Philosophy, Analysis, Practicality, Strategy and Execution in Squash. A five part series by Richard Millman. Part 2: Analysis
Phlilosophy, analysis, practicality, strategy and execution in Squash.
A five part series, by Richard Millman.
Part 2. Analysis
As I said in the first of this series of five articles, the central pillar and most important priority in the game of Squash, and indeed in the struggle for life itself, is survival.
This powerful and apparently simple principle, is much less than simple to adhere to, however. In the complex application of behaviors that we see in Squash, the essential principle of life and death is often forgotten and is eclipsed by behaviors that should be being used to survive but, for various reasons, are given such focus and attention, that they improperly take on a life of their own and receive undue or misplaced attention – ultimately to the detriment of their original essential purpose.
In order to develop as a Squash player it is essential to clearly analyze and clearly understand the capacities required to survive, without becoming sidetracked.
In the battle for life, ultimate survival is a punishing razor’s edge where complacency or mis-judgement, over-confidence or loss of focus, have only one outcome:
Since time immemorial, human beings have been engaged in the battle for survival against other species and against our own species.
Whichever it was against, two key traits were and are required in order to succeed, overcome and survive. These two traits are as true today as they were a million years ago or however long ago it was that our ancestors first fought to survive.
These two traits work in combination, are as important as each other, are interdependent, but must never be confused or used as substitutes for one another.
The first can be termed ‘Primary focus.’
Primary focus is used to ‘attend’ to a human being’s most immediate and urgent matters at hand (more on the much mistaken concept of attention in a later part of this series).
In primeval times it may have been used to follow the spoor or trail of prey, or to attend to a Grizzly bear that suddenly confronted you, or a hostile member of our own species who was attacking.
On the Squash court Primary Focus is concerned with the ball.
Only the ball.
The second of these essential traits that work in concert for our survival can be termed ‘Peripheral Awareness.’
Peripheral Awareness is used to continuously scan your surroundings and the environment around which a human being’s most immediate and urgent matter at hand is transpiring.
In primeval times it may have been the forest around the trail you were tracking to ensure that you didn’t step on a dry twig and give your presence away or break your ankle stepping into a gopher hole, it may have been detailed awareness of the immediate area in order to escape or trap the Grizzly bear confronting you, it may have been knowledge of the obstacles around you and your attacker as you fought for survival – to ensure that you didn’t lose your footing or have your ability to maneuver thwarted.
On the Squash court Peripheral Awareness is concerned with everything except the ball.
It is what we use to continuously be intimately familiar with the entire court and our place within it.
It is what we use to continuously be aware of our opponent’s position, their options,the angles of possibility of those options and the best location from which to equilaterally defend the court against the specific options of that moment.
It is what we use to continuously be aware of imminent happenings such as the opponent imminently hitting the ball or the ball imminently hitting the nick or ourselves imminently running into a wall or our opponent or their racquet.
It is what we use in the process known as Hand/Eye coordination – a vastly useful tool that humans use in the survival process, not just to strike a moving object, but to judge the intersection of any moving objects – and that with a level of accuracy that is as extraordinary as it is microscopic.
It is what we use in an inextricable partnership with our Primary Focus to attempt to avoid death.
These two then, are the tools of human survival and success.
We use them to manage the commodity of survival.
But what is the commodity of survival?
That which a surfeit of means life and a lack thereof turns us into slaves and even leads to death?
It is non other than Time itself.
That monstrous, slippery, never-ending, fickle, resource.
The dance of life and death wherein human beings have used the two vital perception systems that I have described, Primary Focus and Peripheral Awareness, in order to lethally manage Time, is as old as mankind and as paramount today as it was then and all the days between.
It was and is still the difference between you and the Tiger’s jaws, between you releasing your arrow and the Antelope escaping, between your swerving body and your opponent’s sword tip or your sword tip and their body, and in Squash between you and the ball being struck by your opponent and then bouncing twice and between your opponent and you striking the ball and it bouncing twice.
It is a minuscule amount of time that when marginally increased by stealing it from your opponent or expanding it through management of your actions, can make you feel enormously powerful; conversely that minuscule amount of time can be rapidly lost by loss of focus or poor decisions or by incapacity and suddenly you are the most miserable pauper in the world.
Survival is determined by your capacity to balance time in your favor. But that balancing act is performed on a razors edge and unless you have analyzed just precisely what is required to survive and prepared yourself to be able to practically do so, disaster awaits you.
The tools at your disposal: Primary Focus and Peripheral Awareness.
The task you must perform with those tools: The management of the time between you and the ball being struck and bouncing twice.
The prize: Survival – in the face of the opponent’s efforts to do so.
But how do we practically manage time? What are the necessary assets and skills required to effectively manage these tools that we have carefully analyzed? And what are the pitfalls?
In my next article I will discuss the Practicality of Survival.
Philosophy, Analysis, Practicality, Strategy and Execution in Squash. A five part series by Richard Millman. Part 1: Philosophy
Phlilosophy, analysis, practicality, strategy and execution in Squash.A five part series, by Richard Millman.
Part 1. Philosophy
As I write, that extraordinary railway terminus in New York, Grand Central Station, and more particularly the wonderful Vanderbilt Hall, is once again echoing with the ‘thud,’ ‘thud,’ ‘thud,’ of a rubber ball against glass walls.
For those of us that are lifelong addicts, this is both the source of pride and frustration.
Pride, in that the whole world walks through Grand Central and sees the best that our game has to offer, and frustration in that neither we nor they have the capacity to instantly understand the complexity of what is happening.
To the casual observer, the spectacular ‘cockpit’ enclosing two pretty fit looking athletes is a momentary distraction, perhaps even the subject of a few minutes of novel fascination. But, after a while the number of variables become simply too much to absorb and the passer-by moves on to something that he or she is more familiar with.
If it was an NFL game or and NBA game, observers both casual and expert would have a shared general understanding of roughly what was happening. But in Squash, not only do the casual and expert observers not share a basic understanding of what is happening, the experts themselves are still trying to understand what is going on. Such is the complexity of our sport.
To the lifelong addict such as myself, these games are the source of amazement, as young people and the people around them, wholly dedicated to a pursuit that has limited financial rewards ( and those only at the very top of the game), push themselves past any perceivable limitations in the search for survival and success.
Ultimately those two – survival and success – are interchangeable.
In the same way that the cockerel that survived in the bloody onslaught of the historical cockpit, was successful.
In a fight for life and death between two combatants, survival is success and vice-versa.
That is the simple and pure philosophy of Squash.
Whether you are a passer-by at Grand Central or one of the leading experts in the game, it is imperative that you look at Squash through the ‘lens’ of survival, if you hope to gain an understanding.
But to understand how to survive requires detailed analysis and comprehension of the physical, mental, technical, emotional and strategic aspects of that survival.
And that study is a maelstrom of widely diverging opinion often backed by powerful, charming, charismatic, famous, forceful, experienced personalities, but rarely (if ever) by logical, empirical study.
Expert opinion is only that – opinion. And too often that opinion is accepted as fact. Our sport needs firmer ground than opinion alone as a foundation. We must be able to hold our understanding up to the candle of proof.
Opinion without facts is like a house built on sand.
Squash needs more than that if it is to reach its maximum success, indeed if it is to fight for its own survival.
In my next piece, I will look at the analysis required to accurately identify and highlight the unbelievably complex kaleidoscope of behaviors that are required for a Squash player to ultimately survive.
Hopefully accurate analysis will make the subtleties of Squash more accessible both to folks who happen upon our sport as they wander through Vanderbilt Hall, and to those who wish to expose themselves to the ultimate challenge of the life and death fight for survival in the arena.