Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Conversion of a Racketballer to a Squash Player

What is it about racquetball players who take up squash and basically don't seem to understand they are often dangerous to play. I recently watched a high level racquetball game and it was only then that I understood why. While most squash players as they get better begin to hit more and more of their shots out of the back and start understanding the concepts of clearing for their opponents, racquetball players don't have to contend with that since many shots I saw were round shots, for example, where the player has to turn around and hit the ball coming out of the back on the backhand side with his forehand. There's not the same continuous movement in racquetball so the players can pretty much stay in the center of the court and hit their shots, the ball bounces so much that inevitably the player doesn't have to move all that much. In squash the movement to and from the ball is continuous both in the front of the court and the back. respecting your opponent's path to the ball is critical in avoiding lots of contact and providing fair play. Simply put, you cannot block or hinder your opponents path to the ball -- the rule is quite clear about this. I've noticed racquetball players don't grasp this and have a tendency not to clear for their opponent. Or, they clear too slowly, which is against the rule because , again, you have to provide a path to the ball and your opponent doesn't have to wait for you to clear. I don't like getting on the court with ex-racquetball players because the also hang back towards the back, a typica stance in racquetball as opposed to move up. This creates or has a tendency to create too much contact and clearing is very difficult. These racketballers are the true dashers and bashers in squash. Some pick up the game pretty quickly and become students of what is a profoundly more challenging game than racquetball. Others play some version of racquetball/squash which is an ugly game to a decent squash player.

First and foremost, few can play A level squash without extensive coaching. Most squash players should always strive for A level squash because that is when the game is played at its finest. If you are 15 and a decent squash player, sure, you can aspire further than the A level, maybe pro, maybe top 100 who knows. But those players who don't really want to learn and understand this game, ie. get to the A level, they will linger in the lower levels of squash and never experience the 20 and 30 shot rallies A level players consistently experience. The will never know the sheer joy of playing all four corners of the court in one rally, cutting the ball off on the forehand rail and going cross court only to cover your opponents volley drop and extending yourself to throw up a lob and have an exchange of forhand rails tight to the wall, before your opponent hits a dying rail and you throw up a boast and your opponent fakes cross court and places a beautiful drop that bounces once and then hugs the side wall.

Instead, the players who never strive to achieve this, and I've noticed this especially with racquetball players are mired in hitting hard and loose balls with no concern for length or hitting a tight rail. They rarely work the point and look for the kill every opportunity. There's always the danger of their big back swings clocking you in the head or facel. So the racquetball players come to squash, even the really good ones. and try to muscle the ball past there opponent, they hit the ball hard and it invariably comes out to the center or off the back wall. This presents a problem for the striker, because his clearing collides with his shot, so he doesn't clear and stands while the ball flies past -- we talked about the difficulty this presents.

So what's really my point? I am confident that I can step on a racquetball court and play pretty easily without any coaching or much instruction. I am not confident a racquetball player can do that in squash. If you want to play squash at a high level to really appreciate it as more than running about and working a good sweat, take lessons, study and learn the game. Imagine a check player applying the same principles to chess? My advice learn the moves, the rules, right way to play -- squash players welcome heartily players from badminton, tennis and yes, even racquetball players who want to learn and play this key. Come to it with some sense of wanting to learn to well well, play right and play fair -- then play to win!

The racquetball stroke is big, there's lots of room on the racquetball court, unlike the squash court where the stroke must be compact and efficient. Getting on the court with these players makes me really nervous. I often feel the wind from there racquets so close to my face, especially on their follow throughs.

I for the most part won't get on the court with them to play, it's just too dangerous. And if they want lessons, they usually don't want to know a bout technique, just how to dig that dying ball out of the corners. They don't recognize the 10 things you have to learn and build upon before you know how to cut off the dying rail out of the back or how to retrieve the tight shot and rail it consitantly back. They want immediate results, the game to come to them which we all know squash never comes to anyone you have to go to it on your hands and knees stooped with hard work and long hours of practice.

I guess it's like a checker player wanting to master chess in a few just won't happen, think of what a chess master has gone through to take his opponent in three or four moves, it's not much different than what that A level squash player has done to volley drop off his opponents cross court to nick the ball. I admire the racquet ball players challenge and desire to play squash, but it's a much more complicated game, squash is, it takes years of patience and dedication and instruction to do what seems easy to those A level players -- yes, digging the ball out of the back at the A level is routine, that's the bread and butter of the game, once you routinely cover the back of the court then the fun really begins, covering the more complext and difficult task of playing the ball out of the front court.

Urban Squash and Rabbit Proof Fences

I recently watched this brilliant Australian film about Aborigines and the attempts in the early part of the last century to irradicate the aboriginal culture by forcing inter-marrige with whites over continuous generation. After all by the time you make it to the 4th generation of inter-marriage those offspring are only 5% Aborigine and 95% white European. Eugenics is nothing new, attempts like this to eliminate all vestiges of color and promote what is white is right permeates the white European traditions from hundreds of years ago.
So why do I bring this up? I have long been bothered by the urban squash programs that have sprung up all over te country. Essentially, you go into inner cities, select the best and the brightest and through squash and education, preferably in suburban boarding schools, you open a whole new world of opportunity to these inner city children. After watching that Australian movie, it put my dislikie for the premise of these urban squash programs into better perspective. Basically, let's take the best from the ghetto, put them in predominatly white boarding schools, and take the "ghetto" out of them. What about all the others that don't qualify for these programs? Do they have the opportunity just to play squash? Do they have the opportunity to simply because they might love the game learn to play and have that opportunity? I have never been one to use something so close to truth and beauty, like the game of squash is, and use it for any purpose other than to play and love this game and dedicate yourself to being the best player you can. The USSRA (United States Squash and Racquets Association) has hung its future on urban squash and college squash. Here we are in the US, one of the greatest countries in the history of humankind and we have, according to a recent article in Squash News 3, yes 3 full time touring professionals. I always admired Chris Gordon for not going the college squash route, his dedication and hard work has allowed him to reach a level few US players have. But why haven't we been able to produce a top ten world ranked player? What is the difference between Chris Gordon and James Wilstrop or Nick Mathew? Talent, skill? How different were their early squash development? Therein, lies possibly the answer, squash development isn't controlled by one governing body in England, like it is here in the US.
I don't pretend to have the answer, but as long as we view squash as something it can do for us in terms of promoting missionary work in the inner cities or a way in to college, we will never stand the chance of attracting great athletes into this sport. Why should grade point average be coupled with squash potential? Why should a stellar athlete not be exposed to this great game because they won't fit into the mold of a boarding school scholar/athlete? Again, how many of those young inner city children not accepted into the urban squash programs could be potential top 20 or tope 10 world rank players? To many here in the US, the answer probably is (and I do encounter this often when people ask why my son doesn't play college squash -- I simply tell them he wants to play professionally) "who cares there's no money in it? Why not use it to get in to a good college?"
We have no system of promoting squash at a grass roots level, the way baseball, football and basketball are. I for one would rather see squash as part of the PAL (Police Athletic League) open to all then continually promoted in what has now become the eliticism of the urban squash programs. It's time to promote squash and open it up to anyone who wants to achieve whatever level their dedication, passion and god-given ability has provided them. Squash for the sake of squash, nothing more, nothing less. I'm not accusing anyone of overt eugenics, but of certainly promoting at a different level the same elitist premise that has always plagued the US squash community -- still either boarding school or the ivy league.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Our Favorite Fan

My son and I have been playing squash every early morning for a number of years. It is to put it politely all out war. The competition is fierce, arguments often break out, and to the casual onlooker you would think its trench warfare. But it's all contained within the class backed court enclosure. We also train together and will do endless rotating rails and boast drives, believe it or not, equally competitive. I'm often the walking wounded because it takes its toll.

Three years ago, in the midst of one of our morning battles, I looked through the glass backed court which overlooks this airplane hanger like gym floor and noticed this elderly man, very fit, with thick leather gloves sitting on the sit up bench. He was smiling and seemed quite amused by our play. I was a bit annoyed with the old guy because I thought to myself "you get out here old man and see how it feels to be run around by some kid until you're ready to collapse". But I was again focusing on the game and went back to the court battle. When we came off the court the old man was gone.

Next morning, again the old man was watching us play, again the same smile. That day I wasn't playing all that well and was REALLY annoyed with his smile. I decided to take a break between games and walk off the court and get a drink. My son always made a point between games to continue hitting the ball, I always thought, to show me the game we just played didn't phase him at all -- which it didn't of course. I followed suit and didn't want him to know I needed water, to sit for a minute, and to catch my breath. But that day I went out to get a drink and nodded to the old guy and he smiled and said "you're giving it a good try, he's just younger and quicker." While I was taking my drink at the water fountain, I thought, that's a really nice thing to say. Yeah, he's right, I'm giving it my all -- hey, if I were just 20 years younger.

I introduced myself and my son to the old man. His name was Arti Locker. Over the course of the next few years we came to know Arti and his lovely wife Lola. Each morning they came to watch us, they always put their bets on my son to beat me. I didn't mind; fans are fans. Arti played handball on the streets of Queens and Brooklyn and kept playing into his adult years. He found squash and handball had some similarities. Arti would train in the gym by pulling heavy weights with chains wrapped around his shoulders. He was a storm trooper during WWII and you could tell he was strongand very fit.

My son and I grew to really like this old guy with the sly sense of humor. We always listened to his stories and I used to love getting him talking about terroism. He was so indignant that these terrorist could do what they do -- it wronged his sense of justice and manner that they were cowards. Most of his comrades died in the war during combat and he always felt it was a miracle he lived. This is, in Artis mind, how wars should be fought -- not as terrorists but as soldiers.

This past spring we knew Arti was ill but then he told us he was diagnosed with cancer in his sinus regions. He had surgery but the cancer was malignant. The diagnoses was grim, when he told me I just didn't know what to say. We saw more of Lola in those days than Arti. She kept us up-to-date about his illness. Finally, I think the reality set in he was terminal and she said they gave him a few months to live.

When he passed away recently I was very sad, I missed him. I had only known him a short time but he was someone I just really liked. And he was a squash fan too. I had a dream recently that he was thin and ill but sitting in his usual spot on the sit up bench, just smiling like he did. His smile seemed to say more than it used to, this time he was saying, "it's all okay."

I don't see Lola much, she and Arti were married for so many years, the adjustment to life without him must be hard. I send her emails to check up on her since I rarely see her at the Gym. I hope Arti is playing handball again or even catching some squash matches as well. In the end, as it turns out, it was I who became a fan of his.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Matt's Evolving Backhand -- Update!

When I first saw Matt Levine on the court I thought coaching him could be a real challenge. He is very athletic but had some of the worst squash technique I had seen. No fault of Matt's, as I later learned in talking with him that he never had a lesson. I suggested we get on the court. For some reason, there was something in Matt's movement and hands, even though disguised by so many challenging flaws, that made me want to coach this guy. One big advantage Matt had was he hadn't been playing long enough for all the bad technique to embed themselves in his muscle memory. That can be really hard for a coach to correct things that have become so embedded in a long time player.
I told Matt to first decide what he wants to get out of this. I asked him to set his goals and expectations. His immediate response was to beat Russ, his playing partner, and a student of my son's. I thought to myselt, this could be interesting. I outlined for him a 3 month game plan whereupon we would establish a basic foundation for future improvement and advancement. I almost guaranteed him that he would be beating Russ soundly by then.
We went to work 1-3 times a week. What I first noticed about Matt was how coachable he was. He's very smart and really liked all of the technical approach to the game. He was extremely interested in the cause and effect of squash, for example, I told him that he might hit a decent rail with bad raquets and footwork when the ball is in front of him, but with what he's doing when the game starts moving behind him he won't be able to compete. For most, this is hard to grasp. There are some very decent players who completely breakdown when they have to routinely retrieve the ball out of the back corners. You can see these players all the time they will try and cut everything off and prefer to hit a very bad volley or weak return rather than let a decent rail or cross court past them to play out of the back. Matt picked this up right away as I slowly moved the ball just behind the service box back line on the forehand. He started to spray the ball and the qulaity of his shots deteriorated rapidly. He saw this right away and wanted to know what to do about it. The perfect student -- how does he fix what's wrong. We adjusted his grip on the forehand from a continental to where the "V" of the grip was turned clockwise. He had a tencency to open wide his swing and to slap the ball. He broke his wrist which caused his raquet to drop. We spent about a month on this technique and then started incorporating foot work as well. We worked exclusively on hitting the ball when it's bouncing before the front line of the service box. We focused his feet on lowering his heels more since he tended to almost move on the upper ball of his feet, like he was tip toeing. We focused on distance between the ball and him. We also started doing lunges on the court with straight back, eyes fixed ahead -- he needed more strength in his quadriceps and better balance when bending at the knees. Most critical was to get him strong enough to bend at the knees and drive the ball rather than bending at the waist which kills the back and caused the player hit off balance. Again, the balance is for a better shot but also for recovering back to the "T" from the shot you just hit -- there to prepare to retrieve your opponent's next shot.
Today, for the first time I was able to start hitting balls that bounced past the front service box line. Matt's rails are B level now and he consistantly hits the same rail from the feed over and over. It's now part of his practice muscle memory and getting to the much anticipated playing muscle memory. We will work on cleaning up some residual problems but he's now ready to start cutting the ball off and will soon be retrieving out of the corners. I'll report on his progress in a couple of weeks and see where he is. Great job, Matt, your forehand looks really good.

Matt Levine has come a long way since I last wrote this. The other day I had him on the court and began teaching him how to hit half volleys. he was in the good T position and I was in the front court. To his forehand I hit backhand cross courts that at first bounced off the side wall, simulating short cross court shots. I told him I wanted him to volley every shot I hit like this and then boast it back to me, whereupon, I would drop to myself and repeat the sequence. I moved the ball up and down the court as far back as the back of the service box. I wanted him to get a feel for the ball coming off the sidewall and the distance he needed to maintain to strike and volley the ball well. It was ragged at first but thenb he started to stay off the side wall. For weeks he had been working on lunging and sprinting and building leg strength. It was now paying off. He was starting to move away from the wall and use the lunge to measure and close the distance. He started hitting crisp rails back to himself and I watched with a bit of amazement how deft he was at this. I started sending balls back his way that required him to hit straight volleys or let them bounce to get him to make decisions on which balls to half volley and which ones not to.
Then I started to really get down to business. The shot we all dreaded at the C and B levels was that deep cross court that dies in the corner and forced us to back wall the ball or hit a boast, we marvelled at others who could hit a rail off that shot. I told Matt he now had to change his angle on the ball and approach the ball a bit differently. My great friend and coach Jim Masland always told mean quick feet and slow racquet. there's no better advice when teaching this shot. I watched Matt hurl himself at the ball and like a blind man stabbing his cane in the air.
Whiff. Each time I would show him where he needed to make the adjustment. Don't commit to cutting the ball off and then folliwng behing the ball: Death Valley. don't charge the ball and get to close. Move along the neutral area just outside the service box and folliwng the ball until it hits the side wall: demonstrating to him that the ball doesn't hit the side wall and then drop to the floor. The ball comes off the wall and it is there he needs to gauge and strike the ball. It took about a half hour but he started hitting these shots. then he started hitting them with good length. Occassionally, I would hit the shot that is most difficult that has such a trajectory and soft touch that it hits deep off the side wall and drops and dies. I showed him this is where his lunge, deep lunge, very low to the ball was required. He needed to hit this shot sometimes off his shoestrings. Okay, we accomplished quite a bit and called it a day, played some points and hit the water cooler. Let's see how Matt does in the coming weeks on that difficult volley.
Matt has been working to strengthen his legs by doing lots of lunges and using weights in his lunging. The results have been good he is now strong enough to cut the ball off in the back corners and is learning to attack the ball WITH HIS FEET, he is so much more low to the ball and exudes a great deal of confidence. We're working on staying away from the side wall and lunging more so he can clear better and not create these let or sroke situations from being too close to the side wall.
He's coming along quite nicely.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Squash Professional

It's important to distinguish the different kinds of squash professionals in the field in order to make the right decision about the type of coaching needed.

Squash Professional versus Teaching Professional

I've always made this distinction simply by knowing whether the squash coach was on the professional squash tour. This is what a "Squash Pro" is, someone who played on the tour for a period of time. Because this coach may have been on the tour and a great player, it doesn't always mean they will be a great coach. Some Pros aren't particularly good with teaching squash but are excellent to play for higher level play and fitness. For a serious player and for especially juniors who aspire to higher level play or professional playing, a squash professional is key to their development. Only a squash professional knows the nuances of the game played at a higher level. I have taken extensive coaching from a number of squash professionals and some have really taught me a lot, mostly about play at a higher level. It's not to say I will ever attain that higher level, but I see what they talk about when I watch the pros play. I'm a real student of the game so I like to talk and ask questions about the intricacies of the game and especially about technique.
The teaching professional may have been a college player or a serious player who went through coaching certification. These kinds of coaches are ideal for adults and junior players who aspire to the 5.0 level of play. They understand the game, they have played it, they love the game and want to teach it to others. It's important that you chose a teaching professional who has some qualifications, such as played on his college team; or is USSRA certified; or was a tournament B or A level amateur player. It's also important that you pick a teaching professional that understands the modern game, it has changed since the early 90's, new techniques, new technologies, like any good teacher they are always up-to-date on the latest and greatest training and coaching methods. There are teaching pros who still play the game and teach it the way it was 20 years ago. Okay for the recreational player, but not good for the serious player. Once a player reaches a certain level, he or she might want to consider a squash pro for more rigorous training and game elevation.
Then you have the hitters. Usually junior level players with an A game who are strictly available for B or A level players to play hard matches with. They might provide some coaching instruction, but the hitter really will play the player at a slightly higher level. The hitter should usually win and the player should come off the court relishing a hard fought game. Pay the hitter, it's well worth it to prepare for a tournament or to play someone who will get to everything and extend the rallies with you. Hitters are also fun to drill with, they return everything, they're not on court to coach necessarily an advanced player but to provide a tough match or practice session.
There are a lot of hackers out there, just like in anything else. Squash Professionals and Teaching Professionals do this usually for a living, so it's about money, but it shouldn't be solely about money. Don't be afraid to switch and compare coaches and pros, and if you are a squash player and parent of a junior player get on the court with the pro together with your child or take some lessons yourself. Always evaluate and reevaluate the person teaching you or your child. There are certain methods or schools of teaching. I happen to be a huge proponent of Mike Way. But there are others out there of comparable stature. Ask the pro does he or she have a particular method, etc. Also, your son (if a serious player) should not be coached by a woman, the women's game is very different than the men's, especially in the front of the court. You don't see a serious male tennis player ever coached by a woman. Woman should be coached if possible by women, but that is difficult at times because there's a dearth of women coaches around. So women are often coached by men in the early going, but if possible, if you are a woman player, switch to a woman squash pro. High level women players and coaches are great to get on the court with and train with if you are a guy. They have played at a really high level and have usually a lot of match experience. Great for low A or B level men players.
If you want to play at a high level, you will go through many coaches and pros during your rise from beginner to advance player. You should never be afraid to switch if the coach or pro just isn't working out. Whatever the reason, don't maintain a teaching or squash professional relationship simply because the coach is a great guy. Ultimately, it's about squash and what the coach can do for your or your junior's game.

When Everytime You Step on the Squash Court...

Squash often imitates life or is it life often imitates squash? Just as we've all heard the axioms like live life to the fullest -- as if it's your last day, imagine if it were really true. How would you live out your last day? If every time you stepped onto the squash court it could be your last time, how would you play? For my friend and squash student Eric Ma, it is a reality. Eric is a stage 4 cancer patient who shares such a passion for this game, not unlike his passion for life. Eric started playing squash two years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer. Squash was one of those things he always wanted to do. Long before I knew he was ill, I could see his talent and his desire to learn. A slight of build middle aged man with quick feet and soft hands, he made his money long ago when he sold his share of a laptop manufacturing company in Taiwan. I remember the first time I stepped on the court with him and introduced myself. He had seen my son and me play and wanted to know how he could play like that. I told him we've had years of being coached and lots of experience. I offered him some pointers on his raquet preperation and noticed immediately he was listening intently and eager to show me what I just told him. We started hitting and I started insticntly barking out my usual teacher admonistions: rqcquet up; fix your wrist; follow through; and MOVE your feet. After 20 minutes I knew he was a student of the game, the look on his face when he hit a crisp shot (one out of a 100) was worth every second we spent on the court that day. We chatted a bit afterwards and the next few times I saw him I offered him some additional pointers. Then I didn't see him for a month and sort of figured maybe he didn't like squash all that much. When I did see him I could see he didn't look well and I asked him if everything was okay? He replied he had to go in for radiation treatment but that he was fine now. I didn't know he meant he was fine for the time being. He wanted to arrange lessons and get on the court 3-4 times a week with me. I was happy to say yes, because he's the type of student that makes coaching rewarding. He questions everything not out of arrogance but out of a genuine desire to understand and learn this game.
We went through a period of 3-4 weeks, he was really picking up the game and learning the fundamentals quickly. When it clicked he walked as if he was on top of the world. He talked to me about religion and business and of course squash. Then he disappeared again. I sent him a couple of emails to see if he was okay. I didn't hear from him. Then one day he appeared, his face sunken and shallow, walking gingerely. He wanted to hit some, but I could see he was week and not looking good. We just hit, it was a wonderful hit, just the sound of the ball and the peaceful respite between the shots. He was tired so we came off the court. He said the medicine he takes makes him very sick and weak, but once he gets through it he will be strong again. He arranged for lessons the following week.
This pattern went on for months and one day I asked him about his illness. He said he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I asked him if the medicine and radiation was working he said yes, "I'm still here", and he laughed. I laughed to I guess not really understanding what he meant. About his squash, he was now playing matches and striking the ball well. I coach lots of technique and he was very technical and loved the lessons. We had that synergy where I was so proud of all his accomplishments from the lessons and just as disappointed when it wasn't working for him. His accomplishments were his, his disappointments were mine. We talked a lot about religion and how much faith he had in god and god's goodness, often he told me he had to learn to trust in something, and god was the one he turned to.
After a good run with lessons, I could see he had become a player. I watched his matches, coached him, but really just enjoyed talking to him about life and living and god and of course squash. It was then that he opened up about his illness and told me was stage 4 and I asked him to explain. He told me the cancer had spread to all his organs. The chemotherapy and radiation he would undergo was just an attempt to keep the disease from advancing. Stage 4 is terminally ill. I felt truly humbled by this, since from his explanation I now knew what it meant. Here I would get so frustrated with certain things and especially on the court if everything didn't go the way I wanted them to. And yet, I was coaching a student in squash that was a teacher in life.
He complimented me once after a lesson that when he hits a good shot and the squash game is working for him, that I become so enthusiastic that even though he might be in pain and tired, he's inspired to continue. I just told him I was so proud to know him and be able to pass on to him something of this great game, squash. I joked that if there's a squash heaven he's going to go there, but he's got to some how get word back to me that there's indeed a squash heaven.
The last I saw Eric he informed me he had to go into intense radiation that the disease had spread again. I remember that day because we had a session when he hit his rails like no other time. I told my son who was at the club to come watch, to see how good he'd become. I know Eric was in pain and he kept holding his back. He wanted to continue and we had an amazing session. He was completely spent. He told me he'd get in touch with me when his treatment was completed. I wished him luck and knew he'd be okay one way or another. I have since sent him emails and tried calling him to see how he was doing. It's been nearly two months now since we were on the court and I fear the worst. I wonder did he not tell me something during that last session? Maybe he came out and just played the best he could play like he did every day, except that time it might have been his very last play -- on earth that is...

Monday, September 7, 2009

The 10 Greatest Squash Players

I like to put together this list periodically. These are only players I've seen live or on video, so I can't include the likes of Hashim Khan, Cam Nancarrow, etc.

Here goes, arguably the best softballers I've seen in the last 25 plus years following squash:

1. Jansher Kahn -- any doubt about this. I was so fortunate to see him on a number of occassions, of course there are many clips of him. Who else could make Chris Ditnmar (on this list too) look like he was ranked in the 50's instead of number 2. They call him the "punisher" no doubt because he put the screws to his opponents and kept turning the screws tighter and tighter until the very end. The Michael Jordan of squash, we'll never see the likes of Jordan or Jansher.

2. Jahangir Kahn -- What can you say about Jahangir. Like Gehrig and Ruth, Ali and took Jahangir to really bring out the greatness of Jansher. Without Jansher, Jahangir would far and above the rest be the best. Watch that match between the two in the early 90's at the TOC, I believe. Squash like you've never seen and Jahangir looses in 4.

3. Peter Nicol -- I remember when he came on the scene in the early 90's as a teenager on the Grand Prix tournament. He beat everyone, including Anders Wahlstadt, the best player playing in the US. I remember talking to Anders about what it was like playing Nicol, he simply said he took the ball so early. So much footage of him his style is something, so good for so long.

4. Chris Ditmar -- So incredibly gifted and to think when I saw him it was when he came back from a severe knee injury. Unfortunately, he played at number 2 when Jansher was number one. A ferocious player, in any other era would have been number 1.

5. Rodney Martin -- Another gifted one. Watching him play and some of his shots would be like watch Da Vinci sketch or a great surgeon performing the most intricate surgery. That racquet and those hands. If I remember correctly I saw him lose to Jansher but you could see he really pressured Jansher, at least that was my observation.

6. David Palmer -- Okay, this is like three Australians in a row. But what a player, the best, arguably forehand drop and forehand kill shot ever. We've seen so much of him, when he retires, he will be held in even higher esteem.
7. Jonathan Power -- He made it to number 1 and then retired number 1 forever into eternity, provided he doesn't return to the tour. Quite a feat, and to listen to other players talk about him and how much influence he had on the game, I admit, I was wrong to have left him off this list in the first place.

8. Tristan Nancarrow -- In the genes I guess...This player was something, I saw him play Mark Talbot and it was like an adult toying with a child on the court. The way he moved, his racquet, he reminded me of all those great natural talents that prevail in any sport -- McEnroe, Bonds, Magic...he had those qualities, I still remember the details of that match almost 20 years later.

9. Gregory Gaultier -- I think he is just now coming into his own. I have seen a number of his matches. He attacks the ball with such ferocity and his balance and positioning near perfect. I think he is the real number 1 right now and will be for sometime.

10. Nick Matthew -- He's my favorite player. He has come into his own, has anyone ever had a better forehand volley in the game? I hope he stays healthy, because he could easily move into the top 5 of all time. So much talent and mental toughness.

Near Misses -- Brett Martin-- Sorry, a real favorite of mine, but JP replaced him on the list. Stuart Boswell -- I think he had one of the great games and such a brilliant backhand, unfortunately, all the injuries; he would or could have been one of the greats, and he's always been another of my favorites.

Note: I know, no Egyptians on the list. Too soon to tell. My son predicts when it's all said and done Kareem Darwish will be on this list. He's usually right but we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Coaches We've Had Over the Years

Over 30 years of squash learning and playing, I wanted to list all those coaches and pros my son and I have had and briefly evaluate each one and what we learned and at what level. I am so grateful to all of them, probably because I do some coaching now and realize just what a difficult job coaching is at any level. Here goes:

Anders Wahlstadt -- Out of Park Place Squash nearly 20 years ago, I was fortunate to see this great pro play as well as have his coaching. I was at the D level, but he taught me a shot or two I still remember and use. My favorite is off a loose ball to the forehand in the front court showed me how to step up, hit down on the ball and end it skidding cross court.

Richard Chin -- Probably not the best coach to have when learning technique, but a lot of things stuck with me when he coached me at the C level. Fitness was one, it was when he was coaching me that I become supremely fit to play. But I in a way blamed him for not fixing this hitch in my backhand that was a liability in my play and tormented me for 3 years Not his fault, he wanted to fix it but I don't think had the right technical knowledge and it just made me frustrated. He is incredible to watch and get on the court with and just a really smart player. My son recently got on the court with him and walked a way affirming Richard's great court knowledge. My son immediately picked up this off paced forehand cross out of the front that is between a lob and a hard cross. First few times he used it againt me, I felt the pressure. I asked my son about it and he said he picked it up from Richard.

Jim Masland -- The best coach ever, an absolute genius where this game is concerned. Simply wonderful to watch play. Not everyone's type of coach, but Jim really taught me a higher technique and taught me to accept the nuances in my technique, like the backhand hitch. I worked with Jim when I lived in North Carolina many years ago and when my son was little. He took me to the higher B level. He couldn't get me to forego my dasher/basher ways and often said I clubbed the ball to death. I loved his "pretzel" game when he slowed the ball down and redirected it all over the court twisting me about as if I were a pretzel. I spent endless hours with him on the court -- it was a tough time when he left to go to graduate school. I saw Jim about a year ago and he made an adjustment in my backhand that really changed it, a small adjustment with relaxing the shoulders and turning my shoulder more. I hope Jim someday writes a book about squash, he is the best kind of teacher because he is always learning new things and passing them along.

Farid Kahn -- Really a smart player and excellent coach. I didn't appreciate his style until I lived and played in India. A real competitor, we used to play for money, if I took games from him we deducted the lesson price. It was a way to get him to really play hard. I played him at the low A level, the points were great, he had shots and I often was awed by the nicks he hit.

Josh Easdon -- After not playing for 3 years and 40 lbs later, I showed up at Lincoln where Josh was the pro. 5 minutes playing water break 5 more minutes on court and another water break. I liked Josh a lot and learned quite a bit from him. It was a humbling experience. I thought I could play better with much less fitness. I was wrong. It took six years to get the weight off. But my hat off to Josh for his patience with me. I stopped keeping track of my level at this point.

Edy Kapur -- One of my favorite coaches for both me and my son. He was my son's first coach when he was at 86th Street before Edy moved over to Sports Club LA. A great player, real gentleman, we worked really hard with Edy for awhile, I only wish both my son and I were fitter at the time. I learned so much about playing from Edy, and I don't hold it against him for some really bad calls he made over the years. Can't say enough about his game, his technique, and the vast array of drills he has as well as his professionalism as a coach.

Sean Gibbons -- Sean's a really interesting and smart guy. We spent about a year with Sean and probably could have accomplished much more if we had been fitter. I loved the clinics he did with the top 10 pros. His emphasis on fitness especially for juniors is great. He's super fit himself and has a nice game. Smart coach and a bit out of the USSRA squash mainstream which is great. He studies the game and turned us on to some interesting techniques.

Raj Nanda -- A touring pro who is also a coach, especially good with serious junior players. He was brought in to really push my son and show him how to train at a high level. He put up with coaching me as well just because I wanted to learn from him. He has a backhand to rival Stuart Boswell's -- they both came out of the Australian Sports Institute. He had the right plan for my son and really turned my son into a player and taught him how to train hard. His impact was huge. He showed me how to cover the court and especially the front and really improved my backhand. This is a serious coach for serious juniors. Looking back we always felt there was a lot more we could have done.

My Son -- Absolutely the best coach. Unfortunately, I don't alwayw listen to him and it's a mistake. I still think I'm his equal on the court (not true) so I often just don't want to hear what he has to say. He is a brutal critic and doesn't mix words but his squash IQ is through the roof. I have learned so much from him, more than anyone else. He absorbed everything on the court from those who have coached him but more importantly he learns by observing and studying all the pros. He believes in Mike Way's approach to squash. Mike really perfected his technique which is textbook now. He's super fit and pushes others, including me to get squash fit. We play and train so much together and recently I played a game with him where everything I was working on for the past two years just clicked. It was amazing for me because it was all the things he kept pushing me to do. But when I told him abouthow it just came together, his response was ok but you have this and that to still do. I love it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Our Students' Squash Lessons 9/1/09

Haadibe -- 13 year old Pakastani squash player started taking lessons 25 lbs heavier about two months ago. He loves this game, is intense, and a bit of a perfectionist -- a short fuse sometimes. Reminds me a bit of a certain, hmmm, son of mine. But then again both witnessed a terrible outburst from me when so frustrated with my shots because I wasn't moving my feet, I threw one of those fits only squash can bring on. I was able to use that fit as an example of what not to do. And of course my son simply said run some laps to loosen up ranting and raving isn't going to make you move your sore legs. Anyways, Haadibe is a natural. Big kid, but blessed with great hands and feet. For a kid his size, he moves like a gazelle at times. And his hands produce some really nice shots. We are shooting for later in the year to start in tournaments. Right now we are concentrating on fitness and technique. For fitness, he runs sprints, laps, lunges, push ups and star drills; for technique more star drills and endless ghosting and rails and cross court shots. We are focusing on what it takes to hit a good rail, easier said than done as most of us in the first few years of playing know. Everyone starting out wants to crush that ball, crush the life out of it, the racket becomes a club and the squash stroke becomes nothing short of bludgeoning something to death. He's got it though. When he takes 40% pace off the ball he doesn't over rotate and spray the ball nor does he get fatigued from putting all this energy into bashing the ball. Today in practice he was hitting good length on his rails and they were tight to the side wall. As I moved the ball more to the front of the court to pressure him a bit his footwork began breaking down. We stopped to ghost the hitting the ball out of the the front court. This was on the forehand side. As he ghosted the movement to the front court we corrected his first step to the ball. He had the first step correct, right foot first, but he came out a bit in that old upside down J movement. I also noticed he was too close to the stationary ball and was bending at the waist. It's hard to convince someone they can get to the ball in the front of the court when they feel pressured. Negate the pressure the best you can. We made adjustments so the first step was towards where he was going to strike the ball (shortest distance is directly to the ball) and set a marker a foot and a half before his own positioning where he would strike the ball. So here we shave off nearly two feet in distance to cover and recover. Next we had to fix the bending at the waste. This is not only hard on the back but makes you late in your recovery. We did this by practicing lunges and keeping the back postured properly. I told Haadibe to watch Gaultier how he postures himself. So now we needed to anchor him as he lunged in to strike the ball. We started him dragging his back foot forward to slow his momentum, keep him balanced, and quicken his recovery. We made sure he didn't come up too quickly after striking the ball because this invariably causes a loose shot. We did this over and over and by the end of the session it was something else, he looked and moved like a real squash player. Sorry, Dude, you're going to be pretty sore the next couple of days. And to keep it in perspective you have to move like that when the ball is live:)