Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stay Unrealistic and Prove The Doubters Wrong

When I was a kid I had very supportive parents. They would bring me to squash tournaments all over North America and even over the Scottish and British Opens one year. I had a lot of success as a young squash nut winning the Canadian nationals and U.S. Open with some other high finishes along the way. As a young boy I beat some players that went on to play professionally and make it inside the top 50. Unfortunately I quit playing squash when I was 14 for about 5 years so I never really got to make a go at becoming the best I could be. I also dreamed of becoming a world champion and was convinced I would, but why do some kids stop chasing their goals and others don't?

When you're a kid you think anything is possible (at least I did) and if you worked hard enough you could do whatever you want. Teachers ask kids what they want to be when they grow up and they often say something pretty unrealistic like an astronaut; but someone has to be an astronaut. Just because something is a long shot doesn't mean it's not going to happen. How and why do kids stop believing in themselves and chasing their dreams? There's probably a few reason why this occurs.

Kids are stereotyped because of their physique or where they come from so some don't get as much attention and don't get selected to higher level teams. Parents also feel like kids should grow up at a certain age and think and act more like an adult; which basically means focus on making money and doing less of what you like. There's also a definite lack of unrelenting belief within some people. People are too quick to think they just don't have that fire or willpower, but it is something anyone can have in the right environment and upbringing. I believe this is a learned habit and having a taste of success can go a long way to fuelling your dream.

When I was a kid of course (yes I'm the small 1 in the below pic) I would always say I wanted to be a pro squash player and not just that but world #1. Even after having quite a bit of success not everyone was thinking my dreams were very realistic or sustainable and I'd always be told to focus more on my studies. I remember 1 time my parents asking me what would happen if I for example have knee problems and could no longer play professionally? I remember stating that, 'if I get injured and can't compete anymore I'll be a coach.' So it wasn't my first choice, but it's funny that's what happened.

See parents are always worrying about what could go wrong and worry a lot about their children. Parents want their kids to be able to take care of themselves and becoming a professional squash player means more than likely they'll be disappointed, possibly uneducated enough to get a good job if squash doesn't work out and also have financial problems (because we all know there's not much money in pro squash). If parents are pushing kids into squash normally it's to help get them into a good school, not to make a living doing it. It's this sensible and protective nature which eventually kills the dreams of kids. Just because your parents didn't achieve their childhood dreams don't let this affect your passion. I believe this is why the kids of successful athletes are more likely to make it to the pro level; not only are the kids seeing the work ethic and lifestyle it takes, but they see what daddy or mommy did and of course they think if they did it we can to and the parents also think this way. If you're surrounded by people that believe in your dreams you'll be far more likely to achieve them.

I've heard many other parents over the years who also told their kids what they should be striving for and to set realistic expectations so they don't get let down when they fail to achieve their unrealistic goals. How would anyone in the world every achieve anything great if we all erred on the side of caution and realism? You only live once and I don't understand trying to take the safest route just to avoid disappointment. Wanting to play professional squash is a long shot let alone making a living playing it, but it is certainly possible. It can also open up doors to other avenues, so my big point today is to support the dreams and goals of those around you no matter how absurd and unrealistic they may seem. As soon as we start putting walls up and telling them to grow up and think about their future we kill their hope and without hope there is no more dreaming or passion. You may just be amazed by how far motivation and belief can take someone.

Some parents may have unrealistically high expectations for their kids, so let's not confuse these with intrinsic desires and goals. So if you have a kid that wants to be the best in the world at something don't tell them it isn't going to happen. Even though I didn't become #1 in the world or play professional squash I know from my experience and success as a young kid that I can do anything in the world if I put my mind to it, am passionate about it and stick with it. Just because you think it's a silly dream it's wrong to tell someone they can't do something so if you care about that individual you should support them and believe in them. And if you're the 1 having doubts yourself hopefully this post will give you some extra courage to keep fighting for your dreams.

Even if you don't achieve what you originally set out to do you'll likely realize 1 day that it was the journey which mattered most, not the destination; this is why process goals and making the most out of what you have is so critical. I think this is why many of the former world #1's over the past few years have let their standards slip. They reach their life long dream and the drive to chase the top of the podium is gone. It's also much tougher to play trying to maintain something and to not lose than it is if you're hungry and gunning for the top and your childhood dream.

I read in a book how LeBron James has set a goal to become the best player of all time, not just the best player in the league each season. So if you are so fortunate to reach your dream goal you better think even bigger and come up with some goals that other people would think are impossible. It's also key to focus on the process of becoming the absolute best you can be. If you can do this you will still find ways and areas to improve upon regardless of whether you've achieved your outcome dream goal or not.

I remember about 5 years ago running a provincial camp for the top kids here in British Columbia. I handed out a questionnaire to them and 1 of the questions asked what their dream goal was for squash. Only 1 of them put to play professionally. Many of the goals were extremely modest or not challenging whatsoever; it basically showed me that these kids were not going to go as far as they were capable of simply from the response of a single question. I believe these low standards are learned behaviours from their environment and as a coach they drive me nuts. I know a kid can never be that good if they don't think they can. I would much rather work with a less talented child who goes to bed dreaming of becoming the next world champion and has the work ethic to back it up.

I really hope I reach at least 1 person with this article and if I make a difference in their belief and goals I will be extremely happy. Whether it's you as a supporting role or as the athlete him/herself. I know when we lose to many matches or have a poor season we get down on our game and our expectations about what we can do can quickly diminish. But squash is not a sprint, it's a long race and it takes a commitment to your long term development and the mind is the key to achieving greatness.

Learning to cope with poor performances and disappointment is something your team can help you with, but ultimately has to come from within. If you need that extra incentive to fuel you along, try and prove any doubters wrong. Someone doesn't select you for a team, work harder and prove you belonged. Many low draft picks in major league sports carry this chip on their shoulder each and every day at practice even well after they have been successful. Don't play and practice angry, just play with determination and complete confidence that you have something to prove. Just because you haven't or somebody hasn't done something before it doesn't mean it can never be done. The main obstacle is also what can be your greatest asset, the mind.

Ramy Ashour will have doubts about his health and his hamstring for the rest of his career and for good reason, yet he continues to fight. Why? Because he still believes and has hope while others are all to quick to write him off and wonder why he won't hang up his racquet. He wouldn't have gotten to the incredible level that he has without having to deal with plenty of criticism and adversity over the years; when you handle these instances well it makes you tougher and you gain more confidence in your ability to do anything you put your mind to. Even though it's his body letting him down, it's the battle in between the ears which are the toughest to overcome.

Don't let others tell you what you can or can't do. As a former top junior and coach I know how important belief, intrinsic motivation and will power can be. Prove the naysayers wrong and become the next world champion and be sure to thank me in your acceptance speech in 10 years time :)

If you are trying to become the best possible squash player you can be make the most out of all of your practice time. If you're looking to improve your solo practice, or even simply begin solo hitting check out the new Serious Squash full length advanced instructional film The Secrets Of Solo Hitting. It contains over 30 of the best solo drills with tips on how each drill will help you improve. Pick up your copy today at Here's an in depth preview from my Youtube channel:

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