Things are not always as they seem.
by Richard Millman
What have a forest, The Great One, Sir Isaac Newton, a locker room full of boisterous teenagers and David and Goliath got to do with one another?
Not immediately sure?
Well, let me tell you a story.
When I was a boy my mother, in an effort to help me look at the big picture instead sticking with my all too common myopathy, would say to me, “Richard, your trouble is you can’t see the wood for the trees.”
What she meant, of course, was that my frequent obsession with some minor component often prevented me from seeing how that component functioned in the big picture of whatever it was that I was trying to understand. My efficiency and indeed my success all to often suffered.
As we all progress in the field of squash, we too need to ensure that we don’t get bogged down in minutiae but always relate specific areas of focus to how they are meant to function in the totality of the game.
Sport at its best is a game of proactivity not reactivity. This is particularly true of squash where a readiness to cope with whatever is thrown at us is an essential of the game. If we only focus on what we are trying to do, we will be unprepared for whatever comes next. In consequence great squash is about developing an awareness of everything that could possibly happen and being prepared to respond to anything.
Of course to that you have to know what could happen and you have to be ready before it does.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky summed this up perfectly when he said, “ Don’t go to where the puck is, go to where it is going to be.”
Constantly positioning oneself ahead of the play, in other words, is the key to greatness.
Sir Isaac Newton gave so much to the world and squash is no stranger to his largesse. In his second law of motion he told us, “ Force = Mass x Acceleration.”
We of the squash community should really pay attention to that equation.
One group that understands what Sir Isaac told us, even if they are unaware that they are using his second law of motion and they are misbehaving, are boisterous teenagers in a locker room.
Armed with slightly damp towels, they put Sir Isaac’s math into action with dramatic effect.
Holding their damp towels alarmingly at the ready, they load their legs and just as they push back away from their team mates, while still leaning their balance toward the targeted area of exposed skin, they convert their mass into a wave of force by skillfully channeling their entire bodyweight into a chain reaction of whiplash that leaves a nasty welt on the skin – which is usually returned with interest.
Yes! They move away from the victim while delivering their body weight in an energy wave through the towel, using a highly skilled piece of timing where the fractional delay between the legs pushing back and the arm coming forward, produces a powerful wave of whiplash.
This whiplash has been instinctively understood by human beings for millennia. It has been used to separate the wheat from the chaff in the medieval practice of flailing and of course the young shepherd boy David used Sir Isaac’s latterly recognized law to kill Goliath with his sling-shot.
So where does that leave us?
Here is where it leaves us.
When we play squash we need to keep in mind our overall purpose and make sure the mechanics we use facilitate what is most important.
What is most important is that we are always moving ahead of the game and not getting stuck in one place such that we focus on a single moment of the game rather than the whole game.
To this end when we move to retrieve the ball, the shot that we are about to play is primarily of relevance to where it can take us in the future – not primarily about how well we hit that shot. The shot in itself is not the focus – it is only important as a part of the big picture.
Wayne Gretzky told us not to go where the puck ( ball) is, but where it will be.
That doesn’t just mean after the opponent hits it.
It means all the time.
As we hit, we should already be on the way to the next situation.
Fortunately for us Sir Isaac Newton proved that, in addition to this proactivity keeping us ahead of the game, it also is better mechanically.
If you don’t believe it do the math.
Force = Mass x Acceleration
If you try to stand still when you hit a squash ball your legs are passive and you really only employ the arm.
The muscles of the arm are designed for fine control not power and if you overload them two things happen. You lose feel and you fall over – because flailing away with your upper body on a passive legs will do that!
Here’s the math. Your arm maybe weighs 8 pounds. Lets say you could move it at 3 meters per second ( which would near rip it off and probably injure you). Multiply 8 x 3 and you get 24 Newtons of potential force.
If on the other hand you take a leaf out of the boisterous teenagers in the locker rooms’ book and you load/activate your legs before you get to the shot so that you can utilize your entire weight while controlling your balance with your powerful leg muscles and giving your arms the freedom of precision they were designed for you get this: If your body weighs 180 pounds and you load your legs to accelerate away just before you cleverly time the relaxed wafting action of your relaxed arm/racquet toward the ball at say 0.5 meters per second, you get this: 180 x 0.5 = 90 Newtons of potential force. And guess what? Simultaneously with executing your shot you have moved to your next position in the rally before your ball has even come off the front wall, and you aren’t blocking your opponent because by the time your shot came back – you were long gone and they hadn’t even seen where the ball was going.
The Great One would be very happy. Sir Isaac would be beaming a broad, avuncular smile. David would see that you were ready to battle your own Goliaths, the teenagers in the locker room would be hi-5ing you all over the place and my mom would nod approvingly that you actually saw the forest for the trees.