Group Training Vs Solo

Group training vs solo…
The complete opposites, black and white etc, Like most things do they each have positives & negatives?

Group training creates an environment, a type of atmosphere or bubble world that you enter into when you walk through the door. It’s amazing when everyone is upbeat and giving themselves to the exercise, routine or session. Each individual has a role to play impacting upon the group, by adding different values to the session with skills, personality, fitness, mental toughness or competitive nature and so on.

One of the major things affected by this training atmosphere is a naturally heightened intensity getting higher heart rates, better fitness, concentration periods extended and shot consistency improved. It makes it easier to push yourself as you’re pushing others as they in turn push you. I think it works so well amongst athletes because of the competitive spirit, not always trying to beat the other, but pushing them that little extra to see how far they will go and in return you stretch a little further, run a little longer and hit that extra ball or two.

There’s a buma side too, when you have a storm cloud amongst the bunch especially when you’re on a sun shiny day, it can really put a dampener on the session. One person’s mood or attitude can affect the whole groups training buzz and bring an entire storm rumbling out at the end. It’s complex, as player’s approach training differently and being an individual sport it has a tendency to create an ‘it’s about me’ situation. There’s the strict, intense and focused type who can quite often clash with a relaxed, casual approach. Both may be good but putting them together will either make them work great and meet in the middle or cause an explosion of frustration for both.

There can be many reasons as to why someone is better or worse in a group and everyone has the odd day they maybe don’t apply themselves so well, just wait your turn. Anything from lack of sleep, eating habits, travelling and personal circumstances are some outside factors that may impact on a person’s mood. Bringing this into group training is not going to be successful, you have to either leave it at the door or stay at home and do a yoga video!

That mental side of how individual people respond differently to errors or criticism, impacts upon the group as a whole. It’s a fine line handling these situations making it a good test of one’s own mental game that even though they are angry, down or just plain annoying, you have to remain strong and block it out. Similar to match circumstances where your opponent is physical, emotional, frustrating and you have to remain strong. This also applies to yourself when it’s your own emotions escaping you, teaching self-control whilst playing and not mentally 100% focused.
It’s a balance of risk and reward with group training.

Argh and then there’s solo. I used to hate solo. I thought it was the most boring, pointless and silly thing you could possibly do. I went crazy after 5mins! Now I understand that’s what it’s great for, concentration, mental toughness to focus! Introducing discipline into your mind and keeping it there for extended periods.

I’m sure it’s similar in a lot of sports that it’s not every session where you have other athletes to train with, especially those individual sports. Learning how to train on your own is part of an athlete’s development.
Solo is good for more specific work such as technique where you can work at your own pace to really reap rewards from the changes you’re trying to make.

While the intensity may not always be as high as group training or come as easy, it’s a test of oneself. It’s all on your shoulders so there’s no one to blame but you, if things aren’t going right. Identifying and working on constructive criticism requires large doses of positive self talk.

Elite athletes are all generally perfectionists so we can quickly see the negatives and dwell on them, quite often forgetting the importance to provide positive reinforcements as well.

Depending on what kind of solo activity you’re doing, whether it’s movement or technique, the level of physical tiredness is not an essential component. Take me for example, a solo is something I should work on for mental reasons such as concentration. When things become boring my attention span is short, so lengthening that time span before I lose focus is important. Target practice is a good way to keep my mind busy. Again it’s a competitive thing. You want to hit that target and you want to hit it every time!

Gee, until now I didn’t realise how much that good ole competitive spirit really comes in handy!
I guess if you put any sort of game in front of an athlete it’s a pure challenge, no way they could refuse it. I definitely wouldn’t. I often find myself turning boring situations into games like waiting at airport’s people watching, and creating life stories of random passers-by. I’m a regular player of that one.
Either way you look at it, it’s about the challenge and bringing out the competitive nature, the intensity, the games, it’s what we live for be it a group or solo training. (I still choose group!)

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

Athlete Tourists

Keeping it short and sweet this week with one of the best parts of being an athlete on tour is playing tourist! World in your hands

I confess, I’m a diehard tourist! Photo book upon photo book is filled up with pictures. Every destination I visit I make every effort to see the main attractions at least. I think of it this way- an incredible opportunity to explore the world playing my sport and who knows if I will ever go back to that destination twice, so live it up. Also this logic would imply that if by chance I visit Paris 10 times over the years and each time like my last, then I’m sure I’ll find the perfect French patisserie and chocolate house, or know plenty of them.

Whilst it is one of the best parts of the job there’s the issue of priorities and Squash comes first. Late night matches, two matches a day or even supporting fellow players doesn’t always allow for a day of sightseeing. For example a late match doesn’t exactly give you a day ticket of fun and exploring either as you generally need a practice hit, some rest and fitting in a meal prior to playing. Once the tournament is over or you maybe get knocked out then you can go out into some of the most beautiful cities with camera in hand.

Although, not every destination for a squash tournament is a dream escape. In some cases, staying inside and keeping to the hotel food is the best and only option. For me personally, it’s the countries that are the most diverse in culture that are the most impressive. Languages, which side of the road to drive on, different kinds of food, local personalities, weather, infrastructure and religious/cultural background are the obvious key things you notice the differences in. Theses things can cause difficulties asWell especially with ordering food and communicating for transport but overall the more unique the better!

Even if we have to cut it short to see the sights I’ll try to squeeze in one of the sightseeing bus tours many cities have now, it’s the best and quickest way to see the attractions. It’s a handy tip if you’re ever short on time 😉 and don’t forget about souvenirs! (Most airports have the last minute decisions covered such as Swiss Chocolate!)

No matter what, if you’re not in your backyard then you’re a tourist…Welcome to my world of tourism 24/7.

& that’s My Athlete Mind…

An Open Mind

Having an open mind is a critical thing.
Learning and taking in new experiences. Constantly learning and relearning. It’s exhausting just thinking about all that learning! It’s not only new places and people but the approach to having a new coach. An entirely different way of thinking, communicating and executing tasks is a whole new approach to the game. After playing for 12 years now I still don’t know everything and I’m not great at everything and perfected nothing. I’m ok with this, because that’s why we train, to improve, getting closer each day. One of the best ways can be to spice up your mentor.

I have experienced this a few times now and with age it becomes easier. I think this can also be related to the fact I’ve become more serious about squash as a career not just playing a sport.
It can be difficult changing when something is engrained and bred into you for such a long time to then have another person’s view completely contradict it. Even harder when you did something, changed it and now you’re considering changing back to your original approach. It can be difficult at times as everyone has their own interpretation of what works best and is most effective. How do you decide who to listen to?

I guess in the end it all comes down to you. What you believe is not just the best way but the best way for you. It’s very easy to close down and block out what someone is explaining especially if it doesn’t match your own opinions, but in sport every view point is valid. There is no clear exact one thing that will make you the best at what you do, it’s all the little things coming together and how well you do them that adds up to being the best. Everyone would be a world champion if there was an exact recipe.

Be open, absorb, and try! Before rejecting something I find it beneficial to try it to the fullest before tossing it out. You never know it could be the thing that takes you to the next level. For me, it’s about understanding something, like footwork for example, some say front foot, some say back, both or even racquet arm leg. All can be good – but greatest when able to do all of them as a ball rarely bounces in the same spot in a match.

If I were to be narrow-minded about the situation then I would be stuck on my back foot all the time, literally! Once I understand something and the reasoning behind it, I’m then able to do work on what’s required and make my decision of what to believe.

What about food? Yes, having an open mind applies to all things including trying the local delicacies of a destination you find yourself in. Philadelphia cheese steak, New York pizza, Belgium waffles (yum!) they are the easy ones but the real tricky ones like French frog legs, Scottish hummus or even Chinese bugs can take your breath away!

I have this one vivid memory of trying food and it occurred in India during a World Junior Championship. We were invited to the Australian Consulates hotel for a dinner. The hotel was beautiful and the banquette spread delicious however, our coach Sarah Fitzgerald, multiple world champion and an inspiration to us all made a suggestion to try Sushi. I politely declined as I hated most fish let alone raw fish! She said ‘no, no, it’s fine, it’s Smoked Salmon so it’s been cooked’. Easily persuaded, I took a great bite and instantly the texture made me realise I’d been tricked. The salmon was basically still alive! It wasn’t a pleasant finale in front of the Australian Consulate and my whole team. Embarrassing to say the least, but the power of the mind is fascinating when it comes to food. Not knowing what something is can often be the best way to go! Never again have I tried or even consider eating sushi. So much so, my pet Siamese fighting fish is called Sushi.

In any case having an open mind is the best way forward and only way to push yourself to succeed and experience life.

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

The Loneliness

‘A Ticket For One Please’Loneliness
Do you know the sneaky little gremlin feeling…loneliness? Athletes definitely do.

As busy as we are with training there’s also a lot of down time. Rest and recovery is all part of training schedule especially over the weekends. Occasionally you realise that in your moments of peace there may not be anyone else around except that little monster feeling your unsure of. Those few odd minutes of free time that slowly add up and then ‘BAM!’ he smacks you with the realisation that your all alone, again.

Travelling and moving around so much has its own impact upon feeling rather spaced from people. To make it worse I can’t count how many times I’ve ended up people watching in airports or shopping centres. In a strange way it can be fun and  you can turn it into a good game to play by inventing their life stories, what they do for a living, where they’re from etc etc, it’s not creepy at all, just don’t get caught!

I find that loneliness is an ever changing feeling and it is purely dependant on your point of view. The purchase of a single ticket to the movies is not out of the norm! It wastes a couple of hours and gets you out of the house. Plus once you have seen a movie you can talk about it at training and it seems like you ‘get out’ even though they are doing the same thing- nothing. Everyone training together is in the same boat therefore we can regularly hang out but there’s times where a ‘different’ clan of people is required.

Once you realise you have that little lonely monster hanging around you have to force yourself to be even more pro-active. Find me a yoga studio ASAP! Well something like this anyway, social stimulation and groups of people with things in common. Art classes, book clubs (BORING) or a regular weekly event where people meet up and I don’t mean AA, silly you! It’s the step beyond the regular cycle of shops, markets and those cinemas again especially as there’s only so many amazing shoes you can wear at once!

Creating a support network of people to socialise with is important to keep a mental happiness and stimulation. Having a job on the side or study is one of the first and best options to get out and meet people, plus your making money at the same time, it’s Genius!

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even this blog is a way for us to communicate and have the interaction with people even though we aren’t exactly ‘talking’. 21st Century of social media, gadgets and apps is a gift in disguise as they help us remain in touch whilst filling the void of loneliness, at least for a while but they aren’t a solution. You can find yourself double checking the latest updates and hitting refresh because it’s the same news as 5 mins ago. This is the monster telling you ‘get a life, Now! Out the door moments later to find the closest shop… I mean book club!

I have discovered at times that the feeling of being alone can cause you to become a hermit crab and without realising it your withdrawn from so many things that even taking that Sunday morning walk becomes a task! You begin to enjoy your own company more than having to ‘deal’ with other people. Forcing yourself to say yes to social outings and keeping busy is so important to remain positive and outgoing.

I know now that it is the most normal feeling to have especially with this lifestyle but it’s being aware of it and creating an environment as best you can to support yourself and maybe get through a few weeks before the odd bad day! Oh and a good tip… A chocolate brownie on that odd day always helps! 😉

& That’s My Athletes Mind…

Global Companion

Do you think you can be good friends with someone you compete against?

It’s fitting that I’m writing this week’s entry sitting in a Cafe from Montreal Canada. For me the two best things about this lifestyle is the places you visit and the incredible people you meet. Most commonly they turn out to be great contacts to stay with and occasionally some become amazing life-long friends. The friends, companions or even travel buddies you make within the sport are what makes it such a special journey and a truly amazing career.

As always there are ups and downs of travel, clearly communication can prove to be difficult and relationships can suffer from this as you simply loose touch with people. On the plus side they too live this same crazy life and therefore understand exactly how hard it can be at times. It’s probably the reason many of us can come and go from towns and cities, from my place to theirs at random intervals over weeks, months and even years but it’s as though nothing has ever changed.

The modern world of social media is a sportspersons best friend! I couldn’t imagine only having access to reading a book on a 24hr trip around the world, how boring. Instead I’m able to text my best mate in London, What’s app my girl in Wales, snap chat my sister at home, message my mate in Boston and let’s not forget advertise my highlight moments on Facebook like having a chai latte, I mean updating my tournaments results. All this keeps me connected, sane and able to keep up with what everyone is doing.

There is however a line drawn and friendships of players can be tested to their limits. Walking through the door to the squash court is where happy relationship ends and they become a competitive opponent that I’m determined to beat. It’s the job. Once the match is over, (give it 10 mins or maybe a little longer on a bad day) your right back to buddies. Having a laugh about how horrible the referee was is usually a good ice breaker). It’s important to maintain clarity and be able to separate the friendship from the reason your there, work.

Squash is very much a small world of everyone knows everyone. It doesn’t mean we all get along of course as everyone has their own clicks, but in the end we would all rally around and help each other out in a pickle.
Common issues awaiting us such as that crappy hotel room and maybe someone to share with.Have you experienced a dreaded delayed flight saga? How good is it to chat and lunch with someone. It’s a nice feeling that you can fly from place to place knowing there’s someone at the other end. If you’re not playing against each other you can even get some of that coach advice to get you through a match.

One of the greater benefits from having so many global companions is that they can visit the best country in the world, the place I call home, Australia. I might be biased but I take great pride in having people stay with me to show off the sights and attractions. I see it as karma I guess, I go out of my way to get my guest the best possible memories of my place, not only to have them come back but to receive a similar welcome at their home. As they say friendship is a two way street, right!
Playing this sport allows me to travel over the globe and meet up with people to grab a chai latte at whatever crazy destination we find ourselves in, I can’t impinge another job quite like it!

& that’s My Athletes Mind…

The After Life

Do you believe in a life after retirement?
Sport is an incredible career but it’s short lived. For some of us we will remain in the sporting industry in some way but rarely to the extent of our performing years. An athletes retirement age depends on their chosen sport for example gymnastics 19/20, NFL 28, squash 35, and golf (never too old!). The ages clearly resemble the intensity or impact amount upon the body as well as the time period of mastering a skill.

I recently read a study that was done on almost 600 elite athletes in regards to retirement and plans for life after sport and it was surprising to find that most of them did not have plans or would delay retirement as long as possible to avoid the life after. Most on average would not enter into another career until 12 months after their retirement.

I can relate well to the ‘fear’ of retirement, for an athlete to think about it especially whilst still performing is difficult. You’re considering an end to your entire life’s commitment before it’s barely begun. Crazy! I believe retirement (by choice – not physically) is about personal satisfaction and leaving the sport without any regrets.

There’s an assumption that most athletes will go on to be coaches or managers and remain within the sporting industry. I love coaching, kids or adults, when they’re keen to learn and love the game it’s extremely rewarding. The moment everyone talks about when the child’s face lights up, because they got it right really is the best bit. Personally though, coaching is a last resort for me, maybe it’s my age and life perspective at the moment, but I would want to explore the world of work away from my sport which I have done my entire life so far. It’s good to give back to your sport but it’s ok to take one for yourself as well, after all, you have just dedicated your life away to it for how many years?

As we know sport is extremely unpredictable and having dealt with various injuries I know how quickly it can go downhill. It’s lucky I had good parental influence to plan for the future. I never liked school so I left before I started my final year, with the thought in mind that there was two things I wanted to do, squash and fashion design, as for both I did not need school.

A degree in fashion design was top of my list to complete, after which I have set up my own label ‘Meaks’ and even sold a few products. It has since been placed on hold whilst squash is my priority focus for the immediate future. The fashion label is my back up which provides peace of mind that it’s set up and waiting for me when I’m ready. Don’t get me wrong I’m still adding to it regularly with ideas and creations but in terms of production, it’s paused. My long time passion to have my own sportswear label after squash is already in progress and I’ve put myself into a position where it’s about making it successful when I’m ready.

The decisions of what I wanted to do came easily and I imagine for some it’s not so obvious. Even though I knew what I wanted to do I have never shied away from exploring other options or seeing what else is out there. Working in a gym while injured at one stage got me interested in personal training. I undertook courses in fitness training which were of immense value. I discovered a love of photography and I somehow have a great eye for it. I think all the tourist shots have given me plenty of practice. Participating in fitness classes made me think about becoming an instructor, although I quickly realised that learning crazy amounts of choreography and preaching to people wasn’t for me. All due respect to my beloved fitness instructors, I have a great appreciation for your work.
The point is that you never know what might take your fancy and you may not even realise it until afterwards. The first place to look is your interests and hobbies. Do the things you love and of course, the ones your good at. It could lead to an amazing career in any industry.

In the end I would choose playing squash and participating in sport as a career before anything else. Being pro-active and using my own initiatives I have already mapped my alternative career options or plan B. The window for peak performance is small so take advantage and keep an open mind on plans for later. You could still be an astronaut!

& that’s My Athletes Mind…

The Perfect Athlete

This weeks about squash itself. I’ll be honest, I’m biased when I say ‘I think squash athletes in peak condition are the best overall athletes of all’. The physicality and psychology of the sport is far more intense and complex than most. You have to train and cross train in every way to be what we call ‘squash fit’. Strength, agility, speed, endurance, balance, power, reflexes, accuracy, co-ordination and more physically! Then you have the mental side of patience, decisions, tactics, determination, concentration etc etc, it covers every element in sport. Unlike other sports that are based on a couple things and in training focus on that specific thing like a sprinter does speed and power or take weight lifter who would do strength and power. There may be smaller elements involved as well but for squash everything plays a major role there is no minor!

As a squash player and many of you who read this are, the idea of health benefits isn’t exactly the reason we play, it’s more a bonus on the side. Awhile ago Squash was published in Forbes Magazine as being one of the healthiest sports. The study used experts in the field and were scored based on physiological benefits, injury risks and calorie burn. They marked the sports on physiological benefits from the four components of fitness; cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. Then scaled the risk of injury and average calorie burn from each sport to concluded the overall results. Squash came out on top!
See linked article for more information.
http://www.forbes.com/2003/10/01/cx_ns_1001feat.html

All this makes it very easy for me to brag about how good my sport is but I want to compare it in other ways aswell…
Have you ever seen one of those worlds best athletes or greatest athlete challenges on TV ? Basically they take top performing athletes from an array of sports and put them against each other in a series of tests and take scores at the end to see who is the best conditioned athlete overall. I’ve seen a rugby league, rugby union and iron man athletes perform the best to win the tittles but I’d love putting a squash player in the mix and see what happens…

It’s interesting how often people compare us to tennis or use tennis in a way to understand or relate to squash. We once tested tennis- timed how long the match went not including breaks between sets and how long they are actually playing for an hours match they were hitting balls for 20mins! Compare that to squash where a match is an hour the game play would be almost the entire time. No toilet breaks or towel wipes between points! It’s such a shame the world can’t see the calibre of a squash athlete at the top of their game.

If there’s a sport worth playing it has to be squash and even science agrees!

& that’s My Athlete Mind…