Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Keep The Practice Quality High

To become a top level athlete, in particular squash, we need to learn how to push ourselves when our body or mind sometimes would rather take a break. As both an athlete and coach I have found this to be both interesting philosophically and invaluable to understand. If you or a kid your coaching is having really tired or just not feeling it that day we normally want to push them or ourselves to get going. We might be more flat footed than normal, have less energy in general and also have trouble focusing.
There's a common fallacy that we think quantity of practice and the 10,000 hours will help guarantee we reach an elite level and that the quicker we get to that level the better. As a squash coach for a number of years now you can sense the expectations from coaches and parents on their athletes and how we all want, hope and even expect immediate rewards. When someone isn't achieving the success we want for them we think they need to do more or work harder or make changes to their game. One problem with squash is how much we compare ourselves against other people and get so caught up in results instead of becoming the best possible player you can be and play at a consistently high level. I wanted to win as much as the next person, but I believe that if you focus on improving your own game and have the proper work ethic the results will come eventually.

What good will we get out of that session if we are only able to give 50% of what we normally can give? Is that really a productive session? Was there something else that we could have done that would have had more benefit? Perhaps some recovery rolling or stretching or easy biking? Maybe some video analysis or a look at our training plan? Maybe even some feeding with a ball machine or solo hitting would have been more beneficial and perhaps the next day we would have felt better and been more mentally and physically prepared to push ourselves closer to our limits.

See it's very difficult to push yourself to your mental and physical breaking point each and every day. Understanding that sometimes less is more is a difficult concept for an athlete and also a coach or parent to understand. We instinctively think someone is being lazy and demonstrates poor work ethic and a lack of desire. We are all human and finding this balance of when to push yourself when you feel flat or off that day and when to mix it up is important.

If we look back at the above example, but instead imagine we had a rough start and weren't feeling up for it, but someone once we got going we were able to get closer to 80 or 90% off our normal level that could be incredibly powerful for when we are in a tournament and aren't feeling great. In competition we have to play unless of course we decided to withdraw from the competition. But in a tournament, assuming there is no injury or illness we have to learn to play and not be fresh. At the US Junior Open kids were having 7 matches in 3.5 days; nobody is feeling good going into their last few matches. But if you know you can still get close to your best squash even when you are stepping on court with less than 100% in the fuel tank your mind might indeed be stronger than your opponent.

This mental muscle is a skill we need to be a good squash player and one of the differences I've noticed in Canada versus when I've seen kids train and play in other countries is that we don't push our kids as hard; right or wrong. Passion and letting kids have choices in what they want to do is not always a luxury all kids get. There are pros and cons to both side of this perspective, but coming from a Canadian point of view I've always felt that intrinsic motivation can get the job done. There is a lack of structural support and funding here compared to other countries, but if you can find a good coach and people to train with you can become a top class player with years and years of dedication.

 My final point on this topic is about the title, keeping the quality high. If a coach or parent is the one pushing a kid constantly at some point they are not going to want to step back out on court or they will not be totally mentally engaged in their practices. Some coaches simply try and push their athletes as hard as possible every single time they work with them, but harder isn't always smarter, especially on low energy days. I know a woman who is using a heart rate watch which gives her a red, amber or green signal each day to let her know if she is good to train depending on her average heart rate and I believe quality of sleep. Tools like this can be used to avoid risk of injury and decide on when to push yourself hardest and when to focus more on technique or quality and keep practice sessions high, and the hard ones hard.

In university I knew I couldn't physically push myself in every on court session daily, so I would solo hit 2-5 times per week so I could let me brain and body recover proper and still improve my racquet skill. It would have been nice to have fancy devices like the heart rate street light watch and some of this perspective and knowledge back in those days.

Check out all the cool squash merch for both on and off the court as well as the 2 instructional films at


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