This article, in which High-Performance Coach Jesse Engelbrecht explores methods for achieving greater consistency, was published courtesy of Squash Player magazine, the magazine endorsed by the World Squash Federation.
Consistency is that elusive force that all athletes are trying to attain. It’s the Holy Grail, the Promised Land, Mecca!
How to consistently be consistent – to show up time and again being your best self, no matter the external forces pulling at you – is an ongoing challenge.
Inconsistency – a rollercoaster of overwhelming joy and debilitating lows – does little for building confidence in the long-term, whereas operating at a closer bandwidth develops strong self-belief.
Unfortunately, consistency is a bit like happiness – the more you grit your teeth and hungrily chase it, the more elusive it becomes. But in this series, I will explore methods and tools that help achieve consistent performance.
PRACTICE LIKE YOU PLAY
The most obvious tool I can offer would be to practice as you mean to play. This means putting in full effort: the body and mind being in the same place at the same time.
Going through the motions in practice sessions is likely to transfer into your matches, but being deliberate and intentional in the way you do things will help. This is your purpose, over which you have 100 percent control.
The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is actually flawed; rather tell yourself: ‘Purpose makes perfect’.
But at times even this is not enough. Many athletes train with focus, intention and full effort, but still find consistency in matches elusive. This may be because their diligent training isn’t transferring into performance on matchday.
ADAPT OR DIE
This is one of my favourite phrases. If players are getting upset by the conditions, the opponent or the constraints being put on them; good! This is an opportunity to learn. To adapt – or else you will die (or at least fail!).
I often change the environment and sabotage things to see how players handle adverse situations. Michael Phelps often allowed his coach, Bob Bowman, to run these ‘sabotage sessions’ – changing the pool temperature, giving him faulty goggles, a pair of board shorts or changing the session timing at the last moment – anything he could to upset and unnerve his athlete.
This paid off handsomely at the 2008 Olympics. Phelps’ goggles broke during a race but he was able to adapt and finish the race in a record-breaking time with his goggles steamed up and filled with water. He said: “I was relaxed because I reverted back to my training. I swam blind for 175m out of a 200m fly, won gold and broke the world record.”
This is what you need to do in a match in order to find consistency. Try to be adaptable. Be flowing. Be willing to vary your plan, your game, your movements and your thinking. Change is the only thing that is ever constant.
BREAK IT DOWN
Rather than thinking about winning the whole match, break the process down into small, manageable challenges that are right here and right now in front of you. Know that you can attempt to handle and manage these.
When thinking too far ahead about what the outcome may be, this lends nothing to performing well and consistently in the moment when you need it the most.
When you are in flow you don’t have to even think of these challenges, but flow is a rarity and not the common setting.
Your mindset needs to focus on dealing with what you have in front of you in that moment. You may not be able to pinpoint exactly what the problem is, but what you can do is figure out what is 100 percent within your control and be sure to deliver on this.
This is not about getting too granular and being too specific with a technical issue you may have. It’s viewing it as having half a deck of cards to play with. Something is missing, something is off, you cannot effortlessly flow and you cannot play just like you want to.
You must accept this situation quickly. don’t fight it too hard, but see it as a challenge to overcome, not a threat. Develop an attitude of, ‘bring it on!’
Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
Part two of Jesse’s series on achieving consistency will be in 2023 Issue 1, out in March.
Find out more about Engelbrecht’s work with SquashMind, the official psychological training app of the World Squash Federation.