I have been doing sport psychology consulting with professional and national team squash and other racquet sport athletes since 1987 – including nearly 100% of the top U.S. juniors (thanks to Princeton Squash Camps:) and 100% of the Canadian National Jr. and Sr. teams until my move to the U.S. in the late 1990’s.
Here are the different ways players, coaches and consultants can evaluate a player’s mental skills:
- The most practical and immediate way for a player to consistently assess their squash mental skills is to complete a Match Evaluation form after every match – even more useful if they develop and use a Focus Plan, and even better if they discuss the results of the analysis with a coach who saw the match.
- Not quite as useful is having a coach watch the match and TELL the athlete “what happened mentally” as this does not improve an athlete’s autonomy.
- One of my favorites is to “chart” a match (either live or taped) using a standard score sheet with “mental notes” about between point behavior (body language, facial expressions, under breath comments, etc.) so that mental performance can be correlated with the score and match momentum.
- Simply asking the athlete to rate themselves on a 0 (needs work) to 10 (very good) scale for each mental skill is very quick – and in my opinion quite accurate – usually, given the chance, athletes can be honest and forthcoming about their mental strengths and weaknesses.
- “Psychometric instruments” is an academic way of saying psychological questionnaires used in research – these can be useful but can often involve obtaining permission to use and more involved scoring procedures.
- Comprehensive questionnaires, with and without psychometric properties, that cover a wide range of mental qualities and skills are best used in the initial “educational” phase of a mental training program, to help introduce athletes to the scope and potential of doing sport psychology.
- If I had to choose only one method to help athletes assess their mental performance it would be a “best versus worst” analysis: ask them to reflect on their best and worst performances and contrast them on key factors such as activation, anxiety, and focus before and during the match. This comparison makes strengths and weaknesses evident and points the way to appropriate goals for a mental training program.
The next step after evaluating mental skills is to set goals and objectives to improve mental performance. Ideally these goals should be integrated and related to a player’s technical, tactical and physical goals – a topic for another day!
Further Reading for players and coaches:
iCRAP – the five basic mental skills:
- positive self-talk
- imagery (or visualization)
Best & Worst Ever Match Analysis form – to help you play your best and learn from your experiences: Squash Reflections Form
Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions). He is a Charter Member of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).