Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bad Knee, Back, Hip or Even One Leg...

When I was in India I was injured and couldn't play squash for 3 months. It was absolute torture, I had a slight tear and opted not to have surgery and instead let it heal on itself. During that time I used to take my racket and squash ball and go into the high rise apartment garage stalls, which were like miniature squash courts with white plastered walls and smooth floors. I would spend a long time stationary just hitting the ball back to myself. I had to travel 2 hours in heavy Indian traffic to go to real courts, so injured as I was, this was better.

I remember thinking at the time that just hitting the ball, feeling it come off the racket and hearing the ball strike the front garage wall that wonderful sound so familiar was comforting. It mattered I couldn't really move and I was very careful not to, but it was then that I realized if I ever got back to playing healthy, I will always have to have that wall, ball and racket -- even if I could move an inch.

I recently took on a former division 1 soccer player who wanted to learn how to play squash. 50 plus year old Richard Packer from Long Island, was not in the best shape, but what made matters worse he had had knee replacement surgery which had limited his motion of his knee. So what was I going to do with this man who simply wanted to learn to play this great game of squash?

I took him onto the court and talked a bit with him about squash and asked him some more questions about his knee, his mobility, and I was frank with him and told him the physical demands of the game are great...but I stopped myself, and thought back to India, and remembered how I had no mobility but how much enjoyment I derived from just striking the ball in the garage. I told Richard based on what he told me we would tailor the lessons around technique and a certain radius of movement and reach.

We started hitting back and forth to each other and I was astonished at his hands, he exhibited a very good feel for the ball and his eye and hand coordination were superb. We adjusted his grip and racket preparation and stance when striking the ball and he started hitting the ball pretty well. He had played tennis so there was lots of tennis in his strokes, no big deal, easy to fix over time. The lessons went by and his strokes off the feeds became better and better but I was faced with the dilemma of how to keep him interested. Let's change the court a bit, the way the more serious players sometimes play the short game as well as the long game to practice movement, angles and touch. The short game was suited very well to Richard, simple enough, the ball must land in front of the half court line (in front of the service box) and above the service line (mid line on the front wall). You cannot win off the serve. We played some very good points, but what this session was was abstract of what the game is really like in full court. You must control the center, clear, and hit tight shots. What we started doing was playing long rallies, which Richard loved, because he worked up quite a sweat and he started getting a feel for the essence of the game, cut off the angles, hit the ball where your opponent isn't and clear for your opponent. At the end of the session we both felt pretty good and it reminded me of match play. I then told him that he should play people that way, get good at this method, and start bringing people on court. I explained it's a standard drill but when he gets really good at it many better players will like to hit with him because we all do this kind of game to sharpen our footwork and rackets skills.

So now when I ask people who say they used to play squash but stopped because of bad knees or bad backs or any kind of disability, I can tell them about Richard and encourage them to go out and get on that court and play this game in whatever way you can -- next, I'll have Richard hit anywhere on the front wall while I still have to hit above the service line. I'll have to work a lot harder, but I'm sure watching coach retrieve the drops as well as the rails and crosses and reverses will delight this student who now has bit of this game.

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