The Psychology of Squash: Staying Focused Between Points

What is great about squash in comparison to many other sports is that each of the four performance elements are important:  technique, tactics, physical and psychology.  Unlike team sports, once the match is underway, there is no coaching allowed during actual play, and minimal pauses allowed for reflection and mental preparation.  This places the utmost importance on a player controlling their mental state between rallies – the average between point break being about 10 seconds – even more important since the switch this year to point-a-rally (PAR) scoring  for both men and women.  Players cannot afford to lose their focus for even a minute now, since it is so easy now to let a match get away, and so difficult to work your way back from a big deficit.

The importance of using the between-point time in racquet sports to control an athlete’s mental state was first recognized by well known sport psychologist Jim Loehr.  Although I have found some of his material and talks (he now charges $35,000 to top companies for speaking engagements on Energy Management) to be overly dramatic, Loehr pioneered the development of many practical, easy to use mental tools for tennis, which is an important accomplishment in a field which can get a little too ethereal.

I first ran into Loehr when he was the guest speaker at the 1984 World Professional Squash Association (WPSA) Teaching Pro Conference in 1984.  I was so intrigued by his dismissal of my mention of  Tutko and Tosi’s book Sport Psyching that I had just reread (purchased and read originally in 1976) that I went back to school to get a Master’s in Sport Psychology and Coaching.  I used his book Mental Toughness Training for Sports as the training manual for my first consulting job (hired by National Coach Tony Swift)  in 1986 at Squash Canada’s National Training Center in Toronto.

16-Second Cure Video

16-Second Cure Video

In response to the McEnroe influenced mid-eighties tennis trend of out of control behavior between points, Loehr produced a video entitled “The 16-Second Cure” which detailed a four-step, between point, on-court routine (that took 16 of the allowed 25 seconds) whose purpose was to maintain the ideal performance state of relaxation, positiveness, activation and focus – mostly through the use of breathing and serve and return rituals.

It did not take me very long to develop the squash-specific adaptation of Loehr’s idea:  The 10-Second Solution.  Soon several generations of Canadian Junior National Teams, and thousands of U.S. juniors passing through the USSRA National Training Center (later Princeton Squash Camps) were being rated and trained on their between-point behavior – even playing conditioned games where the winner was the player who displayed the best focus.

I remember doing a “mental” charting of one Canadian Junior back in the late 80’s who had an astounding 36 negative between-point behaviors or vocalizations in the first game we charted.  I think he reduced it down to a dozen or so after being presented with the hard evidence (a standard scoring sheet with (+) or (-) notations along with comments in the columns).  Here is an example of another rating form we used to chart players – it could be completed by either the squash coach or a fellow player.

Between Point Behavior Rating Form

Between Point Behavior Rating Form

And here is a short video of a player who is not following the four steps:

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. You can use notational analysis (charting) of a squash players between-point behavior to help evaluate their mental performance.
  2. The four steps of the 10-Second Solution provides a simple framework to analyze and teach players to stay relaxed and focused during their matches – lots of good (and a few bad) examples on YouTube.
  3. Loehr’s  books provide many useful tools that can be adapted for squash.

2 Responses to The Psychology of Squash: Staying Focused Between Points

  1. […] and relaxation), while during event use of skills is more critical to open sport athletes (e.g., between-point routines and on-court mental skills). Squash Season Reflection […]

  2. […] Tim Bacon’s Science of Coaching Squash […]

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