No one teaches thinking at school, and few teach thinking in higher education either. Study advice, exam advice, essay advice, yes. But not thinking in general. Here I try to suggest some ways in which you can refine your thinking to help with your squash.
We think all the time. Even when our thoughts are on idle mode, we are thinking something. And some of us are bright as a button, while some of us are thick as a brick. Some of us think slowly but deeply, while some of us think fast but superficially. The gifted amongst us think fast and deep, and have a good memory too.
And a fast and furious game like squash needs a lot of every day "where is the ball now ?" type thinking, not falling over while you are running thinking, standing still with balance thinking, where is the ball so I can hit it thinking.
But there are many other types of thinking that you should cultivate in yourself that can help you in your play.
Nowhere here am I trying to tell you how to think. Possibly I am talking about how I think. I am definitely suggesting that you try to think about how you think. And if anything here causes you to think - "Oh, I think a bit like that !" - well, that would be a good thing.
All though this site I offer advice on movement, stance, style and a host of other things. To do it right you need to be able to judge how you are playing now. Without deceiving yourself. With honesty. Objectively.
As if you had a mirror, or a video monitor, or a second external self. But you don't have these. You have yourself, your mind, and other people's advice. I have said elsewhere that a vital skill is to be able to copy others. But you must develop the ability to know if you have successfully performed the act that you are trying to follow.
In order to talk to others about stance, shot style and so on, you must practice discussing play when you are sitting with other players watching a game or a match. You must practice using words that describe squash movements, and practice understanding the various ways there are of describing shots and periods of play. Watching some squash videos with commentary is a great help with this.
Coach says hold the racket high before the swing. That international player on the video holds his racket high before the backswing. And I'm copying him, doing what coach says. But are you ? You must develop the ability to criticise yourself - to say to yourself, "I'm not doing it quite right". And you must develop the ability to analyse your movement, your stance, your shot well enough to find the part of the action that isn't working right. If you are honest and perceptive, the improvement will be easy.
I suppose I have a bit of a nerve setting out a section on thinking, when I don't think I have any insight into the process to offer. What I can do is give a fairly concise description of how I think I learn things myself. I concentrate on observing, on remembering differences from the last time I did such and such, on remembering what I think I did wrong this time, on remembering whether there's anything I remember that I can use better on this occasion, and so on. I concentrate. And as I get tired towards the end of a match, and my thinking becomes muddled, and gasping, I still try to concentrate.
If I want to learn something - and I mean a system, a process, not a passage of prose - then I concentrate and study it and think about it until I fully understand how it works, and then it all seems to slot in together, and I can remember it, for a while at least.
And that's what I do in squash - albeit the studying and thinking about it has to come in very short, 2 second, bursts of frenetic activity. But that's your task. You have to become good at observing how you currently play a shot, or chase a ball, or place your return - good at slotting short memories into your data bank of squash memories. Good at annotating your movement memories with comments like "too close to the ball again", "shot too near the middle again" or "hit it too hard again". Good at remembering what shots your opponent is playing well, and which shots you should avoid playing because they have bought you trouble. Good at analysing why things aren't quite right, with "I was too close to the ball because my first step was too enthusiastic", or "I hit it too hard because I hadn't thought what strength to use", and so on.
There are so many little things that you need to think about while you are playing if you want to turn mediocre playing into winning playing that you almost have to concentrate to remember to concentrate. It is all too easy to find yourself coasting through, soaking up the shot to shot enjoyment of a most absorbing and satisfying game, but forgetting that if you want to win you have to keep thinking hard. Your opponent knows that. Don't forget it yourself.
The games you win while coasting - treat them as a bonus, a reward for becoming a better player than your current opponent. Don't let these games go to your head.
I concentrate, I try to observe, I try to analyse, and bit by bit I improve. My analysis finds a cause for my probems, and I drill to correct that underlying cause.
We give names to our opponent's shots, to positions on court and to the shot we will line up to play in return, but in reality many shots in a rally fall between categories. Suppose we are moving back to wait for a ball that will rebound off the back wall, but it comes off the side wall further than we expect and it bounces higher than we expect. We are stepping back as we play the shot, and return a looping boast that we want to drop to the opposite front corner nick. So our shot combines elements of a long drop, a volley drop and a boast.
We want to strive to attain the skill that lets us move smoothly to our final shot position, adjusting our position as we see better where the ball is going, and at the same time weighing up our shot options - harder or softer, higher or lower, more or less wall angle, a smooth stroke or a late deceiving snap of the racket.
By integrating, I mean we want to develop a way to connect our series of thoughts as we prepare and play one stroke so we can comfortably move from hitting to returning to watching to moving to preparing to hitting while all the time using our mind to better analyse the situation, and control our balance and movement for the best outcome.
When I'm playing a stronger player, I feel I play worse. Do you ever say that to yourself ?
My whole approach to the game - taking advantage of the hard shots of my opponent, correctly balancing risky shots against defensive rails and lobs, and returning regularly down the wall - is more precise when I'm focussing on stylish play and clean returns, than when my head is full of a losing mentality.
If I can treat a hard rail as an opportunity to tuck into the corner to dig out a good return rail, rather than another ball to chase and mishit, I'll get a few back, the ball will warm up, and I may even get some of opponent's drops, force him to run, and I'm back in the game.
Keep searching for your own metaphors, analysing your own mental approach, when you play to standards both lower and higher than your own. Why do you go for so many risky winners, and miss them, when you are playing a better player ? Why do you set up for a killer drive and then fluff it when playing a lesser player ? Why did you run so much in the first game when you would have been better off getting your eye in with some interceptions and deceit ? Why do you collapse when level near the end of a game ? Why does it take you two games before you are hitting your volleys cleanly ? Why do you not play a safe serve after a hard rally ? Why do you break a rail rally early when the ball really isn't there for the shot ? Why can you play a snap drive from the front corner well during practice, but not under pressure ?
Some of these problems are style errors, while some are a result of short-term thinking. As you answer your own questions for yourself, you will begin to analyse your game, and whether the answers you come up with turn out right or wrong, the thinking and analysis is certain to help.
Copyright (C) Richard Hart 2015 - 2018