Thursday, October 19, 2017

Perfectionism

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!

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Monday, October 9, 2017

US Open Round 1: Why Coll Upset Gawad

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.

Can having the best racquet skill in the world ever work against you? Does Gawad's gift make him less attentive to tactics? We all know Gawad has the best control and perhaps the best touch in the world. What he does with his racquet really is amazing; he makes the game look easy. 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. What I was watching was that he just didn't feel threatened when Coll was hitting from the front so he was shooting more than he would against a more lethal opponent. 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.

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

If You're A Heavy Sweater

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.

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