Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Enjoying Competition

Today I'm going to discuss enjoying competition. I could also call this post, winning by not focusing on winning. Do you play better in practice than competition? Do you enjoy practice more than competition? After the first tournament of the season this past weekend it was obvious that some of the kids were focused on winning and not the process which leads to this outcome. Some were also getting frustrated with themselves, while at practice they are so happy, care free and enjoying their squash. I've been guilty of this before and when you want to win so bad you often try too hard and end up reacting to what your opponent does. If your agitated and in a sour mood only in competitions, you probably won't be playing as well as you do in practice.

It isn't as easy as just saying, 'have fun out there.' But little things like shrugging off mistakes or laughing at w frame winner or even a very poor decision can help you stay more relaxed during competition. There are hundreds to thousands of shots and  decisions being made every match, of course they can't all be right and executed perfectly. A perfectionist will have a difficult time enjoying themselves in competition.

We always want to win, but our focus should not be on this. This goes for our goal setting too. If our goals are based only around the results and not about how do we get these results we put pressure on us to perform. This is why I believe in setting process based goals that will help you reach the results you want. We can't control what everyone else is doing and how much they improve, so we should focus on our own games and how we can continue to develop and improve our game.

Going into a match and thinking about how much we want to win can be just as deadly as going in expecting to lose. Many people have won or lost the match before walking on court. The goal should be to play our best and to get better each game and match. If we do this, we can reach our goals and be satisfied with almost every match we play. We can only do this by not fixating just on the end product. We may lose rallies that we constructed quite well and we may win games where we didn't seem to do anything right. Saying congrats after a win and tough luck after a loss only reveals how much we value winners and why it becomes our focus when we compete.

Competition is great and so is winning don't get me wrong. We want to win so we focus our goals on how to get better so we can put ourselves in position to win more often. So when you get there in competition, the best chance you have of winning is by not thinking about it. It's by relaxing, enjoying the challenge and the competition. I've only seen a few athletes that appear to really enjoy competition, even when the match gets tight. While most players get anxious as a match is tight late in the fifth game, if you can enjoy this and stay calm and relaxed you have a better chance of winning. Simply be not focusing on winning. Your head will be clear and more focused, meaning you will be in a better space to make good decisions.

So should we not have goals like winning tournaments? That's a tricky one. Again, we can't control what everyone else is going to do. We also can't control our draws and can find excuses when we find out we have a low seed and a difficult draw. This means we will look to excuses if we don't meet our goals. Focusing on things outside of our control is a waste of mental energy. Focus on the process and continually improving and you will win your share of tournaments and most importantly you will enjoy competing more. If you take squash too serious you will not enjoy it. You will put too much pressure on yourself to win and avoid losing against some weaker opponents.

Enjoy the game, because that's what it is. This is how top athletes can find their zone and can achieve the consistency from game to game and tournament to tournament. Some may not consider this a happy zone, but it almost certainly isn't a self-critical and destructive mindset. When something happens that you aren't happy with, try approaching that situation as a challenge. As things appear to pile up against you, instead of thinking that this isn't your day, try viewing these as tougher challenges. Ac competitor rises and accepts the greatest challenges; learn to embrace these and you may even begin to relish and enjoy these times. If you can, you are well on your way to becoming a mentally strong player and enjoying your squash, and by doing so you will have better results.

Do you really enjoy competing? What can you do to have more fun while you play? Do you think it's possible to enjoy competing while being successful? Does winning always imply you were successful? And does losing always imply you were not?

In my opinion, the only way to be successful and have longevity in sport is to enjoy it and to focus on the process and continue to improve your game. Embrace the challenge and learn to enjoy it.

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