More musings and ramblings from The Squash Doctor.
I apologize that it has been a while since my last written rant on the subject of Squash, my up and down competitive journey and things that are current in my thinking and/or interest.
Some of you may be grateful for this lapse since several of my previous pieces have lured you in on the promise of interesting content only to morph into epistles only slight shorter than War and Peace.
Be warned! I make no guarantee that this will not happen again here.
However, in hopes of not losing you at the outset, here briefly is what I hope that this piece is going to be about:
The US National Championships in Stamford Connecticut, USA
The Canadian Nationals in Markham Ontario, Canada.
The Rules of Squash.
Big Ball Squash.
There you have it.
I know that in the past I have teased you and dragged you screaming and kicking through the stories of my exploits, never revealing the outcome until I have tried your patience to the limit, leading you to question the value of life itself and why you ever started reading the blasted piece in the first place. For that I apologize and I thank you for your loyalty in seeing the task through. If by some strange chance you went through that laborious process and you are here with me now ( possibly hardly able to believe that you have allowed yourself to be gulled once again) – let me relieve you right now. I won. Both the US 50+ and the Canadian 50+.
No drawn out melodrama – not yet anyway.
However I will tell you my stories in both events and my recollection of my thoughts -hopes and fears – and my observations, which I hope you will find both helpful to the sport and to yourselves and your friends.
Now, if you find yourself presently in a predicament where you have an appointment or some other pressing concern impending upon you immediately or in the very near future, I suggest you take a break here and return at some point later when you can steel yourself manfully, or womanfully as the case may be, for the mammoth task at hand.
Should you choose to proceed now – Bon chance mon brave! I will be with you all the way.
Since last we communed after the Canadian National Championships in May of 2013 at the incomparable White Oaks Country club venue at Niagara-on-the-lake, a lot of water has flowed under the proverbial Ponte.
You will remember that I had somewhat sceptically agreed to try drinking Cheribundi on a daily basis on the advice of my friend Kirk Sigel, an investor in the manufacturing company.
You will also remember ( and if you do not you can quickly remedy the lack by reading the tale on my blog – Millmansquash.wordpress.com) my account of that memorable match where I and my great friend and rival Dominic Hughes battled practically to a standstill before, having fortunately saved several match balls in the fourth, I won an epic fifth game 14-12 to win the match and my first Canadian title.
Throughout the tournament I had been struggling with my right knee which had never properly recovered from surgery and a much to rapid return to competitive Squash in the UK the previous year. However the combination of wonderful treatment from the resident Chiropracter Dr Joe Pelino, known as ACT or Active Release Therapy and the extraordinary anti-inflammatory and restorative affects of Cheribundi, saw me progress from little more that a limping invalid in my first match to a veritable terrier or perhaps more aptly a Golden retriever in the final against Dominic.
Since then I have continued drinking Cheribundi as near to daily as I am able and have recommended its use, welcoming all skepticism to many clients and friends.
Both I and my fellow Cheribundi drinking acquaintance and friends have reported nothing but positive results in the interim. In addition to the anti-inflammatory affects, recent research has revealed that Tart Cherry juice, of which Cheribundi is composed (with nothing else but a little apple juice for sweetness and preservative) has also been found to have valuable anti-aging properties and also to be one of the premier anti-oxidants available.
I strongly recommend that you research this product and, should you find the information interesting, order your Cheribundi from http://www.cheribundi.com.
You will not be disappointed.
( This may be a suitable juncture, my fellow traveller, at which to search out some refreshment or to otherwise prepare yourself for the next stage of the battle.)
Let us return to my friend Dominic Hughes.
Not only is Dominic a fierce, but fair, magical and merciless competitor – he is also an avid student of the game and all things Squash related. During and after the Canadian nationals I and one of our fellow competitors, Chris Sadler from Barrie, Ontario, waxed lyrical to Dominic on the subject of diet and in particular a wonderful program lately gathering much attention known as the Paleo Diet.
Both Chris and I and my wife Pat had been following this eating system and had both lost a good deal of weight and found ourselves with more energy.
Dominic was interested and proceeded to take the time and trouble to research the thing. Finding that he liked what he saw, he plunged in and drank of the proverbial KoolAid.
Now, if , as I am sure most you are and have been, you are a serious competitor in this sport, you will know that, unpleasant as it is at the time, there is nothing better for one’s competitive juices than a good swift kick up the backside to get you back on the right track.
This, is turns out, is precisely what my encounter at the Canadian Nationals 2012 proved to be.
Dominic went home with less of a bee in his bonnet and more of a wasp up his backside. Oh don’t worry – he was extremely magnanimous in defeat after our match.
But he wasn’t happy.
So he went home, started the Paleo, and got mean.
And brother did he get mean!
( By all means take a breath at this point dear reader. Go ahead. Inhale with gusto! It’s free.)
The next major event on the calendar in 2012 was the World Masters in Birmingham, England.
Following our 6 month sojourn in the UK, in consideration of my pre-Canadian nationals knee worries and my distinct lack of funds after attempting to make some sort of a living in the UK, Pat and I decided that I would not enter the World Masters. I really didn’t think I would be fit quite honestly and as much as it grieved me ( since winning a World title is one of my fondest personal dreams) I decided that going home to Charleston and building a new business so we could pay our bills, was the better form of valor.
As luck would have it, things fell into place very nicely as I first went and did a summer camp for Dominic at his wonderful club Berwyn ( where my son Joe is happily building his and Berwyn’s reputation for being a first class teaching academy and welcoming Squash and Fitness club), then visited my great friend Damon Bourne at the lovely Madison Squash Workshop and spent a great week working with him and his members and finally landed at the stellar Meadow Mill Athletic club at the invitation of the charismatic ‘Squash Mom’ Deborah Gore-Dean and club owner Nancy Cushman, where I enjoyed working with nationally ranked children for the first time in the USA in years – in any meaningful sort of way.
This proved to be providential as there was room indeed a need for an addition coach to run one of Mrs Gore-Dean’s academies and happily I was able to fill the spot. An easy direct flight from Charleston to Baltimore facilitated my weekly visits for the foreseeable future.
So my financial stability was less uncertain and professionally I was on the kind of track that I love to ride – helping talented people on the amazing life-journey that is Squash
( Should you have a glass of water or orange juice to hand – or perchance a beverage of a more adult nature – now would be an excellent moment the wet or indeed whet (should you wish it to achieve sharpness) the whistle.)
Meanwhile my friend Dominic, had entered the World Masters in Birmingham.
Having done so and having lost to me in Canada and having started on the Paleo diet, he was becoming leaner and meaner by the day.
It is perhaps an understandable trait of my countrymen in dear old England, that – when they are unfamiliar with a chap from over here, and that none of the chaps over there can immediately vouch for him, a chap from over here may not seem worthy to the eminent chaps over there. And when a chap does not appear worthy, then a chap doesn’t get seeded.
Now lest it be said that I am tarring the whole of the wonderful English Squash family with one brush, let me say that the work that England Squash Masters have done in developing Masters squash is ( in my humble opinion and based solely on my experience) foremost in the world and we ( not just the English ‘we’ as in ‘me’ – but the whole masters world ) should be grateful because Masters squash would not have progressed anywhere near to its current healthy and strongly evolving state without that august body.
However I did personally write to advise the seeding committee that Dominic was at least as strong if not stronger than myself. That may of course, have ultimately been to the detriment of Dominic as the honorable Chairman of the England Squash Master, the ebullient and evergreen Martin Pearse ( the Chairman) has always thought of me as, and I quote, ‘Millman, that little fat bloke who can’t move.’ Now in fairness he has revised that assessment in recent years and has been most generous to me, but one can’t help thinking that the image may have remained with others who disdained my estimation of Dominic. Or perhaps my missive miscarried and failed to reach the target.
Whatever the case, Dominic Hughes,revved up his computer and opened the draw of the 2012 50+ World Masters Championships to find himself unseeded, directly in the path of one Geoff Davenport of Australia, number one seed, a player who had never lost a match in his entire World Master’s career.
Other’s would have complained, muttered, moaned. Appealed for reason or some such.
He was already mean. I’d seen to that.
Now -he got meaner.
I can’t personally describe the events as they unfolded as I wasn’t there ( I am sure you are grateful for that particular absence.)
This, however, is my understanding of how events unfolded:
In the first round I believe that Dominic prevailed unencumbered. In the next round he was due to meet a seeded player – as it happens a school chum of mine by the name of John Cordeaux – one of the bravest players I ever met on a Squash court – lately making a wonderful comeback after an enforced medical absence from the game of many years.
Dominic emailed me for the inside scoop on John to which I had to apologetically say nay as I felt I couldn’t help Dominic against John anymore than I could help John against Dominic.
As it happened the issue was moot as John pulled out with an injury.
This left Dominic up against Geoff Davenport – possibly one of the most dominant number one seeds in the whole of Masters Squash.
My good friend Mark Talbott was taught the meaning of the words ‘Overconfidence can be disastrous’ by his wonderful and equally legendary father Doc Talbott.
It’s a good story that I won’t tell here that ends with Mark wearing women’s underwear and sitting on a plate of ice-cream.,
Anyway I don’t say that he was overconfident but, the esteemed and acclaimed Davenport never really knew what hit him. Eyewitnesses to the crime tell me that Dominic abused the former champion in four games. Sorry Geoff….. hope you enjoyed your flight back to Oz. Ouch!
Dominic then had to play my old nemesis the extraordinary evergreen Scot Alan Thomson. If you regularly subject yourself to my scribbling, you will know that I have had epic tussles with this grizzly Caledonian who is rightly well celebrated by the poets.
Sadly for Alan, Dominic hadn’t heard the poets and the gritty Scot was summarily dismissed in three.
Next was the semi final. Dominic’s opponent for this may not be a familiar name to regular sufferers of my prose but to any international Squash person he is a legend. Zainal Abijdin has been the terror of Singapore for many-a-year. His deception is mythical.
A battle royal ensued where Dominic had his backbone and his intestines rearranged on a constant basis. According to Dominic, in the fifth game Abijdin exclaimed the words ‘there’s hope!’
The sudden realization that the Singaporian had actually been feeling hope-less, immediately re-invigorated Dominic and he dug deep to eke out the win of a lifetime.
It was an extraordinary performance. Unseeded he had decimated the draw and the tougher half at that. Meanwhile our Canadian/Irish friend Willy Hosey had ripped through the bottom half unscathed.
Dominic appeared in the final against Willy but his battle had been fought in the semi. Lean, mean and a champion in all but name he returned to the USA.
I watched with interest. And fear.
( Should you find yourself at this point in the throes of a titanic struggle to keep your fluttering eyelids open – give it up! Release yourself to sleep’s warm embrace – even if it should be 11.15am. Otherwise: Gird yourself traveller! We go on!)
The summer came and went. Fall season was upon us and with it the intensity that is the US Junior Squash scene. Rankings, tournaments, infinite lessons and of course in Baltimore the academies.
For me it was a refreshing and interesting re-entry into the junior world. Having had relatively little to do with it for the preceding 6 years in Charleston I found myself incognito, literally unknown to the fast majority of the parents and children of the US Junior scene despite my long and without wishing to be immodest rather successful track record.
As a result the students that came to me were initially the second tier kids – those that were the bronze and silver students other than one or two higher level players who knew what I was all about.
So I set to to do the job that I love – build people -through the medium of Squash – from the ground up. And what fun I had ( and am having at the time of writing).
People that had never been exposed to the concepts and systems that I used were alternately fascinated and amazed and my business flourished, bolstered by my wonderful three days a week in my beloved Charleston – finally back in my beautiful home with my back porch facing the natural wetland and the man made lake behind our house.
Even one day of sun and the polite and friendly company of Charlestonians – particularly those in my neighborhood – and I can easily face the grey winter days of that country close to or north of the Mason-Dixon line. Without that day or two however…. call the therapist and make me an appointment!
The weeks turned into months and as Thanksgiving and the holidays approached, thoughts of the US Nationals and 2013 approached.
Time to plan. Time to train. Time to think about Dominic Hughes.
What did he have in store for me.
What could I offer to him?
Of course imagination is a powerful and sometimes powerful thing. What was Dominic up to? Having lost to me in Canada and then performed so startlingly well in the Worlds, I could only think that, in the words of the vernacular, at the US Nationals he would ‘bring it.’
Of course forewarned is forearmed and with that in mind I started to prepare.
Hope for the best. Expect the worst.
I started doing more sprint work on the bike. Typically 4 to 6 one minute on, one minute rest. I started upping my morning work out. First 20 push-ups, 20 leg raises, 20 lateral leg lifts each side, repeating the sequence twice if I could manage it.
Eventually I got doing just one set of 50 of each of them – although I seemed to fatigue out on the push-ups and could only do 50 some of the time.
I started arranging games with the other pros at Meadow Mill. Trying to keep up with guys of 10 or 20 years younger than me. Hard work – but I did OK and all the time I was feeling fitter.
By the time we got into early January I was planning a preparatory tournament – the South Eastern’s at Tom Rumpler’s club in Atlanta – Mid Town.
Now I don’t want to offend anyone, but Tom does run a superb tournament. If you haven’t been to one of his events – go. Perhaps the best is the Grand Masters in the first week in December – whether you are from the US, Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean or even if you fancy a trip from the UK – you won’t be disappointed. The draws are excellent and the hospitality first class.
By the way at this point it was almost a year since we heard the terrible news of Michael Rothenberg’s passing. I miss him and I know a whole host of you in the Squash community do. He was one of ‘the ones’ you know – they don’t come around too often. Too soon gone.
As if that wasn’t enough suddenly there was news of one of our most beloved coaches being ill. Bob Callahan is a legend. He is the father of the modern Squash camp. All other camps are based on his superb original design. And the countless young men that have graduated from his Princeton program who have gone on to be leaders in their fields and throughout the world – well his contribution is beyond value and beyond my capacity to adequately describe. Bob, as you may know is stepping down from his post. But we of the Squash world will always be grateful and never forget him. He is a hero in the story of Squash. Thank you Bob.
Anyway back to my preparations for my expected forthcoming confrontation with one my personal Squash heroes – the aforementioned Mr Dominic Hughes.
Off we popped to Atlanta. Taking this opportunity, we visited with our dear friends Lana and Ed Quibell. Lana was off to visit her daughter Michelle in Seattle on the Saturday so our only chance to spend an evening with her was Friday.
This we did with, as it turned out, excessive gusto.
Generally I am religious about not drinking alcohol before competitions. Doc Talbott taught me that 72 hours is the minimum required to get it out of your system -so I just avoid it altogether – usually.
But we were having a great time with Ed and Lana. Ed is a great lover of red wine – and so am I – and Ed is a superb host. Before I knew it four bottles were gone.
And the ladies weren’t drinking.
When I woke up on Saturday – three hours before my first match, I wasn’t sure what State I was in.
State. Province. Country even.
I got to the club and tried to avoid eye contact and certainly conversation with anyone.
I was finding it difficult to put coherent thoughts together – never mind having a cheery chat with an old friend.
I went to warm up on a bike and tried to drink a small lake full of water in hopes of flushing out the guilt and some of the wine.
Eventually my opponent, Brian Warner – the son of the sponsor – arrived; and we played a somewhat brittle, short sharp match that I won. I don’t think any of the rallies were more than 7 shots. I don’t know if Brian had been on the same track as me the previous evening, but fortunately for me he didn’t ask me to do too much.
This took me to the semi finals against one Atlanta’s great players and characters, the Malaysian magician, Chris Tham. Chris played for Malaysia as a junior. His hands are simply ridiculous. Fortunately his usual physical state is less magical and if one can return his crazy shots, he will eventually run out of gas. That’s the theory anyway.
On this occasion the program worked out somewhat differently.
The first two games were neck and neck with me flinging my pickled frame around the court to retrieve the deft flicks and boasts that he spewed carelessly from his mercurial hands. I won them both 11-9. In the third game I was going to do the same again and of course, I knew that Chris would probably give up – as this much work was not normally in his personal game plan. All was going to plan except Chris didn’t seem to understand the formula that I had prescribed and unbelievably – kept trying.
I lost the game 8-11. Irritating, but no harm done I thought. I’ll just hurt him in the next one and he’ll collapse. Sadly the script that I was writing didn’t account for a strangely enthusiastic Chris Tham and the quantity of wine that I had imbibed. It turned out that the ‘collapsee’ was me, as Chris wracked my body with pain asking me to go get myriad boasts and then volleying whatever I managed to get back. My legs absolutely turned to jelly and I lost 11-2 in the fifth.
I limped home to Charleston, much chagrined.
Subtext: Never drink before a tournament. Ever.
But I wasn’t out of the woods.
( This is probably a good time to take a break. Go ahead. I’ll wait. No really…… I promise I won’t go anywhere.)
I now had less than two weeks until the US Nationals at Natalie Grainger’s new club Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Connecticut.
Plenty of recovery time right?
I went up to Charlotte, North Carolina where I coach one or two days per week.
I got on court and … still couldn’t move. Nothing. Nada. Legs not working. Zero spring. Zero take-off.
In this sport if you don’t have a good first step you may as well have no steps at all. Especially against someone like Dominic Hughes. When Dominic intercepts it’s like daylight robbery. You see it happening but you can’t believe that anyone would do that right in front of you.
I went up to Baltimore and played a couple of games against some decent opposition and sort of picked my body up and threw it at the front of the court in desperation. It wasn’t pretty and my confidence didn’t improve.
After that it was off to Stamford.
The new facility at Chelsea Piers in Stamford is very impressive. With multiple Ice Rinks, Swimming Pools, Gymnastics halls, a dozen Tennis courts, 12 beautiful new Squash Courts, fitness and weights galore, pro-shops, cafeterias, waiting rooms, auditoriums, creches………….. well you get the idea. It’s like a veritable Disney for sports.
All the courts are basically the same except the end one that has a glass side-wall. Yuck! Not just ‘ Yuck’ for this court mark you. No…’Yuck’ in general for all single glass sidewall courts and even two glass sidewall courts with grey non-descript backgrounds. Depth perception goes out of the window (literally!) and instead of the game being the focus, the fear of losing the ball becomes the main concern and desperately detracts from the match at hand. You’d think in this day and age architects and Squash professionals would have ironed out all the kinks so that courts like the all glass and three-sided glass at Yale and the amazing fishbowl at Trinity where blue glass is backed by blue walls, would be a thing of the past. In my view Yale’s all glass would be better with dark walls and using a white ball and Trinity would be better either stocking that court with Beluga whales like the Aquarium in Atlanta where we all had such a wonderful time the last time they ran the Nationals, or at least choosing a seriously dark color for the outside walls and using a white ball. The last time I played against Dominic there we both felt like we needed sub-aqua gear and came off the court with a nasty case of the Bends!
At the Chelsea Piers facility all the courts are pretty consistently good with the exception of the glass sidewall court – which probably would be better with a bright white twin vue film applied to it so that the contract with the black ball would be sufficient.
I would also suggest Tennis Umpires chairs behind all the courts to that referee’s could be heard and could get a decent view of the players and vice-verse.
It was however wonderful for everyone to be in the same venue and the camaraderie of the Nationals – which is an essential factor for people coming from all over the country – was first class.
I started my campaign with a match against DC player Ross Campbell. He volleyed everything and gave me conniptions until I realized that he was standing at least a yard behind the short line for the entire match. I played a drop shot from the back of the court which he never moved to. So I played another. And another. And another. You get the picture. Lucky for me he didn’t manage to adjust.
In round two I played Mark Sealy from Barbados. A former Tennis player who was built like a couple of garages stuck together, he gave me a terrific tussle before I finally put in one very long rally that seemed to sap him and I came out as a 3-1 winner. Fortunately my legs did work and I finished this one feeling marginally better than I did against Ross, which in turn was marginally better than I felt the week after the Southeasterns.
I was progressing at the rate of a turbo charged snail. But I was progressing.
Next was the semi final.
I had been warming up religiously, drinking a bottle of Cheribundi everyday and drinking water to the point that I needed to visit the men’s room every five to ten minutes.
In addition I had been using a neoprene roller to stretch with both before and after my matches and was feeling much better with regard to muscle and joint flexibility and mobility.
My opponent in the semi was Mark Reed from New Hampshire who had lost to Dominic in the final the previous year. Mark had a superlative ability to play straight attacking short volleys – many of which resulted in kill shots. It took me a while to adjust to this as I am so used to players ( other than Dominic) struggling with my floats and lobs and so I was unprepared for a player like Mark who positively relished these shots for a while. However I have so often found over the years that this apparent love affair with playing attacking volleys from my floats and lobs can be something of a Trojan horse as what first feels like a successful venture often deteriorates into torture as the the energy with which players first attack gradually ebbs and eventually, reaching up for the float or lob become so physically debilitating that the player becomes fatigued beyond the point at which they can defend themselves. Fortunately for me this seemed to be the situation with Mark, who having played so well to begin, ran out of gas.
This one I won in three straight – to progress to the final – and the aforementioned worriesome encounter with Dominic.
I never pay much attention to how things are going on the otherside of the draw in my tournament play. I am so consumed with playing each of my matches that I don’t seem to have the time or the inclination to check things out on that score. However, I did bother to find out what happened in Dominic’s semi with my friend Will Carlin.
Now I know Will has been revitalized of late having gotten past injuries and to a point in his life where he feels able to give of his best in training and competition. So I suspected he was on a warlike path. And so it proved as he had apparently given Dominic quite a battle, narrowly missing what would have been an historic win, in the end losing an incredibly tight four setter.
One can’t read too much into these situations but I have to say I was happier with Dominic playing a four set semi than I would have been if it had only been three.
So we came to our final. And for this game I had an interesting and quirky piece of good fortune. As I was warming up I bumped into Eric Raynor from Salt Lake.
We passed the time of day and Eric mentioned that he had watched the final of the Canadian 50+ the previous May where Dominic and I had had a humdinger and I had somehow, miraculously gained the 14-12 in the fifth victory that had been the precursor to Dominic’s stellar World Masters run. In the course of our chat Eric expressed his admiration for how I had, on a number of occasions during that match, held the ball at the front of the court and suddenly and deceptively smacked it straight down the wall past Dominic resulting in an outright winner. When Eric mentioned this I was somewhat dumbfounded as I had completely forgotten about this tactic which I had fallen upon entirely by chance. Pondering on this, I wished Eric a pleasant day and continued my preparations.
The first game with Dominic was a close run affair with nothing much to choose between us. It was a bit frantic as nervy first games sometimes are and I got to game ball first. However Dominic stiffened his resolve and turned things around at the last moment and won the game.
In the second the rallies got longer and became more about testing each other than winning points. I suddenly remembered my conversation with Eric and, waiting for the right opportunity, when Dominic took me to the front of the court, unloaded the passing shot. It worked. I then set to building tough rallies as my fitness felt good and although I couldn’t put my finger on anything specific, I didn’t feel that Dominic was his usual sparky self firing on all cylinders.
I won the second quite strongly and then the real test came in the third. We had some amazing rallies and I must say my court coverage surprised me. I was able to retrieve a lot of Dominic’s wonderful attacking shots and returned them with some interest into the back corners – with occasional passing shots a la Eric Raynor-esque description.
Finally we had a mammoth rally during which we took the ball and each other to the four corners of the world, before I put Dominic in the back forehand corner and he capitulated, hitting a boast whilst leaning against the sidewall. I of course hit his boast exactly back to where he was standing and he duly won the point, but the die was cast – he had leaned against the wall.
After that I won the third and gained a good lead in the fourth. My mind couldn’t quite handle the idea that I was leading and several times I nearly strayed from the game plan to start thinking about the result and even to whether I was going to throw it away – which is of course stupid because one can’t throw away something that one doesn’t yet have – but such are the ludicrous machinations of the mind if one ever stops focusing on performance and game plan in favor of the outcome and winning or losing.
It is a lesson easily explained but it can be a lifetime in the learning.
In the end I prevailed and in spite of my fears of the specter of a vindictive Dominic Hughes coming back to bite me after our match in Canada at the end of the previous season, I played a great match and won my second US Nationals 50+ title. Dominic was particularly complimentary in his comments after the match – which is the mark of the man – magnanimous in defeat. I am pretty sure that he didn’t feel or perform his best – but he never made mention of this to me.
I stepped upstairs to the very pleasant and ambient bar that I am sure is a testament to Natalie Grainger’s professional understanding that Squash and conviviality are essential partners, and ordered a very satisfying glass of Bourbon (the first alcohol that had passed my lips since my debacle in Atlanta.)
(I feel it important at this point to mention nutrition. You simply can’t keep reading without some proper nourishment. What’s in the fridge? A toothsome lettuce leaf? A chunk of relatively unmildewed cheese perhaps. Yesterday’s Chinese? Feel your stomach grinding? Quick. Eat. And then…who knows where we are going to blog off to next…….?)
Earlier on during the tournament I had asked Dominic if he was coming to the Canadian’s again this year in May. He told me that he thought it unlikely as he had plenty to do back at Berwyn. After our final I wondered if his competitive juices would be flowing extra hard and if he would change his mind. But he didn’t and when just under two months later the draw for the Canadian National’s came out, his name was nowhere to be seen.
The other name I was expecting with great trepidation was that of Dominic’s vanquisher in the final of the World Open in Birmingham – the amazing Willie Hosey.
The tournament was being held at the Mayfair Parkway Racquet club in Markham, Toronto – where Willie is the pro.
Imagine then the mixture of feelings I experienced when I discovered that Willie’s name didn’t appear in the 50+ draw but instead was in the 40+ draw.
On the one hand I wouldn’t have to deal with the World number 1 over 50 but on the other hand I wouldn’t get to play the World number 1 over 50.
Then I stopped to think for a moment. There was no guarantee that I would get to that stage of the event anyway even if Willie did enter.
It is a peculiar fact of life that we find it easier to step up against a player ranked just above ourselves in Squash than we do to fend off a player ranked just below us.
I find this a particular enigma since my years of experience as both a player and a coach have made it clear that human beings find it a lot easier to fight for survival than to kill. You will often notice that at the very moment it seems as though an opponent is going to finish off the player he trying to beat, that the player who appears about to be beaten will make a desperate last ditch fight and escape his predicament.
Why then do lower ranked players do well against players just above themselves while stronger players are so susceptible to players just below them?
I believe that the weaker player sees themselves in optimism as the hero in their own story while fear of failure leads the stronger player to visualize losing their position.
Once again we see the mental malaise of worrying about losing something that we don’t possess, for we are only as good as each performance we give and so our minds must always focus on our next performance and not waste time in idle debate about what we should or shouldn’t be capable of.
This being said I looked online to discover my name listed as the number one seed for the Canadian National 50+ championship 2013.
In hopes of saving some dough I got a cheap flight from Charleston to Buffalo and took the Greyhound to Toronto. It turned out to be a dubious economy because by the time I had spent the four hours on the bus and then another hour and a half on the subway and bus to find my hotel, I was pretty much burnt out.
On Thursday morning I made my way, via exorbitant taxi, the five minutes up the road to the Mayfair Parkway club. It is a beautiful facility with Tennis,Swimming, a well appointed Gym, Spa and Wellness centers, Squash and essentially – a wonderful Bar and Grill which is the heart of the club.
The first thing that struck me when I walked into the tournament control area ( on the doubles court) was the swarm of Canadian referees in official T shirts milling around.
Wayne Smith the Kiwi Head Referee does a first class job of keeping a tournament organized and on time and the Canadian Referees are the best in the world in my opinion. They understand how to keep the game flowing but they don’t penalize players with no-lets when an opponent plays a tight shot but doesn’t give access to the ball.
I think the UK referees would benefit from spending some time with their Canadian counterparts. I’m just saying. No offence intended.
My first match was against the father of a junior player who is well known in the states – Gilles Chemtob and his daugher Chloe were up from Orlando for the event.
Gilles played very well and I was a little rusty to begin and he gave me some very nice games, before I won 3-0.
I notice that if I am not playing regular competition I quickly forget the fine details of how to play my brand of competitive Squash. I find myself asking myself ‘ What is it that you do that makes your particular game of Squash unique and successful?’ There is no doubt that the nuances of competitive Squash are not like riding a bike. If you don’t keep your competitive match play polished and current, it will desert you and you will find yourself – no matter your previous successes and reputation – rather like the Emperor in his new clothes – naked and embarrassed as to what to do. Fortunately a few matches will kick you back into your familiar ways – as long as you make it through the first few rounds without getting beaten. I always remember the great tennis commentators when speaking of Borg and Sampras and the likes talking about their vulnerability being greater in the early rounds.
This happened to me in both the US Nationals and the Canadians and warrants more ‘warm-up’ tournament play in future. A good lesson to remember.
In my next match I had to play another Canadian – Steve Wasilenko. Steve was another firm striker of the ball. Fortunately for me I don’t think he had often had to deal with my particular brand of lofted early volley and deception and despite giving a good account of himself to begin with, I was able to wear him down, winning in three straight.
While playing this match I happened to look up into the balcony and saw that an icon of our game – Tony Swift – was watching. As will become clear, this was of particular moment to me.
I started playing Squash at the age of twelve when I gained a scholarship to an English boarding school – Gresham’s school – in the county of Norfolk. I was an awkward kid and never really fitted in well, having moved home so many times and having had to try and establish myself in the pecking order countless times.
A teacher suggested I try Squash as I seemed to have the sort of personality that he thought might be suitable.
I labored at the game for some time and more through hard work than skill fashioned myself into a steady but unremarkable junior player. I was at the same time fortunate and unfortunate to come into a team of brilliant players. Our coach was the well known and infamous Malcolm Willstrop, father of James Willstrop. Willstrop and I were never able to see eye to eye – he seeming to see me as an impostor having come from a state school and me seeing him as a monster who ( I thought) took pleasure in beating me whenever he saw fit.
Nevertheless we both persevered and eventually I made it into the fifth spot on a team of five. There I stayed from the age of twelve until I left the school at eighteen.
I never won a tournament in all that time until, in my final year, I entered the Eastern Area Junior Championships. The others on my team all entered the Yorkshire Area Junior Championships.
Anyway, off I went to the town of Bedford to play in the ‘East.’ I was unseeded I believe, but minus my team mates, for the first time in a tournament ( I was a tough team player in team Squash and rarely lost for the team) I stepped up to the plate. The number one seed was an England ranked junior – Jonathan Cook – a local star. His coach and the then National Coach of England was one Tony Swift. All of us boys at Gresham’s knew who Tony was as he was the first National coach we had ever read about ( as it happens he was the first National Coach – but we didn’t know that) and he was at the pinnacle of the English game.
I don’t remember the details too well, but I remember I played out of my skin and beat Jonathan Cook in the final. My first ever tournament winner’s trophy was handed to me by National Coach Tony Swift.
You can understand therefore, why looking up into the balcony and seeing Tony standing watching my match as a 53 year old was still somewhat emotive.
I won the match and moved on to the semis where I had to play a solid player from Barrie Ontario – Chris Sadler.
Purely incidentally I had seen a few rallies of Chris’s quarter-final against Bill Lam and had noticed how close it was. On checking the draw sheet for my time/court I saw that Chris had won in a very close five. When I finished my warm up before playing Chris I had seen him trying to run down the hallway. It wasn’t pretty.
In the event Chris tried to superheat the ball to pound me off the court. Sadly for him his body was way too tender and he couldn’t generate the movement or the power he was seeking. I won in three straight. Chris was very generous in his comments afterward but I feel that he was just too frazzled to give a proper account of himself.
In the other half Tom Powers from St Catherine’s Ontario was playing number two seed Tom Brown from Manitoba.
I didn’t really know much about these guys other than a little bit of scuttlebutt I had picked up from friends. I knew that Dominic Hughes had beaten Tom Powers the previous year, but I didn’t know any details and I wasn’t going to read anything into that. Dominic has polished me off pretty frequently so I know how that feels!
Their match was pretty competitive in the first two games – Tom Powers winning 12/10 and 11/9. Evidently in the third game Tom Brown faded somewhat.
So we came to the final.
The match was played on one of the two side-by-side glass backed courts that had video feeds and bleachers that could hold at least a couple of hundred people.
I fully expected a partisan crowd as a Brit masquerading as a US Squash player I didn’t expect any favors from an Ontario crowd supporting a popular Ontarian in Toronto in the Canadian Nationals.
I did an extra long warm up as is my wont these days thanks to the spanking that Ross Norman gave me in the final of the British Open 50+ in 2010, where I realised that all Squash matches and in particular international finals, begin long before the referee calls the score at love all in the first game.
I confess I was a little daunted having seen Tom Powers in the locker room. The man doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him and gives a fair impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger when shirtless. I had vague hopes of him being muscle bound and therefore not too mobile, but he put that notion to bed in the first couple of rallies where he also gave a fair impression of Superman in retrieving my best lobs and drops.
Houston, I thought, we have a problem.
The first game was a brutal mix of my attempts at playing slow tight length against Tom’s determined and clear intention of generating enough heat to make the ball glow.
The trouble was he wasn’t a hacker with inaccurate smashing that bounced back harmlessly. No. He had the length and width pretty much down and I was reduced to desperatlely flicking the ball as it barely came off of the back wall.
Not that I was completely dominated at that point. The rallies were competitive, long and physical – and I like that in a first game, because it often tires my opponents out for the second. I worked the ball high to the back and he drove the ball hard and looked for loose ball to agressively volley.
It was tight, but he won the first 11/9.
I would have preferred to win the first of course, but I wasn’t too dismayed. I came off the court and started to go over the lovely card that my wife Pat had left in my bag. ‘Volley the return of serve. Take the ball early. Don’t go short too early.’
I decided the last piece of advice was particularly important in the next game – against a fit opponent who would be looking for weakness and attacking opportunities and would probably pounce on a short ball played too early before he was the least bit physically debilitated.
It was a good strategy. In the second I worked the ball high to the back and trapped Tom with dying ball in the corners, forcing him to boast or play short from the backhand back corner. He didn’t mind this as much as a less fit person would have as he was very confident in his coverage of the front corner. However, mindful of Pat’s advice, time and again when he played short, I got into position early, held the ball and then flicked a float back over his head.
I managed to get a small lead and held it despite determine resistance from Tom who managed to catch me unexpectedly with short winners from the backhand corner several times.
I won that game 11/8.
By now battle was well and truly joined and we both had a fair picture of what was happening.
I can only tell you the story of the match from my perspective of course – and Tom, I’m sure he sees it differently. That said, this is how the rest of the match seemed to unfold in my view:
Tom was now fully aware of my strategy of floating him relentlessly to the back court. I think he realised that this was dependent on my being able to set up both my movement and my ball control by being on balance. So he decided to do his best to pressure me off balance and to thereby limit my precision. I have to say he did a very good job. He wailed on the ball and I found myself stretched to the limit. As each rally progressed – me trying to work the ball high and tight and deep, while he was crushing the ball low and hard and deep, I found myself falling further and further behind. A neck and neck battle developed with me always seeming to be trying to come back rather than being ahead.
The voices on the balcony were gathering hope and enthusiasm and Tom seemed to feed off of that and to be gaining in confidence.
I lost the third 11/7 or 8 I believe and I think that score flattered me.
Dark clouds were looming.
The interesting thing was that as I came off the court, knowing that I was on the wrong end of the confrontation, I genuinely felt a fascination for the conundrum I found myself in. Rather than feeling fear of failure, I was consumed with trying to solve the strategic problem in front of me. I reviewed Pat’s notes and thought through the previous game. I realised that building a steady and patient rally was actually in Tom’s favor as it gave him time to settle and to use his marvellous power and mobility to gradually and unfailingly, little by little, overwhelm me.
I decided on a strategic change. I would still volley the return of serve. I would still take the ball early. But I would start the rally with an attacking drop volley. Not to win. But purely to stretch him. This would prevent his relentless development of dominance in a gradual build up and force him to retrieve under pressure from the get-go.
It definitely had some downside.
1) I was not only playing short early, I was playing short immediately.
2) If I tinned it I would just encourage my opponent.
However I felt pretty good about it. I wasn’t trying to win the point – only to stretch my opponent.
I set out in the fourth game with a straight drop volley which I followed up the court, looking to intercept whatever Tom did if I possibly could. He was surprised but used his unusual mobility to pick it up. But I was on him instantly and flicked the ball over his head to the back. Again he miraculously got there but again I was on it really early and played a quick short ball while he was still at the back. Incredibly he got it again but he was too far in arrears and my next shot was too much.
I maintained this for the whole fourth game. I got to 7-1 up before he really came up for air. I won the fourth 11-4 – all the rallies short sharp flicks and deception with an out of sorts Tom on the wrong end of them in the main.
I heard a few voices of friends of mine with ‘Come on Richard!’ in amongst the more numerous ‘Come on Tom!’ shouts. I felt better, but I suspected that my opponent wouldn’t be bamboozled for too long. The cat was out of the bag and he had ninety seconds to prepare his own change of tactics.
I started the fifth hoping to continue as I had in the fourth, knowing that I didn’t want a physical battle like the third. However my hopes were somewhat dashed when Tom smashed my serve back across the court to a perfect width and length. My heart sunk as I watched the ball roll out of the backwall nick. Was that smoke coming from the ball?
It immediately became evident that Tom had decided to pound me off the court with his tremendous power and physical prowess. However, where in the second game he had played shot that hurt me, he now tried to play irretrievable shot to completely beat me. This put enormous pressure on him as he took on a huge task. The rallies were very tight, but pretty soon he hit a huge tin and roared in pain. I settled in to try and play as tight as I could and to be patient. Something told me that if I was prepared to give Tom the opportunity to do so, he might be willing to give me the match in his desperation to overwhelm me.
As wonderfully fit as he clearly was, it had been a very hard match and when one plays with a narrow margin of error and one is tired, bad things happen.
Tom had already served four or five service faults in the match.
Now he hit three massive tins at crucial times.
Even so we were still neck and neck. But this time it always seemed to be me that was the one point ahead and him trying to come back.
We exchanged point for point in a series of highly physical, competitive rallies – me desperately trying to float the ball tight to keep him contained and he striving to generate early pace and power to utterly swamp me.
In the end we arrived at 10-9 match ball to me.
Another vital struggle for the upper hand ensued with continual contrasting exchanges of my floats to his power drives, with occasional low hard attacking blasts and attempts at wrong footing flicks. After about fifteen or twenty shots I played a slightly loose cross-court to Tom’s backhand which wasn’t very wide.
He saw an irresistible opportunity.
With full power he attempted a hard, low, reverse corner.
Unfortunately, instead of striking the sidewall he struck the front wall first.
Instead of a reverse corner his shot turned into a kind of low Corkscrew or ‘Philadelphia’ as it is known here in North America.
Now as experienced players know, the corkscrew or ‘Philadelphia’ is the only shot in Squash that visibly moves in the air ( except for some of Qamar Zaman’s shot and he was a super-being after all) and so I was now confronted with a very hot, bouncy ball, banana-ing towards me as I stood smack bang in the middle of the court.
It was a very nervy moment. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t sure how the ball was going react from the bounce.
I lifted my racket to prepare a shot and……….
Tom ran right through my swing into the ball.
He evidently thought I was going to play a drop and was determined to get there.
The referee didn’t hesitate: ‘Stroke to Millman.’
The marker announced ‘Game and Match.’
Tom was extremely disappointed – as you can understand – he had been so close and had been in charge for much of the match.
I was very happy.
I walked around the corner and sat on a comfortable couch that was in the hall way outside the swimming pool.
For a few moments I just sat and stared into space.
Then I laughed happily in both celebration and relief – and once again looked at the card that Pat had sent me.
Those few words on a piece of card had kept me focused on the task – and not the outcome.
( Congratulations dear reader! You have conquered a challenge almost as great as the match you have just read about! Undoubtedly you deserve a rest. Go, refresh and, if you have the spine for it, return here, undaunted and anew, to the fray!)
It has been my privilege and pleasure over the past several years to become enthralled, engaged and addicted to Master’s squash.
Undoubtedly some of the reason for this is my life-long love of Squash. And some of it is because I lacked the success that better players than me enjoyed in our respective younger years. But perhaps my strongest interest in Masters Squash is the players themselves. That extraodinary group of crusty, determined, sporting, charismatic, funny, intelligent, generous and hospitable human beings that year after year come back to battle each other on the courts and to ( perhaps of equal importance) to share a beer and a story and to contribute in myriad ways to the game we all love.
For me all of this is important and worthy of more than simply maintaining. In my view it is a very underdeveloped world wide resource.
And yet there are some wonderful examples and models that we have before us.
Prince of all these examples in my view are the bi-annual World Masters championships held last in Birmingham, England.
Next comes the Home Internationals between England Scotland Ireland and Wales and the annual competition between Australia and New Zealand ( I wonder if these could be expanded to include Japan and Hong Kong/ China?)
These international team matches fullfil a dream for many folks who, like myself, hold playing for one’s country as the ultimate combined expression of one’s love of the sport and of one’s country.
Next are the great Inter-provincial and team competitions. Here South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Australia and lately Canada are leading the way.
Bare in mind that my reporting here is a reflection of my current knowlegdge and I am very happy to be corrected and updated with any other Master’s Team information.
In an effort to grow Masters Squash and thereby the number of conversations over dinner or a beverage about our Sport in which I firmly believe the development of all aspects of our game are not only rooted but absolutely dependent upon, I have lately written a proposal for an International Masters Team competition between Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean ( West Indies if you like) and the USA. A sort of North American Home Internationals a la Great Britain and Ireland competition already in existence.
It is my hope that this competition, run on almost identical lines to its UK predecessor, will lead to a standardization in format that will eventually make way for bi-annual world Masters Team Championships to be held in the alternate year to the World Masters Individual championships.
It is my hope that host countries would compete to hold a world championships for one women’s and one men’s age group. Hence the World 50+ Team championships for Men and Women might be in Cape Town the same year as the World 35+ Team Championships might be in Buenos Aries while the 40+ and the 60+ might be in London and Sydney respectively. You get the picture. At the moment it is just a dream. But from lititle acorns………..
Here is the proposal in case those in Australia, Sweden, India, Slovakia, Russia, Nigeria, Brazil, Kuwait, France etc would like to attempt to start their own competitions and thereby strengthen the bonds that tie us; at the same time as giving countless Masters players the chance to compete for the honor of their flag:
North American and Caribbean International Masters TeamsBi-Annual Championships
To initiate a formal annual competition between the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The annual competitions between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and between Australia and New Zealand have offered masters players in those countries the honor representing their nation in international competition for many years.
When the selection criteria became both standardized and objective in England some years ago, the numbers of masters players competing for a place on national teams led to a great increase in participation in the regional qualifying events and the happy combination of both new players trying out and old players returning to the sport.
Masters players are the ‘lifers’ of Squash and are frequently the most financially able to help the continued growth of the sport at all levels.
Giving Masters players ambition can only help the sport as a whole as increased tournament participation leads to residual increases in sanctioning and membership fees and increased volunteerism -especially in the fields of refereeing, administration, fundraising and sponsorship.
I propose that, beginning in June 2014, US Squash, Squash Canada, Federacion de Squash de Mexico and Caribbean Area Squash Association formalize a bi-annual competition to determine the North American Champions in each age group.
Further I propose that we adopt the very successful existing system used by England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This would not only make implementation very easy to follow but would also prepare us for Intercontinental play under the same system.
I have already received a challenge from England to send teams to North America for a series of test matches and I feel confident that World Squash would approve of the standardization of Masters teams organization to facilitate increased activity between World Masters nations.
I have set out a possible program below.
Outline of Inaugural North American International Masters Competition 2014
Friday evening June 5th, Saturday June 6th and returning home Sunday June 7th.
This date is after the completion of annual national Championships and far enough before the World Masters in Hong Kong. It is also at the end of the school year which may be helpful logistically.
Obviously it is the right of each participating association to choose an appropriate venue.
Each venue will be hosting up to four teams of five players per age group with a maximum of four age groups at each venue. So as an illustration, hosting associations may hold competitions as follows:
A) Mexico City, Mexico : WO35 will play with MO35, MO55
B) Toronto, Canada:: WO40 will play with MO40, MO60
C) Philadelphia, USA WO45 will play with MO45, MO65
D) Barbados, Caribbean: WO50 will play with MO50, MO70
( The venues – A B C and D would follow a 4 tier rotation – so that , for instance, Wo35 would be in Mexico in the first year of competition, Canada on the second rotation, USA the third and the Caribbean in the 4th.)
There may be as many as 4 teams per age group with the schedule being one match Friday evening, one match Saturday morning and one match Saturday afternoon.
A party and presentation dinner will be held on the Saturday evening with Sunday being the return travel day.
It is suggested that players/teams exchange commemorative mementos and small gift items of a traditional national flavor and that the host country/venue provide individual winners and runner up medals for the first and second place team players.
It is expected that the members of each age group team will work together to either find sponsors or grants or to self-fund. It is not expected that national associations will fund these competitions.
I should mention in closing this section the wonderful work done by many stalwarts of the game around the world on behalf of Masters Squash. Please support these heroes of our lives and thank them whenever you can. This is not intended to be self-serving. I am doing my best but my best would be as dust were it not for the pioneers who have already built the wonderful international masters programs that currently exist. I just hope to help join a few of the dots as it were, to continue the development.
Are Masters players a bunch of older folk getting together to have a good time for their own amusement? Definitely.
Are they perhaps the most underserved and potentially greatest undermined resource of the modern game of Squash? I think so. How about you?
( OK Immediately rush out and start a new masters program. Now! Go on! Don’t wait. What do you mean it’s the middle of the night? What kind of excuse is that? Alright, I suppose you can wait ’til the morning. Meanwhile steel yourself – there’s more to come.)
A House of Sand?
If you are reading this you are highly likely to be a died-in-the-wool, absolute believer in the game of Squash. As such you aren’t in need of convincing that our sport is worthy. Worthy of participation. Worthy of media coverage – perhaps you are less convinced on this. Worthy of inclusion in the Olympic games? With all of the effort made to persuade the powers that be of this – you would certainly hope so. However, we believers in Squash need to take a look in the proverbial mirror from time to time. It’s all very well to assume that the hands on the tiller of our sport are piloting us in the right direction and that our boat is a good boat, but if no-one bothers to check how would we ever no if we are headed for the rocks or ever so slowly sinking in a ship full of holes?
I am not trying to sink us. But I am trying to get everyone to take pride in making sure our ship is truly yare.
In our sport we have many people doing their best. We have promoters, administrators, players, coaches, parents, clubs, manufacturers, writers, publishers, editors, referees, commentators, bloggers, teachers, cameramen, photographers, video editors and others that I am sure I haven’t mentioned.
All of whom are focused on moving the game forward.
But what if the game is broken?
If you are on the inside of the game and convinced of how wonderful it is – how often do you stop to take a long hard look at it?
If someone on the outside takes a look at it and sees problems we would probably rouse up as one to defend our sport.
But wouldn’t it be better if we made sure it was as strong as we believed it to be before we picked a fight.
What am I talking about ? You may well ask.
All of the people that I mentioned earlier are operating under the assumption that the sport we all adore is sound – whole – not faulty.
But what evidence do they have for that assumption?
Hearsay? What their coach told them?
And where did their coach get the information? More hearsay? More previous coaches?
But who is actually checking to make sure?
We all have a responsibility to do so.
We all assume that Squash is wholesome because we love the game.
But all that does is further the generally accepted wisdom.
We need to check.
Very, very carefully and without glossing things over.
Sometimes in life we are so busy trying to execute our tasks that we don’t even ask whether the way we are trying to do the task is the right way or even that the task itself makes sense. Just so with Squash.
Everything that we do is based on the rules. But what if the rules are broken?
That would be a real problem wouldn’t it? If the rules were illogical and in the very way they were written misleading players, coaches, referees, administrators, reporters, manufacturers, sponsors, tv companies, international games committees etc……do you think that would be a problem?
I certainly do.
Of course we could do what most people do when the status quo is threatened. Quietly sweep the problems under the carpet and hope that no-one notices.
You might ask Richard Nixon how that worked out for him.
Of course World Squash hasn’t done that. They have commissioned a group to do a study. And that’s a good thing because :
OUR RULES ARE ILLOGICAL!!! ANY FRESHMAN LOGIC CLASS WOULD RIP THEM APART.
But if that’s true, why has no-one pointed this out before?
Well have you ever questioned whether the Rules made sense? Well they’re the Rules right? They just are.
When did you last read them? And if you have, did you read them with an enquiring mind? Did you ask yourself if they made sense?
Do you know anyone that ever questions whether they make sense?
That doesn’t mean they make sense. They need to be carefully and regularly reviewed by people who play the game at a very high level and who understand the game at all levels.
So if no-one asks these questions, how will we ever move forwards?
Well, I have asked and I have written a whole re-write of the Rules with my comments and suggestions.
I am sure that all my suggestions aren’t perfect. I have done my best to do them justice. Now it’s up to you.
If you really care about our sport, its future both inside the game and out, please spend a little time thinking about whether the Rules are logical.
So that all the hard work done by all those people that are involved in our Sport can base that work on an absolutely solid, unimpeachable foundation.
Not an assumption that it just must be right. And a busy population that would just prefer to sweep uncertainties under the proverbial carpet
You can see the rules and my comments and suggestions here on my blog at http://www.millmansquash.wordpress.com.
I would appreciate your thoughtful comments and suggestions. For the good of the game.
If we can get the rules right, there are a couple of other house keeping issues:
It’s often said that everything starts at the top and then trickles down to the bottom.
If that’s true let me ask these questions:
1. Why is is that the lowliest junior in the US rankings can’t get an end of season Ranking unless they pass a rules test and yet a PSA player can be a member of the world tour without doing so? They are Pros – they must know the rules, mustn’t they? Yeah. Right. Until the PSA makes all members pass a rules test the accepted standard is that you don’t have to know the rules to play at the top of the game. So why should any one else bother. Lift that carpet up, here are some more sweepings.
2. Do Inter-collegiate Coaches have to pass a rules test? How often do you think Inter-collegiate coaches read the updated rules? We don’t know because there is no continuing education – so we have to assume that you don’t need to know the rules to Coach college level Squash. And if the coaches don’t read the rules regularly, what about their players?
They must know the rules, mustn’t they? They are really good players. Yeah. Right. Are you still holding up that carpet?
If we don’t maintain high standards in house, how can we expect major games commissioners, sponsors and media to respect us.
When at the US Open last year, a former top 10 player lectured a referee, telling him that ‘ it can’t be a stroke if the ball comes off of the back wall,’ I winced and hoped that their was no-one from the world press or the IOC who actually knew the rules. What an embarrassment.
Sorry to mix the metaphors, but is our ship safe? Is our house built on rock or sand. And do we want to just hope for the best – or make sure before someone else questions it?
(Has anyone got a happy pill handy? That was a little dour wasn’t it? Hopefully it challenged you. If you wan’t a little change of scene go read my blog on the rules – I’m happy to wait while you do. Better safe than sorry ‘though. OK. We are getting close to the finishing line . Just one little sprint to go. Are you ready? Set?Here we go……………)
Most British or Australian readers will be familiar with the UK game that has enjoyed a recent surge of popularity – unfortunately given the name of UK Racketball.
Indeed regular readers of my epistles will be familiar with the game because I credit it as being the savior of my competitive Squash game after knee surgery and an injudicious early return to the competition court that resulted in further damage.
North American readers may not yet be aware of just what an impact this sport has had in the UK where in some large clubs more than fifty percent of the playing membership has permanently switch to this game.
World Squash Czar Andrew Shelley and legendary World Squash Domo George Mieras are sworn advocates.
Having spent a good deal of time on both sides of the Atlantic I am in a fairly strong position to comment on the flexibility and malleability of the British and North American participants of the game. Stubborn is the word that immediately comes to mind. Not that stubborness is necessarily a poor quality. No indeed inflexibility in the face of adversity is a wonderful quality. However in the face of the relentless march of time it is not an asset.
Having made the parochial error of calling this new sport Racketball – utterly unaware and apparently careless of the massive emotional and political connotations that word has in the United States, England Squash and Racketball and Scottish Squash and Racketball have successfully constructed a completely unneccessary and practically insurmountable barrier to the development of the sport in North America.
This is the point at which we find out if anyone is listening or indeed if anyone who is listening cares enough to actually do something rather than, too busy to take the time to make a positive contribution, the famous carpet will once again be lifted in order to receive the latest sweepings.
US Squash is hard at work promoting Squash and has no interest in promoting Racketball or Racquetball or anything that sounds like either of these two indistinguishable words.
So if this offshoot of our sport – which is terrific and because it results in practically zero joint pressure or damage may well be the savior of Masters Squash players throughout the world ( I choose my words very carefully – this is no exaggeration) is to progress, those that hold sway in the UK, those that hold sway in North America and in particular the overarching governing body – World Squash need to stop procrastinating and start taking an interest in working together to make sure that everyone benefits – in particular Squash.
Insular attitudes are completely understandable. Pressing local issues always seem to be of most concern. But ‘ to see ourselves as others see us’, to paraphrase and mangle Rabbie Burns’s great words, is essential if we are not to become irrelevant globally and through the onslaught of progress.
To facilitate the adoption and consequent advantages of this terrific version of Squash – and make no mistake this game is Squash – the same concept, the same strategies by and large, fantastic cardio-vascular benefits – more cardio actually than the original version of Squash for all except Professional Squash players, almost no joint damage – I have suggested a very simple procedure to World Squash.
Just call it Big Ball Squash.
After all we have Hardball Squash in North America. We have the Max Progress Squash ball all over the World. So why not Big Ball Squash.
The adoption of the name Big Ball Squash would have many huge advantages. It would stop the alienation of practically the entire North American community ( but who cares if you live in the UK – right? Well I hope you do if you live there – because we need a Global approach if Squash is going to be an Olympic and international concern and healthy in the future).
The name Big Ball Squash would bring the sport into the Squash fold – World Squash, England Squash ( not and Racketball), Scottish Squash ( not and Racketball).
The changing of the name of England Squash to England Squash and Racketball was extremely poorly thought through and very little research can have been done before hand.
Of course I am sure that I am ruffling someone’s feathers by saying this – but that someone should have checked out how emotive that additional word is in North America and how far back it would set the sport.
To further the development of our sport, I am asking you all to support this game in two ways:
1. Go and play Big Ball Squash if you haven’t already.
I don’t mean stop playing regular Squash. I just mean go and try this new game a few times. I promise you a great and pain free workout and a fun game. If you want to see it played there is plenty of video on Youtube. You can watch PSA player Darryl Selby and former World Champion Peter Nicol having a rare old time.
2. Advocate to whomsoever you can the adoption of the name Squash ( Big Ball Squash if you like – but Squash all the same) and let’s get rid of this ludicrous regional division so that we can move forward Globally.
Without some sort of move like this, I guarantee you that our sport – and I mean the whole gamut of Squash – will be held back years, because of local insistence on and revulsion for the name Racketball – which is not our Sport.
We are Squash – and proud.
What is it that John Lennon said? ‘Life is what happens while you are busy doing other things.’
If we are always too busy to notice, then we only have ourselves to blame when things don’t work out the way we would have liked them to.
Thanks for listening.
(Now try and keep calm. I don’t want you having a sudden and desperate bout of separation anxiety, but this is it. Yes – it. The end. Fini. No Mas. Eindlich. Eventually there will be more – just not now. Thanks for your company. I hope you enjoyed the read and I hope you will take action that you feel suitable based on what you have learned. Enjoy your Squash if you are a player and if not – my commiserations and although I can’t imagine how you are making it through your life without Squash, I wish you all the best. Au revoir.)
Richard C Millman
May 17th 2013.
For reprint or quotation please seek the author’s permission – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts on the American Squash game from an International viewpoint;
What can we do to help our sport move forward?
‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!’
Robert Burns, from his poem ‘To a Louse’
I am not entirely sure that I can justly claim ‘an international viewpoint.’ having spent the greater part of the past 19 years here in the US, but I do travel a fair amount and having represented the US as a national coach and team manager on four continents and having competed over the past few years in the UK, the US and Europe, I have been exposed to a number of different systems.
Let me say first and foremost that this article is intended to highlight ways in which we can further improve a national game that is already ( in my view) doing tremendously well.
Let’s look at what we have to be thankful for:
What makes United States Squash as healthy as it currently is?
Well, there’s no doubting that beyond passion, the biggest single commodity required for Squash to succeed is cash.
We need cash for facilities, to attract world-class coaching staff and to make Squash feasible as a profession, to fund our national governing body, to promote interest in the game, to make it possible for clubs to succeed as businesses and for underprivileged programs to flourish (more on the surprising importance of these later).
Without cash there is no development, no Squash careers, little enthusiasm and in short little chance of long-term survival.
American Squash, in relative terms, is cash rich.
So why is American Squash, across the board, so financially strong ( in comparison with almost every other national game)?
The reason very simply, is Inter-Collegiate Squash.
Now readers may not be aware, that the US is the only nation in the world where Varsity teams ( in the form of Inter-collegiate athletics) are an official and essential part of University life.
There is a fundamental pipeline in this country that feeds the health of our sport.
This is how it works ( starting at the end of the pipeline and working backwards to the beginning):
Financial success is a necessity in the United States. Employers need first class, well-educated employees. Entrepreneurs need first class educations. The Universities who provide first class educations need funds. Where do the funds come from?
From Alumni and Alumnae of those institutions who go on to become successful.
What constituency of students tend to be the most successful? Athletes (apart from Glee club members – and even that is a kind of sports team). Athletes tend to fill about 10 or 11% of the student bodies of most elite Universities and Colleges. That 10 or 11% will eventually provide about 33% of the development funds ( financial gift giving) of those Colleges and Universities. Of course this is an approximation, but talk to the bursars of most first class institutions and that’s what they’ll tell you.
If employers are seeking well-educated competitive employees, that know how to knuckle down under competitive pressure and learning institutions know that those individuals will be the most successful of their graduates, then it stands to reason that schools are going recruit a certain number of those individuals, make damn sure they have a good time that they will never forget, and look after them well into their dotage.
Parents, sharp cookies that they are, quickly recognize that if they want their child to have an edge in the extremely competitive world of college admission, getting their child involved in a sport where recruits are few and far between is a sensible move. Particularly if it is a lifesport that emphasizes sportsmanship ( although this can be an issue with College and Junior Squash) and is fun and healthy.
Right now there are simply not enough American girls playing Squash and just barely enough boys to fulfill the recruitment needs of US Collegiate Squash teams.
That being the case – the door is wide open to families who get themselves organized early in the game.
Hence, bring on the expert Squash coach who can teach excellent fundamentals, and produce a competitive player who will in due course become a recruitable athlete.
So we have probably the most broad and deep talent pool of Squash coaches in the world.
So families pay membership fees, hire Squash coaches, buy equipment, join US Squash, go on the road to play tournaments, and pay for intensive programs of summer tuition.
If that seems expensive – compare the possible outcome of a Squash playing alumni who has gained a first class education and experience and can compete for a six figure income only a couple of years after graduation, to that of a student of similar intelligence that didn’t have squash to gain them an edge in the admission game. Ten or twelve thousand dollars spent on Squash for an average of 5 or 6 years is a small price to pay for the advantage of the opportunity that it may bring, but it is a very valuable cash input to the national Squash program.
Hence the relative wealth of US Squash. Because the pipeline I have described does not exist anywhere else in world in anything like the splendour of the US inter-collegiate system.
So we have the cash to fund activity.
Most of our facilities are built as conduits for the pipe-line. And what beautiful facilities they are. The business of athletics is understood better in this country than anywhere else. Facilities first and foremost are clean. Clubs have program directors and professionals to promote activity. More activity leads to more revenues: people play, lose, want to get better, book lessons, buy more equipment, enter more competitions, spend more time at the facility, spend more money, encourage associates to join etcetera, etcetera.
So we have first class facilities.
In order to keep the facilities and the people active we have developed pretty good organizational skills.
The advent of the feed-in consolation is a wonderful and powerful organisational tool.
Because of it, the number of matches and the consequent additional data provided increases the competitive environment, within a specific constituency, in a manifold way.
Players therefore maximise their playing experience against players of their constituency.
So we have a lot of competitive opportunity – within each constituency.
Another consequence of the Inter-collegiate pipeline is that, when students graduate – or certainly when male students graduate, a proportion of them go on to play adult squash in the various metropolitan hotspots in the US where the game is successful. This in turn creates enough of a seedbed to attract the relatively large group of international transplants that form a good percentage of active adult squash players in this country. Some of the US college alumni play with some of the international players and so we get some exchange of playing styles in the adult Squash community. Of course a fair number of college players graduate and go into elite country clubs and downtown clubs where they play against other former college players. Some of them end up exclusively playing doubles.
So another benefit of the Inter-collegiate system is an active community of adult squash players.
A love of the game is something that can be addicting. Not just for the sake of the exercise, but for all that the game offers, individually and to the community.
College squash players that play with their team for four years are often imbued with a passion for the sport that lasts all their lives. In most this manifests itself as enthusiasm to play or even coach the game and in maintaining long-term bonds – even lifelong – with the team mates they struggled through match after
match with. This is laudable and adds to the constituency of Adult squash that I have described above.
However in one original case, a love of the game that developed in college was combined with a vision that may hold the key to the long-term health, success and survival of our sport. I am speaking of Greg Zaff, the founder of Squash Busters. The success of that program and the corresponding programs that have arisen around the country are well documented and are deserving on continual praise, observation and support. But that is not the issue that I am interested in here. I am not sure whether Greg’s original vision encapsulated the effect that I believe now to be uniquely benefitting our sport as a result of his actions, but whether or not he did, something unique is happening.
I will describe this effect later, but for now suffice to say, that without Inter-collegiate Squash there would be no underprivileged squash programs.
So we have Greg Zaff, his colleagues and the whole realm of Squash programs for ‘at risk’ or underprivileged youth.
To round off the strength of US squash I would add that in John Nimick and his Event engine organization we have the lynchpin of the professional squash tour. Until the advent of Arab and Asian interest in our sport, the US pretty much single-handedly led the world squash tour financially.
Mark Talbott was drawn up by the Inter-collegiate pipeline. Without the pipeline Hashim and Sharif Khan would never have been here, the WPSA and the countless duels between Ned Edwards, Talbott, Khan and Nimick would never have happened. We wouldn’t have had Demer Holleran, Alicia McConnell,
Latosha and Shabana Khan, Ellie Pierce, Tim Wyant, Julian Illingworth,
Gilly Lane, Michelle Quibell or Amanda Sobhy or Dylan Murray or Olivia Blatchford (serious competitors on the international scene). I sure as heck wouldn’t be here.
So we have a great deal to be grateful for and many strengths, mainly centered on the bounty of college Squash.
Where then can we go from here?
In a classic SWOT analysis one goes through Strengths and then on to Weaknesses followed by Opportunities and Threats.
However I hesitate to talk about Weaknesses. Rather I would prefer to offer my observations as to how I believe we can make our Strengths, stronger.
Strengthening our Strengths
In my analysis of the strength of US Squash I highlighted (by placing in italics)
those key areas that I believe have positioned our national game favorably.
It is clear to me from my time spent as a professional in England, Germany and Holland that in most areas I describe above, those countries lag far behind. Certainly they have no Collegiate pipeline driving the process. No resulting cash injection from parents seeking to improve their children’s career opportunities. No consequent infrastructure of multitudinous world-class coaches earning a world-class income. Few if any world-class facilities – and hardly any really clean ones – important as cleanliness is a paying member’s number one priority. No development funds and departments – although the UK has the lottery to fund its national governing body and elite programs.
And yet, the level of player produced by the UK and to a lesser degree Holland and Germany, continually and continuously outstrips the level we produce here. On the world tour England with its lack of a collegiate pipeline and the consequent low-level of funding ( except at the elite level), its generally below par facilities, lack of programming and organization, has 50 full-time players playing on the PSA tour. Egypt has around 40. Australia about the same. Canada – a country of perhaps a tenth of our population has at least 15. Mexico has 11 or 12.
The US currently has 3. On the women’s WSA tour we do have a four players playing regularly – Amanda Sobhy is doing particularly well – ranked 18 at the time of writing. However the only time our world tour players interact with the rest of our community is in National championships.
They almost never interact with our top collegiate players. Or our top adult players.
Consequently there is almost zero trickle down effect.
As I mentioned earlier in this piece, we have a tremendous Inter-collegiate program. Tremendous in numbers ( at the time of writing there are 75 men’s teams and 40 women’s team). Tremendous in terms of inter-collegiate competition ( there were 448 scheduled matches this year in the men’s division). But practically non-existent in terms of competition outside of the college ranks. Maybe twenty players play two or three times outside of college each year.
So, by and large, College players only play college players.
What’s wrong with that, you might ask. Well let’s consider. What is the focus of a college squash program? Winning. The coach’s job depends on it. The team’s funding depends on it. The college depends on it. Win. Win. Win. What’s wrong with that, you might ask.
Even an entry-level sports psychology course will tell you that sport is a process oriented pursuit, not outcome oriented. Spend all your time thinking about the result and you will make no progress in improving the process. You will be distracted, fearful, overly aggressive. The end will justify the means. Added to which you are letting the hormones of 17 to 22 year olds take charge. Not a group well-known for deep consideration before action.
I hear horrified readers indignantly declaring, ‘We have wonderful college coaches who maintain control and prevent all that.’ And I agree – to a point. We have some extraordinary human beings in our college programs. Men and Women that to do their utmost to guide and groom powerful young beings and in many cases guide their charges well into their majority. But let’s face it, one man or woman, whose job is on the line based on their win/loss rate, trying to coach, mentor and guide sometimes as many as 15 or 18 young hormone charged people, with their corresponding maturity of judgement? I have attended many inter-collegiate matches and have been a College coach myself. The coach cannot control what is going on in five different courts, when emotions run high. The concept of fair-minded, strategically thoughtful play has no chance when constantly confronted with the specter of winning/losing. Between trying to administrate, recruit, fundraise, look after the academic performance of their charges and keeping up with NCAA rules, there is almost no chance for a College squash coach to try to coach their players – in the sense of intensive coaching to improve the player. Some players will improve by osmosis – playing against the better players on the team. But the number one player on a college team will almost always reduce their rate of improvement once they go to college. How can they but do so? They spend almost every waking moment playing against players worse than them. This is a well-known fact among elite level coaches in both the Tennis and Squash world. College Tennis and Squash programs are in general the last resting place of once promising world-class talent. Even if they don’t perish there, they certainly experience greatly arrested development.
US College Squash players generally play only in their own constituency.
This is by no means a criticism of students at US colleges. US college students are at least comparable in terms of potential relative to their international counterparts, if not better.
However if forced to spend their time only playing against their own peer group, the resulting lack of experience leads to a curbing of their learning curve.
In the UK, Holland, Egypt, Malaysia and many other countries, students lack the benefit of organized athletics. However they are not limited in their competitive experience. They play open competition. They may play adult amateurs, they may play professionals, they may play up-and-coming juniors. The complexity of their competitive diet is much, much richer than their American counterpart.
It is actually unusual for them to play solely against their own constituency. Therefore they see more styles. The are encouraged to behave with more tact and respect. The need to consider how to play more than the outcome of their matches. They have to learn more ‘ways of skinning a cat’ if you will.
In addition, certainly in the UK, the foundation stone of competitive development is the club league and the club team match. In this environment even hormonal youngsters urgings are tempered by having to play against older and younger members of society. In these circumstances students are more likely to remember their bearing. And if they don’t an older more experienced member of the squash community will have a quiet word with them and nip errant behaviors in the bud.
This is the normal course of development of Squash in the UK. Mixed play during the week in club and team leagues, interspersed with tournament play ( both mixed and in constituency) at the weekend. Six or seven years of this type of experience and players develop a strong understanding of the game, a more balanced mentality and the ability to pass that wide range of experience on.
Acceptable behaviors are easily forgotten in an atmosphere of peer group confrontation. When is the last time you looked at US Squash’s Sportsmanship and Code of Conduct rules? Check ’em out and tell me if you think the way our young squash players address referees and opponents remain within the guidelines.
As a reminder I am looking for ways to strengthen, so what I am pointing out is as a precursor to the solution.
In the Strengths section earlier in this article, I mentioned several powerful constituencies in the US squash sphere. I have talked about College squash – the most important constituency insofar as the over all health of the sport is concerned. Junior Squash is the next most vibrant constituency.
Much of what I discussed in the section about College squash applies to Junior Squash.
American Junior squash players rarely play against adults or college players. They play junior after junior perpetuating more and more junior strategy, junior behavior, junior fears, junior aspirations.
What chance does a child who wears a t-shirt that states: ‘Beat Hotchkiss’ on its front, have of working on process?
Once again the question arises: Do the teacher/coaches of our scholastic system have enough time to teach/coach well enough to give our junior players the fundamental understanding of the game that is required for them to be able to improve at the rate that they are capable of? I think the answer is that, in general, those juniors who are able to access intensive personal coaching either from a vibrant local guru/pied piper or during vacation visits home, have a better chance than those that are limited to playing solely on a school team but none of them can improve at the rate of their full potential unless, in addition to intensive coaching and practice, they are playing against a full spectrum of squash playing opposition which includes adults, students and, yes, sometimes other juniors.
In the UK, historically, thirteen and fourteen year olds have entered club league competitions and then club teams as soon as they are able. The consequence is that they become steeped in the lore of the game very quickly, both in terms of understanding the game and the accepted etiquette of the game.
In the US at many Junior events, players are speaking in less than polite fashion to each other and the referees, hitting the ball to themselves in the warm up way more than twice ( I have seen juniors hitting the ball to themselves as many as twenty times before hacking the ball impolitely across to their opponent, who has been standing, unsure of what to do, for minutes at a time) and generally are unaware of acceptable modes of behavior.
As I mentioned previously, US Squash has written an excellent ( in my view) Code of Conduct and Sportsmanship that either Coaches, Parents and Juniors are failing to implement or simply are unaware of. Either way patterns of behavior are increasingly ugly and isolated in competition against Juniors only, these behaviors seem to be become ingrained.
The beauty of systems where players play across constituency boundaries is that they are exposed to a great variety of tactics, physical fitness and capacity and sportsmanship. Squash is a game of mind, body and soul – and all of these need nourishment and direction.
So the US Junior player constituency plays in their own constituency, in the main.
Every playing constituency requires motivation, a pump if you will, to drive the pipeline. The beautiful thing about US Squash is that the College game provides a terrific pump to drive the pipeline. That is, insofar as Junior Squash is concerned. When it comes to adult squash, the pipeline churns out a powerful stream of College players, who then may or may not enter the adult ranks. Motivation for some is in short supply. Having played four hard years of Squash, it is not uncommon to hear comments like, ‘ Thank God that’s over, I will never have to play again.’ Thankfully there are only a few that have that attitude and many former players are swept into the ranks of the downtown city center clubs in the larger metropolitan centers and perhaps a little more slowly into the country clubs of their childhoods. Where they play in their own constituency in the main.
A few metropolitan centers have leagues where the odd junior pops up in a team once in a blue moon. And quite a few College alums feed into inter-club play. Of course those players have learned only the etiquette of Student squash, so they are ill-equipped to conduct themselves appropriately in the Adult squash world. If they are fortunate enough to fall into a league where standards of conduct are well established then they quickly learn how to carry themselves. Philadelphia has a well established league as does Boston. I haven’t played in either of them so I can’t comment on the organization and sportsmanship maintained there. Both my wife and I played New York league and I can only say that then (back in the mid to late nineties) it was by far the worst standard of sportsmanship and match organization of any league I have experienced in my life as a squash player. Matches weren’t refereed. Players didn’t play in order ( frequently a number 1 would play a number 3 or whoever was ready to go on court) and players rarely bothered to stay to watch their team mates or to have a social drink afterwards. It was a travesty of the game. Happily the New York squash organization – Metropolitan New York SRA is one of the finest these days – so I am sure things have changed.
If higher standards were set, the trickle down effect of sportsmanship and strategy could only help the levels of play.
There are some motivators for adult play. The few leagues around the country do encourage some participation. Excellent tournaments such as the Hyder, the Price Bullington, The Friends of Squash Grand Masters, The William H White, The Eastern States and of course the Nationals all encourage some participation. And the introduction of regional skill level events has pulled a few more players into the fold. Of course many players just play for exercise and a love of the game. But by and large, adult players only play against adult players and the participation in open tournaments seems to have decayed in many areas.
More motivators are needed.
One such that is enjoying great success in the UK is the regional masters series and the opportunity to play for one’s country. The North South East West and Midlands Masters events are all qualifying events for selection to the England team in your age group, with every age from 35+ to 70+ for men and 35+ to 55+ for women offering the opportunity of an international cap. Few things pull harder at the heart-strings than the opportunity to play for your national flag. For sometime I have been trying to push for such an opportunity for American masters squash. Who among our wonderful group of masters players wouldn’t kill for the opportunity to wear the Stars and Stripes against the Maple Leaf of Canada or the Mexican Eagle?
I have tried to promote this idea with US Squash but as yet it hasn’t been met with much enthusiasm or support. (STOP PRESS: US SQUASH HAS JUST APPOINTED ME TO CHAIR THE US MASTERS COMMITTEE -SO HERE WE GO- 10/12/12) The English masters team offered to travel to the US to play against a US team, another chance to fight the revolutionary war on the Squash court! Unfortunately again this proposal didn’t result in an enthusiastic active response. Last year the World masters was held in Germany and all the great playing nations of the world sent their best players to compete for world honors. Except the USA. Eight American residents attended – several of whom were internationals now resident in the US. I asked US Squash to publicise this event at last year’s nationals in Rhode Island and my request unfortunately was not deemed to be of sufficient importance to warrant the official backing that I had hoped for.
( NB – For those readers that are interested in American representation on the world scene: The British Open Masters should be taking place in Nottingham, England in June of this year and The World Masters will be taking place in Birmingham England in July of next year. To monitor British, European and World Masters events, regularly visit http://www.englandsquashmasters.com
Several US players did attend the World Masters in Birmingham in England in July and met with considerable success. In particular Sue Lawrence won the women’s 50+ and Dominic Hughes had an incredible run to reach the final of the Men’s 50+ after beating the number one seed.
The World Masters Games to be held in Turin, Italy in August of 2013 has just announced that, after initially not including Squash, it will in fact be included – so get ready!
Additionally if you wish to play in a high level Masters tournament and like to travel – the English Regional masters events are all open events and you are welcome and encouraged to play in them. You will find their details on the website mentioned above also.)
I am personally disappointed with the lack of drive behind Masters representative Squash. It seems to me that Masters players are often the people whose check books open to support the US Squash association and that, such financial support could only be increase were there an official organization of national Master’s team qualification events and international test matches against Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean and even European, Antipodean, Asian and African teams.
Enthusiasm drives participation and participation increases support – for the game as a whole.
If we are to see US squash thrive in the way that I believe it to be capable of – the Masters constituency must be driven to interact with both the Junior and College constituency and one sure way to do that is to increase numbers, teams and cross-constituency competition.
The US under 19 team should be playing annually against the US over 40 team, the U16 against the 45+ team., Colleges should have a US College team playing against the US 35+ team or the National team and so on and so forth. This is the way to increase interest and support – by interaction.
We are after all playing the same sport and we should all be a part of the same team. Go US Squash!
The adult Squash players and particularly the masters constituency of US Squash are a powerful constituency. They have the capacity to seriously support US Squash and its programs. However they need powerful reasons to stay involved. Otherwise, with aches and pains and injuries, the draw of the golf course and general apathy due to a lack of interesting and new goals, they will drift away and be lost to the game.
Adult squash players need motivation. National team representation would be a powerful motivator.
US Adult squash players tend to play in small circles within their own constituency.
So enough of the doom and gloom. Remember we do have some of the best raw materials of any nation in world squash today.
Our issue is that in large part* ( see bottom of page) our individual constituencies of players don’t mix.
We need to get all of our players playing with and against each other.
We need to be a team.
We need a catalyst.
And – while it isn’t yet affecting everyone – we’ve got one.
Greg Zaff gave it to us.
Squash Busters, Street Squash, CitySquash, Squash Smarts, Squash Haven, Metro Squash, Chucktown Squash to name but a few.
These are the bright lights of the future of US squash. Veritable beacons!
Why? Because like no other program, these programs bring us together.
Where else can you find, Juniors, College Students, recent Alums, Parents, powerful business people and old farts like me, all working together in Squash?
Only at these programs.
Perhaps Greg Zaff saw all this when he had his light bulb moment and conceived the idea for Squash Busters. I don’t know. I am sure that everyone involved is primarily there for the benefit of the ‘at-risk’ children that they are helping. But the benefit to US squash in breaking down the barriers between the isolated constituencies that have hitherto had practically nothing to do with each other, is immense.
Every one of these programs ought to be holding an annual fundraising tournament and every Junior player, College player, Downtown and Country club player, adult and masters level player should be playing in it – against each other.
We should have team leagues that follow that example and the schools and colleges need to come out of their ivory towers and play against everyone in the melting pot.
Where possible players should play in their skill level against opposition of all ages and genders. Learn from people of worldly experience, be delighted by the willingness of youth, be amazed by the development of new skills, surprised by the wiliness of age.
Of course periodically each constituency should play and be tested within their own group. But not all the time!
Let US Squash use the example of Squash Busters and its peer programs. Mix up the melting pot! Motivate all players to play!
We have a wonderful Pluribus.
Now we need to move toward becoming a wonderful Unum.
Richard Millman 3/5/11
* Programs on the West Coast and some other small playing populations do integrate more than the norm for mainstream ( and particularly East Coast) programs. Although originally this may have been due to lack of numbers, it has resulted in some first class play and players. I dearly hope that as playing numbers increase, these West Coast programs and others don’t lose their fully integrated playing programs and end up as segregated as their East Coast counterparts. Owing to geography Canada has positively influenced these programs. Additionally international coaches have found it easier to grow playing systems that they grew up with in their home countries in these locations, than perhaps they would have, had they had settled on the East Coast.
Note: I originally wrote this piece in 2011. I have added a couple of comments today and I am generally optimistic about Masters Squash if we can overcome the apathy that daily life sometimes imparts.
I have just returned from the US Open where I saw two particularly relevant events that relate to this blog.
1. The brilliant college player Todd Harrity played the Scottish journeyman squash player Alan Clyne. As I expected Harrity exploded into the first game at a pace that no human being could maintain – as is the wont of college squash players. After the initial shock Clyne settled down to absorb Harrity’s attacks. Harrity won the first – demonstrating the talent and ability of America’s best and then having over-committed, faded as I expected him to – hardly able to keep the ball in play over the last game and a half.
2. I watched the America’s journeyman Squash player Chris Gordon – who has spent 6 or 7 years on the PSA tour learning his trade, play in the main draw against the brilliant Egyptian Hisham Ashour. Far from exploding into the first game, Gordon focused on patient, extremely tight, absorbing limiting play while countering Ashour’s mercurial brilliance. The result was that Ashour was frustrated and Gordon combined both the street knowledge and the deep mental and physical stamina that he has learned during his time studying at the University of Squash – the PSA. Gordon won – his greatest ever victory in Squash.
I remember Chris when he was 12 years old. A decent junior, but no genius. No-one would have accused him of being brilliant. But from that less than stellar junior beginning he has achieved results that few Americans in history have achieved.
Now not all American squash players want to be world class Squash players. But if a few of the brilliant players such as Harrity put in some steady work for four or five years on the PSA – while studying at the same time – as so many of the other PSA youngsters do, maybe our players might learn to play mature squash – in stead of the whack and back, over testosteronosed version that so often is the result of Inter-collegiate play.
Which will be the first college team to have the vision to encourage its players to play at least 8 professional events per season? Whoever they are – they will do more to advance American squash collectively, than anyone has ever done before.
This is, in my opinion, potentially the finest nation for the development of Squash. But without stars to reach for, will we strive for averageness or try to persuade ourselves that our top players are better than they actually are?