The Myth of the ‘Slow Starter’

31st January 2023

It’s an oft-heard lament of players, that they’re a ‘slow starter’ and are never able to get going right off the bat in their matches. There’s no real physiological reason why slow starting should be a thing however, if a proper pre-match routine is constructed and adhered to.

Squash is a high-intensity, high-impact sport. Rallies involve multiple short sprint efforts, with matches lasting anything up to 1 hour at an amateur level. Being able to start strong and last the pace is thus crucially important, yet many players complain of having difficulties in getting quickly into their stride in the early stages of their games.

A slow start can often be the crucial differentiator between two evenly matched competitors – giving away 4 or 5 quick points in fairly short order at the beginning of a game, can be enough to embolden your opponent and hand them a boost toward eventual victory that they might otherwise have struggled to find.

Many players quite openly self-identify as ‘slow starters’ however, and approach the topic with almost a kind of resigned acceptance, as if it’s a factor of their game that just can’t be changed. With a proper pre-performance routine though, getting into a state of physical and mental readiness should be achievable for any player.

It does take some exploration to find your optimal level of arousal however, and then repetition and practice for it to become natural – try really experimenting with different lengths and intensities of warm-up in your training sessions, until you settle on a routine that enables you to hit the ground running in the first rally. With perseverance, you will eventually find something that works for you.

Looking at the wider picture, you wouldn’t just accept your backhand is never going to be very good, or that you’re just not ever going to be fit enough, or that your movement is never going to be efficient – you would train to improve these things. In the same way, you shouldn’t be tempted to just accept that you’re a slow starter – acknowledge that it’s a current limitation, and then address it in the same way you would any other weak point in your game.

For those players who feels it’s more than just a physical thing for them however, who find that they have a particularly stubborn mental block with being able to start a game firing on all cylinders, sometimes an element of psychological ‘reframing’ can help in conjunction with their optimised warm-up. Instead of just trying to dig in and battle against the negative tension around starting slow, and then succumbing to the vicious mental cycle of trying too hard and making yourself even more tight and anxious, it can be useful to change the mindset in the first few rallies of a match.

Think of the opening of the game as a kind of ‘recon’, where you’re moving the ball around conservatively and really observing your opponent’s response, trying to ascertain where they like to hit the ball and what shots they’re looking to play. That way, even if you’re losing points, you’re still gaining information – so rather than being in a situation where you’re 5/0 down, frustrated with yourself for another slow start, and focusing anxiously on the mountain you have to climb to get enough points to get back into the game, you can instead frame it to yourself that regardless of scoreline you at least now have the benefits of the observations you’ve made on your opponent.

Sometimes just the process of this alone will help, as you shift the focus away from desperately trying to get early points on the board and not have yet another slow start, and instead approach things a little more cerebrally. This reframing of how to approach the start of a game can be an excellent mental tool, for those for whom fixing the physical readiness aspect alone doesn’t quite resolve the problem. 


Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

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