End Of Season

Finally after a very long twelve months and a doubled up season of playing tournaments its time for a break!

After completing my last tournament for awhile a huge sense of both relief and happiness flooded over me. Unfortunately my season was extended longer than normal due to my move overseas but its proved worth it. I’m so excited to take some time away from squash and so much so that I have put the racquets in the cupboard and do not wish to see or hear a ball being hit…at least for awhile!

Oddly enough allowing myself the beak and rest is another thing entirely. Finding I have to justify it to myself even though I’m aware it is more than well deserved but also required. I struggle a lot with accepting rest as apart of training even though it is an essential component to any athletes schedule. After all we live and breathe the sport 24,7 and 365 days of the year, our body and life is our job.

In a difficult state of mind when deciding to take some time away I received a few words of wisdom from a friend. They began explaining to me that its just not humanly possible for anyone to constantly work and not take a break. By then making a comparison to the usual career work life it gave me some extra perspective, stating that everyone in ‘normal careers’ are allocated a set amount of holidays per year, followed by asking me why do you think that is? Ofcourse I can see reasoning in this and respond with people will burn out and become less productive, let alone begin to hate their work and not be able to live life enjoyably. Clearly the point was made that athletes are no exception to this after all we physically and mentally push ourselves everyday and that therefore taking a break is definitely a job requirement for more than one reason.

A break also gives time for reflection back upon the year that has been both in squash and in life generally. Its important as an athlete to take these moments and give big picture views upon our careers. We get so caught up in constantly pushing ourselves, chasing our dreams and bettering things that we often forget how far we have really come. So focussed on where we are going we don’t give due credit for where we started and the journey that has been made along the way. It also allows us to identify the positives and negatives which occurred, enabling us to learn from these experiences for the future. From this we grow as both athletes and as people.

To be completely honest I’ve never wanted a break more, totally exhausted in both the mind and the body after what became a very long year. One quickly important reflection is that future breaks are a must in the training plan to prevent reaching this breaking point. All too often we go through tough phases where we lack motivation and the determination but continue to push. Its strange in way that only recently I found my love for the sport that so quickly I need a break. I’m aware now more than ever that taking a step back will not only keep that buzz feeling alive but make it stronger.

Looking ahead I’ve got a full season of summer training to enjoy or maybe injure is a better choice of word. This will be the first summer training block for a couple of years now which is exciting as I have the chance to work not only on my fitness and strength but the little things that all contribute to my game overall. The motivation for training is quite different as the pressure of performance is removed and can push yourself to find new limits. Athletes thrive on taking things to the next level and raising the bar. Bring on the Sunshine.

& That’s My Atletes Mind…
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Being An Expat- A Human Condition

I have recently learnt that I am considered an “Expat”- some one who has moved overseas and started a new. There’s online groups, blogs, twitter accounts, communities,100s of articles about living aboard with all things related and brings me to the concept idea of a support network.
In turn, I go bigger and think of it as a human condition, that a dependency on fitting in somewhere, having someone to talk or relate to, some sort of supportive base is an essential! Interestingly enough we can isolate it back to primates living together for survival.

Now you may think this is extreme idea but question, why? What is it that makes us want and require so much support? What creates this a dependency upon others?
Primitive reactions, humans are merely pack animals, the odd outcast is clear but if you think about it we depend on each other for everything! Hence, we live in cities and towns, we import and export goods, and even something as petty as social media is reason for human interaction and communication.

So my experience so far as being an official ‘expat’… I made this moved in two parts technically, a two month visit as insurance it was the right decision and upon arrival it was almost instant that this was both what I wanted and where I needed to be. So one month later I was ready for the one way trip…or was I?

Well the first two weeks of actually moving overseas to live and not having purchased a return ticket made me crap my pants! (Not literally) but it didn’t register until now. I’m looking back upon that time and realising already that for the first time ever I had experienced ‘homesickness’…for all of a day!. Now, it’s mentally clicked I’m here permanently and life back home will continue yes, but I have the rare opportunity to create an entire new life abroad.

So how does one begin to make such a new life? People, bringing me back the point the humans rely on each other for survival…

Setting yourself up in a whole new country is tough, at least I had connections already here that made the transition fairly smooth. The group I train with is extremely welcoming and accepting which was a big thing as it was quite daunting coming into a tight knit group. I now feel apart of it.
For those expats out there that move for work or to somewhere random, that has to be hard!

After a period of time, you begin to get a routine of your comings and goings which allows you the chance to explore your new neighbourhood. Finding the groovy cafe, best clothes store, the right hair dresser and of course the coldest beer at the nearest local is all apart of adapting to your new surroundings. It’s been a few months now and I’ve managed to get a fairly regular routine with a good grasp on what’s nearby. The hardest part was finding a cafe that made a ‘real’ Chai Latte!

With things changing in seasons for squash and requiring some outside of the sport-bubble social life I decided to job search! Turned out to be a perfect time to look as it seemed the entire city was hiring in preparation for summer/tourist season! I picked up a part time job as a waitress/bar tender and it’s been one if the most positive additions to my life here. Gives me variety in my week with a totally different social outlet and a way to meet new people plus the bonus of earning some dough!

There’s still room to expand my life base here, finding activities and events to get involved in is all part of the process. By now I’m feeling like I have my life pretty well set up here in Edinburgh and I’m proud to have made the bold decision of moving around the globe by myself to follow my dream. Looking ahead it’s only going to feel more normal here but I know one things is for sure, I’ll never have a regret.

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

Perfectionism

All athletes are perfectionist. Well, to an extent atleast, it’s apart of the performance DNA, the competitive brain behind all that ambitious drive to not only be better but be the best.

Interestingly, I personally am aware I have a sense for perfection in training but this theory came to me from other areas in my life where I noticed that I hold myself to high expectations and standards.

So, Who sets the standards for perfection?

Us. You. Me. Ourselves. Yes, it’s influenced by people around us but ultimately we hold ourselves accountable for our success and failures. We find ourselves chasing a bar that is set sky high and always seems ever so slightly out of reach.

Looking at internal or self vindicated perfectionism creates a couple of questions. Firstly, why do we create unrealistic goals and what are the implications of the outcomes?

In a positive light, we do this to continue our growth by going beyond the normal and pushing out personal boundaries. Extending ourselves then creates new limitations until they are successfully achieved as well.
For sport you can already gather the positive and negative uses for constantly striving for more. Using the ideal amount of drive to gain more consistency, accuracy, execution and an overall winning status.

However, this can lead to great negative results as you can become stuck forever setting and chasing unattainable goals. The amount of unfair pressure that’s created by a sense of self doubt from being imperfect can do major mental damage to anyone especially an athlete as it’s their entire livelihood.

There’s a fine line between someone persistent to improve and someone perusing perfection. The difference, self satisfaction. The underlying feeling of just never being good enough.

Being able to shoot for the stars and accept where you land is your best effort is the only way to approach the situation. In other words, if your give something your everything then you can walk away feeling satisfied no matter the result, it is successful by attempting.

In summary, the idea of perfectionism is common amongst everyone but like anything it’s how we manage the situation and emotions at hand. Having awareness with understanding of both your realistic and unrealistic goals, remembering they are very different but both required for improvement. The only way to grow is to push our limitations and create new ones. Forgetting outcomes, the most important thing is to be satisfied you gave it your everything.

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

A Transition

Growing up is unavoidable. In sport terms it also means the transition from juniors to seniors is inevitable should you choose to continue playing as a career.

For some it comes easy, they find themselves highly ranked and achieving career highlights whilst still only a teenager, however for most of us it takes time. There’s various factors that contribute to making the transition at different stages in life but one, if not the most important, is culture and life’s priorities. As an example, schooling and education take first preference over sporting activities which can place a hold on progressions as training is only part time. There are no rules or guidelines on the specific amount of time it takes for the process of transition to occur. It is less about age and more about the athlete’s individual experiences in their early career that allows them to grow and develop into a senior competitor.

In squash, a junior game is often defined as erratic shot selection, irrational logic, high emotional instability and quite often are risk takers. In comparison to a senior styled game which is describe as a more matured approach involving structure, rational thought processes and due to experience a higher level of emotional stability. The junior game is fairly one dimensional and the senior style is more adaptable to the challenge presented as this is mainly due to the time they have had to develop the skills through experience. Although, each of these styles or elements of them are valuable in the sport and can lead to great success.

Personally, I’m still adjusting. My situation in Australia with a lack of competition in juniors made it very difficult when approaching the senior world tour full time. As a junior I could hit the ball harder than most girls. I moved quicker and just went for shots knowing that I could get away with almost anything. Unfortunately, this created a false sense of security and set me up for a big shock when I realised that senior girls could do the same to me, but ten times better. They were bigger, stronger and had more experience in match situations giving them the mental edge of control. Hitting the ball hard no longer won me points and taking high risk shots in resulted in little reward and produced more errors than successful winners. Adding to this, there was the additional pressure, intensity, pace and overall higher level of tactical intelligence and stability.
Being a stubborn teen (or stubborn full stop) I would only learn through making changes I needed to make in my game if I was to allow myself to begin the transition to seniors.

The first couple of years playing on the tour I was still young and didn’t place a high value on the senior tour. It wasn’t my top priority yet. Finishing studies was important, but my number one focus for squash was being successful, winning junior tittles and being selected for the Australian Junior Team to compete at the World Junior Championships, rather than competing on the senior world tour. I tended to use the tour tournaments for experience, match play and a starting point to eventually merge into the professional game.

These priorities began to change once I turned 18 and decided to move to Brisbane with the Australian Institute of Sport. This signified the start of a commitment towards becoming a full time player and moving onto the senior tour professionally. Changing a split focus between school and squash to squash only was a big adjustment. It sounds strange as it sounds more simple but it actually creates pressure and expectations. You now have to treat a sport you love as a full time career.
Today, I’m finished juniors and have been on the tour for a little while but I’m still shifting through transition. I’m still learning, gaining experience and making the changes I need to so that I can support myself with every chance and opportunity to grow and develop into the player I see myself as.
One thing that comes with being an athlete is the never ending learning process. People adapt at their own pace and no matter who you are, how old you are, or how good you are, it is you and only you, that has the control to make yourself into the best player you possibly can be.

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

A Father & Coach In One

A Coach & Father in One
“Where did it all begin?”, “Why did you start playing?”, “Why squash?”
The most frequently asked questions I get. I can personally say, it was bred into me. My entire family, me being the youngest of 5, had all participated in squash and competed at high levels. Although, my siblings were not the main source behind my choice of squash, for it was because of my dad that we all played.

As a kid I travelled to tournaments with my family to support my sisters who were playing and I also tagged along (more like got dragged along) to local competition nights with mum and dad, infact this all happened from the moment I was born! On many occasions I fell asleep under the stairs at the courts with my Mickey Mouse doll and mum would have to carry me to the car when it was time to go home.

Dad played at a reasonable level but turned mainly to coaching where his success came and mind you is still coming. He coached my sisters, numerous high achieving juniors, head coach of various state teams over the years and also works extensively for state boards behind the scenes.

So, It was one day after he had finished a lesson with young boy he was coaching at the time that I decided I wanted to have a go. I was just five years old, Dad put a racquet in my hand and a big yellow sponge ball in the other, and said ‘Have a go’ and I did, I hit the ball (on the frame), not very well but I chased it around the court and kept trying to whack it with this huge racquet I was holding!

From then on, I began having little hits with dad after he finished coaching each week, still travelling to tournaments with my sister but I was more interested in everything and anything else but playing squash. Gradually he showed me the little things- grip, swing, how to serve and so on. A casual introduction that was never too much at once. As I got better and grew in size (marginally!) I joined in some squad sessions, played a few games until I participated in my first tournament when I was eight years old.

My sister moved to Melbourne for squash full time and my parents found an opportunity to move to Coffs Harbour, where they bought a squash centre and still run it today. As most people say to me “oh that’s why you play” or “‘that’s why your so good”, not realising it’s ever so slightly insulting as they assume it’s easier to win and doesn’t actually take an effort to become good. Let me be clear, there’s a difference between living at the courts and actually stepping onto a court to play and train. I don’t deny its benefits of saving money or the convenience of courts on my door step but living there 24/7 makes you sick of it! The saying that ‘someone lives and breathes squash’ is fitting but it’s also exactly why I don’t ‘live and breathe it’ now.

Moving on, there was a long line of events that followed and whilst growing up dad was there for all of them- good, bad, ugly and the downright horrible. From the very beginning my dad was my coach, then I turned 18.

Having a coach who is also my father has never really been an issue. We managed to have a naturally successful relationship in both areas, I think it’s because we separated squash mode and daddy/daughter mode very well. So many times you see parents who are coaches to their kids really struggle with this. It occurs because of a few things, mainly a phase in growing up and commonly the placement of pressure. This pressure can be from the parent to push, wanting the best for their child and the child’s own pressure for themselves to make their parent proud.

Also, It’s understandable, if your in a bad mood and your coach tells you to do something you do it no matter what but when it comes from a parental figure you can get away with being moody! It’s the whole ‘unconditional love’ thing. Oh and don’t forget the natural rebellious teenager time when it’s not cool to listen to your parents, now those were fun days!

My Dad, taught me everything he knew and gave me every opportunity to help me become the best I can. Traveling all over Australia and internationally to get exposure and experience. He sent me to other coaches for outside advice and viewpoints, which many coaches would be against but Dad saw it as an opportunity. He wanted me to learn to make my own decisions about what is best for me.

Eventually a day came when he said “I can’t take you any further, it’s time to fly”. It was crushing but he encouraged me to pursue my dreams, deep down I knew it was time to leave Coffs Harbour. It wasn’t until I moved that I then realised the full benefits of having a father and coach in one. It was difficult for me adjust, I took for granted how genuinely caring he was about me, my career and my success, everything he did was in MY best interest. I was able to talk to him about everything and know he would understand. I could trust his every word.
My new coach had several players to look after, it was a tricky change. The style of my game, handling my moods, confidence, reassurance, feedback, criticism, communication especially between games were all different and I had to quickly stand on my own two feet. Being unsure that my new coach truly had my best interest at heart and only wanted the best in my game was a trying battle. Your not his only athlete and the other he coached were my opponents! It took time but everything fell into place and trust became strong over months and even a year. Since then I have continued spreading branches to constantly keep updating my views on the game. More adjustments yes, but I’m more prepared.

Today looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I know where I come from, the reason I started and how grateful I am to have been given all those opportunities. Even now I still turn to my dad for advice, if I’m feeling stuck or unsure about something, I’ll run it by him for a second opinion. I know he will be honest and support whatever choices I make, be it in squash or in life.
The best lesson my dad ever taught me was to have dreams, ‘Dream big and just go for it’. I couldn’t be prouder to have had my dad as my coach but even more so as my Father. Thankyou Dad.DSC00037

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

Handling Criticism

I was 14 years old, Number 1 in Australia for my age for the past three years. I’d won an international tittle and it was time for a real test, my first big trip to the British and Scottish Junior Tittles. Part of my preparation was a week’s training in Belgium beforehand to gain some experience, acclimatising and an opportunity to get some coaching advice from a coach that had been very successful in player’s achievements.

I still remember it like it was yesterday. We met and were quick to get onto the court, warmed up and then began feeding on the forehand. He dropped, I drove. As we worked the drill, he began to break everything down, my swing, grip, footwork, timing – all of it. He was so direct in his approach, sugar coating nothing, something I was not accustomed to. Within half an hour I was so overwhelmed by the negative comments. I began crying, which continued for the remaining 30 minutes of the session. He never once responded or backed off only added more notions of what was wrong, but not explaining how to change or how to fix it. No drink breaks, no reassurance, nothing, just straight clean cut critiquing.

I hated every minute and consider it to be one of, if not the worst coaching experience I ever had. I had pre-arranged for two more sessions, which were quick and I’ve also never been back.

I learnt something from this horrid experience however, not everyone will support you and want the best for you. There are those who would rather tear you down. Now whether he meant to do this or maybe he was testing my limits, bringing me back to earth or something, who knows. Having been the best junior in Australia and unfortunately with a lack of competition I had a false sense of security of my standings in the world (hence the trip) but it was effective. The next week I went on to win the Scottish Junior Open and competed very well at the British Junior Championships. Afterwards I returned to Australia with a new perspective and knowledge of how much work it’s really going to take to be successful.

The experience gave me a thicker skin and I learnt to make my own decisions about what advice I listened to. Working closely with a psychologist over the past couple of years has taught me many ways of how to deal with taking criticism. Everyone has a tolerance level and some are higher or lower depending on their self- esteem and confidence in what they are trying to do. One thing we did was called ‘filtering’.

Filtering to me is one of the best things I’ve gained from psychology. Imagine this, draw a small circle and then draw a larger circle around the small one. The small circle represents your personal core values and the large circle is your filter. The outside circle is a metaphorical barrier, it’s when people say something to you and you can choose to let it inside the circle or block it out.
It doesn’t mean you ignore the advice, it means you listen and actively choose whether to absorb it or not. If you decide to let it in the circle it will have an impact upon your core values and what’s important to you. If you block it out, then it disappears.

Diagram-
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= criticisms and thoughts

Decide your core values and try applying the filter yourself. See what feedback you receive and how it affects your inner beliefs. Was it a positive or negatives result?

The idea of using a filter doesn’t just apply to sport and coaching criticism. People pass judgements, thoughts and opinions everyday about everything in life, so being able to select and process what affects us is important to maintain an open, healthy mind and true core values.

My ability to control and be aware of thoughts I’m letting in my mind affecting my core values has gotten stronger. It’s all about the awareness. Knowing what is good and bad and turning the bad into constructive thoughts.

Crucial to sport is being strong minded, the value placed on taking in knowledge and learning is the only way to improve, so I suppose if that was the intended lesson from that week in Belgium, then I would say it was genius!

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

Homesickness?

If your a regular reader then you will know I’m an Australian squash player who recently moved to Edinburgh in Scotland to further my career. This clearly means I’m a long way from home!

When I tell people this both inside and outside the squash world, I can sometimes receive shocked responses and always the question of- “Do you miss home?”, “When will you go back to Australia?” and my response is generally this “No I don’t miss home as I don’t get homesickness, my life is here now and I talk to family and friends back home all the time, so I don’t plan on going home anytime soon”.

Being on tour has shown me many things and a valid lesson that there’s no one perfect way to achieve the dream.
The decision to move was based on improving my squash, getting experience, exposure to overseas players on a more regular basis and to grow as a player, and as a person. So far it’s been successful and I can confidently say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

However, a move like this isn’t for everyone, infact at the past few tournaments speaking to other players on tour, has confirmed how different everyone is. It Seems there is those who have made the big move overseas, whilst others choose to do a couple months at a time, training, playing and some even choose to only travel for tournaments. It surprises me that a few want to stay based back home, but for me, I jump at the chance to travel!
some people prefer their comfort zone, or being close to family and friends which makes long periods of time away stressful and that’s what works for them.

Lucky for me homesickness has never been areal issue, yes I miss home of course, but fortunately it has little effect on me most of the time and it is probably because I have travelled on my own from quite a young and even spent 3months living overseas at 17 before moving out of home at 18. The simple things like building a support network, keeping busy and regular contact with back home has help build a strong independent defence system.

Accepting that life goes on back home, but staying focused on the beginning of a new, and exciting life abroad keeps me going. Everyone is different and finding what works for you can only be done by trial and error.
‘Take the Risk, Make the Plunge, Go for the Dream’

& That’s My Athletes Mind…