Tag Archive | Squash coaching

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.

Credit where credit’s due

Credit where credit’s due.

I have been criticized recently for seeming to be harsh in my criticism of some of the decisions and choices that those in positions of power in our sport have either made or failed to make.

I am not a competitor in a popularity contest.

I have been a Squash professional for over 35 years and throughout that time I have done my best to push the boundaries of Squash.

The failure of England Squash and Racketball to learn how to develop our sport as a business, in my opinion, is a fact and a consummate disaster.

ESR have done other great things I am sure, but the fact remains that participation in our sport in England has declined sadly and in particular in the women’s game.

This particular piece is not, however, about that.

In the aforementioned 35 year span of my professional career in Squash, I have traveled far and wide and have had many and various experiences within the confines of our sport.

Even before I entered the professional ranks, I met some extraordinary people as a junior Squash player.

One of my fellow juniors left a lasting impression on me.

He was a wonderful player with probably the finest drop shot technique that I ever saw – even until today.

He was a great competitor and yet never felt the need to boast. He let his racquet do the talking.

Just before the end of his illustrious junior career he suffered with a debilitating health problem which is not particularly relevant to my story and so negates the necessity of me mentioning it here.

Fortunately he was able to overcome his illness and returned to the game.

For one reason or another he didn’t have a career on the world stage, although in my opinion had he elected to do so, he would have met with an unusually high degree of success.

After I became a professional and played professional Squash I played him several times. The best I ever did was to win a game from him in an inter-county match. He simply did the things that I did considerably better than I did them.

Later on in my travels representing several racket companies, I dropped in to visit him in one of his first positions as a coach and had the pleasure of watching him work with a talented 10 or 11 year old. I was fascinated to see the pressure drills and interpersonal skill with with he exhorted the boy to feats of athleticism that defied belief in a player so young.

The young boy’s name was Simon Parke.

In later years I had the pleasure of helping a young man that had been on my Essex U14 team. Tony Hands was ranked somewhere in the 20s in England at the time. I knew he had great potential and I also knew that I had no time or opportunity to work with him.
He had terrific athleticism and enthusiasm, but in my opinion lacked feel and touch. So of course I sent him to the coach who I believed to have the best drop shot I had ever seen. Under such supervision Tony Hands went on to become a wonderful and successful member of the World Tour.

The coach I am referring to had a number of difficult interactions with ESR. First because in the early years when some people had qualifications and some had not, ESR decided to alienate this coach by undermining him for a lack of official qualifications -despite his extraordinary and irrefutable track record.

After a brief sojourn in the USA, he returned to his roots in England and to Yorkshire in particular.

He and I once had a little disagreement about the technical aspect of the sport. When a few years later he changed his view, he went out of his way to point out that he had altered his view more in line with my own. This is a very rare quality in the coaching world of strong egos and personal opinions.

Later he was welcomed into the ESR fold and had several very successful years before he fell foul of political machinery that often produces casualties that have little to do with the performance of the individual, who then suffers from the wheeling and dealing that leads to their demise.

Despite perhaps feeling abused and unappreciated, this coach has retained his good nature. He never fails to greet a fellow pro when he sees them at an event, always taking the time to pass the time of day and to enquire into the state of things in that person’s own life.

But today, operating once again in his favored role as a trainer of Squash players, he stands out.

In my 35 years I have met many wonderful professionals, players, administrators, promoters, sponsors, benefactors and good old recreational club hackers.

But of all those professionals that I have had the pleasure of meeting, in my opinion, there is no finer trainer of Squash professionals and players than the man of whom I speak.

He is of course the coach of record breaking three time world champion Nick Matthew.

I salute you David Pearson.

Not just for the successes that the world knows you for, but for the years, months, days and hours of unending hard work, through thick and thin, personal highs and lows, that I know that you have endured and that have gone into the making of a champion’s coach.

You are truly a professional’s professional.

Well done!

Richard Millman
11/26/13

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
11/7/13

More Musings and Ramblings from The Squash Doctor.

More musings and ramblings from The Squash Doctor.

Pre-ramble

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.

Masters Squash.

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+.

There.

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.

One

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.)

Two

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.)

Three

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.)

Four

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.

Not Dominic.

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!)

Five

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.

Not state.

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.)

Six

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…….?)

Seven

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!)

Eight

Masters

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

Objective

To initiate a formal annual competition between the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Background

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.

Proposal

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

Date

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.

Venues

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.

Funding

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.)

Nine

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?

Seriously.

Anyone?

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……………)

Ten

Big Ball!

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.)

Copyright C.

Richard C Millman

May 17th 2013.

For reprint or quotation please seek the author’s permission – millmansquash@gmail.com

How many thinkers are there in the game of Squash?

In the game of Squash world-wide, we are indeed fortunate to have an enormously broad and deep human asset pool.
We have innovators who are developing the way the game is broadcast. Innovators who are developing the way the game is marketed. Innovators who are constantly striving to evolve the equipment we use.
But how many players, coaches, referees, administrators and promoters accept the game as it is and how many ask deep and searching questions about the status quo? In my own writing I try and promote deep questioning thought and of course, when I come across those who seem to have a similar bent, I am delighted.
In my book ‘Angles’ I tried to pique the curiosity of readers by challenging accepted wisdom and asking contributors to reveal their own thoughts on the subjects that my poems considered.
At 52 years old, having been in Squash almost all my life, I am gradually becoming a little more tolerant and considerate of ideas that oppose my own – and perhaps a little more effective at outlining the reasons for my differing.
How refreshing it is then when an individual comes to the fore who is young, considerate and importantly a deep thinking individual who profoundly investigates ideas to the point of continually challenging  and evolving their own previously held values.
Such an individual, it seems to me, is James Willstrop.

It is of course wonderful that he has become the number one player in the world. And wonderful that he is such an extraordinary exponent of our game.

But if you have read any of his writing either in his regular newspaper columns or his new book: ‘A Shot and a Ghost,’ or elsewhere, you will appreciate that his playing of the game is actually a  physical realization of a very complex and deep mind.
James Willstrop is the world number one, but I suspect that his contribution to the sport will go far beyond that accolade – rare as it is.

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