By Paul Assaiante
It is my strong belief that the most underestimated aspect of squash is the mental game!
In terms of the difference in the approach to the mental game from 3.0-5.0, there are actually fewer differences than one might think.
A 5.0 Player is equally prone to getting upset as a 3.0 Player. All players need to keep their emotions in check and keep their focus on the strategy of the game.
One place that is critical to one’s ability to keep their mind in check is to become highly knowledgeable of the rules of the game! If you are not absolutely sure what a let is, or a stroke, or how to clear properly then the game becomes unsafe, and our wonderful sport quickly loses its luster.
Know the rules, play within them. Play with people who are also knowledgeable, and enjoy playing a sport that is basically self-adjudicated.
Emotion, and particularly anger, are our biggest enemies. Squash is not a big, bigger, biggest game but rather a game of repetition of a series of shots. To be successful in competition, you need to be able to execute what you can do every day in practice.
I believe in the Japanese philosophy of sport which is that you cry in practice and laugh in competition.
Practice needs to be focused, serious, and very analytic. Runners in practice run longer distances than the actual competitive race. Squash players need to work really hard in practice, put themselves under pressure, and never accept “going through the motions.”
Conversely, in competition, one must take the pressure off! Relax, expect the match to be very tough—stay in a calm place. One needs to be able to make “in match” adjustments. If one gets emotional, that person becomes incapable of seeing what is actually going on and thereby becomes unable to make the corrections.
Billy Jean King once told me that, as a coach, “body language will tell you everything you need to know!” She was absolutely right. Pay attention to your body language. If it is negative, it sends your opponent the message that you are in trouble. Even if you are struggling, keep your head up, your chest out and walk around like a proud stallion.
I always worry about our players becoming victimized by the phrase “paralysis by analysis.”—KISS: keep it simple stupid! Have a basic strategy! High from in back and low from in front, allows you to play with the percentages. In competition do not over think. Remember this game is based upon the retrieval of a dead ball. Therefore focus on moving back to the T and moving efficiently to the ball.
Lastly remember what Babe Ruth said: “It is hard to beat a man who never quits!”
No matter how bleak things seem, never never never give up. Nice things happen to those that keep their heads in the game.
Work hard, be brave, have fun.