Sunday, December 27, 2009

Simply for the Love of Squash

I really need to stop reading Squash News. It really makes me feel sorry for all of those who listen to its CEO and his knee-jerk reaction in response to what ails US squash. His latest is a column on the positive signs of Women's Squash in the US. said CEO is a great marketer, his columns read like a quarterly corporate report. I grant him that, but all you need to do is play in tournaments and realize that he is, maybe like George Bush did when telling the American public we weren't in a recession, just telling his board and shareholders what will get them through the moment. Adult women's squash is an abysmal failure, just look at the turnout for the major tournaments. Women consistently play in men's draws, which is troublesome to me because if women are allowed in those draws, then it's not a man's draw but a mixed draw.

I have complained when I have had to pay a 95.00 dollar entry fee to play a young female junior player old enough to be my daughter. Sorry, I don't like playing teenage girls or for that matter an ocassional adult woman in tournaments. But that really isn't what this is about.

I have a student I coach, Margaret, who is an ex collegiate player and now mother of three. She is coming back to the game after about 15 years. She played since she was 9 years old and was coached by a legend in women's squash who recently passed away. Margaret hasn't kept up with how the game has evolved. She is probably typical of most women players, compete in the juniors, get into college, play in college and then launch a career and family and stop playing squash. She is really good and works so hard in our sessions, I push her very hard, because squash is hard it demands a lot from any who play it.

I question the premise for anyone who thinks squash is a vehicle to something better that isn't about squash. Squash to me is like Ancient Greek Poetry, which I studied throughout college and still do. It takes a lot of work and study and dedication to read it, in the end few will care that you read it except me, the reader, who has reaped the most amazing benefits of reading a language and literature that is the penultimate of our Western Civilization . Squash is the same to me as that Greek Poetry -- it's the penultimate sport, there is no fanfare, no exposure, it is so hard and difficult to do, but if you play it and get good at it is the most amazing experience. I can only equate it with reciting lines of Homer's Odyssey in Ancient Greek with striking continuously tight rail after tight rail. Both took so much dedication and hard work, but ultimately who cares, some might ask where did it get me? a college scholarship, a better job? No they just fueled this incredible passion for this game as well as for that poetry.

I would like to say I do either of these callings for simply the love of doing them, I spent 12 years studying Greek and Latin and 30 years playing squash and I have never derived anything from them other than the love of doing them and trying to do them better with the passing of time.

I have sat through enough junior tournaments and listened to parents talk incessantly about their children playing squash and being recruited and playing in college. I am sure Klipstein ecstatically is rolling his eyes in his corporate head and thinking all sorts of success, but in reality, it is a quick reward for what is ultimately a pathetic failure.

Do those players who option for playing college squash and spend their entire junior careers working towards that ever think about or dream of playing this game professionally? I doubt it. When I was 13 I didn't dream of playing college baseball I dreamed of sharing the field with all the great players of the day. How many women squash players dream of playing like David, the Grihnam sisters, or ever understand the most amazing accomplishments of squash's greatest woman player, Heather Mckay? But they do, I'm sure, dream of knowing what getting into an Ivy League school seems to mean.

You can probably meet this dilemma at a crossroads of men's collegiate squash as it no wonder that we have never placed a US born squash player in the upper echelons of squash, woman's or man's?

I once sat with a gentleman who had a highly ranked girl's junior player and he was talking to me about the potential for her receiving a scholarship, I watched her play, and just thought a perfect college squash player, basic tactics, will play the boring game of college squash and probably never pick up a racquet after turning 24. He watched my son play and said wow who is recruiting him for college and I responded by saying he doesn't want to play collegiate squash he wants to play professionally. He looked at me like I just said something really nasty and said, why would my son want to do that there's no money in it, he should use it for college. I responded there are just some things you simply do for the love of it. Enough said, he never spoke to me again.

So I am so happy that my student, Margaret, started playing again, not because she aspires to great things in squash, playing professionally, but simply because squash rekindled something in her -- I'm glad to support her, maybe make her a better player and to once again play this game simply for the love of it -- I might encourage her to join the USSRA to play in some women's tournaments and play her best squash. She won't be some percentage statistic for squash CEOs to present to squash board members or shareholders -- not yet at least.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Odysseus and his Return to the Wide Court

From the master himself, he aptly quoted Caeser: "Venni, Vidi, Vinci..." as he twisted me on the court like a pretzel and poked his way to defeating my son in 3 hotly contested games. Jim Masland, our long time squash guru and friend, visited us recently from California without a racquet, but with his squash shoes and no socks. Not having seen the inside of an international court in a year. He was much fitter than I last saw him and before we headed to the club I handed him Wilkinson's most brilliant book "How to Win at Squash" as a gift for the holiday's and a Feather 2125 Cyclone to use -- and a pair of socks as well!

Upon Jim's arrival, he hardly had time to put his stuff down then we headed for the courts. I hadn't seen him in over a year and at that time I was injured and couldn't get on the court with him. Last June I was away on business but my son played and trained with him while he was passing through which set up this week's highly anticipated match between them.

My son had been training hard but not playing many matches at a high level. Jim had been playing on the old narrow American courts at UCLA while teaching English Literature and doing a bit of coaching. It seems each of their disadvantages would cancel each other's out.

We were on the courts at LA Fitness and hitting around before the next day's match. They warmed up and Jim seemed befuddled on the court, the ball whizzing by him. Anyone who has played on the old narrow court for awhile knows when you first get back to the international court it is like another planet, or maybe like looking into space. It takes awhile to adjust and and get your bearings -- they drilled and played some long ball. The first deep shot Jim shanked and checked his racquet to make sure it had strings, I must confess I thought, the master is getting old he may have lost a bit.

A 40 year old player, however great, is much different than a great 20 year old player. The pace and the power in their games are different, the reflexes too. While the 20 year old can run and bait an older player into playing that fast paced game, the older wiser player no doubt will attempt to slow it down. While I was thinking this, it occurred to me the master might be disguising himself, much like Odysseus did when returning home disguised as a simple beggar to a house of hostile young warriors. Was he maybe baiting my son into thinking he was slower and lacked the killer instinct he displayed in some of their past matches. He was sore, and he had trouble with the pace and the court. I didn't get on the court with him since I had numerous lessons, which he observed, and of course offered some helpful pointers -- he extended his approval for my coaching methods, which was very important to me as I always strive to get the master's approval.

We spent the evening talking about squash and watching a DVD of Ikskander and Ashour in a match from two years ago. It's great to watch these matches with Jim because he can provide some really astute observations. Ah, I thought, his brilliance is he is at once a student and a teacher.

The day of the match arrived. We headed back to the courts and my son and Jim stretched and warmed up. My son ran a mile and Jim went on the Elliptical. One of my students remarked to me how good could a squash player could Jim be with a beer gut. A slight over exaggeration but yes, Jim has a bit of a gut, but his legs and upper body are strong and he has a solid well balanced squash player's gait and center of gravity. My son is the perfect specimen of a squash player around 6 feet tall, long legs, strong upper body and moves around the court like a gazelle with grace and balance.

We had invited members of the LA Fitness squash community to come watch. I would referee the match. Jim was introduced to all our fellow squash players and he greeted them in his usual friendly manner -- he always seems so at ease around any level of squash player. Both my son and Jim got on court and began warming up. I watched Jim for signs of that wily warrior disguised behind the old beggar. Instantly, Jim cracked a cross court off of my son's cross court warm up shot. And then another and another, down the rail, cross nick, the racquet was like a wand. His backhand is so good -- he takes his racquet back and follows through and with perfect precision makes contact at just the right point. My son seemed a bit tight, I play him and train with him so much I knew his legs hadn't loosened up, best that he gets them going early since Jim looks on his game, so I thought.

On the forehand side Jim really started hitting his stride moving about, taking the ball early, volley dropping. He had his game face on, this wasn't my son he was playing but some opponent that was challenging his squash realm. He was a warrior now. He plays the front well, but he isn't as accomplished there because of a long ago hamstring and knee injury. If you can hit great length, you're more selective in the front patiently waiting for the best opportunity to apply pressure in the front court. My son's front court game has come a long way, he is really strong in the front and I knew he would be attacking the front against Jim forcing him to cover the front as much as possible.

The match started and the points in the first game were beautiful. Both players flowed effortlessly around the court. Jim's movement was so efficient, but a bit flat footed, so my son really took it to him and it was clear his strategy was to make Jim run. The points were long both players feeling each other out, but Jim was being outplayed by a younger and faster player. My son built a solid lead and seemed to take control of the game at 6-3. But then, as it often happens, the player up in the game gets a bit over anxious and wants to close the game out early. Jim was clearly huffing not from a lack of fitness, but from the pace. He argued a few calls, there were some lets, wily that he is, he was trying to disrupt the rhythm of the game. He also started throwing a bit of junk, the old hardball reverse in the front and the Philadelphia Boast, and then really slowing the ball down. I watched how my son reacted and he pressed harder and I could see his cross courts weren't as good ow and Jim stepped in and took them but changed the pace of the ball. He started to take control the first storm weathered. At 6-7 Jim served up this high lob serve that seemed to hang in the air for 5 minutes and my son hit a loose cross and Jim placed a beautiful forehand straight volley drop into the nick.

They went back and forth and Jim had a couple of game balls but my son hung in there and at 11-10 Jim serving, they had a long point and then Jim did the unthinkable, he hit a reverse cross into the backhand (an old hardball shot) that caught my son flatfooted -- he had no chance to retrieve. It was Odysseus, the wily old warrior, seizing game 1.

The second game was Jim's. He ran my son around and my son tinned quite a few. Jim used his pretzel game to create havoc. My son was valiant in his efforts but slow to adjust to Jim's strategy. I thought my son the better player, but as often is the case, the better player doesn't always win.

I tried to offer encouragement and advice to my son between the second and third games, an old habit of mine from my son's junior playing days, and he brushed me off. Okay, he was coming up with his own strategy and he doesn't need me.

The third game was all out war. My son began retrieving better and moving Jim to the front. The game was very tight, Midway through the game it seemed Jim was thinking okay, maybe give my son this game and come back in the fourth game. Dangerous. Jim began slicing and dicing and redirecting the ball off his hold, but my son hung in there, countered well cutting the ball off. He seemed to frustrate Jim with a drop to the backhand front wall from behind the service box. I thought, if my son takes this game he will win because it would have taken too much out of Jim. Jim must have picked up my thoughts because I saw how he wanted to finish it there and he pressed hard and started taking the ball early. It was fast and furious a game which brought out the best in each player.

In the end, Jim won the third game in a tiebreaker and the match. It was not my son's best play, but it was a lesson only playing a match like that can teach -- beware of warriors disguised in beggar clothes! Jim discussed the match and his strategy and it was right on. I was proud of him for some reason maybe because I felt guilty about doubting him the previous night. As we left the courts for dinner, he said he learned some things watching my son's footwork and movement and I responded he taught us some things as well -- at once both student and teacher, warrior and wiseman.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Junior Progess...Haadi and his evolving game

He's noyouw 14 and 25 lbs lighter since I wrote about him in September. He's a perfectionist, not always good in squash, and tempermental, and his mind is well beyond his physical capabilities. He shows me things on the court that are at once brilliant and at once retarded. When he finds that middle ground and evens out he will be a force to be reckoned with.

I recently watched him play a match which he was losing. He was sapping the wall with his racquet, mumbling to himself, and his slumped shoulders and overall body language suggested he was losing not to his opponent but to himself. Yes, I realized, he was better than his opponent and should beat him but he was really battling and playing himself, an opponent you can really never beat. People come up to me all the time and compliment me on how I have brought him along but the suggest ways to fix his temperment. I nod and say his temperment has cost him a lot of racquets and there's not much I can do about that.

When he is doing well he listens to me when doing badly he will basically tell me @$@$ off! That is okay, because I know where he is coming from, he is coming from a place where he knows the absolute joys of that tight rail and the utter misery of the loose shot. He is a practice player right now and his success is measured in the quality of his shots, not in the results of the point.

To me, he is already showing signs of a great player. He might not win and make lots of mistakes, but he does things that show me a really high IQ on the court. He is determined to split step on the court during the match, he wills this large frame to split his step and bound toward the ball. While he is perhaps late on the ball, I marvel at the thought of when he is 20 lbs lighter and doing this and exploding to the ball. He has this innate desire to take the ball earlier and pressure his opponent. I see it, I see what he's trying to do and love it. Unfortunately and frustrating for him is his body and skill level won't support that yet.

Haadi will go through a lot of changes in squash, lose a lot of matches, but when he starts winning he will win like a champion, a champion who has known what it is to lose, what it is to be hindered by certain things, he will know what it is to strive to be better, strive to win, to reach every ball. He will someday soon become a player who doesn't critisize himself and evaluate his every shot, he will judge himself at the end of each match and not at the end of each stroke...we will bring him to this point, train him, teach him, and give him the tools to take squash to whatever levels his talent and desire take him -- it may cost some racquets and lots of embarassment and lectures too, but this junior is gifted and someday I hope to watch him play a match where I won't know the score and I won't know whether he is winning or losing.

No Squash Player Left Behind -- Hardball to Softball

I used to think it was a liability that I started out in hardball during the boom of the 70's. But I was fortunate that I ended up working with an MIT programmer who first turned me on to softball. This must have been 1980 and we played it on the narrow hardball courts at MIT. I can still remember the first time I hit that softball and exclaimed this is squash! I was much younger and the slower ball and the more demanding physical aspects of speed and endurance immediately appealed to me. I never picked up a hardball again. When I moved from Boston to New York in the early '80's, I played at the Manhattan Squash Club in the Grace building and learned the rudiments of the softball game from Gul Khan, the pro there. I continued to play sporadically into the late 1980's, but work was too demanding and starting a family, etc. all familiar stumbling blocks to dedicated squash players, prevailed. When I ballooned to 45 lbs over weight and burdened with so much stress from working long hours in technology in the Wall Street area, it was then that I found Park Place Squash, located in the dungeons of a basement opened and run by Lionel Hope (RIP) just off of Church street near the World Trade Center. It had one of the first international softball courts, Lionel would say, it was where the first softball court was constructed in the US. I have heard otherwise...

The best softball players in the city played there, there were 4 hardball courts and 1 1nternational court. I worked 3 blocks away so I was able to steal away at lunch and play on the international court. I'd played the hardball court if necessary, but I loved the international court. I worked like a demon, running and training to play the softball game. It took about 8 -10 months to really get fit again. I played 7 times a week, sometimes twice a day. I was now going through a messy divorce and coupled with demanding work, it was the only place on earth I felt whole and complete. I remember stopping in between points with my friend and partner in squash Stephen Aronoff (he stopped playing) and just thinking that other than holding my children in my arms or reading them to sleep at night, there was no place on earth where I'd rather have been than that squash court. I must have pinched myself (is this like heaven) as much as I cursed myself (is this like hell), but it all seemed to even out.

I can still hear the softball off the old British style court at Park Place come off the wall, like music, the sound was pure poetry. I can still see Anders Wahlstadt and Chris Stevens playing, simply awed by their level of play. The hardball courts remained mostly empty. I had started playing with a heavy wooden racquet and held out as long as I could with the wooden racquet, in fact I used to buy 20 of them at a time from a sporting goods place on Nassau Street. I went through them in a matter of months. Eventually I switched to the graphite ones, first Dunlop, then Black Knight, and eventually Head.

I played squash in the old style of the wooden racquet whereby you had to hold the butt of your racquet near your ear and come down and through the ball. I learned softball technique. Afterall, I never picked up a hardball again once I played softball. It was the only way to generate some racquet head speed and put some pace on the ball. But softball was the faster game in theory because the ball died and you needed to be faster and quicker to the ball. Hardball required not as much speed of foot because the court was smaller and the ball came out more to the middle. The stroke had to be more compact, more efficient and quicker to play the fast moving hardball.

The two games remained distinctly different until the racquet technology changed. Once the racquet became lighter and the sweet spot bigger, softballers really put some pace on the ball. Not only did the game require faster movement and footwork, but the pace of the ball was really fast. But then the hardball game became really troubled, because on the narrow court players could literally get to everything...the game became boring, the exciting winners and nicks or crushing the low hard cross for a winner wasn't a winner anymore. The ball stood up and the game wasn't that much different than a racquet ball flying all over the place. Imagine if a racquetball court had a tin and you couldn't hit the ceiling, it would essentially be hardball squash in the 90's.

Anyways, it wasn't until I read Frank Sautterwait's autobiography and his chapter on the softball game from a professional hardball player's perspective did I finally understand how hardball players were able to so convincingly switch to the softball game with the new racquet technology. I'm thinking of those great Canadians Power and Waite and maybe even Stevens too. When I met Jim Masland he had only been two years into his softball career when I met him in North Carolina, having played hardball most of his life. The hardball stroke was perfect for the new racquet and the faster speed and pace of the softball. The old softball stroke was inefficient for the new racquet technology and pace of the softball game...and those softball players who overlapped into the new racquet age and the leap in evolution in the softball game, changed their strokes...they needed to, and when the glass court was introduced along with new racquet technology, the softball player needed a quicker, hardball like stroke! To me that is when hardball died.

I don't expect I'm saying anything new, but this always interested me how a sport that was booming in the 70's and 80's just died. It's like a lot of things in America, new technology, replaces old technology and workers get technology spawns new participants or compels those to convert to the new and reinvent themselves. Those that don't are left behind, this is America, always reinventing itself. I always read James Zug history of squash as a sort of eulogy for the hardball game in America.

The softball game grew to combine the quickness and fast paced ball with the athleticism and strategy and depth of the old softball game. It's like chess on the clock vs. chess off the clock. The game has changed, it is the best game in the world...and in all of this, I spent thousands of hours and dollars to convert my game into the newer game as it was starting to be played in the early to mid 90's. I am glad I did, and my body and god willing, I will continue to incorporate new techniques into my game like the open stance backhand (which took me two years to build into my muscle memory ) or the dying length rail or the drop with minimal slice. It is this innate fear that this ever evolving game will someday leave me behind that I push myself to the point of keeping up with whatever changes in technology, technique, or training -- lest I remain like those few hardballers that cling to the distant past of a game that has long since died.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spooked by the Squash Ghost and the Footworker

I have trained and drilled what seems forever, with a variety of different coaches and players. While I teach more than I play these days, I incorporate a lot of ghost drills into my sessions. But having had the experience of ghosting countless star drills and movement drills, I've come to the conclusion that they are only meaningful when combined with actually striking the ball.

I used to hit the forehand rail and ghost the backhand rail and maybe ghost a front cross court off a boast and then play the actuall volley, but what I never did and what I think was missing in these drills was a combination -- as complex as you like depending on your level -- of ghosting and striking the ball.

These drills can be moderate to very brutal depending on the player's fitness and skill and of course desire to get better. It's a system worked through with collaboration between coach and player that enables any level player to work on fitness, movement, court mechanics and good shots. I like to use these drills for those players wanting to extend themselves a little or a lot beyond their comfort need a coach who understands the player's level and can construct patterns along with appropriate length and width to coincide with that player's level.

There's no point hitting tight rails of dying length to a B level player since that isn't something they will likely encounter at their level, but it is appropriate to let's say ghost a boast from the backhand and hit a volley about a foot off the side wall for the player to volley...once you observe that player can consistantly hit that volley at a B level you start adjusting position and angle of the volley feed to enable the player to start hitting off the volley shots in that A realm. This can often lead to some early raggedness in the drills, but if the player is keen, the coach, player and drill tend to clean up the loose ends.

I am a proponent of combining multiple ghosts with on the ball hitting. Ghosting alone addresses footwork and racquet preparation only, but when you combine striking the ball you are covering a complete gamut of movement, preparation and ball handling. One thing I found in video examples of ghosting was a glaring mistake, by even higher level players, when ghosting out of the front they simply don't look behind them to simulate picking up the ball in the back to where they just hit it. What's the point if you don't follow the imaginary line pf the ball with your eyes? However, if you have a coach who is holding the ball and instructs you to pick it up immediately and you see the ball and watch him strike it, you are really incorporating some reality of match play.

I have been doing these drills with my aspiring pro son and believe that it is the most challenging drilling he can do. I used to do drills with him without ghosting combination and I wasn't able to push him mostly because I didn't have the skills to feed him at that low pro level. There was too much pressure on me and my feeds weren't tight enough in many of those continuous striking drills. With the ghosting combinations I have time to place my feeds tight and with good length or deftly place the front court volley drops or attacking boasts. The results are quite amazing.

And the absolute beauty of these drills, okay I admit it, they are much easier on the coach who has been on the court for 7 hours straight. If the player works hard at their level and wants to improve to a higher level, whether it be better fitness, tighter shots or better technique, they will accomplish that. During the drills the player can see immediately, without a lot of convincing from the coach what they need to work on -- the drill sort of speaks back to them.

I looked at the Footworker video which is a computer generated movement drill (check out their website that serves the purpose of practicing footwork and movement drills. This is good and for fitness, you probably can't beat it. But footwork and ball striking aren't mutually exclusive. You always play and practice to your ability without having that coach's set of eyes telling you that your lifting your head to soon off your ghosting rail to the front or bending too much at the waste on d not your knees, what is the point of practicing what's wrong with what you're doing over and over again -- are you perfecting bad technique and movement?

A coach is critical to observation, maybe not if you are a top 50 ranked pro, but for the rest of the squash mortals you need someone to observe and with a critical eye observe your movement and ball striking and to construct drills according to your level and ability.

I was close to purchasing the Footworker and using it on court to simulate movement in an A level match and then I had this flash of my son's expression as he saw me doing the movements -- as if to say, hey, you aren't getting low enough to the ball, your presence on the T is too jumpy (watch the video the player demonstrating this is like a jack rabbit on the T! Also watch how when he moves out of the front court his eyes are fixed often on the front wall), or you are lifting your head to early when striking the ball. I later thought about this tool and realized if they could put a camera in it to film your movements for later review or immediate replay feedback, that would be extremely helpful and make the tool all the more valuable. You could record the session and upload it to your computer to watch or forward it to your coach for review and analysis.

I decided not to purchase this item and will continue with my methods, refining them, pushing my students, myself, and my son, hopefully, to new and greater levels.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Nick Mattew Number 1?

Five years ago I saw Nick Matthew play and I told my son he will someday be the number 1 player in the world. If I were to ever construct a game and player for myself this would be the player. His forehand volley drop is absolutely devasting. I love watchig him play Ramy and cutting off those cross courts and hitting those punishing drop volleys to the forehand.
It seemed like he would never finish a match I was watching -- a couple of times he retired injured. But then I saw him beat Willstrop a couple of years ago and had the opportunity to go up to him and tell him he was absolutely my favorite player and what a great match he played.

I remember at that same tournament talking to a local knucklehead pro who said to me Matthew doesn't "do enough with the ball." That really annoyed me and I told him he was ridiculous trying to remind him of that incredible forehand volley drop.

Okay, how many of us tried copying that Dave Pearson like backhand of his? I think that knucklehead pro went to Pearson's camp and came back with an abortion of that stroke.

Anyways, Matthew as of this writing is at number 4 in the world! This is great news and I truly believe if he remains injury free he will eventually hit number 1. The path through that is not through any Egyptians as he has shown, but most likely through Gaultier. I think Gaultier is the uncrowned number 1 in the world and I hope Matthews proves me wrong. France and England always a fierce competition.

I talked to someone who watched Matthews come up in the juniors. The thing he said that struck him most was his tenacity at wanting to win every point and at whatever cost. He never gave up on any points -- something you can't teach or coa

Maybe by March, number 1, Mr. Matthew?

As an addendum, since this was written Ashour and Matthew battled it out in Saudi Arabia recently in what was reported to be an incredible match. I can't wait to see a replay of this. At staked was the number 1 ranking...Mr. Matthew is ever so close, but what is even better is the Matthew - Ashour matches are shaping up to be a great rivalry. Anytime an opponent elevates another player's level of play, and intensity, makes for some great squash.

Monday, November 30, 2009

How to Resuscitate a Dying Squash Club

Anyone who has been around squash for awhile and has belonged to numerous clubs can recognize when a squash club is slowly dying. There are no new members, the courts are readily available during prime time, the cost of court time and lessons go up to offset the declining revenue. Many of the good players are the first to leave and join another club and the exodus begins.
When my son and I returned home from a long stint in India, we were eager to get back to playing and training at our La Fitness squash home in Great Neck, New York. It had become over the years our temple of squash, we loved it especially since we didn't have to go into the City all the time and pay for parking, membership and court time. When we were in India, it was so difficult to pay and play (see my posting on squash in Bangalore, India). So we were back. We spent early mornings training and drilling and evenings playing matches. I was in really good shape and had dropped around 50 lbs and my son was very fit and had taken his game to a new level. All the while we were playing and training, we saw very few players. The La Fitnesse in Great Neck is an airplane hangar-like factlity with 40,000 members. It has two international squash courts. Squash isn't popular on Long Island, mostly LaCrosse and baseball and basketball are the staple sports. The club also has a pretty active racquetball community. I am constantly chasing racquetball players soccer, volley-ball, tennis and hand-ball players off these courts. I've been even known to tell those who threaten to damage the courts by hitting soccer balls into the tin that if need be I will defend the court with my life. They mostly look at me like I'm insane maybe mutter some expletive and leave.
Anyways, in a facility like that space is at a premium so I always feared that they would eventually take the courts and use them for something else.
There's a point to this so bear with me. Five years ago when I was doing some coaching, mostly for free, I wanted some limited A players to play with. Many of the players were old and over weight and didn't care about drilling, training, or elevating their game. But then I found Chuck, a very athletic law student who really loved the game. He had horrible technique, but I saw something in him and was certain within a year I could coach him to a limited A level. We would drill and play games and he was very coachable, just absorbing everything I would show him. After about three months of playing 3 times a week he really started improving and giving me a good match. We had long rallies, contentious competitve play, and both of us left the courts feeling we had played quite a match. I was also coaching my son at the time whom I consistently beat to his immense frustration. Witin six months Chuck and my son started beating me. While I should have been pissed I was absolutely delighted. I had taken two players and elevated their games to a new level. As it turned out, the first time my son beat me in a five set marathon, I never have beaten him again. As for Chuck, he took his new A level game to D. C. where he works as a tax lawyer. I hope many players in that area are reaping the benefits of his game and talent.
I then spent about a year coaching about 7 players each 3 times a week, this was before India. I had one really talented woman player, Elaine, who was very gifted. But then I had to take a project in India and was gone for quite sometime. When I left, those courts were often booked full the weekends and most evenings.
When we eventually returned from India it was to empty courts again. We were barely off the plane when we headed over to LA Fitnesse, we were really home. It was great since we didn't have to worry about booking courts and extended play and training time. We used to joke how the courts were like our own private ones.
But then the empty courts started to bother me again. Empty courts. You can't have empty squash courts! That fear of loosing them crept back into my head. I then started emailing players telling them we were back and offering clinics very cheaply. Two and three person clinics. I started emailing players for matches, I started matching people up, the courts slowly came to life again. There was a semblance of life again in that squash community, players who hadn't played because they couldn't finnd matches started returning. I was fortunate because I worked from home so my schedule was very flexible. Anyone who stopped to watch me and my son play, people who never played, were interested. I put together a ladder with my email address, I tried to get on court with as many potential and existing players as possible. I held early a.m. sessions, evening sessions. Those who showed promised I offered to coach individually. It was then that I discovered Hadii, the thirteen year old Pakistani youth about 40 lbs overweight. I offered to coach him, his brother, cousin and father for a nominal fee. Within five minutes I knew Hadii had a gift, his footwork and racquet skills were far beyond a novice. I began working with him and his cousin Adam also with great promise. But Haddii quickly separated from the pack and I separately started coaching him individuall. I offered him four lessons for the price of two. I started picking up a number of other students while charging them very reasonable rates It's been about five months now and most of my really dedicated students are moving into the solid C realmI have since started coaching a few of the more advanced players for free. One in particular, George Ferrer, is 41 years old and 45 pounds overweight. He has such skill despite the weight and lack of formal training and coaching. Watch for my blog positing on him we are on a six month program to drop his weight and move him into that A level area. He is keen on this.
Needless to say, it was the most amazing thing one Saturday when about fifteen players showed up wanting to play and were complaining about the lack of court time. I could only smile, it couldn't have been a better day -- probably because I had my courts booked in advance!
We have a thriving squash community with new players joining all the time. I have about 5 juniors and 10 adults I coach...many more in the wings. I look forward to the next six months when we have 30 juniors and fifty more squash players. Am I in heaven? "The courts are booked tonight, would you like to schedule another day..."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Does Changing Racquets Make a Difference?

My son is aq 6.0-6.5 player and aspiring professional squash player. Both he and I have been wedded to Dunlop racquets for years. I haven't been able to give up my Hotmelt Pro since the first time I picked it up. It was and still remains
one of the best racquet ever made. Incidently, Dunlop doesn't make it anymore, so eventually they'll all but disappear. My son is always looking for the latest and greatest and moved onto the Dunlop Aero Gel Pro long ago. I stayed with the Hot Melt Pro. He was about ready to switch to the later version of the Dunlop Aero Gel when I had him try and completely different racquet. I was coaching and pushing with my students the feather 2125 Cyclone. I suggested to my son he try it out, he was reluctant since he was always a Dunlop player. It took him breaking all the strings in his racquet and forgetting to get them strung (actually I was supposed to do it but oh well sort of forgot) to get him out of necessity to use the Cyclone 2125.
It took him all of about 45 minutes to really get used to the racquet, the balance, the lighter weight. I could see he liked it. He thought at first it was a bit stiff in the middle. I told him stick with it because his racquet speed and quickness was noticeably better.
By the third time out with it, the racquet changed his way of playing. He began taking the ball earlier as well as holding it -- both types of shots snapping the ball with increased pace (due to his quicker racquet head speed). I couldn't believe it how much of a difference switching the racquet made. Maybe, just maybe, it's time for a change for me as well. When you're young you change clothes, girlfriends, and yes, racquets too...while I'm not apt to change my girlfriends, I am eyeing that Feather Cyclone and thinking how my game would improve. At this stage, anything that can improve my play is worth a try...

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:)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Top 20 Greatest Squash Players

Here goes again. I've updated the top 10 (actually 11 total) because some really great players have emerged for the ages over the last few years. By the way this only goes back 30 years when I started playing and following squash. My son will debate me on this after the 4th pick, no doubt. Any one has a strong argument against these players on the list, I'd love to read about it. These are only from the players I've seen in person or matches I've watched.

Jansher Khan -- Is there any question here? No doubt here. Thank god for films because memory fades a bit. I can view his matches on Youtube rather than rely on a distant memory. He is even greater the second time around.

Jahangir Khan -- Okay if it weren't for Jansher, perhaps the greatest ever. If anyone hasn't seen that match in the early 90's on tape you have to see it. Frazer and Ali III a tremendous match. It took Frazer in that fight to reallly show Ali's greatness, it took Jahangir to show Jansher's greatness. Watch the drops from Jansher as the match progresses. If ever a squash player can tighten those screws his drops did just that. Same punishing drops in a match on tape against Rodney Martin around that time (he's also somewhere on this list).

Ramy Ashour -- I think when it's all said and done he will move up probably another notch. He's still (barring any injury) has a ways to go in his career. But arguably at this stage or any prior stage one of the greatest ever. He has the tenacity and courage of Jahangir and the pure natural ability of Jansher. To see him play up close is well worth whatever price admission.

Peter Nicol -- Okay this was really tough, because my heart tells me Chris Ditmar, but you can't deny the statistics and dominance. I remember first reading about him when I think he was a teenager playing on that US Grand Prix tour. I was a huge fan of Anders Wahlstadt and thought he was such a great player, indeed he was, but who was this kid thrashing Wahlstadt all the time. Some might argue Nicol is the greatest ever... what they said about him when he came on to the squash scene: " he takes the ball so early".

Nick Matthew (tied with Nicol) -- In an age of Ramy, Shabanna, Gaultier, his world titles and return to top spot in the world rankings deserve him in this top list. He really changed the game and raised the bar for his contemporaries. His level of fitness, his pace, and when it's all said and done he will be remembered most for the best forehand volley ever.

David Palmer -- This is a no-brainer. He is sorely missed on the tour. His retirement left a gaping hole. At his peak,  in the current crop of top players he'd be 1 or 2.  But this guy is truly one of the greats. His forehand drop is probably the best ever. And his athleticism and mental toughness without question among the best. I have to put him ahead of Ditmar, tough for me because I think so highly of Ditmar, but this guy against Ditmar, we can only imagine, but the edge for his incredible athleticism.

Chris Ditmar -- One of those players, what can you say, to me one of the most talented I ever saw. I think his stature has dimished in a way because looking at Matthew and Shabanna they found ways to beat the best. Matthew has beaten Ramy and I think Matthew would have presented immeasurable problems for Jahnsher. But still, to think I saw him after he blew out his knee and came back to play at such a high level. What a throwback, sort of like the Larry Bird of squash. If it weren't for Jansher's dominance over him would he have been number two on this list? I can watch clips of this great player and athlete to no end. Gritty and tough, but smart too, just missed the mark. I think he would have had alot of trouble with Ramy Ashour.

Rodney Martin -- The greatest shotmaker in the modern game. Comparable to Ramy. I'm sure there were others, I just didn't see them. Hey, how can you argue with success, he gave Jansher fits. Why Rodney and not Jonathan Power? Hey, this is subjective, was never a big fan of Power and his game.

Geoff Hunt -- Hard to place him now, that age of attrition squash seems like the silent film era. He was the best of his time, but the level of competition wasn't as it has been for the past 20 years. He was the best at what they did back then.

Tristan Nancarrow -- To see him play was something. He was born in to it, maybe came too easily, but such raw talent, such brilliance. I would say he's right there with all those players in any sport that are just so gifted. If he had to do it all over again, my bet is he would have done it differently, worked and trained hard -- and we'd be saying he was in the top 5. Remember, just my opinion. Check out him playing Jahnsher when he was nearly in retirement. He is the one player I'd give anything to see again and agian.

Amir Shabanna -- He may well move up, for some reason just picked up on him and began watching him play. The "Maestro", at 34 years old winning the TOC and beating in successive matches Wilstrop, Matthew and Gaultier -- remarkable. The stats are there.

Too early to tell, but Shorbagy is the future of the game. This player may end up when it's all said and done being somewhere in the top 5 all time. Gaultier? I am a huge fan of his game, a remarkable player, he's got to win the big ones to get on this list.

Squash Suicide in Bangalore, India

Last year my company transferred me to Bangalore, India. I was very excited about this since I had always wanted to live in India. I had been to Chennai, India, with my good friend Vanamali Raghunathan. I took my son with me. We had a blast in Chennai, played squash at the Heritage Hotel, became friends with the attendant. We loved playing in the heat and the ball was fast and when we came off the court it was as if we had been playing in a sauna.

Originally I thought going to India would be the adventure of a lifetime. My son and I talked about it, he wasn't so keen, but I thought this could be such a rewarding experience for him. We assumed the squash would be great and we had plans on having him going periodically to Chennai to train with players out of the Cyrus Poncho's Indian Squash Institute. There was so little information on squash in Bangalore, but we assumed that we just had to go to the clubs. No one really responded to our inquiries. The most prominent club in our search was the prestigious Bangalore Club. I looked up membership information, and to be honest, it was so complicated to figure out. I tried emailing them. It was important to figure out the squash scene because there was no point in my son coming to India if he couldn't play.

My company was to put us up for 6 weeks and we found a hotel that also had squash. We were all set we could continue training and playing. We were in for a shock. The people handling the relocation took it upon themselves to change the agreed upon hotel and put us up in a 2 star or less hotel. For some reason the idea of squash to these people meant we thought ourselves privileged. I found this out later in the snied remarks about squash that was levied towards us by the people in my company. We are so far from that perception; we were just stereotyped and met with disdain as if we were reminders of a painful and humiliating past -- British Colonialism of course.

We spent days in between adjusting to India life trying to find a squash court to pay and play on. It was becoming increasingly futile when we realized the only places to play were very exclusive private clubs with long waiting lists for memberships. Our hearts sank. Most of these clubs offered temporary memberships but they wanted 5 year up front fees. The more frustrated I became the more futile it seemed. Anyone knows if you have a passion for something, you cannot be denied that passion. We would not be denied playing this game simply because of the perception that squash is for the privileged few and that to keep it that way you place so many restrictions and rules and regulations which keep 99% of the people out, the undeirables no doubt.

I contacted Cyrus Poncho in Chennai and he, bless him, put us in touch with a member out of the Bangalore Club. I don't remember his name we were passed on to another member of the club, Vinnie Singh. Vinnie was a godsend and I think was so happy to have someone of my son's caliber willing to play that he put us in touch with numerous players who had us play as their guests. We immediately took to Vinnie, he was soft spoken, played an old style but graceful squash that was thoroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately, I had torn my meniscus before leaving for India so I couldn't play without a great deal of pain. I could hit a bit with my son, but I knew I had a bad injury. But my son was able to play with Vinnie and others. The style of play was much like hardball, the ball fast, the courts very hot and the game and points very quick. We were coming from courts in Great Neck, NY that were less than half the speed. It was like going from softball to hardball. But my son adjusted slowly and began developing that soft volley drop which is so effective as well as an attacking boast. His footwork was slower to adjust because it was a challenge to keep distance off the ball when it comes at you from different angles and so fast. He had some great matches with Vinnie.

But it became apparent that my son couldn't play there because he wasn't the son of a member and wasn't 25 years old, the minimum age to be a temporary member. I was able to secure through Vinnie a temporary membership, but it didn't matter I couldn't really play because of my injury. And I could not add family to my temporary membership. We were back to square one sort of. That's when Vinnie had the great idea of getting my son in as a squash coach. My son had coached in the City and Long Island so he had the credentials. Vinnie's heart was in the right place, he saw all the old players at the club and wanted to see some new blood, to bring in the sons and daughters of the squash members and any other members to this game. He came up with the idea of coaching and in return a membership to the club. It took a while for Vinnie to put in the proposal and present it. Our fingers were crossed. Vinnie showed such patience, the kind of patience I could never have. He knew the system and always told me no matter how frustrated I became to never yell at the staff or officials of the club. This was probably more difficult to do than to rehabilitate my knee. My son would coach clinics at the club in exchange for playing. He was not a member and was only allowed to play certain times. We lived about 2 hours bus ride (because of the horrific Bangalore traffic) so he would just have to make due if he wanted to play.

What became apparent was the old attendant there who sometimes gave lessons and was not happy about this arrangement. Simply put, he made my son's life miserable. This is a trait I think I observed in India that you make someone miserable by making everything a chore even the simplest things. My son did these clinics on the worst court in the club, if he was hitting with a non-senior member of the club on the good court, and a senior member came along, he was kicked off. He could not have any guests and could not go 1 minute past his lesson time, which, even at times the old attendent would try and kick him off during a lesson if there was a member waiting to play. He wasn't allowed to reserve courts and if a player/student cancelled on him by calling the attendant the information wasn't passed on so there would be a rush to come in on that 2 hour bus ride for a canceled lesson.

He could not participate on the club ladder, for members only. Of all the people that he coached and paid his own bus fare to come in and coach for free none of them even tipped him. But I will say this Vinnie was very generous and "Bundy" was another really good friend that took to my son. All in all we have fond memories of the time there, but one of the parents of the best junior prospect in Bangalore, was told when he relocated from Bombay to Bangalore that it would be squash suicide.

To all those who make it so difficult to play this magnificent sport like not knowing how to sing and murdering the note, you simply murder this game. The PSA chairman I believe is out of India maybe he can promote and open the doors to the countless prospects in Bangalore who never did anything to anyone and who might simply want to play squash.

When the grinding commute to the Bangalore Club was a bit much, we'd go to the garage in our apartment building which was made of concrete. The ceiling was low, not unlike the old Harvard Business School American courts I played on with my Indian friend Supriya years ago, but we could at least hit the ball. And the sound of the ball coming off the concrete was the same as any ball coming off those old style courts, whether in Bangalore or Park Place Squash -- simply music.

My son eventually coached at Palm Meadows Country Club (suburban Miami in the heart of India) where he was paid and also they allowed me to play when I was healed. The sport manager, Mr Sagar Pawar, of Palm Meadows was like Vinnie, so gracious, a real gentleman, and really saw the benefit of my son playing and coaching out of his club.

I think many dislike an outdated system that discriminates so freely and easily against 99% of the population in the same manner that the old British system discriminated against the Indian population. Herman Hesse said something like be careful you don't become what you hate. In Bangalore, in the squash circles, I think there's some truth to that -- that old British Colonial system is still alive and well -- when they kicked the British out they should have kept all the good like squash and threw away all their foolish rules and regulations that were simply a disguise for their discrimination against the people whose home they occupied.

But maybe the real lesson here is that no matter what obstacles stand in your way there's always a way around them. My son and I since returned to New York where we play and coach squash and I never step onto the court in Great Neck taking this game or the ability to play it for granted. Before we left India, my son said to me, that his experience there was life changing. I'd like to think part of it was realizing what his life would be like if he wasn't allowed to play squash, not because of his ability or desire, but simply because many years ago a small group of people decided who should be allowed to play this game. I'd like to go back some day to Bangalore to hit around with Vinnie, perhaps build some outdoor courts, and invite any and all to hit a bit, run a bit, sweat a lot and experience the freedom of playing, within the confines of those four walls, the greatest game ever invented.