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It’s all in the mind for Franklin

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Pressure-free squash: Micah Franklin returns to Diego Gobbi, of Brazil, during the Pan American Championships in Cayman Islands in September, where Bermuda qualified for the Pan Am Games

Micah Franklin believes he is in a far better place psychologically since adopting a more relaxed approach to squash as he prepares for the Pan American Games.

Franklin admits he has often been his own worst critic, allowing negative thoughts to infiltrate his mind after losing important games and occasionally becoming worn down by the pressures of professional squash.

However, the 27-year-old, who already has two Commonwealth Games under his belt, says he has undergone a mental transformation of sorts and is playing with a lightness and joy that he has rarely experienced in the past.

“I like to think I have a new outlook,” Franklin said. “I’ve started to have fewer concerns and don’t get as panicked if I don’t get the win.

“A little bit of pressure seems to be off me and I don’t know if that’s because I’m starting to approach the end of my career.

“At the moment, I’m playing really relaxed win or lose. Squash is such a mental sport and at times I’ve overthought things and nerves have got the better of me.

“I enjoy the kind of pressure where I’m sharp and focused but not nervous. When I overthink it, that’s when I start making myself nervous. If I can stay calm and collected, I think I’ll have my head in the right place.”

Franklin decided to have a second stab at full-time squash soon after competing at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Australia, last April, where he suffered a straight-sets defeat by Scotland’s Kevin Moran in the Classic Plate final.

Since then he has split his time between Bermuda and Toronto while chasing his dream on the Professional Squash Association World Tour.

“I did one last push this season to see how far I could take it,” said Franklin, who is ranked 160th in the world.

“There were some ups and downs as you’d expect; I had some good wins and some losses I didn’t expect.

“Losing to Noah [Browne] in the National Championships in February was a blow, although I’d had three tournaments back-to-back, which in hindsight was probably too much.

“Since then my focus has been the Pan Am Games. I’ve been crushing the fitness training and doing a lot of mental work, too.”

Franklin will join Browne and Nick Kyme in the first Bermuda team to reach the Pan American Games, with the singles competition starting today [Thursday], the day before the opening ceremony.

The trio qualified at the Pan American Squash Championships in Cayman Islands last September, where they had to finish in the top 12 and claimed the final berth with a 2-0 win over the British Virgin Islands.

Franklin and Browne will team up in the doubles, with the pair looking to replicate the kind of form that propelled them to a bronze medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cali, Colombia, last July.

“We’re thrilled to be there as we snuck in one of the last two qualifying spots,” said Franklin, who spent several years in Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire, honing his skills under the tutelage of esteemed coach Tim Vail before returning home in 2016 to work as a coach for the Bermuda Squash Racquets Association.

“There’s no pressure on us, as we’re one of the lower-ranked teams. We’re just looking to give it our best. Realistically, the three of us will be pushing for the top 16 in the individual event, but we think there’s a chance in the doubles and team event where anything can happen.”

In terms of experience, Franklin is sandwiched between Browne, who is making his debut at a major multi-sport event, and Kyme, a wily veteran of five Commonwealth Games. It is the perfect blend of personalities, according to Franklin, who says he readily draws on Browne’s youthful exuberance and the sage advice of Kyme to fuel his own competitive juices.

“Nick is our team captain and we rely on his experience,” Franklin added. “We turn to him for help and it’s great just to chat to him. Noah is fresh and hungry; you can see it in his eyes.

“He’s just keen to start pulling off upsets which is a great asset to have on the team. I can use them to either fuel me or keep me level-headed. I bounce off them.

“My preparation for the Commonwealths was more about me as an individual whereas this is about the team, which I actually prefer. I enjoy the camaraderie; I like the pressure of having to get the result for the team.

“A top eight finish [in the team event] would be amazing for us. We’re still on cloud nine to have even qualified.”

Diego Elías, of Peru, the world No 9, and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, of Colombia, the world No 6, are among the star names at the Games, which Franklin expects to be equally as competitive as the Commonwealths.

“The Pan Ams have a very strong top four nations: the United States, Canada, Mexico and Colombia,” he said. “Elías and Rodríguez are incredibly strong and it would be amazing just to be on court with them. There is going to be some stiff competition.”

Although he is not considering retirement just yet and has not ruled out a third Commonwealth Games when it rolls into Birmingham, England, in 2022, Franklin has already started making plans for life after squash.

If he had to hang up his racquet tomorrow, he says he would be more than content with his achievements.

“Sooner or later, I will be transitioning into the coaching side of things; that’s always something I’ve wanted to do,” he added. “I’ve always said that I don’t want any regrets and I’m getting to the stage where I’m starting to look at what I’ve done and being really proud of my accomplishments.

“If something happened tomorrow and God forbid I got injured and couldn’t play, I’d be OK. I’ll always train and stay fit because I love the sport, but I may start weaning myself off competing and travelling.

“All that aside, my focus is the Pan Ams and playing as hard as I can to pull off some upsets.”

No pressure: Micah Franklin will be as relaxed as they come at the Pan Am Games while spying a top-16 finish