Lessons from the court ('The Things I Learn' Series)
I recently returned to the racket sport of squash after roughly a year out. There’s a hell of a lot to it, which is it’s main appeal to me; fitness, technique, decision making and the reading of your opponent amongst others. All of these facets, though, take place in a little box of a court and at high speeds, so it can be somewhat challenging and often stressful. After a few games back, I've come to realise that so many of the pointers I take from a squash match can easily be transposed into various arenas of my life and vice versa. Here are a few of the things I took away from a recent game and their importance off the court too:
Change up your ideas – when one thing isn’t working (a particular serve being easily returned, for example), have the self-awareness and humility to admit it and to try something new. Too often I find myself caught in the same patterns just because that's the way I've always done it. Be aware of and admit to areas of your life that could benefit from a slight shift in approach and how you might go about this.
Staying in the present, one shot at a time. Ruminating over the last bad shot does nothing for anyone as does worrying about your next set or tomorrow's opponent. In squash I’ll go and tap the back wall in between points; an anchor to bring me to the here and now. And in other sports, you see players performing similar rituals for this exact same reason. In life we also need to proactively bring ourselves back to the now to prevent our auto-pilot taking over. It could be a quick meditation sit, a few deep breaths through the diaphragm or some objective self-talk in our minds. Either way, we must identify slots in our day for when and where we will do this to avoid the habit from slipping.
Don’t judge anyone by their appearance, voice, clothes, anything! I remember once looking at an opponent and within a millisecond believing the match would be a walk in the park for me. I subsequently got stuffed by a far better player than I was. To come crashing down to earth like this was a worthwhile lesson, though. Be it on the court, in business or at a social event, remember that you never really know who you are dealing with, so allow that person to show who they are instead of making up your own story beforehand.
Leave it all out there. Even if you lose, you’ll be glad you had absolutely nothing more to give. The worst feeling in any sphere of your life is knowing that you had a little more to give and that this little bit could have made all the difference.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Whether you've an upcoming business meeting, presentation, interview or similar – get your tools sharpened, work on your flaws and work at knowing your subject inside out. Do the equivalent of hitting a squash ball into the same spot for an hour and then doing that for days on end. Only through this preparation would I be able to ever consider pulling off that shot in a game, on demand. Drill your new behaviours and skills home so that they can do nothing but stick.
Be on the lookout for new collaborators. Every new player I play brings something new to the court – even the slightest difference in style forces me to adapt and ultimately forces me to sharpen my game. Make new contacts, work with people across disciplines and with different approaches; it’ll give your ideas and mindset a more rounded and wholesome flavour.
Outwork your competitors. There’ll always be people with more talent, more resources, a better start in life and better connections. The one thing we have control over, though, is the work and grit we put in. Do more than the next person, fall in love with the practice of the work itself and outwork the competition!
And speaking of control... Given its enclosed space and high speeds, squash, like our lives, is often unpredictable. But whilst I may not be able to control my opponent's serve, there are many things I can, such as my stance, my concentration, my fitness coming into the game or my grip on the racket. So to put ourselves in the best position possible we must do exactly this; we must look to control the things we can in order to mitigate the potential losses due to things we cannot. So, get out there today and take full control and ownership of those things you definitely can!