It is the beginning of the season and its that time when squash players set the goals that we want to achieve for the season. I have been setting goals for my squash since I was 12 years old. I’ve done it right and I’ve done it wrong. Goal setting is one of those things that is almost always done wrong. The basic mistakes are:
1) Setting a goal that seems like what others would expect of you, not a goal that you really, really want.
2) Setting a goal because it seems impressive
3) Setting a goal based on an outcome
No matter how much you try you cannot control an outcome. You can play the best squash of your life and still not win. You may get a bad call. Or the other player may just play better. Or you may win. It is inherent in playing competitive squash that while to a certain extent you can control the quality of your own game, you may be able to influence but you cannot control the quality of your opponent’s game.
I remember when I was 24 and was coming back from a year away from pro squash due to mono and I was determined to make up for lost time. I set huge outcome-oriented goals and started practicing. I quickly got stressed. Was I good enough? Was I on the right track? I talked to a good friend about my goal conflicts. He said something that stuck with me: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” Someone had repeated this quote to him and he passed it on to me. This quote changed everything for me. Suddenly I wasn’t worried about some possible future match, but instead I was focused on getting the most out of every training session and practice match. I proceeded to have the best year of my pro career beating every top American and a couple of highly ranked international players.
This year I have been tempted to have some pretty aggressive goals. I had a great 2013-14 season, have taken on an amazing coach in Willie Hosey and have been playing some of the best squash of my life. My basic goal each year over the past bunch of years has been to continue to play 6.0 squash. While there is definitely something satisfying about beating 23-year-old 6.0 players at my age (twice that of the 23-year-old) there is also something depressing about this goal – there is definitely and end-point. So I thought long and hard about what my actual goal is. And it came to me – to continue to become a better player for my age. Let the results take care of themselves. Just focus on getting better.
There is another word for this – mastery. Strive for mastery. It is a constant quest – one is that is out there in front of you. There are so many aspects to this game, and the game is constantly evolving. Stay current. Never be complacent or self-satisfied. Learn from others. Work hard at improving each area of the game. And then get out and compete. You will win some, you will lose some. But you will get better. And at some point all the hard work will come together and you will achieve heights you never imagined.