Ask The Pro – Daryl Selby

If you ever watch the PSA Youtube shots of the month, one player who always seems to find himself on that list is Britain’s Daryl Selby. Daryl Selby is a top 25 squash player and former world number 9 ranked squash player.

What I love about Daryl in this interview is not only his confidence in himself, but he is down to earth. He really is just another one of the guys.” Somebody who you play on the court in an intense squash match, and then go grab a beer with him afterward. A few takeaways I had from the interview that you can use today:

  1. A winner’s mindset is defined by the unwavering belief in yourself
  2. Daryl trains and works out without music – so he can be fully in the moment and experience everything with 100% attention
  3. Find ways to play more team squash – setup club vs club matches. Team squash was one of Daryl’s highlights from his career.
  4. If club players can focus on 1 thing, practice ghosting patterns and your footwork!

To stay connected with Daryl, you can find him at:

Daryl Selby Interview

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  00:01

Alright, Daryl. I appreciate you taking the time here. This is Jonathan with Boss Squash. Let’s dive right into our discussion here on Ask the Pro. So, Daryl, let’s start from the beginning. Outside of squash what sports did you play growing up?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  00:26

I played a lot of football or soccer as you guys call it. I played a bit of cricket as well. So, they were sort of along with squash, those are the three main sports I played.

I did a bit of cross country running when I was younger, but essentially, yeah, really, it was squash, cricket and football.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  00:52

Nice. And how were you first introduced to squash?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  01:00

So lucky enough my dad started playing when he was in his early 20s and fell in love with squash. He was a member of a club called Bishop’s Stratford Squash Club,  which is about an hour outside London.

So I’ve got a younger sister and then a younger brother. As they came along, mom and dad were outnumbered at home. So at around five years old, dad would take me to the club with him to get me out of the house and give mom one less kid to look after. I just jumped on the squash court in between when he was playing. And yeah, that’s how I learned to play and how I started playing.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  01:52

Well, that’s pretty good. So really, it was your dad brought you along because he wanted to play and then you were kind of exposed to it.

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  02:03

Exactly.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  02:04

That’s awesome. I know I played all the sports my dad played too. I think having a parent involved helps get you excited about it. Broadly speaking, when you think about growing the game, I think parents have just as much a part of it and getting their kids involved as, as you know, a kid just finding the game for example.

This is getting go a little off-script here, I think this is a really interesting question. What skills do you think football and cricket taught you that you were able to either carry over to squash or you think have helped to contribute to your squash game.

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  03:02

Yeah, good question. With cricket that’s obviously a big hand-eye coordination thing similar to baseball in the States. You have to be able to pick up a ball really quickly and time it really well. That obviously translates across to squash.

Football and cricket are team sports. They gave me a real love of being part of a team which is then translated into squash in terms of different successes I’ve had with different teams, especially with playing for England.

And then I think on a physical point, I think football, playing four or five times a week, gave me a good quickness off the mark. And good leg strength which I’ve always sort of had from playing football at a young age.

Therefore, I haven’t had too many serious injuries from anything really. And I think that comes down to just playing a lot of sports when I was younger and therefore having that sort of natural strength in the legs to support my body playing squash. I think that’s something that made a big difference in terms of injury prevention for when I’ve become professional.

But yeah, the translation for football really is the speed of that sort of three-yard sprint and I think that translates to squash. Squash and football sort of helped each other – so much of the squash movement definitely helped my football, I was always quick off the mark playing football and I think that came from changing direction quickly playing squash as well. Which gave me an advantage in both sports I think really.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  04:50

How do you think about stamina and endurance from football as it translates to squash? Squash has consistent bursts of energy, while soccer you are maintaining over the course of the match. How do you think about it?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  05:36

It is a bit different. Within football, you’re doing longer running versus sprinting. Obviously, you need that quick burst, but you’re used to changing direction a bit more.

In squash, you’re lunging in and out of positions and there’s not that longer sprint or longer jog that you have. So it’s sort of a different kind of fitness. It’s a little bit hard to explain, but definitely it feels different when you’re on a squash court compared with on a football pitch, that’s for sure.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  06:18

Cool. So when did you first know that squash is going to be more than a hobby for you and when did you feel like you discovered your talent and ability to play?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  06:38

To answer the first part in knowing that squash was going to possibly be a career was I never really thought of it as a career path. When I was a kid, I just played it because I enjoyed it. I never really thought about what I wanted to do when I was older. I know a lot of kids have aspirations to be in a certain career, whether it’s a doctor or an astronaut, or whatever it might be. And a lot of other kids in other sports always thought they’d want to be a professional.

But with squash, it wasn’t an obvious choice to be a professional because there wasn’t a lot of money in the game. And I don’t know, I just never thought of it as a career path really. Until I finished university and I thought, well go do something serious now go and get a job or go and travel the world and play squash for a bit. So why not do that? Yeah, squash sounds better than getting the job. So yeah, that was sort of my thought process on squash as a career.

In terms of knowing that I was pretty good at it, as a kid, I was lucky enough that I had good hand-eye coordination. So I tended to play with the older kids and I was always one of the better kids (unless you throw me in a swimming pool and then I’m drowning)! But anything with a ball basically I tended to be pretty much the best.

So with squash I think I got picked to play or pay to join the National Training Team when I was 8 or 9 years old. Back then they actually had an under-10 national training squad which I was a part of, which I think they don’t have it that young now.

But back then they did and James Willstrop was on the first international school I did when I was I think I was just nine years old and he was eight years old. And back then we actually had to stay away from our parents for a night. This is crazy to think about; I can’t think about my 7.5-year-old son going away somewhere and spending a night during training is a bit crazy, but back then it was a little bit more normal.

So I think that was the point when someone from a national team sort of said, that you’re good enough to be part of a training camp for the best players in the whole of the country. That was for me, as little eight-year-old Daryl, a little like, “Oh, well, I must pretty good at this, this particular sport, right?” And, when I said I was normally the best at whatever ball sport I’m talking about at school, you know, because that’s the only people you compare yourself to when you’re that age, you don’t plan really any competitions any further than like a local level and obviously, football was on your local level. So when you then put it on a national level, and parents are explaining, “this is the whole country, one of the best ones in the whole country” and that sort of, you know, it’s not your own kid who’s like, Oh, wow.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  10:00

So, yeah, it expands your perspective at that time. So at 8 or 9 years old, you figured out that you were pretty good and you were selected to a team with other really good players like James Willstrop. Talk about your transition from juniors to the pro level, and what was the toughest thing about the transition and what was easier than you thought it would be.

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  10:43

Yeah. So for me, I went and studied for three years from when I was 18 to 21, and got a degree so those three years obviously physically, I matured quite a lot. I was physically stronger by the time I was 21. And spending three years living by yourself at University gave me a lot more life experience in general – looking after myself, cooking for myself, all that type of stuff.

After University, I felt like I climbed up and I was in the top 50 in the world in less than 18 months from finishing school. It was a really quick jump, but I genuinely don’t think I would have made the same strides had I done exactly the same thing. [If I was a pro at 18] I just wouldn’t have been physically able to cope with the sort of demands at the pro level and traveling around the world and looking after yourself. It is a little bit different at 21 and those emotional characteristics and mental challenges. It can affect you when you’re out miles away from home, having to deal with playing under pressure and planning different tournaments. I think the life experience I had at university definitely helped me cope with the different situations when I was away from home.

So yeah, I think having started at 21 for me, was perfect. Also, now with some 18-year-olds who have the good potential don’t necessarily transition straight to Pro squash. It does take them quite a while. And yeah, I can’t say what would have happened for me but I definitely think starting at 21 was a benefit.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  12:50

Nice. So starting at age 21 on the pro tour, when did you feel like you “arrived?”

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  13:09

Yeah, I think when I got to the top 50, stayed there for a little bit and then sort of progressed up to sort of 21st in the world and then sort of stayed there for a little bit. You go through these periods of improvements and then plateau; and then improvements and then plateau. Then, I jumped up to like number 11 in the world, having a couple of really good tournaments.

One memory was when I made the finals in Hong Kong of a platinum event when I was outside the top 20. I qualified and then I remember beating a top 16 player and then a number 8 player to make it to the quarterfinals.

Another tournament right after I did really well too. That stretch gave me the confidence to really sort of push on and it put me in the top 20. So I think I jumped up from 17 to 11 over a period of 2-3 months. I was getting good results against top players. I said confidence boost and really made me feel like I belonged in the top 20 at last, right?

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  14:34

Well, if you go from 17 to 11, and we’re just doing the math, that’s like 35% increase, so that’s pretty good!

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  14:45

Yeah. I think the month before that, I’ve checked but I think it was like 26 to 11 in the span of two or three months. So yeah, that was definitely the arrival stage.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  15:03

That’s awesome. Hopefully, maybe some of your good Juju will come on to me after this call. I don’t know. So I could jump up my club ladder! What would you describe as your career highlight to this point?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  15:19

The one that sticks in my mind is the 2013 World Championships where we as England became world champions. That was a great, great week. Great moment. For me personally, I’ve been part of two other teams which have lost in the final of the World Championship. So to win that one and play for all of us, it was amazing.

I probably had my best ever performance in my team match. So to pull that out of the bag in a world championship is something that you look back on very fondly. I played Tarek Momen. He was Egypt’s number three. I won 3-0, but it was a long match. It was 55 minutes in length. So the rallies were long but I just literally gave him nothing. And I think none of the games were even close. I think it was like 11-5, 11-3, 11-7, or something like that. Yeah, definitely my best ever match looking back on it and considering this or circumstances and pressure and stuff like that.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  16:51

Under the bright lights, you aren’t scared!

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  16:56

Honestly, you tried before, we’re trying, that’s the way I look at it as they’re the moments you want to be in. These are the moments you want to be in, to embrace and enjoy. Right?

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  17:09

Yeah. And I have another question related to that, related to what I call a Winner’s Mindset. You touched on it, with your career highlight being at the Team World Championship. Squash is a single-player sport, just you and the other guy. But can you talk more about that team component in a single-player sport? How was the team championship different and what did that mean to you?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  17:53

Yeah, it’s a funny one, isn’t it? The world championships are a team sport, but you’re obviously playing your own individual match so you’re not actually sharing the pitch or the court with other players apart from your opponent.

So it’s a weird one as you have your own individual match within a team atmosphere. So the team spirit is the same off the court, in that everything you do, you’re trying to do together. But you have those small moments of individualism where you go off from the team; you go by yourself and take yourself away and mentally prepared by yourself most of the time.

Obviously, you can talk about tactics with a team. One of the benefits of playing that match on the court is knowing that just outside the corner you’ve got like 7 members of your team and staff that are there to support you. Which you don’t always have as an individual; you might just have your one coach there.

So, yeah, I’m playing for the people as well, but when you play well or poor, still at the end of the day, it comes back to you. If you haven’t put the training in, it comes back to you, But when you’re playing as a team, you know, other people are relying on you. And therefore you always have to be self-accountable and put 100% effort and no one can blame you for having a bad day in the office as long as you’re putting in 100%. You give everything you can for the rest of the team, and I think that’s all as a team member I would ever ask of anyone that I play with is that they give 100% and never give up on anything and try their best because that’s all we can ask. But then the best teams always have the players that pull it out of the bag when they need to.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  19:49

Yeah. A great segue into this next question. How you would describe a winner’s mindset?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  20:06

Yeah,  it’s a belief in yourself and your teammates, this is something that you have to fully believe. You have to know that when the pressure is on, you are going to perform. There’s only a handful of people and players and athletes that really, truly have that, you know, and not everyone has it all the time.

I’ve had it certain points in my career where I fully believe and have absolute confidence in myself and my ability. Then there are other points when you are a little bit down in confidence, you might not be playing as well and you don’t 100% have that belief. There can be certain things that change that it in or out of your control and that’s the interesting part.

I think the best players in the world have that winner’s mindset the majority of the time in the highest amounts and obviously have a belief in themselves where they constantly win. They know that when they’re in the midst of war, the height of battle that their best play comes through. But I think as you know, the mental side of the game is definitely undervalued. And I think that’s the same in a lot of sports.

Lots of people do appreciate and understand it, but there’s also a lot of people that don’t understand the actual amount of difference that the mental game makes. I think everyone appreciates the mental side of the game, but undervalue how big a part it plays.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  21:49

Yeah, I think of squash being like active chess, where each shot is really about the next two shots. And you may have come into the game with a specific game plan. Then you figure out “hey, my opponents actually playing that plan well.” Now, how am I going to do to adjust to that? So It’s been something I’ve heard more about when watching a sports documentary or reading biographies about players and talking about the mental aspect of the game. Sports psychology is a growing field of study, and I think some players have embraced it. At least a lot more people are aware of it.

To your point on the mental part of the game, have you ever used sports psychology? How do you think about sports psychology?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  23:15

I think about it but have not really done everything properly. I think you have to find someone that you believe understands you and understands the way you think, and why you think certain things. It’s not an easy one. It’s the same sort of relationship that you would have with a coach. There are lots of people that are very good coaches, but you have to get on with them and personality-wise and in other ways as well.

I think psychology is similar really, and you need someone that’s going to understand you and understand what motivates you and how the best way of getting top performance out of you. I’ve sort of always done a lot of that stuff myself and I think I’ve always been mentally tough anyway, especially on the squash court. That was always drilled into me as a kid and also from my coach  Neil Harvey when I was younger. Being coached by Neil for five years definitely toughened me up and gave me a really good solid base of being mentally tough.

Also, toughness comes intrinsically by being a competitive person. You are able to deal with criticism labels, deal with others point of view as well and not take it too hard. You just get on with stuff as well and enjoy the hard work. When you get to a goal you are that much happier because you went through the ringer and put it in the time.

There’s lots of athletes out there that think they train hard but they’re nowhere near training as hard as they could. I believe that comes down to mental capacity and being unable to really push yourself past where you think you can go. Where you think you can go and where you can actually go is a long way away from each other. You may think that you’re pushing yourself to the max but you’ve still got always got another 20%-30%. That’s just your brain.

Your brain in these moments says two things. The first thing it says is “I’ve had enough, I don’t want to do this anymore.” And then there is something else that says “Come on, let’s go harder.” And you need that little devil on your shoulder to be able to push you past what you think you can do. We can still go more and more and more. That’s sort of where, you know, sports psychology comes into play, and I definitely have that.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  26:09

I 100% agree, you can’t teach that. And, it’s not just a thing squash or sports, but it’s a big thing in life. When you come up against something, find a way to enjoy the hard work. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, but there is just the myth that things “should” be easy or you want to find a shortcut. The reality is that people who get to your level of sport, or the level of a successful business person or a doctor or lawyer is that you can’t avoid the hard work to get to the top.

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  27:11

Absolutely. I’ll give you a real-life working example of that. Whenever I trained. I’ve never listened to music, and I never watch TV and I never do anything to take my mind off what I’m doing. I don’t want to distract or detract from feeling the hard work and feeling how hard it is to do something.

I don’t want to be taken away from that; I want to embrace it and I want to be in it. Because then when I’m feeling that same feeling in a match, I don’t want my mind taken away from it because I’m listening to music. So in my training, I am fully there with no distractions. It’s just a personal thing for me. I don’t like my mind being taken off of the task at hand. I’m happy to just concentrate on one thing at a time.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  28:43

That’s definitely something I may have to try myself. For me, I just listen to a beat with no lyrics. But I think you touched on a good point, which is how you simulate a match or a moment in a match. And you do that by “embracing the suck.”

I don’t know who, who coined that term, but I’ve heard it before and it’s just kind of like, Alright, we’re in this bit of hard work. And something I don’t think enough people talk about is being on the other side of the hard work. After you’re complete, you have so much pride and joy from the accomplishment. And even if you didn’t accomplish what you set out, you pushed yourself to complete failure. You’re going to be lying down in your bed that day knowing you gave everything and you did your best. That’s really all you can ask for.

I love talking about sports psychology stuff and not skipping the hard work. I think we’re close to time. But I’ve got maybe two more questions for you. When I watch the PSA YouTube channel and I look at the shots of the month, you’re often in the mix there. Do you practice deceptive shots? Or does it just come at the moment? Or how do you think about that part of your game?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  31:21

Both, to be honest. It’s a natural thing. If I’m honest, there’s a little bit of laziness because I’m not moving. In an ideal world, you want to move your feet a bit more, but I’ve got good hands and I tend to use that as a get out.

So if it needs to be played through my legs, then I’ll do that. But at the same time, I do practice it. Therefore, it does come more naturally to me to be in a position to not move my feet; so now I can hit the shot without moving my feet.

Yeah, it’s just one of those things you experiment with different things. That’s what I say to the kids – experiment hitting the ball in different ways to try and understand the racket and understand the strings. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work; but by practicing it and trying different things you at least know what you can and can’t do. That really just comes from me, mucking about on the squash court and trying new things and then translating that into matches.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  32:39

Nice. Yeah, I don’t think I can hit some of the shots I’ve seen from you!

Let’s put our future glasses on here for the sport of squash: where would you like to see squash in the future?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  33:11

I’d love to see squash on the same level as tennis. That’s me being ambitious. Squash is a great sport, it is just getting more people to appreciate the subtleties of it how hard it is physically.

I think we need some more characters and controversy. Players that will bring something more to the game. Tennis has been hanging on at the moment because of Federer and Nadal and Djokovic and Serena Williams. Outside of them, then it falls on Nick Kyrgios shoulders in my opinion because he is the only other interesting player. Kyrios has it more from the controversial side, but he is able to get a crowd or anyone motivated to watch tennis.

Tennis will not go away but it’s definitely going to have less followers once those big guys stop. You need the characters, someone that’s going to get you talking about them and make you pay to see them.

In squash, we’ve had guys like Gregory Gaultier and Ramy Ashour. Gaultier with his passion, and Ramy Ashour with his wizardry. That’s not to say we don’t have characters; we just need to keep facilitating and showing the characters that we have.

I think character development helps with the Olympics. Also, grassroots squash advocacy is important. More courts can be built in countries all around the world and you expose more people to the game. I think it would definitely help the sport on a global scale. Definitely.

So I’d love to see Squash in the Olympics, but I’d love to see squash athletes be appreciated. I think they’re massively underappreciated. The skill level, the fitness level, the complexity of the sport, how hard the athlete’s train, I think should be rewarded and appreciated more by the general public.

I think the media could help a lot more, especially over here in Europe. In the UK, where we’ve had World Champions and individual champions, the national successes have not really been pushed by the sports media. They’re still obsessed with other sports. But we can’t moan about; we need to find a way for squash to exhilarate and entertain a younger audience. Luckily I’m involved in some groups and sit on some boards to help facilitate that happening over the next 5 to 10 years.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  36:33

Right? Well so if I see you in the ear of some player on the side and then I see him, do something crazy on the court, I’m going to come back to this conversation and remember he said, we need more characters and controversy. No, I think a lot of what you said is spot on you know, golden age of tennis, what’s going to happen then and you know, what keeps people coming back to sport and loving. It is When you’re either watching greatness, or when you’re, you know, seeing somebody who’s doing more than just the game and I think, you know, squash has had its you know, there’s kind of two things that I think it needs to overcome one just kind of the quote unquote elitist kind of sport, it’s not accessible to everybody, but it’s in reality and it is. And two which, you know, kind of also plays into, you know, I mean of course, you want to have great sportsmanship and everything, and it’s a kind of a gentlemen’s game and whatever, but, you know, people like seeing people care about it, and you know, getting excited and,  you mentioned, Gaul TA,  I mean, when he when he’s pumping his fist and yelling at the crowd, it’s like,  I mean, how can you just not get into it like that? Yeah. So I think that’s a great point. So to end, Darrell, why But what if you could impart any advice to you know, Junior players or club players? Or say hey, if you guys if you can focus on this one thing for your game and it’s going to be a great multiplier for your game. What would that be?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  38:24

Oh, it’s a movement around the corner like it’s such an underrated skill. Someone said to me other day about how locked down and not being able to get on the squash court. They’ve been coaching players off the core outside and just been working on movement and ghosting thing. They’ve already seen a massive difference, you know, like just in terms of the way they approach balls, the way they can come in and out shots without overriding things. I think as an added supplier, the tendency is to run and hit and run and hit when actually You shouldn’t really be running too much unless you’re doing a diagonal you should be sort of stepping in London stepping in London, I don’t think that translates, you know, too well. And as soon as someone grasps that you can see their level increase very quickly because suddenly they’re spending a lot more time on the team in the middle of the call, because they’re stepping and lunging properly, rather than running and hitting and running and hitting, I think that you know, as a as a junior learn the game as well, just learning the right way to move a younger age that obviously helps and transitions that through, because a lot of the time being in the right position to hit the ball makes a massive difference to the quality of shot as well. So if as long as you’re moving your feet to be in the right position to hit it, then yeah, that makes a massive difference. So I would say, you know, like if you’re having lessons or if you’re going and practicing and hitting and doing solos, and you wanted to improve as a junior on avatar, like don’t sort of forget About the ghosting and the movement side of things to really, really improve your game as well you don’t always need a ball on there to improve basically that’s something a lot of people don’t consider even consider or necessarily.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  40:14

Right, and if you go back to fundamentals of a squash swing, it all starts with having your feet in the proper place. If you’re swinging all arms & shoulders, you’re missing out on 60% of your power and ability to make good contact.

Is there anything that you want to leave with the audience or anything that you’d want to expand upon?

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  41:13

I think I covered a lot of good ground, especially some good stuff on the mental side of it. And yes, some background on me and the thoughts I’ve had. So, yeah, hopefully, it’s a little bit more interesting than just a generic conversation. Thanks for taking the time to interview me.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  42:15

Well, I really appreciate your time, and thanks for your flexibility.

The biggest thing I’ve had to take away from what you’ve talked about is the winner’s mindset. You have to be ready to perform and knowing you can do it by believing in yourself. Also, when not in a match you have to embrace hard work.

Those are two really good things. Then the last piece which is a practical takeaway for everyone, which is to practice movement and getting your footwork right. Those are three big things I’m taking away which is great. So, Daryl, I appreciate your time.

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  43:25

Sounds good. Thanks very much.

Jonathan, Boss Squash:  43:28

All right. Thanks, Daryl. See ya.

Daryl Selby, Squash Pro:  43:29

Take care. See you Bye.

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