Let’s face it, squash is a brutal sport. There is no getting away from it. If you are under any illusions that you’ll be able to reach your potential without having to push yourself through the pain barrier you are sadly mistaken and probably more suited to playing darts in your local pub.
It’s an individual, one-on-one, highly energetic sport with nowhere to hide in the heat of battle. Rallies can be long and intense which puts immense stress and strain on the heart, muscles and mind. Don’t kid yourself and think that when you’re match fit it won’t hurt because even at peak fitness, just 10-15 minutes after locking horns with the enemy, your legs can be screaming for mercy when not giving ground relinquishing the central area around the ‘T’. Strength of mind is required in abundance, to keep pushing forward against your own body’s instincts and be the one dictating the rallies so your opponent is left floundering behind you in the court. It’s a prerequisite to be in great shape but it’s the strength of mind and the ability to push yourself through the pain barrier that separates the champions from the rest.
Using a mantra can be a great way to help push yourself through the pain. A mantra is a positive, descriptive word that is continually repeated in your head until it kind of hypnotises you into believing that you actually feel that way. I used to chant the word ‘strong’ in my mind over and over again, in between points, blocking everything else out. I would say the word with real emotion and conviction so my body would be totally convinced that I was strong despite my aching limbs saying the complete opposite.
Embracing the pain can also really help. The next time you’re in a tough match or doing a hard training session try pretending that you are really enjoying it. It’s much easier to push yourself when you enjoy a challenge than to really detest it.
Back in my early days as a professional squash player I would do many repetitions of 400m track work. Generally, I would do 10 x 400m each in 70 secs with a 1 min rest. On many occasions, I would be physically sick after the last one which is not a nice feeling for those that have first hand experience. Every set of 400m would hurt and could be pretty hard to cope with mentally especially before the very first set knowing you had 10 more to go. I would cope by pretending that every 400m was my last one. Mentally, the session would be so much easier. Try it in your next gut-wrenching match when your body is screaming ‘no’, tell yourself that the next rally is the last one… then again and again and again and again until the match and therefore the pain is over.
I know it all sounds sadistic but you can learn to love it! Your mind is very obedient and incredibly powerful if used in the right way.