Anyone who plays squash and has a desire to play well will know the effects of pressure on the performance all too well. There are many factors which can effect how we feel on the court depending on the occasion and the environment. Its normal for games to be won and lost as a product of a strong desire to please or impress others; be that team mates, parents, friends or coaches. Opinions of others helps to form our identity in the squash context. Where do I fit here? What number am I in the team, the box league, the world? Do my friends, team mates value my level and performance? This is just one part of how sport shapes lives and helps us learn about ourselves and what matters to us.
I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with players of all levels about the desire to please others being at an unhealthy level for optimum performance. Successful matches are all about achieving a process focused mindset, avoiding distractions from outcome centred thinking. Be it juniors, amateur adults or professionals there are numerous players who are heavily driven by the desire to please and gain approval from others.
Recently I coached two brothers who I know well and are very committed to improving their squash. Each has his own mid and long term goals mapped out and invests a lot of time and energy into finding progress in all areas. The 1:2 lesson was a one-off for us and my mission was to help with 1 or 2 key points that could help both of them in upcoming events.
The lesson format was:
- They played, I watched then commented on what I saw as most impactful for each of them
- I coached one while the other practiced specific drills on the court next door then we swapped over
- They carried on playing as I left for my next lesson.
The heart rate readout that you see in the featured picture was from one of the brothers and showed the dramatic difference between when he played with me watching and when I wasn’t watching. Notice the difference and peaks at the beginning when the brothers played with a coach watching compared to when I had gone (the right hand side). The main feedback from them after the first games in part one of the session was that both players were extremely conscious of impressing me, showing me how much they had improved. The result was high anxiety, rushed and confused squash. The nervous systems were on overdrive and squash did not feel good or make sense. Contrast that with no-one watching and feedback was they played much better and felt clearer and less tired on the court.
The impact of other people opinions on our squash is dramatic and often not helpful. This example shows this very clearly and was insightful for all of us. Which brings back the crucial questions ‘why are you playing squash?’ ‘What is is for?’ So often we are distracted from the positive reasons behind why we play with powerful influences from others. These influences can be an inspiration from the right perspectives but also can crush us if we feel judged. Squash is a very difficult sport which presents multiple challenges each time we play and practice so return to the positive reasons why you play and make sure any anxieties (which are a normal part of the process) are because you are excited about the demands mentally, technically, tactically and physically and motivated to test yourself, not over-aroused by external judgments which can often make the process unpleasant and performances which are disappointing.