Thursday, July 21, 2011

Once A Student Always A Student

Sam, one of my LA Fitness squash students, and potentially an excellent player was watching me and his training partner, Selena, drilling and when we came off the court I could tell he really enjoyed watching it, especially Selena who is slowly Pygmalion-like being transformed into some player. I was talking to them about how I was just figuring out after all these years how to change the pace of the game without changing the pace of the ball. I'm not an intuitive player who doesn't think about such things. But I am an analytical player who likes to figure out why and how we do certain things on the court. I really enjoy dissecting this game and just am awed by both it's complexity and simplicity, an oxymoron but like most great challenges in life it's about bring control to two opposing forces, to channel that kinetic energy into something resembling grace, movement and timing.
I was explaing how insanely effective the half volley is to pick up the pace of the game, by taking the ball early off the floor on the rise before it reaches its apex -- you need to really be strong in the core of your body and have the racket skills in preperation and execution to get very low to the ball and drive it for good width and length. If executed well, the half volley is as effective as a regular volley and when executed well puts a lot of pressure on your opponent. I like to play a style that is aggressive with my feet, cutting the ball off. What I am learning is that I am much more effective when I cut the ball off but then accentuate the point by not cutting it off and retrieving it in the back. The effects of this is much like a baseball pitcher throwing 3 fastballs at 90 something and then throwing the big hook or change up it puts the hitter off balance and messes with the hitters timing. So too in squash, if I'm cutting the ball off, trying to take it early by volleying or half volleying, and if executing well putting some real pressure, then I play the ball back, retrieve a bit and then go back to the pressure.
An attacking boast (two wall boast) off the half volley redirects the ball to the front of the court as does the half volley softly and deftly placed into the front point in this is I never stop learning new things about this game, sometimes it things that come easily to for me, when Sam asked "you are still learning", I shot back, "you never stop learning this game." I am first and foremost above being a teacher or a player, a humble student of this game. What comes so intuitively to my son, I have to figure it out, analyze it (hopefully not to death) and then work on the mechanics and then the execution. When I grasp something new and difficult it is the best feeling in the world. Difficult is of course relative, but good mechanics and great execution are what we seem to strive for in becoming a better player and student...
Look next for a blog post on Selena Mahoney, what a player she's becoming, she's now taken up that position as most favorite and honored student, after me that is.

Squash And The Sands Of Time

For those who live and breathe this game of squash, there’s nothing worse than sustaining a long term injury. Oh, perhaps there is, coming back from an injury especially one that has involved a tear, pull or fracture. I’m not even talking about surgically repaired tendons, joints, replacements or the like, I’m talking about those injuries that keep you away from the game, those that seem to trick you into believing you can come back early only to find you did indeed come back too early. It’s one thing to resign yourself to a torn Achilles, you simply can’t play, need surgery and rehabilitation. Same goes for that torn meniscus. From those injuries you know that if you don’t do what you are supposed to do you may never play again, so you have your surgery, rehabilitate, and take it slowly. I admire a warrior like Will Carlin, former US National Amateur champion, who has sustained some serious injuries and he keeps coming back…he will play until his very last breath.
I recently broke my hand playing one of my students. My best student in fact who was frustrated in our points so that he stepped aggresively in front of me while I was striking the ball and my racquet caught his leg in such a way that I couldn't release my racquet and it snapped my hand back. Very painful stuff. I spent hours in emergency, ironically on the fast track (5 hours) before being xray’d and released. The hand was too swollen to determine if it was a fracture. I was put in a splint and told to see a specialist. I saw a specialist who swore it was broken, spent 3 minutes, and said I'd have to see another specialist who actualy had an xray machine. He rewrapped my injured hand and set me up for another appointment.
I spend endless hours working on my computer so just prior to my next appointment I had enough, two weeks operating the mouse lefthanded and typing with the splint hitting the spacebar I took it off and said to myself I'll rest it another two weeks and see how it goes.
My son was after me to get it re-xray'd and I told him I'm old school. If a cast was applied I would be out for 6-8 weeks plus rehabilitation time. Given the fact that I am not a player in his 20's two months is an eternity and I thought, honestly, I will go insane if I can't get on court. I figured if I returned and it got worse I'd get the hand in a cast, if I could play, I would just play through it. I thought of Kevin Mchale in the 1987 NBA finals against the Lakers, he played the season with a stress fracture in his foot, inspired, I thought that is old school, the ways things were and still should be. Recently, Derek Jeter of the Yankees stayed out two weeks with a strained calf muscle, a muscle he uses if he's lucky 5 times in a game, my attitude, suck it up and go out there and play take nothing for granted it will someday be gone.
There are many who would disagree with this attitude and ask why risk serious injury, my son has been asking me that question for weeks. But I assured him if I can't play I won't, but if I can I will play.
So I went back out on court having popped a few Advil and started hitting the ball ever so carefully. It was weird the game didn't know me anymore, I was a stranger shaking the racquet's "hand"; it was awkward, deliberate and I was afraid of feelinng that pain when I hit the ball -- high looping shots, old man style squash; the ball felt heavy off the racquet. I started out slowly, my son noticed I was hitting the ball strangely, opening my elbow and advised me to use my natural stoke otherwise he said I'd hurt my elbow. He was right my elbow was a little sore. I went back to my natural stroke ever so carefully and the pain in my elbow went away. I went out every day like this then started coaching, focusing on moving my feet well and not putting too much pace on the ball. To cut down on the number of feeds I used more ghosting in the drills (not that ghosting isn't critical to a coaches repertoire of drills, but with more advanced players). Each time I started to feel the ball better and that reluctant and petulant mistress, which I sometimes call squash, came back slowly but surely. John Gross one of my better students (Hyder Cup 3.5 finalist) gave me a small squishy ball to exercise and loosen my hand up with -- that has turned out to be a godsend). The hand swells up a bit after hitting, but it seems okay, and doesn't bother me too much.
Then I started playing games with my son, and it was my third time out with him that I was feeling really good. I had been doing alot of biking and running and felt strong. We played some games and I knew squash was back and I was in her good graces again, I played the longest rallies of my life with my son, bullets, 40 and 50 shot rallies! I can't even begin to tell you how great it felt, the hand hurt, but who cares. I go out now and coach early a.m. and play at nights and restiong assured I made the right decision...eventually, I hope it heals, but this game again for me is worth whatever pain or difficulty it presents, I simply can't live too long without it.