Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Playing & Feeling Better At Tournaments

Today I'm going to discuss tournament preparation. Today I am going to talk about a few important areas to make sure you play your best and are well rested. There is a tournament here in town starting tomorrow and although I'm not playing, I just started feeling sick. It reminded me of times when I got sick right before or during tournaments. I've coach some kids that this tends to happen to as well. I believe there is stress for many people leading up to a tournament and this can cause them to get sick. Has this happened to any of you before? I have a few ideas on why this happens and how to prevent this from happening at future tournaments.

Travelling to tournaments often means early mornings, a poor nights sleep, lots of sitting, and often poor nutrition. When you compound that with the stress we put on ourselves worrying about the tournament, the draw, our first opponent, and so on it's no wonder we are susceptible to getting ill. Most people also are training very hard before a tournament and this can also weaken the immune system. So what can you do about all of this?

The first thing is to taper your training a few days before the event. Give your body and mind a chance to rest and feel 100% going into the event. You will not get fit by doing 1 last hard session. If you aren't prepared a few days before the tournament starts it's too late anyways.

The next step can be a tricky one do to at some events. Often we have to travel grey distances in a car, train, or plane. This can mean early morning departures and we are already tired before the tournament begins. If this is the case I suggest going to bed earlier the night before you leave or having a nap when you arrive at the hotel or house you're staying at. Even just 30 minutes to an hour can make a big difference.

Eating healthy and the same when you're away can be a challenge if you don't pack some food to bring. This is often overlooked, but the last thing you want to do is eat unhealthy food only during tournaments. This is when you need to be eating your best, drinking lots of water and getting your carbs and protein. I always like to go to a grocery store if my hotel room has a min fridge to store stuff in. Top up on water, gatorade, fruit, veggies, yogurt, sandwich making supplies and you'll be good to go.

Tapering before the event, taking naps or going to bed early, and eating well can all make a big difference to how you feel and how you perform. The stress is a more difficult one for some people. Some of us get nervous and anxious thinking too much about what may or may not happen. And yes, even though we are just playing a game expecting certain results to unfold can put stress on you. This is why I wrote a post recently about enjoying competition (http://www.serioussquash.com/2014/09/enjoying-competition.html). If we have fun and don't concern ourselves over things out of our control we are more likely to play better, and this will give you the best chance of winning. Thinking about how you have to win, or how you can't lose to that person puts pressure on you and that pressure results in stress.

If this doesn't work for you, then I like to put things in perspective. This is discussed in the Inner Game of Tennis. What is really the worse thing that can happen? You lose of course. You lose to someone badly even, maybe someone people think you should have beaten. Nothing is certain in squash though and this is why we play the game. Anything can happen. This is also your ego telling you that you are superior to this other person. Be humble and try your best each time, this is within your control and all that you can do. Everyone loses sometimes.

I read in a sports psychology book called Finding Your Zone, that thinking about the bigger picture can help ease pressure. There are much more serious and imminent challenges facing people all over the world. The result of your match is not worth getting so stressed out about. Simply sport is a game, not a life problem or illness. If we can approach the game of squash like this and keep it in perspective we can lessen the pressure we feel to perform at a certain level.

The last tip I have about getting better at handling stress and pressure is by playing more tournaments. If you only play one or two events per year you probably won't feel too comfortable on court. Whereas if you compete in 8-12 events per season year after year you will get better and better at controlling your nerves and the stress you put on yourselves. This is experience is so invaluable. Experienced players are better at playing their best in competition. And this is also why I believe it's important to introduce kids to competition at a young age and the way they handle winning and losing is often how a behaviour learned from their parents, coaches, and peers. Kids play unregulated made up games with their friends and they have fun no matter what happens. When we live vicariously through their results as they compete in an organized sport they feel our stress and they learn how strongly we value the outcome.

So there you have it. If you have a tendency to get sick before or during tournaments hopefully I've give you a few tips. I also recommend doing things to keep your mind off squash. Read a book (not on squash), do your homework, or watch a movie. These will all keep your brain out of the way and you can focus on squash when it's time to play!

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