Thoughts About My First (Full) Season as a Pro

My first full season as a pro squash player wrapped up almost one month ago. It was a very busy, exciting, nerve-wracking, frustrating, and humbling 8 months, and I am now very much enjoying my time off! There were certainly ups and downs, but I learned a lot and certainly improved a bunch as well.

I’ve used these past couple of weeks to process the season- not just the physical side (ie. how I felt physically, and how I did in tournaments), but also the mental side. A lot of my work this off-season outside the gym and the court will be focused on the mental approach: meditation, reading, and likely yoga as well. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, here  are my main takeaway points (ie. things to improve upon/learn from) from the season!


Takeaways from the 2016-2017 Season

  1. Back-to-back traveling and competing is draining. I’d never “been on the road” before for an extended period of time having to constantly practice and perform. Long plane rides or car rides take a toll on your body physically, and also tires you out mentally. Trying to compete at your best in a slightly weakened state (in different time zones) is something I was not used to at all.
  2. Train through most tournaments. In the fall I played a ton of tournaments. By that, I mean, 7 tournaments in 10 weeks. I had difficulty determining how to train through this time, as I had to keep up my fitness, but wanted to be sharp enough physically to perform at my best. By the end of the 10 weeks, I ended up losing some fitness, and getting extremely sick right before my last tournament. In the Spring, the only tournament I really “tapered” for (ie. more than 2 light days), was Nationals at the beginning of May.
  3. Be more precise about training objectives. I’ve always been a “more is more” type of person. In college I would overtrain to become the fittest player on the court, in order to make up for a lacking short game. Leading up to senior year, I tore my meniscus through overtraining, which meant I had to have it repaired in April right after the season concluded. (Ironically it ended up being my best season out of all 4 years). The surgery meant I needed to place more of an emphasis upon strength training and rehab, as opposed to endless amounts of cardio (whether it be running or spinning/biking). This year I spent a lot of time trying to train too much, training the wrong thing (i.e. strength vs cardio), or just not resting enough. There was a lot of trial and error!
  4. Work hard, rest hard. Now that the season is over, I am really appreciating the extra time I have to sleep and rest. I am able to wake up in the morning and have a relaxed start to the day, instead of rushing off to squash (or last year, to work!). I rest up and fuel up properly for my one workout of the day (ok, sometimes two) which happens anywhere from 11 am to 3 pm, and then work the evening shift at the gym. I’ve been spending most of my extra time learning how to meditate and learning about nutrition (and also sleeping!).
  5. Do more cardio. I used to be cardio queen. I’d do back to back spin classes after a squash practice, and triathlons in the offseason. When I began to rehab my knee and incorporate more strength, much of my training focus shifted away from cardio to the strength side of things. While I became really strong, my conditioning was simply not up to par for squash, and I would sometimes gas out when playing better or more experienced players. The beginning of my current offseason program is focusing on conditioning (cardio), so that I can rebuild my aerobic base.
  6. Competing is a skill. ..which I have not quite figured out yet. That’s still a work in progress :).

There were many, many, more things that I learned this season with respect to on-court technique tweaks and tactics, but those are little things in comparison to the big picture. Assuming you have decent technique, if your mental state and body are not fit to compete, you are going to be battling against yourself most of the time. How do you expect to compete against someone else, when you’re stuck in your own head?!

I’ve recently begun learning how to meditate (thanks to the Headspace app), have reduced my workout volume, and am focusing more on my nutrition (more on that soon!). I am hoping that these changes will help solidify my foundation, so I can start the 2017-2018 season fresh and ready to go!

Richmond Open + Charlottesville Open Tournament Recaps

Happy Wednesday! I’m finally taking some time to sit down and recap my past couple tournaments. Between getting back into work, training, and other things, I haven’t actually sat down to fully process the tournament. Time to do so now!

I took the train from NYC to Philadelphia, where I met friend and fellow squash player, Weenee, who drove both of us down to Richmond, Virginia. It was a nice change of pace not having to worry about security lineups at the airport, and really enjoyed her company during our ~5 hour trip.

Richmond Open 2017 Matches: Quarters, Semis, Finals

I came into this tournament as the Number 1 seed, which theoretically benefits my draw, but does not mean I was expecting to win the draw.  In the past, I’ve been seeded as low as 7 or 8, and have made it to the finals, so I was well aware that having a target “1” on your back doesn’t give you any sort of guarantee. However, one of the benefits of being seeded highly was that I had an automatic bye into the quarter-finals, where I would play against the winner from one of the first round matches. In this particular case, it also meant I would not have to play 2 matches in a day!


Quarter-finals vs Lume Landman

My first match was against Lume, a South African girl I had played a few months ago in another 5k in Virginia. I won in 4, losing the first game pretty badly (due to nerves I think), and then regrouping to take the next three. It was my first PSA win since December (eek!), and it sure felt nice to walk off with the W. Many of the tournaments I’ve been competing in this calendar year have been on the larger side, upwards of 10k’s, and although I had some close matches, was unable to secure wins in any of them. It felt good to start this one off on a good note!

Semis vs Maria Toorpakai Wazir

I moved on to the semis, where I found myself up against Maria, a very talented Pakistani girl. She is a couple years older than me, grew up playing with boys in Pakistan, and has a difficult style to play against. She can be quite physical and loves to go for winners. Quite quickly, I found myself in a 2-0 hole, scraping up only a few points per game. In the third, I was able to turn it around by extending the rallies, and won it in a tie break. There was a bit of drama in the 4th game, as Maria took a 3-minute injury timeout, but I managed to keep my focus and take that one as well, 11-9. The fifth wasn’t quite as close score-wise, but certainly felt intense as I closed it out 11-5. I wish I hadn’t made it quite so hard on myself mentally, but am proud that I stayed focused throughout those last 3 difficult games.

Finals vs Rowan Elaraby

This was my second PSA final ever, against a young Egyptian named Rowan. I had only seen her play a couple times before, but from what I could tell, she was a talented and mature player beyond her 16 years. I’m not sure if I didn’t quite believe in myself, but I lost the first game rather quickly, similar to my first game against Maria in the semis. Rowan had not yet dropped a game this tournament, and I knew I was going to have to step my game up to compete with her. The second game was better, and went up 10-8 (game ball). A couple of errors/mental lapses on my part, and a fabulous nick from Rowan gave her the game 12-10. Agh! The third game started off close, but the accuracy of my shots started to decrease, and I found myself running all over the place. While that run-and-hit game seemed to work for me well in college, it is certainly not sustainable at the Pro level. This resulted in some errors on my part, and a wack of winners on Rowan’s part, giving her roughly a 9-6 lead. She played very well, and closed it out 10-6.


The Takeaway

The best thing about this tournament was playing a few matches in a row. I had to consistently keeping raising my game with each round. All around I wish I had played better (ie. made better shot choices on court), but fortunately I managed to video all of my matches, so I have material to look over and scrutinize!


On another note, the tournament venue was fantastic, and I’d like to thank everyone who helped out in organizing the event. It’s not easy to secure sponsors, or convince a club to essentially donate its prime-time courts for a few days. Thank you!


Charlottesville Open 2017 Matches

Coming off a pretty good tournament in Richmond, I was excited to get down to Charlottesville a few days later to play in a slightly bigger event (10k). Unfortunately, there were some bad storms in NY’s surrounding areas, which significantly delayed air traffic out of LaGuardia. We sat on the tarmac for 3 hours waiting in line behind tons of planes, and by the time it was our turn, we’d run out of fuel. By the time we had returned to the gate to refuel, the powers that be had decided to just cancel our flight entirely. I managed to get rebooked for another flight that evening into Richmond, but then that flight was also delayed and also cancelled two hours later. Basically, I became quite familiar with the “C” gates at LGA for 9 hours.

In the end, I got into Richmond the next morning, and a lovely couple I had met the week before in Richmond were able to pick me up from the airport and give me a lift to Richmond. Thank you, De Wets!

Despite the whole travel debacle, my time in Charlottesville could not have been better. I stayed with a lovely family that took great care of me, and the whole squash community in the little town was wonderful.

Match vs Colette Sultana

My first match of the tournament was against Colette, a senior at Columbia University. Despite some fatigue and my appalling solo session a couple hours earlier, I played pretty well and closed it out.

Match vs Haley Mendez

I then found myself up against Haley Mendez in the quarter finals. Haley and I had competed against each other in college (she was my year and attended Harvard), and we had a 1-1 record (I think).

Haley spends a large part of her time training in England, but when she is home in Brooklyn, NY, we make a point to get on court as often as possible. I am pretty familiar with her game, but I knew that wasn’t going to give me any sort of an advantage. She is a tough player with great technique, who will punish you for leaving balls in the middle of the court.

I went in to the match expecting to be doing most of the running, and surprised myself when I was able to control and compete in a good portion of the rallies. Unfortunately, my self-belief didn’t quite match up to the level of my play, and I found myself mentally wilting at the end of the games. I was surprised by the fact that doing better than expected would cause me to doubt my ability. Well- lesson learned, and now I’m aware of it if it ever happens again!

The Takeaway

1) Travel (even if you’re not going anywhere) takes a toll on your energy levels

2) I love the squash community in Virginia! Everyone I met was so nice and extremely helpful.

3) Self-belief is an interesting thing… that I haven’t quite figured out yet. It’s a work in progress!

Alright that’s enough squash writing for me. Time to go play some squash now! I’m in Toronto for Nationals, and my first match is in a couple of hours. Adios!





Overtraining Your Mind

A couple weeks ago I had a frustrating, uncomfortable, and somewhat novel experience. I lost a match that I had really wanted to win. The novel part isn’t the fact that I lost the match- I have lost many matches throughout my career. The novelty was seeing my performance decline from an already flat state straight into gutter. I cannot recall the last time I felt so unconfident in my shots, my movement, and my game as a whole.

Pre-tournament prep done right: Seattle

The previous week I had competed in Seattle, where I’d had a pretty good string of matches, only to fall up short against the number one seed. Despite the result, I felt confident throughout each game, putting up a pretty competitive fight against the #24 ranked woman in the world.

Leading up to Seattle, I had been careful not to overtrain, and was confident in my shots and fitness. (I have been on the verge of overtraining many times during my athletic career, and have realized that at a certain point, any further training will no longer be beneficial.) Aside from match play, my time in Seattle was leisurely and well spent. After a solid breakfast, I would practice for no more than one hour in the morning, ensuring to foam roll and stretch both before and after hitting. Following the hit, I would grab some lunch, before heading back to the hotel to chill out (but not nap!) before my match.

Photo credit :Enzo DiPietro

Following Seattle, I returned home to Victoria for the weekend. I took Friday off (I had played matches Tuesday through Thursday), had a massage, and did some light soloing on court. Saturday and Sunday I put in some good training sessions of no more than two hours, including drills/matches, sessions with light weights, and some movement (all separate, of course). Monday I flew to Calgary, where I had a light hit for roughly 45 minutes. Despite feeling slightly disoriented due to the increase in altitude, I still felt confident in my game.

Pre-tournament prep done wrong: Calgary

Then came Tuesday- the first day of the tournament. I did my usual light hit in the morning around 9 am before playing my match at 12:45 pm. I was fortunate to be the more experienced player, and had a fairly comfortable match against my opponent. However, I still didn’t feel quite used to the altitude, so when I was invited to hit with a couple of really solid players later that afternoon, I jumped at the chance. This is the point where things started to go downhill, and where I was too ignorant to acknowledge it.

In total, the three of us played for about an hour and a quarter. For the first 30 minutes or so, I felt pretty good- relatively fresh, and excited to play. The remainder of the practice, I felt slow and flat. Rather than stop and “give in”, I kept playing, hoping that my quality would improve. It didn’t. At the time, I gave zero thought to how this would impact my performance the next day.

Photo credit: Enzo DiPietro

At practice the next morning, my body felt fine, but my mind only felt about 80% there. Nevertheless, I was still excited to hit.

When match time arrived (5:15 pm), my body still felt fine, however my mental capacity and sharpness had declined, probably to about 70%. The first game felt pretty off, but I managed to win 11-6, thanks to some errors from my opponent. The next game was a little shakier, but I managed to grab a 9-6 lead. However, for whatever reason, at 9-6, I lost focus, and ended up losing the game 12-10. I realized after the match, that this was the pivotal point. If I had won that second game, I would have gained a huge mental edge over my opponent, as it is very difficult physically and mentally to come back from a 2-0 deficit. Unfortunately, I not only lost that game, but the following one as well, only to lose the fourth 11-8. By the last game, I felt that I was mentally performing at about 40% capacity.

What went wrong?

In sports, I believe there are such things as “bad losses”, meaning a loss to someone you are much better than and should beat. This was not a “bad loss”. My opponent was a higher ranked, very skilled player. I knew this before, during, and after the match. This said, I was perfectly capable of winning. However, when I came off the court, I couldn’t shake that same unsettling feeling which occurs after one of those “bad losses”. I kept replaying the match over and over again in my mind, trying to figure out why I played so poorly. Tactically, I knew what I had done wrong (basically everything). The issue that I couldn’t figure out was why I hadn’t been able to turn it back around.

Photo credit: Enzo DePietro

The next day, Thursday,I tried to play squash again, and once again felt incredibly off. Not sore, not stiff, just off. Normally, if I’m not tired, I can and will play for ages. This time, I was actually glad when the 45 minute session (which included a lot of breaks) was over.

My friend had won her match that evening, so I offered to warm her up the next morning before her match. I knew we were only going to be practicing for a small amount of time, and when I stepped on the court, for the first time in 2 days, I felt excited to be there. I proceeded to have a great hit, feeling sharp and motivated, even though I wasn’t about to compete. A little strange, isn’t it?

The Realization

Right after our practice, it finally dawned on me: the 3 hours of squash I had played on Tuesday, prior to my Wednesday match, had taken a toll on me, not physically, but mentally. Throughout my athletic career, I’ve learned to become weary of overtraining my body before competition. However, I somehow forgot to acknowledge the impact of training on my mind. I tend to take for granted the fact that I love to train, and since I train more than I compete, if I have a bad training day, it’s okay, I can take a day off and come back later. In competition, you need to be ready on match day. Furthermore, anything less than 100% of your best isn’t good enough. This is something I’ve realized throughout the few pro tournaments I’ve played so far- if you are not both physically and mentally at your best, your opponent will not only take you apart, but will not let you back in the match.

This is exactly how I felt during my match on Wednesday, where I couldn’t seem to grasp the confidence in my game, hence letting my opponent dictate the match.

Photo credit: Enzo DePietro


The Takeaway

I will always be one of those athletes who wants to do more. I am often told to “do less” when it comes to training (which I don’t like hearing, I’ll admit). However, I have learned the hard way that leading up to competitions, less is more. Leaving practice wanting more is what gives you that extra spark on game day. The excitement of competing is what feeds confidence and self-belief. The mystery and anticipation of an upcoming match is what makes you know what you’re doing is worthwhile. Entering competition with overconfidence takes away from this thrill, and makes a win all the less enjoyable. While losses are by no means fun nor pleasant, they never fail to provide a lesson to be learned, if you are willing to dig for it.