Wednesday, August 31, 2011

PST -- One Small Step For Squash...One Giant Step For Safety

PST Commissioner Joe McManus canvassed fans in the recent online publication of Squash E-zine on whether or not PST professional sanctioned tournaments should require its players to wear protective eyewear. It's mandatory for its amateur tournaments. My son started playing PST pro tournaments and I absolutely encouraged him to wear protective eyewear. It is always, in my opinion as both parent and coach, "better to err on the side of caution". In a time when we spend billions of dollars on technology to make cars safer, why wouldn't we spend some money on investing in protective eyewear. Who would argue with the statement, if it means one player doesn't lose his or her sight from an errant squash ball or racquet, why not make wearing protective eyewear mandatory. The game is changing, McManus is correct. The PST with the No-Let rule makes the game more aggressive and exciting. Exciting doesn't have to mean dangerous. If there is one doubt on the safety of the evolved style of play, simply wear the protective eyewear.
Do construction workers wear hard hats, does a welder wear protective masks, does a professional baseball player wear a helmet? Of course they do, while most professions experience a small percentage of accidental injuries due to some mishap, the response should always be safety first -- at any level!. There is no reason, none, that players can't wear protective eyewear. There are issues with fogging and scratching and getting used to them, but all of these issues are easily remedied with proper well constructed protective eyewear. I have never had a problem with my glasses, I sweat profusely, I see clearly -- I recommend everyone wear the white colored prince court glasses. At $20.00 plus dollars, in my mind, there's no reason not to wear them. While I'm not a professional player, I have been hit with an aggressive racquet and a couple of times with the ball in the eye, squarely in the eye. But I was wearing my tried and true protective glasses.
Another critical reason is junior players copy professional players. I can't tell you how many times juniors will say they don't see the "pros" wearing protective glasses. I can only say they are wrong, it should be mandatory. If it saves one persons eyesight it's worth everyone wearing them. Once you are used to them you will be surprised how even when practicing you automatically put them on, they way you would automatically tie your laces.
I have a woman 4.5 student-player who could be a national champion and great amateur tournament player. My biggest challenge with her is not her technique or footwork but to get her to wear protective eyewear. She says it makes her feel clautraphobic, okay, but one-eyed darkness will really make her really feel clautraphobic. I tell her she can never compete because of this. We are working on it. Selena are you reading this?
And is there any professional squash player who can say the outcome of a match was determined by the use or lack thereof of protective eyewear. I'd like to hear from them.
McManus has shown he is the "commissioner" of this tour and he will openly discipline star players with suspensions for not adhering to the overall sportsmanship qualities of squash. I applaud him for taking this step; it is long overdue. Players will adapt, and perhaps the makers of the eyewear will listen to the players wearing those glasses and invest the money to improve the quality and effectiveness. I'm sure Prince, who already sponsors the PST with their torunament ball, would gladly contribute their protective eyewear, which is the best in the market, to the torunament players.
Next on the "commissioner's " agenda, should be getting rid of PAR scoring. But first things first.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Squash Mental or Mental Squash -- Barb Cooper's 10 Winning Tips to Improve Your Squash

Simplify the game. So much easier said than done. I admire most those squash minds who have the ability to take the complexity of the squash game and simplify it to a pure and simple explanation. I sort of stumbled across this great little article by Barb Cooper entitled, "10 Winning Tips for Improving Your Squash Game”. She sells it for $7.00 USD dollars online. It is money well spent. There are so many “tips” in here that are such a great tenfold return on your $7.00 investment. Many of the tips we’ve heard before, but she writes about them in such a way that is just simple and direct.
As I’ve become an older player, I recognize the need to work on my mental part of the game. I only wish I had done this twenty years ago! But better late than never. I was drawn her article because if is written by a squash professional who has devoted her life to improving the game of others, with special emphasis on the “mental” aspects of them game. Barb Cooper’s squash resume along with 40 years coaching experience at the highest level might be impressive enough, but most of us have seen a lot of pompous, inflated, albeit well-intentioned professionals come onto to the US scene in recent years, that really lack the simple, straightforward approach to the game. Because you were a professional player from overseas doesn’t mean you are now “slumming” in the US and bringing squash religion to infidels. I can name a few very arrogant examples of this but will not open this up to that. I’d prefer to champion those less self-serving but who want to improve the game of others at any level.
Barb Cooper starts off her article with top 5 mental tips, okay, we’ve heard this before: “learn to relax”, if only I could. But what makes this so interesting is she offers up this observation, which I’ve never thought about. You are who you are on court as well as off court….how true is that? She sites some personality examples. And then proceeds to provide an exercise on how to relax off court first (this is so intelligent, do what you need to do off court first) and then work it into on the court. Breathing, how to breathe and relax between points. Start off by at night when you lay down for a night’s sleep to breathe and relax, I am trying that, since it takes forever for myself to unwind – but that is funny, because on court it takes me quite a bit to unwind and relax. Breathe deeply in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. Practical and simple…yet this technique works and she doesn’t simply say breathe deeply, she tells you how to breathe. This I love as well. She sites an example or case in point of how critical it is between points to breathe, relax and clear your mind. She will tell you the most critical time is after you’ve lost a point and are returning your opponent’s serve.
Another really important piece of advise is she seems to clear up this annoying controversy. She will tell you to play players worse than yourself. I’ve most often heard you get better playing better players, but what she states is that with players worse than yourself you can practice breathing and relaxing techniques, shots in your game and strategy while not under the pressure of playing someone better than yourself. But she will add in that doesn’t mean lose the game of match, and when you have to win, win whatever way you know how. The other tip I really liked and one which I’ve followed for years (but have trouble getting my students to follow this) is really study the game, be a student of this game, “read and learn from others.” Of course there is always my favorite tip, when you practice leave your world behind. I am the worst offender of this, but I’m learning. Keep relationship, financial, world news out of the court. Again, this only creates stress, which leads to tightness and mistakes on the court.
Finally, the other tip I really like is her tip of building your game on quadrants. This is something Jim Masland my former coach and squash confidante, has told be for years; break the court down in quadrants, but it took her to explain what to do. Develop the shot you want to make within a single quadrant first before moving on to another shot and quadrant. This is great advise, breaking it down simple. One quadrant at a time – the easiest way to gauge your improvement. And finally, she cleared this up which often puzzled me, volley everything you can. This goes along way for me especially since I let balls go I should cut off, but -- you get a bit comfortable retrieving.
I have read so many squash books and seen so many instructional videos, I like this tip sheet a lot. There’s enough for a book here, especially if Ms. Cooper goes into all the ghastly details of actually implementing these improvements. I strongly encourage anyone wanting to improve their squash game to spend the money and download it…it’s well worth the read.
See her website: http:/ for how to purchase this guide.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The PST and the AFL -- Joe McManus and Al Davis Not So Far Fetched

I was recently doing some reading on one of the most successful, actually the most successful, sports merger in the history of sports. That would be the merger of the American Football and National Football Leagues back in the late 1960's. If you read about this incredible merger you realize that it was the older established league, the NFL, which approached the AFL about a merger. The AFL was young and innovative and well funded, it reached out to markets where organized football didn't exists. It created new markets and even ventured into markets where the NFL had a strong foothold. Al Davis, probably more famous for being the much maligned owner of the Oakland Raiders (a powerhouse AFL team) was the visionary commissioner of the AFL. Many credit him for putting the AFL in such a great situation that this merger was able to take place, a merger that was intiated by the older and more established NFL.
What does this have to do with squash, which is what I write about? While I was reading about the football league mergers I couldn't help but make connections to what the Professional Squash Tournament (PST) organization founded and headed up by Joe McManus is doing alongside the older and much more established Professional Squash Association (PSA). When I stop to think about what McManus is doing for squash I get really excited. While I couldn't attend the recent PST tour stop in Southampton, Long Island (close to where I live) because of coaching commitments, I followed the draw along with my son who played in it, his second PST event (which he admittedly said he stunk at), and saw some of the local players whom most people otherwise wouldn't see, except for some grainy footage on YouTube. One such player, Dylan Murray, no doubt a young "phenom" beat one of the local standouts, Ely Slyder. The other match of note, pitted Faraz Khan, a young junior, and son of my good friend and former coach Farid Khan, against a very experienced professional player, Ned Marks, who happens to play my son quite frequently in the city. When I read about this and hear about it, it was such great news. What McManus has done has provided a venue for up and coming players or local established players the opportunity to get into the next round or two and play a world class player. This is not only a huge advantage for up and coming players, but it is also an added boon for squash fans to see these up and coming players. I saw Dylan Murray play years ago and then watched him on a clip from YouTube and this kid already exhibits professional level footwork and racket skills.
The AFL used to showcase all of the black standout football stars and the cast offs from the NFL. Funny thing, those castoffs, many of which, became NFL stars when the leagues merged. McManus has come up with such an intelligent formula for providing opportunity for players and fans alike to be part of great young talent and world class players. For a young player to play a Bradley Ball or John White if they get through the draw is fantastic. What a measuring stick and opportunity to come out of a match with a former number one just to have that experience. I took a clinic with John White years ago and he is such an incredible character, so down-to-earth and a reminder that you don't have to be coached by world class coaches to reach number 1 in the World (White will state he was never coached and with a smile doesn't advise any young player to copy his style). The best part of the clinic was the opportunity to play points with him. While I was certainly not at my fittest at the time and will admit to waddling a bit on court during a very busy time in my technology career when I just couldn't get to the courts as often as I liked (along with too much order in Chinese takeout lunches and dinners), I enjoyed those points like you wouldn't believe. I had never been on the court with someone who hit the ball where I had no idea, absolutely none, where the ball came from nor where it was going. I tried to imagine how anyone could compete with this guy, he held the ball for what seemed like forever and with this bionic wrist snapped his racket and redirected the ball. He did that shot where he swings and misses purposely and then snaps his second stroke to hit a fierce cross court the screeches by and dies in the back.
McManus has proven an innovator. His "no-let" rule is widely criticized as well as well received. Not unlike the AFL's implementation of the two point conversion. Innovation breathes new life into something tried and true. Our sport is the greatest sport on the planet, but when I receive an email about Mathew seeking revenge against Ashour at the Rowe British Open in September (Mathew recently lost in 5 to Ashour at the Australian Open) I stop and wonder, is it that predictable on the PSA that they can pick finalists based on world ranking ( Mathew number 1 and Ashour number2) a month in advance? The PSA is incredible because of the players, but the PSA isn't just about the top 50 players in the world. There are so many others whom we never see or hear about. Maybe in some of the overseas minor tournaments you would see the lower ranked players, but for the most part I have always liked the qualifiers at the NY Tournament of Champions (TOC), I like to see the young up and coming players. McManus has taken it a step further, he's garnered some young local talent and put them in a professional tournament when they might not otherwise have the opportunity to play professional level squash.
Do I hope some day the two squash governing bodies will merge, only if the PST keeps its identity and continues to bring innovation while at the same time guarding the traditions of the sport. If a US born men's player ever reaches world class stature in the squash world, I hope the credit goes to McManus for the efforts he has put forth in giving young US players the opportunity to experience world class play. I hope someone like Dylan Murray who has great talent gets enough of a taste of professional squash to want to pursue that calling, a calling whose beginning may well have started in these PST events. As for my son, it's a dream come true that he will play in as many PST events as he can this year, and when I get that phone call from him telling me he won his first PST match it will be a great day, and one of many to come.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Farewell , Paul Zummo: The Tasmanian Devil of LA Fitness Squash!

Squash is a small and close-knit community, especially in the far reaches of the squash world like Lake Success, Long Island. The players here have formed a tight community made up of doctors, lawyers, business men and women, housewives, hair stylists, even a jam manufacturer . But a true standout for his squash and sportsmanship in our community is Paul Zummo, one of my most favorite students, and the one whom I derived great pride in watching him develop as a player. He is moving to Connecticut so won’t be a frequent player at our club anymore. I’ve come to know Paul both as a friend and his coach, the bond between is that ever lasting one called squash. The first time I saw him play was a few years back when he was about 45 lbs heavier and I thought for sure he’d have a heart attack as he rushed around the court sweating in buckets and red faced with fatigue. I turned to my son while watching him and said it’s like watching the Tasmanian Devil play squash! I told my son with some coaching he could be a really good player, get him fit and with some technique and he could be really good. That was then and this is now. Paul is fit, in fact very fit. He won this year’s Grand Open regional 3.0 level tournament and placed well in the US Nationals. No doubt if he hadn’t been hampered with chronic strep leading up to the Nationals he would have won. He has come so far and what was once one of the worst backhands I’d ever seen is pretty respectable now. He has a good foundation to progress certainly to the 4.5 level and with a lot of hard work maybe the 5.0 level.
Many times over the past 2 years of coaching him 6 am every Tuesday and Thursday I watched him push through so much impatience and type “A” personality stuff to begin to develop a good understanding of the game. He is the one person I believe will find the essence of the game and become a National champion a couple of times over. I’ve never met anyone with such heart and determination and will to win. It isn’t often pretty to watch him but he wears down better players and we often watch his matches and just shake our heads wondering how he was able to retrieve some of the balls he gets to. The biggest compliment I can pay him is that the club won’t be the same without him. I watched him play his biggest club rival on Saturday, John Gross, in what turned out to be a straight set win for Paul. He often loses to John, another tireless student of mine, but there were some incredible rallies (some quite forgettable ones too). A prospective squash member was watching them and was asking me what level they were at and I said probably a solid C level, to which he remarked , they look more like solid B players. It’s always good when a B player thinks the C’s are playing like the B’s…I wonder if the nickname will stick with him or will his new club come up with another nickname for him? When the dust settles around the Tasmanian Devil he just might now look like a squash player. I have all sorts of advice for him as he leaves for another club, but I stop myself, because I think, to keep it in perspective, it is I who have learned more from him than he from me. I wish this fellow squash dasher and basher all the luck – “racket up and back – move your feet!”…