Those with Claws eat those with Hooves

You often hear about “being in the zone” and that refers to your level of focus but it can also refer to how aggressive you are.

I played my best squash when I was angry. Not angry enough to verbalize i.e. shout but very close.

Personally, I dislike the displays of aggression from any sportperson but in the heat of battle it’s hard not to let them overflow.

However, what I really want you to start doing is playing from the first point with the same internal aggression as you do when the score is 8-8.

In fact, a good practice is to start at 8-8 for a few games every now and then. It will teach you to not waste any points.

I was often too relaxed at the beginning of matches because I knew there was a long way to go, but I wish now that I had fought with the same intensity in the first few points as I did in the last few.

I can’t exactly say how you develop that skill, but start by finding out what your mental approach and state of mind is when you have played your best.

As I mentioned above, for me it was when I was angry but also had a clear gameplan that I could stick to.

Remember, nobody won a tournament for being too relaxed and friendly on court. I am not saying be rude and nasty to your opponent though.

Sure, you can be nice for a few points but you need to be motivated for 99% the rest of the time.

What I am saying is generate that fire in your belly from the first point.

Imagine a best of five game match where each game was one point only.

How hard would you try for those 5 points?

Play THAT hard for EVERY point!

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Head Up and Shoulders Back

Head Up and Shoulders Back

Just a quick idea today.

Slight changes in demeanor can affect how people respond to you and how you feel within yourself.

Don’t lean over with your arms on your knees. This shows your opponent you are tired.

No matter how tired you get, keep your head up and your shoulders back.

This will give the impression of strength, both mental and physical.

There is also the metaphorical meaning of letting your head drop or having your head down, signifying acceptance of defeat.

Keeping your head up displays a willingness to face your troubles.

Show strength – feel strong.

Bruce Lee’s 10,000 kicks and How It Can Help You

Bruce Lee’s 10,000 kicks and How It Can Help You

Bruce once said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

It’s a wonderful quote and can be adapted to any sport.

For squash, 10,000 is not that many shots. A solid solo session should have around 2,000 shots, so a Monday to Friday daily session has 10,000 already.

Let’s increase 10,000 to 100,000 shots and pose a question.

Which is better?
20 sessions of 5,000 shots
50 sessions of 2,000 shots
100 sessions of 1,000 shots
or 200 sessions of 500 shots

Before we try to analyze that question, let me ask you another.

Have you heard of the phrase “10,000 hours of practice makes you a master”? If not, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. A quick web search will reveal plenty of interesting links, including a BBC video.

Now, if you practiced for 1 hour per day for 10,000 days that is 27 years, 5 months, 3 weeks and 4 days.

Getting a bit silly now.

What I am trying to highlight is that the total number of hours is perhaps not the most important thing. It’s the combination of practice sessions and time per session.

But there is one more point to consider and that is the time between each practice session.

If you leave too much time between each session the benefit of that session starts to fade. There is no scientific research here but experience tells me that, within reason, the more often you do something the better.

A thrice weekly session of 30 minutes would be better than a weekly session of 90 minutes. I am sure you can imagine that concept in whatever field of learning you wish to apply it to.

So that leaves us with this: number of training sessions, the time of the sessions and the time between those sessions are all important.

Let’s go back to my original question.

Even though I haven’t performed any scientific tests, I believe that the best option is 100 sessions of 1,000 shots with a minimum of 2 sessions per week. 1,000 shots will take most club player 25 minutes. Twice a week should fit most club players schedules, but three would be better. If necessary book a 40-minute court and you and your training partner use half the time each.

At the end of approximately one year you would have hit 100,000 shots in practice.

Assuming you have done the practice properly, can you imagine how much better you would be? Well, don’t just imagine it, start a plan today.

Pressure Yourself When Doing Solo Practice

I am a HUGE fan of solo practice. Not enough squash players do it and I believe that is partly because they don’t know what, how or why to practice.

As a coach, that’s part of my job to clarify those points to my students.

For this article though, I want to assume that you regularly hit the ball on your own as part of your training.

When we play matches we feel pressure. Pressure to win points. We get a little nervous in various situations, especially after a long rally when faced with an opportunity to win the point.

Ideally, our training should prepare us for what we will face in real matches.

The next time you go on court, I want you to have prepared a routine that contains five or six different hitting routines, each with a set number of shots.

For example, 30 forehand drives whose first bounce lands in the service box, 30 forehand volleys with one foot in the service box at all times, 30 forehand volleys with you standing about one racket length away from the frontwall, forehand/backhand volleys in the middle of the frontwall, move to the backhand side doing the reverse of the forehand routine.

Phew, that’s 7 exercises.

Now do then without a mistake in any.

If you make a mistake in any of the exercises, go back to the complete beginning.

If 30 is too many, start with 10.

Do it until the time finishes or you have completed it.

I guarantee that when you are close to finish you WILL feel the pressure, especially if the ball is close to the sidewall.

It’s a GREAT way to partially rec-create the same pressure you feel in a match and the feeling of doing the routine is so exciting.

It makes you want to do more routines like that.

Try it and tell me what happens.

Consistency Rules!

Consistency Rules!

One of the differences between ordinary and good players is consistency.

It’s a boring sounding word with a big effect.

Let’s look at few different kinds of consistency.

Just a quick warning, this article is longer than usual.

FITNESS
You probably know that your body adapts to change. Start doing exercise and your body says “WOAH! What the heck is that? I better make changes so that I can do that faster/longer/more efficiently next time.” It’s how we get fitter.

I have always preferred my students to work at 80% their maximum (in a general sense, not heart rate or anything specific) over a longer period of weeks than for them to train at the classic but impossible 110% you hear so often on the TV.

Remember, I am not talking about professional players but competitive club players who have busy lives outside of their squash.

Too often players train too hard and then either get injured or have to rest. Yes, rest is incredibly important, but more on that another time.

Getting 4 sessions a week at 80% for 3 months is a really good start to a long-term training program. Training a couple of times a week too hard and then having to take a break because you got injured helps nobody.

A sensible amount, more often builds a foundation on which to train harder but doing high quality fitness work consistently is better than on and off super hard sessions.

COMPETITIVENESS
Winning a few matches you probably should have lost and then losing a few matches you probably should have won is quite common at club level. One of the criticisms leveled at squash is that there are not enough upsets in major tournaments. There are some but less that sports like tennis for example.

For me, that is a reflection of the sport itself and is a positive thing. Luck plays less of a role and the mental aspect is so important.

Playing to the same high standard each match is difficult and requires a mental fortitude that must be developed over time if it is not part of your natural make up.

Being so close to your opponent in a confined space adds to that feeling and physical contact is inevitable.

Learning to play well each and every week means you must control as much about your preparation as you can and links to the previous section on fitness.

ACCURACY
The last aspect I want to talk about is accuracy. Hitting the ball to the right place on the court at the right time CONSISTENTLY is what wins points, games and matches.

It’s very similar to the fitness aspect. Being able to hit the odd amazing shot with mediocre shots in between is far less effective than being able to hit good quality shots all through the match.

This way there is a constant build up of pressure during the match. Your opponent knows that they won’t get many easy points and they also know that as each point goes on you are less likely to make silly mistakes.

That’s why you see close matches until the fifth game when the pressure becomes too much.

To recap.

Doing things well for longer periods is better than a few highs and a few lows.

Strive for consistency in your training and it will translate into your match play.

Scrap The Wall With Your Racket

Before or after a court session, stand about two racket’s length away from a sidewall and swing your racket.

You are attempting to just scrap your racket on the wall.

Ideally, your racket touches the wall directly in front of you and its progress is not limited or delayed in any way.

This exercise is designed to make you totally comfortable with the distance between you and the wall.

If you want to, take a piece of masking tape and attach it to the wall, leaving an inch or 2.5cm sticking out. Put this at just above waist height.

Your objective is to touch the take with a solid swing.

Being comfortable about the sidewalls and confident that you can hit a ball when it is touching the sideway is hugely important.

Do 100 swings and make sure you do both forehand and backhand.