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Philosophy, Analysis, Practicality, Strategy and Execution in Squash. A five part series by Richard Millman. Part 1: Philosophy

Phlilosophy, analysis, practicality, strategy and execution in Squash.A five part series, by Richard Millman.
Part 1. Philosophy

As I write, that extraordinary railway terminus in New York, Grand Central Station, and more particularly the wonderful Vanderbilt Hall, is once again echoing with the ‘thud,’ ‘thud,’ ‘thud,’ of a rubber ball against glass walls.
For those of us that are lifelong addicts, this is both the source of pride and frustration.
Pride, in that the whole world walks through Grand Central and sees the best that our game has to offer, and frustration in that neither we nor they have the capacity to instantly understand the complexity of what is happening.
To the casual observer, the spectacular ‘cockpit’ enclosing two pretty fit looking athletes is a momentary distraction, perhaps even the subject of a few minutes of novel fascination. But, after a while the number of variables become simply too much to absorb and the passer-by moves on to something that he or she is more familiar with.
If it was an NFL game or and NBA game, observers both casual and expert would have a shared general understanding of roughly what was happening. But in Squash, not only do the casual and expert observers not share a basic understanding of what is happening, the experts themselves are still trying to understand what is going on. Such is the complexity of our sport.
To the lifelong addict such as myself, these games are the source of amazement, as young people and the people around them, wholly dedicated to a pursuit that has limited financial rewards ( and those only at the very top of the game), push themselves past any perceivable limitations in the search for survival and success.
Ultimately those two – survival and success – are interchangeable.
In the same way that the cockerel that survived in the bloody onslaught of the historical cockpit, was successful.
In a fight for life and death between two combatants, survival is success and vice-versa.
That is the simple and pure philosophy of Squash.
Whether you are a passer-by at Grand Central or one of the leading experts in the game, it is imperative that you look at Squash through the ‘lens’ of survival, if you hope to gain an understanding.
But to understand how to survive requires detailed analysis and comprehension of the physical, mental, technical, emotional and strategic aspects of that survival.
And that study is a maelstrom of widely diverging opinion often backed by powerful, charming, charismatic, famous, forceful, experienced personalities, but rarely (if ever) by logical, empirical study.
Expert opinion is only that – opinion. And too often that opinion is accepted as fact. Our sport needs firmer ground than opinion alone as a foundation. We must be able to hold our understanding up to the candle of proof.

Opinion without facts is like a house built on sand.
Squash needs more than that if it is to reach its maximum success, indeed if it is to fight for its own survival.
In my next piece, I will look at the analysis required to accurately identify and highlight the unbelievably complex kaleidoscope of behaviors that are required for a Squash player to ultimately survive.
Hopefully accurate analysis will make the subtleties of Squash more accessible both to folks who happen upon our sport as they wander through Vanderbilt Hall, and to those who wish to expose themselves to the ultimate challenge of the life and death fight for survival in the arena.
Richard Millman



If you cannot control a rally in which you are the sole participant…… ( a little piece of creative writing for your pleasure!)

Harry saw John to the door.

“Remember Harry, you can’t run Dead Nick Racket and Fitness on your love for the game. You need income.”

” I know, I know!” Harry said impatiently.

John McKinnon held out his hand and Harry shook it firmly.

John was a great friend and a great accountant and Harry knew he was right.
But where the hell was the money going to come from?

” Why so glum, chum?” Sally said cheerfully as she breezed into the club from college.

Harry hadn’t seen her in his distracted state. He brightened visibly when he saw his star pupil.
“Oh just a few problems with the bills mounting up. Nothing to worry about really,” he said, his words trailing off unconvincingly.
“Anything I can do to help, Coach?” Sally said, trying to buoy her mentor.

“Yes,” said Harry emphatically, ” keep working on your game.”

“Absolutely, in fact I have a key league match tonight against another student. One of those preppie frat boys – who will probably take one look at me and think that he can just smack a girl off of the court.”

“Really?” said Harry with interest, ” and who might that be?”

” Some guy I haven’t met before. Just started in the year above me. Name’s Stalton Leicester…” she paused for effect and then went on, ” the fifth, ” she said with a note of sarcasm.”

Harry raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“What?” said Sally defensively.

Harry smiled at his student’s petulance. ” Oh nothing. Just let me know how he reacts when you run him off the court.”

Later that evening Sally knocked on Harry’s office door. He was pouring over some paperwork as she walked in. He had a frown on his face, which disappeared when he saw Sally.

“So, how’d it go?”

Sally looked sour. ” He never hit a single hard ball in the five games we played. Every time I hit it he was waiting for me. It was as if he knew what I was going to do before I did. It was humiliating.”

Harry looked puzzled. ” Wait, you took two games off of Stolly Leicester?”

Sally squirmed and looked awkward. ” No. He beat me in three. Then we played two more.”
She hesitated. ” He was really nice,” she said begrudgingly.

Harry smiled. ” Before he went off to boarding school, Stolly was one of the brightest, most considerate, hardest working students I ever had,”
he went on, ” but for most people Squash is just one of many things in their lives. Not like me, where it IS my life.” He stopped as though considering something and then went on, “It’s very rare that we see a talent like Stolly and it’s even harder when we know that they probably won’t fulfill their full potential. But knowing that we have helped someone to discover themselves and maybe even to have helped them become the best person that they can be – that is truly rewarding.”
Harry sighed.
He knew in his heart that Stalton Leicester V would become an extraordinary person in whatever field he decided to follow. And he knew that Stolly would never forget him. But a part of him wished that Stolly could have pursued Squash AND become one of society’s truly extraordinary people. But that just wasn’t how life was in the USA – yet.
The beautiful thing was that Harry had had the privilege of helping to mould Stolly in their short time together. The experience had changed both of them.
That, no-one could take away.

“I know…HE told me all about it.” Sally said with extra emphasis on the word ‘HE’.
Harry came back to the present from his self imposed reverie and looked up to see Sally, a hand on one hip, eyebrows raised, giving him one of those ‘thanks for nothing’ looks that young women can deliver so pointedly.
“HE also told me something else very interesting.” Sally continued.

Harry leaned back in his swivel chair and stretched back his arms and aching neck, which was tight from studying the P and L that was on his desk in front of him.
“Oh yes and what was that?” he said as he breathed out.

Sally sat down on the plastic chair that Harry had forgotten to offer her and continued,
“After the match I was pretty upset. I thought he would just leave me to stew, but he didn’t. He was very kind actually. He asked me how long I had been playing and what sort of training I was doing. We got talking and I told him about meeting Hishi last night – something else YOU didn’t tell me about.”

Harry’s eyes twinkled with amusement.

” Anyway,” she went on, ” I told er.. Stolly,” the boy’s familiar name falling uncomfortably from her mouth, ” that Hishi and I had been working on the most important thing that Hashim Khan said in his book – ‘keep eye on ball’ – and he said that that wasn’t the most important thing Hashim said, only the most widely reported.”

“Oh yes? ” enquired Harry, ” so what did Stolly say was the most important?”

“Well it was weird. He said the most important thing he said was ‘Hashim versus Hashim’.”

“Oh he did, did he?” said Harry, noting his student’s developing interest.
“Did he tell you why?”

“No.” she said blankly. ” He said you wouldn’t want him to tell me why. Why not?

By way of answer Harry said, ” Stolly is absolutely correct. Are you and Hishi going to practice tonight?”

Sally nodded.

“Then as part of your practice I want you to think about this:
If you cannot control a rally in which you are the sole participant………”
Harry left the words hanging in the air and wrote down three words on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to Sally.

Sally looked at the paper.

On it was written:

‘Sally versus Sally.’

Richard Millman

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