Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Knowing When To Stick With Plan A

One of the most difficult things I have found as a player and also as a coach is deciding after losing a game to not change a thing. We all think that because we lose a game we must change something so we do better in the next one. This is a really difficult concept to understand in the heat of battle as a player and as a coach. We want to play our best and if we lose we don't like to admit that our opponents executed really well or that there is a thing called statistics that balance themselves out over the long haul and that sometimes a single game isn't long enough to know if our tactics will prevail. In squash there is also a major fitness and mental component to a match which we must be taken into account. Often times all we need to change is our focus and other times it's simply maintaining that concentration and effort after a disappointing result. Plus if all we ever think about and hear after a game is what could have been better, how are we ever going to be confident in what we did well and what was working? Focusing too much on areas that need improvement doesn't always mean you will play better after acquiring such knowledge. Ahh, the art of coaching.

If we are playing someone stronger than our level we shouldn't look only at the score to determine how well we are playing. Here I prefer to focus on playing the right shot and simple things, such as getting your opponent behind you or extending the rallies or making them work harder. This all makes sense, but what happens when we lose a game to a person that we believe to be at or even below our level? This happens to all of us and when it does our ego takes a real shot in the gut. We get twisted up because we can't understand how we are playing so poorly, again forgetting that we are up against an opponent who has come out for a real fight.

The first thing here is just to let go of the worry about the outcome (outcome focused does not give you desired outcome results). Worry leads to tension, overthinking, anger and potentially freezing up. The key isn't always making a change, it's normally just focusing on the process; keeping things simple and staying positive. Keeping things simple and doing the basics well can take you a long ways on the court; the challenge is that this becomes all the more difficult to do when our back is up against the wall. And remember that if your basics are superior to your opponents, over the course of a match most of the time things will go in your favour.

If we use excuses like the refs or our opponents lucky bounces, or how it's not our day or some stoppages in play we are never giving ourselves a real shot of playing our best squash. These are all obstacles that are created more psychologically than physically. If you can learn how to enjoy the challenge of the challenges you face you will have the best chance of overcoming them in a positive manner. This is what handling adversity is all about. It's easy to be a good sport when we're winning and playing well, but when things are going against us it's when it reveals our true character. Learn to change your reactions to these situations if you aren't handling them well. But let's get back to the topic at hand.

Let's once again discuss the situation where you are playing someone of a similar standard and lose a game. I often see people lose a game by 2 or 3 points and they think they need to do something drastically different the following game and they come out and they end up following this up with a worse result. Normally when this happens the most important thing you can do is go out and play the exact same game. You almost won the last game, why make a drastic change? When we are in these situations it is so difficult to just stick with a game plan, but remember it's first to win 3 games not best of 1 or 3! At a high level squash is very physical and mental and if you can play a similar standard game later in the match often your opponent will drop, either their focus or fitness (which in turns results in unforced errors).  When we try and change our game too much we begin to overanalyze and possibly try playing out of our comfort zone and this is when we may actually perform worse. So don't go changing things simply because you lose a game; change things because you feel like your strategy was incorrect or could be slightly smarter.

I believe that we try and drastically change game plans far too frequently when we lose a game. Often it is simply about slightly better execution so just being given some reassurance that they are on the right track can be quite helpful. As a coach we also feel like we know better than the athletes and that we should give them some amazing pointers that will turn the game around! Once in awhile this does happen, but a great coach will know when to reaffirm what the athlete is doing and keep them positive and upbeat returning to court. I know this goes against the famous Albert Einstein quote about insanity, 'doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result' which is possibly why we feel such an urge to change something.

This is an area I'm still working on because it is different from person to person. This is also why I believe you should always focus on playing the right shot. After a rally (not during) is your time to quickly process your previous point. You may learn 1 thing from it about improving your shot selection in a future similar situation; good players can make adjustments in game like this. If you are focusing on poor execution that's where we get in trouble. If we begin to think about our swing it is incredibly difficult to change our mechanics during a match so those types of self-analysis are best left for after the match. We might know we need to hit it deeper so we can change our target, but we don't need to get into specifics regarding our swing and how to do this unless you are quite advanced and if you are this advanced you probably don't need to think about your swing mechanics whatsoever to change your targets.

So if Plan A didn't quite work, don't be so quick to jump to Plan B or C! Sometimes our best chance of winning is by sticking with what we just did. Knowing when to jump ship and went stay onboard is something you should think about and consider experimenting with. If you got away from your style too much and you think if you got back to your regular game it would help things then go for it! If you don't have a coach with you it can be quite helpful to make a few notes on an index card. You could have 2 or 3 styles or keys that can helps you play well.

For example: Plan A) Straight, deep and tight perhaps the pace is what needs to change so for example you can go to Plan B) pick up the pace and take the ball early! or maybe we are being too impatient so we look at Plan C) set up golden mid-court attacking opportunities by creating more pressure with your length

You could also try something a little different like this if your focus is on level of discipline/attacking. Plan A) Just play your game! Plan B) Be More AGGRESSIVE! Plan C) set it up before your fire it in!

Here's another simple card you could have if you want to focus on volleying or movement. Plan A) VOLLEY VOLLEY VOLLEY! Plan B) Get back to the T before they hit! Plan C) Be explosive off the T

Don't use too many at once. When we think too much we can get paralysis by over-analysis. Often a simple, gentle reminder works best. If you have a tendency to overhit the ball, maybe your notes should say Plan A) easy big guy, smarter not harder! Plan B) You're blowing them off the court! Plan C) Bring the heat!!!!

So just a simple cheat sheet can be quite useful and you'll notice I kept an option of doing what I was already doing; but sticking with this after losing a game is what today's topic is all about. If you feel the movement, pace or aggressiveness of play is your key to success design your card around that and maybe you'll stick with your Plan A's a little longer. All of today's article has to do with focusing on the process of your squash and not the outcome. I want to win as much as the next person, but our improvement and even the current result is often jeopardized by short term and result oriented thinking. If we jump ship maybe we aren't giving our opponents the opportunity to have a mental or physical lapse in their match. It isn't all about us on the court. Sometimes it's just about being so gritty and determined that it eventually breaks our opponent. I'm sure we can all think of someone who resembles these characteristics.

If you haven't heard yet, Serious Squash has just released a 64 minute instructional squash video titled, The Secrets Of Solo Hitting. This video contains 30 of the best solo drills aimed to improve your squash game with tips on how to best execute these drills and why they're so critical to your development. Stream or download a copy of the film at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos and if you're not 100% satisfied with your purchase I will give you a full refund. Here's an in depth preview of the film:

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