When observers of squash talk about talent, they often recall how this player hits the ball or the spectacular shots they produce. It might be accentuated in the gracefulness of their strokes, the fluidity of their movement or the effortless appearance of a player when they execute winning shots.
Age can also play a large role in how talent is defined; the younger the player, seemingly more are impressed by their skills. There are many obvious examples of players who have developed their skills at a young age with Ramy Ashour being possibly the most obvious of the current generation. From the first time that he started to compete on the PSA World Tour his talent in anticipating tactical situations was striking.
However, many highly skilled players at a very young age have looked destined to succeed but have never seemed to reach their potential.
There have also been many examples of “late bloomers”, especially players from Europe who have needed more time to physically & mentally mature before making great strides by improving their physical conditioning, improving diet & refining technique to develop attacking weapons & defensive skills to become a more successful player.
So what are the factors that determine whether a talented player goes on to become successful?
It is not only the technical aspects that play a role since all professional players hit the ball well. There are also the physical, tactical & mental aspects to consider. Below are the skills that are universally considered important to make an analysis of a player’s talent level:
Fundamentals of technique
Footwork & movement
Pattern development to exploit an opponent’s weakness
Reading of the game & anticipation of tactical situations
Consistency of performance under pressure
Weapon development to dominate an opponent
Attitude & character to succeed
Work ethic in training & matches
Passion for the game
Age to skills & results ratio
Career decision making
Definition of Talent
Firstly, it takes great skill to play squash competitively, usually taking two years just to master the basics of an ‘all-court’ game. From a physical standpoint it requires great coordination, flexibility, endurance & speed, alongside gaining strategy experience with patterns & styles of play, before a player can beginning winning matches or tournaments consistently.
Through competition the mental game comes into the equation as well. It takes a lot of talent in just reaching a national level, let alone playing at an international or professional level.
All junior players competing at a national level should be considered ‘talented’ by virtue of their skill level of the game & it is out of this pool of players that generally top players emerge.
People’s definition of a top player is different & might change over time. This can range from top 100, top 50 or even top 10 & depends largely on each person’s personal point of view & their experience in the game.
For a top player to emerge, it takes a lot of things to happen at the right time. Everything has to fall into place in the right sequence. From having the right start, creating good fundamentals of technique, winning matches or tournaments at the right time, having the funds to finance national & international travel & coaching, to getting the proper guidance & coaching at every level. Only then, with a little luck, can a new star emerge.
It is one thing to become a talented junior & an entirely different objective to become a successful professional player.
After a junior player reaches an international level & makes the transition to professional, the challenge is to be able to sustain their progress & stabilise the results over several years. Some players reach that level at a very young age, whereas others take a steadier climb through the rankings. There is not just one route to being successful & there are no guarantees.
Just because a player is talented player does not mean that they will be ensured a career as a professional player & even if a player does reach this goal, it can prove even harder to sustain.
A career in squash is a risky business, filled with lots of ups & downs along the way. It takes years of investment, commitment & a lot of perseverance to even have a chance to reach the entry level of professional squash. Hundreds of young, promising & talented players are all chasing their dream of becoming a top player.
The rewards can be considerable if a player is successful, however the reality is that only a select few men & women are able to make a good living on the World Tour.
Pitfalls of Talented Players
Many talented players fail to reach their goal in becoming a top player even when the opportunities were there from the start.
There are some common aspects that play a vital role in the development of a player but in the end it comes down to smart decision making by players, coaches & parents.
Some of the more common mistakes include:
Telling a talented player he is talented.
This usually leads them to rely on their talents too much instead of working hard on other aspects of their game, especially their weaknesses. There are many instances where a talented player will lose to a player that ‘out-works’ them. It is also common to see a young player not work as hard once they turn professional, often a result of feeling a sense of accomplishment & resting on their laurels or relying too much on their talent.
Pushing players beyond their physical & mental capabilities.
Parents & coaches often forget that it all started with enjoyment of the game. It is a good lesson to learn that hard work leads to results but pushing players beyond their limits can lead to overtraining & loss of drive & passion for the sport.
Choosing the proper coach at each level of the game.
Just like in school, there are teachers for elementary & higher-level coaching. Finding the right coach to take a player to the next level is crucial.
Choosing the proper developmental pathway.
Knowing where a player is in their development & the choices that need to be made can be a critical determining factor. Some players may need to go the further education route when there is no clear indication that they are mentally or physically ready to start a professional career. A national ranking can be a good indicator of the path to follow.
Keep doing what works for you.
Just like in any match, a player should never change a winning game. Often players fail once they start their professional career by making too many changes. Turning professional usually happens during the transition period between junior & playing more professional events. This transitional phase is difficult enough without having to deal with equipment &/or coaching changes. This can often lead to a loss of confidence at a time when the player needs it the most.
Talent should be viewed only as an opportunity to greatness as it can be heavily overrated when relied upon too much…..