Friday, January 1, 2010

Is Squash Really Supposed to be Fun?

I was reading a coaching and referee book, "Squash Coaching and Refereeing" by R. B. Hawkey, former softball professional in the 1980's. He was head of developing coaching standards and certifications for the Squash and Racquets Association (SRA). It's very interesting, but what caused me to really pause and think was this statement he made. He asked what is the role of a coach, he said, invariably coaches and would-be coaches answer to make a player better. To which he responded, that the real purpose is to make squash fun, especially for juniors. This lead me to start thinking about fun and squash, something I never really thought aboutbefore.

Generally speaking, what is fun? Is it something you do that brings you happiness? Is it something you do that you love and in loving what you do you have fun? Does having fun mean you don't take it so seriously? Is fun the ultimate goal in pursuing something so difficult as squash?

Aside from coaching squash privately, I also test software. I have been doing this for so long I can nearly do it in my sleep, not that I ever sleep while testing software and looking for defects. I love testing software and finding bugs, it can be so much fun, but it can also have its share of drudgery involved with waiting for software releases, following poor procedures, meetings and reviews, appeasing software developer's egos, and reporting findings endless to management. When I am having fun simply testing, I often remark that I'd do this for free. When you are so good at something and have worked so hard at reaching a certain level, I guess, yes it's fun.

But as I continue along this reasoning, if you were to ask me, is testing fun, I would flat out say no. For the 100 hours I might spend on testing or preparig to test, maybe a few hours are what I call fun. For the most part it is tedious, detailed work, involving a lot of time going through hundreds of routine scripts with the same results for each iteration of testing. Boredom is often a huge challenge. But I'm a senior tester, actually, a testing architect, so I design the test approach but rarely execute those tedious, time consuming, repetitive tests. Do I make testing fun for those junior testers who have to execute them, no, it's simply not fun, I could make a party of it or try to inspire interest through all sorts of ways, but it's business, you have to put in your dues before you get to that advanced level when, yes, it becomes fun sometimes -- even if for some fleeting moments.

Back to squash. When I'm moving and playing well it's fun...meaning when I can play the game against an opponent as if it appears I can do it in my sleep, then it is incredibly fun. But those times are so few and far between, just as when I am having fun testing software. What I spend most of my time in playing squash is trying to get better, drilling, learning, getting fit, none of which I would put in the category of fun. But I do it, because when I play like there's no tomorrow and every shot and movemet is fluid and in my eyes only (probably) I'm moving with the grace and execution of a professional player, I think to myself, I could do this forever, it is so much fun.

But then there are those days I get up where I can barely move, every muscle and joint hurts, and I want just to stay in bed. Squash and training is a chore, it isn't fun, I don't hate it, I still love it but it's just not really fun at that point. But because the game has teased me with those moments of excellence and happiness (and yes lots of fun) I will myself to the gym for training and playing and practicing -- thanks sometimes to Advil.

When I started out playing this game I loved it the moment I hit my first the time I hit my one thousandth ball I knew I wanted to get better. I fell in love with this game, I can honestly say, and had in my head I'd do anything to get better, to beat my "B" level friend, Supriya Mehta, who introduced me to this game and made it look so easy playing against me. It was fun for him to get me chasing the ball and getting me so frustrated and no doubt it was funfor him because he could do this in his dreams, in his sleep, without strings without even the four walls. I envied him that he could do this with such ease. I eventually moved away and couldn't play Supriya much, we kept in touch and always talked about squash. I spent a lot of time working with a coachat a club in New York City determined to get better, I also became very fit for playing. So when I was up in Boston where Supriya was, I told him we'd have to play.

We went to play at MIT or Harvard, couldn't really remember. I was much better and had closed the gap in skill between us. We played some match, he beat me, but it wasn't fun for him. He remarked he thought he'd be sick -- I ran him about forcing him to shoot for nicks, which, on that day seem to be working. I didn't have fun doing this to him, because I didn't beat him! I went back to New York and hit the courts with my coach almost immediately, I told him about the match and he immediately went to work on how to cover shots from a shooter -- just hit your own shots better. Easier said than done and it wasn't much fun spending the next years doing that.

While I've been writing this, I realized the amount of time I actually had fun playing squash was miniscule compared to the effort and time put in to becoming a better player. But I wouldn't change anything in how I did this because for those miniscule times I did have fun when it all came together I would do it over in a heartbeat. No doubt I'm either driven by this passion for the game or a bit insanity or maybe just both. I wonder when I first stepped on the court and hit those first squash balls did I come off the court thinking this is fun? I don't remember. Squash, like life, I guess, has it's share of fun, but I don't think you start out by thinking it's going to be fun. You have your moments of fun, but they are at a premium -- work hard, play hard, you will be all the better as a player and a person for it.

As a coach, when I take on a new player, whether adult or junior, I ask them what their aspirations are. Most say to get better, occasionally, someone will say just to hit around and have fun. I usually tell them they don't need a coach for that, they can do that right off. I also tell them when you ceases having fun and want to get better and play this game like it was meant to be played come back and I'll do whatever it takes (and it will be hard work and often boring) to get good and have a shot, ever so few as they might be, when you play out of your mind and it's really fun.

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