Things are not always as they seem.
by Richard Millman
What have a forest, The Great One, Sir Isaac Newton, a locker room full of boisterous teenagers and David and Goliath got to do with one another?
Not immediately sure?
Well, let me tell you a story.
When I was a boy my mother, in an effort to help me look at the big picture instead sticking with my all too common myopathy, would say to me, “Richard, your trouble is you can’t see the wood for the trees.”
What she meant, of course, was that my frequent obsession with some minor component often prevented me from seeing how that component functioned in the big picture of whatever it was that I was trying to understand. My efficiency and indeed my success all to often suffered.
As we all progress in the field of squash, we too need to ensure that we don’t get bogged down in minutiae but always relate specific areas of focus to how they are meant to function in the totality of the game.
Sport at its best is a game of proactivity not reactivity. This is particularly true of squash where a readiness to cope with whatever is thrown at us is an essential of the game. If we only focus on what we are trying to do, we will be unprepared for whatever comes next. In consequence great squash is about developing an awareness of everything that could possibly happen and being prepared to respond to anything.
Of course to that you have to know what could happen and you have to be ready before it does.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky summed this up perfectly when he said, “ Don’t go to where the puck is, go to where it is going to be.”
Constantly positioning oneself ahead of the play, in other words, is the key to greatness.
Sir Isaac Newton gave so much to the world and squash is no stranger to his largesse. In his second law of motion he told us, “ Force = Mass x Acceleration.”
We of the squash community should really pay attention to that equation.
One group that understands what Sir Isaac told us, even if they are unaware that they are using his second law of motion and they are misbehaving, are boisterous teenagers in a locker room.
Armed with slightly damp towels, they put Sir Isaac’s math into action with dramatic effect.
Holding their damp towels alarmingly at the ready, they load their legs and just as they push back away from their team mates, while still leaning their balance toward the targeted area of exposed skin, they convert their mass into a wave of force by skillfully channeling their entire bodyweight into a chain reaction of whiplash that leaves a nasty welt on the skin – which is usually returned with interest.
Yes! They move away from the victim while delivering their body weight in an energy wave through the towel, using a highly skilled piece of timing where the fractional delay between the legs pushing back and the arm coming forward, produces a powerful wave of whiplash.
This whiplash has been instinctively understood by human beings for millennia. It has been used to separate the wheat from the chaff in the medieval practice of flailing and of course the young shepherd boy David used Sir Isaac’s latterly recognized law to kill Goliath with his sling-shot.
So where does that leave us?
Here is where it leaves us.
When we play squash we need to keep in mind our overall purpose and make sure the mechanics we use facilitate what is most important.
What is most important is that we are always moving ahead of the game and not getting stuck in one place such that we focus on a single moment of the game rather than the whole game.
To this end when we move to retrieve the ball, the shot that we are about to play is primarily of relevance to where it can take us in the future – not primarily about how well we hit that shot. The shot in itself is not the focus – it is only important as a part of the big picture.
Wayne Gretzky told us not to go where the puck ( ball) is, but where it will be.
That doesn’t just mean after the opponent hits it.
It means all the time.
As we hit, we should already be on the way to the next situation.
Fortunately for us Sir Isaac Newton proved that, in addition to this proactivity keeping us ahead of the game, it also is better mechanically.
If you don’t believe it do the math.
Force = Mass x Acceleration
If you try to stand still when you hit a squash ball your legs are passive and you really only employ the arm.
The muscles of the arm are designed for fine control not power and if you overload them two things happen. You lose feel and you fall over – because flailing away with your upper body on a passive legs will do that!
Here’s the math. Your arm maybe weighs 8 pounds. Lets say you could move it at 3 meters per second ( which would near rip it off and probably injure you). Multiply 8 x 3 and you get 24 Newtons of potential force.
If on the other hand you take a leaf out of the boisterous teenagers in the locker rooms’ book and you load/activate your legs before you get to the shot so that you can utilize your entire weight while controlling your balance with your powerful leg muscles and giving your arms the freedom of precision they were designed for you get this: If your body weighs 180 pounds and you load your legs to accelerate away just before you cleverly time the relaxed wafting action of your relaxed arm/racquet toward the ball at say 0.5 meters per second, you get this: 180 x 0.5 = 90 Newtons of potential force. And guess what? Simultaneously with executing your shot you have moved to your next position in the rally before your ball has even come off the front wall, and you aren’t blocking your opponent because by the time your shot came back – you were long gone and they hadn’t even seen where the ball was going.
The Great One would be very happy. Sir Isaac would be beaming a broad, avuncular smile. David would see that you were ready to battle your own Goliaths, the teenagers in the locker room would be hi-5ing you all over the place and my mom would nod approvingly that you actually saw the forest for the trees.
Press release: The Millman Experience and Richard and Pat Millman are joining Scenic City Squash in Chattanooga!!
We are excited to announce that the Millman Experience will be moving to a new home as of February 27th 2017.
Richard Millman will be joining Scenic City Squash in Chattanooga Tenessee as Director of Squash and Pat Millman will be joining him as Assistant Director. The Millman Experience will have its new base of operations at Scenic City Squash.
” I am absolutely delighted to be able to join Scenic City Squash and Mike and Taylor Monen. The Monens are squash crazy and are highly motivated to help grow the game – not just at Scenic City Squash but everywhere. Their passion for our game exactly mirrors the passion that Pat and I have for the people of Squash and for the sport itself,” said Millman, the owner of The Squash Doctor Corp and the originator of The Millman Experience.
Millman’s first priority will be to develop Scenic City Squash’s programs at all levels, whilst simultaneously developing the Chattanooga club as a ‘go-to’ destination for the development of the game both in terms of coaching and tournament play.
Mike Monen, the owner of Scenic City Squash said,
” We are so excited to bring Richard and Pat Millman into our Scenic City Squash Family. It’s seriously a dream come true and I look forward to working with them to make Scenic City Squash the absolute best it can be. I look forward to what the future brings and making a life long friendship with the Millman squash family. ”
Millman will offer The Millman Experience at Scenic City Squash and will welcome students of the game from all over the world to study with him at the Tennessee club. He will also continue to attend major masters events and will take players from Scenic City Squash with him both to tournaments and on tour to the UK and elsewhere.
Coaching is a very full life and at times extremely demanding.
But every once in a while the fruits of both the coach’s and the student’s labors offer sweet rewards.
Such was the case for me this weekend.
Simultaneously I was running a Millman Experience training weekend in The Research Triangle area of North Carolina, while one of my leading students and his teammates that I had had the privilege of working with for a week earlier this season were competing in the Hoehn ( B) division of the Collegiate Squash Association’s national team champs and also while many of my junior students were competing in the Mid Atlantic Regional Championships.
As you can imagine one can feel almost schizophrenic with so many invested interests.
Fortunately my Gemini birth sign helps me divide myself effectively and -Wow! what a wonderful weekend!
First I personally had a most fulfilling weekend with my Millman Experience group – all of whom visibly progressed over the weekend and went away apparently highly enthused to continue their development.
Next I had a wonderful text from my friend and student David Cromwell telling me that despite losing their no 1 player to Mono and he having had to step up to the number one spot, his Middlebury college team had wrested a famous victory today against Brown University – he himself winning in the fifth and his team mates demonstrating the team work and camaraderie that both I and their excellent coach Mark Lewis had encouraged them to build.
More music to the old coach’s ears.
Finally I received not one but multiple messages from the group of junior students that I am fortunate enough to work with at Meadow Mill Athletic Club in Baltimore.
I am delighted to say that all my students whether winners or losers seem to have performed extremely well at the Mid Atantic Regional junior champs at Meadow Mill this weekend .
I am proud of all of those that I am lucky enough to work with and I also share those congratulations with some of the other Meadow Mill coaches who work with these players.
Special mention to my students
Ben Korn -mid Atlantic Regional U19 boys champion
Cullen Little – mid Atlantic Regional U17 boys finalist
Rohan Korn – mid Atlantic Regional U15 boys Champion
Isaac Mitchell – mid Atlantic Regional U13 boys Champion.
As I said – all my players seemingly have stepped up and used the training that we have done together successfully this weekend – but for the four boys mentioned above – this is a wonderful and memorable milestone in their development.
The winning is frankly a bonus – the meat on the bones is that they focused not on the result but on the way they played and in performing got the result they deserved.
I know their will be many more weekends of mixed feelings and even disappointment.
But this weekend everything came together!
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.