Monday, October 2, 2023

Jesse Engelbrecht’s SquashMind column: Let’s get started with the art of ghosting

‘Ghosting is not just a physical session – it has far more value as a mental aid to help you visualise every situation on court’
By JESSE ENGELBRECHT (Top coach and founder of Squash Mind)

The great Jonah Barrington invented ghosting as an exercise designed to push himself physically and mentally and to train himself without the aid of a ball or partner. He was the first true professional squash player and blazed trails for everyone else to follow. His legacy is as strong now as it ever was.

Jonah used ghosting to simulate a rally and to run through his technique and movements on the court by imagining the ball, his opponents, the shots his opponents would play, and his appropriate responses to these shots.

There are stories of Jonah ghosting for over an hour at a time, playing rally after rally after rally, training himself to move, hit, and to respond to all and any eventualities.

The mental strength to perform this type of ghosting is gigantic and to be able to be present and, in the moment, shot after shot, running the play, imagining the scenarios, visualising the external stimulus and internal responses is something that is not recognised and acknowledged enough. Jonah was a physical machine, but, the mental side needed to be as strong, if not better.

Since the early inception of ghosting, it has become part and parcel of improving one’s game of squash. Where it maybe has become less effective is when it is used purely as a fitness tool to “beast” oneself into submission.

I often hear about and see these hard, gruelling, physically demanding sessions at full pace with players sprinting to balls, throwing in massive lunges, swinging the racket as fast as they can, then sprinting back to the T with no real thought or purpose besides doing it as fast and powerfully as possible.

Jonah Barrington trained harder than anyone had before and devised numerous strategies for his battles with Australian rival Geoff Hunt (right)

If ghosting was originally designed to simulate a rally, then this form of purely physical ghosting means that you are going to be playing a match whereby you are on the receiving end of every shot and just doing all you can to survive and keep your head above water. Hacking away at the problem with no real deliberate practice to figure it out.

This is not really a lovely form of squash whereby you’re in control and dictating to your opponent. Of course, there will be times in matches you just have to get your running shoes on and scramble effectively, so it is worth training this side of things too, but I believe there has been a bastardisation of the original concept and the focus has shifted to something completely different.

This is where, via the platform of SquashMind, I am now trying to bring back the lost art of ghosting – and help you to reap the maximum benefits from it.

The idea behind doing ghosting training via the SquashMind App all starts with the mind. I want you to see, feel, visualise, anticipate each sequence and pattern of ghosting and to run the play over and over and over again in your mind before you actually do it.

Brain studies have shown for the past several years now that the brain cannot tell the difference between an actual event and the vivid visualisation of that same event. Amazing, right? But up until now a lot of visualisation practice has been a separate training tool often performed away from the real-world situation and rarely overlaps onto the court or field.

This got me thinking and this is where I am attempting to bridge the gap between the formal practice that may happen away from the court and now bringing it to life in the areas you will be playing, training, and competing in.

You are going to bring a level of mindfulness, visualisations, and partly meditation to your on-court sessions now. You are going to work on being very clear, deliberate, and intentional with all of your ghosting.

Ghosting often gets used as a fitness tool. I have nothing inherently against this, but I believe ghosting should be a mental tool first and foremost and something to be used to strengthen the mind for situations that will occur during a match.

This is where the greatest gains can be made and where real transference of ghosting to match play occurs. Not just getting stronger, fitter, faster, more dynamic. Yes, these all help of course. But the mind is where it needs to all start.

“They see it, they feel it, they experience it before they actually do it”, explains neuroscience researcher Dr. Charles Garfield when commenting on the habits and behaviours of high performing athletes. Let’s repeat that statement: “They see it, they feel it, they experience it before they actually do it.”

When Marwan ElShorbagy is ghosting ahead of playing Ali Farag, he conditions his mind not to hit a crosscourt back to his opponent!

Over the years I have discussed so many aspects of the game with so many players and a top professional like Marwan ElShorbagy is a fervent believer in the benefits of ghosting as a mental aid allied to visualisation.

Marwan told me: “Ghosting is all about being in the right mindset. It is so much more than a physical workout. As I am moving I will visualise different sequences of shots and always think about the likely response of my opponent and how I will respond to his shot.

“For example, I will imagine Ali Farag playing a boast and as I move into the front corner I will absolutely make sure I don’t play a crosscourt back to him, which is what he wants!

“So the whole ghosting routine is about mindset, not the physical workload.”

I would like to remind readers that this form of ghosting is for the mind. It is always preempted with the visualisation aspect of what you are about to do and running the play in your head in order to get the brain in gear.

This is by no means the only way to do ghosting and there are some very technical aspects to this form of training also. For a deeper and more comprehensive guide to ghosting is your place to go and check out.

They have a huge library of ghosting sessions and patterns and you will likely never run out of content to work on and practice by visiting the site. So go and check it out as an additional and powerful resource to improve your movement around the court.

Goals and outlines

As outlined in the introduction to meditative or visualisation ghosting, you will be running plays in your mind, on the court, before you start your ghosting session.

The sessions will be broken down into 40 seconds of work and then 20 seconds of mindful rest. Your rest in these sessions will be an active process rather than it being passive.

During the 20 seconds of mindful rest, you will partly be recovering physically as well as working on your mind with the visualisation of the next pattern you are about to perform.

While resting I would highly encourage you to close your mouth and get used to nose breathing. The power of correct breathing is essential and in the app you can read a blog on this subject, or search for Alexia Clonda, who is a breathing expert with lots of guided lessons to help you in this area.

If you need to take in oxygen via your mouth to start this is fine, but quickly see if you can change it to slower, deeper, and better-quality nose breathing. Performing 3-5 rounds of “sigh” breathing is recommended also. Sigh breathing is where you take two quick but deep breathes in via your nose, hold it for a second, and then sigh out.

Now, in the 20 seconds of mindful rest, this is where you also need to begin to visualise the next pattern. My voice will guide you as to what this next pattern is so there is no need to fully remember it. I would suggest reading over the whole session before you begin to get a bit of an idea of what you are doing, and you can find the PDF of the session you are about to do in each of the ghosting playlists.

When you start to work again and perform the ghosting, my voice will prompt you to do so as well as guide you around the key areas I’d like you to focus on. Try and work between 60-80% of your maximum as remember this is a session for the mind as well as the body.

This is not an outright physical session and is mainly focussed on training the mind to see, feel, visualise, and anticipate each play before you do it. The more you run and see the plays in your head before you do them the more likely you will execute them in a match as you have coded yourself to do so.

I will keep the time so no need to worry about a stopwatch or timing yourself. I will guide you through 7 different patterns which will take a total of 7 minutes. I will repeat this three times over to make a complete session of 21 minutes. You can adapt to your needs if you want to do 7, 14, 21 minutes or even longer. You can go back to the start and repeat if you have an intention to do more. Or stop after the first or second set if you intended to do less.

Remember, it’s all about the quality, the intentions, the deliberate practice mentally of these patterns. It all starts with the mind.

The sessions will always start with the 20 seconds of mindful rest as you need to get your mind in gear as to what you are trying to perform. You can either have your eyes open or closed for the mindful rest, whatever is your preference. I slightly prefer eyes closed myself, but I do mix it up from time to time. See what works for you and run some experiments on yourself.

Finally, be sure to really be in the rally when you are ghosting. Channel your inner Jonah. This means trying to be as close to the rally as possible and how you would move, what your body is doing, timing of your split-step, the quality of your lunge, where you are looking after your shot, and how you are moving from, to, and through the T.

One of the big errors with ghosting of this nature is players often do not look at where they have just hit the ball to as well as then using their head and eyes to move on and to play the next shot.

I will urge you to be very deliberate with your head and your eyes in this meditative or visualisation ghosting. Watch and see the ball go to the part of the court you have hit it to, then imagine your opponent is there about to hit their next shot. Really see it, feel it, and experience it while you are performing it.

Right, now that you are clear with what to do, let’s get to work!

Open your mind with an online lesson.

If you liked this blog, please do share with others that may be interested on this subject and find it of use. I work closely with players on all aspects of their game and mind. I offer online Zoom lessons and become a mentor and accountability partner for players. I find 1:1 online lessons immensely powerful for learning and am now using the court more so for practice. Being able to learn away from the ‘distractions’ of playing is proving to be highly valuable.

“Learn online, practice on-court.”

Zoom lesson x 1 (45 minutes). Book Now.

Please do get in touch by emailing me: [email protected]

The SquashMind website 

Download the App 

Squash Mind on Twitter: @squash_mind

Pictures courtesy of Jesse Engelbrecht 


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  1. Minor point – something went awry here:

    ““They see it, they feel it, they experience it before they actuary do it”, explains neuroscience researcher Dr. Charles Garfield when commenting on the habits and behaviours of high performing athletes. “They see it, they feel it, they experience it before they actuary do it”!”

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