Squash News From Around The World - Serious Squash

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I'm pretty confident that I'm not the only one out there who thinks like this...

As adults we think that best times of our lives are in our lives were when we were kids. When we were young we had fun everyday. We would play, we weren't stressed out about stuff like bills or our kids. When we were young the future was also bright and full of possibilities. We could do anything in the world we wanted when we grew up. Now as someone approaching middle age I can't help but wake up in the morning and realize that THIS is my life. This is what I have become and who I will be until the day I die. Which for the record I hope is not for a few more good decades.

Now as a fairly responsible adult who goes to work, pays his bills on time and doesn't go out partying with his friends on the weekends, this is my life and my contribution as part of a responsible adult society. When we were young, at least when I was, I always assumed a path wouldn't naturally open up and I would eventually figure out what it was I was going to do for a living. For much of my childhood I was sure it would be a professional squash player, but that wasn't very plausible or reasonable. Although when I was young I didn't care that it wasn't reasonable and that I wouldn't make lots of money. I absolutely loved squash and was very dedicated towards my dream for a number of years. 

So what's changed now as an adult? I didn't become a pro squash player so my childhood dream didn't quite pan out like I thought they would. I've been pretty happy with my coaching career up to now and I feel like I've made a difference in peoples lives, especially kids. This is kind of just something that felt like a natural progression for me to follow. At university I was a player-captian and it just made sense that I still loved the game and it was my time to give back to the sport I've loved most of my life. 

For the past 7 years I've been coaching and there have been parts I've enjoyed and others I haven't. What I find interesting and what this post is really all about is that over this period of time I've spent a lot of time reflecting about my past and what I could have been. I see or hear of some person who is fulfilling his dream and I wish that was me. I could have been a pro squash player if I didn't quit when I was a kid. I should have asked out a certain girl from school. I think about the job I shouldn't have taken or girl I shouldn't have dated. I think these types of things are all very normal things to reflect on. But what I realized recently is that I spent so much of my time thinking about the past that I was acting like the best part of my life was behind me and that my opportunity to have the type of future I always dreamed about was long gone. 

People who are not happy with their job or relationship feel like they are stuck and that they can't do anything about it. It was refreshing hearing a story about George Mumford in his book The Mindful Athlete say that he was miserable in an accounting job, but none of his co-workers would leave because they were dependant on the money they were now making. George decided to leave with no idea about what he was going to do next. I can't imagine any adult doing something so drastic without a plan in mind. It's irrational and something only a child would do, no? Well he made a whole new life for himself and it sounds like he is quite happy with his life changing decision. He was so brave take that first step and it completely changed his life. 

So why as adults do we feel like it's too late to do something worthwhile, something more or something better? How do we get out of being so comfortable with our day to day to live how we want to live and do things that get our creative juices flowing? 

As destructive as it is in squash to be thinking of the previous rally in the current one it can be just as deadly in other areas of our lives. This doesn't mean you have to change everything about who you are or what you do, but maybe you just have to take a look at your life and see what if there is something you've always wanted to do and have given up on it. Do you continue to procrastinate about something because you're comfortable with your current life and have trouble changing your mindset and finding the motivation to start? 

For me personally I just started to realize that I took work too serious sometimes and it became work, when it should have been more enjoyable because I love squash and I love working with kids. So for me it wasn't even changing anything in particular it was just my mindset. I also decided to finally get my knee surgery which will hopefully allow me to play squash again at a competitive level and perhaps I can compete in some competitions one day soon. A few months ago I also started filming skill challenges just for fun. I stopped thinking about what I hadn't done and started doing things I wanted to do. 

I had no reason behind doing any of these things other than I just enjoyed inventing new skills and trying to see what I could do. Spending time doing things like these challenges or writing this blog is way I take control of my life now while I also create am exciting future with endless possibilities. I also recently designed some Serious Squash merchandise just for the heck of it. Why invest with a bank when I can invest in myself! Where will this all lead? I don't really know, but I'm doing things that I enjoy and creating my own unique path for my life. I'm living and enjoying each day because of what I get to do and rarely do I catch myself drifting off to my childhood and wondering what could have been because I am making things happen that are way cooler than I could have ever dreamed of. 

I feel like once things begin to happen and fall in place I was happier and more confident in what I'm doing with my life. Recently a squash company reached out to me and has expressed interest to sponsor me (including some cash, yes a retainer!) to produce my skill challenges for them. I don't know where this will lead, but I enjoy the possibilities and the creativeness behind my unique path. I followed my passion and doors began to open. 

I still enjoy writing these blog posts when I have time and a topic that fascinates me. I've always wanted to design some clothing so I'm excited about this as well. I'm not doing any of these things for the money and I think that's a big reason that they motivate me. If I simply followed my coaching to where I could cash the biggest pay cheque I know that I would never be happy. It's crazy how money can corrupt people and control their lives and trying my best to not let that happen to me. Good thing I don't have expensive taste :)

I'm not saying I have it all figured out and I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging. I'm only writing this post in the hopes that it may inspire someone else like George Mumford did to me. It's never too late to have a dream if we just start doing things we want to do instead of only the things we have to do. If you've always wanted to write a book, or run a marathon, volunteer or become a professional squash skill challenger why not do it now? Maybe just write 1 page for your book with no other expectations. Just because other people may think it's irrational and not support you if you do what you love, I believe that your passion will shine through and people will be attracted to that. Most importantly is that you too will feel more fulfilled and find some joy with the path you've created for yourself.

I hate when adults try to make kids grow up too fast. I feel like most adults like to see kids maturing and becoming responsible young versions of themselves, but what happens when the kids in them is completely gone and they don't find any joy in their life anymore? It reminds me a bit of how adults try and tell kids how to play squash; that they must play high percentage shots, taking away all the creativity and passion for the game. This is what we are all susceptible to and even more so as we get older.

Even though I was training in the hopes to playing professional squash for many years it was because of this that I learned that I could do anything I put my mind to. I simply needed to find something that I was as passionate about again before I could put the same time commitment and love into as I had once my squash. To me squash training wasn't work it was how I wanted to spend my time just like when I write a post or film a new skill challenge. Nobody was forcing me to go to squash or train. It's a shame when adults live years of their lives and don't do anything with passion influencing their life. It doesn't always have to be something big to be significant. 

I've always kept squash close to my heart and it has brought me to where I am today. I'm creating my own path and doing what I believe is best for me, not what others believe is best for me. I'm sure many coaches think that what I'm doing with the skill challenges is immature or a waste of time, but I could care less. Some of the stuff I'm doing will work out others may not, but I'd never know if I only sat by and never tried any of it. I sat by long enough and now I'm making things happen for myself. There's no time like now for you to do the same. 

I'd like to finish off with a quote I recently read on Twitter which really hit home for me. 'The best gift you can give to someone is believing in their success..' This is true for yourself too! Don't stop dreaming or acting like a kid sometimes. It's never too late to make a change and do what you want or become what you want to be. The only thing stopping most of us is our brain. If you've always wanted to travel to or even move to Australia, get a new job, become a musician, no matter what it is you can do any of it if you really want to. 

Go ahead, come up with a ridiculously awesome goal that you would love to happen? Think about it for awhile. What's the first step you could take towards achieving it? Because remember if you want it bad enough you CAN do it. You just need 1 person to believe in you, and that person has to be you! When YOU start believing in yourself life becomes exciting and the future is full of possibilities. You won't need to live vicariously through your kids anymore if you make time for doing something for yourself or with your kids. If you are lucky to enough to know what I mean I'm fairly certain that you also spend very little time reflecting on your past because you find more joy and fulfillment in the present moment. Right now is all that matters. 

Jun 13 2016 8:47PM

SMUS Squash

I've written over 200 posts and I only recently realized that not a single one of those talk about the squash program I run at St. Michaels University School here in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. When I first moved to Victoria it was to do my Masters of Education in Coaching Studies at the University of Victoria.  While I was working on my degree I began coaching at St. Michaels also referred to as SMUS. This first season was just 5 years ago. During this time the program and the squash courts were still quite new. There were only around a dozen kids on the Senior School Competitive Team that I worked with. We would practice for 1 hour twice per week. I vividly recall that first practice in September when most of the kids hadn't played since the previous spring and could not even do rotating drives! Well, thankfully after a lot of patience and dedication things have dramatically improved.
Five years ago we had no Middle School Competitive Team, no team uniform and very few B level kids. When the occasional decent grade 8 showed up in the after school recreational program we would invite them to come up and practice with our high school kids. Year by year we grew in numbers and strength. 

This previous season was our biggest and most successful to date. This season we had 3 Senior School Competitive Teams (Regional, Provincial and National Teams). Each of these teams had between 7 and 12 students in them. The National and Provincial squads each run from September to the end of May, 3 times per week for an hour and a half each. The Regional Team had 2 practices per week, but that was bumped up to 3 later in the season. 

This season was also a first for having a Middle School Competitive Team. After spending a number of years with only having a competitive Senior School stream I was finally able to convince the school of the necessity of our kids being introduced to competitive earlier. We had 12 kids on this Middle School Team and they practiced 3 times per week for an hour each session. So yes, I had a very busy year! 

I have a terrific assistant coach, Giselle Delgado who plays professionally as well. She only took up squash at university and it's amazing to see how far she's come in such a short period of time. She coaches all the above mentioned competitive teams with me. We have 2 other coaches that run the Junior School Program and the Recreational Ones. We are also lucky that we have an assistant to the athletic director who helps with consent forms and booking all the ferry, hotels and plane tickets. 

At SMUS we cover every level and every grade! There are certainly hundreds of kids that get to play squash every year at the school and around  35-40 are playing combatively. For having just 4 courts we have spent a lot of time working on the scheduling to make sure everyone has access. I'm hoping that the future construction of the school will include more squash courts so we can offer even more programs and court time to our most dedicated athletes as we expand. 

Our tournament schedule for the previous season is quite typical. Our top players play 4-6 junior events within the province, the Alberta Jesters, The Canadian Junior Open and the Junior Nationals. We have also taken groups of our top kids to the Ivy League Scrimmages numerous times to watch the level of the College game. Next season we are working on a trip to the British and Sottish Open for a couple of our top players. Hopefully in 5 to 10 years from now this will be something we can do annually and with a larger group. 

The SMUS Squash program has had some terrific results at the junior level and after. We've had 1boy and 1 girl play on Junior National Teams. We have 1 boy and 2 girls currently playing on American Collegiate teams (1 at Amherst, 1 at Dartmouth and 1 at Dickinson). We have an alumni who was an all American in 2014/2015 at Princeton and she is now playing professionally. Another boy of the same year was a member on the National Championship Team at Harvard. Our top girl this season finished 2nd in the under 19 division and has had lots of interest from a number of schools. We had two other girls that finished in the top 8 at nationals (1 under 17 and the other under 13) as well as 1 boy (under 13). 

If a child is on one of the Competitive Teams at SMUS their weekly schedule would look a lot like this; three team practices per week, Junior Squash League on Saturday, many will take a weekly private lesson and some also participate in the local adult league. We are also fortunate that the school has an excellent Physical Education program and the kids are regularly running, learning how to train and playing other sports. There is also a Senior School PE program where the kids learn how to build a personal training program for their sport and then spend the class time each week doing the training they've outlined. I'm hoping next season to include some lunchtime training, solo hitting, feedback or ball machine work for the most dedicated kids. Things are definitely moving in the right direction and it's exciting to see the program expand and expand both in numbers and in caliber. 

So far I've only talked about the SMUS Squash Program, but in fact it is most recognized because of their amazing academics. You can do some research on their website here: https://www.smus.ca There is boarding and we have introduce a number of them to squash and had 2 on the Senior School Competitive Teams this season, both of which only were introduced into the sport in grade 9! 

Growing up attending Catholic and Public schools I always thought private school kids would be kind of stuck up (yes a stereotype from the movies!). I was quite surprised how different things were and still are. For the most part the kids are respectful, have a good work ethic, are intelligent and well mannered. If the stereotype was true, I would have moved on a long time ago. I mean, really if this school was like that would they ever allow a graduating class to design (and yes they use it!) this cool looking 'Blue Jags' logo??

Basically my evenings and weekend from September to June are spent almost entirely up at SMUS. Sundays are for lessons, Monday to Friday is Team practices and Saturday is Junior League that I take a take turns running with 2 other coaches. For July and August Giselle and I run 2 x 1.5 hour practices at a local squash club for 3 different skill levels. June is my month to take a bit of a break and recharge for the summer training sessions and camps. Every season we make small tweaks and changes. This past season we there were lots of positive changes. We even had our top 5 Junior School (grade 1-5) kids come up and join some of the Middle School Competitive kids for 2 months of practices at the end of the season. 

Trying to get more going at the Junior School level is one of my next main priorities. I'm also hoping to get some weekly office hours to talk with the kids about training, tournaments and practice. I'm just lucky that I have 3 other coaches helping at the school because I certainly am unable to run all of these programs on my own. 

This was certainly a long overdo post, but I am proud of what is happening at the school and the direction that we're heading. If you have a child interested in St. Michaels I would be happy to answer any questions about the squash program and put you in touch with the admissions office. I truly feel like we are well on our way to having one of the top school squash programs in the world. I'm also confident that we currently have more kids playing now and that will play for the rest of their lives than any other program in Canada. Oh and incase you've never been, Victoria is a pretty beautiful place to call home ;) 

Today I should warn you I am going to go on a bit of a rant and it's a long post. I'm a true believer that squash should be fun and also that you get out what you put into it. If you love squash and want to get better you simply need to put in the time and effort and you will get to where you want to be eventually. If you don't have that drive you won't get to where others should think you should be. It's kind of like Matt Damon in the movie Good Will Hunting. I get the sense in squash that many of us are pressing our kids for results and unfortunately some of these kids end up dropping out of our great sport for this reason. I see this all of the time after kids finish grinding away their four years at college.

I feel that junior squash has become so competitive that it has zapped out a lot of fun from the game. Many countries have these robot type children all playing the same style of squash. Coaches feel pressure to produce top kids and often disregard the reasons the kids they have play squash. A big problem is that a major objective for governing bodies is to have elite high performance programs with elite and high standard kids they can stand from afar and admire and be proud of. Many kids themselves on doubt feel pressure to make certain teams or get accepted to a good university with a squash team. I have to admit that I'm guilty of this at times too. I have talented athletes that could achieve so much more, but in the end I have to remember that what they do with squash isn't my decision it is theirs. Squash can certainly open up a lot of doors for you and the higher the level you become, generally the more opportunities it will present to you. This is where I believe that motivation is the most important trait a coach can have. It doesn't matter how well you understand the game or teach the squash swing if a kid isn't intrinsically motivated to practice and get better.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a world champion. Yes I'm aware that didn't happen, but this can make it challenging to work with kids that have lower goals for their own squash games; especially when they have the skills and resources available to them. This is where I have to take a step back and listen to what the kids want out of squash and to how good they want to be. It's been an interesting challenge working at a school and starting up many of the kids from scratch. Most just come to practice and play for fun and enjoy competing while along the way have become pretty decent players. But these kids started playing just because we offered it at their school and they happened to be good at it or have fun playing. After 5 years running this program we do have some pretty strong players now and a few are keen to do independent training to become one of the best in Canada. 

At a school sometimes kids are just registered in a specific program and have the skills to be in a specific group. So even though there are different levels of kids within our system, there are many various motivating factors and aspirations for their squash careers. I feel this variety has given me a better perspective on junior squash as a whole. Not every kid is going to be a provincial or national champion, but that doesn't mean the kids can't all enjoy squash and play it for the rest of their lives. And for a select few of these kids that do have the potential and drive to become a top caliber player that we then have the ability to provide the guidance and program to facilitate this. Let's get back to our topic! 

I know this is a roundabout way to get to this point, but I wanted to give a clear personal perspective before I got into this topic. I hear that Squash BC and Squash Canada will soon be mandating that their recognized targeted athletes (as in being on a provincial squad) must have an annual training plan. At first I thought, well okay that seems reasonable for our top juniors. Then I started to think about this a little further. As soon as we have a policy that states a kid 'must' do anything the motivation moves from intrinsic to extrinsic. You can see how I immediately started worrying about this new policy and started to think it over further. 

I also began to think about if an actual yearly training plan is always appropriate for all kids just because their good at squash? Are the being kids identified in British Columbia and Canada talented and dedicated enough to all benefit from being on an annual training plan? Are we going to be pushing them at too young of an age because of the pressure WE feel for them to play at a higher national or international standard? When I was a kid I would have loved this, but only if it was optional and I had this option available to me because I was a top player. If I was told I had to do this or that I don't think it would have gone over too well. 

From my coaching perspective at the school the program has grown every season, but even for some of our top kids we're still working on getting them to want to train without saying they must do it. One of our biggest steps was helping the tops kids develop their own off season training program for this summer. But even this summer training program was made optional. I gave them suggestions and said it would greatly benefit for their games, but I realize not all of them are super keen to focus on training for squash year round. They are kids after all so who can blame them.

Without a doubt if these kids were on an annual training plan and stuck to them they would become better squash players in the short term. If the kids continued on this plan for a long period of time they would definitely benefit from it, but is this reason enough to implement a mandatory annual training program?

I feel most of these kids are not ready for this level of commitment. I will likely have 2-4 kids that must have an annual training plan for next season. I feel this is a sign of the sport becoming more professional at the junior level. If we want our kids to get a variety scholarship or make a national team a training plan would be great, but how many of these athletes have these goals? Would it not be worth finding out their goals and motivation first?

From a sporting government body I get it completely. We want to do better at the world stage at both the junior and senior level. As adults we know what's best for our kids, right? So mandating annual training plans is clearly a necessary requirement to producing stronger high performance pathway? Maybe they should listen to some of the coaches and athletes before they go ahead and implement this policy. 

I always like to think about things from different perspectives and creative angles. I've already discussed a few of the issues I have with this protocol, but here are a few of my pros and cons of mandating our top kids to annual training plans. 

Pros To Forcing Kids To Have Annual Training Plans
- the kids will be fitter, faster, stronger
- the governing bodies will meet their funding requirements
- scheduled rest time in the year 
- emphasis is placed on peaking for larger tournaments 
- you have a plan and goals and feel in control of your development
- it keeps you on track by helping you get into a routine
- this helps you stay on track over the season
- our kids will get a glimpse of what a professional squash player's life is like
- this is an effective way to guide a highly motivated athlete 

Cons Of Forcing Kids To Have Annual Training Plans
- makes playing competitively more serious and less fun
- increased dropout of sport
- you can become overwhelmed and immersed by the quantity of data and your training load and lose focus on what is most important, which is the quality of your training on that particular day
- motivation for playing and training can becomes extrinsic
- putting a focus on fitness means kids will develop their shots and tactics slower and could be prone to playing less attacking squash (which I feel is the current and future of the game)
- I feel like the biggest improvement most kids can make in squash is by improving their tactics and skill set. I bet there are some top world class players that never had an annual training plan when they were kids and instead of spending time in the gym lifting weights they were on court hitting the ball! 
- not every kids is mentally or physically ready for an annual training plan
- some kids are fine physically and need to focus more on learning the squash part of the game (technical and tactical) and annual training plans in my opinion should be more geared toward physical training
- I believe that increasing importance of specific competitions puts extra pressure on the kids. I believe in continually improving your own game regardless on the time of the season
- training plans generally call for less technical focus prior to competitions, but there are so many competitions for kids that unless it's a few days before a tournament I will always take an opportunity to improve someone's knowledge or swing. My first couple of years coaching I would avoid changing things before competing, but the kids are constantly competing so that didn't work
- isn't the best way for someone to get better to either play a match or solo hit? I know other things are key, but for me I'm always wanting a kid to do these things first before any other additional off court training is scheduled 
- If a kid does want to start an annual training plan shouldn't certified personal trainers set up these routines? Seriously, aren't they more qualified than the squash coaches?
- I've seen some pretty detailed and outrageous annual training plans that I know were not adhered to whatsoever. So really, what's the point of designing some amazing plan if it isn't going to be followed?
- how do you follow a kids plan when they train as part of a larger group who may've different training objectives? 
- promotes early specialization. I believe a lot of these kids that would be on this program would be better off just playing a 2nd or 3rd sport of cross training and for fun. This isn't just geared towards the junior national team players and trickles much further down the rankings and age groups

Okay, you get the point. You can see I can think of many more cons than pros for this argument. But clearly we are following the lead of other counties or even other sports. Why don't we come up with our own intelligent and creative way to assist our kids? Of course if you're a rower or in a purely endurance based sport a training plan and pure athleticism is key to success, but in squash there is so much to learn and know and just by playing we get fitter, stronger and faster and I think it should be treated differently. 

I'm sure I will get some criticism for my points here. I have to say that I am not against training programs at all, just against forcing teenagers to have them simply because of their provincial or national ranking. When I've worked with some professional players we would work month by month and adjust as necessary. If someone need more work in a certain area we keeping working on it. How often are people with annual training plans adjusting them based on how they're developing? At least for most of the kids I work with, I've been concentrating on getting them to understand different types of training, how it benefits them and most importantly to motivate them to want to do it and see the benefits of training. 

It will be interesting to see how things develop. It reminds me of my interview with Wee Wern Low and how she said she felt forced to go work with a 'better' coach, but she trusted her instinct and did what she felt was best for her and she kept the coach she had since she was 12. There are also similar rules stating that someone has to have a certain qualification to coach an athlete that they already work with at a provincial or national event and of course the Olympics. These rules are meant to help the athletes and get the coaches to spend time working on their certifications, but this system doesn't always work. 

I really enjoy people that think like Wee Wern Low as they kind of beat the system and show us that we shouldn't be so focused on say, how hard a pitcher throws a baseball or a squash player hits a ball or the certification or experience a coach has. Because really a squash player isn't going to get very far without the tactical, mental and technical skills. All of these other 3 skills are things that I am always talking about and working on with kids, regardless of the time of season. 

This topic also reminds me of a book I recently read titled 'How Bad Do You Want It' by Matt Fitzgerald. He made an interesting point about the best endurance runners. Fitzgerald discussed evidence that the top runners were comprised of a mixture of slightly lower V02max and more efficient running styles while others had a higher V02max, but because of this they always had less efficient running styles. This hits home for me in squash about how retrievers fail to develop shots or attacking tactics while those that have to because they are not as fast or fit do so. So I do think there is something to be said for learning how to play squash and developing your shots and tactics before becoming too fast, strong and fit and just winning because your run everything down. If a kid wins simply because he or she overhits or outruns their peers they are most likely to have a setback in their development of the tactics and shot making skills that their peers must have. Do you agree? 

For elite and experienced players, squash is an art form. Do you think famous artists were ever on a training plan? And did that ever stop them from being their best? Of course not! If an artist is getting ready for a show they may implicitly know they have to do a bit more to prepare and get ready for this. If a squash player is playing a big international event the more they will practice without us telling them they have too. We already know all of this implicitly and do what it takes to prepare properly. If we get to the event not as prepared as we would like we learn from it and try and do better the next time. Isn't this how preparation for squash competitions should be like, more like artists that put in the hours preparing because they are working at perfecting their craft, not because they are told too? 

What do you guys think? Can you think of anymore pros and cons I missed out on? Are annual training plans necessary for kids? If we were a stronger squash country at the junior level I may agree with these terms for a select few of the top kids, but in my opinion we're just not there and I actually think we have some very athletic kids already. We don't have enough kids competing and doing well at the international events in any age group. I think we should concentrate on being more competitive with our younger kids and hopefully they will be physically and mentally prepared to have a training plan when and if they are ready to do so. Some kids may be mature enough to go on a plan at 14 or 15 well others maybe not until they are in their 20's. And really if a kid never wants to go on a training plan, but loves squash and plays it all his life what is wrong with that? 

Currently I don't see many (if any) Canadian juniors that are going to make a living playing squash. I still feel my biggest beef is that wouldn't an annual training plan be better suited to a kid that wanted to do it, but didn't necessarily have too? Shouldn't we simply have access to the best trainer in the country that can set up an annual plan for those targeted that ask for it?  Wouldn't this be more progressive and keep the motivation for those on a plan more intrinsic? Maybe we should try and simply monitor how much of what our athletes are doing? I bet many are being pushed into doing too much for how little of years they have been training. Clearly if I was given a vote on this I would vote 'no.' I've played a high junior level and coached all different levels of kids so I feel I have a good set of experience to make my decision. I know that if I had a son or daughter playing and they were on one of these squads I would never force them to train and be on an annual program if they didn't want to do it. Sorry for the lengthy post, hope it was interesting to you! I'm guessing if you made it all the way to here it was :)

Last June for part of my holidays I went to Malaysia and watched the Penang Junior Open. One of the things that amazed me at this event was that Wee Wern Low was there helping out for the entire event. Unlike most 3 day tournaments here in North America, the Penang Junior Open runs for the whole week! It was really cool to see a top professional player spend an entire week helping to run a local junior event with hundreds of kids.

'I strongly believe that kids should play a variety of sports' 

Almost a year later I had an idea that if Wee Wern Low was so generous with her time to help out for an entire week at the Penang tournament maybe she would be willing to be interviewed by me. When she agreed I was excited and surprised, but after reading her responses and getting to know her better I see why I shouldn't have been. As you'll find out she is very loyal to her coach and it's refreshing to see someone pave their own way to success.

'The sport is so competitive and everyone wants to do well and the ones to beat are the Egyptians'

In the interview we talk about Penang, the rivalry between Malaysia and Egypt, young kids specializing in squash, college squash vs. professional squash, her new company and website plus her favourite drills and updates on the healthy of her knee. 

'I personally believe it is who you work with, not where you are that is vital. I came back and chose to work with Aaron again, at a very high risk that I may lose my funding for choosing to work with a local unknown coach. It was a risk we both took, and we both worked very hard to show everyone that it is possible, all we needed was a chance to do it'

It's easy to root for a good hearted, humble person that has overcome obstacles and is chasing their dreams. If you need any further reasons for jumping on the WWL bandwagon this interview should do the trick. She is playing in the qualifications at the HKFC International next week and by the sounds of it she is almost back to 100%. We can expect to see her climb back up the rankings shortly! Enjoy the interview.


Did you play any other sports as a kid?

I played many sports as a kid and even in school. I actually represented my school in athletics, table tennis, badminton and even floorball. I was very active and I love sports. But squash was the only sport I took lessons.

How old were you when you started playing and how did you get into squash?

I started squash at the age of 8, as a hobby/weekend activity. As a kid, I was pretty active and didn’t like to sit still so my mum gave me an option of picking up squash or tennis, I picked squash and never looked back since… It was then that my parents were divorced and she encouraged me to get into sports.

Do you think young kids should play multiple sports or be allowed to specialize in one sport such as squash?

I strongly believe that kids should play a variety of sports. It will help them develop many skills set and keep their interest alive. With that in mind, they will be able to pick out which sport is best for them and grow from there.

A question about the juniors coming up in Malaysia, do you believe their goals are mainly to follow in our footsteps and play professionally or get into an American university?

I think we have a mix of both here in Malaysia. There are some who are very passionate about the sport and trying to make it in the professional world and there are some who wants to use squash as a ticket to the US, which is not a bad thing. More players are leaving to the US recently and that gives hope to players who aren’t exactly at the top a very good incentive to keep training and get to renowned university instead.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to play professionally?

I completed my O Levels education back in 2007. Prior to that, I was already receiving calls and emails from top universities in the US inquiring if I would like to represent the University on scholarship. Nevertheless it was a hard decision to pick squash over a degree… I decided to take the plunge after winning the British Junior Open Under 19 at the age of 18. No Malaysian has won the Under 19 title since Nicol back in the 90’s and no one has won since I did. The British is the most prestigious junior tournament in the World and winning that meant that I was among the top players in the World at my age. It was the same year that I won my third Asian Junior Title, again a feat no one has achieved except Nicol.

What was your first international junior tournament, what did you learn and how did you do?

I think it was the Australian Tri Series at that point in time and I think I managed to win a couple of those. But I took my first beating at the British Juniors Under 11, losing to a much stronger Egyptian and I was a scrawny 11 year old. I have a long history at the British, making the semis or finals without fail since 12 but I never quite manage to win it until I was 18!

Do you have any tips for young girls dreaming of following in your footsteps?

Surround yourself with a good team because they are the people that will be by your side throughout your career. A good team does not necessarily mean a well-known coach with track record or so on, a good team consists of people that are willing to spend countless hours with you, make sacrifices alongside you to help you achieve your goals…but NEVER forget your team when you have made it, they have earned it just as much! This may sound cliché, but nothing comes easy, hard work does pay off.

What do you think of the PSA lowering the tin for the women's game? And has this changed how you practice and play in matches?

I think it is quite interesting to see how everyone is dealing with it in their own way and how they change their approach to the game. Unfortunately I have not played much on it as I have been out injured but I look forward to playing more on the lower tin.

You've had a tough setback with your knee injury. How are you feeling? And do you feel like you are ready to make a big push back up the rankings?

It has been nothing short of a challenge… This is by far the worst injury I have sustained, my first and hopefully last surgery ever! Its been tough, not being able to do what I love doing. I was on a wheelchair for days, followed by learning to move about on crutches, walking on my own to running and finally stepping back on court. It’s been a long process to say the least! I am still not 100% pain free but I am getting there. I just can’t wait to be able to play my best again. The first half of 2016 was for me to test my knee and keep fixing it because there will be complications along the way. I will make my big push in the second half of 2016.

When you play a match do you have a specific tactic for each opponent or do you focus on playing your game?

I would say a mix of both. Of course I will try and implement my game as much as possible because that is what I am good at but there are always exceptions to the rule depending who I am up against.

It's no secret that your goal is to be world #1. What quality do you posses that will allow you to achieve you goal?

I am a very consistent player and I never give up. Since breaking into the Top 10, I have not lost my ranking up until my injury. As for not giving up, I have played matches to the point of cramping on court, was even hospitalized once for full body cramp because I refuse to give up.

What is the strength of your game and what is your favourite shot?

I have a very strong basic game that I can always fall back on if nothing else works! Of course I am adding new elements to my game but that does not always work..yet! I am also a pretty good mover on court which enables me to cover most of the court quite well. My favorite shot would be backhand counter drop

When I was in Penang last year for the Penang Junior Open it seemed like the Egyptians and Malaysians have a big rivalry at the junior level at the movement. Is this a new trend or was it like this when you were a kid?

This has been going on for me personally since I was 11! There are so many Egyptians and they are all good! But I think the rivalry has grown over the years… The sport is so competitive and everyone wants to do well and the ones to beat are the Egyptians.

Was it a difficult decision to stay in Penang to train for your professional career? And did you ever consider moving anywhere else?

I was actually based overseas when I was 18 for a year. Again, it comes back to the team I mentioned earlier. Many, actually most didn’t believe I could make it to the top 10 in the World if I didn’t leave Penang to work with a ‘better’ coach and sparring partners. Aaron Soyza has coached me since I was 12, groomed me to winning almost every junior title but still no one was willing to give him a chance to take me to the top 10 in the World and I was asked to leave the country to find a better base, so I did for a year. I personally believe it is who you work with, not where you are that is vital. I came back and chose to work with Aaron again, at a very high risk that I may lose my funding for choosing to work with a local unknown coach. It was a risk we both took, and we both worked very hard to show everyone that it is possible, all we needed was a chance to do it.

What is the funding like in Malaysia for professional squash players?

We are fortunate to have our government providing us with funding to compete overseas, taking care of our flights/hotels/food etc. It was Beng Hee, Nicol and Azlan who paved the way for the younger generation as they were the ones who excelled in the sport and made it one of the core sports in Malaysia.

Now that you are healthy, is there anything specifically that you're currently focusing on in your game

I have missed out on so much, I don’t really know where to start to be honest. Match fitness is key and that comes with playing tournaments, my reaction time, all the reflexes and split second decisions, reading the game… I have not used all those for a year now! It takes a bit more time but it is all coming back to me.

Who do you train with?

I train with Aaron Soyza every morning and in the evenings I will do drills, condition stuff with the other state and national players in Penang. We have a good group of juniors who train daily and we also have foreigners who is based here in Penang every now and then. Again, I am very fortunate to have Aaron working with me since I was 12…he goes to the gym with me, runs with me even up to today.

What is your favourite drill or condition game?

I like open drills and condition games because it is more match related rather than knowing exactly where the ball is going every time. For feeding with my coach, we tend to do straight drive or volley, and he can boast or cross at anytime and I have to be ready. Condition games, second bounce behind the line but anything on the volley option.

Besides visiting the Nicol David International Squash Centre and eating at the night markets what else is a must do for travellers visiting Penang?

It depends what the person’s interest are. We do have a nice heritage area with small cafes, street/mural paintings for those who like art. We also have a nightlife area for those who like that. But for me personally I like spending my time on the beach, having coffee with friends watching the sunset.

It was really warm in the Squash Centre when I visited. Is it challenging when you go to a tournament and play on colder courts? How do you adjust?

I normally go to tournaments at least 3 days prior to my first match to get used to the conditions but coming from Penang, playing in colder places are actually less taxing on the physical side. I think it is harder for those who train in the cold and having to play in the heat. Of course there will be some adjustments such as how high and how hard to hit the ball but that all can be adjusted in a number of days.

It was pretty scary being a taxi in Penang yet somehow I didn't witness a single accident! I have to ask. Do you own a scooter?

No I do not own a scooter and I don’t have a bike license either. I only have a driving license. My coach owns a scooter and he uses it pretty frequently because traffic can get quite heavy especially during the holiday season.

Do you have any idea what you want to do after your squash career?

Since I was out injured, I used that time to set up my own company and website www.weewernlow.com. It is awebsite that aims to solve a problem of disconnect between my fans and sponsors. On top of that I want to challenge and change the current sports endorsements legacy system. This website is for me to lead by example and educate sponsors of my value worth and why they should endorse me. The typical events appearance, face on billboards and print ads, always seem to be lacking because I could never justify to them my value. Now with this website I could show them why it is worth in endorsing me and mainly help them justify their ROI in me. Not to mention as I grow my fans, imagine the potential value I could create to my sponsors! And for my fans, a reward system that gives back to them for every share or post they make is something I could never do before. There’s also an extension of an online shop where my fans can purchase items/goods that I endorse at a special rate using the points they earn. This is a proven return on investment and a win-win situation between sponsors and fans. Eventually I will want to help other athletes secure endorsements under my very own management company.

Thanks so much to Wee Wern Low for agreeing to this interview and giving such insightful answers. She's an amazing role model for so many of us players, fans and coaches. From reading her responses you can truly feel the passion she has for squash and for becoming the very best she can be. It's also refreshing to hear her tell the story of choosing what was right for her and finding her own unique path for success. She gives a lot of credit to her team and it must be a pleasure to work with such a wonderful human being. Go Wee Wern Low!

May 18 2016 3:00PM

A Milestone For Serious Squash

Today I reached a quarter of a million views on Serious Squash. I started this blog about 2 years ago just to give my students an additional resource for their learning. A couple of hundred posts later I've chatted with people from all around the globe, began a video analysis service and have started up a video addition to my online social media presence. I have so many ideas for both my blog and for my videos so I envision Serious Squash continuing to expand. I'd even like to get into a signature racquet one day. Wherever it goes I will enjoy this journey.

Writing this blog has made me a better coach. I've spent a lot more time thinking about the game and coaching. As much as I've helped other people I know I've helped myself just as much or even more. Although this doesn't pay my bills it has been a lot of fun and I hope one day that I can add some international coaching clinics, skill challenging exhibitions and professional writing to my current career of coaching some terrific kids. It's nice to have a voice out there and people who relate to it. I've always been a person that has thought outside the box and enjoyed being creative and was passionate about health, fitness and squash in particular. I have always loved hitting a squash ball, regardless if it was solo practice or a tournament match. It's nice to know that I've found another avenue that I truly enjoy on top of playing and coaching squash.

In 2 weeks I'm having surgery on my meniscus so I will have more free time to write soon new material. I have some great post ideas on the horizon and have been talking to some other companies about my videos and another about doing some writing for them. I'm looking forward to these next chapters and will update you as soon as things are finalized. Some of my upcoming topics that I'm most excited about are routines. The more I think about them the more critical I feel they are to elite performance. I'm also working on a post about keeping squash fun and I am also working on another professional athlete profile.

When I started coaching I thought I had to take the route of other coaches. Do your levels, work with professional players and work your way up the coaching ranks until you can coach a national team. And although working with a national team is something I'd still like to do, I'm not worried about what other coaches or people involved in squash think of my coaching skills. There may be more certified coaches, but I have some unique skills and I am creating a new and unique career path. I love coaching kids, working on skill challenges and writing. I just want to add in some world tours and then I'd be set. I'm confident that one day I will work with a national team. It probably won't be in Canada as they focus too much on what your coaching level and experience is, but you never know. If it doesn't happen I'd be fine with that as long as I get to keep coaching some competitive juniors.

Thanks again to those of you that have reached out to me and given me feedback on my blog (both positive and constructive). If you want to see some of the cool squash videos I've worked on check out my Instagram account at serioussquash or at Youtube at cchsquashpro. Keep an eye out for news and updates on Serious Squash.

Here I am once again doing a report of a Canadian National Championships. This time it's the Seniors and although I didn't compete in the tournament this year I have a lot of thoughts about the event. Let's get right to it.

Here's a link to the draws if you'd like to see the draws and the results: http://squashcanada.tournamentsoftware.com/sport/draws.aspx?id=A1F701B8-E54A-48A9-BDA2-39A174B90DAA Many of the Open matches were streamed online and I was able to watch a few of the matches including the finals on Saturday. Yes that's right, Saturday! I saw a couple of the mens quarter final matches too. This is where I feel the event needed to be spread out a bit more. Win or lose, everyone who played in the quarters on Friday had to play again a few hours later. It's not surprising that there was a default in one of the matches. These are the toughest matches of the event and they were played on the same day within a few hours of one another.

The event started on Wednesday and I think it would have made more sense if they had 2 matches on the Wednesday or Thursday where the top seeds wouldn't have had their most challenging matches. Either that or they could extend the event to finish on Sunday. Anyways, that's just a little thing that only influenced the top 8 men, but I'm sure they weren't too happy about that. All credit to Andrew Schnell in the final, but he certainly seemed much fresher on Saturday than Shawn Delierre who has a history of playing long, gruelling matches. If Squash Canada wants the best squash to be played in the finals I think they either need to limit the draw size or adjust the match scheduling. Okay, time to move on!

In total there were 281 entires which sounds like a great turnout, but when you look at it a little closer this is what bothers me the most. Zero women signed up for the age divisions until the 50+! In the men's 30+ only 4 did! There were 30 events in total so filling up a good size draw for each event is always going to be a challenge. But my biggest pet peeve is how many of the top ranked Canadian Toronto based players did not even participate. Twenty-nine of the top 50 ranked men in Canada did not even play! Which also makes me wonder how they are still ranked up there. There are lots of ex tour players living in the Toronto area who are retired and don't compete anymore. How do we keep these players participating? It's difficult for them to not have the same results and to perhaps lose to the next generation, so how can we change that? Can we add a Legends Division, like the event they have in Bermuda and have some money offered for ex PSA players to come back and play in it? What if they only played 1 match per day in the Open division and just made the event 1 day longer?

I know some people will have their own reasons; I wasn't there this season either so I may sound like a hypocrite. I've only been playing once or twice per month as I'm awaiting a small kneed surgery in June, but I still wish I had played. I can see how people in similar positions like myself end up finding perfectly logical reasons not to play. Work, families, injuries or just being out of shape are all popular reasons people miss the event. For many these reasons are justifiable as squash has taken a back burner to the rest of their life. But squash was or still is a big part of many of these peoples lives yet they still fail to participate.

I feel that the main culprit here is our ego. Any squash player who has been successful and played at a high level has too much pride to play just to play. Some say it's our competitive spirit, but we know our best squash is well behind us so we avoid competing like it's the plague. Is this something we can avoid for the future generation by focusing on trying our best, having fun and concentrating more on the love of the game? As I've been out of competition for a couple of years I realized how much I miss just being able to compete, let alone at my highest level. So my intentions is to participate in Senior Nationals moving forwards if at all possible. Win or lose, squash is an important part of my life and we're a big family here in Canada. It would be nice to see some others take my oath and play just to play and leave their ego in the past.

Are there other ways to improve participation at Nationals? What about bringing in a show court? Use a lower tin? Attaching Nationals to some other event (like a big PSA event or exhibition)? Do we need a slower ball at the highest level so the rallies and matches are won more by racquet skill and decision making rather than physicality? Maybe lowering the entry fee for out of province players or juniors? Maybe we need to change the date of the event before the weather gets too nice? Maybe giving all of the entrants a blue jays game ticket for Sunday or something cool that we could all do together? Would a Legend Divisions help? Or as I already mentioned do we just need to learn how to let go of our ego and fear of failure? Is it possible to teach our kids in a way that will enable them to continue to compete regardless of age and ability? I'm trying to use a checklist with my young kids after games. The first thing I ask is if they were a good sport or not. The second was if they had fun or not and the last is if they tried their best. If a kid can learn to do all of those things maybe they can enjoy squash and competing regardless of the outcome.

In closing I also have one more reason why we should compete if we are on the fence about it. The year I won the 30+ I went with a cold and did not expect to do well. I also remember another time at university when I was sick and I was playing #1 against a top school and also has no expectations to perform well. Funny enough these are 2 of the times I've had my best results and it was when I wasn't worried about what would happen. The last time I played senior nationals I went to win and put too much pressure on myself and lost in the finals. It's funny how the more we want to win the tougher it seems to be to achieve. This is why too much winning is not healthy for any athlete and why we should focus on process oriented goals. Learn to enjoy the process and hitting the squash ball! If you've seen any of my skill challenges you'll know that I still love hitting the ball :)

I know it's been awhile since my last post, but I've been busy working with the kids leading up to Junior Nationals and doing some skill challenges. You can find them on my Youtube channel at cchsquashpro or on Instagram at serioussquash. Okay, so today I'm going to discuss the level of play I saw at the Canadian Junior Nationals this year. I did a recap last year you can find here: http://www.serioussquash.com/2015/04/2015-canadian-junior-nationals.html

The challenge with the Junior Nationals this year is the venue. The NSA in Toronto was scheduled to host the event, but has since closed their doors. So the Mayfair Parkway stepped up and did a good job with little time to prepare. Since the last time I was at the Parkway they have take down 2 or 3 courts and put in a mini basketball gym. So unfortunately this meant that this event now needed a 2nd facility which was closely at the Mayfair East club. The challenge with the East club was that there was often nobody at that club to organize anything and the courts were much different. At the East club the courts were panel and quite warm and bound. The kids had to adapt their tactics, be patient and fit if they were going to do well on these courts.

Back to the host club, the Parkway. For anyone that has been there knows the challenge of trying to coach on any court besides the 2 show courts. I brought 9 kids to nationals but only had 2 of the kids ever play on the show courts, so I watched a lot of the matches through a tiny 1 foot window at the backdoor of the courts. Less than ideal for watching, but the only other option was to go upstairs and then come down between games (which wasn't very close). So this was a challenge for us as coaches. Another problem with the viewing is that this means I didn't get to watch much of the other matches. But today I'm going to write about the bit that I did see.

 I watched many of the finals on Sunday. There was some contrast of styles between attacking players and retrievers. I felt that the caliber and depth was reasonably high for the boys and in the lower divisions for the girls. Watching the boys play it always amazes me how they can cover the court and hit with such a consistent high pace. There are some good athletes on the boys side. What I didn't see from most of these top boys was changing the pace and angles on their length. I felt they all liked to hit the ball so low and hard and it just wasn't putting pressure because it wasn't tight or deep enough. A few of the boys had good shots, well some of the other ones showed an amazing amount of patience and just kept the ball in play trying to extend points.

There are definitely some kids that have loads of potential here in Canada, but are still quite unpolished when it has to come to tactics, attacking and their mental game. There was still too many discussions between the refs for my liking. I just felt like the top boys in some of the top squash countries in the world the older boys would be more polished, more clinical with their attacking shots, more focused mentally and would be better able to adjust their tactics within a match. I feel like most of the top boys have the ability and desire, have good swings, are physically fit and hit with good pace, but there is a lot more to squash than this. I really believe that the mental game and advanced tactics are crucial for continuing to improve your game. We have some great coaches in Canada, but maybe it's the lack of competition the top boys are getting. It will be interesting to see how they do when they go to the worlds this summer. They will probably be underrated, but I do feel they have good potential and still a long ways to go!

One bright spot for me was seeing how many great young 10 and 11 year old boys were playing. I still don't get why Squash Canada doesn't have an under 11 division. I bet some of the 11 and 12 year old wish the younger kids had their own age group. The depth of talent at this age is way stronger than when I was that age, but it's the next few years that will shape their careers. Are they dreaming of being world champions or will those dreams be pushed aside by those closest to them and will they settle for making a strong varsity squash team? I think these young kids need to get some exposure internationally. When I was in Penang last year the size of the under 11 draws were huge and their skills were generally amazing for their size and experience. I feel like the Long Term Athlete Development program may work for keeping more kids in the game, but not for producing professional word class level players. I wonder if Canada will ever see another Jonathon Power?

On the girls side I was again quite impressed with most divisions. I feel like there was less depth in the under 19 than in previous years, but that it likely because some girls are away at university at 18 and can't make it back to compete. One of the girls from the school I coached at came 2nd (pictured above) and is probably mentally the toughest most focused junior player I've ever seen. She had been sick and not able to prepare properly, but still made the finals and for awhile I thought was going to win it!

The younger age groups show great promise and the best depth I've ever seen for the girls game. Even some of the under 13 girls could really crack the ball, made good decisions and were quite accurate. Each age group up the girls began hitting the ball with more pace and they all seemed quite strong mentally. I felt like they handled adversity well and stayed pretty positive even when the pressure was on. There were many extremely tight semis and finals on the girls side and I was excited to see this. I just wish there was a step for them after juniors. That's really the biggest challenge. College squash works for some, but I don't see many of them going through that and then trying to compete professional. Maybe many of them are only focused on making it to a good college program.

I feel like there are some Canadian kids dreaming of pro squash, but much less than other countries. I imagine thousands of kids in Egypt wanting to grow up and be the next Ramy Ashour or Nour Elsherbini. I know Nicol David has had a huge impact on the growth of the game in Malaysia. So who do we look up to? It's still JP, but now the young kids don't know who he was. We need a role model to help motivate our youth and give them hope that they too can achieve their dream if they work hard enough.

The challenge here is that I don't think it's possible for a top world player to make it in Canada. They won't get the competition or the funding. Canada isn't cheap and flights are expensive. How can they afford proper coaching? How can our top players get access to important resources like sport psychologists, perennial trainers, physiotherapists, massage therapists, nutritionists and so on? If I was going to try and do it I would go to Europe and play in some of the pro leagues to get the matches and make a bit of money and get better competition. I also know a lot of people have been travelling down to Florida to work with David Palmer. Hopefully one day we can have something set up in Canada that will allow top world class players to be based here. That's what the NSA was supposed to be, but that didn't work. Until we make some changes and improve our high performance pathway I'm afraid that we will continue to perform at a mediocre level internationally.

Mar 28 2016 6:47PM

Hit It Straighter!

Most people think they can hit the ball fairly straight, but a lot of the time we use the sidewall to help us keep our shot straights. Take away the sidewall and see how straight you really hit it. Here's how you find out how straight you can hit your drives.

Forehand Version

Backhand Version

You can see how much more challenging it is to keep your drives accurate when you take away the sidewall. If you want to learn how to really keep the ball perfectly straight try incorporating the drills above into your solo routine. I try and aim for the middle line and see how many drives I an hit into the backdoor in a row. If you're a lower level you could try and see how many times you can hit the door in a specified amount of time vs. consecutive. 

Good luck and enjoy!

Here are my next 3 skill challenges.

#11: Forehand figure 8 volley to behind the back to the other corner. This is a tricky one and took me some time to master. The key is hitting the ball low for your behind the back shot!

#12: The Butterfly. This is the only skill challenge I've filmed that I have seen done before. I've tried this one a lot over the years so it's not too challenging for me anymore, but is essential to being able to do some of the other skill challenges I've completed.

#13: Between The Legs Figure 8's. Below I am hitting a forehand figure 8 and then through the legs into the opposite corner. Some of my skill challenges are designed to improve your ball control, while others are just for fun! 

To stay up to date with my most recent skill challenges check out my Youtube channel at cchsquashpro and follow me on Instagram at serioussquash.

Today I posted a short video clip of me working on your short game. It's so vital to always work on your short game so you can hit the shots you want when they matter most. It's also important so you are confident in your ability to go short, especially on big points or after making an error!

As you get better in squash it becomes more difficult to go short because your opponents read the game better, are faster, hit it harder and tighter and the ball is usually warmer. This is why I spent a lot of time solo hitting working on my drops on the bounce and on the volley. I often practiced with a blue or red dot so the ball stays bouncy and even bouncier than it would be in competition. Here's the video clip of me playing some drops on the bounce. I'll post another one soon of me working on my volley drops and nicks. Enjoy!

I still make a few errors and my short game could still improve, but it has gotten stronger over the years. I remember about 15 years ago watching some top PSA players play and I noticed how much they cut their drop shots. The ball was so bouncy it was the only way they could get the ball to stay somewhat short on the court. I see many amateurs waste excellent opportunities because they have not spent the time grooving their short game swings. Don't be one of those players. Work on your short game all of the time and it will pay major dividends over the months and years.

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