Winning ugly

28th August 2013

We feature sport psychology and mental training tips here at SquashSkills whenever we can, and our challenge is always to make the content and information as practical and easy to implement as possible. There is a lot of interesting theory surrounding the whole field of sports psychology, but the average squash player is usually (quite understandably) more concerned with what they can do to actually improve and impact their game in the shortest timeframe, and with the minimum fuss possible.

With this in mind, I would really recommend anyone who hasn’t read it previously to pick up Brad Gilbert’s classic sports psych tome, ‘Winning Ugly‘ – one of the best books out there on implementing simple, effective mental strategies into your game.

In an ideal world, we’d all play beautiful squash, resplendent with dazzling technique and perfect rally construction and shot selection. Unfortunately, the world of sport is far from an ‘ideal’ one for most people, and squash, in particular, can be one of the most frustrating of games when things aren’t going your way, and your opponent seems to have an answer for just about everything you try.

The great thing about Gilbert’s ‘Winning Ugly’ book is that he acknowledges the equal parts challenge and frustration inherent in competitive sport, but avoids getting too bogged down in the book discussing the intricate theories behind the mental aspect of competition, and instead offers clear and concise practical tips for improving your mental approach to the game, broken down into short easily digestible chapters.

Although written from a tennis perspective – Brad Gilbert is an ex-world no.4, and former coach to Andre Agassi and Andrew Murray amongst others; there’s a good piece about him here from the Guardian that talks a little about the book as well, and a feature from the NY Times where Gilbert reflects back on the book’s enduring popularity here – most of the concepts are easily relatable to other sports, squash in particular. A lot of the tips and strategies presented are relatively general and can be extrapolated to all kinds of competitive pursuits – check out this piece from a Fencing site, for example, discussing Gilbert’s ideas in relation to their sport.

Gilbert was famed as a ‘whatever it takes’ player in tennis, who while never condoning resorting to cheating or gamesmanship, would fight tooth and nail using every tool at his disposal to pull out the W at the end of the game. Aspiring to improve your all-around technique and skills should of course be at the core of your squash training if you wish to advance as a player, but sometimes just that little bit of nous and savvy can be what takes you over the line in a closely fought game – you can see that from some of the great characters and competitors from world-class squash over the years, players like David Palmer and Jon Power who seemed to have a knack of pulling out a win just when it looked like all hope was lost.

The value of a robust mental approach is something that Gilbert knew better than just about anyone – he readily admits himself that he was never the most talented or aesthetically pleasing of players, but he always knew exactly what it took to get a win in a hard-fought match-up. His book is a real classic of the sports psychology genre, and even 20 years after its release it is as eminently useful (and entertaining) as ever, and still well worth picking up a copy.


Gary Nisbet

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

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