Snow White and her 7 Squash Players
Once upon a time, there lived a Squash Queen who ruled the Squash Castles playing a bashing, running game. But her boobs had begun to droop and varicose veins streaked her running legs. Despite this, daily she would peer into the Change Room mirror and ask, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the best Squash Player of us all?” Routinely, the mirror had answered, ‘You are, O Queen”
Meanwhile, a young girl, named Snow White had been quietly practising and playing better players and improving and improving. One day, again, the Queen asked the dreaded question. The mirror cracked, and stuttering, replied “I cannot lie, O Queen. Snow White is the Best Squash Player of us all”
The Queen was enraged. Angrily she smashed her sponsored racquets against the wall. Then she called for Snow White and banished her to a distant squash castle, a run-down little centre with slippery floors, and cracked walls. Snow White was devastated. Her dreams were shattered. When she arrived at the castle, Snow White found 7 Squash Players, happily playing on their own. Talent wafted through the courts, but there was very little coaching. Immediately, she set about pretty-fying the courts. Together they painted, swept and fixed the walls. They cleaned the change rooms and brought in training equipment - exercise bikes, rowing machines and boxing bags. Then they pasted squash posters and motivational affirmations on the noticeboards, and even built a little bar at the courts. People heard about the changes and squash boomed in the area.
But the 7 Squash Players were Snow White’s focus. They had different strengths and different weaknesses but by coaching them and playing against them, she could help them, and take her own game to new heights.
Bashful, was not bashful. But he loved to bash. He smashed, bashed, huffed and puffed as if he wanted to blast the walls down. While he hit the ball hard, he was very loose and he was not a great thinker. Often he would lose because players slowed him down, and waited for him to make mistakes. By developing his skill-levels and hitting the ball a little softer, with more control, he became a far better player.
Dopey hit the ball beautifully but he was lazy. His racquet preparation and recovery to the tee was poor. Snow White taught Dopey how to “ghost” – moving around the court, without a ball , racquet in hand, visualizing as he ran, preparing his racquet as he moved quickly through the tee, balancing himself as he played each imaginary shot. Magically, his game improved and soon he was top of the ladder.
Sneezy trained, and then trained some more. But, if there was an injury he would find it. His flu was always worse than others. If he lost, he had an injury. Before, he played, he was already making excuses about an injury. Snow White encouraged him to slow down, develop some skills, worry more about how he played, rather than the result. Sneezy was just so scared of losing that he built walls of excuses around himself. If only he would realize that, sometimes, you learn more from losing than winning.
Doc was a serious practitioner, a student of the game with good tactical awareness. But Doc over-analyzed. Often he would take a commanding lead, and then “freeze”. Snow White played lots of matches with Doc, sometimes, using tennis scoring to practise in pressure situations. She taught him to breathe, relax, play point-for-point and to stick to his game plan. Before every serve, he would mutter to himself, “Still a long way to go”
Super-competitive, Grumpy was his own worst enemy. When things went well, all was fine, but let there be a bad decision, a stupid or lucky, shot and Grumpy would start shouting at himself, beating himself with his racquet. Nobody liked playing against him. And yet, off the court, he was a friendly fellow. Snow White spent time with Grumpy off court, making him realize how his anger affected his game. The change was amazing , and now Grumpy just smiled at the ref’s “funny “ decisions .
Happy just loved to play, and didn’t care if he won or lost. As long as he had a good sweat, and a chat afterwards, he was happy. Snow White tried to get Happy to set some some goals but she was careful not to push him too hard. He was great for the group as he was content, hitting and doing routines with them. He also loved helping, doing admin, and it was he, who actually ran the bar.
Sleepy had beautiful touch but lacked confidence. Often he would lose because he was drawn into his opponent’s style of play. Snow White gave him routines which gradually developed his confidence and concentration. The routines revolved around his varying his pace. They played conditioned games, and she videoed him. Gradually his confidence grew and he developed the most exquisite lob-and-drop game.
One day, a visitor brought news of a tournament, sponsored by the Handsome Prince, which was to be held at the Queen's Castle. Here was a chance to test themselves against different opponents. But Snow White realized that she would have to go in disguise as the Queen would never allow her to play. So, she cut, and dyed her hair and entered under a pseudonym. Day and night, they practised with purpose and devised match plans to counter different styles of play. The Queen was seeded one and she had organized that her path to the final was littered with unknowns. Happy, Grumpy, Dopey and Doc were all scheduled to meet her. Fortunately Snow White was on the opposite side of the draw.
But the Queen was in for a surprise. The players knew how she played and they countered all her strengths. But her experience carried her through 4 long 5-setters. Snow White sailed through, winning all her matches 3 - 0. The finals beckoned, with Snow White still fresh and The Queen battered from the tough matches against Snow White’s protégé’s. In the final, Snow White out- maneuvered The Queen, who still continued her mad bashing ways. As she guided the final volley into the nick for a 3-0 win, Snow White raised her racquet in triumph and smiled at The Queen. “Who is the Best Squash Player of us all?” she asked.
Only then, did The Queen realize who her opponent, really was. Now, it was The Queen who was devastated.
The Handsome Prince was totally taken by Snow White's elegant beauty, sportsmanship and friendly personality, As the Handsome Prince handed her The Golden Apple trophy, he asked for her hand in marriage. The beaten Queen, forlorn, apologized to Snow White and begged forgiveness. Ever-gracious, Snow White accepted, on one condition - that The Queen allocate funds for them to renovate their courts, travel to tournaments and once a month, visit and practise and help the 7 players achieve their dreams.
Snow White and The Prince married, and they all lived happily ever after, playing their beautiful game and producing happy little squash players.
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Balls to the Wall – You Gotta Serve (to) Somebody"
With Apologies to Bob Dylan
You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir.
But you're gonna have to serve (to) somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve (to) somebody,
You are ready to serve. You stand, one foot in the service box, virtually at the tee, ball in hand, in control of time. You can speed things up, or slow them down. An opportunity to hit the ball, hard and wide, or soft and high. To attack your opponent’s weakness. Your confidence is up, having just won a point. Your opponent hovers in the back corner. Just where you want him. Confidence down, having just lost a rally. Opportunity waits.
The majority of squash players, however, will mindlessly smash the ball back into play, without thought or care. Rally started. Opportunity lost.
Coaches know. The serve is one of the most difficult shots to coach. For many, this shot is the stumbling block to starting squash as transferring ball from hand to racquet is not easy. This shot is the Holy Grail which will open doors to the wonderful world, the camaraderie, the exercise, the blood, sweat and tears of squash.( Just a tip to those parents and less experienced coaches – start coaching the serve from the left hand service box. )
Once the penny drops, and it is like that, an AHA experience, the junior has a ticket to Playdom. Sadly, the serve soon becomes and abused, ignored and a wasted ploy.
Sadly too, too few coaches spend time focussing on coaching the service, and players don’t really like to practise it, as it is boring, requires skill, and it doesn’t make you tired. South African squash players, ( and sportsmen for that matter,) often judge the quality of a coaching session on how tired they are, after the session. One day, when we are big, and when Apartheid is not being blamed for all ills anymore, hopefully we will realise that sport is cerebral.
The Server’s initial target is the sidewall, just in front of, or opposite where your opponent is standing. Most servers are not even aware of where their opponent is standing, so that target is often, just a guess. But that should be your first focus, as the position of your opponent should dictate which type of service to serve.
“Different types of services? What Greek heretical rubbish does this man speak ? I’ve watched the top players and they just klap the ball onto the wall” Yes, they do. But they , like Federer and Djokovic, are pin-point in their direction, and they hit their target, regularly. Also, their opponents , generally speaking, do not have glaring weaknesses in their make up, which can be exposed by a clever player.
The most common variation to the “Standard Service” is the Lob Service. Most players don’t really like this serve as she is difficult. She is a woman. She can be erratic, she requires feel, touch, thought and practice. When loose, she offers easy return options, and worse, often goes out. But , when good, and treated and caressed properly, the Lob Serve can be a honey, leading you to wins, never expected.
Most squash players do very little with a high backhand volley, If you can develop a Lob Serve, with lots of height, and little pace, you can take advantage of some very weak returns. And to avoid that horrible out-of-court call, lift your Lob Serve, high on the front court. Aim it onto the front wall, on your side of the court. This throws the ball above the head of the receiver, cramps his space, and makes his return even more difficult.
The converse of this serve, is the masochistic Bullet Serve. This is hit with POWER. But not aimed at the side wall. Aim this directly, at your opponent, ideally like a yorker at cricket. With every good serve , there is a low margin for error, but the rewards are great. To be safe, aim higher, and be like Cupid. Attack the heart.
Then there are other options - the surprise down the middle paddle. Be careful here, as it can result in a rubber- burned, bruised bum ! ( Oh, by the way, let’s kill the myth, that different rules apply to service when hitting your opponent.) The PLOP Serve - A soft little shot with no pace , that, JUST, reaches the Service Box and, used selectively has an amazing success rate .Your opponent, normally standing too far back in the court, will see a Million Dollars, and will do some amazingly stupid things with this serve. Hugh Glover’s speciality, the Corkscrew which hits front wall, then side wall, screws high across court, and if hit perfectly, hits the sidewall, and runs parallel with the backwall. But this shot requires lots of practise and skill.
And serving from the right hand, and left hand box are 2 vastly different serves. From the right hand box, you have more options. Your angle is wider so you have more choices. You can choose forehand, or backhand both of which change your angle of attack. From the left hand box, you have less options and your angle of attack is more acute. Try here, to angle the serve down the wall, but making contact with the wall is critical, or you leave your opponent too many options to attack.
Once you have mastered the various options , then you can start anticipating the rally. The slow lob serve, should produce a weak shot, ready to be cut off, the hard Heart Jammer, should produce a short jabbed cross-court response, the Plop, a mad smash at the ball which could go anywhere, normally cross-court. Often into the tin.
If you have all of these variations up your sleeve, the next key is how to use them. Choose one, and make it your speciality. Your signature. But more importantly, test your opponents out, and if you find there is one option where she struggles, pummel that option. But throw in some variation as you go along
The best between-game advice I have ever heard, is “Serve More”. Learn to serve well. She will serve you well !
34 years ago, a talented young rugby player, in pursuit of the love of his life, started playing squash. His game was the archetypal moer-en-soek style game. That year, he played for Imatu’s 14th League side. But Mike Roos, was the kind of person, who if he set out on a challenge, would hang in, and despite the difficulties, invariably come out on top.
He chased down many a ball, and he chased down and married , EP Squash player, Michelle, who added touch and finesse to his game, and over the years, Mike moved through the ranks to become a respected 1st League and provincial player He won the national SA Police championships on numerous occasions and represented South Africa at the World Police Games where he brought the Bronze medal home.
Over the years, Mike adapted his natural gritty, gutsiness of a fetcher to encompass a slow skilled game, but more importantly, he worked at his service which became a shot which, all opponents feared. Mike won many matches, purely because he was able to dominate the rally, because of his serve.
Sadly, after a bruising battle with cancer, where he gave as much as the disease could chuck at him, he succumbed to a life with the Lord. Mike Roos served his country as a policeman, honest, down-to-earth and courageous. He served his family, Michelle and daughters Megan and Hannah as a loving and caring father. He served squash, his province and Imatu and Londt Park as a top class player who gave everything on court but nothing to his opponent. Afterwards, he offered friendship, and served drinks to disappointed, defeated opponents, until they had cheered, and just enjoyed his company.
Michael Roos – We, the squash folk miss you. But we know, and remember one, who has served. And served well.
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9 April and the Winter Leagues begin. Sarel and Sarah take to the court in the 1st match of the 5th League encounter. They have never played each other before. Sarah arrived at the courts 30 minutes before the match and has changed, checked her kit, has a towel and glass of water at the ready. She is busy with a set of dynamic stretching exercises, where she mimics the movements she will be making on court.
Sarel has just arrived. Rushing from work, he realises that he has not packed any socks so has resigned himself to wearing his brown work socks. Grabbing his racquet, he rushes from change room to court, vaguely stretching hamstrings, and swinging his arms.
The 2 begin their 5 minute warm up. For Sarah, the match has begun. For Sarel, he still has 5 minutes to loosen up. Standing at the back of the court, mindlessly , he bashes the ball, 4 or 5 times to himself, then smacks the ball across to Sarah. She returns the ball high and slow to Sarel, who flicks at the ball, misses, collects the ball, and continues the process of hitting to himself. Hard, short and all over the place. The harder he hits it, the happier he is, irrespective of its direction.
Sarah on the other hand, uses the warm up to get a feel for the court, how hard, and how high she needs to be hitting to find an accurate length. She stands forward in the court, almost at the tee, volleying wherever possible, hitting her cross courts wide, varying her pace and testing Sarel with high slow, lobs. She soon discovers that he is loose and unsure of himself on the backhand volley. Banked - an area she can exploit later. He also vulnerable in the backhand back corner. Another idea - banked. She plays a few drop shots and throws in a couple of boasts. Sarel hurries to the front , and smashes another crosscourt. Another titbit of info , banked. Sarel is probably going to be fast and will fetch everything. Another loose cross court to Sarah, and she volleys, going for the nick. It rolls. A great confidence booster.
After 2 and a half minutes, the referee calls "half time" and the players change sides. Sarel, now on his forehand side, hits the ball even harder , often to himself, sometimes to Sarah. Sarah banks more information. On his forehand, he is much more comfortable, and adventurous, which might result in quite a few unforced errors. But she must be careful of his pace on this side of the court. She tosses up a lob on his forehand, and chest on, he smashes it into the tin.
“Time Please.” – The match is due to begin. Sarel is ready to rock’n roll but all he knows about Sarah, is that she is pretty, has perky boobs and wears a tight-fitting blue top, and white skirt. Sarah is loose, warmed up, and thanks to the warm up, already has a pile of banked ideas she can use to work into a game plan and out-think Sarel, who will probably be stronger and faster than her.
The above scene will replicate itself at league matches throughout the season. The warm up is so often wasted, and yet it should be a valuable little recce, helping players to read the court, and get a better understanding of their opponent.
Some ideas to work into your warm up:
All courts are different. Some are hot and bouncy, others are slow , and depending on the weather, can vary even more. Get a feel for the court. How high do you need to hit the ball on the front wall to establish a good length. The Profiles courts are very different to the Londt Park courts, and if you travel to the Rhodes courts , ready yourself for fridge-like conditions. How much height do you have available to you? The Swifts and NMMU courts have lower ceilings and lobbing is a different proposition there, compared to the cavernous Crusaders courts.
Establish your length and your width. Hit the ball as wide as possible, aiming to hit the side wall just before , or opposite where your opponent is standing
Stand forward, at the tee where you get used to the pace of the ball from front wall to tee. Try to volley as much as possible. Stay away from the back corners. Play your full array of shots. Show your opponent what you can do. Play a few drops, throw the ball up high. Go for the nick. Toss in a little reverse angle. Test him in the air. Test her with pace.
Now focus on your opponent and try and establish what type of player he is, so that you can adjust your game plan if necessary. Is your opponent a hard hitting runner, or a lob and drop touch artist . A stroke player or a fetcher.
The Warm Up is for BOTH players. While you do not want make your opponent feel comfortable, you have no right to hit the ball 5 or 6 times to yourself and occasionally to your opponent. Juniors are often guilty of this. If you want to lose friends and make enemies, this is a great recipe. And if you are marking a game where one player hogs the warm up, step in and interfere.
The Warm Up is a valuable little opportunity for you to find a rhythm and tap into the mind and make up of your opponent. Waste it and you could be found , wanting, and losing.
A fortunate few EP Squash Players were treated to tapping into the mind of South Africa’s No 2 lady, Siyoli Waters. Ranked No 36 in the world, and one of The Faces of World Squash’s Olympics Back-the Bid Campaign, the former Clarendon pupil, spent 2 days in PE at the beginning of the month, assisting some of EP’s top ladies, as well as offering a clinic to juniors and the Old Grey Development squad. To crown the visit, she then took on EP No 1 Lizelle Goosen, and then Old Grey No 1, Bonakele Nomkala, in a wonderful display of thinking squash.
Her message was clear. We need to gear ourselves to play clever squash. Our practices should be geared towards out-thinking our opponents, and developing skills to be able to play to these game plans. Sadly, many of our EP senior and junior players did not attend , and will continue with their “moer-and-soek” game plans which are solely reliant on fitness and fetching, devoid of skills. Sadly, a potential sponsor was left a little bemused at the poor attendance. Sadly, an opportunity to tap into a player , who has qualified herself at university, and then followed her dream to play on the international circuit, has been wasted. But sometimes, less is more, and those fortunate to have been able to attend, are wiser, and will become better players.
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Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when racquets were wooden, and squash shoes were takkies, I was asked to have a game against a businessman who was visiting Port Elizabeth. My opponent was a 50-something veteran and I thought I was doing the old bugger a favour while I had an easy little sweat before heading off to a student power-drink. With my speed, fitness and youthfulness, I would run the “Old Man” off his feet.
I did have an easy little sweat! Less than 30 minutes later, I was sipping at some consolation beers as I wiped my mesmerised eyes from a boasted defeat where every single loose or short length was angled, either, rolling into the nick, or sucking me so out of position that recovery was forlorn. The man I had just played was Storr Hunter, a legend of South African squash. The Boast was Storr Hunter’s signature shot, which he practised and played with targeted precision. I had been taught a very important squash lesson. Never under-estimate an opponent. And over the next few beers, I sat at his knee and was taught more lessons. Lessons about the Boast, a Beauty and A Beast.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, prisoners in the Debtors Jails in England, started hitting balls made from dog’s hair and batty-racquets, against the walls of the prison courtyard. Morphing out of tennis, and borne out of boredom, the game gradually evolved, via racquets, fives and eventually at the school of Harrow, into squash, where a rubber ball punched with a hole to slow things down, was used.
(As the game gained popularity, interestingly, open-air “courts” were often found linked to taverns where players could quench their thirsts for both exercise and socialising … This tradition has not changed.)
Initially, the players only hit the ball directly against the front wall but then they became boastful, and deviant, and cheeky, and started to trick their opponents by hitting the ball onto the side wall first, to change the direction of the play. And so this shot, called The Boast, came into being. The Beauty, who can give you the edge, or The Beast who will expose you, dreadfully.
It is not natural to hit the ball in one direction in order that it goes in another. Nor is it natural to hit a ball into a wall closest to you. Beginners often struggle to get used to this unique aspect of squash. But as they become attuned to the game, this shot adds a whole new dimension to their repertoire, moving the opponent away from the tee, and ideally, into the front corners. The boast is also the key, to getting yourself “out of jail” when pressurised into those pits of the horrible back corners. The Beginner’s Nightmare.
So The Boast, or Angle, adds an Attacking, and a Defensive arrow to your quiver of artillery. And for the “Beginner getting Better”, it is often the difference between victory and defeat. Sadly, the Boast soon becomes a Beast. As they progress, the success that it brings , becomes addictive, and they are seduced into playing it more and more frequently, sometimes to the point of abuse. And somewhere in this progression, the Beauty becomes the Beast. An addictive, reflex needle that does horrible damage.
Understanding the difference between Attack and Defence becomes the new key. Used defensively, and hit higher, the Beautiful Boast gets you out of trouble, and gives you time to recover to the tee. Used on attack, with varying pace, off loose drives or crosscourts, it sucks the opponent off the tee, and into distant front corners, where their options for attack are limited.
But …if played badly, and too often, she is a Beast, merely opening up the court for your opponent, and offering numerous easy options, to punish you again, and send you scurrying off , fetching more, while the tee is dominated
So how do we develop this mathematical precision of angled boasting ?
Probably the most over-used and abused squash practice, is the Boast-and-Drive routine. Because it is an easy routine, it is one which coaches use ad infinitum, often to the players’ detriment. Practised lazily, it achieves little and imprints a host of squash sins into the muscle-memory of the brain.But practised correctly, where both players simulate match conditions, move to the tee, prepare their racquets and allow themselves space, it produces magic which will add huge value to anyone’s game as it practises technique, control, improved movement and fitness. And ironically, because the boast forces an increase in shoulder turn, a player’s drive often improves via this routine.
Like most things of beauty, the Boast should be used selectively in order to be appreciated. And if one watches the top players, the mantra of, “When you are crying out to boast, DON’T” shouts loudly. They use her very selectively, and they appreciate and practise all of her beautiful subtleties and variations. The bulleted low 3-walled nick, the floated sucker, the tantalizing trickle boast, the lifted stay-alive time-saver, the revolting, rectangular reverse angle, the high cork-screwer which pulls the opponent back into the opposite corner, the back-walled floater, and on the Doubles court, the middle-court mover which pulls both opponents out of position.
Storr Hunter left a legacy of sportsmanship, commitment, graciousness and humility, and is remembered for these qualities at the SA Masters inter-provincial. But that afternoon, he left an indelible mark in my memory. What a wonderful man. What a wonderful athlete. What an incredible Boaster !
So, all ye Squash Players, go forth in triumph. Seek the Beauty in the Boast. Banish the addictive Beast into Neverland. And you will play, and win, and live, happily ever after.
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I wonder if that Shakespeare feller ever knew he would be raised and glorified in a prestigious Squash Column in the Sport Elizabeth. Hope he feels honoured that Hamlet’s famous “To be” words, as he contemplated life and death, and the meaning of existence, have stimulated the topic of this column. Like Hamlet, standing at Ophelia’s grave, her skull in hand, I stand at the Squash Courts, racquet and ball in hand, contemplating the possible meaning of life without my lover, Squash.
I am a frustrated man. No, I am not wearing purple, and my marriage is fine ( I think). But my lover has left me. With an othroscoped Brazilian knee that has had its protective cartilage shaved, I have been banished to a possible Neverland of Squash, which does not know the joys of the sweat, the tiredness, the panting, the competitive battle, the joy de vivre, the tactical chess-like manoeuvring, the camaraderie, the relaxed feeling, lying back, having released those happy endorphins of the match. Even the beers don’t taste quite as good if you haven’t paid for them in some form of blood, sweat or tears.
But I do have Coaching. I mumbled something in last month’s column that it was lust that sucked me into this world of coaching. But that flirtation has developed into an interest, to a hobby, to a passion. And brought rewards, recognition, has taken me around the world, exposed me to a menagerie of weird and wonderful people and politics, and introduced me to squash folk who I have been honoured to share in their growth as squash players and people. And it has supplemented my salary to enable me to buy some beers for the fridge at home. So, while I am side-lined, I can still be involved, which might just save my marriage and save me from following Ophelia into a suicidal pond.
While Golfers seem to have an inherent need to improve their technical skills, and despite the fact that there are volumes of Golf literature and magazines offering sage biblical advice, leading to the Holy Grail Of Golf, Golf Coaches are in demand and earn decent existences. Conversely, squash players, stranded with very little self-help literature, seem to think it infra dig to seek help, and seem happy to survive on scraps of advice chucked around the bar after a match. And to be seen practising on one’s own. Sacrilege – embarrassment blush….a bit like being caught by your mother!
If, and when, squash players do seek assistance, they gravitate to the top players who can probably help with a bit of technique, and some routines to help develop a shot, but generally-speaking, they understand their own games, and often don’t understand the difficulties that Andrew Average , Betty Beginner or Junior Johan experience. Added to the Squash Coaching conundrum, is that while many attend courses, very few qualify, as the process is laborious and lengthy but still far less demanding than those of sports like golf, tennis and cricket. As a result, there are heaps of folk “coaching” but very few who are qualified
Ironically, The Coaches Course is very theoretic in terms of the mechanics of the shots, and analysis of strokes and tactical play and being able to organise squads and handle groups of 12 kids on 2 courts, and how teach someone to get the ball out of those hooky little corners. But only once you have completed the course and you go out and start trying things, and succeeding and failing, that is when you really start learning. And that is when you learn, that coaching is not about All of the Above in The Coaches Manual.
No, proper coaching is about relationships and people, and getting to understand them and realising that every individual is different, and you cannot apply one principle to every person. Proper Coaching is about being a mentor, a friend, a trainer, a psychologist, a politician, a travel guide, a dietician, a juggler, an entertainer, a promoter, an analyst, a researcher, a reader, a collector, an innovator, a motivator. Squash is merely the conduit. As a coach, whatever the sport, you can become an incredibly influential person in a person’s life.
Realise too, that Squash Coaches all have their areas of speciality. Just as doctors will differ with their diagnoses, so different coaches will confuse with contrasting theories and advice. Some are good with beginners, some with inter-mediate, some will be better with elite players. It is still a dream to get a Coaches Workshop together in Port Elizabeth where coaches, qualified or not and teachers involved with squash, gather to share, standardise ideas, and learn from one another. Watch this space.
So for those out there, seeking some squash salvation, coaching is a good thing, and can help you and your game. But find someone to whom you or your child relate , who is balanced and sees the bigger picture, who realises that there will be losses and you can learn from them, who appreciates that before improvement, there may be some dips in performance. For juniors and beginners, it is about ingraining good technique, building confidence and having fun. For inter-mediate players, it is identifying strengths and weaknesses and developing routines around these, which also develop tactical awareness. For the club journeyman, middle-leaguer, small tweaks in technique, tactical awareness and shot selection and some video footage can clarify. And for the ambitious, like having a personal trainer, a coach can push you, feed and practise with you, monitor your progress, and plan for you. If you are prepared to help yourself, you can become a champion. But that is your choice. A coach can only guide you and point you in the right direction
To be…or To be Coached ?
Will coaching help if I am not going to practise ? No.
Will practice help, if I don’t know how to practise ? No .
You can stay as you are for the rest of your life, or you can change ?
Adi Hansen Exhibition Squash: Thursday 19 April at Crusaders
Our bigger rugby, cricket and golf brothers are deluged with TV coverage of their sports but the Cinderella cousins suffer, having to pick up titbits of stuff on the internet. So when opportunity knocks, we must grab it. Former National Champion, Adrian Hansen, will be visiting PE on 19 April to play 3 of EP’s Top Players. Hansen, who has fought back from a near fatal car accident to resurrect his career, is probably one of the best players to watch in terms of racquet preparation and efficient movement. If you are not going to use a coach, one of the best forms of learning, is imitation. And there will also be lots of fun stuff and typical squash camaraderie.
Other Important Squash Dates for April:
Wednesday 4 April:
League Captain’s Meeting at Old Grey at 5pm. League handbooks will be distributed and Markers and Refs Talk will be presented
Monday 10 April: Winter Leagues begin
Thursday 19: Adi Hansen Exhibition and Fun Squash Evening at Crusaders
Friday to Sunday (20 -22 April): Rhodes Open
26 – 29 April: Londt Park Open
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Dancing is not my forte’. Socially educated at the Grip-and-Graunch Garage parties of the Seventies in King William’s Town, moves on the dance floors were limited because of bodies in the corners, spades and rakes hidden behind record players, and that teenage tension and desire to get close-and-personal with any of the King Dream team, who were available on the prescribed Friday night.
My formal education into waltzes and two-steps was a crash course run by my mother on the Friday before a matric dance which resulted in a stilted, non-conversational dance style linked to whispered counting and consistent glances at my leaden-filled feet. While ( I think ) I am a reasonably presentable male with a reasonable intelligence and a reasonable sense of humour, females feared my fumbling approaches as they tip-toed away to the toilets. At university, my Afrikaner friends raised on a healthy nutrition of “ lang-arm dans”, had girls swooning and queuing to accompany them on the dance floor. I, conversely, between beers of Dutch courage, plodded along, counting my 1-2-3’s, stepping on toes and ‘shoulder-charging” unexpectant couples. To be different, I resorted to wild, frenetic, sweaty Saturday Night Fever/ Grease and Dirty Dancing-type gyrations in an attempt to attract attention. And as a person with limited musical rhythm, this was not pretty. This “season” of dancing was brought to an abrupt halt by my future wife, when she told me, that as much as she loved me, I looked like an idiot on the dance floor, and by association, she felt like one too. My confidence was shattered, and I have become a dancing wall-flower.
I am sure you are asking yourself, “What is this oke on about ? What does his ineptitude at dancing, have to do with Squash ?”
Well, it’s all about Movement.
Coaching someone to hit a squash ball is easy. Coaching someone to move effectively is difficult. For many years, movement has largely been ignored, and players, similarly to me and my dancing education, have been left to their own devices and have developed a myriad of bad habits in the process.
Many people will watch squash and marvel at the incredible speed and retrieving skills of the top players, yet effective squash movement is not all about speed. And for players whose strength is speed, speed can become their biggest weakness, as they use their speed ineffectively, and get themselves into bad positions, which impacts on their shot selection, and shot production. Many people are turned off squash when seeing it on TV, as firstly, they struggle to follow the ball, and secondly, the top players seem to glide effortlessly around the court, much like good dancers, and make the game look very simple. Good movement starts with 2 of the most basic principles of squash. Watching your opponent, and recovering to an area around the tee.
Most beginner squash players are ‘front-wall watchers” and only react, and start moving to the ball after it has hit the front wall. Hence, the efficacy of cross-court shots and boasts at beginner level. As players improve, they think that they watch their opponent play their shot, and most squash players think that they recover to the tee. And maybe they do, but not properly. It is all about split seconds.
Watching your opponent play his shot has huge benefits. Apart from avoiding being burned and bruised by that searing rubber ball-bullet, you can start picking up clues via body position and racquet preparation as to what shot is to be played, and in many cases, you can start moving in the correct direction, before the shot has even played .
Recovery to the Tee, is the most serious ailment. As in Golf, where many a duffed shot is a result of lifting one’s head in expectation of seeing your ball flying seamlessly into the heavens, most squash players, having hit the ball, stop, momentarily, to see what the result of their shot has been. And then they move towards the tee. This delay is the key, as they are now a metre off the tee area when the opponent plays his next shot and now have to sprint to the ball, which then results in not being able to stop properly, getting too close to the ball and losing balance as they perform their next shot. And so begins a snowball-effect as you are moved more and more out of position, and have to run further and faster after each shot.
The ideal, is to be positioned on the tee with knees slightly bent, watching your opponent as closely as possible, picking up clues as to the probability of his next shot, weighting yourself in that direction.On leaving the tee, preparing your racquet and decide what shot you should be playing, glide to a position from which you would play your shot, leaving sufficient stretching space between you and the ball, and from a balanced position, play your shot. Now, is when you must MOVE. Recovery to the tee, should be your quickest movement. A short quick burst, and you are ready for your next shot.
But how do you improve your movement, especially once bad movement habits have been imprinted into your muscle memory ? The secret is Ghosting – the equivalent of Shadow Boxing. Be warned – some of your regular playing partners may think you have “lost your senses” over the Christmas break, but get onto the court on your own with a racquet and simply practise moving around the court as you would in a match. To do ghosting correctly, one should concentrate more on the technique of movement, gliding to the position from where you would play the ball , selecting a shot, playing the shot correctly, and then moving quickly back to the tee, constantly visualizing the rally as if it were happening in a real match situation. One of the most important changes you can make when Ghosting, is selecting your shot as you move to the tee, as your sub-conscious will then position your body correctly for your chosen shot. The second area of focus should be where the ball would be, and maintaining a distance between yourself and the imagined ball.
Most players stick to a set schedule, moving from corner to corner in a clock-wise , or anti-clock-wise direction, but random shot selection is probably better. These exercises can be further advanced by isolating specific areas , and only moving from cross-court to cross-court, or just focusing into the back areas of the court.
Ghosting sessions, linked to solo practice, will add huge value to your game. Apart from improving your movement on the court, if you are playing the shot correctly, you will also improve your stroke technique. Break your session into 30 to 45 second sessions with equal amounts of rest , and as a fitness exercise, it will add even more value, as you are replicating the exact movements of a real match.
I wonder. How many girls could I have made happy, had I been given this sort of “dancing education” as a young, virile teenager ?
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I first met Rodney Durbach when I was a young and ambitious squash player, coach and administrator. I was coach of the EP Schools side at an Under 19 Schools Inter-Provincial, and had just been appointed Chairman of the SA Schools Squash Association. I thought I was quite important. On the final day of the tournament, we hosted a Financial group who were interested in sponsoring SA Junior Squash.. If I could swing the deal, I would be even more important.
As luck would have it, after a lunch where we had sprouted forth about the professionalism, commitment and well- disciplined behavior of out juniors, we wandered down to the Stellenbosch courts. That afternoon, Northern Transvaal was playing off for the wooden spoon of the A Section Inter-Provincial, and as we arrived at the court where the match was taking place, one, Rodney Durbach, burst out of the court, uttering swear words and profanities, and wearing a dress, via collusion with their girl’s side.True schoolboy humour. Yes. Sign of a sense of adventure. Yes. A person not going to conform to “old” ways of doing things. Potential to step out of comfort zone. Yes. A Great Advertisment for our potential future sponsors - NO!
Needless to say, the sponsorship did not materialise, and I took an instant disliking to Rodney Durbach, who was right up at the top of the SA Schools tree, and, in my view, should have known better. I wrote him off as one of those who would disappear as the going became tougher in the adult world of squash. One who was fit and fast, but would not have the skills or mentality to take himself to the top levels that we aspired for our juniors.
How wrong could I have been.
Here was a man who was prepared to grit it through, to work at his game, prepared to take himself out of his comfort zones, to learn, and grow himself. And gradually, he outstripped his contemporaries as he travelled overseas to eventually reach the top 25 in the world, claim the national title a number of times, and represent South Africa on the international stage with much success. From a youngster who I had dismissed with contempt, I now have huge admiration and respect for the man, and the squash player, and am proud to say, I am friends with Rod Durbach. I have coached with him, I have played doubles with him, I have reffed him, where I was treated with respect, and I have partied with him. And now he has produced a Squash Book which I honestly believe will help many squash players, of all levels, take themselves to new levels of play, and understanding of the game.
If Ian Mackenzie's "Squash Workshop" is the current bible of Squash Coaching, “SQUASH with the Pros” is a worthy handbook, a textbook for regular reference, a simply explained view of squash, very different from the traditional Squash Coaching Books which are sometimes very hard to decipher. It addresses the needs of beginners, seeking technical assistance without much of the technical jargon, and offers simple but effective drills and routines which will help to get you to a level of play where you can compete and enjoy. And for coaches whose focus is at Beginner level, will do well to use it as a great reference.
But then , Durbach takes you into the Thinking World of Squash, the world of tactical scheming, of reading opponents, of preparing for matches and tournaments, that 80% of the Squash Iceberg that few people understand, but which elevates the top 20% to where they aspire to be. So for Ambitious players, a peep into the "unknown world" of the professional squash player, and for coaches, with aspirations for proteges, ignore this offering at your peril.
This is not a “read-from-beginning-to-end” book. Clearly indexed and sub-titled, it takes you, from where you are at the moment, to where you want to go, and with highlighted quotes and affirmations, it is very easy-to-read. If I had to be critical, I would have looked for more on movement, an area seriously lacking in skilled coaching, and would have loved to read more on Durbach’s views on concentration, maintaining confidence and some of those more subtle and intangible areas of sport which are so difficult to control.
But maybe, and hopefully, he has left these for a sequel. We live in hope, but for the time being, there is much to digest.
The price is R299 + postage. Books can be bought online at www.publisher.co.za. Or contact me at 082 4170712 0r Rodney @ 083 469 5578 or email at email@example.com to arrange a copy.
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Balls to the Wall: Golf – I Hate You
(Practice Does NOT Make Perfect)
My love-hate relationship with that great game ,Golf was taken to new levels last month when I played in a couple of Corporate Days, and piqued with a 3-day trip to play 45 holes at the cathartic Katberg Estate. I added a new golf course to my list , scored time off work, mixed with wonderful people and again experienced that calm, tranquillity and serenity of a beautiful course. Unfortunately, I also arrived at levels of anger and frustration, which dragged me close to depression. I hit some oomph-lovely drives, a few tink-beautiful irons, the odd exquisite chip and a couple of fist-pumping putts. Amongst “all of the above”, I also hit squirrel rapers, a Pink Lady, dare I admit it - a freshie, a “square cut”, some up-and-unders, buried myself in bunkers , bumbled some 10 metre humpty-dumpty’s and was seriously well over par, on use of the F-word. I cursed myself, the world and Golf.
Surely, someone who has played provincial squash, Premier League cricket, and 1st XV rugby, should have enough ball sense to be able to manage a little white ball around a course in, at least, 90 shots. That would make me happy. Instead, I raise my bat, regularly. I have spent time with my ex-pupil Birdie Van Der Nest, Graeme Whale has attempted to guide me, and while I am under their tutelage, I actually impress myself. I believe I can become a Golfer. But then like a sinner on a Sunday , I leave the safety of their sermons…… and head back to my Squash Court comfort zone where I know what I am doing, and try to guide folk who are feeling the same frustrations on the squash court as I feel on the Golf Course. I become the Preacher …. and the next time a Golf Course sees me, is at the next Corporate Day where I head-butt with those old “friends”, Frustration and Anger.
Actually, I lie. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, usually, just before that next Corporate Event, when grass is mowed, chores are done, coaching completed, week is planned, wife having a kip, I sneak down to the Driving Range, and bash a bucket of balls. Exactly that. Bash some balls. With no real idea of what I am doing. I leave the range, proud that I have put in some “practice’ and with great expectations of miraculous improvement.
This brings me to my point. We are told that Practice makes Perfect. That , dear Sports Friends, is a lie. Practice makes Permanent. Only Perfect Practice, makes Perfect. As a Squash Coach, I get excited when I see players getting onto the court on their own but I despair , when I see them, mindlessly moering the ball around. They are probably causing more harm to their game, and imprinting bad habits into their mind muscles. They say it takes 10 000 shots to develop a skill, but more to unlearn a bad habit . Sadly, practice can become boring, and when it gets boring, you are taking your game down a bumpy road.
So how should one practise ?
- Know what you want to practise and how long you intend practising. If you only have half an hour availablel, trying to cover the “whole syllabus” is not wise. Most people immediately head for the forearm side. Why ? Comfort zone. You should be wanting to work on a weakness. But sometimes, you may want to be just finding a rhythm. However, knowing what you want to achieve is critical. ( I have no clue why I play such erratic golf, so I don’t really know what to practise)
- When playing, think tactically. Be loose. Be free. ( I wish I would listen to myself on the golf course!!) But when practising, think technique. Focus on your racquet preparation, keeping your head still, your follow through or the space between you and the ball.
- Set yourself targets. That is the key to preventing boredom, and measuring whether you are improving. And start with simple targets. Just hitting the ball into the Service Box 10 x requires skills which will be converted into your match tomorrow. As you improve, you can increase the volume or ideally narrow the target and increase the pace. ( My problem at the Driving Range is that it would take me 4 buckets to achieve my targets)
- Once you have achieved your target e.g 20 backhand drives into your identified area, do some fitness/movement exercises. It is relatively easy to learn to hit the ball. The difficult part of squash is learning how to move effectively on the court, and your position in relation to the ball. Most players don’t recover to the tee properly, have poor racquet preparation, force themselves to run too fast, eventually run too far and are unbalanced when they play the shot . You may look like an idiot, running around the court on your own, but if you are doing it correctly, apart from improving your fitness, you are probably benefitting your game more than mindlessly klapping the ball around the court ( Warning – doing “court sprints” at the range – could result in arrest, or maybe being barred from the club)
- Now move onto your next shot routine/target. You may be a little tired now, so hitting those targets becomes a little more difficult. But should you not be replicating a match-like situation ?. Hitting 50 volleys after a set of Ghosting is not easy, but nor is recovering from a tough rally at 8-9 in the 5th.
- At the end of your session, you should be reasonably tired as you would probably have done 6 to 10 court movement exercises. A good idea is to keep a journal/diary of what you do when you practice, so that you can adjust targets, and measure improvement which will hopefully be translated into results
- It is advisable to ask a coach/an experienced player to work with you in identifying areas where you should focus, and to give you a variety of practice and movement routines to use. Correctly. Then, it is up to you to develop your own regimen. To adapt the Runner’s mantra – Plan your Practice and then Practise your Plan.
- Last, but not least, practice must be regular if you really want to improve. An odd Sunday afternoon bash, does not work. Ask me. I know
I am told that Gary Kirsten, would not allow himself a beer, until he had hit 300 cricket balls in a day. And he loved his beer. Seems like his plan worked for him … and the Indians last month. Ok, all you Golfing Fundi’s and Friends. Anybody want to perform a Miracle, and guide me down the path to that Holy Grail, a Golfing Peace of Mind ?
A very “generic” practice routine lasting about 25 minutes might look a little like this:
20 backhand drives into target area at medium pace
1 X 45 second ghosting into corners
45 second break
20 backhand drives into target area at varied pace
1 x 45 second crosscourts with racquet in hand –
45 second break
20 forehand drives into target area at medium pace
20 x Jelly Legs
45 second break
20 x forehand drives into target area at varied pace
1 x 45 second ghosting into front corners
50 Forehand and Backhand drives. Sidewall to Sidewall
1 x 45 second ghosting into back corners
50 Backhand Volleys
1 x 45 second 1-stride stars from the tee
50 forehand volleys
1 minute of Lengths – target 20
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Balls to the Wall: A Coaching Fruit Salad
Well-known EP Golfer, Doc De Kock, guru of cricketing technique, Richard Stretch and I, have quaffed many a Castle, and burned many a tjop, discussing , debating and generally disagreeing on the similarities and dissimilarities between the squash swing and the golf swing. It is probably my obstinate pig-headedness to continue with my gentle squash swing that has earned me the title of the worst golfer ever to have played at some of the best courses in South Africa . If a jury were to be listening to our arguments, their decision would be very simple. And I would be found guilty of the gruesome murder of the Golfer’s Swing and banished from all golf courses, to spend my days in solitary confinement in a sweaty Squash Cell far away from sane, normal people.
In my coaching, I have always tried to use other sporting examples to illustrate aspects of the squash game as most of my pupils have either played these other sports or are well aware of them. The most obvious is that all ball-sports are sideways-on activities. You face one way, and hit the ball in the direction that your shoulders are pointing. Play the ball “chest-on” and you open yourself up to all sorts of technical problems that will haunt you under pressure.
There is so much we can learn from other sports. I have often confessed to my addiction to squash, and secretly, to my addiction to beer, but I am also addicted to magazines … sport magazines. But squash publications are few and far between, so I seek solace in other sports’ specialists. I devour them in search of new ideas. And while I have learned little, or not listened to De Kock and co, I have picked up many ideas from their magazines .Some examples:
David Leadbetter : Keep your left wrist firm
The floppy wrist is a nightmare for beginners , particularly on the backhand
Tiger Woods: Chin up for better posture. Look like an athlete ready for action –
A touch ambiguous and the mind boggles, but once you have straightened yourself back to the real sports arena, ….while Woods is talking about posture and the swing, it is also so important to keep your chin up and exude a positive image, no matter how tired, or how far behind you may have fallen in the match
Hank Haney: To improve your hybrid , make a full shoulder turn
Oh, if I could get my beginners to swing their shoulders into their shots and not merely swing their arms. We have to get the Big Muscles into the swing. Ok , let’s keep focus now…
Jack Nicklaus: Find your routine. Quick or slow – only you know what really works
Thanks Jack. But how many squash players really know their game. How many get mindlessly sucked into their opponents style of play.
James Gough talks about “Quiet eyes” when putting – the same can be said for drop shots which are so often tinned because we are looking at our target
The oft debated discussion between Tennis and Squash is another case in point. Tennis coaches cringe at the thought of their protégés dabbling in the evils and wizardry of squash. Squash technique is a cancerous growth and never to be considered by tennis players. But have a look at this excerpt from a tennis magazine
“ Nadal has started playing it more . Federer has just been getting better and better. The champion, though, may well be Fabrice Santoro, of France, who was knocked out in the first round by Andy Murray, another decent-looking squash player, three days ago.
We are talking here about the use of the wrist. Any beginner given the traditional start to tennis will be taught to lock the wrist, to hit groundstrokes as if the hand is an extension of the forearm. Yes, roll the wrist, but not do not break it, do not use it as a hinge. Do not play squash. “
“If you're dragged out wide and you've got no chance to get a racket on it properly, you can either throw up a lob , or you can alter your grip and play a squash shot,” Andrew Castle, BBC presenter and former British No1, said. Castle should know about squash because, 16 years after retiring from professional tennis, he is still playing squash for Surrey. It was Castle who taught Stefan Edberg to play squash when Edberg was living in London; and now hasTim Henman as a playing partner”
The squash lobby has noticed this, too, notably Peter Nicol, the former world No1. “Yes, they are clearly adopting squash techniques, the use of the wrist shots, especially on grass,” he said. “Both squash and tennis have got quicker and you have to adapt and mix it up. You can't just use the old techniques any more. Federer once said that a lot of his different shots were from his days playing squash.”
So watch for the wide-out squash flick. “Obviously Federer and Nadal do it,” Castle said. “Juan Carlos Ferrero is brilliant at it. Andy Roddick can flip a squash shot, too. But Santoro - virtually every shot he plays is squash. If he did play squash, what a nightmare he would be.”
Switching from tennis to squash is a doddle, I love nothing more than to find a tennis convert coming to me. Their inherent desire to volley immediately spring boards them and our biggest challenge is to teach them not to run into the walls
… which they learn, quicker than rugby players who thrive on that contact. EP rugby legend, Barry Pinnock is a new convert to squash, and while quite handy, competing with him is not for the feint-hearted. And Tennis books and magazines are a mine of useful information for squash players as the tactics and strategies are so similar
At the end of last year, I was fortunate to be invited to attend a multi-sport Coaches Conference hosted by SASCOC in Johannesburg where a hidden dream of mine came hurtling back to me – to set up a Coaches Workshop where coaches from various disciplines share ideas on common aspects of all sports. Yes, techniques are different, but training, skill practices, movement, and most importantly, mental toughness can surely be translated across the various sports.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to think that a little Squash Coach in PE had helped Corrie Van Zyl to strangle that Chokers label of our Proteas in India and that Peter de V, had been inspired to use some more attacking, speed-based squash tactics to do the double at the RWC in October. And I am sure that the moustachioed one could add some value to our EP squash players’ lives.
Now to work on the golf swing.
Qualifying as a Squash Coach has been a long laborious process involving a weekend course, completing a massive workbook, some practicals , a Markers and Refs Exam and an assessment. Consequently many people complete the course, but seldom complete the process which has resulted in a host of “rogue coaches” who are all probably doing a fine job in growing the sport, but there is very little control and synchronisation of methods.
In an attempt to “gather all coaches” Squash SA has introduced 2011 as an Amnesty Year, and coaches can gain qualification through putting together a “CV/Portfolio “of your coaching background/history, writing a short open book exam and doing a practical assessment.
Coaches who are interested are requested to contact me on 082 4170712 to set up these assessments. Alternately, an “Assessment Day” will be run on Saturday 26 March at Crusaders. A New Coaches Course has been provisionally pencilled in for the weekend of 2 and 3 April.
And while on Coaching, the innovative committee at Old Grey, have acquired the services of Scottish Coach, Doug Moffatt to fast track the fitness levels and skills of their members, particularly those of the their “Adopted Development” team who will be making a leap from 7th League champions to the 4th League this year.
With Rudi Van Niekerk and Lizelle Goosen claiming sibling victories in the Houdini Westview Tournament, the squash season has kicked off at a rate of knots and the Super and Goffer Leagues will be concluded early in March.
The below rankings, take all 2011 results into account, but , it must be emphasised, are provisional and merely a guide towards EP Selection
- Rudi Van Niekerk Lizelle Goosen
- Zane Schwarz Jacqui Ryder
- Jason Le Roux Elani Landman
- Sean Bailey Lume Landman
- Quinton Masters Anlen Murray
- Thami Mngcete Dianne Van Eyk
- Dane Bigara Karen Schepers
- Keith Stewart Keirryn Keeton
- Peter Ryder Sarah O Grady
- Sean Viljoen Allison Doe
- Garth Plaaitjies Dione Johnson
- Bonakele Nomkala Nicki Hurr
- Jarryd Terblanche Lisa O Grady
- Dan Schultz Joanna Dodd
- Jacques Laas Kate Pearson
- Anton Van Niekerk Aimee Brenner
- Andrew Reekie Caroline Rose
- Lonwabo Sigele Angela Fraser
- Travis La Mude Michelle Roos
- Rian Raubenheimer Hayley Russell
- Alton Senekal Kathy Hoy
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Balls to the Wall: Five Minute Window of Wasted Opportunity
Sarel Speelman is playing Sibongile Mdlali. Sarel is from Cradock. He is a big boy whose first love is rugby. He is quite heavy and not that fast but he can give the ball a good “klap”. Sibongile is from Zwide. He is skinny, light, lithe and quick. It is the EP Schools Under 16 Trials and the 2 have never played one another.
They emerge and start warming up. A misnomer really. Hopefully, they will have done some dynamic stretching – a short jog, running on the spot, mimicking their on-court movements , racquet swinging, and then, some static stretches. That, they should have done before entering the court. Sarel , wearing rugby shorts, and a muscle bulging, tight-fitting John Deere- sponsored shirt from an Under 15 Rugger festival, moves to the back of the court and bliksems the ball, hard, once, twice, thrice, four times to himself . He then mis-cues and the ball squirrels over to Sibongile’s side. A similar process follows with Sibo, wearing hand-me down shirt, baggies and shoes with different colour laces, drives down the wall, drops to himself, plays 3 volleys and flicks a cross-court to Sarel, who pounds the ball into the tin ….and the process continues with one player, standing idle, while the other, plays with himself. Irritating, infuriating, unethical and unfriendly
There is probably no malice in this selfish but naievely stupid way these 2 prepare for their match, which could see one rocket into the rankings and eventually lead to provincial selection. Literally, all they are doing is warming up the ball . The Ethics of Squash with regard to the warm-up, call for players to hit the ball to each other so that both players have an equal share of the 5 minute warm-up period. The odd shot to yourself is fine but if you wish to ensure the wrath of an experienced player, go the Sarel/Sibongile route, and enjoy/suffer the consequences.
Having said that, this is an ideal window of opportunity to prepare yourself, mentally, for the challenge ahead. How are YOU feeling ? Some nights, maybe because of bio-rhythms, or maybe a bad day at the office, your racquet feels like a plank. On others, your racquet feels like a wand, and you can weave magic. If your mouth is dry, or you’ve been yawning, know that your body is telling you that you are nervous. Take little jumps, run on the spot, unjangle those nerves.
Your 1st objective is to establish your Length. Every court you play on is different. Londt Park courts are hot and bouncy, Crusaders are cold and slow, and at Westview, as you move from court 1 to court 7, the conditions change. At MNNU and Swifts, the ceilings seem low, which makes lobbing, difficult. Travel to Rhodes , and expect something completely different ! High, cold, cavernous, slow and low bouncing. And travel up-country to play at altitude. It’s almost a different ball game. How high, and how hard, do you need to hit the ball to establish a good length on this court ?
What about the ball ? Is it new, and bouncy, or have you been given an old bugger? If you are first on court, it will be cold or if you are playing in a tournament, it’s probably blistery and bouncing all over the place. Check to see its smoothness, and if shiny, use some spit and rub the sheen off. A smooth, shiny ball skids on the floor and makes boasting different and erratic.
Width is another area ignored by many. There is no rule or ethic that states you have to hit the ball comfortably to your opponents. Give them an equal opportunity to hit the ball – Yes. But don’t offer them freebies. Any advantage you can gain, must be taken. Try to get your cross-courts wide, hitting the side wall, opposite to where your opponent is standing . Oh, and that’s another thing. Most players tuck themselves into the back of the court in the warm up, and if they have a weakness in the back corners, they expose themselves, horribly. Move forward to the red line of the tee. There you can volley, stay out of the corners and accustom yourself to the speed of the ball, from the front wall to the tee – which is where you want to be, when the “battle” begins. If you were a cricketer, would you rather face Dale Steyn off 22 yards or 25 yards ? I rest my case.
Back to Sarel and Sibongile. Neither of them know each others’ games, and style of play. Now is the time for them to try and work out some form of game plan to use.
They should be tossing up a slow, high lob, especially onto the Backhand where most players are notoriously weak. If your opponent messes up his return, or lets it pass over his head, know that this is a potential weakness. Toss another one up. Let him get cross with himself even before he starts. Throwing in a couple of lobs will also help you to work out what sort of service, might be best for the night
Play a couple of boasts. Does your opponent run forward quickly, or does he amble/lumber forward to fetch the ball. Tick it off in your brain. The Quick One is likely to be a runner and a fetcher. The Lumberer might be a tad slow, and maybe a shot player, prone to unforced errors.
Smash the ball as hard as you can. How does he react to pace ? Maybe a hard service, directly at the body, might be an option tonight? If you get an easy opportunity, go for the nick. Be positive. Make him scared. If a reverse boast is part of your artillery, play one or two. Or maybe don’t. And surprise him when the match begins.
After two and half minutes, the marker will ask you to change sides. Now, the whole process starts again. Most players hit the ball much harder on their forehand side, but are also wilder and woolier there. Some may not hit the ball as hard on the backhand, but are more controlled. But if there is a weaker side, it needs to be noted, banked and exploited when the match begins.
Certain matches stick in your brain. One, was against a young Paul Barrow at Rhodes. Fit and fast , he smashed me in the first 2 games and I was heading for a miserable defeat and a sad trip home. Desperate, I remembered from the warm up that he seemed a bit weaker on his backhand, particularly in the air. With nothing to lose, I did nothing but pummel and plop the ball into the backhand back corner. Paul fell apart and crumbled to a 2-3 defeat. The beers tasted so much better on the way home that night.
“Time” … Take your time. You still have 90 seconds. Are your laces tight. Drink some water. Is your towel available, your cell phone switched off. Consolidate your match plan. If you have used the 5-minute warm-up effectively, you are probably on the way to a notable victory. And the beers will taste much better tonight.
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The Future is Now
From September onwards, all around the Corporate World, Businesses and Bosses will be rallying their troops and taking them off to remote venues where they review the year, strategise around their strengths, blot out their blunders and their blemishes, and generally have a pretty good time, span-bou-ing, and gees-goo-ing, late, into the early mornings.
As the Winter Leagues draw to a close, many of the multi-sporting kinds, will be burying their racquets and bags in cupboards until next year so they can start on a new challenge, rest, and bronze their bodies for the Summer months without squash, infringing on their focus. The older hacks who hustle around the courts, keeping their tickers ticking and to stop the flab from over-flowing, don’t worry much about seasons, and strengths and strategizing. Winter League flows into Doubles season and then Summer League, and Club Champs, and then .. Poof – it’s Winter League again. And they start again, living with what they have been given, and accepting their weaknesses, and, maybe, if they are wise, trying to play around them.
But for the young, fast-improving, and ambitious, their squash future lies in their hands. Now is the time, to be copying big business with their financial years and strategic planning, and start planning their squash year in similar vein. Squash should no longer be viewed as a Winter Sport. The season is a 12 month period, starting when you want/need to start it. But if you wait until January, you’ll be playing catch-up all season. The future is now. Much of your success for 2011, sits in front of you at your desk. That old cliché’ of “Failing to Plan … is Planning to Fail” rings clear.
Start by checking the 2010 National, Regional and Schools Tournament calendars. These don’t change much from year-to-year so you can identify periods which you can block off , and gear yourself to peaking at the right times of the year . Schools players, in particular, have it tough as their tournaments and trials start in January, peak in April, and then again in July
Apart from having a good time, what else can we steal from Business Strategic Planning sessions ?
Reviewing and re-setting Goals.
If you don’t set goals, you are probably going nowhere. Hopefully, you will have done this last season, and somewhere, hopefully in that Squash Diary/Log Book that you keep, you will have written down some goals, and some of the things you had planned to do in order to achieve those goals. Now is the time to review those goals, and re-set your Squash GPS for 2011. Tick off what you have achieved, and write down what you have done in your squash life this year. You might actually smile to yourself, and feel quite proud. Now, be brutally honest with yourself, and answer why you may not have achieved some. Leave it there and let’s move forward.
What do you want to achieve next year ? What league do you want to play? Where would you like to be ranked ? Who do you need to beat in order to achieve those goals ? What do you want to add to your game ? Think out of the box. Dream. Get into an ideal world. They call it Blue Sky thinking. Write those goals down, otherwise they are mere wishes in the wind, and will swirl around, and you will never peg yourself down to achieving them.
What do you need to do ? What do you need to do, and what do you need to change in the way you do things in order to achieve those goals that excite but will also extend you in 2011? Do you need to get fitter/ Develop your skills/Play more/ Play against stronger players/ Work with a coach/Find a mentor/ Play in more tournaments/spend more time doing solo practice/find yourself a practice partner with whom you can do routines.
Take some time out, once you have done your Blue Sky thinking, and penned what you want to achieve, and while you are wearing that Brutally Honest Cap, write down how you see yourself as a Squash Player. Under the categories of Skills, Technique, Fitness, Movement, Tactical Awareness and Mental Strength, rate yourself out of 10. What are your Strengths and what are your Weaknesses. Ask someone who knows you and your game to do the same, and then compare your views. My guess, is that your sheet will include more weaknesses than strengths, and that your mentor’s views will differ quite significantly from yours. Yours will probably have a longer list of weaknesses/negatives than that of your mentor/coach/fellow player. Synchronise the 2 for a real picture of you as a Squash Player.
Threats and opportunities may include tournaments you can play, a new shot to introduce into your game and opponents who have caused you problems. Time might be a factor and work, school, other sports and family commitments might also feature in your planning
Now, walk away from your diary and come back tomorrow or next week. Like an eagle looking forward, and down at next year, you can plan, and prepare. What you do in the next 3 months, from September till December could set the trend for what you will achieve in your squash life in 2011. Perhaps you too, need a break. A coach can possibly be most effective now while competitive pressure is off to help fix a technical or movement problem in your game. Or maybe, you want to focus on fitness and develop a good stamina base for next season - Running, cycling or swimming might be your call over the next 3 months.
Whatever the case, with a view of the year ahead, some goals scripted on paper, and a feel for where you are as a Squash Player, you are well set to take on 2011, and make it the best of your career.
The Fast Track League is a 5 week “Coaching League” geared around the ideas set out above. Enthusiastic, fast-improving, and ambitious players who are interested in participating are welcome to give me a shout on 082 4170712 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
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