Evaluating Mental Skills for Squash

September 6, 2017

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:

  1.   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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. “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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  • relaxation
  • positive self-talk
  • activation
  • imagery (or visualization)
  • concentration

Here is a video of Tim and Wesleyan Coach Shona Kerr demonstrating the five mental skills in a quiet setting   and on-court .

Best & Worst Ever Match Analysis form – to help you play your best and learn from your experiences:  Squash Reflections Form

Squash Match Focus Plan form – to make sure you are organized and well prepared for your matches:  Squash Plan Form.

Squash Match Evaluation form – to help you analyze your matches and learn from your experiences:  squash-match-evaluation-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).

 


How to Evaluate Squash Coaches ‘Scientifically”

April 26, 2017

It’s a funny position to be in – having yourself evaluated by someone who knows very little beyond their own minimal life experience about the subject that you are teaching.  College squash coaches, just like University and College Faculty are evaluated at the end of their annual teaching/coaching cycle.

To muddy the “evaluation” waters even further, those who design and administer the forms used to evaluate coaches have themselves received little if any training in the area, and it is extremely doubtful that they have kept abreast of research in the area – yes – “how to evaluate a coach” is an actual research area usually falling within sport psychology, coaching science, or sport pedagogy.

My recommendation is to use the Coaching Behavior Scale for Sport (CBS-S) an evaluation form that has been validated in several studies and found to be an “effective” tool.  You can download a copy of the questionnaire and scoring instructions here:

http://the-coach-athlete-relationship.wikispaces.com/file/view/CBS-S+Sample.pdf.  Here is a link to a PDF of the original article on the development of the CBS-S (Mallett & Cote, 2006) and a screenshot of several of the questions:

CBS Screenshot

 

There are a few obvious “items that need discussing” ” that only an expert coach/sport scientist would be able to spot, but this instrument has the advantage of directing the athletes attention to key components as opposed to a less structured questionnaire.  My observations on items #8, #13, and #15:

#8 – one could argue a coach should NOT be talking during skill execution as might distract and athlete;

#13 – verbal feedback would have minimal effect on visual and kinaesthetic learning styles;  Better would be “coach gives feedback appropriate to my learning style”:)

#15 – recent research (e.g., Vickers – Decision Training) has found that the most effective feedback is that provided when a coach waits for an athlete to ask for feedback.

In addition to using a satisfactory questionnaire, there is no doubt that an actual observation by an expert in coaching and sport science is the best way to provide feedback about coaching.  I would have to say that I have rarely heard of this being done in the U.S. sports world let alone the squash coaching world.

The assessor would have to be somebody like me and that does not really exist (except for me:):

  • terminal degree in coaching (which is a Master’s for the discipline of sports coaching);
  • experience teaching relevant sport science courses where you regularly assess coaching knowledge and skill – I have taught Sport Pedagogy, Coaching, Sport Psychology, and Sport Leadership at the college level, and have held certifications in sport psychology, strength training (CSCS), and am a Level 4 Squash Coach (and Tutor/Learning Facilitator);
  • experience conducting coach evaluations – these were an integral part of our students’ experience in Graduate Program in Coaching at Smith College – as part of our Coaching Practicum I would be charged with observing and assessing 7-8 graduate students three times every year.

There are other ways of evaluating coaching we haven’t really discussed which might prove useful:  peer coach observation, video self-observation; ongoing professional development taking coaching certification courses where coach evaluation is part of the process (e.g., Coaching Association of Canada).  Whatever the evaluation process – hopefully a fair one for the coach – a very useful outcome would be for a coach to produce a “Personal Improvement Plan” and set goals for the next season of coaching.


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 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).


Visualizing Squash Tactics

February 1, 2017

How old are the best squash players in the world?  The PSA released the latest rankings today so let’s calculate the average age of the best of the best – the men’s top 5  (in the interest of gender equity we will look at the women’s top 5 in another post):  29.8 years old.

men-feb-2015-top-5-psa

Why – in the “world’s fittest sport” (except for Nordic Skiing) are the athletes so old? Or put another way – how can these “old” athletes beat younger fitter athletes in their late teens and early 20’s?  The answer lies in the older players’ “tactical expertise”, in other words their better decision-making and choice of shots – average shots per squash game is 200 – so up to 1000 tactical decisions where to play the ball per match.

Let’s look at the example of an 18-22 year old college player who does not want to wait another 7-8 years to play their best – how can they accelerate their “tactical expertise”?

  • limit closed mindless “blocked practice” drills like boast/drive to less than 20% of practice;  these drills let an athlete “get in a groove” and “feel good” but research shows this type of drilling has fewer benefits in actual match play.
  • use a high proportion of conditioned games (Games Approach), and variable (at least two different skills) and random drills that force a player to make match like choices.
  • play and practice with a variety of opponents/partners – court rotations (winner up and loser down) are a great way to do this.
  • encourage players to critically reflect on each match (Squash Match Evaluation Form) and allow them access to video of their matches to help them assess their performance.
  • develop or adopt a model of tactics which can serve as a reference point to speed up acquisition of tactical expertise – at Wesleyan University we use the Egg Model that I developed and refined.

olympians-use-imagery

Lastly use visualization (imagery) to speed up memory and learning of “good” tactics. According to recent sport psychology research more than 95% of Olympic Medalists and World Champions use visualization regularly to prepare for competition. Visualization procedures are very easy to learn and consist of finding a quiet place and focusing on breathing for 3-5 minutes to get into a state of relaxation – and then simply imagining the situation you want to achieve – 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient: before or after practice as part of warm-up or cool-down, before sleep or right after waking up are usually convenient times.

Here is a list of specific visualization topics that we have asked the Wesleyan Squash Teams to visualize this week:

  • straight volley drops off harder hit balls that pass though the “Yolk” – slower moving balls are killed or volleyed to dying length.
  • quick straight drops off harder, lower boasts from the back-court – hold and snap (to dying length) slower moving boasts – ideally show drop (deception) to drag the opponent forward.
  • lifting the ball higher from outside the Egg especially in the back court and when stretched – avoid “blasting your way out of trouble”.
  • insert “bursts or flurries” of 3-5 rallies of change of pace (slower/faster) or game style (hard hitter/retriever/shot-maker) to disrupt an opponent’s play in a relatively low-risk way.
  • finishing games and matches (when the score reaches about 8-8) with tough percentage play – focusing on hitting good aggressive length and using kills (12″-15″ above the tin) instead of drops and avoiding going short from the back-court when the opponent is on the T – being patient and forcing the opponent to take high risk shots and make mistakes first.

Don’t wait until you are old to play your best squash – change your practice habits, adopt a tactical model, and visualize to speed up the process of being a “smart” player.


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 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).


4 Simple Steps to Practical Mental Training for Squash

September 21, 2016

Since sport psychology exploded onto the world scene with the 1976 Montreal Olympics there have been literally thousands of books and articles published on how to “do mental training”.  My particular approach was adopted by the Coaching Association of Canada and integrated into their 5-Level coaching system – I wrote the sport psychology content for Levels 1,2, and 3 (French version). Here is the original article describing my approach:    Bacon (1989). Periodization of Mental Training.

My approach has been always been very practical (I have never stopped coaching and competing) and simple and continues to be supported by current research and involves 4 steps – which can be 4 one-hour team meetings,  that can be implemented by either a coach or a mental training consultant.  In support of the 24 athletes on the 1988 World Champion Canadian Racquetball Team, I trained the National and Assistant National Coaches to deliver my program via email, telephone, mail, and training camps – very well evaluated by the team members – so you do not actually need a sport psychologist to support your athletes in the mental area:

  1. Introductory meeting (60 min.) To help guide athletes to enquire about and learn lessons from their own best and worst sport performances.  Athletes complete an individual form and we take up some of the answers in a group setting.  I introduce Jim Loehr’s Ideal Performance State (IPS) model – still the simplest out there in 2016 – you can download a copy here:  ipsloehrsports.
  2. Goal-Setting and Introduction to Mental Skills meeting (60 min.) There are a multitude of  goal-setting forms available, but Terry Orlick’s form is still the best with key questions on dream, realistic and specific mental goals.  My mental skills approach involves having the athletes do 1-2 basic 2-3 minute exercises from each of the five categories of skills: relaxation, positive self-talk, activation, visualization and concentration – followed by a 2-3 min. I facilitate a short discussion on how these skills can be used in an actual competition.  Optional additional self-assessment questionnaires (very short or more comprehensive) can be completed by the athletes to help them zone in on specific areas they need to work on.  Orlick also has a short one-page “self-directed interview” the athletes can complete before this meeting.  Here is a link to a YouTube video where I demonstrate the different exercises.
  3. Focus Plan meeting (60 min.).  To help athletes to write a one-page plan on a) how to prepare optimally, both physically and mentally for a competition; b) how to focus their attention at key moments in a competition (e.g., start, in between points, near the end of a game, near the end of a match, etc.).  Here is one of the forms we have used in the past:  Squash Focus Plan Form and a post with more details on how to develop a Focus Plan.
  1. Distraction Control (Refocus) Plan and Competition Evaluation meeting (60 min.).  To help athletes  develop a written list of situations that cause them to play poorly or lose their focus, and though group discussion lead them to find possible solutions to get back on track.  The final step is to introduce an evaluation process – which includes a written form – that they can complete after every competition to speed up their “experience” and development of mental toughness.  Here is one of the forms we have used in the past:  squash-match-evaluation-form.

Psyching for Sport

The meeting format I use closely follows the meeting format recommended by Terry Orlick in his book Psyched for Sport (out of print but available used on Amazon.com) – all Canadian National Team and Olympic coaches have been trained in this approach.  Canada is generally recognized as having one of the top coaching training programs in the world.  in fact you cannot coach on a Canadian National team if you have not obtained your Level 4 Coaching Certification (I got mine way back in 1988 in the first cohort of Squash Canada Level 4 coaches).

Summary

Following the above four-meeting approach above, a coach will meet the needs of about 80% of their athletes (80/20 rule:).  There will always be athletes that need more assistance in developing mental toughness and solving “mental problems”.

If you need help preparing  your mental training program, or would want to engage me to run the meetings for your team drop me a line at squashscience@gmail.com – rates start at $50 U.S. per hour.  Here is a link to my Facebook Page.


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 (Certified Squash, Tennis & Badminton Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He 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).

 

 


Squash Focus Plan: Adjust for Opponents?

December 2, 2011

The final product (concise practical tool) of an organized and effective season long mental training program for squash players is the Squash Focus Plan.  New visitors to this site (still the #1 squash coaching site in the world according to Google:) can check out this link for an overview of focus plans, and here for an overview of  annual mental training programs for squash.

At the start of the Pre-Competition Phase of the year (which is where I am now with my Smith College Squash Team), squash players should have a “workable” focus plan that they are using and evaluating in match play.  One of the reasons that my team improves more than “similar” teams, is that using and evaluating focus plans forces a critical reflection and self-analysis – something which most players at any level do not do.  Our first opponent in the Wesleyan Invitational this weekend beat us 5-4 two weekends ago – with the same line-ups we are going to reverse that decision and beat them 6-3 – due in large part to my players’ use of focus plans (obviously if we don’t I am going to return to this post and edit this part out;).  You can download the current squash focus plan form we are using here:  Squash Focus Plan Form.

In the video below, I explain the relationship between a player’s Squash Focus Plan and the three levels of familiarity with an opponent:

  1. Know opponent and have played them before;
  2. Know opponent but have not played them before;
  3. Do not know opponent.

Basically, I suggest that in the first two situations where the opponent is known, additional specific goals (tactics) may be set as part of the game plan.  I note however that for some players, the best performances come when they follow a set focus plan (e.g., they get anxious and confused if they think too much, or they are “feel”/intuitive style players). Hopefully, this situation would be a short term, intermediate step to being able to make tactical adjustments based on knowledge of the opponent so some mental training or tactical education may be required for this player).


Season Long Mental Training for Your Squash Team!

January 29, 2011

With 123 posts now published on this blog (440,000 views and top Google search result of “squash coaching”) it can be a little daunting to organize all of this information.  Luckily, blogging tools can help out.  Here is how readers can organize information on this blog:

Use the “Search” Function

Most squash coaches need help in the area of “squash psychology” .  Enter these terms into the search box, and your result with feature most of the posts on this topic, sorted according to reverse chronological order.  Here is a link to the result of that search.

Use the “Categories” Function

If you are looking for a fairly broad category of posts, clicking on the “Categories” link to the appropriate topic in the sidebar with produce all of the blog posts that I have assigned to that category, in reverse chronological order.  Often the same post might be assigned to two categories – for example a post of focus plans might be assigned to both “Mental-Psychology” and “Tactics” since focus plans are composed of both tactical and mental reminders.  Here is a link to the result of hitting the “Mental-Psychology” category link.

“E-Book”- Like Sorting

This is something that both the reader or I could do (although I have not done this yet):  sort the posts in a particular topic area into a thematic order – for example the sort from the most simple to complex, or perhaps most useful for coaches in the area of psychology – the order in which you would present the topics to your athlete over a season (e.g. a periodization of mental training of blog posts:).  A reader could do this in Word using hyperlinks, or I could simply blog a post that looks like this:

General Preparation Phase

Meeting #1:  Ideal Performance State for Squash.

Meeting #2:  Mental Training for Beginning Squash Players

Meeting #3:  Goal-Setting for Squash

Meeting #4: Establishing a Positive Squash Training & Competition Environment

Meeting #5:  Visualization for Squash

Specific Preparation Phase

Meeting #6: On-Court Mental Skills for Squash

Meeting # 7 : Positive Self-Talk During Practice

Competition Phase

Meeting # 8:  Staying Focused Between Points

Meeting #9 : Squash Focus Plan = Psychology + Tactics

Meeting #10: Squash Match Mental Evaluations

Meeting #11: Simulations to Prepare for Major Championships

Meeting #12: Diagnosing & Improving Performance Problems

Check the Squash Science YouTube Channel

I often try and include video in most posts – but sometimes I have videos on the Squash Science YouTube Channel which are not mentioned on this blog – so sometimes another source for squash science information for squash coaches.


Squash Psychology: Not always in a textbook!

December 13, 2010

I did not learn everything I know about squash psychology from a text book during my M.A. at the University of Western Ontario and Ph.D. studies at L’Universite de Montreal.  I was reminded of this last week when one of my co-captains, Elizabeth Guyman, on the Smith College Squash Team that I coach had to rest an injured wrist for the entire week.  In addition to reading several chapters from several different sport psychology books, visualizing, doing her CorePerformance workout, doing bike intervals, and playing left-handed, I had her read two chapters from Geoff Hunt’s book.  I consider his two chapters “Match Play” and “Tempo and Temperment” to be two of the finest sources of “squash psychology” related to match play. (Note: I suspect we will have to switch Guyman over to being a “left-handed” player when she returns to Smith College on January 3rd – something we have done before with a previous Smith captain Becky Spalding:  she started her season as a right-hander with a field hockey injured wrist, playing one match for us at #4 before we had to switch her over due to a too long predicted healing time – she won her last match as a left-hander at #4 for us at our nationals at #4:)

The above slide shows that squash coaches can obtain useful knowledge of squash psychology (MT = mental training) from three sources – the information in Hunt’s book falling into the “subjective experience as a player” category since he had not done any significant coaching at that point in his career.  “Professional practice experience” would be that knowledge picked up as a squash coach or sport psychology consultant through observation and practical experience working with players and other coaches. This latter component can be critical in integrating the other two aspects of squash psychology knowledge.  Continued involvement in teaching academic sport psychology has helped me to critically reflect on my consulting experiences outline in the slide below.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. “Regular” squash books written by former top players can be a great sources of sport psychology knowledge – a great supplement or adjunct to sport psychology books and a squash coach’s own subjective experiences as a player and professional practice experience as a coach.

Squash Psychology: Children’s Motivation to Play Squash – the Big Picture

November 8, 2010

I have already written about the importance that enjoyment plays in a young squash player’s motivation to play squash.  A very simple approach for squash coaches is to make sure that their junior players enjoy lessons, training and competing!

But things are a little more complex than just making sure that kids “have fun”.  Sport psychology researchers have adapted one of Developmental Psychologist Susan Harter’s Models to come up with a complete picture of how young athletes’ motivation to play sport is determined.  Here is a simplified slide from Weinberg & Gould’s textbook (about to publish their 5th edition – but with completely acceptable earlier editions available on Amazon for under $10):

Weinberg & Gould (2007)

So while “enjoyment” is included (under “affect” which is a synonym for “emotion”) in this model, it is easy to see that the overall picture to developing motivation in children is in fact more complex.  What does this model describe?

  • In brief, the feedback a child receives from coaches, parents and peers partially determines their sense of “perceived competence” (how good they think they are at sport) and “self-esteem”;
  • The “type” of motivation a child has (“motivational orientation”), their anxiety level,  and the level of success they have (at squash for example), also contribute to competence and self-esteem.  To make a long story short, a win-oriented, extrinsically motivated outlook can result in low self-esteem and perceived competence and a process (improvement)-oriented, intrinsically motivated outlook usually results in higher perceived competence and self-esteem.
  • Both feedback and motivational orientation affect self-esteem and perceived competence – which then in turn influence “affect” (the emotions a child experiences) – which in turn influence the child’s motivation to a) choose to participate and b) how much effort they will expend in participating.

Harter’s original model (see below) from which the above slide was adapted, clearly shows two paths a child (and their parents & coach) may follow:

Harter (1981)

  • Stating in the center of the diagram (“mastery attempts, i.e., playing squash), the path to the right depicts failure (opponent or drill too difficult) and lack of reinforcement leading to anxiety and low perceived competence which leads to reduced motivation to participate.
  • The path to the left depicts mastery attempts followed by success (an opponent or drill of appropriate challenge) and positive reinforcement leading to intrinsic pleasure and increased perceived competence which increases motivation to participate and continue in sport (e.g., squash).

And you thought you were just giving a squash lesson:)

In 1992 I presented this model at the Tennis Canada Coaches Conference and subsequently wrote a chapter on the model in their Under 11 Coaching manual, making these key recommendations for coaches:

  1. Make sure you are a good coach who actually improves their athletes quickly – i.e., make sure they are successful.
  2. Related to the above, ensure optimal task difficulty (competition and practice) – a good practical guide being to make sure they succeed 50-80% of the time before making things more difficult (or get them to stop comparing themselves to others).
  3. Discourage a focus on winning and increase focus on improving (or make sure your students always win – good luck with that over a 10-year period which includes puberty and moving up in the age groups every two years :).
  4. Make sure parents are on board with the components of Harter’s model – otherwise they can unknowingly sabotage your efforts (more on parents in future posts).

Squash Psychology: Helping Your Child Enjoy Squash (Sport)

November 7, 2010

Yesterday was World Squash Day 2010! We were challenged by the World Squash Federation to introduce new players – including 20 children – to our sport.  Now our challenge is to keep them involved in a modern world with literally hundreds of alternative activities – how can we do this?

Actually – it is not that easy.  Parents, athletes, administrators and even squash coaches tend to view sport in an overly simplistic fashion.  That is not surprising given that most have very little academic background and direct professional practice experience with large numbers of children – what they have is their own subjective experiences: their own childhood memories or interaction with their own children.  In addition to having taken academic courses in the area (e.g., Developmental Psychology) I have been doing summer camps with kids for the past 37 years (yikes!) and written materials for coaching programs on how to best coach children from a psychological standpoint (e.g., the Tennis Canada Under 11 Coaching Program).

Most people tend to interact with children in a simplistic “stimulus-response” fashion – “if I/we do this – the child with do that”; “this is bad for the child – that is good”, discounting the fact that children are in fact thinking, feeling, acting beings.  Fortunately, there is a small group of researchers that seek to explain how children interpret and think about the feedback and interactions they receive around their sport and physical activity experiences.

One of the simplest yet useful models we can use to understand our children’s participation is the Sport Enjoyment Model originally developed by Scanlon and Lewthwaite in 1986.  As illustrated in the figure below, the factors that determine a child’s participation (e.g., parent’s support, alternative choice of activities, etc.) first affect a child’s enjoyment, which in turn determines their motivation to participate in sport (i.e., their sport commitment).

From Weiss, M.R., Kimmel, L.A., & Smith, A.L. (2001)

The numbers in the diagram are “coefficients” that range from zero to one (0.000 to 1.0).  The closer the number is to 1.0 – the stronger the relationship between the items (i.e., variables) in the diagram.  You can see that the coefficient (.959) on the line between Enjoyment and Tennis Commitment is almost 1.00 – so a child’s motivation to participate in a particular sport is highly related to their enjoyment! Here is one academic description (ignore it!) of the term “coefficient” “the size of the coefficient for each independent variable gives you the size of the effect that variable is having on your dependent variable, and the sign on the coefficient (positive or negative) gives you the direction of the effect (e.g., notice the number on the line between “Attractive Alternatives” and Enjoyment is negative – so the more attractive the alternatives to squash are – the less the child will enjoy squash.”)

In future posts I will present other models we can use to plan our interventions with children – in the meantime you may want to get a copy of this book:


Diagnosing & Improving Squash Psychological Performance Problems

July 6, 2010

New AASP Logo

In my 24 years of sport psychology consulting I have found a very simple framework for diagnosing and correcting on-court mental problems encountered by squash players (note that I am referring to on-court, squash performance problems – if you as a coach suspect a problem of a more “clinical” nature (e.g., eating disorder, serious depression or generalized anxiety, etc.) you should encourage your athlete to see appropriate help:

  • Simply setting a psychological goal targeting the mental problem (e.g., choking at the end of a match) is often enough to “cure” the problem.  In reviewing hundreds of goal-setting studies in business and sport, researches found an across the board 15% improvement in participants who set specific goals versus those who simply “tried their best”.  There is a very good “self-interview” form in earlier editions of Terry Orlick’s book “In Pursuit of Excellence”, and an excellent goal-setting form in his book “Psyching for Sport”.  If you drop me a line of can send you a squash-specific, adapted, version of these forms (yes – for free:).
  • Since most squash performance problems revolve around anxiety (e.g., “I am afraid to lose”) and confidence (e.g., “I don’t think I can win”), understanding the link between anxiety/confidence and attention (see the slide of Nideffer’s simple explanation of choking) makes solving the problem relatively simple – 3-4 weeks work on relaxation and self-talk skills (as in the video below). 

If  the points above do not solve the squash psychological problem, it is likely that understanding  and working on two, slightly deeper, more complex phenomona will help:  a) importance of a task orientation and motivational climate and b) Albert Ellis’s model of “Rational Thinking.  Both are usually related to how a squash player was brought up – in other words how they were socialized into competition by  their parents (primarily), peers, sporting organizations and coaches.

  • If goal-setting and basic mental skills training do not address common squash psychological problems, often the reason is that the athlete has what is termed a “win” orientation instead of the more productive “task” orientation.  Here is a link to the background reading.  If an athlete does have a “win” orientation and their social environment is also “win’ oriented, it takes a fair bit of time (several weeks to months) to get them (and their entourage) to adopt “task” goals.
  • Another common reason that basic mental skills training does not work is that an athlete holds one or more “irrational beliefs” that hinder them from changing their behavior.  We all possess these irrational beliefs “(I must be liked and approved of by “everyone”; “I must be perfect”, etc.) to some extent – the key is to recognize them, and not let them interfere unduly with our pursuit of excellence in sport.  Luckily, Albert Ellis (considered by some to be the Father of modern cognitive behavior therapy – the current dominant paradigm in psychology counseling) has clearly outlined (in many books and articles) the procedure for disputing the irrational thoughts that cause the unproductive beliefs.  My recommendation is to read and work through the ‘Refuting Irrational Ideas” chapter in the Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook – very simple language and lots useful, practical forms and exercises – I have used it with great success when teaching Stress Management to College students.

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. When encountering a on-court mental problems with a player – set a specific goal to improve it – it should help.
  2. Most squash mental problems are related to anxiety and confidence – try a basic mental skills program with your athlete – it should help in most cases.
  3. If goal-setting and basic mental skills training do not work, the culprit is often a “win” orientation and climate (versus “task”) or irrational beliefs – “self-help” books can be of benefit if this is the case.
  4. If necessary seek the help of a qualified sport psychology consultant – here is a link to the AASP consultant finder (I am not a member as I qualified for and was registered with the Canadian Mental Training Registry which predates the AASP Certification).
  5. You can click on the “Mental-Psychology” link in the categories section of this blog’s sidebar for more info and squash and psychology.