I was recently reading Geoff Hunt's book, "Geoff Hunt On Squash", which is such an intelligent account of both squash technique and playing. There are so many good points Hunt makes about squash playing, but one that stuck out is the reference to players who become older, still adept on the court, but noticeably slower. Where does this present a problem? It presents a problem when the older player has to clear for a much younger and quicker player. Contact is often made or subtle blocking, the older and perhaps slower player, maybe once a 6.0 player or national champion , is clever enough to block his opponent ever so slightly -- certainly enough to upset the rhythm of the game.
I am an older player and I play my 6.0 level 19 year old son frequently. He blasted me about 3 months ago in a match telling me I am too slow to clear for him. I was like, ok, and continued on. It bothered me what he said and I thought he was upset because I somehow managed to disrupt his play to and from the ball -- no doubt enough to prevent him from taking the ball early, cutting the ball off and putting more pressure on me.
It wasn't until I read this in Hunt's book did I really understand my son's complaint. But let me take this further back a bit to a couple of tournaments where my son had to play Will Carlin, former national amateur champion, a great player, now older and I'm sure a step slower. In the first match with Carlin, my son was so frustrated with Carlin's slowness to clear and the bumping to and from the ball, that he lost. A much younger and better player lost to an older and slower player.
They met again in last year's Hyder Cup and again the same outcome. My son was really upset and I told him it's the nature of the game it happens, it's tournament toughness, etc.
I have since realized how wrong I was. The rule is very clear and my son pointed it out in a match with me this past fall stating it doesn't matter how I, his opponent, needs time to clear, I must clear and provide that clear path to the ball. Once I realized that I have to clear quickly for my quicker and younger opponent, I started working on footwork and movement drills. And trying to clear quickly and not on my time. I did notice that when I'm tired in the match or sore or not loose, there tends to be contact. But my son challenged me as if to say, if I want to play a match with him, move quicker, clear for him, and stop playing like an old man...or else!
Or else, what? Play in the age groups, he said. It was like he struck me in my squash heart with a dagger. The age groups, he's saying I'm too old and slow.
I've been working the last couple of months to increase my quickness and stamina. I'm slowly getting there, I can see I clear out of the corners better, moreso in the back than in the front. My son still plays some matches with me, but we also drill...I refuse to concede I'm ready for the age groups, but I'll leave that up to time and his judgement. He knows I'm working like crazy to avoid the age group -- Dylan Thomas said, "do not go gently into that good night", he might have well have said do not go gently to the squash age groups.
I advised my son recently that should he play Will Carlin again, he might simply remind Mr. Carlin that there are appropriate age groups for players who are now slower and can't really in the best spirit of squash clear a path for the younger, quicker players.
Inevitably, just like the "night" Thomas alluded to, the age groups are a reality. But I will not go "gently" there, but will only go when I've done just about everything I can do to clear a path to the ball for my quicker opponent -- and it's still not quick enough.