The mental health benefits that come with playing squash

by hadrian

Everyone’s go-to sport for relaxation will be different – some will find this with weights, others with running and still others simply walking round a park. The trick is to find what helps you and do that the best that you can. Here at Elite Squash we believe that if you choose to turn to Squash and focus your attention on your goals – e.g. the next shot, this will lead to a sense of power and achievement at the end of a session that isn’t found anywhere else. It’s a kind of enforced mindfulness not found in all forms of exercise, banishing negative thoughts whilst simultaneously releasing feel-good endorphins and shifting your focus from the outside world to the now in your personal world.  The combination of the physical, mental and emotional benefits that come with playing squash are evident to see in all that participate in this sport and that’s why we’re so passionate about spreading the word and getting as many people as possible involved in this fantastic sport.

As part of our campaign this year to highlight the mental and physical health benefits of playing squash, we’ve asked one of our pro-players, Roshan Bharos (RB), and one of our regular adult squash players, Seamus Singh (SS), training here in Bristol, to tell us about their experiences and find out more about what they feel the benefits to their health has been since they’ve been playing and training with Elite Squash. Read our Q&A interview below with them, that hopes to highlight just how beneficial squash can be to an individual’s well-being and why we believe it’s vital to get as many people playing squash as possible:

 

Q&A:

 

1. How old were you when you first started playing Squash?

 

RB: I was 4 years old when I first started

 

SS: 10 years old

 

2.   Why did you first get involved and want to play Squash?

 

RB: The why is perhaps split in two. It came naturally in a way because my dad played Squash. Ever since I have been a toddler I have been behind the court playing with Duplo blocks and at the age of 4 I held my first racket. The racket was almost taller than me at the time! But as you grow up you start making decisions and prioritise. I decided to stick with squash, despite playing a year of football as well at the age of 9, because I thought Squash involved all different elements that you could possibly find within sports and challenges you to go to the limit. Other than just enjoying hitting the ball, that challenge is exciting enough on its own.

 

SS: It looked like a cool game to learn and it was contained with four walls and I liked the idea of the ball bouncing everywhere.

 

3. Do you think Squash playing has improved your mental wellbeing? And if yes – can you explain how a little.

 

RB: Squash playing pushes you in every aspect. And so to improve, perhaps most crucially, mental wellbeing needs to be explored. From my personal journey, Squash has challenged me to become more balanced mentally, providing me for example with the tools to use my high aspirations in a positive manner, instead of negative. Therefore, mental wellbeing has also had a positive effect on my Squash and it will continue to do so the more I improve.

 

SS: In the early years definitely not but that is because I am a perfectionist and repeated mistakes in a game sent me into spirals of anger and despair. In the last 6 years I have been using squash to address this issue.  There have been times when I have been able to play instinctively without the noise in my mind being at the front. Using that I have been able to ignore all the noise more frequently and this is helping me to relearn how to just accept all the bad and good things that go on court but also off court. So I am able, more frequently – not all the time, to have a bad day at work etc and come on court and forget about it for 40 minutes or so.  Playing squash has definitely assisted me on that journey.  It also helps that the hitting the little ball as hard as you can against the wall on your own is a great way release any tension or anger that has built up through the day.

 

 4. Do you think Squash playing has improved your self-confidence and self-esteem? And if yes – could you please explain how you think squash playing has helped this.

 

RB: Let’s put it like this; if I didn’t play squash and didn’t find a burning motivation for something else instead, intrinsically I feel I would have been shadow of my current self. The push for success is that high, that without this type of motivation, I am almost certain I would not have found myself overcoming failure and as a result I would avoid challenge due to fear.

So, yes Squash has helped me develop inner self-confidence, however I also believe this could have been achieved by any true passion and the challenges that it would bring. However, by being a Squash professional and with Squash being so multifaceted, I could not think of many greater challenges.

 

SS: When I play well, and by that, I mean instinctively, I always feel better and more confident.  It reinforces the concept that when we get out of our own way we can do wondrous things, that the vast majority of mistakes we make are not from lack of skill but by allowing our emotions (good and bad) to be our guide instead of just accepting that whatever state we are in is actually OK if you can just accept it. Those emotions can then become fuel to do great stuff.

 

 5. There could be said to be three main areas of challenge that squash presents; namely physical (carrying on despite muscle fatigue), technical (how you approach learning and how you learn) and tactical (figuring out the puzzles on a court during play). Could you explain how you deal with each of these challenges in turn? Has your approach to these challenges helped your everyday mental health?

 

RB: Needless to say, all these areas heavily correlate. My approach has changed over the years. With the experience and wisdom that training/competition and age come with, I have started to understand my strengths and weaknesses more and more. But I believe that, at least for me personally, all these aspects relate to self-confidence the most. I know what it takes to put effort into all these three areas, but it is most important that the effort is converted into performance.  There is no magic solution to achieve this, as it is all very personal. Some people need more court time, focus on mental attributes, spend more time developing movement or perhaps a combination. But I believe it all starts with a great sense of enjoyment, and from thereon it is up to the individual to unravel the rest.

 

SS: To answer each point:

  1. In terms of the physical challenge I have suffered a lot of injuries that dented my confidence. Every time I tried to retrain I would get injured again.  So finally, I sought out the best Physiotherapist I could, recommended to me by Hadrian.  Meeting her was a revelation and she was the first person who understood my history and could make sense of it.  I have been also started doing strength and condition training to help in this area.  In the past fatigue would result in my mentally cracking and I came to believe I was mentally weak. In fact I was just basically unfit.  Getting fitter and also learning to accept whatever state I am in is OK has meant I have been able to deal with the mental effects of fatigue better. I have reached the point where I am now going to undertake an attempt to set a new World Record for Marathon Squash Doubles – something I could not possibly envisage 2 years ago.
  2. I do a lot of solo work and use the coaches at Elite as a reference point in my lessons. I will have a lesson and absorb what I see, feel and hear from the coach. I will then go away and use that in my solo practice, group practice and matches. I will also take these ideas and exercises and expand on them – enhancing them or making my own exercises up. This has led me to start coaching and I now have my Level 1 badge. Again 3 years ago I would not have envisaged that.  During practice, I have come to accept mistakes and to learn from them. When I was a professional singer I hated the concept of practice.  Using squash, I have come to not just tolerate the practice side of it but positively enjoy it for what it is – a place where mistakes have no consequence.  This has translated into enjoying the gym sessions that are now part of my physical training.  I am great believer in watching, visualizing what I see and using that in my practice.  For me the relationship between coach and pupil is vital.  I don’t see myself as someone who will want a coach to tell me what to do, for me learning is a shared journey/conversation.  A coach who could learn something from coaching me will be a good coach.  I like to be involved in my learning process.
  3. In terms of solving the puzzles on court for me the realization has come that the less I try and consciously analyze what is going on court the better. The more time I spend just “seeing” what is going on the better. As a result, more and more, I am starting to unconsciously notice things like when a player is off balance or leaning to one side more than the other on the foot or too far over to one side of the court.  This is allowing me to see the open spaces better, but the key is not allowing the talking mind to get too involved. Also, when I make a mistake I try and just walk away.  Things like disputing a decision or questioning a decision are now markers that I am not in a seeing mode. At the moment I am just now trying to develop the tools to make use of those markers when I recognize them.  So, the overall message on this aspect is to stay as neutral mentally as I can to allow the creative part of my brain free reign to do what it does best, create and solve puzzles.

I used to be a singer (classical) and I had to give up due to the mental struggle I went through with a lack of confidence; not being able to achieve the impossibly high standards I set myself etc.  Singing sadly stopped being a joy, and I was spiraling into anger and depression as a result.  I turned to Squash to use that as my vehicle to improve my mental health and journey.  At the moment I am at peace not singing.  If through the work I am doing with squash I start again that would be great but also if I don’t start again that is also great.

 

We want everyone who comes into contact with Elitesquash to feel our energy and excitement for squash coaching while enjoying a relaxed and professional service. For that reason, our team are encouraged to be creative and inspirational in every session and to love what they do. We share the same vision and philosophy and are all good friends who support and encourage each other to be the best. Contact us to find out more about our individual, group or bespoke coaching sessions and find out how squash can help towards better well-being and better mental health.

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