Your game can be divided
into four areas, each of which needs to be worked on if you want to improve
your performance: physical, technical, tactical and psychological. This last
area is the subject of the first in a new series of articles, written
specially for The Squash Player Magazine by England International, WISPA no.
8 player and sports psychologist Jenny Tranfield
|Jenny Tranfield, a former British Junior
Open Champion and World Universities Champion, has won 18 junior and
three senior caps for England. She is ranked no.8 in the world rankings.
Jenny obtained a First Class Honours degree in Physical Education and
Sports Science with Social Science from Loughborough University. She has
a PhD in Sports Psychology and has provided sport psychology support for
the England Junior Team and the Sue Wright Academy.
Almost all of us reach a point where we
feel that our game has gone stale. We reach a plateau, bang our rackets
against the wall and scream, “What more can I do?” Train harder? Put in more
time with my squash coach? Seek advice on my tactics or techniques? We go
over and over the physical, tactical, and technical aspects of our game.
What we forget is that there is a fourth element to sports performance – the
There are many examples in squash of top
players attributing success to ‘getting it right mentally’….Lisa Opie was
ranked top two in the world yet had not won a major title - she would get so
frustrated at refereeing decisions that she would lose games and even
matches as a result. After intensive work with a sport psychologist,
Lisa learned to relax at the critical moment rather than to ‘blow up’
mentally. Shortly afterwards she won the 1991 British Open.
Think back to a time when you played
really good squash – when you felt you were in the zone and your game was
impeccable. How did you feel? What sort of things do remember seeing? Do any
particular sounds stand out?
Now think of a game in which you felt
unable to perform well and your game was mediocre and predictable. Again,
how did you feel? What sort of things do remember seeing? Do any particular
sounds stand out? What was different in the two games? The chances are
that your physical, technical, and tactical play hadn’t changed that much
between one and the other. What is more likely is that you couldn’t
concentrate or focus because your mind was somewhere else besides the court.
A classic example of this is the current
England captain David Beckham. After his move to Real Madrid and high
profile scandal involving Rebecca Loos, he suffered a severe lack of form.
He didn’t suddenly become a worse player overnight, what is more likely is
that he was no longer focused solely on the task on the pitch. His
mind was distracted with task irrelevant information.
In my experience, few players pay enough
attention to their psychological preparation. They spend hours in the gym or
on the court making sure they are in top physical condition. They spend
hours with their coach discussing tactics and techniques. But when it comes
to mental fitness, they barely give a thought to how they can develop and
maintain this all-important element of performance.
Biomechanical elements of movement and swing.
TACTICAL - Understanding how to win rallies, how to create and
hit into space.
PHYSICAL - Speed, agility, aerobic and anaerobic fitness,
flexibility, strength, core stability, body fat.
MENTAL - Confidence, motivation, anxiety control, concentration
There are two components to
psychological preparation that need to be considered:
1. Developing appropriate mental skills;
2. Developing an effective mindset.
Mental Skills Training
There is no doubt that squash is one of
the most psychologically demanding sports to play. It is one on one, there
is always a winner and a loser, the opponent is in the same physical space,
and there is literally nowhere to hide. Consequently, developing mental
skills such as concentration, motivation, confidence, anxiety control and
relaxation are all essential in order to produce effective performances.
In order to improve these skills, you
must practise them with the same level of commitment and intensity as you do
tactical, technical or physical skills. But first you need to identify the
areas that need development. For example, you may be very confident but lack
concentration and motivation. Or you may be well motivated but find it
difficult to relax in pressure situations. In conjunction with your coach or
perhaps another mentor, you should devise a mental skills training programme
specific to your needs and measure improvements over an agreed period.
It is only by systematically working at
each mental skill that you will derive significant benefit. The earlier you
start to work at developing and refining your mental skills, the better.
Once you have the appropriate mental
skills (as well as physical, tactical and technical skills), you have the
capability to perform at your highest level. However, transforming
capability into competence is a matter of developing an effective mindset.
To do this, you must constantly consider the following:
(i) Where are you now? What are you
currently getting from your squash? What is missing?
(ii) What is it that you want to
achieve? Is it to win titles, ranking points or friendships or simply to
(iii) How must you change what you
currently do in order to get what you want?
Again in partnership with your coach
and/or mentor, explore and discover your personal genius and find a way to
bring out the best in yourself.
To summarise, if you want to improve
1. Acknowledge psychology as an
important part of your overall preparation.
2. Begin to find out more about and
engage in regular mental skills training.
3. Start to work towards developing an
effective mindset through a planned programme of personal change tailored
just for you.
Future articles in this series in the
magazine will investigate the methods and tools used by top players to