CAROLINE FOUTS: Attempting To Break Egypt’s Squash Dominance

Picture of By Jesse Engelbrecht

By Jesse Engelbrecht

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The USA is making a determined challenge to Egypt’s hegemony at the top of professional squash and Caroline Fouts is the no.1 junior amongst the emerging crop of Stateside talent.

Working on her mental game on a one-to-one basis with SportMind since November has helped the 18-year-old in numerous ways, embedding good habits and techniques off court that are already reaping rewards in the heat of battle.

“It has made a big difference,” says Caroline.

“Previously I had worked on mental toughness, but it was all very general. Jesse bringing such a concentrated focus on squash really allows for a good connection and understanding of the scenarios on court.”

Caroline won the US Junior Open Under-19 title in December, got to the final of the British Junior Open the following month, then reached the latter stages of three quickfire PSA Challenger tournaments before achieving her finest result to date, winning the World Championship qualifying event in Maryland in April, helping lift her to a career-high world ranking of 59.

It was at the third of those Challenger events – in the semi-finals against England’s Lucy Beecroft at the $20k in Florida – when the work with SportMind’s Jesse Engelbrecht made its most significant impact. Curiously, it was a match she lost in four games.

“It was a particularly tough match,” says Caroline. “Lucy is very skilful and I felt I was under pressure the whole time and wasn’t able to impose myself. I didn’t know what to do. I won the first 13-11 but had no idea where I was winning points and couldn’t compose myself to analyse the game. It felt like I didn’t really fully buy into my identity.”

IDENTITY

Losing is often where we learn the most – and that defeat really helped crystallise the work she and Jesse had been doing on building confidence in her own identity.

Caroline, who begins her degree in economics at Harvard in the fall, explains:

“We’ve worked on figuring out my super strengths, fully believing in them and backing myself. For me, I feel most confident in my retrieval. A big part of my identity is getting the ball back and my determination to keep the rally going. It’s my main statement.”

“Believing in that aspect as the foundation of my identity is really important. It gives me more confidence to know that I can run and get another ball, rather than worrying about what my opponent is going to do – that automatically makes you passive and on the defence. It’s about me imposing myself on them, and that gives me space to pay attention to other tactical elements like playing deep with medium pace.”

BREATHING

That defeat in Florida was an example of a frantic, scrambled mind leading to a poor performance. A technique Jesse uses with his athletes to mitigate this is breathing rhythms and tempos that allow the mind to settle, enable the player to ‘be present’, identify and analyse the scenario they are in and make more rational decisions. Jesse calls it being ‘air hungry’.

“Trying to remember to breathe slowly and deeply is sometimes tough during a match and even in-between games, but I have found it really helpful,” says Caroline. “A racing mind has normally gotten you into a poor situation and remaining in that state will not get you out of it.”

JOURNALING

Jesse encourages Caroline and his other clients to keep a journal, writing down their reflections on matches and practice sessions. “It’s really good for long-term improvement and getting better the next day,” Caroline says.

“Doing it after a good practice session is helpful, but it’s more helpful when I journal after a bad session. The first three sentences are about letting it out, then I’ll write, ‘I think it was bad because of X, Y, Z – for example, because the intensity level wasn’t high enough. Why the session or match went poorly is what I take away, rather than just writing that I played well or badly.

“Journaling is far better than coming home and just leaving it, and not learning from it. It really helps solidify what happened. You’re not picking and choosing what you want to remember from the session. It’s very easy to dismiss it as a bad session because of the last five minutes, but forget the first hour, which went well.”

WELLBEING

Jesse collaborates with Caroline’s coach Luke Butterworth (@lbsquash)to ensure her mental training dovetails with her on-court work – and that she has a healthy balance of squash, academic study and spending time with friends and family.

“Before I worked with Jesse, I’d lose a match and be brutally hard on myself and so upset,” she explains. “This sounds a little weird, but he has made me realise that a defeat is not that important!

“He reminds me that I have so much more squash to come and so much more room for growth. It has helped my wellbeing as a whole because I now approach matches with less stress and leave matches with less stress. I give everything for that hour and a half, maximum, then he gives me space to step back, relax, hang out with friends and be outside.”

“He also encouraged me go out, walk and explore when I’m at tournaments, rather than hang out in my hotel room until it’s time for my match. All these little things contribute to my overall wellbeing. It has all made a big, big impact.”

STAYING IN TOUCH

Whenever you’re ready, here are 4 more ways you can consume SportMind content to help you train your mind:

  1. Check out the SportMind podcast. And this is my FAVOURITE episode to date
  2. Get your coach in your pocket by downloading the SportMind App on Apple or Android
  3. Ever wanted the tools to Unlock Flow? I have a workshop just for this
  4. Become a SportMind member and gain full access to mental training. Learn more here

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Jesse Engelbrecht

SportMind Founder,
High Performance Coach,
& Squash Professional

A professional and dedicated coach full of enthusiasm and passion for helping and teaching.

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