Monday, August 29, 2016

Serious Squash Video Blog: Backhand Counter Drops

I did a short video blog on backhand counter drops today. I demonstrate and explain a large number of ways to play this shot effectively. I discuss how to take it early and and how to use deception. There are quite a few good examples in the video. Take a look at it here and let me know what you think:




And if you want to check out the video of just the drops without the analysis here it is:



That's it for today. Hope you enjoyed the post and the video quality was manageable! Please check out my new online squash merch store at SeriousSquash Shop.com where I have lots of shirts, tank tops, bandanas, sport psychology wristbands and hats all for sale!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Nicol David At The 2016 Hong Kong Open

I wrote a couple of blog posts a while back on Nicol David and I thought it was time for a new one. She's such an icon in squash that she deserves much more than 1 post! David just lost in the semis of the Hong Kong Open, but won a number of tight matches prior to this. She's such a feisty competitor and always comes prepared to leave it all on the court. I felt she was a bit lucky to come out on top against Joelle King and also went 5 in her 1st round match against Tesni Evans. The previous year of Davids career reminds me a bit of Roger Federer now in tennis. Federer still gets consistently close, but hasn't won a big event in quite some time. Is David facing similar fate? Can she get back her world #1 or is she just hanging on as high as she can for as long as she can? Has everyone else caught up or has she fallen back to the pack? Should she change her game? What can she learn from the other top ladies on tour? How has she tweaked her style and has it helped? These are some of the questions I thought would make for an interesting post so let's get to it.



A lot has been made of Nicol David holding her racquet higher up on the grip. I heard one of the commentators at the HK Open mention that Jahangir Khan suggested this and apparently he  to do this himself. Back when Khan was dominating the squash tour the racquets weighed twice as much as they do now so I don't see the relevance or similarities. Moving your grip up makes the racquet a bit lighter, allows you to be closer to your shot with a smaller swing so you should be a little more exact. While moving your grip down to the bottom of the handle gives you more leverage for power and a greater reach allowing you to get a few more balls back in play and stay a tad more central through each shot.

I assume these change were made because she feels like she has better control and touch. I watched most of her matches from this event and I don't see any obvious change in her short game. I see some good drops, but also a lot that sit up for her opponent. I feel like the style of play most of the women she struggles with are very attacking and hard hitters so I would think the extra reach would suit her well. I've played around with the height of my grip over the years and when I did hold it higher I would still be able to lower it when I felt some pressure developing in a point. Now I just hold the racquet at the bottom because I'm not very tall and I need that extra reach. I really feel like I have to run that much further from the T when I choke up on my grip so personally I don't like it. So I don't see this change helping David, unless she believes it does. Yes, the placebo effect. Wether it helps or hinders her game is irrelevant, it's how she believes it impacts her that matters. If she feels her short game is better like this it probably will be because she believes it is and confidence is a must for this area of the game. Do you think her short game was more accurate in this event? I'm sure she has a nice cushy contract with Prince, but do you think she would benefit from experimenting with some other models or even other companies if she wants to make her racquet a tad lighter Or do you think it's more about lowering her target and looking for winners as opposed to working shots?

What else could Nicol David do to try and get back her world #1 ranking? Should she play with more power and more attacking like some of the other top ladies? That's not really her game and her opponents do that better so I don't think she can completely change her style of play and do it better than people that have practiced this style their entire careers. I felt like the way Annie Au played at this event against Nour El Sherbini could teach David a thing or two. Au is very petite, but plays tactically sound squash and uses her strengths and knows how to avoid her weaknesses. She has a tremendous forehand counter drop and volley drop and relies on her accuracy to win. She lifts the ball consistently, but can also hit with a lot of pace when there's an opening. I really think continuing to polish David's volley drop and counter drop would help her immensely. I feel Au's short game was much stronger. It doesn't mean David needs to use her short game more it just has to be more accurate when she does. Currently I feel like she isn't as ruthless or fearless when she attacks short and with the lowered tin this is an area she could still improve. She doesn't use much deception compared to the Egyptian women so if you're easy to read and you're not overpowering you better be pin point accurate.

One thing that was very evident in her loss to Nour Gohar was how defensive she was playing from the back of the court. Rightly so she didn't want to get into a slugfest with Gohar. It was quite obvious how high and deep she was aiming for her length as she was intentionally overhitting all of her drives, while Gohar was letting it rip on most shots and applying pressure consistently. Maybe David felt like she needed to lift the ball and hit it that deep to give her time to get up on the T or perhaps she was trying to slowly wear Gohar down by letting the Egyptian punch herself out. I felt like later in the match there were signs of Gohar's pace slowing slightly, but I still believe the best defence is a good offence. This doesn't mean I think David should begin hitting everything harder, but simply focusing more on the depth of her drives so Gohar doesn't have so much time to set up and transfer her weight into the ball and hit it 1,000 miles per hour. from the back corners; as soon as this begins to happen you are always going to be reacting and on your heels. There were so few dying drives from David and her drops were still generally a bit too passive and sat up so I thought tactically it wasn't a good matchup for her.

Really when it comes down to it it's tough to change your game more than minor bits when you are in the later stages of your career. If there's any chance of David getting her #1 ranking back I feel she's going to have to really focus on being a bit more proactive and attacking. How much she can change is unclear, but I wouldn't make any drastic changes just subtle refinements. I think there are so many hard hitting and strong attacking players it's tough to win by lifting the ball consistently. I can see on 1 hand that David would be difficult for the other women to beat because she is very consistent with what she does and doesn't make many unforced errors, but I also get the feeling her opponents also feel quite comfortable in the rallies as they are able to dictate a large portion of the points.

Nicold David has definitely brought a large group of players up to her level and now some appear to be just slightly ahead of her. She has won the Hong Kong Open 10 times straight until this one so it's not fair to say her play has declined much or at all, but she isn't winning 90% of her events anymore so it's only normal to ask some questions and analyze why.

I love watching the clash of style when she plays an attacking player. She is in excellent condition and stays very focused, but will that be enough to win more titles? In the next couple of years she will start to slow down and her game will have to evolve if she is going to continue to stay near the top of the game. Does this mean she will play at an even slower pace, become more proficient at attacking or maybe more sneaky and wise? Time will tell. I'll always cheer for her as she's done so much for our sport and to improve the standard of the women's game, I just hope we get to see her win a few more big titles and have an opportunity to get the world #1 spot back! Jonathon Power did this at the end of his career, so it can happen in the later stages of your career. She definitely still has a shot at every event she enters, it's just the increased depth means it's only getting tougher. Good luck Nicol!

By the way I'm taking Amanda Sobhy in 5 and Ramy Ashour in 4 tonight! Don't forget to check out my new squash merch store at SeriousSquashShop.com

Thursday, August 25, 2016

2016 Hong Kong Open: Pilley vs ElShorbagy

Just a few thoughts on the Hong Kong Open and in particular the Cameron Pilley victory over Mohamed ElShorbagy. I feel like there have been so many upsets and close calls of top seeds falling for a number of reasons. The glass court they are using is not forgiving if you are even just slightly off your mark. I've seen more simple unforced errors from top players including whiffed return of serves, a lot more crosscourts than normal and some really loose drives and so on. It was surprising how consistently players are crosscourting on a backhand return of serve; they must have some trouble with the left wall on the glass court. Of course it's the first event back so some of the players are probably a bit rusty and haven't had a competitive match in some time. I also think the players must struggle a bit on this court.

Another reason I think there have been some upsets and really close calls is because a lot of players have been focusing on their fitness training during their time away from matchplay. Of course this also will have included a break and some time away from the game. It's a very short off season for the top players and for them to have 2-3 weeks off and then put in some off season base training they simply haven't had time to get back into tip top match play form.

I feel this is really what happened with ElShorbagy. Pilley was able to handle the pace of play and ElShorbagy was quite heavy on his attacking shots. He put a number of boasts into the tin and left his drops way too high while Pilley was much more exact with his short game. Still the match was anyones game. There were a number of poor decisions by the refs and an incorrect call giving Pilley one of the games. I was worried near the end of the match that a simple let could be a no let or stroke. I'm sure the players had a few sighs of relief on some of the calls.

I'm guessing by watching the match last night that ElShorbagy did not spend his off season polishing his short game and nor should he. But the fact the Pilley beat him last time they played and ElShorbagy was #1 and this was a tough 2nd round match for him I could see how this put extra pressure on the world #1 and wouldn't help his short game. If you leave a drop or boast a few inches too high you'll get killed at this level and that's what happened. Pilley had a pile of winners on both drops off the bounce and the volley. I feel it really shows how difficult it is to fire on all cylinders all year round. And to top it off the court is one of a kind and difficult to play your best on. It certainly makes for some interesting matches though.

Besides the superior attacking play there were a number of other things that really stood out to me about Pilley's tactical play. I noticed how straight he played from the front left. He never crosscourted unless he really had too because he know ElShorbagy was waiting to pounce on it. There are certain times he was under quite a bit of pressure and was able to hit a great straight drive and reset the rally or even reapply the pressure. The other thing I noticed is how good he was at hitting crosscourts from the back of the court when the ball gets slightly behind him. There were lots of instances where I thought the ball was too far behind him and he would be forced to play a straight drive and ElShorbagy would be waiting to pounce on it, but he was able to flick it (even on the backhand) and get sufficient pace and width on it. I found this a pretty amazing skill. I know I sure can't do that!

Last thing about this battle which I have already hinted at is the pressure of the outcome. Pilley had no pressure and was able to play more freely while ElShorbagy carried all the pressure and was playing to win. The only time Pilley looked tight to me was near the end of a couple of the games where he started thinking about the finish line. You could tell he was being much more cautious and was lucky that ElShorbagy was playing pretty cautious the entire match. You don't get away with playing cautiously at this level. It really was a great demonstration on how pressure or the lack of can influence how you play. If we focus simply on the result and maintaining our record or seeding we normally won't be at our best. Although anyone that saw Raneem El Weleily must also see that this can go the other way too! She's too talented to be out in the 2nd round, but she just looks like she is out there playing just for fun and lacks the intensity and consistency. Either way I would never bet for or against her!

A whole post about the HK Open and I haven't even talked about Ramy once yet! I haven't seen his 2nd round match yet, so maybe I'll have another post to write about this event soon. Stay tuned and please check out the Serious Squash online shop at SeriousSquashShop.com




Wednesday, August 24, 2016

24 Hour Serious Squash Tank Top Sale

Right now there is a 24 hour sale on ladies tank tops at SeriousSquashShop.com Enter the code 'tank25off' at checkout and receive 25% off your purchase. There are 3 styles to choose from! Retail is $29.99 but after the discount code they are just $22.49! Sale ends at on the 25th at midnight. See the video clip and pics before or visit the online store for a better look at the tanks!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Serious Squash Wristband: Pick The Winners Of The Hong Kong Open

I'm having a SeriousSquashShop.com contest for the 1st event of the year! Select the winners and finalists of the HKO for the men and women with game score and you could win your wristband of choice. Only 1 entry per person. You can email your selection to info@serioussquash.com or leave a note below. You must get your picks in before the start of the 2nd round in 24 hours from now (the 1st round is already half done).



Here's a link to the draws: http://www.squashsite.co.uk/hk/draws.htm

Good luck to all of you!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

World Juniors: Age Of Participants In Question Once Again

In 2012 when I was finishing my Masters in Coaching at the University of Victoria I wrote a paper titled 'Relative Age Effects in International Junior Squash Competitions.' The course was Current Issues In Coaching Studies and this was the only topic that was really garnering any media in the squash world around that time. Now I see that Pakistan is again in question about some of their athletes age at the recent World Juniors. I don't know the background of the current situation so I will not remark on this, but I felt it was worth sharing my paper from 2012 about a similar situation. If you're interested in this subject please feel free to have a read and let me know what you think.

I do know that there are always going to be some athletes that will do whatever it takes to succeed. We see doping in professional sports even still! When big money and fame is on the line there will always be some willing to take the risk. And we all know what happened to the Russian track team recently. If someone is lying about their age it is cheating and an unfair advantage (I explain how and why in my paper). If someone is willing to do this will they also not be more likely to dope? Is lying about your age worse than doping or just as bad? Regardless if the reports this time around are true or not something has to be done to rectify this issue. It's not fair to the actual juniors if someone lied about their age and if nobody has than it simply tarnishes Pakisan's title and their national squash federation.

We all want to see a fair competition and we all want to be proud of the accomplishments of the top juniors in the world, regardless of their nationality. Anyways, here's my paper. Enjoy!

Relative Age Effects in International Junior Squash Competitions
EPHE 579, July 20, 2012
By Chris Hanebury
The 2012 World Junior Squash Championships were held in Doha, Qatar from June 7-18, 2012. One-hundred and nineteen boys from twenty-three countries competed for the individual title before competing in the team event (4). This year, the junior girls only had an individual event as the boys and girls team event are hosted on an alternating annual basis. To compete in this tournament a participant had to be under the age of 19 as of July 18, 2012. The Egyptian boys were seeded first in the team event, and rightfully so after two Egyptians made the finals of the individual title (4). Egypt's top junior players have proved themselves on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) world tour (5), making the all difficult transition from the junior squash circuit to the pros. The Pakistani team was seeded and in the individual draw they had 3 players reach the round of 16. Two of which made it through to the quarterfinals and 1 of them made the final four before losing to the eventual champion (4). Although Pakistan finished according to their second place seeding in the team event, they were the country grabbing all of the media attention prior to the event (5,6). The age of the Pakistani athletes were in question after they chose to use a 'traditional' and controversial age verification method which revealed a number of their junior athletes were overage (5,6).

The controversy of overage athletes competing in the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships can be related to some well known instances in other sports (8,13). Former Major League Baseball (MLB) player, Miguel Tejada lied about his age when he signed his first minor league baseball contract (8). In 2008 a private investigator discovered that Tejada was actually 2 years older then he had claimed when being drafted (8). The article makes reference to the challenges that has faced MLB in determining immigrating players' age (8). Oddly enough, Tejada stated that his green card and driver's license both list his proper date of birth (8). If this is indeed the case, then it's baffling to consider how Tejada was able to get away with this lie, especially considering the amount of money involved in MLB. Tejada's incident isn't the only overage example in baseball to capture international media attention. In the 2000 Little League World Series, Danny Almonte steamrolled all of his 12 year old opponents as a starting pitcher (13). Danny won all 4 of his starts, giving up no earned runs, striking out 62 of the 72 batters he faced, and for good measure tossed a perfect game (13). 

According to sources there was a private investigation paid for by the parents of another team to investigate Almonte's actual age (13). At the time of the incidence, Lance Van Auken was the Little League director of media relations. Van Auken said that, "there is no way we can go and check the birth date of every player. All we can do is continue to depend on our volunteers and the parents who are signing up their kids"(13). No wonder they were unable to verify everyones age as the Little League had 1 to approximately 25,000 staff to athlete ratio. If situations like this have happened in main stream sports, what actions can the World Squash Federation (WSF) implement to prevent this from happening again in international junior squash competitions? Furthermore, how can we be proactive and prevent this from happening again instead of relying on post-event investigations to clear the air?

The details of what exactly transpired at the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships are unclear. But what is known is that Pakistan sent a very strong team (4). Whether any of the athletes on this team were overage is still in question. Although we could assume that because they played in this event that all of the participants were eligible (under 19). The countries must follow the rules and guidelines provided by the WSF. The WSF has a rule for the World Junior Championships that states that the athletes must be under 19 years of age as of the last day of the competition (15). Another WSF policy states that only if an athletes eligibility is in doubt the countries national squash federation has to provide supporting evidence (15). At the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the WSF has recently implemented an independent ethics panel (15). According to the WSF this newly adopted panel is used 'very rarely' (15).

The issue surrounding the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships involves questions regarding the age of the Pakistan boys team (5,6). According to reports in the Pakistan media source 'The News,' the WSF and the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) were working together to determine the age of their athletes and confirm their eligibility (5,6). The PSF issued age testing to 150 junior male squash players and over 60% were found to be overage (6). This announcement provoked controversy in the squash community, but it was the specifications of the age testing that made the media headlines more surreal. The testing the PSF used to determine the players age was an 'armpit test' (6). For the western civilization this appears like an ancient and unconvincing method to determine somebodies age. Even more so considering that this method is ultimately determining if an athlete is eligible to compete for their country on the biggest stage for junior squash. This situation makes for a great debate and raises some interesting questions. Did the WSF do the right thing by asking the PSF to produce their own age verification for their athletes? How confident is the WSF and the other countries that the results produced from the armpit test are accurate? Did this situation arise because of a WSF organizational and policy issue that needs to be improved? What implications does relative age have on competitive sport, and in particular squash? Is there an alternative solution to this issue that can prevent it from reoccurring? Or was this situation dealt with in an appropriate matter? These questions will form the basis of this article, in particular the impact of the relative age effect (RAE) of junior squash players. The goal is to demonstrate what advantages older and more experienced athletes have in competition and the importance of keeping them in their proper age groups. Finally I will list some action plans for eliminating future doubt over an athlete's age and eligibility, removing the cloud of doubt over future international junior squash championships.

In a study by Baker and Logan, (2007) a hockey players RAE proved to have a significant impact on the likelihood of being selected in the National Hockey League (NHL) draft. Baker and Logan reported that 64% of the hockey players drafted between the years studied (2000-2005) had a birthday in the first 6 months of the calendar year. This shows an advantage to kids that are only slightly older then their classmates. As children and teenagers these kids would generally be more physically mature and therefore more likely to be chosen for the higher skilled teams. Being chosen for a higher skilled team would in turn provide more opportunities, including expert coaching, training and competition. In another study by Musch and Grondin (2001), they found that when children play up in an age category (against older kids) it has a negative consequence on their personal development. They concluded that younger children are less successful competing against older children and that the RAE has a major impact on the athlete's perceived competence (7).

According to research by Stones (2001) the RAE discrepancies are most evident in sporting events requiring high power and endurance. Furthermore, Stones reported that the major contributing factors to the RAE were the athletes' knowledge, skill, experience and motivation to compete. These components are hypothesized to alter in relative importance over the course of an athletes' career (12). It was also suggested that age was an important factor because older athletes are more adept in applying their strategy and tactics. While a meta-analysis by Cobley (2009) involving male athletes (15-18) at a representative level (provincial or national), found RAE for all of the sports studied. When Cobley's findings are combined with the previous studies it seems logical that the RAE would be evident in a dynamic open sporting environment which requires a high level of endurance, such as squash.

Besides an internationals title, there was much more up for grabs at the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships. The United States coach was Paul Assaiante, the men's head coach for Trinity college (4). Trinity along with a number of other American colleges and universities have a lot of international squash players on their teams (3). This international event represented an opportunity for junior squash players to showcase their talent to various College Squash Associations (CSA) teams and coaches. The Canadian team included a freshman from Harvard and another player who has committed to Yale for the fall of 2012 (10). For junior squash players outside of North America, being recruited by a varsity squash team can be more challenging. This is another reason why it is so vital to ensure an even playing field for any world junior championship.

Besides the potential of being recognized and recruited from a varsity coach, there is much more at stake for junior squash players. It was shown through a variety of studies that the RAE has a major impact on many areas of a young athletes sporting career (1, 2,7,12). In junior squash this is no exception. What does a junior player do when he/she turns 19? Some might choose collegiate squash (if possible), but others will turn professional and register for a Professional Squash Association (PSA) or Women's Squash Association (WISPA) tour card (11, 14). The RAE is clearly relevant in squash as there are very few juniors (under 19) in the WISPA top 50 world rankings and even fewer in the PSA (11, 14). Making the jump to compete against professional adult players that have compiled many years of training and competition is very challenging. It appears that very few juniors can make this transition effectively under the age of 19. In Pakistan, their 2012 national junior closed had prize money of approximately $2,150 Canadian (9). This is not a customary practice in Canada or the United States as juniors are still considered amateur athletes.

The facts surrounding the PSF and their players are vaguely reported and difficult to determine. It has not been confirmed if any overage players competed in the World Junior Squash Championships, but there was plenty of debate and concern over this issue (5,6). The WSF could go on as currently proceeding and rely on each country to verify the age of all of their athletes. Although a simple approach that requires no additional resources it will not provide confidence to the other participants and coaches that there is an equal playing ground. Therefore the RAE could still persist and advantages would favour the older and overage athletes. A second alternative would be to make an amendment to the WSF rules and regulations outlining the specific measures that they will take to ensure proper age requirements are met at all major international junior events. The trouble with this option would be enforcing the rule. Who would enforce any potential consequences and what would they be? The WSF could need to make the participants provide age verifying identification at the time of registration and at the onset of the tournament. It would then just be a matter of which method is deemed acceptable for verifying the age of the athletes. Clearly there is some doubt among the media regarding the armpit method that was used for the Pakistani team (5,6). So the WSF might have to explicitly tell each of the national sporting organizations (NSO) which methods can be used for verifying age. This would undoubtably improve the standard of results for age identification. Implementing this option would rely heavily on each NSO for upholding this rule. This doesn't necessarily solve the issue though. What if a country does not have the proper resources or is more concerned with competing and winning then upholding this rule? Therefore, the rule in itself is not sufficient. A final alternative would be the creation of an additional, older junior category (e.g., under 21). This could help bridge the gap for kids that are 19 and 20 and allow them some more time to compete as a junior before deciding to enter college or turn professional. This could also potentially decrease the RAE of the athletes and might make athletes less likely to enter a younger division. Although this is not a fail safe plan, because this alternative does not ensure that 21 or 22 year olds will not attempt to register for the under 21 division.

Evaluating each of these options from a deontological perspective leads to some interesting conclusions. Obviously doing nothing is not a proactive and reasonable solution because this does not ensure that the RAE of the junior squash players are reduced. Whereas an amendment to the WSF rules for providing age verification would eliminate much of doubt regarding the eligibility of the athletes. Although this would take a lot of cooperation from the NSO's to uphold this rule. The WSF would have to hold the NSO more accountable for accurate age verification. If any NSO is found negligible they would be held accountable. This solution would involve creating consequences for any infraction, such as not allowing the other athletes from that country to compete in the event. This would make it much more likely that countries would uphold the WSF rules and regulations. The last alternative of creating an additional older, junior category could assist athletes in making an easier transition to the collegiate or professional level. This could also improve the RAE of junior squash players, but this policy on its own does not ensure the athlete will register into their appropriate division. It appears that more would need to be done to accurately verify the age of the participants.

The WSF cannot expect all of the participating countries and athletes to believe, adopt and abide to a standard set of ethics and morals. Therefore it seems doubtful that making an appeal to do the 'morally correct' thing would be a deterrent. The fact of the matter is that age and experience plays a major factor in determining the success of junior athletes (7, 12). Separating young squash players into the correct category is crucial for eliminating the RAE in competition and creating equality in competition. The most effective option for ensuring that this happens in future international squash tournaments is to have the WSF implement a rule requiring a standard method for athlete age verification. All of the participants' age should have to be confirmed at the time of registration and at the commencement of each world championship. Because of the large number of competitors involved, each countries NSO will be held accountable for confirming birth records. The rule would also have to state explicitly which methods are approved for measurement and which are not. The WSF could further deter overage athlete participation by implementing severe consequences for any infraction. They could penalize either the individual athletes, or suspend the entire team. This rule will increase the credibility of future World Junior Squash Championships and decrease the RAE of the athletes involved. This will ensure that the recognition and scholarship opportunities are provided to the proper group of athletes. Appropriate junior categories are a necessity for any international competition and with the implementation of this additional rule, the WSF can take a major step in the right direction.

References

  1. Baker, J., & Logan, J. (2007). Developmental contexts and sporting success: Birthdate and birthplace effects in national hockey league draftees 2000-2005. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 41, 515-517 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.033977. Retrieved July 13, 2012 online from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465449/?tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract
  2. Cobley, S. (2009). Annual age-grouping and athlete development: A meta-analytical review of relative age effects in sport. Sports Medicine (Auckland), 39(3), 235.
  3. College Squash Association (2012). Retrieved July 15, 2012 online from: http://collegesquashassociation.com/
  4. Doha WSF World Junior Squash Championships 2012. Retrieved July 3, 2012 online from: http://www.wsfworldjuniors.com/
  5. Gilmour, R. Pakistan Official Check Players Armpits to Determine Age as World Squash Joins Force to Remove Doubt. The Telegraph. July 3, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/squash/9371526/Pakistan-officials-check-players-armpits-to-determine-age-as-world-squash-joins-forces-to-remove-doubt.html
  6. Hamza, W. Old Methods Used to Determine Players' Age. The News. June 23, 2012. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-10-116235-Old-method-used-to-determine-players-age
  7. Musch, J., & Grondin, S. (2001). Unequal competition as an impediment to personal development: A review of the relative age effect in sport. Developmental Review, 21(2), 147-167. doi:10.1006/drev.2000.0516.
  8. Ortiz, J. At 33 Tejada's 2 Years Older Than Astros Thought. The Houston Chronicle. April 17, 2008. http://www.chron.com/sports/astros/article/At-33-Tejada-s-2-years-older-than-Astros-thought-1598689.php
  9. Pakistan Squash Federation. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from: http://www.squash.com.pk/
  10. Personal conversations with Tyler Olson (Harvard student) and Zach Leman (Yale).
  11. Professional Squash Association. Dunlop PSA World Rankings. Retrieved July 14, 2012 online from: http://www.psaworldtour.com/page/WorldRankings/0,,13121,00.html
  12. Stones, M. J. (2001). Sports performance, age differences in. In Editors-in-Chief: Neil J. Smelser, & Paul B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (pp. 14944-14947). Oxford: Pergamon. doi:10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/01384-X.
  13. Thomsen, I & Llosa, F. One For the Ages: Birth Records in his Native Land Suggest that Danny Almonte, Star of the Little League World Series, May Have Been a Ringer. Sports Illustrated. August 27, 2001. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/features/cover/news/2001/08/27/llwseries/
  14. Women's International Squash Players Association (2012). Retrieved July 14, 2012 online from: http://www.wispa.net/
  15. World Squash Federation. World Squash Championship Regulations (version 4.4). April, 2012. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from: http://www.worldsquash.org/




Sunday, August 14, 2016

Traditional Squash vs. Creating Chaos

Today I'm going to talk about tactics. I grew up playing an extremely attacking brand of squash, but this mellowed as I got older. If you're curious to see how I played as a young junior you can check it out here (fyi I'm the little guy!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_e8DUBYrHI

As I've gotten older and played against stronger players I feel my game has become more traditional. Is this just me doing what I keep suggesting that my athletes do? Or does it have something to do with playing higher percentage points and patterns of play? Does the new scoring to 11 (well it's not so new anymore) greatly impact the importance of each point and make it less likely to play a few risky shots? Or perhaps it's that I don't train as much these days and I can't cover the court as well? It could also be that now my length is better so I feel that I can win points playing basic squash too. Anyways, for a variety of reasons things have changed, but I still have a passion for creative and chaotic squash.

I'm always careful telling someone how to play. I do believe there are fundamental tactics that can be extremely effective. If I play basic squash better than some other player who plays the same way I am going to win that match pretty consistently unless they are way fitter than me; it's all playing the percentages and being a little more consistent will pay off over the course of a number of rallies.

I've noticed that strong experienced players greatly prefer a rhythm to their rallies. Even when doing a basic drill like rotating drives or a length game if I play intentionally wild shots they are almost always more effective against a strong player than a well struck tight drive. Many top players only practice against other smiler skilled players who have the same process goal, hit it tighter on a more consistent basis. As soon as the angles and weight of shot are changed by a substantial margin they really struggle to adapt. Their movement, reaction and accuracy on the next shot will almost always be inaccurate. This is why we see the intentional shots down the middle from the front and occasionally from the back of the court these days. We also see some slightly heavier drops at the front of the court too as this is an area most top pros don't practice hitting from and moving into. Also, when you play a slightly heavier drop if your opponent counters straight they will not be in your path to the ball. These were just a couple of example of how pros use different types of shots which put their opponents in unfamiliar situations.


At the top level all the players have tremendous basics as they've worked on that their entire squash career. But the ones that are the most exciting (Ramy Ashour!) to watch are the ones that also do things differently, dictate play and aren't afraid to mix things up and play riskier shots; they have a different vision on court than most os us do. Ramy has impeccable length, but is using it to set something up quickly while other players like Nick Matthew is more patient and using his attrition to wear down his opponents. I tell my students that there is always a best option of shot to play. This is important when learning to play squash as most amateurs will rarely select the best option (and often pick the absolute worst one!) which gets them in loads of trouble. We as coaches try and eliminate these shots from their game and for good reason, correct?

Making good decisions is critical to becoming a consistent high level squash player. When you start playing against people that have played squash for decades they get used to playing certain patterns of play and there aren't too many surprises left in store for them. This is when each player settles in to see who has the best fundamentals or who can keep up the intensity of the rallies longest and over the course of 30-60 minutes we usually find out. These opponents will normally hit their best and 2nd best option throughout the entire match and it's easy to fall into patterns because of this level of predictability. Hit it deep from the back and front and look to attack on loose mid-court balls. There is little creativity and thinking going on when you play this kind of squash because it's ingrained and they are on autopilot; every decision and shot execution is done without really thinking because it's been rehearsed over and over and over. Don't get me wrong it can be done extremely effective if you want to spend a couple of hours every day for your entire career working on the same things over and over again and hoping to do them better than the next guy. I should also mention here that if you're a creative and attacking player, you still need to work on these basics day in, day out as well, but there is a lot more to squash if you want there to be.

There is another alternative here and that is what I used in the title called 'chaos.' The degree of chaos you play will depend on your ability, open mindedness, opportunities and level of opponent. If I play people well below my level I can play zero traditional shots and they really struggle. This can be as simple as hitting non-traditional serves. Of course this level of opponent will struggle adapting to things they've never practiced against or seen before. The tricky part is when you play someone who is around the same level as you. If I attempt to play strange angles or my 2nd or 3rd or even 4th best option it could very well catch my opponent off guard, but it is also generally a riskier shot and lower percentage. This means if I play riskier shots I will make more mistakes and potentially set my opponent up for some quality openings. There is also more potential for a quick reward/opening, but there is also the threat that a high quality opponent won't let me get away with forcing the action and giving them an angle. So it can be easy to fall back into the traditional style of squash against evenly matched opponents. Sometimes you need to play more basic in these situations and the longer you do the more your opponent is vulnerable to the quick attack or unusual angle. I like to think it's all about finding how much of what you can throw at someone and still be effective.

I think there is a lot more room for chaos than we believe in our rallies. Chaos could be hitting shots right down the middle or at your opponent, varying speeds, angles and depths of shots, the spin, or using disguise and deception. You can hits shots that are unpredictable or even just change the timing of when you hit the ball. It's basically about not letting your opponent settle into that rhythm that they enjoy, practice and are searching for. Learning how and when to open up the court or hit an intentionally wild shot is what you need to learn and you can only really figure this out from experimenting in condition games and match play. I also have to mention that playing a chaos brand of squash can still be as methodical and well thought out as traditional squash. Just because you're not playing in a set rhythm doesn't mean there is a method to the madness; you simply see different types of openings than most basic squash players notice.

If you play with chaos you are also looking to disrupt your opponents movement patterns and split step. It's a rather simple for a skilled player tome into and out of any of the corners and keep a ball straight that is already close to the sidewall. This becomes much tougher when the ball is jamming them and angled away from the sidewall. When the ball is moving at an angle towards or away from your opponent it will be very difficult for them to get the spacing and timing just right to hit their target and that's exactly what you're trying to do here. If they slightly miss your target you get that opening that your opponent is trying to set up with their basic length game.

I believe it comes down to what style suits your game and what style you want to play. If you want to play traditional squash it is easier to teach and you can play it all the way to the highest level. If you are a creative person and that's what you enjoy I would encourage you to focus on this style of play. If I withheld someone from trying intentionally wild and creative shots until they were already a polished player I think it would be too late to change and they would have missed out of a lot of learning over the years.

If you want to add some chaos to your game you need to always test out shots and be able to accept some mistakes in the short term. It will be tough to play full on chaos unless you have absolutely ridiculous shots and speed to cover your shots or your opponent is quite a bit weaker than you. Your court coverage and anticipation skills play a big part in your ability to play this style of play. Some people that don't move well are forced to try and end rallies quickly and will often go for outright winners from low percentage situations. This isn't really about playing chaos as it is being desperate and forcing the play. The heavily fatigued, skilled player will generally have the chaos to traditional squash balance way off which can get them into a lot of trouble, but occasionally can also cause great difficulty for some people because there is no traditional pattern of play.

Personally, when I feel like playing creative and super attacking squash it's all about trying to push the envelope as far as I can and then going a little further. If I go a little over the line I'll get punished against a quality player and I know I am just a fraction over where I can be effective. The stronger my forearm and the quicker I get to the ball the more options I have. This is just how I liked to play, but I never fully committed to playing this style because I always wanted to win each and every match I played and often this means grinding it out and not making unforced errors. It's even tougher to stick to this chaos tactic when you're representing a team and your result effects the team as a whole.

A good example of playing not the best option is deciding when to play an attacking two-wall boast from the back of the court. Unless your opponent is hanging way back or not watching you this will always be a riskier play than a straight drive, yet we see this shot played all of the time with a high degree of success at the pro level. Deciding when and how frequently to play this boast is the key. If your setup looks like a drive you will more likely have success with the shot. But if you play a boast every rally your opponent will expect it and will begin to pick them up even if they're well executed. So learning how many drives you need to play before using that boast is a key component to its success. You can begin to overthink this too, like your opponent will never expect a 2nd boast right after you just played one. This is where you are playing the least likely shot, but potentially the riskiest. I think to do this well is a gift and is something that is learned implicitly from your experience of years and years of chaotic squash.

So which style do you play? How has it evolved over the years? How do you think the game will evolve over the decades to come? I believe it will become faster, more attacking and creative. The tin was lowered some years ago and the scoring has changed a couple of times already. The ball has also become slower because we hit the ball harder. When I was a kid we used the Merco single yellow dot and eventually this transitioned to the Dunlop single yellow. So if you're a junior and you have your sights on playing professionally one day this is something you should consider when you're training and developing your tactics and game plan.

As a coach I feel I have an obligation to focus on helping kids learn the fundamentals, but I also want to be certain I allow for creativity and mistakes. It's difficult to find the right balance when kids are just getting started. How you teach them and the drills you run at practices will have a big impact on the type of player your athletes become. If you want to be a more traditional player you'll likely do lots of blocked repetitive drills such as rotating drives and boast drive whereas the open, creative chaotic players will do more conditions games and drills with options. And remember that even if you want to be a chaotic player you still need to do the basics well so make sure you can hit your targets on all the different shots or you'll never get the time and space you need to use your creative shot making ability.

There's nothing quite like winning a point on a sneaky or risky shot. For some reason it just feels better, like it should be worth more than 1 point when we execute something ridiculously difficult or extremely intelligent and against the grain of common sense. What usually happens next for most people is they go right back to the well and either make a mistake or get burned. Finding the balance of chaos that works for your game and pushing the envelope is what you should be thinking about. I know a lot coaches will say there is only 1 way to play squash, but I completely disagree. I'm not suggesting that you completely change your style of play, but I bet there are some areas where you could play some sneaky unexpected high percentage shots and wins some easy points. If you really want to play with angles and be completely unpredictable the sky is the limit, but this again is a tricky thing to teach and learn. You'll need to be confident, commit to your shots, understand the swing/anticipation/deception, fearless, have unbelievable racquet skills and of course extremely creative.

Some people don't like risk-taking and uncertainty and prefer doing things by the book. If you're a very traditional player that plays high percentage and smart squash I guess you will struggle against chaos because this will be much different than how you practice. Remember chaos works because people aren't used to the patterns of play and the angles they constantly have to deal with. There's more than 1 way to play all the different shots and the goal is to make your opponent miss their targets and become unsettled.

That's it for today, thanks for reading! Please check out my new online squash gear store at SeriousSquashShop.com I've designed performance enhancing squash gear including shirts that say 'If You Can Read This I'm Winning' on the back of them which should help you volley more and focus on dominating the T. Plus a variety of sport psychology wristbands that have essential positive statements on them which will allow you to train harder, refocus and play smarter in competition.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Top 20 Serious Squash Skill Challenges

Here's a link to my 20 toughest skill challenges to date! I'm 2 months post knee surgery so I should be adding to this list again shortly. Enjoy :)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzYXhBuUol3QJ9ArX9IfFT73wAeygEIOi

Monday, August 8, 2016

Is Your Self-Perceived Weakness The Source Of Your Greatest Strength?

We've all heard the tale of David and Goliath. I even wrote a post awhile back about  common misperceptions we have about strengths and weaknesses. I'm going to pick up on these prior discusses about how your weakness could actually be your greatest asset. 

I'm only 5 7" and I was always one of the shortest kids in school. I've had many thoughts about how much better I would be if I was a few inches taller; I'd be able to cover more court and volley more shots. What I experienced sounds like a fair assessment. But we are unable to change our physical traits and genetic makeup. 

Many of us have asked the questions if its environment or genetics that allow the greatest to be successful. If only I was 6 foot maybe I too could have played professional squash. I know I've got you wondering now how can my height be an advantage? Let me explain. 



Squash is a sport that anyone can play. There are all different sized players on the tour. Rodriquez, Gaultier and Au all demonstrate that a shorter man can be a great squash pro. Nicol David has done the same on the women's side. But how exactly does my size give me an advantage on the squash court? Let's find out. 

First of all I have to be faster, quicker to react and more efficient with my movement. If I was a few inches taller perhaps I would reach for balls more and not be as fast off the mark. So yes I may have to work harder to get more balls back, but this makes me faster and fitter. Rodriguez must be one of if not the fastest and he's one of the shortest. He is almost too fast for his own good though and often hits shots that must make David Palmer cringe. 


Being shorter in stature means that my shot selection is even more critical. I can't get away with floating shots to the front of the court. I have to send my opponent up there under pressure or I'm in trouble. A lot of taller juniors I see get away with lots of terrible shot because they can dig a lot back. If they played against more polished opponents they would also learn quickly that you can't just float a ball with no purpose to the front of the court. I still want to play an attacking style of squash so I just know I need to set up better openings and be more exact with my attack. Can you see where I'm going with this? Because I don't have a go-go gadget reach I am forced to make better shot selections and execute more precisely. I know this so I've spent hours and hours working on my short game. Annie Au must be the best example of this on tour. She is not very quick, but because of this she has worked on other areas which become much stronger. I doubt Au's style of played would have been as it is if not for her size and speed. 


There are also a number of things that are advantageous to shorter people in squash. Because of my size it is harder for me to get jammed by a shot. If a ball is hit right at me I have less area to get my feet out of the way to get set. I am also lower and have to lunge less deep compared to taller players. When I play a tall person I always hit shots low and right at them. 

Also, because of my height I have a more compact swing than taller players. I can get my swing set quicker and when I contact the ball at proper spacing I am slightly closer to the ball which means means more control and balance. I have more control just like when you move your hand up higher on your grip. As you do this you are closer to your projectile (the ball) and you will generally be slightly more accurate. My balance is better than a taller person because my centre of gravity is lower and the radius of my swing is slightly smaller. 

There really are lots of advantages to being short in squash and it's helped me become the player I am. I can say honesty now that my height is not the reason I didn't become a top psa player. It has a lot more to do with quitting squash at the age of 14 for 5 years. 


A couple of months ago I had knee surgery. I also believe that this will make me a better player when I come back. I will enjoy being on court more and will try and think less about the outcomes. It also gives my mind and body a bit of a break, which is probably long overdo. On top of this having this injury has made me more aware of taking proper care of my body and I plan on doing more preventative training to stay stronger and healthier. The same could very well happen to Ramy. I believe that there is a positive side to these injuries if we stay open minded and driven to succeed. But just like our self-perceived weakness, if we only look at it as an awful thing with no positive side to it we are missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow from our experience. Nobody ever wants to think that an injury can be a positive experience, but I believe they can have lots of positive consequences and when we come back from them we will have learned a lot that we just never would have if we never went through it. Guess this is where the saying, 'what doesn't kills us makes us stronger' comes from. 

Another example of the more we're challenged the more we gain is in sport psychology. The bigger the challenge you face the more you have to gain and improve from. This is the approach you must have when things seem to be going against you. Imagine if everything was easy in your matches, the ref made all the calls in your favour and you never got down in any of the games. This is a level of comfort we would all enjoy, but this situation does not present us with the best chances to improve our mental game. 

I hope I've given you lots of reasons to rethink how you perceive your so-called weaknesses. The only detrimental part of a perceived weakness is the lack of confidence you have because of your destructive interpretation of it. Perhaps looking at your perceived weakness in a new shade of light will let you see that it actually helps to make you stronger and develops other strengths you would not have otherwise. If we don't get pushed and have things too easy we won't become tougher and will never reach our potential. 

I'm a big Toronto Blue Jays and Marcus Stroman fan. Stroman's famous line is 'HDMH' which stands for 'height doesn't measure heart.' He's only 5 8" and asked the Jays to lower his height listed on their program to his proper height. He embraced his perceived weakness because he realizes that it's his greatest asset and is what gives him an advantage over his competitors. He uses his stature as motivation to work harder and has become such a positive individual and more mentally tough because of it. Surely this wouldn't have happened if he was an average height for a major league pitcher. He wants to prove all of his naysayers wrong and is one of the most motivated athletes in all of baseball. 


There's nothing quite like demolishing stereotypes and proving not only to yourself, but to others just like yourself how often we misjudge people. If you need some help believing that your perceived weakness is an asset use vicarious learning by looking at someone who has a similar perceived weakness and is successful. And if someone hasn't done it yet, remember that doesn't mean it can't be done. If you're confident and keep working at it you can do more than you ever thought was possible. Be the next David, Rodriguez or Stroman or better yet be the first of you and become someone else's example and motivation! 

The sooner you change your attitude towards your perceived weakness the more you will benefit from it. Not being good at something or being titled 'genetically inferior' for your sport means you will make up for it in another way and will be stronger because of it. This is the reason anybody can play the most physically gruelling sport in the world at the highest level.

Lastly, be sure to check out my new online squash store at SeriousSquashShop.com I have men's and women's shirts, tank tops, sport psych wristbands, hats and bandanas! Enter the code 'SERIOUSSQUASHROCKS' to receive 15% off your order! Thanks for reading and supporting Serious Squash! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mindfullness

Today I'm finally getting around to a post on mindfulness. I found notes in a journal I wrote as a kid about some of my goals and it included meditation and learning to control my mind. As a kid I struggled with visualization and controlling my emotions when I played. Generally it does get better with age and experience, but I still believe there are lots of ways that we as coaches can help our athletes train and improve their mental game. Some people seem to be naturally gifted at staying positive and giving a 100% effort, or for maintaining their focus. I unfortunately was not one of those that found the mental game natural or easy to improve.

In retrospective it's simple to look back on previous matches and years of tournaments and come up with a more positive learning experience and outlook for them. I think I struggled with the mental side when I was younger because I thought I could get where I wanted simply by working hard and putting in the time. I know now that more isn't always better and it's not always about trying harder. Often in matches I would have a tactic and not stick to it and get upset at myself. Other times I would play 1 style of play and not adjust regardless of what was happening. I always tried to play perfect squash and when things started to unwind a bit I would make things even worse by getting angry. Any of these scenarios sound familiar?

I remember when I was a junior being asked to visualize myself play a match and I could never imagine myself playing well and winning points. Since I couldn't picture myself playing as well as I actually could in real life so I quickly abandoned this approach and I know now that this just meant I had lots of room for improvement. Imagery, staying positive, confidence, handing pressure, managing emotions and staying focused are all things I've struggled with over the years and especially as a kid. Thankfully there is a thing called wisdom.

Over the past few years I've read a lot of books on sport psychology and mostly from experience I have learned to compose myself and control my emotions better on court. I've learned an approach that works best for me and it's about never getting angry for missing my target and only focusing on making good decisions. Nowadays I can get over missed shots far quicker and even poor selections because I understand how many decisions are made in a single point and even though I've played squash for most of my life, I still make some poor choices. You can see how psychological draining this game can be if you go in with the wrong mindset.

Most of us take our loses way harder than we should and we have trouble seeing that they provide the best opportunities for us to learn. This reminds me of John Wooden's quote where he says that 'the only thing worse than losing too much is winning too much.' When I was a kid I never would believe that quote, but I do see the wisdom in it now. Don't get me wrong, I still hate to lose, but when I recap what happened I always focus on the process and learn from it. Winning all the time can feed into your ego and makes you play squash focusing on the outcome as opposed to the process. Don't get too comfortable and afraid of losing sometimes, believe it or not it's good for you!



Okay, so let's get back on the topic of mindfulness again; I first heard of this approach in sport from Phil Jackson in his book Sacred Hoops. I thought it was such a unique idea so the next time I went on court I tried to play like this. By mistake I misinterpreted mindfulness for 'mindless' and so I went out trying to keep my head completely blank; safe to say it didn't go well! I didn't really give mindfulness too much thought for awhile longer until I read an article on Novak Djokovic and how he practices mindfulness for 15 minutes everyday. A couple of months later I find George Mumford's book which is titled The Mindful Athlete (pictured above). Mumford is the sport psychologist that Jackson referred to earlier in his book and he worked with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant along with many other top athletes. Finally Mumford was able to clarify a lot about mindfulness and what it is and isn't and how to practice it.

Mumford talks about how mindfulness if learning to quiet the mind through meditation and with lots of practice you can learn to become better equipped at emptying your mind when it's carrying around destructive thoughts that we habitually have. I think this is where Djokovic is at now; he is able to keep his mind out of the way in the pressure of competition and instead of focusing on staying positive or some other sport psych phenomenon he is able to get his mind into the right zone or mindset which allows him to play his best. It's quieting the distractions and just playing. The more control you have over your thoughts and focus the quicker you can catch yourself drifting and losing your train of thought and the better able you are to get yourself back into this optima performance zone.

When you are in the zone and mindful your focus is taking in the optimal percentage of internal and external stimuli without being consciously aware of this so you can pick up only what is relevant to the task at hand. Mumford also talks about how enjoying and having fun playing is the best method for competing with a mindful state. This must be an terribly challenging thing for people that once played for the love of the game, but now play for other external reasons. If money or stats if your focus when you play your mindset isn't going to be optimal for playing your best. Of course we want to win a trophy or prize money so how do we not focus on that? I believe that the more pressure that is on the line the more important mindfulness becomes to an athlete. I also believe that an athlete needs to be introduced to this skill earlier than later as it takes years to really master, just like any other skill. Regardless of the sport it will be interesting to see how the Olympians deal with the pressures in Rio.

So where do you go from here? Well you can ask yourself if you're having trouble with your nerves, focus, confidence, emotions or the ability to play your best in tournament play. If you answered yes to any of these maybe it's time to start spending a few minutes per day meditating. I've read a number of books on zen and I know there are certain ways you should sit and breathe, but I feel you can personalize this to your needs and ability. If sitting or lying down works better for you try that. Some people like to keep their eyes open while others closed. You may notice that your mind is full of ideas and you're having a lot of trouble sitting still let alone focusing on what you're doing at that very moment (which of course is not exciting!). It's an amazingly difficult yet simple concept which is an integral step to becoming more mindful when you compete.

One thing I did the other day which I'm a big fan of is floating. Below is a picture of a float tank which I find makes relaxing and meditating a bit easier. There is no worrying about how long you've been meditating for as you simply sit in the tank until the music begins to play an hour and fifteen minutes later. The tank is also a sensory deprivation tank which means the water is kept at your body temperature and because of the large quantity of epsom salt you float so you cannot feel anything. It's also pitch dark and quiet so it's an ideal setting for focusing on your breathing, relaxing and being mindful. Because you book the time you don't procrastinate about doing it and you turn your phone off so there's no distractions. There's no cheating and looking at the clock or sending a quick text. If you're having trouble meditating I suggest you find a local float tank deprivation centre and give it a try. I often find the time flies by when I float.



When it comes to meditating at home I like to set my timer for 15 minutes first thing when I get up and just sit there. If my thoughts begin to drift off to my breakfast or what I have to do that day I will focus on my breathing and maybe even begin to count my breaths. As you do this your focus becomes more in the present and mindful. I've gotten better at this, but it really is something I will always have to practice if I want to learn how to spend more time in the present and control my thoughts, emotions, breathing and focus. Some of us lose our concentration easier than others and if you do I think you will also find this extremely challenging, but also very beneficial when you begin to see improvements in your focus and squash game.

I still think the mental game is an area that we know less about compared to other areas of sport training. It's also still an area that is difficult to teach because some athletes don't buy into it or take it seriously. It can also be difficult taking into account for individual differences. Only you know what you're thinking when you're training and competing and the first step is becoming aware of your thoughts, both destructive and positive ones. I believe coaches have a responsibility to introduce this topic, but it's up to the individual athletes to do this on their own time. If you feel the mental game is your weakest point you should make this your top priority on your training program.

Do you sign a song in your head to distract yourself when you compete? I know a number of people who do this and I think this is just a crutch and isn't the optimal focus for playing your best squash; it just represents the trouble we have quieting our mind and finding a consistent level headed mindset for our matches. I believe this stems from the over stimulation we deal with as early as we are born. Kid toys are not basic stuffed animals anymore because most kids would prefer something that beeps and has lights. Eventually kids see a television or video games and of course cell phones. We have all fallen into these devices and I haven't looked into research, but I assume has repercussions for our psychological well-being and negatively impacts our mental game when we play sports which require a great deal on thought control. Technology has a lot of benefits, but will also make the ability to disassociate from them even more critical to our overall happiness, well-being and success on the squash court.

I really believe having a single tactical goal suits me best when I compete and I've played so much squash that if I'm in the right quiet mindset I will know how to adjust without overthinking things or getting upset for not making an adjustment quicker. I know in previous years I would play so narrow minded with a single tactic that I would fail to adapt my game properly and afterwards I would think to myself, 'why didn't I do this or that?' If you're in the right mindful mindset and you have the expertise I think you will be able to make these adjustments instinctively and much faster.

Lastly, don't forget that sports are supposed to be fun! If we try too hard and take things too seriously we will rarely be in our optimal zone for playing our best squash. This is why I designed my most recent sport psych wristband slogan that says, 'play smarter, not harder' (a pic of a similar band is below). I think a lot of us competitive people focus so much on winning that we fall into this trap and according to Mumford is not the optimal state of mind for playing in the zone and mindful.



That's it for today. I hope you enjoyed this article. I find mindfulness and sport psychology fascinating. Please feel free to share your experiences on this subject and any other interesting reads you've come across. And don't forget to check out my new online squash gear store at SeriousSquashShop.com and get yourself a sport psych wristband! Play Smarter, Not Harder