Written By: Barb Cooper
As Canadians, many of us spend much of the winter looking forward to those lazy sun and fun-filled summer days, where the schedule is less crammed and we try to spend more time outside with friends and family. It can be a wonderful time of year where we experience a different schedule, perhaps sitting watching the kids play baseball, being up at the cottage, or even simply having time to read! This change of routine refreshes and renews us.
Our workouts also need this type of variety, and regardless of the season, we need to change things up. We need to challenge both our bodies and your central nervous system by varying our workouts. Our body is a miraculous creation that will work to always find the most efficient way of doing anything, and is ruthless about culling anything that is not used. A great read that I would recommend to get an understanding of the power of this concept is the book, “The Brain that Changes Itself,” by Norman Doidge.
If you are not constantly changing and challenging the adaptations to the same workout, results eventually diminish. When we all know that working out is an effort, it makes no sense not to get the maximum gain out of that effort, and that means changing things up.
Some people are reluctant to try a new sport for fear of a negative effect on their favorite or predominant sport. Mostly you will get a benefit, as other sports can help your main sport.
Through the physical and mental challenge of learning a new sport in a different environment, you can learn so many lessons and most likely will apply those lessons to your primary sport or workout regime. Some of my most profound lessons came from disciplines other than squash and tennis. Whitewater kayaking was my most illuminating (I found I had a mortal fear of dying). All joking aside, there was one lesson from kayaking that changed my focus completely on the squash court both as a player and a coach. It was learning to roll a kayak having capsized in rough water. In kayaking terms when you are upside down in water with your head totally immersed, it is described as a “low oxygen” environment. Let me tell you as a squash player I described this as a “NO oxygen” environment! Actually one of the first realizations I had, was how wonderfully simple squash was when you could always breathe! In fact I could always stop playing and walk off the court. Not so on a river; you have to get to where you left the car or transport. It is always a case of once you are in you are committed, and there is no turning back. A profound lesson in itself, but not the one I want to share.
In kayaking you have a strict sequence to perform in an unbreakable order to be successful. If the sequence of actions is not completed in order or each action is not completed exactly as required and in sequence you might be able to get up a bit but you will not successfully right the boat and stay afloat.
This is the same in squash. For every shot you execute on the squash court you always have to do 3 things and they must be done in this order: First, put your racket somewhere useful. Second, step and hit at the same time. Thirdly, hit through the ball. Every physical action has a sequence and if you follow that sequence, you will be successful. Conversely if the action is executed out of order, it will either be an error, leave you vulnerable, or at the very least, be inefficient.
Consider this: When painting a wall, would you put the top coat on first and then the primer? Of course not, well after my kayaking experience I suddenly realized that sequence was everything. I could execute the parts of the stroke brilliantly but if they were not in sequence I would not have the desired outcome and it would for sure be inefficient. That realization changed my teaching and practice focus, and I started paying attention to how and when I was completing each part of the stroke. In doing so, I was able to make sure that all the movements, as well as my sequence and timing were as efficient and effective as possible.
We all love being in our comfort zone, feeling competent and safe, knowing the expectations of a situation. Unfortunately this is not how humans grow. We grow with challenge and discomfort. When trying to strengthen or maintain your body it needs new experiences and then it needs recovery time.
Let’s take that philosophy to the court. Summer is when you build new skills into your game. Skills like improved fitness, a more effective volley, a crosscourt that consistently forces a weak shot from your opponent or a drop shot that hits the floor twice before your opponent can get to it. Perhaps you want another choice of shot from a particular part of the court. Once you’ve chosen a skill to work on, how are you going to practice?
Measure where you are, and establish a baseline. Now you are going to practice and build the skill. The general rule to improve most physical skills is to practice three times a week. Twice a week typically only maintains the skill, without providing much improvement.
Do you know someone that wants to practice in the summer? While that may seem like a tall order and tough to find, I bet you have a friend who has been bugging you for years to take them on the court. That is perfect for a practice partner! They will be your ball machine even though they do not know it. Set them up, get them to hit you the shot you want to practice, and execute.
If it doesn’t work against them it is not going to work against someone better.
Here is the principle to building your game: Find out what you are missing in one quadrant of the court. Take away all your other options, and try to execute the shot against a player who is not as strong as you. once successful, try testing the shot against a player of similar ability. Finally, when you are successful in that situation, you are ready to test it on a player that is better than you. While practicing, pay attention to your sequencing. Make sure you are being as efficient as possible and have fun building your game.