Squash News From Around The World - Serious Squash
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Jul 10 2020 12:08PM
College squash in the US seems has made our sport boom. Thousands of junior squash players from all over the world train and dream for a chance to play on a varsity squash team one day. A lot of big name ex-PSA players are now coaching in the US which helps recruit and train these players which in turn is increasing both the popularity and the caliber of squash.
Because of covid-19 it's difficult to know how next season in the College Squash Association (CSA) is going to shape up. It seems clear that the start of the season is going to be pushed back, but there has been a lot happening since the completion of the 2019/2020 season. A lot of schools have said they are starting with online courses and many international students may not be allowed back in the US for the fall. The US college squash system is changing in many ways at the moment and it could have a major impact on squash as a whole. A few months ago I would have said that the CSA was stronger than ever; the caliber of the athletes, coaches and the sheer number of teams participating was at an all time high. Now in July there is a lot of reason for concern.
I know for a fact that I never would have went to university if I couldn't have played varsity squash. College squash was such an amazing experience which I'm so thankful for. As someone who played at varsity level and is now a coach of a varsity team I'm shocked by the decisions of Brown and Stanford to cancel their squash teams. Squash wasn't the only varsity sport to be cancelled at either program and the schools make it sound like this is a permanent change. Last season Brown finished 12th in the womens, 15th in the mens and Stanford was 6th in the women's. Those are strong results in a super competitive league.
These decisions were made so late that I doubt the squash players at these school will be able to transfer for next season. They have likely already confirmed their residences and have their courses picked; it's really a shame for them as well as the coaches of these programs. It's even worse for the incoming freshmen who were recruited to play on these squash teams and now will not have a chance to live out their childhood dreams. This hits close to home because I know 2 of Stanford's incoming players were top Canadian juniors.
Brown made a statement saying their decision had nothing to do with money or covid. They further claim to continue to support the team with the same amount of funding to play club squash, even though their alumni support will surely diminish without their variety status. On the other hand, Stanford claims to be doing this for economic reasons even though they have a 27 billion endowment fund.
Mark Talbott is the long standing coach and has approximately a 5 million dollar squash endowment fund. Mark and his staff raised all of the money for his teams so it's tough to see his years of hard work crumble. So even though Stanford claims these sports were all cut because of cost, it's obvious that this wasn't true for squash. Apparently squash doesn't fit into the Stanford athletic model. Dartmouth also just announced that they cut some sport teams as well, but thankfully squash was not one of them. Who will be next to fall?
Are there more teams that will suffer a similar fate? Are these decisions purely financial? Does covid play a part or this timing purely coincidental? What will next season look like? How many students will drop out because of this?
Clearly I have more questions than answers. As a squash supporter, alumni and college coach I'm really concerned; we all should be. I'm not only worried about my own job, but about the strength and future of the college squash game. The CSA was driving our sport as much or perhaps even more than the PSA and if it begins to falter I'm worried about the future of our sport. How many coaches will have to find a new career? How many juniors will pick up a new sport or hobby? How many clubs will never reopen? Is squash being exposed because we are not in the Olympics and not officially a part of the NCAA?
Brown reinstated their track and field team because of the public backlash that most of their athletes were black. I doubt race had any part of why Brown cut their track team, yet this was the reason the sport was reinstated. Does squash need more diversity or is this a completely separate topic? Squash is a sport that people from all over the world play, but yet we it was not reinstated. If the Brown squash team had more black players would the school have been pressured to reinstate squash as well? I know it's an uncomfortable question to consider let alone ask, but there appears to be some truth behind this line of thinking. I have a full sleeve of tattoos, and I know that was not always well received when competing at US schools. Even though I'm caucasian I know for sure I've been stereotyped countless times. Part of the reason I decided to get all of my tattoos is that I wanted people to judge me for who I am, not for who I look like. I know it sounds a bit unsure, but it's true. If you don't like me because I have a tattoo that's on you and no skin off my back. I have to finish his thought by saying that yet I did compare my tattoos to someone being subject to racism, but I know they are 100% not the same thing. I made a choice what to do with my skin while others were born with theirs and nobody should be judged or ridiculed based upon something like that.
Compared to the current pandemic and the issues revolving around racism, squash doesn't isn't too high on the priority list of the state of the world; nor should it be, That being said, squash has been a huge part of my life for 30+ years. College squash was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life. This is where I made most of my best friends and when I was also the most dedicated and trained the hardest. Nothing beats training and competing alongside a group of friends. I sympathize for everyone that will miss out on a similar experience.
These times are unprecedented so it's impossible to know what's in store for college squash and squash in general. There's been a pile of PSA players retire (which I unfortunately predicted at the start of covid) and now 2 varsity squash programs have been cut. When Brown cut their program I thought it was a 1 off and that college squash would be fine, but after Stanford's announcement this week I'm left with a lot more worry about the future of squash and in particular the CSA.
I don't like writing about negative news on my blog, but this is the world we're living in and the current state of our sport. We have to all stick together and support the clubs and programs to make sure they are still here for us in the future. I know I'm a little biased, but squash really is the best sport on the plant and college squash is the pinnacle for most players. Stanford and Brown may not believe in the importance of variety sport and in squash, but I do!
Jul 3 2020 10:51AM
This week is going to be short, but sweet. One of my favourite people, Nicole Bunyan has started a Patreon account. She's from Victoria, BC which is how I know her. We've trained together and hit many times over the past decade. She went to St. Michaels, which is where I coached and was a long time member of the Victoria Squash Club. Even though she's been living in the US for awhile now, I always try and get her involved in coaching my junior program whenever she's back home for a visit.
Nicole is super active, fit, incredibly humble and intelligent. She graduated from Princeton (I'm not sure how many times she was an all American) and on top of being a professional squash player, with a current PSA ranking of #65 she has also competed and done very well in triathlons. She has a wide range of knowledge when it comes to exercise, nutrition and squash. She's always been a terrific role model and I've never seen her low on energy even though she is always on the go.
I believe she has the firsthand experience that can help a lot of athletes (not just squash players) and I will certainly be recommending my athletes to subscribe to her page. I encourage you to check out her account and give her bio a read. I'm confident if you subscribe that you will not be disappointed. Here's the link: https://www.patreon.com/nicolebunyan
On the Serious Squash front there's just a few short updates. I've paused the Serious Squash Shop for the time being. While clubs were closed not much was selling and it's not cheap to keep the site in operation. Also at this time, Canada Post isn't shipping to many countries so that makes things more difficult. I do have a new batch of Serious Squash tees. They are Canadian themed now that I'm back in Canada and available for $35 by emailing or messaging me. Again, unfortunately I can only ship them within North America. I've sold half of them if the first week so get 1 soon or they'll be gone.
I also did my final squash specific live home workout yesterday. There's now a list of 12 if you want to get into better squash shape from home. Here is the link to the playlist: Workout Playlist
That's all for this week. Thanks for the read and hopefully if your club is back open you are enjoying being back on court. I know I sure am!
Jun 26 2020 8:36AM
About a month ago I had the idea to design a sport psychology workbook. I've always been interested in this topic and I've enjoyed reading about and coaching it. I'm done my first draft and today I'm going to post a section from it. The goal of this workbook is to make a simple, effective and practical tool that any athlete could benefit from. An athlete could pick a section that interests them and in 5-10 minutes have a new idea or redesigned mental tool for their sport.
The sections I'm sharing today is titled 'Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence).' It's basically about how some elite athletes are able to maintain their high level of self-belief regardless of recent struggles. I discuss examples from various sports and provide insights into how I have improved in this area over the years.
As of now the workbook is 21 sections and each section begins with my persona experience as an athlete and coach and an overview of the topic and then I conclude with a practical implication. These implication areas will guide you through developing or modifying that specific tool for your game.
The workbook is designed for athletes of any sport, even though my expertise is squash. Feedback is appreciated. It's just the first draft so I know there are still some parts missing. Even though incomplete I thought it would still be useful to post a section form it. I'm still unsure how I'm going to publish/post this workbook, so I will share this information when it's complete. Without further ado, here is section 8.
Section 8: Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence)
An area that has to do with playing in the zone that’s worth mentioning is playing with unwavering confidence. How does a baseball batter go up to the plate and expect to get a hit if they’ve struck out their last few at bats, or if they are hitless over a number of games? How does a basketball player take a big shot when they’re having an off night and make it? The best athletes in the world have this unwavering confidence that most amateurs and even many professionals don’t possess. If an amatuer player with far less skill takes a big shot in a team sport after struggling all game do they, their teammates and coaches have the confidence that they will make it and that it was a right shot to take? Taking a shot without confidence will most likely be tentative and result in a missed shot.
How does one gain this level of self-efficacy regardless of recent struggles? As they say, winning breeds confidence and as your skill increases your self-belief increases too. There also must be a correlation with making big shots and having the increased confidence to do it again, regardless of what has happened previously that day. I fully believe that the best athletes in the world have days and times where they’re low on confidence, but for the most part they have rehearsed certain plays and shots so frequently that they can execute more times than not in the clutch when the game is on the line. The main point from that last sentence is the mind, that they are not experiencing any self-doubt and that they continue to have positive self-talk and belief that the next thing they do is going to work, period.
Clearly a lot of training must take place to reach this point as an athlete, but it’s also how you’ve been coached and how you practice. As already mentioned you need to have a lot of success and experience with winning. I’m mostly interested in how that athlete was able to attain the mental skills necessary to get to this winning mindset. When this athlete was younger and developing they must have made many mistakes trying to, for example take a difficult fade away jump shot. A more conservative and conventional player would always want to be set properly to take a higher percentage set-shot; this is what most coaches encourage and like to see; look for the highest percentage play that will yield the best outcome. Somewhere along the line that athletes must have practiced that difficult play over and over to make it higher percentage and to be able to execute it even when they’re having an offday. When you see someone struggling, but they execute in the clutch is a big reason why I love sports. Certainly there are other athletes that can make that same play, but fail to do so when the pressure is on and even more so when they've been struggling.
I attempt to demonstrate a good balance as a coach between trying to get someone to play smart and technically sound, but also letting the athlete experiment and play around with what they can do. This is why in squash, as other sports too there are cultural differences in styles of play. Squash is actually a terrific example of this because most Egyptians are known as being creative and attacking while players from a country like England are known for being more attrional and structured. Egyptain squash has ruled the game at all levels recently yet somehow other countries aren’t able to adapt their style to their own athletes. Is this style and mental trait something that was learned and fostered when the current players were young? Is it instilled by their culture or by their peers and role models and coaches? Either way it is a lot of fun watching these contrasts in styles and I really appreciate the fearlessness they play with. Egyptian players for the most part have a more relaxed swing which I believe also contributes to being able to play the way that they do. If someone is nervous about playing a shot they tend to get tense and automatically think, ‘don’t mess up.’ When someone is thinking such a negative thought they are severely impacting their chance of executing a difficult skill under pressure. This is the outlook I try to have when playing now, play with confidence and expect the shot to go where I want it too.
I understand that excess tension when performing a skill can have a detrimental impact on my performance and because of this I have designed a simple routine for when I notice this happening. If I play a shot that I am a bit too tense I simply shake out my hand afterwards as a reminder to relax and to stay loose. I have found this routine extremely beneficial to me, but again this is something that each athlete has to design for themselves. Another way to ease tension is simply by breathing. As mentioned earlier, focusing on your breath brings your attention back to the present, but a conscious deep breath can also physically relax you if you’re nervous or tense.
I have one more point about this fearless unwavering confidence. As an athlete and coach I’ve always been analyzing my technique. It’s normal to always want to improve, but after playing a sport for 30 years my swing is pretty much my swing. A few years back I asked a mentor of mine for some feedback on my forehand swing and he told me that I should not be worried or even thinking about my swing anymore. Once he said this I started playing more free flowing and with a lot more confidence. Instead of thinking about how I was preparing and swinging for my shots I began simply thinking about where I want the ball to go. This was one of those moments that really improved my skill level and it was all between the ears once again. Now don’t misinterpret the value of technique, it’s just sometimes it’s overrated and being too overly conscious of it might just be what is holding you back.
Questions to consider…
- Are you afraid of making errors?
- Do you tense up during pressure times of a match?
- Do you play to win or not to lose?
- How does your most recent success impact your current confidence?
- What is your self-talk like when things aren’t going their best? Is it helpful or damaging?
- Do you use a conscious deep breath as a part of any of your routines?
Time To Make Some Notes About How To Play More Confident, Free Flowing and Positively
- In the space below write out a detailed (it can be short and precise) routine that will help you relax and remove unwanted tension during competition.
My Removing Unwanted Tension Routine
I hope you enjoyed this section. I'd appreciate any feedback you may have. My email is info@SeriousSquash.com
Jun 17 2020 10:43AM
Squash Canada recently announced their fall schedule which will include the make up dates for the 2020 National Championships. Solo hitting is now allowed in many clubs here in Canada so it's great to see us getting a bit closer to our 'new normal' which will include squash. For the upcoming national championships Squash Canada selected hosts which have previously hosted large events which will make the operations run slightly smoother, if indeed they do run as planned. I realize every athlete wants the opportunity to play in their annual national championship, but we are in uncertain times.
I'm going to go through a few of the reasons I have issues with this rescheduling. The first being is that people outside of Ontario are not going to want to book flights and accommodations for something that at best is 50/50 to occur. Currently people aren't travelling and you should only do so if it's essential. You need to plan ahead for traveling to a big tournament and I don't think many people are going to feel comfortable booking travel right now.
The 2020 National Championship Schedule
Another major issue I have with the new tournament dates is that these will likely be the first tournaments of the season. How is an athlete supposed to peak for the start of the season after so long away from the courts and competition? You shouldn't be starting a new season with the biggest events. Currently many people around Canada are just starting to solo hit and it's been months since our last match. It could easily be 5+ months of no squash for people hoping to play and compete for a national championship. This is not only going to lower the caliber of play, but it will also come at an increased risk of injury.
No sport wants to have a gap year with no championships crowned, but I think that's what Squash Canada should do; that is actually what will likely end up happening anyways. Will it be safe to have a large grouping together in a club for a tournament by October? Professional sports with unlimited resources like the NBA, NHL and MLB are still trying to figure out how to return to finish their seasons in a safe manner.
As someone who has played in and coached at multiple national championships I know this would greatly impact my schedule for next season. I would like to participate in the masters event and coach at the junior one, but I don't want to get injured and I don't know when I'll be able to start my junior program.
I want squash to come back as much as anyone. Squash is unfortunately a high risk sport for transmission of the virus so I don't think Squash Canada should have bothered rescheduling these events. I know they may very well get cancelled at a later date and they are planning for the best so perhaps this won't matter in the end. I'm normally an optimistic person and I believe in the power of positive thinking, but I think we should be more cautious and realistic in this instance.
It may sound like it, but I don't want to blame Squash Canada for this decision, it's their job to run events. They probably don't see a big issue if they have to cancel later on, but from an athletes and coaches perspective I see a lot of roadblocks with this announcement. I do believe Squash Canada should have consider the planning that this entails for the participants and the lack of preparation time for the athletes and their coaches. For the sake of squash I hope I'm proven completely wrong.
In closing, I've decided to pause the Serious Squash Shop for the time being. With so many clubs closed and people struggling with their finances it's not being used as much as normal. I've since posted the instructional films on the Serious Squash Youtube channel. If you've ordered a new Serious Squash tee, not too worry, it will make it to you shortly! And if you'd like to order one please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org message me on the Serious Squash Facebook or Instagram account. Squash Shots is still up and running strong. Now that my club is open I will be able to record lots of new solo and on court training drills. You can find out more at Patreon.com/SeriousSquash
Jun 10 2020 10:15AM
I normally only discuss squash, but I thought it was important to discuss George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that have currently swept the globe. I understand that my audience is here for my squash perspective and that is almost always what I stick to, but I also thought that if I failed to discuss this some of you may interpret my dismissal as compliance. I'm fortunate that I grew up in Canada, one of the most (if not the most) multi-cultural countries in the world. I also grew up playing squash and there have always been a lack of black squash players which I'm going to hypothesize on and provide some of my personal experiences in this regard.
I know this issue has been going on for a long time, but if you don't witness it in your daily lives you tend not to be as understanding or as concerned about it. In the US there's been so many terrible crimes when it comes to police brutality or mass shootings that you begin to feel a bit numb to it all. As a Canadian you are just thankful that you live where you do, but it's still difficult to explain why there are such drastic differences between our countries. I suppose I am negligent because I didn't say or do anything about these issues until this point. I in fact only heard the slogan, 'Black Lives Matter' last week. I've always thought of myself as a good person which I thought was enough and all that I could do. But now I understand that silence equals compliance and it certainly isn't enough. When Colin Kaepernick was kneeling for the anthems I didn't have a problem with it, but I also never spoke about it and supported him. I would just say to myself 'what can I do?" or 'how am I going to make an impact?' I don't have a very large following for Serious Squash and I have always just stuck to what I know best, and that's squash. But things are different in our society today and I believe we can and must do more.
When I was young I had friends of every ethnicity and I never thought or experienced any racism. Canada is very progressive and supportive of individual differences regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. At the schools I've attended and worked at they've all been strongly open about supporting these differences. This doesn't mean that bullying never happened and kids were never teased. So clearly Canada wasn't and still isn't perfect, but it's far better than a lot of other countries. Unfortunately for those that live in the United States things are not so good. I've travelled throughout the states for various vacations and squash tournaments and it's easy to tell that you're not in Canada. I remember driving to the US Open as a child and going through streets where every house had bars on their windows and graffiti was all over the houses. I've heard stories about New Haven being not safe once you're off of Yale's campus. I have to say I don't know if things have gotten better there in recent years, but this is common knowledge for many of those in the squash community.
I really can't think of any examples of racism in squash. There are however a notable absence of black squash players. I wonder what percentage of people that play other sports, such as tennis are black? Does the fact that there aren't many black squash players mean that there is a problem with racism in our sport or does this have more to do with socioeconomic issues that have plagued squash for decades? Many squash clubs across North America are expensive and I could never afford to join most of them. If I can't afford to join one of those clubs, I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable being a coach at one of them.
I grew up playing at both the Pickering and Ajax Community Centres where the memberships were inexpensive and there were no fancy country club rules. We didn't have to wear all white clothing and we didn't have an outdoor fancy pool with a gourmet restaurant. There were no initiation fees at my clubs and access was something most lower to middle class families could afford. I again don't know the stats, but I would guess the diversity of recreation complexes is probably a lot greater than the private clubs.
Over the past 15 years or so a lot of urban squash companies in Canada and the US have done a great job giving access to kids who normally wouldn't have that opportunity. This is the positive side about what has been happened in squash, but what about the country clubs with a predominantly white membership? Do people of colour feel comfortable joining a club like this? Now don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting that every expensive squash or golf club has racism intertwined in them. This is just a portion of squash where you notice an absence of people of colour. Should some of these clubs initiate marketing policies to attract more members of colour?
I lived in British Columbia for 8 years and I know that it is very multicultural. In fact I read a stat that about half of the residents don't speak English as their first language. I think we can all imagine what Trump would say about that. Personally, as a coach you just want keen and coachable students and I have always treated my students equally. Even though BC is extremely diverse I can only recall ever seeing a handful of black squash players. There were quite a few Asian squash players, but perhaps it's something as simple as racquet sports are more common in Asian cultures and there are a lot of Asian people living in BC?
When I moved to Turks and Caicos I was for the first time a minority. The natives of the country are black and it was common to go somewhere and be the only white person. It was simply different, but I didn't mind it. This was as close I could get to experiencing how it would feel to be the only black member of a squash club. Out of the 30 or so people that played squash while I was there, there was only 1 black boy who played squash. The kids all got along great and there were no issues with racism whatsoever. There's a lot of expats in Turks and Caicos so it's not surprising that they would be the majority of the people playing squash, but in a country with so many black people it's odd that more of the native black community didn't participate.
A lot of the native children in Turks and Caicos played basketball. At my gym they would play all of the time while I would rarely see a white child shoot hoops. The club also had a big hockey league and it was again predominantly white children that participated. I don't know if these differences were based on socioeconomic factors or if it was simply what the children enjoyed playing. Even though the children were largely divided in what sports they played I didn't notice a single instance of racism. There will always be differences in sports regarding what percentage of various ethnicities participate in. I have a hunch that some of this also has to do with role models. I imagine as a young black child you want to be like the successful athletes you can relate to and admire, but if there are so few in a sport like squash than perhaps they don't think twice about it.
I started off writing about this thinking I was going to make a short statement and move on to a squash topic, but as I got going I felt that this deserved to be it's own article and topic. Squash has some amazing people involved in the sport all over the world and I hope we can make our sport more appealing to everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. When I was young there were a lot of male only clubs, but most have changed their policies, so perhaps there will be a movement happening sometime soon about promoting equality in squash and specifically in regards to race.
I don't know how else I can help make difference besides how I treat people, but I hope by simply bringing up this topic in the squash community it will do some good. I know a few black squash pros have recently made posts about their experiences and unfortunately they had to overcome some forms of racism over their careers. I'd like to think that squash brings out the best in us, so I'm hopeful we can all be better and do more and not be afraid to have our voices heard. I truly believe education and discussions are big factors in this so even if you are normally reserved and don't share your opinions with others I hope you decide to so this time. It's only if we all unite together we can create change. Black Lives Matter.
Jun 3 2020 9:12AM
If you're following Serious Squash on social media you'll already be aware that the club I work at has opened back up today! It was a lot of work to get the club to a point where we are. I was on a 4 person Covid board to ensure we are following all of the government safety protocols. There's been a lot of changes, but we are finally open, even if it is just for solo hitting at the moment. If you're interested in what changes have been put in place I made a short video which highlighted many of the safety protocols.
London Squash Club Reopening Video
On top of what I mention in the video there are a few other policies in place. We originally had a finger print scanner at the front door and 24 hour access, but obviously having people place their finger on the same scanner is a way the virus could spread so we have just switched to a key fob system. We also must have a staff member when members are in the club now, so we have temporarily switched our hours to 8am-8pm.
Court times have been staggered and are only 30 minutes in length. You must also book a court prior to coming to the club. There's 15 minutes after each court booking to allow for a thorough cleaning of the court, bin and chair. When your'e on court you are expected not to touch the walls with your hands (even though the club staff will clean them afterwards). Demon racquets are not permitted and members are allowed to grab their equipment from their locker, but they will not be able to use their locker going forward. The saunas, showers, bar and gym are also not open yet. This will all happen in future phases.
Because the club, like a few others in Ontario are only open for solo hitting at the moment I've been posting some old Serious Squash solo drills. I will be filming some new drills this week which I will be posting over the next week. If you haven't already seen what I've posted so far I will post the videos again below. Most of these drills are for intermediate to advanced levels, but I will be filming some beginner drills shortly.
The Secrets Of Solo Hitting
Court Sprint + Straight Drive Drill
Squash Shots Episode 43: Advanced Back Corner Solo Drills part 1
Squash Shots Episode 44: Advanced Back Corner Solo Drills part 2
Hopefully your club is opening soon too, if it hasn't already. I know I'm really excited to hit a few balls later today. It's been about 3 months for me now, which is the longest I've gone without hitting a ball in many years.
If you want to do some squash training at home with me follow London Squash (@LondonSquash) on Instagram. I've been doing weekly training videos on their account. Normally it's around noon or 1pm on Friday's, but it's also weather dependant as I do these outside.
You may have noticed that I removed the instructional films in the Serious Squash Shop. The platform I used to allow people to download the films was pretty pricey and when clubs were closed people weren't purchasing copies. In fact my online store is up for it's annual renewal June 15th and I'm debating pausing it for awhile until squash gets up and going again. So if you do want to purchase a shirt, racquet or a video analysis I suggest doing so in the next 2 weeks.
That's it for this week. Stay tuned for new solo drills and if you have any questions about the opening of our club let me know. Happy Squashing!
May 27 2020 11:13AM
Squash is one of, if not the best workouts in the world. Squash involves every athletic trait; from mobility, flexibility, strength, speed, stamina, the list of qualities you need to be a great squash player doesn't end. Because it's such a physically demanding sport it requires a lot of training and regular drill and gameplay to be able to play out a match at a peak level without your body breaking down. It's been almost 3 months since I've been on court and even as a coach I am planning on easing my way back into coaching. If on the first day back I gave 5 or 6 lessons it would take a lot out of me and I'd be at risk of injury and I would probably need a day of recovery afterwards.
Depending on what you've been doing while the courts have been closed you may have to gradually ease your way back into things. Today my agenda is to get everyone to begin to plan out their comeback and to set timeframes and goals for this. We don't need to wait for the squash clubs to be open to begin this. If you read last weeks post, this is basically a continuation on from that with more of an emphasis on the off court training portion of our preparation. I'm going to quickly go over some solo hitting issues and then get into the meat and potatoes.
When clubs open up (I'm aware some already have) you will have to start with only solo hitting. This is an ideal way to get your timing back before getting right back into a match. Even with solo hitting there's going to be some weak muscles and a lack of calluses so this will likely be an issue for most of us (including me). In your first few solo sessions I would avoid doing a lot of short hitting with pace. These types of short hitting drills could put a lot of strain on your entire arm and shoulder and it's something you will need to build back up in time.
Besides the arm and the missing calluses the biggest challenge for most of us is going to be the lack of strength and stamina. After a few months of sitting around and being less active we are going to have to be patient and disciplined about getting our body back in 'squash shape.' Let's go through these athletic traits independently and see how we can best build up our strength and stamina to get back into squash most effectively.
Our lower body is going to need some extra special attention. When is the last time you did a lunge? If you haven't been doing any away from the court expect as major case of 'squash butt' when you first do a set of lunges. The good thing is that we don't need any equipment to begin to work on our lunges. There are a few ways to build up your lunging ability. The first and likely the safest is by simply holding a lunge for a short period of time. Make sure you spend time on both legs, not just your dominant one. You can then build up to walking lunges, eventually to lunging forwards and backwards and at a later point some side lunges or even adding in some light weights. I suggest spreading out your leg workouts by at least 3 days as you start this type of training.
On top of lunging, it's also important to be able to squat properly. The ability to get low into a squatting position, especially in the back corners is an essential skill in squash. Again you can start with a simple bodyweight squat or a squat hold. You can build up to wall sits, squats with weights and maybe the split-squat, squat jumps or even the mighty pistol squat.
Doing lunges and squats will make a big difference in your game, but don't forget the posterior chain of your lower body. One leg deadlifts are an excellent way to focus on your hamstrings and glutes and again they require no weights for training. You can do this in a number of different ways as well. If you haven't' done them before you will need to start by simply trying to do this while balancing properly. As you improve you can add in twists, holds and eventually weights.
Above I listed the 3 main lower body strength exercises that I recommend for building up your lower body strength for squash. These are all exercises that I do regularly which should help with my transition back onto the court. If you would like to see the above mentioned exercises done at various stages check out my playlist from home workouts: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzYXhBuUol3Tx4MV2l0nfoJ-5mRN853iB
Below is the first video which simply explains 6 simple at home exercises you can do with no equipment, which also includes the above mentioned exercises.
Let's move on to the stamina/movement portion of squash. In this section I'm going to discuss not just the aerobic endurance required, but also the stop/start, fast paced movement that we need to play at a high level. Building up your aerobic endurance again isn't too difficult when the weather is nice. Simply doing some light jogging or biking will do the trick. Even though we've lost a bit of fitness recently, we still have a reserve from our years of training which will help us. If just getting started the 2 main areas of concern are starting slowly to avoid injury/burnout and taking that first step. Committing to a plan and a schedule and changing your routine into a more positive, squash focused lifestyle is what I'm looking my athletes to be doing now.
If you don't have access or the ability to bike or jog there are some other ways you can get some cardio in. If you've taken part in any of my recent home workouts you will see how I plan some of my workouts to provide a cross training benefit for improving endurance along with strength. You can do this by timing your sets and staying on a timer throughout you session.
If you've been managing to maintain a decent aerobic fitness base you are probably more concerned with the speed, sprinting, anaerobic portion of your squash training. There are a number of ways you can improve this even before getting back on court. Doing this type of training can mean a few different things. You could be focusing on working near your VO2max/heart rate by pushing yourself in a really tough session like running stairs, hills or doing some windsprints. For me this type of training is much more taxing on the body and the recovery will take much longer. So if you haven't' done any aerobic base training or strength work I would focus on those areas first. After building this up for 6-8 weeks you will be ready to get into this more strenuous type of cross training. Below is this weeks episode of Squash Shots where I talk about stairs and hill training. I didn't actually do the training in this video myself as I'm still working my way through building up an aerobic base before jumping right into sets of sprints.
Squash Shots Episode 54: Stairs + Hill Training
If you aren't into running hills, stairs or doing windsprints you could do some ghosting. Again, you can do ghosting at your own speed and you don't need a squash court to do it. If you can get in 1 or 2 weekly ghosting sessions prior to playing a game your transition will be much easier and your performance will be far greater. I often get my students to use practice swings and ghosting in lessons because without the ball the concern for contact and the shot result, it's easier to make swing or movement changes. When you do this enough you will eventually build up the muscle memory to make these adjustments permanent.
How much of each of these training types should you do? Doing some strength and aerobic base training during the same time is fine. Depending on your ability and training experience you should be able to do 2-3 session of each per week. After a specified period of time (6-8 weeks) you will feel stronger and fitter and at that point you will likely be ready to transition into the anaerobic/lactic acid producing phase of your training. Because this type of training is so taxing on the body you will need some lighter sessions, possibly mobility focused and of course core is fine too. I believe it would be too tough for most people to do a max sprint session and then do a leg strength session the day after or even before. Doing this would lead to overtraining for most and quite likely an injury at some point. If you are at this stage of your training you should be working with a highly skilled professional strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer.
As your squash club opens up and you can get in to solo hit once or twice per week you will be feeling better and better week after week. If you've been doing nothing the past 3 months you should be eyeing August/September for the resemblance of a decent squash match (assuming we're allowed). If you do the above mentioned training there is no reason you won't be able to jump back into things and playing at a pretty good level in a short period of time. Not everyone likes the training part of squash, but there's no better feeling than knowing you are fitter and stronger than your opponent.
After such a long break just hitting a ball or playing a rally will be enjoyable. But as you can tell from a coaches perspective I believe there is a lot we can do to play better squash and transition back into it more seamlessly by planning ahead and setting some short term goals. I know from previous experience that when I jumped into overdoing an activity too quickly without spacing out the sessions and building up to them I got injured. As we age this is even more important for us to consider; we can't always do what we once have done. I supposed the following phrase is also appropriate, squash really isn't like riding bike. So please think about concentrating on small adaptations which in time will do what they are meant to do and help you get back to where you want to be.
If what I've mentioned above doesn't interest you there are plenty of other ways to get active and fit. There is boxing, yoga, swimming, crossfit, trx, spin classes, skipping, etc. Find what works for your body and start planning out your comeback. Be prepared for it and you will not only play better squash, but enjoy your squash that much more too!
Hopefully I've at least given a few of you some motivation to get back into a training and active lifestyle mindset. I feel like most squash players use squash as their only source of exercise. I've heard many club members over the years say how much they dislike the gym and running, etc and that squash is an enjoyable way for them to exercise. These are the people I'm most concerned about, but they are also less likely to do what is necessary off-court or in fact read a blog article like this.
Once you get back on court I would also suggest starting with some static drills and slowly building your way up to rallies. If you're looking for some simple, static drills keep an eye on the Serious Squash Instagram, Facebook or Youtube accounts where I will be posting many examples. Also remember you don't have to play a full match the first time you are able to. I urge all of you, from beginner, to experienced pro and regardless of age to be sensible and focus on your comeback 1 step at a time.
SeriousSquahShop.com - Video analysis, Signature Racquet and the new Canadian version tees!
Patreon.com/SeriousSquash - still going strong 1+ year in! There's a new episode every Monday.
Youtube.com/SeriousSquash - I've been trying to post more regularly here. Will be able to post some longer clips here once the club opens back up.
My interview on the 'In Squash Podcast': https://soundcloud.com/gerry-gibson-485133288/episode-142-chris-hanebury
May 20 2020 1:45PM
Now that some squash clubs have reopened and the rumour of this happening sometime soon here in Ontario I thought it would be prevalent to discuss solo hitting. In most of the phase 1's of reopening it's being recommended that people can only solo hit or practice with people from the same household. I'm lucky in the fact that I'm currently living with my brother so we can have some good sessions when the club opens, but not everyone is in this same situation so let's see how can best ease our way back into squash.
A few weeks ago I posted the instructional video, 'The Secrets Of Solo Hitting' on the Serious Squash Youtube channel. I've posted the link here below if you're looking for some solo drills to do when your local club opens up. To maximize the limited time you get on court I recommend going in with a plan about what you want to practice. The simpler the drill at the beginning the better. If the drills in the below film are too advanced try some sidewall drives or even a bit of short hitting.
The Secrets Of Solo Hitting
I know for me it's been over 2 months since I've been on court and my calluses are slowly disappearing. When I get back on court it may actually hurt to hold the racquet again. This happened to me once when I travel for 5 weeks and then got back on court. Luckily now I've been using kettlebells a lot for training so I still have a few calluses which will make my transition a little easier than it would have otherwise been.
If you haven't been doing any training you will also want to make sure you do at least a light warmup before solo hitting. Think about trying to warmup your arm before solo hitting. Doing some arm swings or throwing a ball nice and easy or using a workout band can ensure you don't injure anything when you first get back on court. You don't see pitchers come out of the bullpen with no warmup and you shouldn't either.
When you get back on court I also suggest adding in some physical training. If our goal is to get back to drills end eventually matches we have to be working on our strength, mobility and cardio. As I mentioned in my interview on The In Squash Podcast last week, most people need to improve their core and lower body strength so they can get into the correct hitting posture. Fyi the episode is set to come out later this week (episode 143 I believe) so make sure to subscribe to the podcast and you should find it there soon.
When you're on court doing your solo hitting try adding in some lunges and possibly even some ghosting. You don't need to be on court to do some of the other important exercises like planks, squats or 1 leg deadlifts. If you make the time to implement these types of exercises into your training you will see a benefit when we can get finally get back into regular matches. Not only will your game improve, but you will be less likely to get injured during this transition phase. I too will have to ease my way back into. Remember that squash is a very explosive and intense sport therefore our risks of injury after a long layoff will be substantially elevated.
If you're looking for a video on some of the exercises mentioned above you can find them here:
6 Squash Specific Home Exercises
If you have already been keeping up with your basic movement exercises and you'd like to have some workout ideas checkout the Serious Squash Youtube playlist which I have been updating with a new session each week: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzYXhBuUol3Tx4MV2l0nfoJ-5mRN853iB These are all exercises that will help you get fitter, stronger and play better squash. I record them live each Friday at 1pm eastern time on the London Squash Instagram account (come join in on the sessions!).
It's clearly evident that as a coach I'm concerned on reducing the risk of injury when we get back on court. I know most squash players only want to play matches and almost never do a proper warmup, so I'm worried that those people will be at a high risk of injury. If you're taking the time to read a blog post like this you're probably more conscientious about your squash and I believe you are more likely to follow my general precautions.
On a final note on this topic I'd also like to suggest easing your way into it, yes even solo hitting. Don't go in and hit the ball as hard as you can for an hour and expect not to do some damage. Especially if you're a middle aged or older squash player you have to be more patient easing your way back to where you were pre club closure.
I'd like to finish off by going over some of the safety protocols I'm looking at implementing as a coach. When my club opens again it will be in phases. At the beginning it will likely only be same household or solo court bookings. We will also probably only use some of the courts and spread out the time between bookings. I won't offer any group sessions, at least for the first few phases. When I give lessons I will be the only 1 handling the ball and opening and closing the court door. In my lessons we will always be on opposite sides of the court, which is fine for coaching, especially when easing someone back into squash. I believe our club is going to order some of the iMask's + full face shields so I will probably have to wear one as I will be in contact with a lot of people. This will likely make it more difficult to communicate and provide instruction.
As we move along in the phases of reopening our clubs there will be a stage where people will have a bubble of 2-3 players they can play with so if anyone does ever have have Covid-19 it will be easy to narrow down who has to be quarantined. I know our club is also doing a comprehensive overhaul to make the club as safe as possible and reduce the risk of any cross-contamination. Everything from how to open and close the front door, having automated paper towel dispensers, no towel service plus having masks and hand sanitizer available for all. This is how clubs have to change to avoid being a potential hotbed for future outbreaks.
Squash is considered a high risk sport, but there are a lot of ways we can make squash safe. For awhile I was worried about the future of my career. It would be impossible to imagine changing careers at this point. Squash is all I've known and all I've done for so long now I don't even know where I'd start. Thankfully it looks like the light at the end of tunnel is starting to appear and squash can again be a part of all of our lives.
Next week on episode 54 of Squash Shots (Patreon.com/SeriousSquash) I'm going to discuss both the pain and beauty of stairs and hill sprints. I did a lot of this training in my university days and now that the weather is getting better it's an excellent way to combine cardio and strength training.
The 'Monster' Hill That I Trained On While At University
On a final note, I've decided to take down my instructional films in the Serious Squash Shop for the time being. With the clubs being closed for a while now there isn't as much demand as there once was. But I do want to thank everyone who has purchased a copy over the years. I've probably sold over 1,000 copies of the various films and most noticeably was The Secrets Of Solo Hitting, which I have posted for free up above. The online store is still active and at the moment only has video analysis, my final master's project, plus the Serious Squash racquet and the new tees. If you want to check them out you can do so SeriousSquashShop.com That's all for this week. I hope all of you are safe, healthy and doing your best to stay active.
May 15 2020 8:58AM
This week there's a few exciting things to announce. Let's start off with the biggest one! It was officially announced today that I am the new head coach of the Western Ontario's mens varsity squash team. I played on the team from 2006-2009 and it was one of the best times of my squash career. I played and trained with some great friends and I really enjoyed collegiate squash.
Jack Fairs was my coach and he's such a great man and a legend in squash, so I'm excited about the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. Western is the only Canadian team that competes in the US in the College Squash Association (CSA). Last year the team had a strong season and finished 11th overall and I'm looking forward to helping the team get back up into the top 8.
Pic and old school UWO shirt credit to my brother
When I was at Western we finished 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th over my 4 years. We only had 1 home match in those 4 seasons and I was also a driver for most of our away matches. There were and still are a lot of challenges being the only Canadian team, but now having a full time coach we are 1 step closer to the top teams in the CSA.
Since the alumni have raised enough money to bring me onboard we can support that the team needs to compete with the US schools who have much larger budgets and more resources available to them. Recently I've been working on the teams training schedule and some fitness and technical testing measures for next season.
Western has been the top Canadian squash team for years
If you'd like to find out more out Western you can do so here: https://westernmustangs.ca/sports/mens-squash Also if you have any questions about the men's variety team you are welcome to contact me at email@example.com There's a large UWO Squash email database where I will be sending out team updates and if you're an alumni or simply a squash supporter and you'd like to be included on the distribution list please send your email address.
After winning another OUA title at White Oaks
Believe it or not this isn't the only exciting news this week. Two days ago I was interviewed for the In Squash Podcast by Gerry Gibson. We had a good chat and talked about a lot things which I hope the squash world will find interesting. It should be published soon and I'll add the link to a later post or you can find it wherever you listen to podcasts. I will also be doing another interview for an Australian sports company called Sportageous who are looking to highlight a variety of sports, including squash. Stay tuned for that piece as well.
Another cool thing happened this week. I celebrated my 1 year anniversary of Squash Shots! I've now published 52 episodes and the topics are wide ranging. Recently I've focused more on the off court training side of squash, but I do have a neat post set for next week looking at what breaks down in your posture and swing under pressure. I used some old footage of me to demonstrate and explain this. If you're interested in subscribing you can do so at Patreon.com/SeriousSquash for as little as $3/month
I've also had some excellent feedback on the limited edition Serious Squash Canadian tees. In the first week I sold over 25% of the incoming stock. Thanks to everyone who preordered a tee or has supported Serious Squash in anyway over the years! The shirts will be arriving shortly and I will mail them out asap. If you'd like to preorder one you can still do so here: https://serioussquashshop.com/collections/serious-squash-limited-edition-canadian-themed-shirt
The New Serious Squash Canadian Tee
Don't forget I'm still doing a weekly live workout on the @LondonSquash Instagram account. So far they've all been on Friday at 1pm eastern standard time, but with how wild the weather is recently that could change week by week. These workouts are focused on mostly improving your core and lower body strength. This week I'm going to introduce the split squat and side lunge and I also have another challenging circuit mapped out. After recording I will post them to a home workout playlist on the Serious Squash Youtube channel. You can find the playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzYXhBuUol3Tx4MV2l0nfoJ-5mRN853iB
I'd also like to bring up Squash Canada's 'Return To Play Recommendations.' This is a pretty comprehensive guide for coaches, players, club managers and owners about how we can safely get back into the squash clubs prior to a vaccine being produced. I can already imagine how squash is going to change for the next while and therefore so will my job. No matter the precautions we have to implement I'm excited about this announcement and the fact that squash is getting closer to returning. If you'd like to read the recommendations you can do so here: http://squash.ca/en/news/squashcanadapublishesreturnplayrecommendationsclubscoachesandplayers
I should also mention I just finished a 3 day fast on Wednesday. I've heard there are lots of health benefits from doing so and my brother was already planning on doing it so I decided to join him. He normally does it once per month and I'm still on the fence about if I'll be joining him next month or not. All I had was coffee and water for almost 72 hours. I don't think I would be able to do this while I'm coaching, but it was nice to be able to try something different during this time off. Any of you have any experience with fasting? Or fasting and sport?
With no squash I thought I would do a week of posting some of my old skill challenges. I'm going to post 1 each of the next 7 days. Here are days 1, 2 and 3:
Throwback Skill Challenge #1: Half Butterfly And Switch
Throwback Skill Challenge #2: Butterfly Twist - Forehand To Front Corners, Backhand To Back Corners
Throwback Skill Challenge #3: Sitting Down Backward Figure 8 Volleys
Throwback Skill Challenge #3: Sitting Down Backward Figure 8 Volleys
Follow Serious Squash on Youtube, Instagram or Facebook for the next 4 skill challenge releases! I hope all of you are staying safe and healthy. If your squash club is back open I'd be interested to hear how it's going so far and what you're allowed to do and not do.
May 6 2020 8:52AM
Another week of social distancing and waiting patiently for squash to get going again. I'm still managing to keep busy trying to prepare for next season and also doing some fun Serious Squash stuff. I thought for this week I would share what I've been up to and finish off by talking about how important it will be to ease back into squash and what exactly that might look like once we get the green light.
Earlier this week I ordered a small batch of Canadian themed Serious Squash tees. I ordered 3 colours and just 40 in total. I thought it was fitting to do a Canadian version since I'm now back in Canada.
The New Serious Squash Tees
Since I got back to London it's been quite cold. We've had lots of snow and I've only left the house about 4 times in the past 6 weeks. On Sunday we finally got a nice day, the sun was out and it was around 20 degrees. I wasn't sure what exactly I was going to do with my racquet, but I brought it and a squash ball with me. It resulted in the following collaboration of skill challenges and fun trick shots.
Sunday Fun Day With A Squash Racquet + Ball
What else have I been up to this past week? I filmed home workout #3 and it was a doozy. It was a lot tougher than I had anticipated. If you want a challenging squash specific workout you can find the video below. After the warmup the circuit consisted of lunging forwards and backwards 2x per leg and then 6 squats. I did these with weights and for 13 sets. I started each new set on the minute so its a 13 minute workout and the rest time was usually only about 20 seconds. This coming Friday I have another challenging circuit planned. If you want to join along live check out @LondonSquash on Instagram. You can also find the workouts posted at a later date on the Serious Squash Youtube channel. If you don't have any kettlebells at home I highly recommend picking some up!
Squash Specific Home Workout #3
Next Monday is episode 52 of Squash Shots makes it 1 year of publishing weekly coaching videos on Patreon. I've learned a lot from filming them and I'm starting to get better at editing video and filming. Here is episode 51 which was on tracking hard movements. Hopefully we can get back into the squash courts soon so I can begin filming some new on court footage.
Squash Shots Episode 51: Tracking Hard Movements
I've had quite a few meetings over the past week. I've had meetings about the Nash Cup (a pro tournament here in London), Squash Ontario junior committee and a few club board meetings. I'm not as busy as I will be when I actually start work again, but I do have lots on the go plus I'm trying to get in at least 5 workouts per week. Last week I started up a monthly newsletter at my club and the first edition was sent out on May 1st. There were surprisingly a lot of updates for a closed club.
I have a feeling we are all underestimating how difficult it's going to be to get back into a hard match. Even if you are exercising at home and staying active a hard match is much more explosive and tougher on the body than anything we are currently doing. This means we will all be susceptible to injury when we first get back. This is why I believe it's super important to ease our way back into squash when are allowed to do so. This means that we should build our way up to matches by doing some simple set drills and eventually progressing to rotating drives and length games. Solo hitting and ghosting will be really effective too and of course we will benefit from actually warming up and cooling down properly. I also recommend spreading out our first few sessions.
When I was younger I had a rule that for how long I had taken off squash (say 1 month) it would take 2x that amount of time to get back to where I was. Now that I'm getting older this rule could be even a little longer. Seeing that it's going to be at a minimum 2 months, more likely 3 or 4, give yourself at least double that amount of time to get back to where you last were.
A number of years ago I went on a trip to Asia for 5 weeks and I remember when I came back and went on court my hand hurt. Five weeks was all it took for my calluses to almost completely disappear. Now I should be in better shape because I'm regularly using kettlebells which are helping me maintain my calluses.
Lastly, I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the ways squash will change. I'm on a subcommittee at my club on how to safely reopen and play squash again. I read an article on tennis and they had some ideas that I will transfer to our squash club. There are a number of areas which we will have to consider. One idea the tennis article discussed was having different sets of balls for each player so they never have to touch the same ball. In squash this is something we will have to do as well, but it will be more difficult because our ball has to stay warm and not every ball bounces the same. I believe this will be a protocol though. Another difficult area to overcome will be not touching the walls. I often wiped my hand on the sidewall as part of a focusing routine and to keep my hand dry. When we get back to competition we won't be allowed to do this (or we shouldn't be allowed).
Another tough question is wow do you open and close the court doors? Will we have a glove in our pocket we put on? Will there be a way to use a foot pedal of some sort to open it? Will just 1 person her be able to open the door and it must be sanitized after each use? Will we be forced to wear masks, or what I hear they've been working on for hockey is a full face shield (see image below). Maybe this is something the iMask can adopt and extend further over ones face. I can't imagine playing squash with a paper mask or even a cloth mask covering my mouth.
The Bauer Hockey Full Face Shield To Protect Against The Spread Of Covid-19
Another major area of concern is how close we are to our opponent in squash. In tennis it is easier to socially distance. In squash we often get close to them. This could mean that you are only allowed to play with a partner you are quarantined with or perhaps 2 people who have already had Covid-19. Maybe we will have to stick to crosscourt games and short versus deep so we can stay as far away from one another as possible. Maybe we will have to start off just with solo hitting? There's lots to consider here about how to safely reopen and get back on court.
How group programs, leagues and tournaments are going to operate is whole other discussion and I certainly don't have all of the information yet. So let's wrap things up for this week. If you'd like to preorder a Serious Squash tee you can do so at SeriousSquashShop.com They are expected to be in stock within the next 3 weeks and I will be shipping them out shortly after.
Other Serious Squash links:
Squash Shots: Patreon.com/SeriousSquash
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