Psychology of Squash: The Ideal Performance State

In 1983 Sport Psychologist Jim Loehr published an article in a little known Journal published by the Coaching Association of Canada.  Shortly thereafter, Loehr exploded onto the international tennis scene, spending the next 10-15 years consulting with many of the world’s top professional tennis players, frequently through his association with Nick Bollietieri and his tennis academy.  What was great about Loehr’s article on the Ideal Performance State was that is was concise and easy to understand – and therefore highly usable – a key quality for squash coaches.  Nowadays, Loehr spends time giving $35,000 speaking engagements to some of the world’s top business executives.  Since 1983 he has published almost a dozen books on sports and performance psychology (go to – most of them very applied and practical.

Nicol David, World #1

Nicol David, World #1

In his article, Loehr argues for the existence of a special psychological state that occurs during an athlete’s best performances.  An athlete’s Ideal Performance State (IPS) consists of high energy, positive feelings, and can be described using adjectives such as energized, physically relaxed, mentally calm, self-confident and focused in the present.  Loehr’s IPS model has never been scientifically validated by the sport psychology academic community, and in the academic world has been supplanted by Hanin’s Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning, and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow model – both of which I teach in my Psychology of Sport class at Smith College.

In the non-academic world of squash, I have used Loehr’s IPS model as the basis for interviewing more than 1,500 squash players of all abilities (beginner to World #1) about their squash performances.  Except for only a handful of individuals (none of them that good, blessed individualists that they were:), Loehr was spot on, which means his article is a must read for any squash coach that wants a clear picture of where they need to lead their athlete in the area of mental training.  Although there are now thousands of sport psychology resources available around the world, none of the recent ones can top Loehr’s early effort for practicality and ease of use.  Since the CAC’s journal is no longer published (here is a link to their only current coaching journal), there should be no objections to squash coaches downloading a single copy for personal use:  The Ideal Performance State.

Squash coaches interested in following up with their athletes are free to download a copy of this assessment which I now use when consulting with squash (and tennis) players.  This form is adapted from Terry Orlick’s book Psyching for Sport. Orlick has extended Loehr’s work by emphasizing the importance of focus in our best performances, and I have made the form squash-specific: Squash Reflections Form.

What is great about this form is that it leads perfectly into helping the squash player develop a Focus Plan (use the search button on the right side of this page for more on that topic), the major tool for helping players get into and stay their IPS. Ideally, squash coaches should implement a year long periodized mental training program, but just making your players aware of the IPS is a great start.

5 Responses to Psychology of Squash: The Ideal Performance State

  1. […] Being positive and focussed on the task at hand is one of the key characteristics of the Ideal Performance State for squash.  However being positive is a skill or ability that cannot necessarily just be turned […]

  2. […] Squash Coach Mike Johnson on the Psychology of Squash I was lucky enough to work alongside Mike Johnson during Princeton Squash Camp’s Junior Elite weeks earlier this summer at the start of June.  Mike has a very simple approach to the game of squash, including the mental side.  As part of the camp’s Sunday evening program, I work with the lead coach of the camp to give a 45-minute workshop/lecture on the Psychological Aspects of Squash.  I have been doing this since 1987  (so about 5,500 junior camper-units – although there are some repeats in there:), and usually we help the campers analyze and compare their best and worst squash performances. […]

  3. […] these same situations.  The hope is that squash players will enter the championships feeling more prepared and confident in their abilities to compete and handle […]

  4. […] + Tactics How can a squash coach best help their player to play well and get into their Ideal Performance State?  One of the best ways is to coach their players to write down a plan that includes three […]

  5. […] short 15-20 minute squash-specific mental training sessions – you cannot get these anywhere […]

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