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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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!