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