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…