Tag Archive | philosophy

Things are not always as they seem.

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.

No.

Really.

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.

Well done!

Richard Millman

Mind/Body – How does your Competitive philosophy affect your mechanical and strategic performance?

As I approach my thirty-eighth year as a professional Sports coach, I find myself increasingly intrigued by the philosophical aspect of competitive development and coaching itself as a field of study.
Many wise coaches over the history of our profession – even back to the days of our true ancestors – the fencing masters and the sergeants at arms and gladiatorial instructors – have routinely declared that 95% of what we do is mental and that the skills that must be learned in order to participate – no matter what the level of excellence achieved – are merely tools and are in reality the entry fee that must be paid to get in to the party. What you do once you have gained entry – that is the crucial part.
This being the case, I cannot help but feel that importance attached to certain areas in the development process are not only given disproportionate quantities of attention but, in point of fact, whilst well meant, do a great deal of damage.

Let me explain.

I have a pet saying that when I look at a competitor performing, what I am seeing is a physical representation of the ideas in that competitor’s head.

Therefore if the philosophy is flawed, no matter how hard the competitor works on mechanics and skills, ultimately the competitor is doomed.

You may work as hard as you like on running a race, but you can only win if you are on the right course.

In my field of competition, the Sport of  Squash, competitors become distracted by the huge volume of attention given to winning and losing, rankings and rivalries, outcomes rather than performance.

This in turn manifests itself in mistaken philosophies and assumptions that misdirect competitive development.

Not only this, but because philosophy directly contributes to mechanics, the physical execution of skills are compromised through a failure to understand ultimate priorities.

Language, as we know both to our benefit and to our cost, is a very powerful tool and so before we speak – and that includes self-talk – we must make sure that we understand the consequences of the words/advice we offer or hear.

For instance a simple example of a philosophy that has disastrous consequences in Squash, is the concept of trying to hit ‘a winner’ – ( a finishing shot).

To the unthinking or the uninitiated this may seem a harmless expression.

But let’s follow through the philosophy:

If a player is attempting to play ‘ a winner’ they are attempting to end the game.

If they are committing to ending the game, how much will they focus/work on the continuation of the game beyond the shot that they are attempting to win with?

None is the answer, because in their minds they are hoping/intending to finish.

Should the opponent retrieve or worse still counter attack against the attempted ‘winner’, the player is unprepared for the next phase of the game – having committed to the end and having made no plan for the future.

But this is not the end of the story.

When a player attempts to play ‘a winner’ it seriously affects the physical and mechanical technique employed.

When attempting to bring play to a halt, the player becomes static – focused as they are on stopping rather than continuing the play. As a result they only employ their upper body strength as in focusing on stopping – they don’t employ their legs to move into position (as they execute their shot) in order to be prepared for the opponent’s possible reply. Why should they? In their mind there isn’t going to be a reply so why move to cover?
As a consequence of not dynamically recruiting the powerful muscles of the legs and thereby creating an energy wave that will flow smoothly and uninterrupted up through their bodies, through their arms and into the ball and at the same time alleviating all stress in the arms to enable the arms , hands and fingers to precisely control the ball – the opposite occurs and the upper body becomes stiff, prevents smooth and precisely controlled weight transference and produces a tight inaccurate, emotionally charged attempt – which frequently results in an error.

I am sure that there are exactly equivalent behaviors in the competitive business world.

All this from a seemingly innocuous expression – ‘ a winner.’

The expression ‘winner’ of course is a description of an outcome that has occurred in the past, not something that should be attempted in the future.
Competitors  should ‘attack’ with gusto, always remembering that highly talented opponents will almost always retrieve those ‘attacks’ and that one should therefore always assume a need have a plan in place for the continuation of the play.
If by some chance the opponent doesn’t retrieve the attack even though you expected them to, then you are in the happy position of having covered every eventuality. And of course because your philosophy was to ‘attack’ without making any prediction as to how successful your ‘attack’ would be, your body has been employed dynamically and thus has produce mechanics which have resulted in the best possible combination of power/weight transference originating in your active legs which in turn was funneled through the precision oriented, relaxed and sensitive, unstressed arms, hands and finger – all in a seamless and natural progression which facilitated both protection for your self ( the primary focus) and pain for your opponent ( an important but secondary focus).

To summarize: Competitive skills must not be developed in isolation from the philosophy of the competition.
Over concentration on ‘how’ to perform a skill rather than on ‘why’ to perform a skill will lead not only to poor strategy but poor execution.

Competitors  must firmly understand their purpose in all of their behaviors otherwise they will emphasize physical and mechanical movements that are counter productive.

In general we in the Competitive world need to direct all of our activities toward putting us ahead on the timeline.

Much is spoken of staying in the moment – but this refers to the physical and mechanical execution of skills being well delivered and not distracted by concerns about possible final outcomes.

In point of fact Competitive people need to focus on remaining physically up to date ( in the present) but mentally slightly ahead ( in the future) to be successful.

Forgive me for misquoting the great Wayne Gretsky, but he is credited for ‘ not wanting to go to where the puck is, but where the puck is going to be.’

That, in a nutshell, is what Competition is about. Keeping your mind being prepared for what could happen next and making sure that whatever you are doing now puts you in the best position to strengthen your situation.
This may mean attacking, defending or both in various ratios.

Always prepare for the worst. Attack like a demon when you can, but never over commit, never become complacent. Hurt your opponent over and over again, but make no assumptions as to how effective your attack will be. A wounded opponent can be a lethal enemy, so keep your guard and your position up until nothing comes back.

Here is the sequence that I believe produces the best player development:

1. Study and understand the philosophy of the game understanding that in order to survive one must always think ahead.
2. Develop movements and skills that adhere to that philosophy.
3. Condition the mind, emotions and body to be able to execute the movements and skills that are in line with the philosophy of the game.
4. Continually review, reappraise and re-rehearse all of the above with an open mind.

With this formula I believe that both competitors and coaches can achieve their maximum potentials.

Richard Millman
Dec 9th 2013.

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