In amongst the fire and brimstone of a tough battle on court, it can often be rather difficult to calm the brain and coolly zoom focus in on the necessary technical and tactical elements crucial to tipping the balance in your favour and increasing your chances of coming out victorious.
Times like these are when a personalised ‘cheat sheet’ can come in extremely useful, to help steady the ship and provide you the essential prompts and guidance toward a triumphant performance!
For all the hard work that goes into training, learning to better hit the right shots at the right times, developing optimal movement and technique, and working on the structure and tactics you’re planning to implement into your game, all too often these things can be lost once you enter into a competitive environment.
The internal and external pressure, the expectations you have of your performance, the crowd on the balcony (no matter how big or small!), as well as a host of other mental challenges and distractions, can all combine to make it very tough to control one’s thinking.
Players often know what they should be focusing on and directing their attention toward during a match, but often can really struggle to actually recall and carry them out once the pressure is on. A ‘cheat sheet’ is simply a short list of written cues that are personal to you, that is kept in your squash bag for you to use to refer to and help manage your thinking and mental state in the heat of competition – before, during, and after the match.
Cheat sheets are used by athletes of all levels, in a variety of different forms. You’ll often see athletes in breaks within games with sheets of paper, notepads, or sometimes even written on sweatbands or other equipment – GB Hockey gold medal-winning goalkeeper Maddie Hinch famously had a mini cheat sheet taped to her water bottle in the Rio Olympics final.
Your cheat sheet then should include the things that you know are critical to you for optimal performance, things that you know you need to do to perform at your very best. This might be specific technical cues (e.g. ‘extend the follow-through’, ‘open the racket face’), tactical elements (e.g. ‘take the ball early’, ‘look for the volley’), or particular mental prompts (e.g. ‘take one point at a time’, ‘stay confident and be patient’). It might also include general positive affirmations and references to recent positive performances, such as ‘I’ve trained hard, I’m in great physical shape’, or ‘I’m in very good form at the moment, and I have faith in my short game’.
The key with your cheat sheet is to keep the points simple and not overcomplicate things. A list of no more than 4 or 5 briefs, easily digestible points will be of far greater benefit than several pages of overly detailed, in-depth notes exploring every aspect of your game. The idea is just to trigger productive thought processes and remind yourself of your strengths, where your focus should lie, and the things you’ve been working hard on in training – getting your coach’s input here can be very useful in putting your sheet together and making it as specific as possible.
By keeping the sheet in your squash bag, you can quickly and easily refer to it between games to refresh your mind and stimulate the pathways of focus. In a competitive environment, when you’re overheating and fatigued and your adrenalin is flowing, your brain will be better able to grasp and utilise simple, familiar concepts, than digest over-long, overly-complex reams of text.
Tips to keep in mind when creating your personal ‘cheat sheet’:
- Keep it simple – your sheet should be clear and concise
- Limit the number of reminders you include – focus on no more than 4 or 5 key points
- Make it positive – write down things you need to do, not what you don’t want to do
- Keep your sheet accessible – keep it in your bag, where you can easily grab it before and between games
- Keep it current – update your sheet periodically, to keep your points fresh and relevant
B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director
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