Westchester Squash Academy is proud to announce a collaboration with Dr. Alex Diaz and Sports Mental Edge
Dr. Diaz is the Sport Psychology Consultant to Concordia College, Bronxville and a licensed psychotherapist. He is certified in Sports Peak Performance, Somatic Psychology, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens, and maintains a private practice in Tuckahoe, NY. Dr. Diaz teaches mental performance strategies to all level athletes, including school, college, professional, and Olympians. He is a frequent speaker in schools, clubs, organizations, and conferences addressing how to develop a winning mindset not only in athletics, but also as life and academic skills.
Develop a match-like mindset
We often see squash players displaying a level of performance during practice that is more natural and relaxed than when they compete. They are better at hitting rails and drop shots. They control boast shots without a glitch. We see them hitting balls to the back of the court with tons of confidence. During training, they put a lot of time and effort to help them do their best. However, when it really matters, we regularly see them feel frustrated because their performances fail to show what they can do.
It is true that practicing and performing are two very different situations. When you practice, you primarily concentrate on improving specific technical skills. You work hard to develop muscle memory to unconsciously help you repeat the same shot. But, are you also practicing match-like situations that will resemble real matches?
Top athletes spend countless of hours simulating match situations that they will encounter in real competition. They believe the more they practice simulated match situations the more likely they will respond with confidence during real match. It is during training that you need to include time to develop a match-like mindset. For example, during team practice, play hard with your teammate. Play like you really mean it and play to win the point. Push your teammate to try harder and ask your partner to play harder, too. If during your trainings, you are not feeling the pressure to win a point, you are not practicing hard enough. Push yourself and ask your partner to push you to the extent that you really feel the adrenaline rush of a real match.
Practice game-like situations that make you feel uncomfortable until you feel comfortable. If closing a match is uncomfortable, then ask a better player or your coach to pretend you are serving 10-9. Put yourself in a pressure-like situation and do it enough times until it begins to feel more comfortable. You will raise your level of competitiveness, feel more confident about your skills, and more relaxed when it really matters. Practice like you mean it!!
For more information, please visit my website: www.dralexdiazconsulting.com
Alex Diaz, PhD
Practice like you mean it!!
Have you ever wondered why you underperform in competition? It is true that practicing and competing are two very different situations. When you practice, you play with more confidence, hit shots without any thought process and fully commit to each shot with no hesitation. You feel light on your feet and focused on each shot. Your mindset is more relaxed than when you compete. When you practice, you are more likely to hit the drop shots you want, hit the perfect boast, and nail the ideal rail with minimum hesitation. You are clearly talented enough to hit all those shots. You put a lot of time and effort to do your very best. However, when it really matters, the pressure of the game situation pushes athletes to become more logical than trusting.
They tend to think about the final outcome rather than just hitting one shot at the time. They are concerned about not losing rather than just playing. They do not want to let people down, only to let themselves down. They are caught up in the fairness or unfairness of the referee’s call as if they could change the call. As a result, athletes feel frustrated because their performance fails to demonstrate all the great effort they had put in their practice.
When you practice, you primarily concentrate in improving specific technical skills. You work hard to develop muscle memory to help you unconsciously repeat the same shot. But, are you also practicing to get your mind competition-ready? Are you mentally pushing yourself to practice pretending you are in a competition mode mindset? Are you using in practice the same pre and during performance mental skills that you will use in competition? If your answer is NO to any of these questions, then you are not training your mind to be competition-ready. Instead, you are hoping your learned skills will smoothly transition from practice to competition while assuming typical match pressure situations will not be felt.
Top athletes spend countless of hours simulating performance situations that they will encounter in real competition. They believe the more they practice game pressure situations the more likely they will appropriately respond to when situation arises. For example, if you are too relaxed, you need to bring your heart rate up. Run twenty times from back to front of the court as fast as you can. Do pushups or sit ups in the middle of practice. Use a steady positive self-talk at every point. Commit to each shot as if it was the last one. If you are too tense, practice breathing relaxation or count from 99 to 70 skipping in threes.
Practice in situations that make you feel uncomfortable until you feel comfortable. You will raise your level of competitiveness, feel more confident about your skills, and more relaxed when it really matters. Practice like you mean it!!
For more information, please visit my website: www.dralexdiazconsulting.com
Alex Diaz, PhD
How to build effective motivation
Keep your dreams alive!! Yes, many of us have frequently been told that motivation comes from keeping your dreams alive, by envisioning what we want to achieve and imagining how those dreams will, one day, become reality. However, we are basically motivated in two different ways: extrinsic rewards or intrinsic rewards.
Extrinsic rewards: These are prizes, medals, trophies or financial rewards that are given for achieving success. This kind of motivation will most likely contribute toward working hard and participate in your sport. If you are motivated by wanting to win the next squash tournament or moving up in your rankings, then you are extrinsically motivated. Extrinsic rewards can also come from receiving praises from other individuals, such as: coaches, parents, teammates. Or, by wanting to win so those people do not get upset.
Intrinsic rewards: These rewards come from the inner personal desire to strive and achieve competence. Individuals who seek intrinsic reward are driven by their self-determination to master a skill. They embrace the learning process of doing something new or improving a skill as a source of inner satisfaction. The pleasure that comes from such an accomplishment feeds into their own self-belief and confidence after realizing they have been able to achieve a goal.
It is ok dreaming to achieve a goal, but to make it a reality, one needs to know what motivates you to pursue what you want to achieve. Maybe, we need to combine both, extrinsic and intrinsic motivators to keep us going. This combination may well be what we need to find. However, make sure you place more emphasis on intrinsic motivators. Wanting to achieve a goal or pleasing others may just be a short-term goal. But, if you really want to achieve greater goals, then you must identify what drives you to practice and compete. What satisfaction do you get from competing and what are you constantly learning from each one of your practices and tournament matches? What is your passion? When all is set and done and you look back, will you have any regrets? Did you put all the effort you needed to achieve your goal?
Only you will have the answer. Hence, look for what it really matters to you and go for it.
Alex Diaz, PhD
Pre-performance routines help squash players to focus on what they can control as they prepare for the upcoming match. It is quite normal that players feel nervous just before a match. The wanting to win or the fear of losing, the perceived pressures that come from parents, or not wanting to disappoint people they care about may become sources of tension that are brought to the match even before the first point is played. The longer the wait, the higher the tension. Knowing whom they will play next can also become a source of stress. If the player beat the next opponent, then they feel the pressure of having to beat him/her again. If the player lost to the next opponent, then they feel the pressure of not wanting to lose to the same player, again.
There are many distracting sources regardless of their true reality. What it really matters is their perceived reality and, as such, the thinking and belief that follows as a consequence of holding on to such a “truth.” What is important to know is that the higher their level of stress prior to the match, the more likely they will become easily mentally distracted during the match, and as a result, underperform.
Pre-performance routines help bring focus to what really matters in order to minimize externally distracting sources. Some athletes bring their head-phones and play their favorite music. Others like to socialize with friends. Another common strategy is to talk to a coach or parent as they go over the match strategy.
Elite athletes are experts in using pre-performance routines. Their mental strategies include breathing relaxation, visualization, and repeating a cue positive word or phrase that helps to bring full attention to the present moment while feeling fully energized and ready to go.
What works for you as a pre-performance routine may not necessarily work for another player. What really matters is that whatever the chosen routine is, it MUST be adhered at every single match. Maybe you choose to listen to music and, as the match is close to start, then you practice breathing relaxation and repeat positive energy words. The more consistent you are with practicing a routine, the easier it is for the brain to memorize the sought after focused mind state. Consistency is the key component.
Set your pre-competition routine
1- Establish a set of preferred exercises or actions that promote focus and positive energy.
2. Practice the routine during practice help to embed a stronger mental pattern.
Three Mindset Approaches You Must Avoid Prior to a Squash Match
Everyone feels nervous prior to a match. It is not just you. However, how well mentally prepared you are prior to a match may impact your performance. These are 3 mindset approaches that you must avoid if you want to enhance your mental focus.
1- Don’t judge people’s body language just by what you see. Just because they do not seem to be feeling nervous, it does not mean that they are not. Some players are very good at hiding emotions and pretending they are just fine. They even say they are not nervous, so the people around him/her don’t pick up on his/her nervousness and make things worse. Focus on your routine rather than putting way too much value on other’s bodily expressions.
2- Focusing on the results of prior matches. Some players do not want to face opponents they have beaten in the past while others do not want to face players whom they lost to in the past. Focusing on past experiences only increases nervousness. Focus on your strategies and embrace the learning you are making on your own game.
3- Pre-celebrating a win or anticipating a loss. The history in sports has way too many stories of athletes that blew a “guaranteed” win and others who achieved “miracle” wins. Play to the best of your abilities and give it your best shot knowing that you will be walking out of the court feeling proud of the efforts you put into the match, regardless of the result.
Focus on you, and when you lose focus on you, focus on you again.
Alex Diaz, PhD
Sports Mental Edge