Today I'm going to talk about sport psychology. There are a lot of areas that impact a squash match and your performance. I'm going to talk about one in particular in a couple of specific situations. Today I'm going to talk about focus toward the end of games and matches. Unless the score if pretty tight many people tend to ease up near the end of the game. We think that the game is over before it actually is. It's human nature to predict what seems inevitable. I'll get into some reasons why you should always play out the game regardless of the score. I'll also give you some tips on how to keep fighting and maintain your focus when things are going too easy or you feel like there's no hope.
The first reason we should never give up is pretty obvious, just take a look at the Dessouki vs. Gawad match at the US Open. Dessouki was down 10-5 and 2-0 in games. Yet somehow he came back and won the game and eventual the match. When Gawad got to match ball he started trying to showoff and showboat and went for some extravagant shots. This not only shows up your opponent but is a lack in concentration because Gawad thought the match was over. So learn from this example that anything can happen. If you give your opponent just a slight hint of belief they may just run with it. I think the saying goes, 'let a sleeping dog lie.' It may not happen often, but at some point in your career you will have this type of comeback and likely also let one of these matches slip away.
The next reason to fight for every point, even if you're down 10-0 in a game is to try and create some momentum and confidence going into the next game and at the same time stop your opponents. If you're having a bad game and way down it's easy to throw away the game, but clearly you're not hitting your targets or playing your best squash. It's normally pretty easy to relax and mentally you may give up the game but you are still fighting and trying to play better points. You may not come back and win this game, but you may begin to find your length and hit your stride. Maybe you are just getting adjusted rot your opponents style of play.
Another reason you want to fight for every point regardless of the score is because this is a certain continuous level of concentration and focus. Even if you're way down this is your zone for playing squash. I like to think of playing with a poker face. Not showing or giving away too much. Like when Roger Federer plays tennis. It's hard to tell if he's churning on the inside, he always appears calm and in control. If you are giving up and starting to try again it doesn't always work. When you're up against the wall keep your focus and grit. Continue fighting for every point as if winning that point could turn around the match. Sometimes it very well can.
The next reason you should fight for every point has to do with all of the above reasons. Anything can happen, you can change the momentum if you continue fighting and maintain your focus. Because there is a chance that you're opponent will begin to slow down, tire, lose their focus, even if just momentarily this may be all it takes to swing things around in your favour. And even if you don't quite make a comeback this time, it sends a message that the next time you two play you expect to do better. You've proven that you can be competitive with this player and are close to beating them. Sport is very psychological. A lot of the time the match is won or lost before it starts. If you've created some doubt in your opponent and given yourself some belief for the next time you are 1 step closer to making it a reality.
Another reason to never give up regardless of the score is because you should be focusing on your game and playing your best squash possible. Don't focus so much on winning and losing, or the score. The score is the result of the process. Focus on the process and maintain a high standard of play at all times. This will allow you to play more consistently at a higher level. A lot of time we get to wrapped up about the score and play not too lose. This is a timid way to play and is normally not very enjoyable. I like to express myself on court and not play to the score. Sure maybe at 9 or 10 all I might make sure that I attack on a good opening, but this post is about being up or down by a good margin in a game or match.
The last reasons you should never let up is because you should expect you're opponent won't. Psychological skill and strength is something that may not reflect your performance if the skill levels are not evenly matched. But fighting all the way through builds mental strength. I like to expect the best from my opponent and I never ease up because I know that leaves me vulnerable and more prone to all of the above, along with getting injured.
So yes, there is an exception for people that are out of shape, badly winded, older. Maybe you're up 2 games to love and you get down early in the 3rd. So if this is you and you're playing some young buck that you can't run with, then sure maybe you don't want to throw everything at them or you won't be able to play the 4th or 5th game if needed. But if you're conditioning is in check, always play out the game and match. How exactly do you do this? Here are some tips.
Focus on the process, not the score.
Focus on the present, 1 shot (2 target) and 1 rally at a time.
Focus on playing your best squash. Don't play down to the level of your opponent.
Have a goal for each point. Reiterate your plan (the process) during your preserve routine.
Tell yourself that giving up is a sign of weakness.
This is a time where your focus is vulnerable to drift. Be sure to stick to your between rally routine.
Think of this situations as challenges. Accept and rise to the challenge.
Momentum is difficult to quantify but exists. Don't let go of it when you have it.
Use positive self-talk only.
Have you had any historic comebacks? I remember one time I was up 8-0 in the 5th game in the semi-finals of the national college squash championships. This was when we played to 9. I ended up winning 10-9 in the fifth after missing a lot of opportunities to close out the match. I remember at the time I was thinking how I had to work too hard and I would not have enough left for my next match. Clearly a terrible and destructible thing to think while you're playing. Anyways, after this match I vividly recall someone saying how they couldn't believe I almost lost this match after being up 8-0. And this actually never entered my mind. I was happy that I was able to let that lead sip away and still come through and win the match in extra points. I learned a lot from that one match. The challenge and importance to focus on the present and even that current match. And also that I can remain calm and look at what others view as a partial collapse as a challenge and an obstacle. Because I as able to do this, I was able to still hang on and win the match. Unfortunately, what I thought during this match was true. I didn't have enough steam left for the finals. But I almost never made it there because I got ahead of myself.
I'd like to hear about some of your most epic comebacks and loses. We learn from these. These situations reveal how important psychology is in our sport. We need to learn from these occasions and have a plan to learn from out mistakes. This is also what makes sport so interesting to watch and play. Anything can happen. And if you're mentally tough and fight for every point you have a better chance of being on the positive side of epic turnarounds. I always tell kids to never give up on a ball. Always try and get it back until it's bounced twice. The same goes for each point, game, and match. It's never over until it's over. Don't count yourself out until the match is actually finished and you've shaken your opponents hand. If only there was a better method to assess, measure, and monitor mental strength. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate yourself? Never give up a point regardless of the score! It's how we play the game that counts.