The British junior open has helped produce and signpost some of the best players in the world. Many juniors dream of winning this title and focus all their efforts to become good enough to lift the trophy and join the famous names engraved into the silver. If you are at this event you are serious; serious about facing the best in the world and serious about your squash. You literally won’t make the cut unless your ranking and results stack up. There is an intensity at this event like no other with whole nations bringing their best players and coaches in search of progress deeper into the draws and hopefully titles. I love it. From a coaching perspective it is so valuable not only as inspiration but particularly to ask big questions like: What is it about the best juniors which sperate them from the others? What kind of coaching is evident? What is the team culture? What is national culture? How do they respond when it gets absolutely brutal with pressure levels often not experienced on home soil?
I returned to Bristol with three main takeaways.
- Attitude and hunting
Players with a purposeful attitude go and make it happen, they hunt the ball. Hunting the ball, looking for clues where it will go next and what can be done to cause problems is the trait of a great player. These players read the game faster, apply more pressure, make better decisions and make it happen.
Those that don’t hunt the ball read the game later, play more passively and rarely make smart decisions. Hunting the ball requires quick, fast reflexes and a high racket skill level as the rally moves faster and is more intense. But these skills are only possible with the mindset to deliver them. Hunting is an all-in mentality, no fluff, no doubts, go do it. Being all in mentally and physically is a decision, a commitment which is part of a strong vision to be the best you can be. So, in essence hunting the ball is primarily an attitude to the current game and future game of the player. Why do many young players not do this? Because it’s scary, technically difficult and very hard work but the best don’t care and prefer this level of challenge as they can see where it will take them.
- Culture and Character
The USA did very well at this event, better than last year. From the first matches it was clear they were over to do business. I noticed their players and coaches more than any others partly because of the collective noise and energy they brought to the courts and also their team kit. All coaches and players were branded with the USA logo and at times when there were 20 or more of them around a court so it’s not surprising the players did well. I listened to a great TED talk recently on the subject of confidence and the lady speaker identified 3 main elements necessary to bring confidence. Permission, Community and creativity. The community part provides the support and security that says, ‘its ok we have your back, we are here for you’. This is part of a great team culture.
Community is everything which is part of a players ‘squash world’: Parents, coaches, teammates, club members and friends. If this community is healthy, positive, supportive, fun, challenging and progressive then it provides juniors with a safe and secure environment in which to grow. It also provides an opportunity to develop the character of the individual in order to survive the pressure and challenge in matches. This is something we work very hard on at elitesquash. The squash court can be a lonely and scary place even with the busyness behind the courts at an event like the BJO. Being part of something bigger than the court and opponent on match day is vital to the success of the individual.
There is no escaping the fact that without a sound base, creativity and talent only go so far. This applies at all levels but in the juniors can make or break an opportunity. Splitting foundations into technical, tactical, mental and physical make it easy to strip back to the essentials in each category. If one or more of these areas is noticeably week it can and will be exposed, especially at BJO level. Federations and coaches will have different descriptions of what each of these categories need to include but always they need to be sound as possible to hold together at the highest level. I watched numerous matches where one area showed clear weakness and was subsequently exposed by a superior opponent.
Everyone has their own personality and style on the court, and it is essential that they are able to express that on the court. This could include certain shots which they enjoy and are best at or a certain game style, for example low and fast or high and soft. These strengths and styles sit on top of the base and when the base is solid they are easier to execute. A common habit is that a strength in a players game becomes a default to coping with pressure, the player attempts to solve problems with the thing which they no and trust best when a better solution is to draw on all the foundations together which is far more robust and reliable. An example of this is the player who uses racket skill to compensate for lack of physical ability or the player who uses physical ability to compensate for lack of racket skill. The best players are sound in all the foundations to a high level. On top of that they have their super strengths which differentiate them from the others and provide something extra special on top of the base.
Thank you to everyone who organised and ran this fantastic event and cant wait for next year. In the meantime, its back to review and improve our programs with the lessons learned above.