We have all heard the term, “In the zone” in terms of sporting performance. Maybe you have experienced it yourself. Time seems to slow down and you can hit exactly the shot you want every time. You seem to be able to anticipate what your opponent will do and respond almost before he does it. You are calm, but very alert, your vision clear and you have no doubts, or noise in your head. Just a calm certainty about what you are doing…. Then it vanishes and the old mistakes creep back. Before you know it you have “Lost form.”
I have often pondered this phenomenon; what it is and what causes it to manifest. Also what causes it to disappear. It’s a bit like trying to grasp an eel with soapy hands. I did martial arts for some years. Kung Fu to be precise and I came across a ritualistic routine called “Silum Tao.” It means, literally, “little thought.” I used to do this routine each morning for years and found I felt very grounded and calm each time.
I’d like to offer a perspective on being in the moment. When we play a squash match (say a pennant competition match) we get out there and compete as hard as we can. At the end of each game the team gathers around the player offering advice on tactics and off they go again.
Tactics in squash should be very simple. If your opponent has an obvious weakness you should concentrate on that in the first instance. But what should the overriding strategy be? I always suggest to my students that they hit the ball away from their opponent. Pretty simple stuff wouldn’t you agree? If you do that you don’t have to make a decision as to what shot to play. All you need to know is where the ball is, where your opponent is and where you are. The course of action becomes blindingly obvious.
Why then can’t we execute such a simple strategy? We fail to do the one simple thing, hit the ball where we want it to go. Why not? Too much going on inside our heads is, in my opinion, the answer. Almost all motor vehicle accidents are caused by inattention, or more precisely, split attention. One recent major cause of accidents identified is texting. What is that but people trying to do more than one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is simply the opportunity to do more than one action at the same time – poorly.
I always say to my players the following, “don’t play the match, don’t play the game, don’t play the point, PLAY THE SHOT YOU ARE PLAYING. Don’t do anything else. The only thing you can control is what you are doing AT THIS INSTANT.
Focus all your attention on the shot you are playing and your odds of playing the precise shot you need increase exponentially. When I am drilling my players I get them to focus on precisely where they are going to hit the ball (when we are doing control drills.) This forces them to focus on the particular shot they are playing.
All concentration is, is the capacity to focus your attention on a specific. In this case the shot you are playing, NOW. All you can ever control is what you are doing at this very instant. We have all seen players who have received a poor refereeing call and then lose the next three points as they brood about it. Their attention is stuck in the past and their execution suffers.
To help players in this aspect of their game I sometimes have them call out “Now” every time I hit the ball. It is remarkable how their shot making capacity improves after a few minutes.
What I am suggesting is that all we can ever control is what we do when we are doing it. In other words, Be HERE, NOW and focus on whatever action your are doing. If you do I guarantee you will do it better.
A bit like life, don’t you think?
Yours in squash excellence.