectionist is kind of how most squash players get to a really high level. We aren’t happy with poorly executing shots in a match and practice them over and over to do better. I remember as a kid always wanting to play a perfect game and playing all shots exactly as I wanted. As a kid I didn’t realize how absurd this goal was. As I got older I learned to focus more on the shot selections. As a kid we often make mistakes playing a poor choice, but as you get more experienced and learn to focus on shot selection you make less mistakes and hit higher quality shots. Shot accuracy can always improve, but when you’re playing the wrong shot it doesn’t really matter how the execution was.
An exercise I’d recommend is having your son chart a professional match and make a note of how frequently even the best players in the world don’t hit the ball exactly where they want it. Perhaps their boast chips the 2nd side wall or they don’t hit their crosscourt wide enough. Even the best players miss their targets at least a few times each rally, but usually get away with it if it’s close enough and they are fast enough to recover. It’s impossible to play a fast paced open skill sport like squash perfectly, but the aim should be more on good decision making and consistency to targets will improve as the practices accumulate.
That’s about all I can offer. Hope it’s helpful. And in final, a break is not always a bad occurrence. Kids have to go through things on their own sometimes so don’t put added pressure on him with your expectations for him. He’s not you and what you would do in his position is very different and should not be compared. Best of luck.
Do you have any other tips that could help someone in this situation? Have you had to learn how to deal with this? Obviously the pressure of competition and playing against another good player will force you into making mistakes. As you improve your ability to reset after points, learn to get out of trouble after hitting a weak shot will all make you better at staying in points you may have previously lost as you were too down after missing your targets on a couple of shots.
When I play my best squash I'm able to not let mistakes bother me at all and focus only on shot selection. If my shot selection is good I can live with the outcome. Some shots are just difficult and given that same situation and shot 100 times maybe I would make it more times than not, but a strong player can play higher percentage shots where they have very imitated risk and because of this can execute the shot with more confidence.
Being able to commit to the shot you hit is a sign of confidence and something you you are going to have trouble doing if you are playing a low percentage shot or tired, or even physically and mentally fatigued. So technique and accuracy in solo hitting is great, but it certainly isn't the most important trait of a top squash player. If you've read the recent article about Dessouky after his loss to Rodriguez you'll know what I mean. Fares is the most technically and physically gifted squash player on the planet (possibly 2nd is Ramy is healthy), but still he lost to a basic, super fit and mentally strong squash player, Miguel. Rodriguez was prepared to go further for the win and this made the difference. It really demonstrates how critical the mental game is from being a perfectionist to being able to bring your best squash on each and every day at the highest level in the game. Enjoy and embrace the challenges and lessons that this sport teaches us. Anyone can become mental giant with practice and discipline, just like acquiring any other skill. Miguel demonstrated that pure tenacity and determination can be victorious even against the very best in the world!
SeriousSquashShop.com is home to 2 squash instructional films and loads of merch!
Oct 9 2017 11:06AM
I thought this US Open match was worth a full post. I was on court coaching during the actual match so I had to watch Karim Abdel Gawad and Paul Coll on replay when I got home. All squash fans knew this was going to be the match to watch and I always love people playing who have a contrast in styles. Tough draw for those guys and easily worthy of a semis or even a finals. Here's a few points I have on the match on the refs and why I feel the better player won on this night.
We all know Gawad has the best control and perhaps the best touch in the world. In the first game I thought he was looking pretty sharp and confident. The announcers talked about how he liked to take out his opponent's legs by going short a lot early in a match. Well I was watching I thought he just didn't feel threatened when Coll was hitting from the front. Coll has a nice counter drop, but has little no deception. I believe he was trying to put work into his legs and letting him run up and back to the T over and over. Gawad was volleying a lot, but most were going short.
I know this is going to sound trivial, but I really felt like he had to play more length and set up the short game better. If you looked closely at where Coll was standing when Gawad was going short, he was often in front of him very high up on the T. When your opponent is that far up on the T expecting a short ball often the hardest movement is when they have to go backwards in the back corners again. Obviously when you do this your opponent also is not going to be able to put as much pressure on you as they scurry off to the back corner to retrieve an attacking volley drive. I really think this one slight change could have turned the match right around.
Likely Gawad didn't want to get stuck into Coll's style of play and a more traditional type of squash and he wanted to open up the court and move the ball around, but going short that frequently, and often from behind your opponent is going to lead to some tins and a few shots being just off target which Coll could counter. Coll's attacking game is built on his counter punch where he uses his blistering speed to pounce on anything short. There's no doubt that Gawad can do things with his racquet that Coll can only dream of, but he demonstrated that if you don't need to have the best hands in the world to beat the best in the world.
I know a lot of people are upset about the conduct stroke near that gave Coll match point. Here's my take on this. I thought a lot of the calls were shocking throughout the entire match. For the most part these two guys are quite clean and don't call many lets. The one area that bothers me is how Gawad only appears to really hustle to a shot or back to the T when he is either looking for a stroke or trying to provide some subtle interference his opponent must maneuver around. As he volleys from the midcourt short and Coll is right behind him he moves quickly back to the T making Superman have to go around him or ask for a 'let.' You never like to leave a decision up to a ref especially when they seem to have trouble with the rules.
So in short, I can see why the refs were in that position to give a conduct stroke, but it didn't look like he ran that hard into Coll. If Coll didn't fall down would it have been a conduct stroke? If he didn't bump into him isn't it considered insufficient effort? What exactly is the appropriate amount of contact allowed or required to get a stroke in this situation? For now this interpretation is up to the ref and they thought it was excessive. It was such a crucial point and from thinking you were going to receive a stroke to being penalized a stroke is a tough pill to swallow. the match was pretty much over at that point.
When the ball was hot and bouncy Coll seemed to be able to get all of Gawad's shots back. Changing the ball after the third game evidently favoured Coll and Gawad needed to slightly adjust his tactics until the ball began to slow down. It's interesting how something like the bounciness of a ball can have such an impact on the outcome. Why is it in the rules that players can only ask for a new ball after the third game? Why at all? Why not after every game?
Did the best squash player win? On the night, yes I believe so. The player who demonstrated superior tactics and made less errors prevailed. But I do think Gawad's racquet skill are second to none, but that doesn't always mean you're going to win if you don't get the tactics just right. So although he is probably feeling hard done by the ref's I think he only has himself to blame for being in that position. If he played a little patient I think things could have worked out differently for him.
Have you hard that Serious Squash has a new instructional film out? Mastering Deception is now available at SeriousSquashShop.com which also has loads of Serious Squash march in stock. Both Mastering Deception and The Secrets Of Solo Hitting come with a money back guarantee. Here's the trailer:
Sep 30 2017 3:42PM
By heavy sweater I don't mean clothing, I'm referring to your perspiration rate! Anyways, I was a pretty heavy sweater and because of this I'm going to share a few of the tips that has helped me over the years.
Obviously the first thing to focus on if you perspire a lot if being properly hydrated well before starting your match. This is something you learn how to do better with practice. This was tough as a kid as I would get stitches pretty easily if I drank too much liquid prior to a match. One time during a 5 setter in university I was so dehydrated that I couldn't stand up straight because of the cramping in my stomach. Somehow I won the 4th game by shooting without being able to move, but fell short in the 5th in an extremely painful occurrence. It was frustrating because it was a match I would have and should have won if it were not for this pretty intense case of dehydration.
Using electrolyte tabs and sports drinks can also be useful when you are sweating heavily. Although I don't quite understand why kids finish a bottle of gatorade before even stepping on court.
Another key for me was having 3 or more racquets with relatively new grips on them. Even with top of the line grips in good shape on my racquets they would get soaked as the match went on which affected my control. For this reason I would switch racquets after every game. This means you also want to have the same strings, type and thickness of grip and model of racquet to change to.
I would often wear a wristband on my racquet arm to help keep sweat from rolling down my arm and also to wipe sweat off of my face. For a couple of years I had longer hair and this caused me to sweat a little more and my goggles would fog up and get lots of sweat on them. For this reason I started wearing headbands or bandanas to help keep my eye guards clear. It's very tough to play well when your goggles are fogged up and have sweat droplets on them. Another key here is to make sure your shirt is cotton. If I wore a dry-fit shirt it would just smear the sweat on my eye guards. A cotton shirt with a bit of a dry spot is much better at cleaning off your goggles.
Switching shirts between some games was also something I did regularly. I never wanted to go back on court after a game with a shirt that was totally soaked. A wet shirt is heavier and won't be any use cleaning my eye guards. I've even heard of people having a spare pair of shoes and socks because their feet sweat so profusely.
I also got into the habit of wiping my racquet hand on the sidewall or backless between every point. I tried every trick in the book to help keep my hands and gris dry and it was often still challenging. With all of these tips above I was able to minimize the impact of a slippery grip and bury goggles. It can make a big impact on the game if you can't hold your racquet properly or see clearly so remember hydration is not the only concern for us heavy sweaters.
Preparation is not just about the physical, technical, tactical and mental training, it's also about learning how to avoid and deal with issues such as hydration and excess sweating. Keeping some extra clothing and electrolyte pills can make a big difference along with spare racquets and new grips. Don't put in all of this hard work only to let something like a sweaty grip or eye guards derail you from your best performance.
Until October 3rd there is a 50% OFF sale on all orders over $100 on SeriousSquashShop.com. Enter the code nicks at checkout. You can now also pay with Bitcoin! Pick up your copies of Mastering Deception, The Secrets Of Solo Hitting and some Serious Squash merch for a great price!
Sep 21 2017 1:59PM
I know it's been a long time since my last post, but I'm back. I've still been posting some tips and videos on social media so if you want to check out the latest tips and skill challenges feel free to follow Serious Squash on Instagram and Facebook.
Recently Serious Squash produced its 2nd feature film, Mastering Deception. In this video there are 3 strong squash players, myself and 2 women currently both professional squash players on the PSA World Tour. As a player for many years and now a coach for 10 I know the importance of understanding disguise and deception from early in the learning stages of squash. Of course we always start off by getting the grip right and learning how to just get the ball to the front wall and move back to the T, but after the very basics are understood I believe it's critical for any player with aspirations to play at a very high level to learn how to disguise their swing.
We watch the pros on Squash TV and often don't even notice their disguised shot, only the odd taxi we marvel and wonder how in the world did they completely fool another top pro. At a certain level if you don't disguise your shot your opponent will simply be cheating on their T position and will be on your shot and applying pressure to you no matter how good the execution of your shot was.
A few years back when I was working on my final Master's project I was designing an app for shot selection from the front of the court. My idea is that most players don't know what to do up there. Our opponent's are behind us and if we have too much time we normally think about it too much and hit a terrible shot, other times we panic and try and hit an outright winner, but we feel the pressure of our opponent breathing down our necks because we shape up for our shot so earlier and have decided to go for an all or nothing winner. The problem is, that most of us can't hit outright winners even while feeding ourselves in practice, let alone in the heat of competition.
While I was working on this project I exchanged a few emails with Roger Flynn who is kind of the squash guru for decision making. At the time he was the head coach of Scottish Squash. He told me that he liked to use the term, coupling when he taught people disguise. That when you shape up for a shot it should look at least the same as 2 different shots. If we ever shape up for a shot which only has a single outcome we better make sure our opponent is out of position or be under lots of pressure and just trying to retrieve the ball.
This coupling idea is something that must be used when you decide to hit straight or crosscourt length from the front or when you play an attacking boost or decide to crosscourt out of the back corners. If we telegraph our intention prior to hitting it we expose ourselves to a quick attack by our opponent. This is why I believe option drills are important. It's so critical to learn not only what is the right shot to play, but learn how to anticipate and both make it tougher for our opponent to read what we are about to do.
I've seen and worked with players who are well accomplished, and are unable to make changes and 'couple' their swings after years and years of grooving very separate strokes for each shot. This is why I feel strongly about learning this part of squash earlier rather than later.
I have always used deception and disguise in my games, and often times way too much. But I do know that played the right amount and executed properly it can make a fit player exhausted extremely quickly. The fact that squash racquets are so much lighter, and head light versus when I started playing it allows us to snap the ball and change direction at the last second and also rapidly increase or reduce racquet head speed. This has made squash much more exciting at attacking. If this is a topic that interests you I definitely recommend checking out the new Serious Squash film. It comes with a money back guarantee.
Here's the trailer and you can purchase your copy at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos
Aug 3 2017 7:15AM
If you've been wondering where I've been I've been away on holidays and since my return I've been writing and book, learning to play guitar and also running a lot of summer junior training sessions. This week I also started filming the 2nd Serious Squash full length film. If you don't already follow Serious Squash on Instagram or Facebook to find some clips from the recent shoot. Once the editing is complete it will be up for sale at the SeriousSquashShop.com. Stay tuned for more details including the theme and official release date.
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