Friday, June 26, 2020

Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence)

About a month ago I had the idea to design a sport psychology workbook. I've always been interested in this topic and I've enjoyed reading about and coaching it. I'm done my first draft and today I'm going to post a section from it. The goal of this workbook is to make a simple, effective and practical tool that any athlete could benefit from. An athlete could pick a section that interests them and in 5-10 minutes have a new idea or redesigned mental tool for their sport.

The sections I'm sharing today is titled 'Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence).' It's basically about how some elite athletes are able to maintain their high level of self-belief regardless of recent struggles. I discuss examples from various sports and provide insights into how I have improved in this area over the years.

As of now the workbook is 21 sections and each section begins with my persona experience as an athlete and coach and an overview of the topic and then I conclude with a practical implication. These implication areas will guide you through developing or modifying that specific tool for your game.

The workbook is designed for athletes of any sport, even though my expertise is squash. Feedback is appreciated. It's just the first draft so I know there are still some parts missing. Even though incomplete I thought it would still be useful to post a section form it. I'm still unsure how I'm going to publish/post this workbook, so I will share this information when it's complete. Without further ado, here is section 8.

Section 8: Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence)
An area that has to do with playing in the zone that’s worth mentioning is playing with unwavering confidence. How does a baseball batter go up to the plate and expect to get a hit if they’ve struck out their last few at bats, or if they are hitless over a number of games? How does a basketball player take a big shot when they’re having an off night and make it? The best athletes in the world have this unwavering confidence that most amateurs and even many professionals don’t possess. If an amatuer player with far less skill takes a big shot in a team sport after struggling all game do they, their teammates and coaches have the confidence that they will make it and that it was a right shot to take? Taking a shot without confidence will most likely be tentative and result in a missed shot. 

How does one gain this level of self-efficacy regardless of recent struggles? As they say, winning breeds confidence and as your skill increases your self-belief increases too. There also must be a correlation with making big shots and having the increased confidence to do it again, regardless of what has happened previously that day. I fully believe that the best athletes in the world have days and times where they’re low on confidence, but for the most part they have rehearsed certain plays and shots so frequently that they can execute more times than not in the clutch when the game is on the line. The main point from that last sentence is the mind, that they are not experiencing any self-doubt and that they continue to have positive self-talk and belief that the next thing they do is going to work, period. 

Clearly a lot of training must take place to reach this point as an athlete, but it’s also how you’ve been coached and how you practice. As already mentioned you need to have a lot of success and experience with winning. I’m mostly interested in how that athlete was able to attain the mental skills necessary to get to this winning mindset. When this athlete was younger and developing they must have made many mistakes trying to, for example take a difficult fade away jump shot. A more conservative and conventional player would always want to be set properly to take a higher percentage set-shot; this is what most coaches encourage and like to see; look for the highest percentage play that will yield the best outcome. Somewhere along the line that athletes must have practiced that difficult play over and over to make it higher percentage and to be able to execute it even when they’re having an offday. When you see someone struggling, but they execute in the clutch is a big reason why I love sports. Certainly there are other athletes that can make that same play, but fail to do so when the pressure is on and even more so when they've been struggling. 

I attempt to demonstrate a good balance as a coach between trying to get someone to play smart and technically sound, but also letting the athlete experiment and play around with what they can do. This is why in squash, as other sports too there are cultural differences in styles of play. Squash is actually a terrific example of this because most Egyptians are known as being creative and attacking while players from a country like England are known for being more attrional and structured. Egyptain squash has ruled the game at all levels recently yet somehow other countries aren’t able to adapt their style to their own athletes. Is this style and mental trait something that was learned and fostered when the current players were young? Is it instilled by their culture or by their peers and role models and coaches? Either way it is a lot of fun watching these contrasts in styles and I really appreciate the fearlessness they play with. Egyptian players for the most part have a more relaxed swing which I believe also contributes to being able to play the way that they do. If someone is nervous about playing a shot they tend to get tense and automatically think, ‘don’t mess up.’ When someone is thinking such a negative thought they are severely impacting their chance of executing a difficult skill under pressure. This is the outlook I try to have when playing now, play with confidence and expect the shot to go where I want it too. 

I understand that excess tension when performing a skill can have a detrimental impact on my performance and because of this I have designed a simple routine for when I notice this happening. If I play a shot that I am a bit too tense I simply shake out my hand afterwards as a reminder to relax and to stay loose. I have found this routine extremely beneficial to me, but again this is something that each athlete has to design for themselves. Another way to ease tension is simply by breathing. As mentioned earlier, focusing on your breath brings your attention back to the present, but a conscious deep breath can also physically relax you if you’re nervous or tense. 

I have one more point about this fearless unwavering confidence. As an athlete and coach I’ve always been analyzing my technique. It’s normal to always want to improve, but after playing a sport for 30 years my swing is pretty much my swing. A few years back I asked a mentor of mine for some feedback on my forehand swing and he told me that I should not be worried or even thinking about my swing anymore. Once he said this I started playing more free flowing and with a lot more confidence. Instead of thinking about how I was preparing and swinging for my shots I began simply thinking about where I want the ball to go. This was one of those moments that really improved my skill level and it was all between the ears once again. Now don’t misinterpret the value of technique, it’s just sometimes it’s overrated and being too overly conscious of it might just be what is holding you back. 

Questions to consider…
  1. Are you afraid of making errors?
  2. Do you tense up during pressure times of a match? 
  3. Do you play to win or not to lose?
  4. How does your most recent success impact your current confidence? 
  5. What is your self-talk like when things aren’t going their best? Is it helpful or damaging? 
  6. Do you use a conscious deep breath as a part of any of your routines?

Time To Make Some Notes About How To Play More Confident, Free Flowing and Positively 
  • In the space below write out a detailed (it can be short and precise) routine that will help you relax and remove unwanted tension during competition.
My Removing Unwanted Tension Routine

I hope you enjoyed this section. I'd appreciate any feedback you may have. My email is

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Squash Canada's 2020 National Championships

Squash Canada recently announced their fall schedule which will include the make up dates for the 2020 National Championships. Solo hitting is now allowed in many clubs here in Canada so it's great to see us getting a bit closer to our 'new normal' which will include squash. For the upcoming national championships Squash Canada selected hosts which have previously hosted large events which will make the operations run slightly smoother, if indeed they do run as planned. I realize every athlete wants the opportunity to play in their annual national championship, but we are in uncertain times.

I'm going to go through a few of the reasons I have issues with this rescheduling. The first being is that people outside of Ontario are not going to want to book flights and accommodations for something that at best is 50/50 to occur. Currently people aren't travelling and you should only do so if it's essential. You need to plan ahead for traveling to a big tournament and I don't think many people are going to feel comfortable booking travel right now.

The 2020 National Championship Schedule

Another major issue I have with the new tournament dates is that these will likely be the first tournaments of the season. How is an athlete supposed to peak for the start of the season after so long away from the courts and competition? You shouldn't be starting a new season with the biggest events. Currently many people around Canada are just starting to solo hit and it's been months since our last match. It could easily be 5+ months of no squash for people hoping to play and compete for a national championship. This is not only going to lower the caliber of play, but it will also come at an increased risk of injury. 

No sport wants to have a gap year with no championships crowned, but I think that's what Squash Canada should do; that is actually what will likely end up happening anyways. Will it be safe to have a large grouping together in a club for a tournament by October? Professional sports with unlimited resources like the NBA, NHL and MLB are still trying to figure out how to return to finish their seasons in a safe manner. 

As someone who has played in and coached at multiple national championships I know this would greatly impact my schedule for next season. I would like to participate in the masters event and coach at the junior one, but I don't want to get injured and I don't know when I'll be able to start my junior program. 

I want squash to come back as much as anyone. Squash is unfortunately a high risk sport for transmission of the virus so I don't think Squash Canada should have bothered rescheduling these events. I know they may very well get cancelled at a later date and they are planning for the best so perhaps this won't matter in the end. I'm normally an optimistic person and I believe in the power of positive thinking, but I think we should be more cautious and realistic in this instance. 

It may sound like it, but I don't want to blame Squash Canada for this decision, it's their job to run events. They probably don't see a big issue if they have to cancel later on, but from an athletes and coaches perspective I see a lot of roadblocks with this announcement. I do believe Squash Canada should have consider the planning that this entails for the participants and the lack of preparation time for the athletes and their coaches. For the sake of squash I hope I'm proven completely wrong. 

In closing, I've decided to pause the Serious Squash Shop for the time being. With so many clubs closed and people struggling with their finances it's not being used as much as normal. I've since posted the instructional films on the Serious Squash Youtube channel. If you've ordered a new Serious Squash tee, not too worry, it will make it to you shortly! And if you'd like to order one please email me at message me on the Serious Squash Facebook or Instagram account. Squash Shots is still up and running strong. Now that my club is open I will be able to record lots of new solo and on court training drills. You can find out more at 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Black Lives Matter

I normally only discuss squash, but I thought it was important to discuss George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that have currently swept the globe. I understand that my audience is here for my squash perspective and that is almost always what I stick to, but I also thought that if I failed to discuss this some of you may interpret my dismissal as compliance. I'm fortunate that I grew up in Canada, one of the most (if not the most) multi-cultural countries in the world. I also grew up playing squash and there have always been a lack of black squash players which I'm going to hypothesize on and provide some of my personal experiences in this regard.

I know this issue has been going on for a long time, but if you don't witness it in your daily lives you tend not to be as understanding or as concerned about it. In the US there's been so many terrible crimes when it comes to police brutality or mass shootings that you begin to feel a bit numb to it all. As a Canadian you are just thankful that you live where you do, but it's still difficult to explain why there are such drastic differences between our countries. I suppose I am negligent because I didn't say or do anything about these issues until this point. I in fact only heard the slogan, 'Black Lives Matter' last week. I've always thought of myself as a good person which I thought was enough and all that I could do. But now I understand that silence equals compliance and it certainly isn't enough. When Colin Kaepernick was kneeling for the anthems I didn't have a problem with it, but I also never spoke about it and supported him. I would just say to myself 'what can I do?" or 'how am I going to make an impact?' I don't have a very large following for Serious Squash and I have always just stuck to what I know best, and that's squash. But things are different in our society today and I believe we can and must do more.

When I was young I had friends of every ethnicity and I never thought or experienced any racism. Canada is very progressive and supportive of individual differences regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. At the schools I've attended and worked at they've all been strongly open about supporting these differences. This doesn't mean that bullying never happened and kids were never teased. So clearly Canada wasn't and still isn't perfect, but it's far better than a lot of other countries. Unfortunately for those that live in the United States things are not so good. I've travelled throughout the states for various vacations and squash tournaments and it's easy to tell that you're not in Canada. I remember driving to the US Open as a child and going through streets where every house had bars on their windows and graffiti was all over the houses. I've heard stories about New Haven being not safe once you're off of Yale's campus. I have to say I don't know if things have gotten better there in recent years, but this is common knowledge for many of those in the squash community.

I really can't think of any examples of racism in squash. There are however a notable absence of black squash players. I wonder what percentage of people that play other sports, such as tennis are black? Does the fact that there aren't many black squash players mean that there is a problem with racism in our sport or does this have more to do with socioeconomic issues that have plagued squash for decades? Many squash clubs across North America are expensive and I could never afford to join most of them. If I can't afford to join one of those clubs, I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable being a coach at one of them.

I grew up playing at both the Pickering and Ajax Community Centres where the memberships were inexpensive and there were no fancy country club rules. We didn't have to wear all white clothing and we didn't have an outdoor fancy pool with a gourmet restaurant. There were no initiation fees at my clubs and access was something most lower to middle class families could afford. I again don't know the stats, but I would guess the diversity of recreation complexes is probably a lot greater than the private clubs.

Over the past 15 years or so a lot of urban squash companies in Canada and the US have done a great job giving access to kids who normally wouldn't have that opportunity. This is the positive side about what has been happened in squash, but what about the country clubs with a predominantly white membership? Do people of colour feel comfortable joining a club like this? Now don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting that every expensive squash or golf club has racism intertwined in them. This is just a portion of squash where you notice an absence of people of colour. Should some of these clubs initiate marketing policies to attract more members of colour?

I lived in British Columbia for 8 years and I know that it is very multicultural. In fact I read a stat that about half of the residents don't speak English as their first language. I think we can all imagine what Trump would say about that. Personally, as a coach you just want keen and coachable students and I have always treated my students equally. Even though BC is extremely diverse I can only recall ever seeing a handful of black squash players. There were quite a few Asian squash players,  but perhaps it's something as simple as racquet sports are more common in Asian cultures and there are a lot of Asian people living in BC?

When I moved to Turks and Caicos I was for the first time a minority. The natives of the country are black and it was common to go somewhere and be the only white person. It was simply different, but I didn't mind it. This was as close I could get to experiencing how it would feel to be the only black member of a squash club. Out of the 30 or so people that played squash while I was there, there was only 1 black boy who played squash. The kids all got along great and there were no issues with racism whatsoever. There's a lot of expats in Turks and Caicos so it's not surprising that they would be the majority of the people playing squash, but in a country with so many black people it's odd that more of the native black community didn't participate.

A lot of the native children in Turks and Caicos played basketball. At my gym they would play all of the time while I would rarely see a white child shoot hoops. The club also had a big hockey league and it was again predominantly white children that participated. I don't know if these differences were based on socioeconomic factors or if it was simply what the children enjoyed playing. Even though the children were largely divided in what sports they played I didn't notice a single instance of racism. There will always be differences in sports regarding what percentage of various ethnicities participate in. I have a hunch that some of this also has to do with role models. I imagine as a young black child you want to be like the successful athletes you can relate to and admire, but if there are so few in a sport like squash than perhaps they don't think twice about it.

I started off writing about this thinking I was going to make a short statement and move on to a squash topic, but as I got going I felt that this deserved to be it's own article and topic. Squash has some amazing people involved in the sport all over the world and I hope we can make our sport more appealing to everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. When I was young there were a lot of male only clubs, but most have changed their policies, so perhaps there will be a movement happening sometime soon about promoting equality in squash and specifically in regards to race.

I don't know how else I can help make difference besides how I treat people, but I hope by simply bringing up this topic in the squash community it will do some good. I know a few black squash pros have recently made posts about their experiences and unfortunately they had to overcome some forms of racism over their careers. I'd like to think that squash brings out the best in us, so I'm hopeful we can all be better and do more and not be afraid to have our voices heard. I truly believe education and discussions are big factors in this so even if you are normally reserved and don't share your opinions with others I hope you decide to so this time. It's only if we all unite together we can create change. Black Lives Matter.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

London Squash Reopening and Solo Hitting Drills

If you're following Serious Squash on social media you'll already be aware that the club I work at has opened back up today! It was a lot of work to get the club to a point where we are. I was on a 4 person Covid board to ensure we are following all of the government safety protocols. There's been a lot of changes, but we are finally open, even if it is just for solo hitting at the moment. If you're interested in what changes have been put in place I made a short video which highlighted many of the safety protocols.

London Squash Club Reopening Video 

On top of what I mention in the video there are a few other policies in place. We originally had a finger print scanner at the front door and 24 hour access, but obviously having people place their finger on the same scanner is a way the virus could spread so we have just switched to a key fob system. We also must have a staff member when members are in the club now, so we have temporarily switched our hours to 8am-8pm.

The Club's On Court Rules

Court times have been staggered and are only 30 minutes in length. You must also book a court prior to coming to the club. There's 15 minutes after each court booking to allow for a thorough cleaning of the court, bin and chair. When your'e on court you are expected not to touch the walls with your hands (even though the club staff will clean them afterwards). Demon racquets are not permitted and members are allowed to grab their equipment from their locker, but they will not be able to use their locker going forward. The saunas, showers, bar and gym are also not open yet. This will all happen in future phases. 

Because the club, like a few others in Ontario are only open for solo hitting at the moment I've been posting some old Serious Squash solo drills. I will be filming some new drills this week which I will be posting over the next week. If you haven't already seen what I've posted so far I will post the videos again below. Most of these drills are for intermediate to advanced levels, but I will be filming some beginner drills shortly. 

The Secrets Of Solo Hitting

Court Sprint + Straight Drive Drill

Squash Shots Episode 43: Advanced Back Corner Solo Drills part 1

Squash Shots Episode 44: Advanced Back Corner Solo Drills part 2

Hopefully your club is opening soon too, if it hasn't already. I know I'm really excited to hit a few balls later today. It's been about 3 months for me now, which is the longest I've gone without hitting a ball in many years. 

If you want to do some squash training at home with me follow London Squash (@LondonSquash) on Instagram. I've been doing weekly training videos on their account. Normally it's around noon or 1pm on Friday's, but it's also weather dependant as I do these outside. 

You may have noticed that I removed the instructional films in the Serious Squash Shop. The platform I used to allow people to download the films was pretty pricey and when clubs were closed people weren't purchasing copies. In fact my online store is up for it's annual renewal June 15th and I'm debating pausing it for awhile until squash gets up and going again. So if you do want to purchase a shirt, racquet or a video analysis I suggest doing so in the next 2 weeks. 

That's it for this week. Stay tuned for new solo drills and if you have any questions about the opening of our club let me know. Happy Squashing!