Donna Lobban on playing squash at the optimal level

Donna Lobban is a professional Squash player from Australia and is the top-ranked Australian woman on the PSA World Tour. She excelled at a junior level, winning 5 Australian Junior titles in addition to claiming a runner-up spot at the 2003 British Junior Open.

Donna started playing on the PSA World Tour in 2006 and by the end of that year had risen more than 100 places in the world rankings to no.52. We recently caught up with the Aussie great, to chat all things squash.

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Donna Lobban poses with a Squash racket.
Donna Lobban poses with a Squash racket. Source: Supplied.

Zushan Hashmi: When we talk about injury, fans often assume that overcoming it is ‘easier’ for professional athletes, as they have the support structure, such as doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and so on, with them. What are your thoughts on this?

Donna Lobban: Some things may be easier as far as getting the best treatment and getting it as soon as possible, rather than having to go on waiting lists.

But what might make it seem easier is so much hard work goes into the rehab process compared to the average person. A full-time professional spends much more time and focus on it, therefore sometimes reducing recovery time and recovering stronger.

I think physical and mental health are just as important as each other when it comes to performing at your best.

What people might not realise is that’s when an athlete gets injured, it feels like the end of the world. Once you have time to get a bit of perspective on life, that is obviously not the case, but it can be very hard to deal with mentally when your sport is your life, and you have all these goals you are trying to achieve, then suddenly an injury can turn everything upside down for a while.

How has injury impacted your career, and what do you think have been some of the biggest challenges of overcoming it?

I have certainly been more unlucky than others when it comes to injury and I’ve had my fair share of them. One positive outcome of it all is that because of all the time spent off-court recovering from injuries, I think my body is actually not burnt out yet.

I feel like overcoming those injuries has held me back a bit from achieving my potential, so in an exciting way, even at this stage of my career, I think my best squash is still ahead of me.

One of the challenges you face when overcoming an injury is the fact that not only are you trying to get back to the level you were at before you were injured, you are then trying to play catch up on everybody else who have inevitably been improving while you were out of action.

Donna Lobban playing Squash
Donna Lobban playing Squash. Source: Supplied.

There are times when you wonder if it’s possible, but the best thing you can do is concentrate on yourself and not on anybody else. Concentrate on what you can control and improve step by step.

Mental health can be significantly affected by physical injury. When you are making a living from the sport you love, and an injury curtails your next game or tournament, what are the sort of things that go through your mind?

And how do you overcome these?

In terms of the challenges of overcoming injuries, every time you have an injury it is certainly hard to take initially. As an athlete, you are used to being selfish and mentally it can feel overwhelming when all your plans for your next game or tournament or your ranking seemingly fall apart in the blink of an eye.

I feel like overcoming those injuries has held me back a bit from achieving my potential, so in an exciting way, even at this stage of my career I think my best squash is still ahead of me.

I feel like overcoming those injuries has held me back a bit from achieving my potential, so in an exciting way, even at this stage of my career, I think my best squash is still ahead of me.

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However, I have been through things in my life that make an injury seem insignificant. When I was almost 18 I watched my brother die of cancer. He was just 20 years old.

He never complained about the situation or amount of pain he was in. So any time I am feeling sorry for myself about an injury, it doesn’t take me too long to get some perspective on life. I try to take strength from how strong he was in the direst of circumstances.

Donna Lobban strikes a difficult shot.
Donna Lobban strikes a difficult shot. Source: Supplied.

How important do you think managing both physical and mental health is to performing optimally on the court? And why?

I think physical and mental health is just as important as each other when it comes to performing at your best. It is obvious that squash is a sport that requires high levels of fitness, but it is also a sport that requires concentration, quick thinking, tactical awareness, patience and mental strength.

Therefore if you are not thinking clearly and in a positive frame of mind, it can be difficult to be at your best, no matter how physically strong you are.

It is great that there is a lot more awareness around mental health and sports psychology these days than there used to be, and more importance placed on it in relation to sports performance.

Donna Lobban high-fives her partner.
Donna Lobban high-fives her partner. Source: Supplied.

With the current global pandemic, focusing on one’s mental and physical health is of the highest importance, and even more so, for athletes, who are unable to compete professionally. You are currently in the UK, and things are only starting to open up there, unlike in Australia. Can you tell me a little about what sort of things you have been doing to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy?

Throughout the whole lockdown period in the UK, I have been fortunate to be able to keep fit and strong by doing lots of workouts at home and outside.

Even at the most strict level of lockdown, we were allowed outside once a day to exercise so I definitely made the most of that, whether it was going for a run or a bike ride, it became more than just physical training, it was refreshing to be able to get outside and enjoy the outdoors to keep a healthy mental state.

I like to play a fairly attacking style of squash in singles and I enjoy being able to do this even more with the lower tin height on the doubles court.

My husband Greg (also a squash player) and I were lucky we had each other to train with and we enjoyed the challenge of coming up with new and different training sessions, thinking outside the box of what we might usually do on the court and in the gym.

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We also enjoyed doing more of the simple things like learning to cook new recipes and reading. I even started studying a TAFE course which I’ll be doing over the next 2 years alongside my squash career.

Coming to a little about your career in specific, what was it like to win the Commonwealth Gold with your cousin, Cameron Pilley in 2018?

It was unbelievable. I have dreamed of what winning a Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games would feel like since I was a little kid watching it on TV.The feeling of actually achieving it is something I will never forget. To have been able to do it at a home Games with the Aussie crowd cheering us on, in front our family and friends, and to do it with my cousin who has always been a huge inspiration to me since I started playing squash, is just surreal.

We have both come from pretty humble beginnings in a tiny town in Australia, and I’m so proud of what we both achieved.

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And in that regard, how does your game change from when you’re playing singles to doubles?

The tactical game of doubles is massively different from the singles game of squash. You have to learn to think outside the box of the ‘typical’ shots you would choose to play and learn how to use the angles of the wider court and lower tin.

You learn to have a good awareness of where your opponents are and how to work them both out of position to expose space in the court.

I like to play a fairly attacking style of squash in singles and I enjoy being able to do this even more with the lower tin height on the doubles court.

What would you say was the highlight of your career

Up until this point, I would have to say winning Gold at the Commonwealth Games definitely tops my list!

Donna Lobban strikes a winning pose.
Donna Lobban strikes a winning pose with Cameron Pilley. Source: Supplied.

Having played squash professionals for over a decade, what are your thoughts on the future of squash in Australia? We have seen the decline of the game, but also a resurgence more recently. What do you think needs to be done to grow it further?

I would love to see squash become more popular in Australia again. Hopefully, more new squash centres can be built to make it more desirable for people to play, and for more kids especially to take it up.

Quality comes in numbers, and the more kids that play, the more they will challenge each other’s level to keep improving.

And lastly, what are you looking forward to in the future? And what are your plans?

At the moment I am looking forward to the PSA World Tour restarting and getting back to playing professionally again after the Covid-19 layoff.

I’m looking forward to hopefully competing at the next Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. In the future after my squash career, I’d love to become a Mum one day.

I am currently doing a course in Event Management and I’m excited to see where that takes me down the track as well.

You can follow Donna LobBan on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or visit her website here.
For more Squash related content, visit Sportageous.
The curation of the article was supported by Kinza Tahir. You can follow her here on Linkedin.

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