Monday, November 19, 2012

Gustav Detter Puts on a Clinic at LA Fitness in Lake Success, NY

Another fantastic weekend of Squash at LA Fitness, in Lake Success, NY. When we all thought no one could surpass Hisham Ashour’s clinic last month, lo and behold, Gustav Detter comes along and by all feedback the clinic was just as good; “different,” as some players put it but everyone sure did “sweat a lot”. The clinic, two sessions, on a beautiful Sunday morning, was sold out. Detter, one of the greatest collegiate squash players ever and anchor to the legendary Trinity men's squash team, and much the subject of Paul Assiante’s wonderful book chronicling Trinity College’s historic undefeated consecutive wins (13) seasons, brought a high octane approach to squash. His drills are intense, continuous, and very instructive. I always like to ask my students what the visiting coach says about their game, technique or footwork. And when they come off the court and say, “he said something that finally clicked”, as Russ Feinberg said about an explanation Gustav had provided for his drop shot, it makes it all that much better.

The clinic was followed by an exhibition match between Kyle Jens and Gustav what a match, a fiercely contested battle with Gustav taking the match while showing tremendous grit and determination in coming back. The last two games Jens  had 3 game balls in each against him, but Gustav seemed to pull each game out with some amazing reserve.
The match drew quite a viewing crowd which is a how we show people at the gym just how great a sport squash is and hopefully garner new recruits to the game.

Coming up in January, just in time for those playing in the Grand Open regionals is a Cameron Pillay clinic, top ranked Australian player and consistentlytop 20 in the world. He comes out of the renowned Australian Squash institute with such greats as Stuart Boswell, David Palmer, and the Martin brothers Brett and Rodney.

We are hoping to host a surpirs exhibition round robin with Pillay and others. Winner in total points will take the prize. Hope to see you all at that one, , thanks, to Gustav for a great Sunday of squash. Photos and filming of the match will be posted soon..

Sunday, October 21, 2012

World Squash Day 2012

My gratitude and admiration go out to Alan Thatcher for all his efforts in promoting squash for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, either in Madrid, Tokyo, or Istanbul and his "World Squash Day" this past weekend. This is a poem I wrote about squash appropriate to the 2020 inclusion, I hope, of squash. It is a poem taken out of a series of poems I am currently writing:


V. Our Father The Squash Player
    (July, 2020)

"I  followed him to the courts
just to  carry his rackets
l wanted to play just like him.
I'd  watch him warm up the  ball
(that day he was playing Rich Kuszleski)
the gunshots off the front wall
the black ball rocketing to his forehand then to his backhand
deliberate steps to the ball like a big yawn
in the early morning; he  woke early to prepare
 my brown bag  lunch  and in big black marker wrote
my name drawing some funny cartoons of squash players.

And then one morning, he  motioned me onto the court, take a racket
he seemed to say;
and I jumped as if it was my first big league at bat --
he  gently closed the door behind me -- this is where I always wanted to be.

He showed me  the grip, explained the bold red  boundary lines,
looking never down on me but crouching to meet me eyes.


 I can see him on the court where he is not
that gentle giant that moved freely within
the white walls which when he played he seemed made
the grand canyon there --
exhausted I measured his each step to my three
a tango on the court,
"you'll get better," he'd grin with his head slightly cocked to one side
 "someday maybe even
take a game."
And then Thanksgiving '05
I beat him and never lost to him again --
until the time too ill to hit around with me
I left for Madrid and he died.
I didn't tell him what I should have told him
 -- being on court with him
were  the best moments of my life
"never go easy", he'd say,
it echoes  now  and again when  I think
he is me"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Squash Ghosts from the Winter Garden

Too fitting this time of year when ghouls and goblins and ghosts abound as the summer green leaves die in a glorious flourish of amazing colors, that two great squash players in their own right seemed to resurrect visions of squash ghostly presence from years back, some say the "golden age of squash".

I watched Hisham Ashour play my son in an exhibition at our club and after the match I talked to Hisham and spoke to him about Tristan Nancarrow. It wasn't coincidence. I watched this amazing player and great personality move about our club and later on the squash court, I thought as I watched him on the court that he is like watching Tristan Nancarrow circa 1991 at the Tournament of Champions in the World Financial Center Winter Gardens playing Mark Talbot. I was always enthralled by Mark Talbot and thought that his titanic battles on the hard ball court with Jahangir were something out of early Greek mythology. I can close my eyes and still see Tristan Nancarrow toy with Mr. Talbot with a dazzling array of shots and movement on the court as if he was Baryshnikov, who moves like that I thought, who hits the ball as if each shot was a beautifully constructed stanza of excellent verse. I had never seen anything like it in the 20 years since -- that is until this past week at our club when I watched Hisham play my son, I was refereeing the match and I kept having these flashbacks. Everyone at Hisham's level hits the ball well, moves well, is graceful...but there's something different, it's the intangible, it's the bravado that says he can do anything he wants to that small ball on that big spacious infinite angled court. He is a magician and like Tristan you are left with sense of awe...When Hisham said his hero and idol was Jansher, I of course had to ask him, his brother against Jansher, who wins. He was quick to answer as if he'd already spent hours in the past debating this: Jansher in 5. It was tantalizing, but I was thinking in my head, that it is Hisham I'd pay to watch play Jansher...I told him of a 10 minute clip of Tristan (which I later sent to him) nearing the end of his career playing Jansher, he pushed Jansher, he was close...what if I could have conjured that match and then I thought, what could possibly be better than Tristan and Hisham -- no doubt, Hisham in 5.

The next day, Gustav Detter, the great collegiate player from squash powerhouse Trinity college came to our club. He is the very player who is legendary for his astonishing comeback victory over Yasser El Haby, arguably the greatest collegiate squash player ever, a few years back to ensure that Yasser would not end his college career undefeated. In that match Gustav was down 0-2, 1 - 6 and came back to win --what's more the storied Trinity streak of consecutive team wins was on the line and Gustave preserved it, for at least a few more years.

Gustav is from Sweden and plays on the National team. He is quite amazing to watch, he is so quick, powerful, fit and graceful, a lefhander. His court presence reminded me of someone, his low sense of gravity, then a ghost appeared, that young Anders Wahlstadt, I was watching Anders move around the court, so fit, so strong playing Ditmar at the TOC in the Winter Garden, playing in Hynes Auditorium against perennial amateur US national champion Will Carlin. While Gustav played in the collegiate ranks, he has a professional game. While Anders reached number 17 in the world before he moved and settled in the US, Gustav, well we aren't sure if he had turned pro. The sky was the limit, I think.

Gustav and my son played, Gustav moved about the court like a young Anders, they had some long rallies and I've written about this before but I used to watch young Canadian Chris Stevens and Anders battle it out at Park Place. LA Fitness while not in the dark and dank basement like Park Place has an equal number of quirks, such as a "dead" floor and fast wall. But watching my son and Gustav play and thinking about those great years when Park Place was my second home, Anders was liked nothing we'd ever seen. And to those who managed to see Gustav at LA Fitness, which seems to be my primary home these days, he was certainly like nothing we'd seen before, well everyone but me.

The irony and beauty of this game, if you are in it for awhile, ghosts come and go, but you start connecting the dots and that connection forms a lineage, so to speak of players past and present. Yes, irony, when my son, who wasn't a baby at the height of Anders squash career, recently was on court with him and had a very spirited match. My son remarked, that Anders is an old player now, but he still has those great hands. Gustav, and Anders in his prime, sorry Gustav, as much as I admire your game, you would have had to have seen Anders, a vision of squash, like you, just at a different plane. But then in all fairness, if you were to turn pro and rank in the top 20 in the world, what a match, Anders, tie breaker in the fifth, both players pounding it out, punishing each other, Nordic warriors to the end...and Tristan against Gustav? Sorry Gustav, Tristan in 3.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Squash God Meets His Son: Hisham Ashour in LA Fitness, Lake Success, NY

Hisham Ashour world ranked #12 PSA squash professional today in a small club in Lake Success , Long Island, NY met his son, my son as a matter of fact. It was one of the best moments of my life to have managed to get these two people on court together. My son and I coach out of this LA Fitness club, and when we arrived on the scene, where there are two international courts, there were no players. This was 7 years ago. In fact, there was discussion as we heard that the club wanted to take the squash courts and convert them into racquetball courts or aerobics studios.

It was then that my son and I decided that we needed to make something happen there. We used to play and drill and talk to anyone who seemed interested in this game. Eventually, we built a huge student base and began attracting some players from every angle of life you can imagine. One of the best players is a young man who works at the juice bar who happens to be one of the most gifted players I've seen, and there are racquetball players, a 67 year old man who is one of the fittest 67 year old you will ever find and he is a most interesting intellectual and conversationalist who studies this game as if her were 20 years old. There's a 50 year old island woman, a mother of 5 that pushed through this weekend with a bad knee just to be on court with Hisham, she is so fit and has such a passion for this game, any spoiled, brat junior, who doesn't want to train and sulks about the hard work it takes to be good at this game, should spend a half hour with this woman and be ashamed.

I had been badly injured and to be honest squash burnt out the last 4 months. The club and the squash energy was at a low. I physically just couldn't do much. I was coaching with a fractured foot and two severely pulled hamstrings. I was tired, I was hurt, I was beginning to hate this game. Anyone can tell you when you can't play what you love you hate that. My best student gave up the game, it was such a huge disappointment to me considering I invested 3 years in this young man. I wish him the best, I take responsibility for why he no longer plays. Some say I should have just coached him taken the money and let him find his own way. But I believed in his abilities and worked tirelessly to elevate his game. I only hope that someday he returns to the game and we get on the court like we did for 3 years and hit around, like a father and his son, because he was like a son to me.

My real son, biological son, and I are huge fans of Hisham Ashour, I wrote an article about him a few years back. It was a crazy article in which I compared him to Ezra Pound, the great modernist poet, and arguably one of the greatest poets in the English language. It was crazy, what would a young, rock star squash player from Egypt care about that comparison. But anyone who knows me knows that I presented Hisham with the greatest compliment I could, comparing him to my great master, my poetry guru, my god.

This weekend, I managed to bring Hisham out to the LA Fitness club, I didn't sleep the night before thinking something is going to go wrong. Hisham will cancel, the players in the clinic will pull out, something would go wrong. I wanted so much to bring this squash genius to a place that in reality squash time would have forgotten. The courts aren't great, management has no interest in squash, we fought for 3 years to finally get shellac removed from the floors and I almost beg and plead the cleaning people not to scrub with slick soap the walls to a bright white.

For some reason this club represents my struggles with squash and my dedication to making my son the best player he can be. Hisham , had a very bad cold in his back when he showed up at the club. I was just so grateful he didn't cancel. When I checked him into the club I told the woman at the desk that she is looking at one of the great players of the game, she smiled and made him sign his guest waver.

As we walked the football field length of the club to the courts, I greeted some friends and Hisham, the keen eye he has looked at all the racquetball courts and remarked "stupid game, you should convert them all to squash." I remarked that first my job is to convert the players to squash then the courts will follow, he knew immediately what I was saying.

To make a long story short, he stretched out his ailing back, did these remarkable clinics with these dedicated club players, and of all the time I've been involved in squash, this great player, who loves this game more than the air he breathes genuinely worked to make this motley crew better. When he went to the water fountain and players in the clinic followed him, he talked to them, he pointed out details, flaws in their game, and as he told me "at the level they are playing the slightest correction is huge in their game".

Hisham loves people, he has the rarest abilities to take the most complex ideas, about squash and simplify them. I listened to what he said to players, I watched their faces, they were glued to his every word, I listened, admired this young man who at 30 years old is a player, a coach, for the people who love this game. He radiates this passion for the game, I cannot ever him imagine doing anything else, just as couldn't imagine pound doing anything but writing great poetry. His interest in every player at whatever level they are is intense, he missed nothing, every detail he sees, it's his eye, it's intuitive..

The day concluded with a match with my son. Hisham had a bad back and my son was nursing a troublesome knee, but I told my son pop some Advil and take this opportunity to get on court with this great player. I gave Hisham my super roller to roll out his back. I'm old school I will pay with fractures, pain, pulled or strained muscles...I never want to be anywhere else but on that court.

I hadn't seen my son play since he played a PST match with David Palmer last year. My son went to England, trained with Steve Townsend in Birmingham, England, and played and worked like hell only to come back to the US and injure both Achilles. I watched him through rehabilitation and therapy and as it goes the darkest time is also the brightest time. He thought he wouldn't play again, he was depressed. However, while injured, he perfected his strokes and game to a different level. As they began the match Hisham, hurt as he was was simply incredible to watch. He redirected the ball to fool my son, who was scrambling all over the court. But I saw something different in points and of course the wizardry of Hisham's shots. My son, he wanted to attack the ball, he just didn't want to retrieve he wanted to push way up on the "T" and attack every shot. The game went to its obvious conclusion, some great points but Hisham, bad back and all won easily.

As they started the second game , Hisham continued with his inimitable array of shots, that to be honest no one could tell where they are going. He went up easily in the match at 3-0 but them something changed. My son began to watch the ball better, not falling for the fakes, a couple of long gruelling points and he was back in it. The game seesawed until it went to a tie breaker and as if scripted for a movie Hisham ended it with his famous and patented Mizuki shot. But wait, it was a let, it stayed up a bit. No issue, he finished it on the next point.

We drove Hisham to Heights Casino in Brooklyn to watch the Carol Weymuller Women's professional final where he needed to watch the match of one of his students in the final. On our way there, I listened to my son and Hisham banter about squash and different players. My son is extremely knowledgeable about squash, he is a squash genius. but when he spoke to Hisham about the game past and present, he was really talking to not me his father, who brought him into the world, but to his squash father -- the two were like father and son, like me and my son once were when we were on court when he was 12 and I was like, I guess, his squash god.

I said very few words as we found our way to Heights, I had been the adoptive squash father, today my son met his real squash father.







Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olympics 2020

Okay, Andy Murray beat Roger Federrer for Olympic gold, the US Men's Basketball team demolished Nigeria by over 80 points. And John White resigned the Pro Squash Tour (PST) to play in a Pro Squash Association (PSA) event and the continued pathetic squash community's lament of why Squash isn't in these Olympics. Frankly, who cares? Do I want to see Ramy Ashour play Nick Matthew in the gold medal match when I can see them in a professional capacity 5-8 times a year? Does anyone really care that Niclas Massu won the Olympic gold for tennis in 2004 and 2008? Will anyone care all that much in four years about Murray winning in the Olympics except a few patriotic starved Brits (by the way Murray is Scottish and they are up for independence in 2013 so Murray's gold for the queen will matter even less). As I watched track and field and swimming events, these are the true and purest form of athleticism, they play not for Lebron size contracts and Murray's certain leveraged medal endorsements. Okay, Michael Phelps was pitching Subway and any other corporate product sponsors but the path that got him to to Beijing and now London was a path of exalted amateur athletics.

The distinction between professional and amateur was abolished in 1986 because the Soviet Union paid it's athletes and supported them much like corporations now do.By the way, the Soviet Union is dead and gone some 23 years ago. Soviet athletes were considered professional because they took money. And our athletes, hmmm, never seem to take money, from anyone. Well, since 1986 everyone now takes money from all the big bad corporations, the very same corporations that cheated investors, consumers and those pest environmentalists that hate when Exxon or BP decimate the environment for generations -- dare I mention Coca-Cola which studies have indicated are responsible a good part of obesity in the US.

The Olympics will mean something to me when Todd Harrity represents the United States squash team in the Olympics actually he is probably too old so Mason Ripka or Faraz Khan will have to do, not when professionals like Chris Gordon or Julian Illingsworth represent the U.S. which I'm sure they won't be in 2020 they'll be old men. Restore the integrity of the spirit of the Olympics, bring back the vision of purity of Jesse Owens, Bruce Jenner and Olga Corbet. I don't want to see Roger Federrer or Labron James in the Olympics because they happen to have mass appeal and stuff the advertising coffers of all the corporate sponsors.

For all those squash and Olympic proponents (sorry Mr. Thatcher), including the professional players themselves, show how squash transcends money and greed and corporate sponsorship, promote amateur athletics, promote participation in the Olympics, but at the amateur level, uphold the highest ideals of amateur athletics, somewhere in the United States, in India, in Pakistan, a young player with ideals as high as the sky, with purity of soul, uncorrupted, who embraces the pursuit of perfection in the true Rousseauian manner, refuting institutions as inherently corrupt. It is only the individual we should rest our hopes and dreams and gold upon, not the corporate sponsored icons of professional athletes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Another Nail in the Coffin of Manhattan Squash

Another nail in the coffin for New York City Squash. What had been rumored for the past couple of months that New York Sports' Lincoln Squash courts will be closing seems a reality as of October 1, 2012. This is very sad. And the sadness has nothing to do with sentiment, it has to do with the fact that the greatest sport in the world cannot seem to survive in the greatest city in the world. Sure, there are private clubs still and a a few, sorry, 2 City Clubs (not counting the outer Boroughs) remaining. But there's always Chelsea Piers, right? Sorry not those Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, but the one which is a transit system away and just opened in Connecticut. Unless the US squash search engine for Manhattan squash tournaments is wrong (one of my students asked about playing in an adult tournament), there aren't any in Manhattan through the end of 2012. To those who have helped put the nails in the coffin for New York City squash, you can just imagine to which after life I am sending you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

PST's "Zero Tolerance" Policy Intolerable

Not sure why so much is made of professional squash players arguing a referee's calls (lets, no-lets, strokes). If you've ever watched an NBA game, yes a league that is family centric as well and financially successful through the roof,, coaches, players, fans and sometimes all together contest calls made by the referees ALL the time. There was a time that a player raised his hand and lowered his head if called for a foul...if my memory serves me. And when the player did that it was with a posture of humility, like, "yeah, I made a mistake, mea culpa..." But our world has changed, we are taught, in fact encouraged to challenge authority. Why should squash players be any different? Joe McManus of the PST has stated a new policy for his emerging US based PST pro squash tour, "zero tolerance" toward a player arguing a referee's call. I don't know, "zero tolerance" maybe towards drugs, firearms, cheating, cyber bullying, sexual harassment, but really, arguing a referee's call? Often the exchanges are animated and even humorous, to err is human, and the pros have the right to remind the referees that and to argue their case in spite of that. However,still maintain that rule that states "continuous play" to keep from lengthy court appeals. But to curtail the exchange between a referee and a player takes away from the game.

It would be like watching American Idol, the performances, and then simply the judges voting or Top Chef, no we want to hear the reasoning behind the judges ruling and the contestants responses, it enables us to agree or disagree, it engages us, and makes us less of a spectator. I have never watched a squash match where I felt that the conduct of the player took something away from the game or was such that I couldn't bring my children to watch. Squash players for the most part are highly motivated athletes, in a sport where every inch makes a difference, a bad call can make a huge difference.

I have spoken to a number of professional referees, they are amazing, the job they do is incredibly difficult. And they will be the first to admit they blew a call. But to infer that player conduct towards the referees is responsible, for example, why squash is not an Olympic sport, is ludicrous, look at Tennis, how often do players contest calls? One only remember Serena Williams in the 2009 US Open final -- and last I checked she is going for Olympic Gold -- again in 2012.

Sport is part theater, part entertainment and a good part a mirror of real life. The beauty of squash is it takes all those elements and makes for a pretty great spectator experience. Unfortunately, the game is very complex and like a sport like fencing, which, to an untrained eye, is really hard to follow, it lacks the mass appeal. Squash is difficult, probably one of the most difficult sports on the planet, any tidbit of insight into why a call is made or commentary about a call or a players argument lends a lot to understanding the game better. We are fortunate, squash is not played in some large arena like the NBA or Tennis, so we can hear up close the discussion and arguments...I'd love to hear the audible for all the NBA banter between coaches, players and referees. In fact, those highlights which have a coach or player or referee wired are so interesting watch and listen to. Instead of putting intelligent and well founded challenges to the squash referees on the same level as crime, "zero tolerance" for arguing a call is much too severe. Would baseball have been better off with a "zero tolerance" towards Billy Martin or Leo Durocher, I don't think so. Is the PST going to be a better spectator sport with "zero tolerance" I don't think so. Why remove the theater and entertainment from a game we love for all it's flaws and all its greatness?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

1.1 Million Squash Players? -- Come Out Wherever You Are!

PST Commissioner Joe McManus published recently in the Daily Squash Report what appeared to be some really encouraging facts about squash player participation in the U.S. according to a recent market research study done. I have seen this report and it is really a remarkable wealth of statistics. The simple minded will extrapolate numbers from the report and really mislead others into believing our sport is thriving and in great shape going forward. They will brush off legitimate concerns about the future of our great game as just another doomsayer voice....history is full of those types who somehow manage to live and breathe with their heads in the sands.

What that SGMA market research report shows is a lot of figures and statistics. What is most striking in the report is that at least 1.1 million people of all ages have tried that sport at least one time last year. Sounds impressive, but wait one time a year?. Let's look at the breakdown a little further. If you then go to the next group in the report: "Casual" players (one to 7 times a year), you find that those along with the one time per year players add up to 725,000 players out of the 1.1 million. Staggering to say the least. That means out of the 1.1. million squash participants last year about 75% played up to only 7 times or less in the year. 50% of those are in that so called magical 25-34 year old range. That participation averages out to be slightly over 25 minutes per month for each participant. By the way another interesting figure is 55% of those make over 100,000 per year.

Let's look at some more figures. The so called "regular players " who play 8 to 14 times a year or a little over 45 minutes per month account for another 100,000 players which brings the total so far to 830,000 roughly out of the original 1.1 million. To those of us who play regularly, regularly means 4 times a week or about at least 16 times a month. The "real" regulars play 6 times a week, okay, I admit often I play twice a day, but that makes me along with a number of others "frequent" players. In the study, "frequent" players are those who played a little over at least 1 time a month. That figure is around 290,000.

I love statistics and I love numbers, they never ever lie if the research is good and scientific. I don't have my head in the sand nor am I a doomsayer or ever have believed the sky is falling except the one time I had 11 martinis and I thought the ground was falling as well. But what do these numbers really say? That is where it becomes a bit subjective. I for one believe everyone on the planet should be playing squash, whether it be one or 500 times a year for 50 years. If I could be assured that there is squash in heaven, I would never ever err from the straight and narrow path.

What these numbers tell me is that a lot of people try squash but the majority of them try it once or maybe a couple of times and then drop it. That is the figure that is most troublesome to me and that is the issue that is most important to growing our sport. If you can get 800,000 to at least try our sport once, how many of those can we get to come back over and over again and make squash part of their personal lifestyle and to those demographics that are out of college and into their 30's before no doubt demands of careers, families and other pressures curtail their squash playing, how do we keep those players on court past their 30's into their middle years.

And of course what are the other reasons for the drop off? Is the game too expensive for a majority of those who try the sport. If you make 100,000 to 200,000 and have a family in NYC can you really afford to play squash 5 times a week, to have your wife play, your children? Very doubtful, court time, equipment, coaching, etc. makes this sport extremely expensive and a real luxury.

What about that huge segment of the squash participation group that makes under 100,000 in salary how do we get them playing more and longer? What about that huge segment of society out there that doesn't even know our sport exists? That's where this report is like an oracle. The cross over sports: badminton, racquetball, tennis, running, bowling -- look at the numbers and percentages of those players from those sports who try squash, how do you get them hooked?

Again, I don't pretend to know the answers, but often times the question is just as valuable as the answer, and the answer always starts with a question. To those who insist on the robust health of our sport's participation in the U.S. don't ignore the other symptoms, address them and ensure a much healthier future for our game.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Please Don't Tell Me How Thriving New York Area Squash Is...

Having just heard that New York Sports at Columbus Circle in Manhattan is closing its two international courts to convert them to studios -- anyone who continues to foster the illusion squash is thriving in New York, I would likely want to throttle you. Having just seen this weekend nearly 30% of the Hyder Cup 3.5 draw coming from the club I coach at, a draw under 18 (which in years past was twice sometimes three times that size), I can only state the New York Squash scene is in trouble. The future of this game is not in the hordes of juniors and junior development is in the adults who have played for their lifetime and who pass along the game to younger players or to eager new players of any age.

Of course if the venues keep shrinking, where will adults play? Will the remaining clubs build new courts, expand? Doubtful. I played for years at Columbus Circle, and can remember vividly when they finally converted the narrow courts into international courts. I taught my son to play there when he was 10 years old, it was one of the best places on earth. Having been out in the suburbs for quite a while, I was preparing to start playing in the city, which I missed and was so looking forward to going back to Columbus Circle. This is a huge disappointment.

The people who coach juniors at exorbitant lesson rates are not the future of squash in this City or for that matter anywhere else. They are cashing in on a disturbing trend. They are catering to a very elite group who can afford those high prices. Those who cannot afford it have to rely on playing experienced players who will teach them the game. I am writing this because I am mostly scared that this game will eventually die out and become nothing more than a game you play at the junior level, maybe it helps you in your college application, but then beyond that how many will play well into their adult lives. And if the future of squash is and remains that elite few who can afford 100 to 200 dollars a lesson, then this game will never grow and sustain itself.

You can throw whatever membership numbers you want out there, it simply gives an illusion of a thriving squash community, which there isn't. When parents finally catch on that squash for college isn't really a viable route, that only the best junior players (who happened to be coached by the most expensive coaches) really only make the squash teams in college, the remaining ones, to me have been sold a bag of goods. For those who end up playing and loving this game and fit it into busy schedules whether at college or when they are embarking on careers -- they are the future of squash, they are the ones who will sustain and encourage juniors to develop and play their whole lives, they are the ones who will bring new courts to the City.

..And with that they will again bring a great diversity to the game, they will come from all walks of life and play at clubs where you never know who will be on court with you: a welder, a doctor, a stock broker, a student, even a poet. I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do have lots of questions and when I hear of another court converted over to a studio I start looking for answers as to why?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

McManus and the PST are Good for Squash

I have nothing against the "bullies" of squash, US squash and PSA, well certainly nothing against the PSA whatsoever. But I am a sucker for the underdog. The PST is the underdog and they are being bullied by their larger, long standing counterparts, US Squash and PSA. I know about the lawsuits and the legal challenges, but what is really behind it. Both CEO's Kilipstein and Gough seem to not like the new kid on the block, he's not one of them, he didn't come up through the usual squash ranks, he has a vision, he's a bit of a maverick, he's definitely a marketing guy and knows what he's doing to promote the sport, Joe McManus, what exactly is he doing to threaten the "bullies". He must be different, that always pisses the "bullies" off and he must be "smaller" or seemingly so for them to just go after him.

I don't like the PST's no-let rule, I love the PSA, I don't really care much about US Squash, and I find McManus annoying at times because he tinkers with tradition. But the PST is most importantly great for squash in the US. Why? McManus has promoted professional squash at the grass roots level in the US, and I applaud anyone who can tackle an issue as vacuous as professional squash in the US, as in US born players having the opportunity to play professionally and compete professionally. The fact that US born squash players who would never ever have the opportunity to play some great players can compete against them is inspiring. McManus has brought this to US Squash. I have a son who plays on the PST, has been injured for most of the season, but the benefits of him playing in the PST against solid competition versus travelling and costs to PSA satellite tournaments, or playing in the US squash leagues, where at best you are lucky if team players even show up, and all the jostling and politics involved to play the best players, is immeasurable.

I like Joe McManus, he is the guy who doesn't back down from the "bullies" and in fact he goes right at them. He can't take them on head on, so he jabs at them, uses his intelligence to get under their skin. I like his behavior which says, he has just as much right to be on the "block" as the "bullies" do. He is good for US squash, no question about it, he isn't the answer to what ails US Squash, but he certainly isn't doing any harm. And what does it matter if Nick Mathew picks up some extra money and a trip to New York to play in a PST event; is that bad for squash? I don't think so, it is good for squash.

Whether David Palmer and other players are part owner or have stakes in the PST, who cares? If they help make the PST what it is and eventually even more, that is good for squash. And whether or not McManus is a "cry baby", or annoying, simply ask yourself, is he good for squash, especially US squash? I have no doubts he is; if he showed up on the squash scenes with two heads and was good for squash, who cares about his two heads -- actually, McManus would probably glib "two heads are better than one".

Friday, April 13, 2012


Maybe I'm missing something with the latest round of discussions about the "No Let rule", one blogger I believe has suggested a whistle for the referees. I adamantly oppose the PST (Pro Squash Tour) instituting the "No Let rule", it opens up the game to an aspect that potentially is dangerous. To me it's like saying football is a contact sport and spearing and other illegalities should be allowed, that penalties affect the game and make it less interesting to a fan base that doesn't mind opposing players carried off on stretchers. The rules are meant for a reason, to protect players. The Let or Stroke in Squash is meant to protect players and to maintain a fair level of play, penalizing players for blocking their opponent's path to the ball and protecting a player from being hit by racket or ball. What is really the issue is the referees in squash, specifically on the PSA tour, seem to compete with the players for who is right and who is wrong. That in and of itself is so subjective. The blogger who put on his site a lengthy Power and Nicol point which ended in a "No Let" much to the outraged and tantrum throwing Power was a great example of using the Let to bail out of a difficult situation. How Power could go on and on about the No Let is astounding because the video clearly shows he slipped and tried to hook Nicol into contact and a Let. This is example of poor sportsmanship and abuse fo the rule even though it was a togh call after a tremendously hard fought point. Don't allow abuse of the rules dictate the outcome of points, the game or even the match.

I am all for the review system as well as player appeals, but the word of the referee(s) should be the final word, period. If you look at the NBA and watch enough games you realize almost every player complains about every call. I love the NBA referees, they listen and as long as the player doesn't cross a threshold and abuse the refereen or delay the game it is ok. However, once that threshold is crossed, the refereen can call a technical foul enabling free throws (basically 90% advantage of scoring free points since the best free throw shooter takes the free throw penalty) and if that same player incurs another technical penality, he is thrown out of the game. Rarely do players cross that threshold, the outcome of the game is often decided by a few points. What the technical fould does is really keep the game moving along and keep the fouling player in check. If I were at the Poer - Nicol match I'd find Powe's tantrums embarassing. I wonder how he would change his behavior if Nicol was awarded an additional point and if Power having already received a "technical" for his abuse of the referee had only one more "technical" left before he'd have to forfeit the game or potentially the match.

I'd like to see something along those lines, any player has the right to question a call, keep it at a minimum, they often have valid points, but in the heat of battle, using the arguments with the referee to buy time or intimidate the referee should not be allowed. I like the review process should controversy dictate a review of the point, but for the most part, you have a Let in the game and you have a referee to uphold that rule, so if you believe in the referee system and the purpose of the Let give the referee the power to assess immediately techincal foul points if the arguing player is delaying the game or being disrespectful. And whether or not the PSA does this now, any player who complains about officiating should be duly fined. It's subjective, in the eyes of the referees, but curtail the challenges, the abusive behaviour, the misuse of Lets to put yourself in a better winning position. The players and their attitude in competition should be what determines the outcome of the game, the referees should be allowed to uphold the rules in the true sprit of fair competition and not subject themselves or the fans to the constant bickering, complainging, etc. on every call. Use the technical as a deterrent to extreme poor behavior. As a player, if you have a referee with a short fuse, don't argue the calls, don't challenge every No Let or Stroke call. Ultimately, if you play a hard match and have a melt down in the later stages, and are assessed technical points against you or even a game or ultimately the match, I'd suggest you go back to the drawing board and reassess the futility of such behavior.

Friday, March 23, 2012

In His Own Words...Aubrey Waddy, author of the new "Sex, Drugs, Squash 'n' Roll". Book

I recently posed some questions to the author of that very entertaining new novel, “Sex, Drugs, and Squash ‘n’ Roll”. Aubrey Waddy is not only a very accomplished writer, he a masters international squash competitor.

SDB What prompted you to write your book “Sex Drugs Squash ‘n’ Roll”?

AW Primarily, I’ve discovered in the second half of my life that I want to write. I started at it by telling and then writing stories for my three boys when they were small, thinking that children’s stuff would be an easy way into being published. Wrong, in spades! But the 45 or so children’s stories that I wrote did allow me to develop the craft.

The link to a squash book starts in Australia. From 1970-1973 I played a lot of squash in Sydney, and during a visit there in 1986 a chance remark from an old squash-playing friend made me think, ‘what a great idea for a squash plot’. I’d no notion then that I’d ever write something as long as a full length novel and I just filed the idea away.

For the next step, I decided uncertainly, in the mid 1990s, to try to write a full novel. I chose to set it in the world I worked/lived in: medicine (though I’m not a doctor) and the south of England. This was because I didn’t have any time to spend on research. The book was taken up by a small publisher in 2002 as ‘The Progressive Supper’, and I’m about to republish it in an improved version, ‘Just Desserts’.

After completing “The Progressive Supper”, my next project was to be a dark novel set in the medical device industry, in essence a retelling of the thalidomide story with a device rather than a drug. That story is going to be set in the third person, and after planning it I hesitated to begin writing because I’d so enjoyed the first person angle of The Progressive Supper. So in about 2006, with not the faintest idea that I’d soon be starting to play the game again, I decided to bring forward the squash book, written in the first person voice of Jolyon Jacks. The manuscript spent most of its life as ‘Caught off Court’ but at the last minute, at the suggestion of the cover designer, it became ‘Sex and Drugs and Squash ’n’ Roll’ after I’d mentioned this mangling of the late Ian Dury’s words as a possible strap line for the book.

SDB How much of the book is based on reality or is it completely fiction?

AW The story is completely fictional, with none of the characters based on specific people.

SDB How much of your own life is in Jolyon’s life (main character in the book)?

AW As anyone would notice if they saw me playing squash, Jolyon mirrors little of that side of me! I was a strictly amateur player, for a while in my twenties at the bottom end of the British rankings. Away from the squash angle, I was educated at an English private school, but the limited vignettes of Redbrook, Jolyon’s school, are from my imagination. The places in the story are mostly real.

SDB Why did you decide to have an American as the number 1 in the world? Was that so you could knock him off?

AW I wanted a sympathetic US character in the story because I have a lot of US friends, inside and outside squash, notably John Nimick, who has been most generous in his support of the story all the way through. As the idea of Razz began to develop, he grew in scope, and I’d have liked to explore his personality and history at greater length.

SDB What does your book say about the PSA?

AW During my playing days I marginally overlapped with Gawain Briars, who when I started to plan S&D&S’n’R was Chief Executive of the PSA. Gawain gave me a lot of information about the association, and my conclusion was: what a lot of substance there is in the PSA tour. The structure of the worldwide game is a strong one, but the sponsorship is pretty parlous. I don’t see much of the political side, and in the book I didn’t touch on the vital issue for the game of television; now I wish I’d explored this as I’ve come to a twenty-twenty, crystal clear realization that the basic angle for viewing the game should be from the front. That’s what will get the ordinary sports fan watching - that’s where the drama is. I missed the opportunity to say something about this in the book.

SDB How did you get started in squash and when?

AW I was a sporty kid, apparently never without some sort of a ball from the age of two. At my secondary school, thirteen onwards, I took up squash along with the other hand-eye sports, and played in the school team and university second team. Cricket was my biggest love. I went to Australia in 1970 with the intention of playing a lot of that. However, I arrived in the fall, and cricket is a summer game. Instead I met up with some great squash guys from Sydney University, and started playing in the fiercely competitive Sydney leagues. Come the following spring I was hooked on squash, and although I played cricket for a while I preferred a game that took up less time. And I love the sheer physicality of squash.

SDB Give us a bit of your background, where you were born went to school, sports you played, etc.?

AW I was born in London and grew up partly in what was then the Gold Coast in West Africa, now Ghana, but mainly in the beautiful English city of Winchester. My principal schooling was at the English private school, Marlborough College, which led me into a career in medical science. I’ve already mentioned cricket. There’s no greater pleasure in sport than ‘middling’ a cricket ball with a perfectly balanced bat, a momentary encounter of willow and leather, such a soft feeling characterized by, even defined by, a total absence of vibration. Hitting a cricket ball is that sweet. Squash doesn’t come close in the joy of a perfectly timed shot. I also played rugby, soccer, rackets, field hockey and tennis, and later real tennis, and somewhere along the line in my teens suffered the knee injury that has dogged me all my sporting life. I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and stumbled into a career in which I’ve travelled a lot, made a middling difference and managed to pay the bills. I just wish I’d had a greater insight during my education into my passion for words and images.

SDB Who is the most influential person in your life?

AW I had to think about that one for a moment. On reflection, almost every day I see something in myself of my father. I don’t remember him though as pushy or assertive, so his influence has been osmotic, in absolutely everything, rather than specifically directive. There are so many things I’d love to tell him and show him now.

SDB Who turned you on to squash?

AW At school there was a squash and racquets professional called Bill Gordon. I remember Bill teaching me to play the drop shot, and I’m eternally grateful. It has saved me from running countless court miles over many years, usually because I’ve hit the tin!

SDB It seems you were trying to capture the essence of squash, that it really is a noble calling so much so that a young man like Jolyon would give up his million dollar trust fund until he makes number 1 in the world…

AW I do believe that it’s a gift to enjoy a competitive sport, and that winning is the reason for playing. I hadn’t reflected on that aspect of Jolyon’s motivation, although I have reflected on a little entity, I think of it as a worm, that’s present in the minds of some competitors, the one that drives them harder than their rivals. It’s part of the innate ability of champions, along with their strength and their coordination and their athleticism. I guess that idea fed through into Jolyon’s intense competitiveness.

SDB What did you give up to play squash?

AW It’s my dear partner Alison, whom I met four years ago, who has to cope with me being repeatedly away from the house because of squash. Right now what I give up is sometimes sitting down to an evening’s television, no great sacrifice. For me, being able to play squash after a twenty five year gap, during which I never for a moment imagined that I’d ever play again, is one of the great things of my life.

SDB Your favorite player on the tour now?

AW Lefties rule, it’s Amr Shabana! I’ve never met Amr, but he has an impish quality and the deftest touch on the planet.

SDB The best player you ever saw play?

AW I remember being awestruck watching Qamar Zaman destroy Gogi Alauddin in a British Open final. I saw Jonah Barrington reduce Geoff Hunt to patting gentle shots down the walls because he’d run out of strength. Sadly I missed Jahangir and Jansher. Peter Nicol I’ve seen post-retirement and I’ve marveled at the current top players. But of the ones I’ve seen, on his day and with them on their day as well, Shabana would beat them all.

SDB As an older player and a player at a high level, what do you have to do to win?

AW First and foremost, as it ever was, it’s being fit! That’s the bedrock. One of the negatives of getting older is your simple loss of strength, and with that goes loss of speed. I sometimes feel that time lapse photography is needed to demonstrate that I actually move on court! I find shuttle running is great exercise for the legs, and I’ve discovered recently that I need to do stuff for my arms and shoulders as well. Beyond that, for me, the squash takes care of itself, assuming that it doesn’t include too many rubbish cross courts. I’ve always been inclined to pull the trigger early in a rally, and with Masters players the percentages are more in your favour doing that, because they are slower.

SDB What do you think of Egyptian squash? British squash?

AW I don’t know too much about the mainstream competitive squash scenes in either country. In Britain it’s sad that so-called minority sports get so little public recognition. The fact that Britain has the one and two ranked players in the world is absolutely brilliant! The numbers of fine current and emerging Egyptian players is tremendously impressive, too. I suspect that India will soon be a force in squash. The thing that has impressed me most since I became involved in the game again is the wide range of countries that are producing ranked players. Who built all those courts!

SDB Anything you’d like to say to those who would read your book, other than buy it?!

AW I would say that I’ve done some good stuff in my life, and I’m a current Masters squash international. But I’m a far better writer than anything else I’ve been, so you won’t be disappointed! My aim in writing is make the reader want to turn the page, and along the way to have some fun with the words. And finally, once you’ve enjoyed S&D&S’n’R, look out for ‘Just Desserts’, another darned good read! (And down the way, ‘Hip Hip Boo’, currently in the writing.)

Note: “Sex, Drugs, Squash ‘n’ Roll” can be purchased from Can hardly wait for “Hip Hip Boo”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Alan Thatcher: The Most Interesting Person in Squash

If I was stranded on a deserted island for an extended period of time and had no access to Daily Squash Reports, PSA Live TV or You tube and I was eventually rescued, the one person in the world I’d want to update me on squash would be Alan Thatcher. Aside from his vast knowledge about the game, as historian, player, coach, broadcaster, none rival him. He is squash’s rendition of everyman, guru, Renaissance man the Da Vinci of squash I would say.

His broadcasts are so entertaining; his turns of phrases, his insights into the players, his observations about the game never cease to amaze me. You might put him alongside some of the other great sports announcers like Johnny Most of the Celtics, Scully of Saturday NBC Baseball Game of the Week, Tim McCarver of the NY Mets and certainly I would put him alongside venerable Howard Cosell (I loved Cosell). Witty, urbane, with a great sense of the drama and timing, like Cosell, Thatcher seems to be in love with words, with language and the impact good rhetoric can have on something as fleeting and intangible as a dramatic sports moment.

What is even more remarkable is you can just listen to Thatcher do the play by play without video and hearken back to the days when sports were broadcast from radio exclusively. This is no easy feat, considering the game is so fast, you have to announce the shots in rapid succession, which means you have to first know what you are talking about and secondly process what you see into words to keep pace.

I posed some questions for Mr. Thatcher recently and the following are his answers:

SDB – You’ve been known for some memorable quash quotes, which ones are your favorites?

AT – “There goes David Palmer, flying through the air like a kangaroo on Viagra (it was a fun way of describing a phenomenal athlete).”

“Jonathon Power .... He’s halfway up Yonge Street, but still gets the let (just to show that I do my homework before every event. I was amazed to learn that Yonge Street starts in downtown Toronto and carries on halfway to the North Pole! Having looked at the video clip again, from a match between Power and Peter Nicol, I think Power actually did enough to deserve the let!) “

“Happiness is a supple pelvis. Squash and life combined. It is a highly motivational comment when coaching a group of females, especially those in their 40s, who wish to be reunited with their pelvic floors. Me, I've had plenty of pelvic flaws. My late brother Mike introduced me to squash in my early 20s (not the 1920s) and I put my pelvis out stretching for a drop shot the very first time we played. I have been suffering from the same injury for more than 30 years! I have finally found a genius osteopath who has sorted out my problems and I am training to be world champion when I am 60 next year!”

SDB – You are a squash coach as well; give an example of your coaching wisdom?

“Get the mechanics right, and the shots are easy (that was my coaching this morning, telling James Evans, last year's British Under-15 champion, to sort out his lazy footwork while we were doing a backhand volley routine).”

“Leave the court, NOW!!! (Me, last Saturday, talking to a junior who picked up several double bounces.)”

SDB – You’ve written a book on squash, what sorts of things are in that book, can you give us some examples?

AT – “Why do you expect to win a team match, against a fit opponent, when you do absolutely zero training? (From my new coaching book aimed at club team players). “

“Honesty and respect will give you balls of steel. If you pick up a double bounce, or try to gain any kind of unfair advantage on court, you are CHEATING. You have already lost the rally, so give it up and walk away. You have around one to 1.5 seconds between shots (much less if you volley) so honesty will help you to concentrate much better on that next shot. If you cheat, you will know you cheated in five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months and five years down the line. Do you really want to carry all that baggage around with you? (From the same book). “

SDB – You are the co-founder of a very noble charitable cause, something that hits close to home. Tell us about it.

AT - TriSports, a community sports club aimed at providing sporting opportunities for disadvantaged (often homeless and unemployed) young people that I launched in Kent with a friend called Stewart King.

SDB – What was the impetus for founding such a charity?

AT - Having grown up in poverty after the Second World War, losing my mother to suicide at the age of 11, and being made homeless at 17 when my father remarried and I was kicked out of home, makes me keen to help any young people with problems in life. Most of the homeless kids I have helped down the years are the product of broken homes and parental separation or abuse. It's not their fault, but they get angry (understandably), do stupid things and get in trouble. Sport, and especially a game like squash, can help them get fit and healthy, and provide some shape and discipline in their lives.

SDB – What are some of the things people say about Alan Thatcher?

AT - Things people have said to me down the years:

1: I never expect someone of your size to move so quickly (most days)

2: You'll never make any money at squash.

3; You possess all the athleticism of a dead horse (Toronto doubles opponent).

4: I'm amazed at your lateral movement for such a big guy (New York squash coach).

5: What?! You've never played hardball doubles in your life? Never? Ever? And you've just beaten us? That's insane (New York doubles opponent)

6: Do you want to give up now? (Much younger Kent League opponent who saw I was injured, tried to dead leg my injured leg and was very surprised that I beat him ... on one leg!)

7: Thanks. (A homeless lad, who joined TriSports, got fit, sorted out his life and got a job with the Fire Brigade).

8: I was with you all the way. (God)

SDB - Egyptian squash is this squash's equivalent to sliced bread?

AT - I love the way that Egypt is taking over the squash world. Everyone wants to know the secrets of their system. System? The big answer is: there is no system!! They just have hundreds of talented kids with an army of brilliant coaches who destroy the European "system" of age-group events. The Egyptians don't really care about age groups. If you are good enough, then go out and win. Age doesn't come into it. Here in England, our kids spend more time on the motorway than they do on court, driving all over the country to ranking tournaments or trying to find another talented kid to train with. Just imagine turning up at your local club and you can have a hit with Ramy Ashour? Squash is a wonderful diversion for a country going through such turmoil.

SDB - Why do real US squash players have to go abroad to learn the game?

AT - Because it's not yet in your DNA. All pros need to travel, to learn. Experience and learn from the masters of Egyptian skill sessions and European fitness. Squash is perfect for the American psyche. You guys love the work ethic involved. But there are no short cuts to genius. You are hiring many of the world's leading coaches, so I think in ten years’ time you will be producing some great players. The USA needs a Jonathon Power, a mad, genius, Mozart maverick who plays the game like no-one else. Then things will really take off.

SDB - Who was really the greatest player in the game?

AT - He (or she) will be among the millions of sperm deposited in the welcoming womb of the wife of a squash player on Valentine's Day this week. Every era produces new champions, and a new champion, of a new generation, will be born in nine months' time. For me, the greatest champion of all was Jansher Khan. Not only for his astonishing ability, and the way he adapted his game to cope with every new challenge, but most of all for the way he dealt with the hostility from the Pakistani hierarchy when he arrived on the scene as a skinny 17-year-old and announced to the world that he would take down the mighty Jahangir. And he did.

SDB – A lot of people including myself thought Ramy Ashour would be as good if not better than Jansher...what is your take, has he had his time?

AT - I am sure Ramy will come back. He is too good a player not to. He loves the game and people in the game love him. He is too young to write off, as you seem to be doing, but I think he needs to develop a more disciplined approach to his life and career. Being injury-prone is not a good sign. I hope he gets the right treatment and has the right people around him to nurture and protect him. Just imagine Ramy and Jansher playing each other at their physical and mental peaks.... what a game that would be! I would take Jansher to win 3-2... 38-36 in the fifth.

(Note: I could have gone on forever with questions to Mr. Thatcher, but he had to stop and gets some sleep in preparation for the US Open, even Mr. Thatcher needs his sleep. Please key into his web site ( for the best of the best of the professional squash world, and tell me he isn’t the most interesting person in squash…)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thanks to All Those Who Contributed to Zimbabwe Squash

It was quite an undertaking that began last November to collect any and all squash equipment to donate to most worthy squash cause, The Zimbabwe Squash Academy, an organization in Zimbabwe, Africa which brings squash to orphaned children. These children as hard as life is have found some great consolation and purpose through squash. While I might play squash or go on the court to forget a bad day at the office, these kids go on court in spite of a really tough life. I hold the founder and director, Mashumba Mukumba of this program in the highest esteem, especially as I became friends with him over the past months. He has the patience of a saint, while not only running the academy but fundraising, and going through the immensely painful process to get the goods out of customs. What I thought would be a most simple process of collecting equipment and shipping it overseas turned into something else. I had to really scramble to pack and unpack the goods, since shipping to Africa requires a certain sized package, regulation, otherwise the cost is through the roof, and we are talking about thousands of dollars. But we managed and when after weeks of negotiating with Zimbabwe customs officials who were convinced the goods were part of an effort to import equipment for resale, Mr. Makumbha finally acquired the goods. The picture of the children in the academy with the equipment is worth all the problems we faced. I want to thank (Ben Beilin is the best and so is his squash site) for his very genrous contributions, and the following LA Fitness, Lake Success, NY squash community: Margaret Higgins, Jay Arkin, Kyle Jens, Selena Mahoney, Dr. Ashok Kukadia, and Haadi Ahmat. We have already started collecting much needed additional equipment as one of our squash junior's is planning a trip to the Squash Academy for a summer internship and will be our carrier of donated goods. Any unused, new, or old equipment please donate it to the Academy through squashdashersbashers. It is only with additional equipment that they can make sure every squasher has the equipment to learn and develop their squash game.

If Holden Caulfield Played The PSA...Review of Sex, Drugs, Squash N' Roll

If Holden Caulfield ("Cathcher in the Rye"), the penultimate bad boy of Preparatory School and adolescence were alive today and played squash and was a master mixer at illegal raves he’d probably fit nicely into the role of Aubrey Waddy’s main character (Jolyon) in his novel Sex, Drugs, Squash N’ Roll. This is a very entertaining novel, and I repeat novel, on so many different levels. Aside from being cleverly written, believe it or not, squash players can lead interesting lives, the book also provides a plethora of information about the professional squash tour, namely the Professional Squash Association (PSA). While all the squash characters are fictional, their squash world is what I imagine as very real – even with great names like aspiring World Number 1 phenom Joylyon to women’s world champion Zoe Quantock, to names like Razza Mattaz to their inimitable squash guru and champion architect Sailor McCann (I want to change my name to “Sailor”).

Waddy seems to have stalked the hallways and byways of the current youth culture along with the squash galleries and locker rooms to produce these squash vignettes that weave professional squash play with the fiercely and sometimes mean spirited play for PSA ranking points and sponsorship. As you will read, it can be metaphorically a matter of life and death. The book traces the discovery and development of a phenomenal junior squash player in the UK as he rises to the top of the squash world, through sheer determination and often in spite of the difficulties he finds himself in. While he is a great and dutiful squash soldier, he balances this with a bit of the Caulfield rebelliousness and champions himself against all those “phonies” out there who can make a young man’s pursuit of truth and beauty and championship squash very difficult. In spite of himself, he is a great character, the kind of son, regardless of the success in squash that any father would be proud of – provided he didn’t know quite all the going one’s that a contemporary teenager experiences in the sordid world of sex and drugs.

By all means, don’t for a minute think that Waddy has produced an antihero type in the squash world that can live a life of sex and drugs and squash -- very much the contrary. But like every ancient hero on a quest for fame and fortune or truth and beauty the road is fraught with all sorts of temptations. The truly great champions and great human beings don’t judge what goes on around them; they live in this world and take everything this world has to offer. They champion what is good, and in true Caulfield-like fashion mock what is bad. Jolyon can be Caulfield; he can also be a brooding Achilles, or wily Odysseus. While the anti-hero used to be the bad guy that turned the good upside down, the world has changed; Jolyon is the good guy turning the bad upside down.

What is inspiring about this book is that Waddy seems to have created a character that has not followed any recipe, is not part of the legions of juniors aspiring to squash stardom. He’s taken a player with little squash experience and with his mentor, Sailor McCann, has designed a map for stardom and success. Of course he has to have some superb qualities to rocket him to the tops of the PSA, in Jolyon’s case, phenomenal physical and aerobic attributes. How realistic is this story? It doesn’t matter. The beauty of what Waddy is saying is that no matter what you aspire to you don’t have to follow any prescription, yes you need talent, and dedication, and physical, great physical abilities in squash for elite play, but because you didn’t develop your game, your talents along the usual manner doesn’t mean you can’t strive for that achievement, eventually becoming champion.

While most squash players at an international level have been playing since they were very young, Jolyon started playing at 16. Who is to say that can’t happen, who is to say that you must follow the recipe of starting early and hopefully by the time you are 17 years old knowing whether or not you are good enough to someday become champion. Yes, Jolyon forgoes college to pursue this dream. He is driven, he has to be, mostly to prove an overbearing mother who pushed him into tennis wrong about doing what is best for yourself, even if it means going against your parents... As a trust fund child, who loses access to his trust fund because he goes against his mother’s imperatives, Jolyon finds his way from the point he started, nothing more, nothing less. While his trust fund might be the impetus to achieve world number 1 ranking by the age of 21, never in the book or the development of this character do you sense that is his motivation. As he says, he has the chance to be the best in the world number 1 among millions.

The book has a fantastic twist and turns into a fast pace suspense and thriller. You won’t be able to put it down. As Jolyon gets closer and closer to his goals at squash number 1 the forces of darkness and evil are preparing their obstacles…

I recommend this book not only to the entire squash community, but also anyone who wants to read a really entertaining novel which just happens to be about squash. Waddy is a world master’s champion who has been involved in squash for many years. Look for an in depth interview forthcoming from squashdashersbashers about this author and squash master.

( Kindle edition

Also serialized in

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Passing of a Good Sport

She played football, squash and some tennis. Her favorite for a while was squash until she became a little bit older and turned to touch football. She used a deft touch when dropping the squash ball to the floor. She loved chasing around the tennis ball. She wasn’t much to look at and often her dark bangs hung over her eyes, she was a bit bow-legged as well but she loved the sports; in fact she wasn’t a very good athlete at all. She tired easily, probably mostly from laziness. She lead a dog’s life, we swore after her games she slept 23 hours out of the day and got up only to have some food and go to the bathroom. While approaching that master’s age, she still, while ever so briefly, still exhibited a child’s enthusiasm for her games.

What she lacked in skills she more than made up for in intelligence. She learned so many tricks, she could really dance and sing if the incentives were right; she loved an audience, she loved people and talked to them in her own language all the time.

Two nights ago, after a leisurely game of touch football, she collapsed. I held her in my arms and while she lay so listless in my arms I knew she wasn’t going to make it. My son was at the squash courts, I stayed with her for quite a while trying to make sure she knew how much she was loved. Each breath struggled, she was fighting it, I wanted her to just close her eyes and let go into that other place. She hung in there, she wouldn’t let go. I left her with my wife to go get my son.

I told him she was very ill and probably wouldn’t last very long. Long before we opened the house door (bat like hearing), she had tried to go to the door to greet us, probably mostly my son, and she collapsed again. He picked her up, I knew she had waited for him as if to say she wouldn’t leave this world without saying good-bye to him. He held her in his arms as she rested her near lifeless head on his chest. She was going now and we told her how much we loved her and would never forget her and then she died.

She was our dog, our “puppy” as we called her, she didn’t suffer in the end, death came quickly – but like she lived and played she died with great dignity. She was my son’s dog, even though I took care of her, she was his, she adored him as much as he adored her. She was our friend, our family, and we played those crazy games with her; I may have cursed her once or twice for puncturing the squash balls, or yelled at her when trying to work and she wanted a game of football, and she always seemed to bark at just the right time during a conference call – but, wherever you are, “puppy”, your heaven is surely that much loved rest and I hope to keep your spirit up there’s an occasional game of whatever ball they play up there.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chip on The Shoulder: In Defense of Willstrop’s US Squash Assessment

It’s interesting that a number of squash enthusiasts and authors around the US targeted a passage in James Willstrop’s recent publication, “Shot and a Ghost…”, took exception to a passage in his book that assesses the abysmal squash scene in the US. One author went so far as to suggest that tournament audiences boo Willstrop whenever they see him play and certainly not buy “Shot and a Ghost”.

I reviewed the book a while back and loved it. I must not have been all that affected by Willstrop’s remarks about US Squash, because even though the truth sometimes hurts, he is saying it like it is.

Keep in mind Willstrop is a top world class squash professional and his remarks are specifically targeted towards why the US can’t produce a consistent stream of professional squash players. Not a bad observation. Supposedly the greatest nation on earth who espouses a thriving squash scene, comparable to an emerging and burgeoning market, has 3-4 full time touring professionals. Is he wrong about squash being elitist, still? I don’t think so. Unless you are deep in pocket forget about acquiring top coaching for your developing junior player. For those of you who might not know, top coaching for juniors runs you 85.00 to 210.00 dollars for 45 minutes. And those of us who have developed juniors know to become really good you need to have your junior on court with a coach 3 times a week. This on top of tournament entry fees (85.00 to 120.00), travel expenses, equipment, I hope you are getting the picture. Elitist means only a select few can afford this. I found a great alternative, I’ve sent my son to England for top coaching at a fraction of the cost and that includes air fare and room and board. I work an extra two jobs to fund my son’s squash aspirations. But not everyone can do that.

And hardball? It is a dead sport, except for doubles and a few older players who cling to it. It died because the parent game is so far superior as were the players. I recently went on court with a doubles player who had a hardball and we knocked the ball around a bit. It was crazy, how did we ever play this game. I started out in hardball years ago and when I played softball for the first time I never looked back. Mark Talbot was a great American Hardball player, but in the scheme of world squash, he was a bit provincial. I watched him play softball as a wild card entry at the TOC years ago, to be honest, it was a bit embarrassing. Not to take away from his hardball achievements which were great, but his achievements on the world squash stage aren’t impressive at all.

I don’t want to go into comparing the British development system with ours, because there really isn’t a comparison. As much as I truly believe the British Empire was one of history’s great evils, they did give us Squash, Gin, and Led Zeppelin. For that alone we can’t fault them for anything. Instead of carrying around this chip on our shoulders, we should make it our mission to make squash a viable professional sports career. Urban squash isn’t going to make squash available to the average middle class youngster who plays baseball, lacrosse or football. The US Squash organization isn’t going to make squash viable for those middle class or working class youngsters. As long as squash is viewed as an avenue to an Ivy League education it will remain within the realm of those who aspire to attend or compete for Ivy League placements – which are elitist institutions.

It’s a difficult situation because you have to make available squash at a grass roots level. I for one love what we do at LA Fitness, there are two international courts, ok, not the best courts, there is not the highest level squash instruction, but certainly instruction to take anyone with skill to the B or low A level – we do it because we want anyone and everyone to play this game, we spend countless hours promoting this game for the love of this game. `This isn’t to pat us on the back, but it is to say, there’s an alternative to the high cost of playing this game which fosters elitism – money fosters elitism. And money is as the saying goes the “root of all evil”.

If I read Willstrop correctly, he didn’t ponder over the US Squash scene all that long; it’s evident what’s wrong. We will come and watch him play at the highest level and marvel at his play, but ask any parent about why their child plays squash and 99.9% of the answers will be to help them get into college. If you say, why not play professionally, the answers will be is there any money in it, or why would anyone want to play professionally – no money? Is there any money in teaching, social work, special education, counseling or any of the grand aspirations beyond the world of big business and economics? Probably not, but read Willstrop’s book, he’s living the dream, he’s doing what he loves to do, which is more than most of us can say. Besides, he’s a really smart guy, probably more articulate than most US College educated young men, who happened to also write te a great book about the life of a professional squash player.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

James Willstrop's Squash Book, "Shot and Ghost..." -- A Review

Wow! For those of you who like to know the inner workings of the lives of professional athletes, this is a great read, a diary in the life of a professional squash player. It is right up there with my favorite squash books, Shattered by Peter Marshall, and, Murder on the Squash Court by Jonah Barrington. It is all the more special because James Willstrop, current number 1 in the world, is a very gifted writer (or at least storyteller if his collaborator Ralph Gilmour did much of the writing). Wilstrop is clever, ironic and sometimes outright funny. He can also be very poignant, especially in the passages about his squash-iconic-father, Malcolm (“Malc”). I can hear my own son describe me to someone the same way as Willstrop describes his own father's difficult personality. Just the other day my son described me as a jerk that just happens to help people, go figure. “Jerk” wasn't his exact word more like that reference to one of our less than public orifices.

No doubt squash players who have competed at any club, regional or national as well as professional level with bask in the narrative of this book. These guys who play at the highest level of their sport have days when they hate the sport, when they don't want to train, bicker, complain, feel sore, insecure and even eat a big bowl of cereal for breakfast as they head for a tough training session.

I was never a big fan of Willstrop's game, I confess, until I watched a match between him and I think Darwish or one of the Egyptians and my son pointed out just how devastating Willstrop is especially when attacking to the front courty. This, all from a player at 6'4 the tallest on the tour! When he won the Tournament of Champions in 2011, a major win for him, he spent 30 minutes thanking everyone from his father to the milkman for his success. I found his litany annoying; after having read his book I feel a bit bad for those feelings because it is just the way Willstrop is. He utilizes so many people in his success: nutritionist, coach, trainers, and masseuse -- whatever it takes to bring out the best in his body, mind and soul. And the quote he uses might be remembered by anyone aspiring to such accomplishments: "It's amazing just what can be achieved when nobody cares who takes glory."

In an age of fist pumping, or the zealous behavior of Shorbagy and Tom Richards gestures at this year’s TOC, Willstrop is a gracious gentleman and sportsman. His father emphasized proper court demeanor as much as anthing. Often accused of being too nice and lacking that acerbic edge of the so called "wunderkinds" of squash, he is much more, he is confident and knows himself very well, he goes with the flow until it becomes time to question where the flow leads him. You have the sense that he was raised properly with great appreciation for his gifts as an athlete and the gifts of others as well. He is rarely critical of a person, outright, maybe critical of behavior or character traits, especially exhibited towards his ongoing perceived feud with fellow squash great and countryman Nick Matthew.

In the end, Willstrop, as great an athlete as he is at the pinnacle of his success, is simply human. Nowhere do you have a sense of this dichotomy between supreme athlete and simple human being than his entries about his "mum". Very moving passages without being maudlin. For any sports fan, squash enthusiast, aspiring professional squash player this is a great read and I only hope we can come to expect more from Willstrop both in terms of his wonderful prose and his squash game as well. I always contend that the greatest gift a professional player can make to the game, aside from his or her actual play, is a documented history of their game and how they played it and lived it in their time.

Available on and

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nick Matthew: Would A Million Praises Appease Your Anger?

I was just reading Nick Matthew's interview in, "Matthew Annoyed Little Attention". The article is along the lines that professional squash players are given little publicity in what is arguably the iron man/women sport of all sports. Forget about all the other sport comparisons, these men and women are the fittest athletes on the planet. One need only compare the training regiments of Nick Matthew with any other athlete in any sport to realize what these athletes put their bodies through. I can only compare it to perhaps fencing for intensity and fitness, but unlike fencing bouts which are quick and intense, professional level squash matches can go nearly 90 minutes at a pace that is unfathomable to most.

So why is Matthew angry? First of all, I can't imagine Nick Matthew ever angry, which isn't to say he is a pushover or overly mellow. He is as fierce and competitive and tough as Mike Ditka, Larry Bird, Mike Tyson, and Pete Rose and probably has attained their level of excellence in a career that has culminated in major tournament championships. He arguably has the best forehand volley of any player in the history of the game, and while his career has seen a number of injuries, most recently toward the end of the 2011 season, he is back, and back with his usual ferocity. So why is he mad, how could he be mad at all the success he's achieved? Why is he angry at being one of the few in the hundreds of thousands of squash players to have achieved greatness, to have brushed shoulders with the gods of squash -- what anger?

If it truly is because of the lack of publicity in this video/media intensive age of ours, then I would only say he picked the wrong sport for recognition. I can only think of Vincent Van Gogh, perhaps a bit extreme example, who in his lifetime was never awarded the accolades for his brilliant and visionary paintings. I hope Mathew isn't so angry that he doesn't, like Van Gogh, go insane and cut off his ear, or worse his right hand. If you look at the paintings of Van Gogh you intuitively know this man could not have done anything else in his life, thank god he didn't. He could have done copy or commercial art or spent a lifetime rambling on some park bench somewhere in a European public garden, maybe he wouldn't have gone mad, or maybe he wouldn’t have simply been mad. I can't imagine Matthew doing anything else: tennis, soccer, cricket? Nah, he was destined to do what he does.

This great sport of squash in its own right is recognition enough, for most of us, for Matthew, I hope that his absolute brilliance in the most difficult game on the planet is reward enough, if that isn't then maybe the admiration of those who at such a different level sacrifice so much for this game we love: bodily pain after tough hits with John Gross, Haadi Ahmat, young Vedaant Kukadia (in the same evening after work). We do it because we can't imagine not doing it, and we watch in awe and are inspired by the likes of Nick Matthew who does it every day and doesn't have to go to a day job, or watch the kids or miss the train, but does what we love, not two hours if we're lucky, but every minute of his life.