SIVA SUBRAMANIAM: FROM DISASTER TO TRIUMPH (PART TWO)

Picture of By Jesse Engelbrecht

By Jesse Engelbrecht

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As Sivasangari Subramaniam slowly recovered from the physical and mental scars of a devastating car crash, the Malaysian squash star became consumed by frustration and impatience and found herself in something of a dark place.

In part one, we told the harrowing story of how Subramaniam was pulled from a burning car in June 2022, required neck and facial surgery, suffered trauma and anger issues and doubted whether she would ever be able to return to the squash court. Yet, under two years later, she beat three of the world’s top five players en route to a staggering and emotional win at the PSA Gold London Squash Classic.

THE BEGINNING

Subramaniam credits SportMind founder Jesse Engelbrecht for this remarkable recovery – and we’ll now look into how he applied his expertise to allow her to move on from the past, impose herself on opponents, rebuild her mental resilience and achieve a level of performance she had never dared to believe possible.

When the pair were first introduced by Cornell University’s Head of Squash, the former world no.1 David Palmer, 14 months after her accident, ‘Siva’ had sufficiently recovered (at least in a physical sense) to feel able to return to the squash court. But her performances in Ivy League squash were way below previous standards. She was plagued by despair and self-doubt.

Siva admits:

“I was having a few anger issues and my emotions were taking over as I was putting too much pressure on myself. Before the accident I was at my best world ranking. I was trying to get back to where I was previously and it was too much for me. I knew I needed the tools to help me.”

A NEW IDENTITY

Jesse’s starting point was to acknowledge the accident, but wipe the slate clean. This corresponds with his philosophy: “We don’t control what happens, we control how we respond.’ “That is a cornerstone in how I work with athletes,” he says.

“We can learn from the past but the important thing were tools and methods to get Siva to the next level. It was very forward-facing.”

Jesse identified early on that Siva lacked an identity on court. “I didn’t think she was really expressing herself as a player,” he states.

“She was playing within herself, reacting to her opponent, rather than setting her stall out and putting her mark on the court. This set a benchmark: her opponents would have to deal with her, rather than Siva fearing anyone else.”

This process was reinforced using visualisations and breathwork (using a company called The Oxygen Advantage developed and run by Patrick McKeown). The technique of slow breathing was to prove crucial months later at the London Squash Classic, where the first 20 seconds between games were all breathwork and no conversation.

REMAINING IN ‘THE PRESENT’

‘Working on remaining ‘in the present’ and filtering out external distractions was their focus in preparation for the Asian Games in Hanzhou, China, in the autumn of 2023. Subramaniam was top seed and Malaysia’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony. Future government funding hinged on the team’s performance. Under big pressure, Siva delivered, winning two gold medals.

“Siva would be the first to admit that the quality of her squash, especially in the final, was not the highest but what was really cool was that she found a way,” reflects Jesse. “No matter the expectation and distractions, when you are playing it’s,

‘How can you come back to the present moment and deal with the obstacle in front of you?’

“It’s all about small manageable pieces, loss of self-awareness, where she was right now, what emotions she was experiencing and how to deal with all of that in this moment in time, to be able to get her over the line.”

SPORTMIND TOOLS

Siva herself reflects: “Jesse gave me new tools and breathing exercises and we spoke a lot about living in the moment and not in the past. Breathing, meditation and channelling are massive for me. They may only be small things, but if I am consistent they make a big difference. In terms of controlling anger issues it’s more conscious breathing and trying to stay calm. That helps a lot.

“One of the main things I like is that there is a reason behind every tool he gives me and [he explains how] other professional athletes have used this tool for specific reasons. He is not just telling you to do it, he is explaining the facts and the science behind it.”

‘We control the process, not the outcome’

PSA SUCCESS

After Hangzhou, it was back to the PSA World Tour and the Hong Kong Football Club Open where Siva’s recovery really began to gather momentum. She beat Sabrina Sobhy, Sarah-Jane Perry and Egyptian prodigy Amina Orfi to win the title.

After the final, Siva said: “Following the Asian Games I was starting to enjoy my squash and my level lifted. If I put too much pressure on myself I get tense. I just wanted to enjoy it and that is a big part of the process with Jesse and that all came together in Hong Kong.”

This process of taking the pressure off is rooted in focusing not on results but on the process. “When you get so tethered to the outcome – and every professional athlete wants to win – that is not positive,” explains Jesse. “We don’t control outcomes, we control the tools and processes that take us to the outcome.”

THE STAGE IS SET FOR ‘ALLY PALLY’

The outcome was certainly favourable five months later at the London Squash Classic, when she astoundingly beat seven-time world champion Nour El Sherbini in the quarter-finals, lost match balls in the fourth game of the semi-final against Nele Gilis before winning in five, then clinched the title on her seventh match ball after an 81-minute epic against world no.2 Hania El Hammamy.

“She didn’t panic, used her tools and made sure that all her mental training for those next 20 seconds kicked in,” said a proud Jesse. “The tools she has been using and the ability to ignore all of that mental pressure – she handled it like an absolute superstar at Alexandra Palace.”

Siva said:

“Without the work I have done with Jesse I don’t think I would have had the success I did at the London Classic. Definitely not!

“Before I started work with Jesse I knew I needed to improve my mental strength but I didn’t know just how big a part of making things a success the mental aspect is… I am just happy to be working with Jesse and look forward to continue working with him for years to come.”

GET MORE FROM SPORTMIND

SportMind.io is a hub of resources designed to build athletes’ mental resilience, peak focus and optimal performance through techniques just like those Jesse used so successfully with Siva Subramaniam.

Why not come and check out the next 6-week Accelerator group coaching program?

By joining in, you will receive practical tools and methods to enhance your mental game. Be presented with proven, scientifically-backed protocols for mental training.

Watch your focus improve, confidence flourish, and consistency soar when you apply the tools you’ll learn in The SportMind Accelerator!

CLICK HERE to find out more and sign up today.

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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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