Squash News From Around The World - Serious Squash
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Mar 24 2020 1:36PM
It feels like our lives are constantly changing at the moment. Just 1 week ago I was still working and going to the gym to workout. As I write this I am now back in Canada, for at least the time being. The Turks and Caicos border was closing for who knows how long and I didn't want to get stuck there without a job for a prolonged period of time. It's going to be tough for that country as they are so dependent on the tourism revenue.
I'll begin today by going quickly through my experience yesterday. Traveling internationally at a time like this was quite the experience. I was fortunate to get a ticket on the last flight back to Canada. It wasn't cheap and I had to check 3 bags so yikes it added up! There was nobody else in my row, but I'd estimate the plane was about half full. At the Providenciales airport there were only 2 hand sanitizer stations (1 of which was empty) and I only saw a few people wearing a mask. It's a pretty small place so it's not easy to maintain proper social distance. It was also the only time I've ever been at an airport without a single person in front of me at the checkin counter or going through security.
Not surprisingly there was no service on the plane which is fine for a short 4 hour flight. When I landed at Pearson Airport it was almost like an overnight glimpse of the airport (which I have seen once or twice). From 2 separate airport staff I was handed 2 double sided sheets about the self quarantining procedure I have to follow and it includes numbers to contact if you have any of the listed Covid-19 symptoms; fingers crossed, but so far so good.
I was pleasantly surprised when I got through customs in under 5 minutes and my bags (including a large guitar which was set aside in the overside and fragile area) arrived shortly after. These sorts of things just don't happen at big airport so it was a new experience for me. Most people at the airport in Toronto were wearing masks or trying to stay away from other people. Social distancing was certainly much more prevalent here.
When I went to get a rental car to drive to London the guy behind the desk wasn't wearing a mask or gloves and was handling each persons cards and was just a foot away from each customer. That was my first experience here in Canada with someone not being overly cautious. I felt bad for the guy who even though was probably 10 years younger than me will not be able to avoid Covid-19 with his job. Should car rental companies still be open? I wish they were automated and we could just swipe our cards to do all of this. I cannot even imagine the strain the car rental and airline companies are going through. I just hope they will survive as these are all services we need and rely on to live, travel and work the way that we do.
So now I'm in self-quarantine at my brother's place for the next 14 days. He and his girlfriend also will now have to do the same because I'm here. I'm glad to be back in Canada, although wow it sure feels freezing out there! Goodbye flip-flops..
That's my update for the week so let's get onto some more fun stuff. There's been a lot of fun isolation squash and fitness challenges people have been posting. I took my shot at 5 you can all try from home. Here's they are:
This worldwide pandemic is wrecking havoc on the financial markets and most companies. On a positive note it is also bringing out some exceptional qualities in people and companies. I've heard of a lot of companies offering discounts and trying to help people out. As the saying goes, 'we are all in this together.' I want to follow in these footsteps so I've posted The Secrets Of Solo Hitting on my Youtube channel. I know it's not much, but as a squash coach that's what I can offer you to do my part in providing a bit of free entertainment and hopefully some useful tools for when you get back on court. Cause the way I look at it when we get back on court we are all going to need a good solo hit or two to get off the rust. So here's the film if you'd like to check out 30 of my favourite 'self isolation drills':
It's hard to wonder what life will be like when we get back to our new normal...but what about squash in particular? How will this impact the future of squash clubs, coaches, leagues and tournaments? Will people be worried about being in a place with so many other individuals? Will others be concerned about the uncleanliness of a squash court? Will some not have the money to pay for membership dues and take part in club events or private lessons? Will people wait for a vaccine until they go back into a public atmosphere? There will definitely be some changes, but hopefully we can pull through and support our clubs and their staff. Squash is what we all love and it's what keeps us off the couch and in our best possible shape.
I also can't help but wonder how many current squash pros are going to retire during this stretch? Some older players or people who were just scraping by may be thinking twice about going back on the road and taking unnecessary risks associated with travel? Annie Au is the first that I've seen retire during this stretch, but I bet there will be many more; perhaps just not the top ranked ones who get mentioned by the PSA. Will pro tournaments still have the same amount of sponsorships to continue making professional squash an actual opportunity for a select few to follow their dreams and make a living by playing their favourite sport?
It would be sad to see things deteriorate because what about the young kids who look up to and dream about being on the tour one day. Yes squash is not essential to life, but for some of us it is a big portion of our lives, it always has been and it always will. There's something about stepping out onto that court whether it's hit a few balls by ourselves or if we're competing in a match. We're trying to get better, become the best we can be and it's a great distraction from the real problems and stressors of life outside the court.
Anyone who has been injured and was forced out of the game for a significant amount of time will understand the emptiness that you feel when you're unable to tie up your laces and play. As someone who has dealt with a variety of injuries over the years, I know that when I step on court now just being healthy and bring able to move relatively well is the main objective and the result is not nearly as vital as it once was.
When I think about the coranvirus and how it relates to squash I believe they both reveal our true character. How we handle adversity is something that I always try and share with my athletes. It's easy to be a good sport when you're winning and not facing any problems, but how do you respond when you're on the other side of the scoreline? The same thing is happening nowadays with Covid-19. People who are not infected, but are self isolating to keep everyone else safe, while a select few are hoarding and trying to profit off of panic. As I relate this back to squash I recall one of the last practices I had with my kids where we discussed what would make their parents proud at the next tournament. Is it simply the result (which they all focus on), or would their parents be more proud of their on court behaviour, effort and obvious passion for the game? Because we can't all win, and even those that do if they don't do it the right way it will have a tainted taste to it. This is another reason why sport is so crucial and this is also what we are witnessing from many of the wonderful people around the world.
If you want to see some of my games from the past 30 years I've been posting a new game each day on the Serious Squash Instagram channel. That's all for this week. There's always something new to write about these days and hopefully soon I can start writing more posts about the fine details and tips for playing the best sport in the world. Until then keep your social distance and be safe.
Mar 18 2020 9:01AM
It's pretty wild how quickly things have evolved in the past week. A week ago US Squash sent out a notice that they cancelled their 2020 National Championships which originally I thought was a little over the top. The day after they recalled all of their pro players from around the globe. A day later the PSA and Squash Canada both came out and also cancelled their upcoming events. Sh*t got serious quick! Things in Turks and Caicos have been a living a little behind the rest of the world. Let me run you through the past week of life as a squash pro on a small Caribbean island.
I've been running an Airbnb to supplement my income here. It's a 3 bedroom house which has been nearly fully occupied for the past 3 months. About a week ago I started getting emails from upcoming guests worrying about their trip here. My listing was with Airbnb and I had a strict no cancellation policy so people were quite concerned about losing not only their vacation, but also their money. I wasn't sure what to do because on 1 hand I need these bookings to make a living here, but I also understand the seriousness of this situation and I don't think the guests should have to pay for a trip they cannot take.
Eventually the situation was taken out of my hands when Airbnb made changes to their cancellation policy. Their new extenuating circumstances policy gave upcoming guests a full refund regardless of the hosts cancellation policies. I was hoping they would offer upcoming guests who cancel a credit for future travel or to provide some form of split. I'm aware that VRBO has not done this and guests are furious with them, while with Airbnb it's the hosts that are fuming. It's one of those situations without a solution that would please both parties.
To add onto this whole debacle was that the house I have been renting was sold, contracts signed and due to change hands on April 1st. So I was only going to lose 2-3 weeks of revenue and then things were changing anyways. It isn't my house, I'm simply renting it out long term from a friend from the squash club to re-rent it out short term. So I was happy for him that his house was sold, but also unsure how I was going to make a living here without the additional income I've been generating from this rental property. But once again Covid-19 ruined the plan. The sale of the house fell through because of the potential buyers being hit by the financial burden of this virus. Once I got the news I put the listing back on the market...crickets.
Originally I had not accepted any of of booking requests for April because of the sale of the house. Once I found out that it fell through I contacted all of these people again, but because of this global pandemic nobody was interested. Turks and Caicos runs on tourism and at this moment the country has very few of them. The longer this goes on the more troubling it will be.
(today's update from the Canadian Prime Minister)
Okay, so that's the non-squash portion of my life. Now let's move onto the squash portion. As of today the gym I work at is still open. There are currently no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country so many people I believe feel isolated from the rest of the world. That being said when someone gets a test for Covid-19 here it has to be sent off island and it takes a week to get the results. So by the time there is a positive test it will be widely spread here. Even still the grocery stores have never been busier, even without the herds of tourists that are normally here over spring break.
For the past week I had been quite cautious and I had never washed my hands more in my life. The club was posting signs and taking extra precautions, yet somehow on Tuesday I woke up with a mild feeling of a cold starting in my chest. I have asthma, although the fresh air here in Turks has all but cured it. I started feeling better as the day went on and if it wasn't for what's happening with the coronavirus I would have had a normal day and probably would have went to work and even squeezed in a workout. I don't believe I have Covid-19 as my symptoms were different from what I've been reading about, but it's a scary time to get a cold. Therefore I decided to pause the squash program as of yesterday.
So now I'm sitting in isolation at home, living off of cereal and protein bars. My rental unit has no future bookings and the squash programming is suspended indefinitely. Did I mention that my job here has no base salary?
I know it may sound like it, but I'm really not seeking any sympathy for my situation. Many people around the world have it way worse than I do. People are dying, losing their jobs and families are being far more impacted than I am. We are all affected by this and I just thought my story was unique and potentially interesting for the readers.
For the past week I had been contemplating booking a flight and heading back to Canada while I still can. One major issue is that I've been without a work permit since this summer when I lost it. Since this time I've been waiting on a replacement so if I leave the country I doubt I would be able to reenter. Even if I had my work permit and I was back in Canada it's not like I'd be able to work or leave the house so I wasn't too concerned about where I'd be stuck. Once I woke up with the beginning of a mild cold yesterday I knew travel for the immediate future was off the table. So here I am and will be for a significant amount of time in Providenciales. So as bad as millions of people have it right now around the globe I really cannot complain. My house is on a canal and there's a kayak and plenty of room to do some stretching and exercises. It also gives me more time to work on the online portion of Serious Squash. Although how much interest there will be while most clubs around the globe are shut remains to be seen.
I've been trying to post weekly on this blog since the new year. I thought it would be more fun to talk about something other than the coronavirus, but I thought my unique situation here would make for an interesting read. Hopefully things will start steadily improving since we more fully comprehend the severity of the situation. And with all of this upcoming time off I really wish there we could watch some live sports. Thankfully there's a replay section on Squash TV and of course Netflix. Don't forget that Serious Squash is also one Youtube and there's a piles of free short videos. Here is this weeks episode of Squash Shots:
Stay safe everyone and use caution when leaving your house. If you can try and implement social distancing and think of your friends and loved ones. Even if you're young and healthy and the coronavirus isn't potentially fatal to you, who you spread it to may not be so fortunate. And the only way we're going to get past this thing and be able to move on is if it stops spreading. If you have any cold symptom (like I did) just don't go out and take part in self-isolation.
Ideally next week I'll be back onto a squash topic, but some things (although not many) are more important than squash. I have a week to think about it so you'll have to wait and find out. Until then be smart and stay healthy!
Mar 11 2020 11:42AM
I thought this week it would be prevalent to talk about more than 1 subject. The first item on the agenda which will provide the majority of today's discussion is the lack of women in squash. March 8th was international women's day and it got me thinking a lot about why more young girls and women don't play squash. When I was young I confess I wasn't sure why we would celebrate a day for women, but never for men. When I was a kid there weren't any noticeable differences to how girls were treated versus us boys. As I got older I began to understand that women weren't always treated equal. A lot has changed, but it's clear that there's still a long ways to go.
Let's steer this back specifically towards girls and women in squash. Since I was young there has always been a lack of girls playing squash. That being said my home club had a woman as a coach and she helped me a lot. As this time I would estimate about 80% of all tournament participants and club members were guys. Does squash simply cater more to the the male demographic? Are women uncomfortable playing squash in front of a mostly male environment? I imagine some do, so as a coach it's critical that we do our best to create a welcoming and safe atmosphere for everyone. When I was young there were a number of all male clubs in Toronto. I'm not sure how many still exist to this day, but I believe there is 1 or 2.
As a coach I've always ran a lot of events for women. In my first year coaching with the legendary Rob Brooks I learned a lot because he would annually host an all female tournament and a weekly women's drop in. The numbers weren't as large as the other events, but I could tell these were always very important to Rob and to the female members. After I graduated university and I got my first head coaching position I followed in Rob's footsteps and ran a ladies Christmas tournament and I also offered a weekly ladies only clinic. The numbers again weren't huge, but I felt it was important to offer events and clinics that women could feel comfortable and have fun in.
When I moved to western Canada and began coaching at St. Michaels there was I believe 2 girls on our team. Eventually we got to the point where we had as many as 6 or 7 girls traveling and competing in tournaments. This was a large number compared to other clubs, but considering we had over 30 kids on our team this was still a small ratio compared to the boys.
I saw the draws for the recently completed British Columbia Junior Provincials and there were only 33 girls in the event compared to 88 boys. There was no girls under 19 and only 3 played in the girls under 13 division. There are some amazingly strong girls in BC, but the numbers are as disappointing as ever and surely there is more we can do to improve this.
When International Women's Day happened on March 8th, I saw lots of squash players and organizations make posts to celebrate on social media. It got me thinking about why women's participation is still an issue. I realize some countries still don't have as many young girls competing in sport as they do boys. There is no professional NHL or MLB for women. PSA Squash is doing a great thing showcasing their women and offering equal prize money in many of their events. Still we don't see a lot of girls and women playing squash. Will that change over time as this equal prize money is still a moderately fresh concept? If the WNBA was on sport highlights and the players paid as much as the NBA stars would more young girls play basketball? It's tough to say how much this would change things, but I'm sure it would help a lot.
As someone who has coached a lot of young kids I can say that in general girls are more coachable, care more about the social aspect of sport, but boys are usually more competitive. Seeing that squash isn't normally a team sport perhaps that is why more young girls don't play?? I also believe part of it is because girls have to practice with some boys who they find immature and annoying! Whatever the case it would be great to see more girls get into our terrific sport and play competitively. I recall many times at my club back in Victoria we would never get women signing up for tournaments. 95% of them just didn't enjoy tournaments and only wanted to play their friends or take lessons.
Anyways, on to the next topic. I don't want to be jumping on the media crazed band wagon about the coronavirus, but seeing all of these daily emails I'm receiving and hearing about all of the sport cancellations it's hard not to mention it. Just yesterday US Squash announced that they are cancelling all of their remainder national squash championships for the season. As of now in Canada they have not taken such a drastic measure, but things could change.
On one hand it's hard to stop living your life because of this, but on another you understand that organizations are all about risk management and they don't want to get sued if a large breakout takes place at one of their events. When on court the sidewalls are generally covered in players dried up sweat so maybe changing your preserve routine is a good idea, but besides this I hope the events in Canada don't get cancelled.
In the NHL I hear the San Jose Sharks might be forced to play in an empty arena in their next home game on March 19th. This is something that could begin to flush through the league and extend to other sports. If the MLB has to play with nobody in the stadium that isn't going to be good for business and most noticeably the owners. Even if the coronavirus was more deadly and widely spread it's hard to imagine a large corporation being okay with taking on and accepting such financial pandemonium unless they were forced to.
This might not compare exactly, but I've traveled to areas in the world where some mosquitos have malaria. There is always some risk in life, even just in travelling to somewhere and I'm not one to hide for the fear of something going wrong. I think if people are sensible and stay home when they're sick and everyone else just washes their hands we can and should go on living life just the same. Maybe I'll delay my trip to China for a the time being, but other than that life goes on. Here in Turks and Caicos tourism is almost the entire economy and if people decide they don't want to travel anymore that's not going to be good for the country and could lead to a lot of other bigger problems.
I'm not a doctor and I don't have all of the facts, but I thought it was worth mentioning because it is all you see nowadays and it is starting to have a major impact on sport. Coronavirus has already impacted all of our lives and for some reason more than anything I can recall in my lifetime. It almost feels like we're at the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. Let's hope the worst is behind us and we can get back to competing and cheering on at our favourite amateur and professional sporting events.
That's it for this week. If you haven't heard there is a new Serious Squash instructional film available in the shop for just $5. It's titled 'Advanced Back Corner Solo Drills.' It contains 4 episodes of Squash Shots, including an episode on my 10 favourite core exercises. It's available to stream at https://serioussquashshop.com/collections/coaching-videos/products/advanced-back-corner-solo-drills
If you like the film and you'd like to subscribe to Squash Shots you can do so for as little as $3/month. Next week is episode 44 which contains 2 of my new back corner advanced solo drills. Learn more at Patreon.com/SeriousSquash
You can also find Serious Squash at
Mar 4 2020 1:21PM
As a Canadian squash coach and someone who has participated in the Canadian junior squash circuit many moons ago, I feel like I am in a good position to be able to discuss today's topic. I know I could easily be talking about the reffing controversy and the videos from Sobhy and Elshorbagy, but I don't have all of the details behind these stories and the facts I have gained are from a variety of people on social media who may or may not know what the backstories are.
Perhaps when the Windy City is done and the dust has settled I'll write up a post about it all. I am pretty excited for the finals tonight though. I feel like both finals should be great and I would not be surprised to see an upset from Coll over Farag. They are the 2 best movers in the game so it should be a great match. While on the women's side Raneem and Sherbini have the best racquet skill on tour.
Let's get on to today's topic; school squash and in particular in North America. When I was 1 young I played the U.S. Junior Open a few times and won it once and I think came 2nd another time. There were almost no strong American players back at this point in time. My how things have changed...
The U.S. has more courts, more coaches, more money and they really love and support their sports, but the main reason I believe that the U.S. has taken off in squash is because of their school squash programs. The College Squash Association (CSA) is basically the minor league system for the PSA World Tour now and the level of play is substantially higher than when I played (2005-2009).
As someone who worked as a head coach for 8 years at a Canadian private school I know there's only 1 full time coaching position at a school in all of Canada and that would be at Shawnigan Lake. All of the other schools in Canada use their teaches to coach their squash programs, who mostly haven't played squash. At the school I worked at I survived as a contract worker, but it wasn't a full time position and unfortunately they weren't very supportive of squash which is why I am no longer there.
Over the years whenever I've looked for current job openings at squash websites I constantly see U.S. schools looking to hire. Almost half of all of the jobs I see nowadays are for American schools. It's crazy to compare the the school programming in the U.S. to Canada or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Having courts, a program and a strong coaching staff at your school is an amazing resource I wish I had when I was a kid. Schools with programs are a terrific breeding grounds for growing our game and I wish more Canadian schools would step up to the plate and support their sporting programs and realize that investing in a squash program can benefit the school in numerous ways. It makes me wonder how the U.S. middle and high school system got to the level it's currently at...it must be the CSA.
Even at the university level Canada cannot compare to the states whatsoever. Western is the only school that competes in the CSA. I went to Western for this reason and when I was there I only played 1 home match in 4 years and we drove 2 minivans to each of our other matches. Normally I was one of the drives and we would drive for 6-12 hours and sometimes have a match that evening, sleep and then play 1 or 2 more before heading back. One weekend I remember driving to Cornell (6 hours), playing against Yale, driving to Toronto after the match to play 3 Ontario University Association (OUA) matches on the Saturday. I recall another time sleeping on the floor of a frat house at Cornell on the way to team finals because we were on a tight budget. Oh and did I mention that we didn't even have courts on campus and our coach was unpaid? I don't know how much things have changed at Western since I graduated, but that was what it was like just over a decade ago.
In the U.S. most of the school competing in the CSA have top notch facilities and world class coaches. They travel on team buses, have athletic trainers and even their equipment and uniforms are high end. Obviously most (if not all) of the U.S. schools have much larger endowment funds than Canadian schools, but I don't believe this is an excuse for having such a underwhelming school program here.
Do Canadian schools just need more money to have proper squash programs? If so is this something that Squash Canada or the provincial squash associations can assist with? Is it too late for Canada to learn from the U.S. system and try and mimic it on a smaller scale? As a coach, squash lover and someone who wants to see Canadian juniors flourish I sure hope we can figure this out.
I know a lot of squash clubs struggle to pay their bills. Squash courts take up a lot of space and the courts are generally only ever used at lunch and in the evenings. Schools however have the space, own their land and can make use of the courts all throughout the day. Let's hope in a decade from now we'll be able to look back and see more school squash programs not only in Canada, but all over the world.
It may sound like I was compiling today, but I really am thankful for all of the opportunities that Canada has presented to me. I'm just passionate about squash and I wish we as a country could do more to support the game at the junior and collegiate level and I believe the way forward is through school squash.
Did you know that Serious Squash has a new instructional film? It's a combination of 4 episodes of Squash Shots, 3 of which are on back corner solo drills and the final one is an episode of my 10 favourite core exercises. It's a 20 minute film that you can stream for just $5 at SeriousSquashShop.com
Enjoy the finals of the Windy City Open tonight! Who's your money on? I'll take Farag in 5 and Raneem in 4.
Feb 26 2020 9:38AM
I have done my fair share of solo hitting over the past 30 years. Even still to this day I continue to come up with new solo drills that I find either more interesting, engaging, challenging or simply just more enjoyable drills. Today I'm going to discuss some recent solo drills that I've come up with and I'll also be discussing best practice methods.
As many of you know I produced The Secrets Of Solo Hitting a few years back and I've sold well over 500 digital copies of it. I know that doesn't sound like much compared to more mainstream sports, but it does show that there are a lot of people around the world curious about what they should do when they solo hit. I've also produced a shorter version, The Advanced Secrets Of Solo Hitting (and Movement) where I take the viewer through a routine with a mixture of targets and ghosting.
Last spring I started a weekly subscription coaching video called Squash Shots (Patreon.com/SeriousSquash). Each week I post a new episode talking about a key point for improving. Some weeks I'll share a couple of drills, or some movement exercises, maybe a tactical discussion and even some off court training activities. Last week I posted episode 40 which is a fun solo volley drill which focuses on attacking volley drives. An attacking volley drive is quite a difficult shot to execute and to practice by yourself. I believe I've come up with the best possible way to work on this shot on your own. Here's the episode:
In episode 41 I discuss the simple overhit drive which is a foundation skill. Here's the episode:
In next weeks episode (#42) I discuss the importance of regular short hitting and in episodes 43 and 44 I will be posting 4 of my new favourite advanced solo drills. If you read the blog post from 2 weeks ago it was about how to maximize the dimensions of the court and that's also partly what these drill are going to encompass. If your opponent knows you will mix it up from the back corners they will begin to poach their T position and it will put more pressure on the tightness of your drives.
I'm the first to admit that we have to constantly work on our straight drives and that is a part of these upcoming new drills, but I am also adding in a variety of other shots from the back corners which will help you expand your repertoire. In today's game, when you have time and space, even from the back of the court, you have to be able to apply pressure and if you're skillful you can do so in a variety of ways.
Back when I did my master's in coaching I recall a lot of discussions about best practice. A lot of importance was placed into specificity of practice and how it can most closely replicate match play. Along these lines there was a lot of discussion about blocked versus random practice and which is more effective. We discussed why a golfer would go to a driving range and hit 20 shots in a row with 1 club when they never have that opportunity to do that in a round? The same things happens when we solo hit or do most drills for practicing our squash game. Clearly we enjoy the rhythm and flow of this form of practice, but it isn't necessarily going to transfer as much as random practice of a variety of skill sets.
(a must read book for coaches)
An example of random practice (from a recent Serious Squash Instagram comment) was on serving. Someone asked 'how do you practice your serves when the ball gets cold?' And I said 'hit 1 serve every so often.' By doing this you will pay more attention to each serve and you will also have to recall the desired motor skill in a 1-off situation; similar to a match situation. On the overhand if you continually serving it means you you will be able to make adjustments from previous serves until you eventually begin to find your range. There is also a little more pressure when you are doing something just the one time. Sometimes in lessons or in technical testing I'll have a pupil play 1 serve and I'll rate it. This is again not exactly a match type scenario, but it more similarly replicates it than just hitting 50 straight serves.
If you haven't acquired the skill yet and need to make some major adjustments there is something to be said for blocked practice. I also believe if you need to improve the confidence of a specific shot blocked practice can be an effective training tool, but at some point you should look to put that shot into a more random type of drill or condition game.
Anyways, the purpose of this all random versus blocked practice is that these drills I have come up have a mixture of blocked and random conditions plus there is an element of shot selection while maintain an enjoyable flow for the session. Three of these drills contain more than 1 type off shot and two of them contain shot selection criteria, which again are essential skills in squash.
If you'd like to see samples of these drills make sure you follow Serious Squash at Youtube.com/SeriousSquash or Facebook.com/SeriousSquash or on Instagram @SeriousSquash
You could also subscribe to Squash Shots and give it a try Patreon.com/SeriousSquash
Feb 19 2020 9:29AM
When I was younger I thought core training was just to get a 6 pack that you could show off at the beach. As I got older and learned more about squash, anatomy and the biomechanics of squash I realized how vital core strength and training that area of the body was. In fact, I'd say it's next to impossible to play squash at a high level without having done a lot of core training. Below is a pic of me from my late twenties and even at this point as an athlete you can still see some issues with my posture (rounded back and closeness to the ball) and this was partially due to a lack of core strength.
When I was a child and even as a teen I remember doing a lot of situps and crunches, but still my core was never strong enough. Over the past few years I worked with a personal trainer and I learned a lot of better exercises for improving my core strength which are also much safer for my back and neck. Let's take a look at some of these and discuss the importance of having a strong core for squash.
When I think about core strength it's not about if you have a 6 pack or not...it's about your ability for your core to provide stability and in the case of squash be able to hit a ball with accuracy and when appropriate to generate power. I have also learned that core strength is not just in the frontal plane so we need to spend time working our core in different planes, because the squash swing is rotational (which means it is not in the same frontal plane as a setup is). We also need to vary our exercises so that some our core is engaged for a long time (say doing a plank) while others we need to rapidly engage our core and relax it (for example doing a deadlift or a kettlebell swing).
In the case of playing squash our core isn't engaged and producing maximum power throughout the entirety of the match or we'd be spent after a few rallies. It is however called upon at times to maintain our balance throughout our movement and swing, to produce additional force when hitting for power and it also provides us with a smoothness and high level of control when we aim for accuracy like when hitting drop shots. A strong core also means you can stay further from the ball. I often see people get very upright and close to the ball when they want to hit with power because they don't have the proper core and lower body strength to maintain the proper posture from a further distance to the ball.
Simply stated, having a sufficient amount of core strength in squash means you will also be able to maintain superior posture which equates to improved accuracy and it will keep you closer to the T area. People who have weak cores usually are moving as they hit and drop their heads. These people will also probably find it quite difficult to sit perfectly upright for more than a few seconds without a back rest.
So what type of core exercises are the best? I believe it's safest to start with exercises such as planks, side planks and bear crawls, but let's look at some of my favourite exercises. A couple of weeks ago I did an episode of Squash Shots where I demonstrated my 10 favourite core exercises. You can have a look at the episode here:
Here are some images of various exercises I have done over the past few years which all engage my core to her able top lift, swing, push, pull or balance the kettlebell, barbell, sled or band.
When I worked with a trainer a lot of our work was with kettlebells and doing this means you are using more than 1 muscle group and almost every exercise will engage your core. Exercises like Russian getups, swings, carries, deadlifts, squats, split-squats, snatches and so on are all exercises that will require your core to be engaged to do them with proper form with any significant amount of weight.
A few months ago I saw a video of me playing from university and I noticed my posture wasn't great. Even though I was playing #1 on a top 8 team at that time I was lacking in the strength department. I know now that I spent too much time on aerobic fitness training and not enough on strength training, especially during the season. Hopefully you're reading this early enough on in your squash days so you can learn from my mistakes. I also highly recommend finding a good personal trainer to teach you how to do properly use equipment such as kettlebells and to train your core safely. If you have back problems, I encourage you to google Dr. McGill's 3 core exercises for back health.
Remember that proximal stability (your core) means superior distal control (of your limbs). If you're serious about your squash you have to dedicate time for off court training or you will never reach your potential. Just like the word implies, the core is the centre of being a superior athlete and an elite squash player.
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Feb 12 2020 5:41AM
The dimensions of a squash court are standard across the globe, but they are not used equally across all levels. The dimensions of a court are 32 feet long and 21 feet wide. The court boundary line at the front wall is 15 feet high. The square footage of the court is 1,207 and yet most of us don't come close to maximizing the full dimensions. Let's take a look into what shots make the court play biggest and how we can best practice this.
A drop shot can only land so short. Clearly a drop isn't going to land an inch from the front wall so we can't say we have 32 feet of length to hit int; it's probably more like 28-29 feet. If we think about the width of the court it is very difficult to optimize the courts width by hitting perfectly along the sidewall on our straight shots and superbly wide on our crosses. As we go up in levels this is something players are better able to do. Not only are you making your opponent do more work by having to get those few inches further from the T, but this can also mean a deeper lunge and less time or space allowed to play their next shot.
For our first few years of playing most of our shots don't end up landing in either of the 4 corners. Many of our drives or loose, landing short or with poor width; we are also unable to keep the ball tight on a consistent basis. When we try and go short it takes unbelievable touch, especially as the ball gets warmer and bouncier and coming at you with some zip on it. This all being said if you can get your drops to land shorter, like Tarek Momen is so amazing at it does make the court play to its fullest dimensions. Below is a few attempts of me doing just this in a recent solo session.
Also if you can hit dying length (second bounce in the very corner) this will make your opponent play the ball as far back into the court as possible. Below you can see a short clip where I was working on this in a recent session. I put my business card in the very corner and I was trying to hit it on the second bounce. It was quite challenging to hit, but it was very effective way to hone in your focus on the weight and angle of your drive.
An area that we rarely hit and use on the court is the top portion. Most people don't use the top 5 feet of the front wall. If you think if the court as a 3 dimensional area there is a lot of unused space up there. That is also dangerous territory because good players are lethal on the volley so you when you do use height it has to be incredibly accurate. You see a lot of the top pros using the crosscourt lob from the back of the court nowadays which is an effective way of using the full dimension of the court and keeping their opponent off balanced.
Having your drops and boasts land short, drives stay tight and die in the back corner with your widths unvolleyable and your lobs a perfect height, you will be maximizing the full dimensions of the court. How can you practice making the court play big?
1) Use a target in the back corner for the second bounce for your attacking drives
2) Use a target for drops which is a couple of floorboards off of the sidewall so you focus on angling in your drops so it gets tighter after the first bounce
3) For your drop targets put them further up towards the front wall (around 2 racquets lengths) which will help you work on your floater drop (Tarek Momen special)
1. Use targets the same as above
2.With masking tape section out the 4 corners and all shots must land within these 4 areas or the rally is over (as pictured below).
3. With masking tape section out the middle area of the court (front of the service box and 5 feet forwards) and ball aren't allowed to land in this area (as pictured below).
4. All shots in the rally must be hit over the service line to get you to focus on using height effectively. You can also try and focus on hitting the panel (on panel courts) when under pressure.
Of course there are shots that don't lie in the marked off areas above which can be quite effective, this is not the point of today's post. Today's post is to try and use the absolute edges of the court boundaries. Hitting our lobs higher, our crosses wider, our drive tighter without bouncing off the back wall.
The angling in of drop shot is one that I'm going to have to really work at. I have a good short game, but my natural swing which is fluid and without thought angles is aiming for the nick and not angling in for tightness. You would think that this is simply a small adjustment of the target, but when you've practiced a certain swing so much it's quite difficult to adjust your posture and target to a point where it is a new and ingrained swing that will show itself in a match instead of my older more natural swing. I also find it quite difficult to get the ball to land super short, especially with a bouncy ball. I can take the ball short by cutting the ball and I rarely make unforced errors on this shot, but relaxing the arm and shortening the swing to let the ball stay further up the court is extremely challenging and takes unbelievable skill.
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Feb 2 2020 9:37AM
Why is it that other sports have become more popular and made it onto tv? Do you really need to have played the sport to watch and enjoy it? I bet there's a lot of Americans who have never played football, but are die hard NFL fans. The same could be said for Canadians and their hockey teams. Why has our culture made some sports and athletes famous, but squash is not one of them? Why are no squash pros a household name? How come we don't get mentioned on sport highlight shows? I've never met someone who follows squash who doesn't play squash (outside of the parents of kids who play) and that's simply isn't good for the health of our game. Today I'm going to discuss bunch of reasons why that might be and mention some ways how we could begin to change this.
One area I think is missing from squash is a stand out in the statistical category. In baseball there's a lots of number chasing and following; batting average, era, strike outs, home runs and so on. In hockey they track plus-minus, goals against average, penalty minutes, goals and points. The top are given major awards for leading their respective leagues in these statistical categories. The same is true for a a lot of other mainstream sports. These stats also attract a lot of people to wager on the outcomes and take part in fantasy sport leagues.
In squash I can't think of any stats that are tracked which seem critical or exciting to me, let alone an outsider. As a player and coach I realize and respect a top pro for making just a few unforced errors in an entire match and having a 60+ minute match, but a non-squash fan could care less about what a player didn't do for over an hour. I believe what the PSA is doing by publishing shots of the month is a good idea, but still something more is missing. Could it just be more difficult for finding important stats in an individual sport?
Golf is a sport which also tracks numbers. How many shots under par a player is, how far someone drives the ball, percentage of times a player hit the green or fairway in regulation and how frequently each player makes the cut. Doing this we can all easily understand and appreciate the players who are the best at each area of the game and we also tend to marvel at those that are the best of the best.
In tennis things are a bit different. Most people (including myself) only seem to track the majors. How many majors someone has won and what spot they are on the all time major championship list. There are a few stats that tennis uses within matches, but I don't think they stand out like a basketball or baseball players do. In tennis they can show first serve percentage, aces, winners, errors, double faults and they can also track the areas on the court a player has hit.
Can squash use some of the advanced technologies from other sports to increase our popularity? Does the tour need to set 4 majors and make them more evident or for more money? Who has won the most squash majors of all time? How far away are the current players? I'm serious about squash and I don't even know the answers to this, so I couldn't expect a random non playing squash person to get into and enjoy watching squash based on the race for major championships.
I realize that PSA Squash and Squash TV has a limited budget so maybe a few of the stats and slow motion replays we see in other sports aren't possible at the moment. But if they did have unlimited resources what could they do to further increase and engage their audience? Here's a few ideas that I've come up with which could be helpful:
- make 4 set majors a priority and post records for the all time greats
- show percentage of time a player makes it to each round
- have odds for players to win major championships and start a fantasy league for prizes and money
- track the number of nicks per match
- track the number of immaculate winners per match
- track the number of average shots per rally
- allow people to pick the winner of each match on social media (I think I saw this recently on Facebook)
- find a way to post the speed of shots played during matches
- calories burned
- let the fans in the stands or watching live on Squash TV electronically vote for the let decisions (even if they're not used this would be more interactive for the fans)
- let the Squash TV announcers be the judges for video replays
- track the number of dives
- have season ending awards for leaders of some of the above mentioned stats
- interview the coaches before matches and after games to talk about game plans and adjustments or at least have them mic'd up and translated if not in English
How else could squash spice things up and draw some interest from the general public? What about more team events or pro softball doubles? What if more countries were guaranteed at least 1 entry into the biggest events? I know in Canada there's rarely anyone to watch or cheer for in the big tournaments and if they are they rarely reach the glass court.
A lot of sport viewership is also increased by having a villain and someone to root against. Squash is generally a gentlemen's game so you don't see a lot of bad losers and temper tantrums. Players aren't even allowed to open the door to talk with the ref. I hate to say it, but perhaps a Nick Kyrgios would bring a spotlight onto our sport. I know that's a not the type of attention most of us want or think we need, but like they say 'any publicity is good publicity.' People love to hate certain sport teams or players for a variety of reasons and often tune in to root against them. I'm not saying squash should allow fighting like in hockey, but the last time I remember squash in the media it was for the young man at Trinity who taunted his much smaller opponent after defeating him.
I'm okay with squash not being as popular as other sports, but I also don't want to see it dissipate and fade into the sunset. Should the PSA need to allow a timeout during a match where a player can come out and receive coaching? If this was a rule Elshorbagy wouldn't have had to fake a non-cramping injury in the finals of the TOC!
Squash TV has started posting heart rates for some players and they show the time of games and sometimes the distance covered. These stats are a start, but they aren't up to the standard of the other sports and after watching a couple of matches they all tend to blend together and not reveal anything too exciting. I think we have to create some new and more important stats that we can all follow and understand. In baseball they seem to come up with a new stat almost every year like launch angle, WAR (wins against replacement), exit velocity and OBPS (on base percentage plus slugging). They also have players that are capable of breaking a record or do something spectacular within a single game (a no hitter, perfect game, strike out 10+ batters, an immaculate inning, a 100+ mph pitch, 5+ hits, hit for the cycle or launch multiple homers). In squash all I can think of is a bagel. Beating another top pro 11-0 is a tough feat, but when a player gets down 5 or 6 points you often see them ease up anyways so it's not really the most telling stat.
I don't think baseball, basketball or any other sport is better than squash, but it makes sense why these other sports are so much more popular and closely followed. Even if squash has to change the rules or court dimensions in some crazy way it could be for the long term benefit and health of our game. This is why I applaud the RAM scoring system. I like the idea, but the fact that 2 people can't easily do this on their own (because you have to stop time between points and add time back on if there's a rally over 1 minute) it isn't the final solution in my opinion. Ramy is definitely onto something though and he knows we have a superior product that just isn't getting the exposure it deserves. Perhaps if we can figure out a better way to showcase our sport with the use of some new stats, a fantasy league or some other new ideas we can increase the exposure of our amazing sport.
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Jan 27 2020 8:59AM
One area that almost all squash players have in common is that we are always trying to hit the ball closer to the sidewall on a more consistent basis. Most people when they start playing just get the ball back ands a lot of their shots tend to end up in the middle of the court. With a lot of practice and patience we eventually start to get shots within the width of the service boxes and after a few more year ideally right along the sidewall.
There tighter we hit a shot the less likely it is that your opponent will be able to attack. The closer the ball is to the sidewall the further your opponent has to to go from the T to play their shot and it will also limit their ball control. When the ball is right on the sidewall only the top inch or two of the racquet will be making contact with the ball and this makes it quite challenging to get back let alone control. Even at the pro level there are countless points won every match because a ball was glued to the sidewall.
Even with this early understanding and relentless pursuit of hitting the ball tight, it's still something we can all improve upon. As we are under pressure the way we have to adapt our body and swing to play a shot makes it even less likely that our accuracy will hold up and we often pop out shots towards that dangerous middle area. This is where many swing break down because people don't have the correct swing mechanics or the they lack strength and mobility to get their body into the ideal hitting posture at top speed.
In the most recent episode of Squash Shots (episode 37) I demonstrate 3 solo drills which are geared towards intermediate players which focus on hitting the ball straighter and tighter. Below is the video of the episode and then I will follow it up with a brief description of each exercise.
In drill #1 I am trying to hit the ball into the service box without letting the ball hit the sidewall. For many years of playing squash I didn't pay attention to where my length was hitting the sidewall. Even at a pretty high level I was using the sidewall to help straighten my shots up, but as I now know this slows the ball down and it often won't get to the back wall against a top level player. You'll easily notice this if you play on a court with sticky sidewalls where the ball doesn't tend to slide down the wall like it does on some courts. A glass court is a good example of this where the ball just pops out towards the middle of the court.
In drill #2 I have a target (cone) around the short line. By doing this I don't have to worry about the back corner (which many people struggle with up to a certain point). So this is a drill that allows you to really concentrate on the direction you are hitting the ball and also focusing on the weight of shot. If your short drive clips the sidewall it will likely pop out and not hit the target so this simple drill can be very effective for keeping your swing going straight through during the contact part of the swing. When I do this drill with very new players I have them start up by the front wall and every time they hit a target I get them to move back their target by 1 racquet length.
In the third drill I am doing sidewall drives, but aiming to hit the short line with each of my drives. This another good way to work on technique and the angle of your shots without worrying about the back corners. This can be modified to hit into the widths of the services boxes too. It also doesn't allow the use of the sidewalls to subtlety straighten up your drives.
At the end of the video I demonstrate a couple of ways to practice hitting the ball to focus on your posture. Our alignment as we hit the shot will play a large factor in the accuracy of our shot. If we line up parallel to the sidewall as we hit and can maintain this posture throughout our swing we have the beast chance of hitting the ball straight. Many players crowd the ball and open their hips and shoulders when they swing, like a baseball player who pulls the ball when they want to hit for power. When you do this you tend to pull the ball out towards the middle of the court and this is a big reason many amateurs play more crosscourt shots than straight ones. If you practice hitting a shot balancing on 1 leg or on your knees you won't be able to spin with your swing making them ideal teaching tools for understanding and improving ones hitting posture.
There are a pile of drills and condition games which can also allow you to learn how to play straighter, and even begin to win by playing straight shots. The most common drills would have to be boast, drive or rotating drives. A lot of players do these drills regularly which bring the focus to hitting the ball tight on a more consistent basis. As for condition games I'd have to say the my favourite 2 are: alley games, where every shot of each rally has to be played on the same half of the court for both players. When I was in university I had a lot of difficulty playing straight and deep on the forehand side and this exercise really helped me. The second condition game is where 1 player has to hit only straight and the other player can hit anything. Sometimes when I do this in training the player who has to only hit straight can only hit to length and they 2 players don't switch until the player with the condition has won a rally. If you do this against a strong opponent this can take upwards of 1-2 minutes so it's also an excellent way to improve your physical conditioning.
Often times at the beginning of my matches I start off just playing straight drives knowing that if I can get a lead and create pressure with just this 1 shot everything else is going to fall into place once I decide to open up the court. It's also something I resort back to when I'm in a tough patch in the match and I need to get back on track. Even though I am an attacking style player, I still play best when I am hitting the ball tight and applying a lot of pressure with my straight drives, drops and kill shots.
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Jan 20 2020 11:04AM
I watched almost every match on Squash TV at the current Tournament of Champions. There were some amazing matches and as a player and coach I'm constantly analyzing and marvelling over the ability of the top players. The level of the game has never been higher and each year the bar raises. I thought Momen was going to take the event, but he had a few mental spats against Marwan Elshorbagy, Ali Farag and in the finals against Mohamed Elshorbagy.
What I watched at the TOC inspired this week's episode of Squash Shots and also today's blog post. Episode 36, titled 'Improvisation,' can be watched on the Serious Squash Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/tv/B7i7o-TpTe8/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet
I was impressed with how fit and strong both Paul Coll and Joel Makin were. They hit so few unforced errors and with how well they move and for how fit they are, they must be a nightmare for almost everyone on tour. There's very few players in the world that can hang in there physically and mentally with those guys. Even still Makin and Coll haven't won a major title. Will they be able to with the style that they play or will they have to adapt their game? Can they adapt their game at this stage of their careers? Surely they can't get that much fitter, stronger and faster, can they?
Gawad, Momen and Farag, just like the great Ramy Ashour not only have an immaculate short game, but they can also adapt their racquet preparation under pressure meaning they're nearly impossible to read. They play with very little tension in their arm which allows them to generate a lot of whipping action in their wrist so they can flick the ball to any part of the court. Coll and Makin on the other hand have a couple of very set, rigid preparations and they are more easily read by the top players in the world. It's this contrast of styles which is so enjoyable to watch, but I certainly prefer watching and cheering for the smooth moving and hitting Egyptian players.
Mohamed Elshorbagy's game is transitioning from a hard hat, Nick Matthew style of play. For years he basically played at a pace the rest of the field couldn't handle. Now there are a few that can and with the aging of Elshorbagy he has no choice, but to begin to refine his game. This is what Nick Matthew did as he aged. Matthew was able to find a few areas to be more deceptive with his shots. He couldn't continue to dominate with simply being super fit, disciplined, mentally tough and accurate. Would Matthew in his prime be able to be world #1 with today's pool of players? He'd be one of the top competitors, but I don't think he would win more than 1 or 2 titles per year as the depth of talent is simply too deep and talented now.
Nowadays there are a loads of players who are hunting the volleys, playing a high T position and are super fit. Back when Matthew was playing there were very few players who had this effortless style of play and the racquet skill that the top few do now. The ones that come to mind are of course the GOAT, Ramy and the maestro, Amr Shabana. When either of those legends were fit enough to hang in with Nick or Greg Gaultier they would have the edge. But when they're not 100% fit, healthy or strong they would have trouble hanging in there.
How do these top Egyptian players develop the uncanny ability to have such a relaxed, accurate and unreadable swing? A lot of it has to do with their decision making. They understand what their opponent is reading and they know how to create space on the court by having countless options from a variety of set positions.
Many other players prepare the same way every time they move to a specific part of the court and have maybe 2 or 3 options, but they can be fairly easily read compared to the players who have adaptability in their swing. The ability some of these squash magicians have to accelerate and decelerate their swing at the last second to change the speed and angle of their shot is what makes them so great to watch. Doing this means their opponent has to wait longer on the T and expend more energy to move off the T, which also dictates that they will be at the ball a little later and generally keeps their opponent off the volley. Squash is a sport where fractions of a second make all the difference and dictates if a player has to defend or attack and how hard they have to work. Even the top movers and fittest players in the world can only take so much.
A good example of being unreadable and smooth was first two games of Farag and Coll. Farag was reading Coll like a book and was on the ball so early. Coll on the other hand was under a lot of pressure trying to just get the ball back and hang in the rallies. Coll's tenacity and fitness was almost enough to be able to come back and win the match, but ultimately Farag had just enough in the tank.
If Gawad was fitter would be have beat Elshorbagy? What if Momen got better calls or was mentally a bit stronger and handled those decisions better? I would say they are technically the two best players in the world and when Momen is in the right mindset and Gawad is fit they are almost untouchable. The reason why? In my opinion it's their ability to use all 4 corners with tremendous accuracy and their ability to adapt their swing to hit into the open space. Have they practiced more than the other top pros or have they just practiced differently and if so what exactly was it that let them develop their world class racquet skills?
Back when I was doing my masters I did my final project on decision making at the front of the court for professional squash players. So this is a topic that has always interested me. Can you teach a player to make better decisions and be tougher to read at the front of the court? Definitely yes, but I've never seen a top player successfully change their style from a grinder to a smooth attacking player. Some ideas I would try is relaxing the arm, varying the timing of hitting the ball, having 4 or 5 different set racquet preparations and doing a lot of shot option drills and conditions games. Part of it will also come from video analysis of watching their matches and seeing where they are being read and where a new shot or two could be helpful.
Is the future of the top of the PSA be based on speed, strength and fitness? Or will players with superb racquet skill dominate? Or will a mixture of the 2 be what is necessary to win major titles? If a player is at the highest end of racquet skills can they ever be as fit and fast and strong as Coll and Makin? And can players like Makin and Coll ever develop magical racquet skills? I don't have all of the answers, but it is sure a lot of fun to watch.
With so many amazingly talented players right now, there is 1 thing I do know for sure. TO be world # 1 for any length of time is going to take the consistency of results that will only come to those that are fit enough to back up big matches and mentally strong enough to pull out close matches. In these situations do you back the super fit or the more relaxed and technically gifted? Beating 3 or 4 of the worlds best in consecutive days it's not going to be easy to win any big trophy and that's what is going to make in 2020 so much fun to watch.
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