Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Decade Behind and The Decade Ahead

At the beginning of every decade, pundits both like to look back and analyze the last 10 years and prognosticate about the future. Whereas there are many pundits better than I, I nonetheless feel it is time for me to throw my opinions into the blogosphere and subject myself to whatever outraged commentary comes hurling in my direction. So here goes:

A look back over the last ten years reminds me of a great number of wonderful squash players. Here are my favorites on the men's side:

Best Deception: Jonathan Power
Best Mouth: Jonathan Power
Best Overall Player: Tie--Amr Shabana, Peter Nicol
Best Mental Discipline: Thierry Lincou
Best Exuberance: Ramy Ashour
Toughest: Tie--Nick Matthew, David Palmer
Best Scandinavian: Olli Touminen
Best Hair: Olli Touminen
Best Humor: John White
Best Personality: John White

For the ladies, I'm a bit less opinionated:

Best Overall Player: Nicol David
Very Honorable Mention: Sarah Fitz-Gerald
Best Mental Discipline: Tie--Nicol David, Sarah Fitz-Gerald
Toughest: Tie--Jenny Duncalf, Rachel Grinham
Best Scandinavian: Anna-Carin Forstadius

I also have a lot of typically male opinions about the relative sexiness of these players -- hey, The Squashist is human -- but without getting into a Best Legs, Nicest Smile, etc., etc., list, I feel I should say that any great woman squash player is naturally sexy. She's athletic, smart, and determined, and that's a great combo.

A look ahead leads me to a prediction that I'm convinced will bear fruit: There will be an increasing number of top-10 squash players from the US as the next decade unfolds. I think there will be a #1 from the US this decade, and it will more than likely be a woman. But the men will not be too far behind; by the end of the next decade, there will be a man from the US in the top 3 -- maybe even #1.

Why do I say this? Because the junior game is thriving in the US, and many accomplished foreign squash players are taking up residence here and teaching their skills to US players. The American system of athletic equality means that women are getting as great a squash education as the men, and there are a large number of women athletes in the US because of this system. A few of these women will break through to the top echelon, and I'm betting one will go all the way. (I'm discounting the great Natalie Grainger, who still could reach #1 herself, because she is foreign-born; I'm writing here about a native American.)

At this writing Julian Illingworth has already climbed to #28, as high as an American has ever achieved. Might he make it to the top? It's very possible; he's young enough that he is still learning and he is a determined athlete; he might well be able to do it. But there are scores of players coming after him, so watch out world, the American decade is about to begin.

(I'm off for 10 days for a trip down South and up to DC, so nothing new from me for awhile. Everyone, have a great holiday: God Jul! as they say in Sweden.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Squash TV is a Hit

I watched several of the matches at the just-completed Saudi International Squash Tournament on PSA's Squash TV. There was none better than the final, pitting the precocious Egyptian Ramy Ashour against the tenacious Englishman Nick Matthew. This match was one of the all-time greatest squash wars you will ever see, and my hat (were I to wear one) goes off to Matthew, who put on a great show with terrific gets and a smart game. The decision could easily have gone either way, but after nearly 2 hours and 5 tight games, Ashour pulled through with a victory, and will now be rated #1 in the world.

Matthew played exceptionally well, however, and he should be very proud indeed with his game, particularly since it has been a tough road for him with injuries. He should look back on this year with a great deal of satisfaction.

But the point is that the availability of the live feed let many people around the world watch this great match that otherwise would have missed it. Technically, Squash TV did a great job, and since the service is still in 'beta,' it's likely that future broadcasts will be even better. It won't always be free, of course, but so long as it is priced right it should still be a winner.

I think this is a great advancement for the world of squash. Check it out next time and I think you'll agree.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Squash Injuries, Part 2

Marty Clark, an excellent squash player who was the US national champion four times running and achieved a world ranking of 59, is also an orthopedic surgeon, and wanted to research squash-related injuries. In addition to emailing questionnaires to 20 elite players worldwide, he distributed questionnaires to squash players around New York City clubs, and I, dear readers, was one of the respondents. The questionnaire asked about injuries the players had experienced over the last two years.

His survey found a rather high incidence of lower-extremity injuries, which was somewhat surprising since racket sports often create more trouble for the elbow, wrist and shoulder. Clark theorized that the lighter racket and the fact that fewer shots are hit overhead, as compared with tennis and badminton, were elements that helped reduce upper-body problems.

Clark's retrospective survey found that 35% of the players had suffered an injury requiring that they miss at least one week of play during the preceding two years. The mean age of those suffering injuries was about 3 years older than those not reporting injuries. (And for all you older players out there, let me commiserate: Bah!) The sites of injuries were:

  • Hip/groin: 25%
  • neck/back strains: 13%
  • shoulder/elbow: 13%
  • achilles/calf: 9%
  • hamstring: 6%
  • quadriceps: 6%
  • knee: 6%
In addition, 40% of the players reported a chronic injury -- perhaps requiring bracing (15%) or surgery (18%) -- that was related to squash. The most common chronic injuries were:

  • Foot/ankle: 24%
  • hip/groin: 21%
  • knee: 21%
  • back/sciatica: 17%
  • shoulder/elbow: 17%
There was one eye and one shoulder surgery, knee and foot surgeries, ACL reconstructions, and arthroscopies to repair meniscal tears. There were 8 participants who reported either eye or facial trauma at some point in their squash-playing histories.

As anyone who has played squash for a while will tell you, the wear and tear on the body can lead to down time. I think any athletically demanding game can prompt injuries, and a subsequent visit to a really good orthopedist, or podiatrist, or physical therapist, etc. It's part of the price we pay for loving and playing the sport. However, knowing how we injure ourselves can help us take preventive measures when possible. My advice (and I'm currently injured, so I ought to know) is to play within the limits of your body. Don't try to be an on-court hero, don't try to play too frequently without giving your body time to recover, and don't twist so much to get a ball that you end up running into yourself on the other side!

But keep squashing if you can.....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Squash Injuries, Part 1

There isn't a boatload of research on injuries in squash. I discovered one interesting review, however, from the South African Journal of Sports Medicine. The review, from 2007, can be read here: Squash Injuries.

The authors wanted to get a fix on the number and kind of musculoskeletal injuries among adolescent squash players, and the mechanism by which the injury happened.  The study was a retrospective descriptive study, meaning data was assembled from squash players who were asked to look back over the last 4 weeks and recall any injuries they had experienced. 

It should be noted that the musculoskeletal system in adolescents is still maturing, and as such is more susceptible to injury. The authors note, "The biomechanical demands placed on the vulnerable neuro-musculoskeletal system of young people by high-intensity sports such as squash may be an injury risk factor."

Their results: "Twenty-nine per cent of the players (N = 31) reported that they had sustained a squash injury in the 4 weeks prior to data collection. A total of 48 injuries were reported by the injured players. The most common injuries included those of the thigh (19%), shoulder (13%) and lower back (13%). Forty-two per cent of players reported no specific mechanism of injury, but experienced pain not associated with a traumatic injury only while playing squash." They found that those who stretched before the match suffered injuries at half the rate as those who didn't.

The mechanism of injury was also interesting: 

Lunging                          10%
Tripping and falling           12%
Jump and landing              12%
Impact from ball/racket      17%
Collision with player/wall   19%
No traumatic incident         31%
I'll review another study, by Marty Clark, MD, in my next blog.....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Read it and Win

The Squashist's Opinion Emporium, which you can access on the righthand side of this blog, yields some interesting results. To the question whether you read Squash Magazine, the answer so far is a rather underwhelming 57% read it, with the remainder not bothering. 

But if you cross-tab that with the question, 'Have you won any tournaments?' the results are impressive: 77% of readers have won tournaments, compared to a piddling 13% of non-readers.

Perhaps you ought to get reading, yes?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hej, Elin Nordegren, det är dags att flytta ut!

I've already gone on record as saying I'm not a fan of Tiger Woods (see Tiger is not nice), so a part of me, the evil part, is enjoying his public humiliation. I hate to say it, but it's true. It's a classic case of schadenfreude, the feeling of pleasure one can have at observing another's distress. It's not a noble feeling, but there it is.... 

His first reaction to his predicament was to issue a statement or two on his website complaining that the public should just leave him alone. Only when other women came out of the woodwork did he realize he was in deep trouble and offered up a vague admission that he had transgressed, and then went on to again complain that the press and everyone else should leave him alone. This was when I was feeling the warmest glow from my schadenfreude, a delicious, self-righteous feeling. 

The second wave of public humiliation is to become the butt of punditry and TV comedians, which is the phase we are in now. I received this emailed picture late yesterday: 

Goofily funny, and a reference to the fact that his Swedish wife Elin knows how to use a wedge.

But the truth is that about now the happiness that Tiger has finally received his comeuppance has faded, and the situation is more sad than anything else. 

Tiger has been a golfing star since he was a kid, and as a result has been treated like a special human being from the start. This type of treatment has an inevitable result, which is seen in many other top athletes: they become spoiled rotten. Tiger has carved out a special zone for himself in the world, believing that he really is superhuman, and he's not. I think the result is pretty pathetic. And as I tried to express in my Swedish title for this blog, I think it's time for his wife to get the heck outta that relationship. I don't see him truly reforming: how can he, he's been hard-wired to believe in his own exceptionalism. Have the kids grow up in a normal environment.

Athletic exceptionalism doesn't happen in the squash world. We have our athletes who show tremendous talent at a young age too, but we don't sign them up to huge marketing contracts and employ special retainers to safeguard their every whim. And they don't grow up to be billionaires, as Tiger has become. Instead of all that money, however, they are grounded adults living in the here and now. No money but nicely grounded—that's good, right? 


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Follow Me [Not] on Twitter!

The other day someone suggested I post on Twitter. Sorry, no way....

The Twitter phenomenon is hysterical, ridiculous, appalling and disturbing. How such an odd wrinkle in the media universe could catch on is worthy of an in-depth scholarly review, but the fact that it has is hard to deny. You know that Twitter is here to stay, at least for the short term, when major media conglomerates and advertising giants all now make it a point to advertise their presence on Twitter. "Follow us on Twitter!" is the rallying cry.

Sorry, I have better things to do than get 1- or 2-sentence updates from companies, media people, even friends and family members. If my mother were twittering I'd call her up and say, "Mom, stop! I'm not interested!" If some company had the testicular fortitude to run ads that said that they were NOT on Twitter, I'd be more likely to buy their product. The ad could say something like: "We would like to reduce information about our company and what we do into annoying, inconsequential sound-bites, but what we do is too complicated for that, and further, we think your intelligence might be offended by treating you like a 2-year-old, so we aren't going to do that. Please don't bother looking for us on Twitter." I'd go for their products if they did that!

Twitter does have a more circumscribed place in the universe, though. For instance, it can quickly report squash scores from on-going tournaments, a use that US Squash has embraced. These fast reports have been welcomed in particular by junior players, and their parents, who want to get the scores asap. So okay, I accept that.

But other than for such legitimate informational uses, Twitter is nonsense. It has currently reached and exceeded the proverbial tipping point where everyone feels it is necessary to get on board. One fine day in the future everyone will look around, realize that since everyone is on Twitter the media has lost all semblance of panache, and ask, 'What the hell was I thinking?' and like rats on a sinking ship, off they'll go. To where, of course, is the ultimate question, for therein lies money, big money.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

You Should Have Been a Physical Therapist

This blog has been relatively quiet of late, and the reason is that yours truly has been distracted by a handful of pokings and proddings by our nation's medical personnel. After having regrouped from a disconcerting rotator cuff tear over the summer, for which I visited a physical therapist, this latest series of mishaps has been disheartening.

Most importantly, I have had an occasionally severe pain in my left ankle. From the start, I thought I knew what caused it. About a decade ago I was playing a fair amount of doubles squash, and had become pretty good at it (if I say so myself....). In one fairly intense match, I, a right-waller, found it necessary to run at full gallop up to the front left wall to snare a nice drop. I got it, but on pushing off with my left ankle felt an unmistakable twinge. Later I went to an orthopedist who, upon fondling my foot for awhile, declared that I probably had a subchondral defect, a gouging out of cartilage, but that in the short term it would be okay. The long-term story was not so good, however: the bit of floating cartilage would gradually accrete material and become larger, rendering surgery likely, oh, in about a decade or so.

Well, right on cue my ankle had started bugging me to the point where it was obvious I had to deal with the problem. The podiatrist who saw me found additionally that the synovial fluid in the talar ankle joint was also seeping into the porous bone, causing additional pain. So it's under the knife I go, hopefully before Christmas. Then a week on crutches, a week in a soft cast, and then physical therapy. I'm hoping to get back on the court late in January.

But that wasn't all. Because my gait was alterred from the bad ankle, I have also developed chondromalacia patellae in my right knee, which is caused by a defect in the tracking of the patella as it glides atop the knee. Although I have no arthritis in either knee, thankfully, there is a chance that the ailment has been aggravated by arthritis under the kneecap. This problem also resolves with physical therapy, and should also be corrected by the time my left ankle is back in fighting trim.

I hope! In the meantime, my squash game will be more a theoretical construct than a diversion based on reality. The big winner is my PT; he loves this!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

US Amateur Squash: A Status Check

Not long ago I received an email from a respected member of the squash community, a man who has played the game for over 30 years, no doubt a hardball expert who probably plays a mean game of hardball doubles. He made several observations about the game in the US today and asked me to address some of them in a blog.

Briefly put, here are his observations:

1. The junior game is exploding in popularity. Some of these kids will play the game in college, with a few playing for the top squash college teams, although many of these spots will be taken over by gifted foreign players.

2. Upon graduation, however, the players drop off significantly in participation. Women players after college become rare birds indeed. He posits that the college teams may be so athletically demanding that the players are frustrated upon graduation as they see their performance on court necessarily drop.

3. Men's amateur weekend tournaments, usually plentiful on both coasts, have similarly plummeted. The social nature of these meetings, a glue that kept the squash community strong, has therefore suffered.

4. League play in historically strong squash centers like New York City has also plummeted.

He adds an observation: the Racquet and Tennis Club in New York recently held their Silver Racquets tournament, with 32 teams battling in a hotly contested doubles tournament, which occurred alongside big draws in the club's court tennis and racquets competitions. Yet he says that there was no singles squash draw at all.

So, here are my comments, which are delivered in two ways. First, personal observations, and second, data culled from the US Squash association.

Personally, I'm a bad person to ask these questions, so I apologize from the start. I rarely attended tournaments and league matches simply because my work and, later, family life rendered such luxuries onerous. So I don't have a very good base with which to compare these things.

I can make a few comments, though. I have noted before, in an earlier blog, that I have observed that there seem to be more women playing the game post-college than before. (Women in Squash). At the club where I play, seeing a women on the court used to be as rare as seeing an eagle come swooping by my window. Now, on any given evening, women are playing at the club, and some of them are damned good! (I also might add that eagles are making a comeback as well.) In addition, my club has always had a healthy roster of players, numbering about 500 active players 10 years ago. I recently read that my club's roster now lists 600 players, a significant advance. Because of the large number of in-house players, my club has never been too active in league play since you can always get so many players at your level right there under the same roof.

But to adequately address these comments, which on the whole refer to the numbers of both players and tournaments, one has to consult the game's association. US Squash (USS) notes the following:

1. Women squash players made up 14% of the USS membership just 4 years ago, a percentage that now stands at a healthy 25%. Not enough, perhaps, but a trend in a very positive direction.

2. Membership in USS itself is up 50% in that time. While membership in USS overall is small compared to the overall squash playing public, a phenomenon against which I have also ranted in the past (USS Membership), this too is an excellent trend.

3. In re the transition from college to citizen squash, USS is extending memberships to graduates for 3 years in order to maintain contact with these young adults. In addition, USS partners with the College Squash Association in supporting their league.

4. As for leagues, the numbers don't lie. There are now more active leagues in the US than at any other time, ever. New York City has about 70 teams, up fully 25% from last year. My club with its mob of racket-wielding enthusiasts has even begun fielding one league team -- a women's team.

5. There are more USS-sanctioned tournaments than ever before. I am not sure if there are more sanctioned and unsanctioned tourneys now, but the trend is to get these tournaments sanctioned, which is good for ratings.

6. A very important element in increasing competition has just been introduced by the USS. PLAY SQUASH is a free program that offers online software tools to organize ladders, box leagues, club rankings, and club championships, allowing results to be used for official rankings. Member clubs can even obtain free sanctioning of their club championships, which will make club rankings much more accurate. Players can use these accurate rankings to set up matches anywhere in the company, through a USS 'Find a Match' feature. What's more, the USS office tells me that the PLAY SQUASH program will be expanded to cover hardball doubles in 2010. This is analogous to golfing's handicap system, and if it catches on -- which I very much hope it does -- it will revolutionize how we play squash in this country.

I have no idea why the Racquet & Tennis club did not set up a singles tournament, by the way, but it may involve indifference by the pro, the demographics of the club in question, or a scheduling problem. Out of curiosity I'd like to hear from someone about that.

So, given these facts, it could be that the perception has not kept pace with the reality of the game as it exists today. I think the writer who brought up these points may look back on the social interaction of the old amateur tours with affection, but today there is not just one such 'tour.' (It should be noted that the very popular INSILCO B/C/D tour, dating back to the 1980s, was actually a softball tour.) Maybe the greater opportunities to play in tournaments that one has today have served to diminish the social interaction that came with the game. If so, that's a problem that I herewith punt to tournament organizers who might consider more or varied social events during the tournaments.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Quiet Storm

Several years ago I had a regular weekly evening game with a guy I'll call, for the purposes of this blog, Carlos. Carlos is a great guy, and big, about 6 feet 2 inches, and quite stocky for a squash player. I'm nearly 2 inches taller than that, but a bit more wiry, so the two of us on one court could get mighty crowded mighty quickly.

We liked to play physically, trash talking was encouraged, bumping around the T was considered normal, and every other match or so someone would end up on the ground as the other guy would go flying across the diagonal to reach a shot and crash into the unsuspecting lout.

I'd normally beat Carlos, often just barely, but about 10% of the time he'd find some inner mental strength to play a very tactical game that would beat me and leave me wondering if this were the same Carlos I had been successfully playing.

One day, years ago, Carlos and I began our weekly match, and from the start there was something unusual about his focus. He liked to take shots early and hit hard, very much the type of player who played to the back walls nearly all of the time, but that day he was holding most of his shots, hitting unusual drop shots, and hitting them well. He took an early lead in the first game and won it, eventually, after a long battle.

The second game was more of the same, but I stepped up my own game to meet the challenge and became inexorably focused on his slightly weaker backhand. My legs got warmed up so that I was getting to his frequent drop shots, which were still hitting their mark, and I won the game.

The third game was such a long drawn-out torture session that it seemed like it went on forever, and it was in this game that Carlos, running to get a nicely played drop by me, ran straight into me and landed hard on the floor. I was rocked and my neck felt like it had whiplash. Carlos weighed a little more than 200 lbs, and I a little under, so the collision was significant.

Carlos just smiled, asked if I were OK, and on hearing yes, said 'let's go.' I could tell the focus was still there, as was his joy in the game that, while always under the surface, seemed to have effervesced and was seeping through his pores. The guy was loving every second of this, even when he lost the third game in overtime.

We were already nearly an hour into this match, and were both drenched with sweat. I changed my shirt before the 4th game started but Carlos seemed to love the fact that his shirt was completely drenched. You know you are in a good match when while steadying your hands to serve you see sweat dripping onto the court from your arms....

The fourth game was his, as my strength and focus seemed to fail me and he seemed unusually energized. There was a bit of manic zeal to the guy that defeated me from the start.

The fifth and deciding game was very psychological, as I decided to hold my shots a long time and place them in diametrically opposed positions to get him to run twice for the same ball. I'd position my body for a soft drop up front, hold, and pop it to the back, and he with his high energy would run up, stop short, then run back. He in turn had upped his shot-making, hitting a high percentage of low-percentage shots. I remember winning the final game in overtime, and thinking that god himself had blessed me with a special favor for which I would have to do years of penance.

Carlos shook my hand, smiled, and left the court. On the benches outside we were both breathing heavily for a few minutes, dripping sweat on the floor, and quiet, unwilling to speak.

Carlos put his head in a towel and rubbed it all around, then fully enshrouded himself in it, staying still for several minutes. I tried to catch my breath and stretched, albeit feebly.

"Nice match," Carlos whispered.

"I'll say, you played great."

"Thanks. It's great to...."

His voice trailed off, and a moment passed, and his attitude seemed to change. I sensed there was something more than squash on his mind.

He rubbed his enshrouded head with the towel. "You know," he said, "the fact is I'm beat right now."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"My business is in a freaking tailspin, which has caused a lot of financial worries, and my wife is completely unhappy and lets me know it -- mostly because I'm always at work. Plus I have an odd blood test
result that my doctor told me needs to be explored."

I stared at him. His face was still sweaty, but he had removed the towel and, although looking down, I could tell that his eyes had filled with tears. He was despondent, his face grim.

I didn't know what to say at first. I sat there as Carlos' tears welled up, though he hid it by lowering his head and taking his towel and covering his face. I saw his upper body shake once or twice, realizing he was on the verge of sobbing.

I felt panicked. "Well," I ventured, "that's a lot to worry about." I told some quick, feeble story about how financial distress had hit my family and how we cut back to the bone and managed to get through it.

"Yeah," he said, "I'm doing that now. It should be okay. But I tell you, this match today was the best thing that has happened to me in months, it was great. My squash is the one thing in my life that is working for me right now. It's an escape. More than you know.... I can rely on it, on you, and on this game."

He pulled himself together, we talked a while longer, and off we went, agreeing to meet again at the usual time next week.

And next week came, and he told me that the medical concern had been proved unremarkable, and that the company he worked for had just hit on a big contract. And a few weeks later, he mentioned in passing that he and his wife were 'good,' and going off on a vacation together.

A quiet storm had passed, right there on the squash court. 

Yet another quiet storm....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SquashZAG Up and Zagging

Hatched in the beautiful Canadian city of Vancouver, is now out of beta testing and attracting readers the world over. Indeed, according to SquashZAG's founder, Shawn Patton, the site already boasts viewers from 87 different countries, so the site is truly international.

The idea behind SquashZAG is to present an active website with news, opinions, blogs, a monthly squash magazine, and Facebook-like messaging capabilities all at one super-destination. The site aggregates content from other sources as well as presents its own, and in that spirit it has rebroadcast some of The Squashist's writings about 'la vie en squash.'

There are several very interesting things about the site. One is the variety of opinions you can find there on anything to do with squash, and another is the variety of sources of squash content on the SquashZAG site. As with most open democracies, opinions are sacred on the site; if you feel it then you are free to express it. Patton himself is known to be a bit of an activist when it comes to wanting to reform aspects of the game; injustices that he feels exist in the professional game are for him large pebbles in his squash sneakers that demand correction. But he has also told me that this is neither the point of the site nor will it be a major part of it.

Another praiseworthy aspect of the site is ZAGMAG, a monthly squash magazine that debuted just this month: see ZAGMAG. The magazine boasts editorial from squashinistas the world over as well as stellar graphics, which are the brainchild of Patton's partner in this venture, Erik Zaremba.

And SquashZAG also has the best compilation of videos on squash I've yet come across: check out SquashZAG Videos. You can spend quite a bit of time viewing these videos, reading the magazine and searching SquashZAG Articles for material that interests you.

In just a few months SquashZAG has become a welcome addition to the world of squash. Bookmark it, and zag on.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nicol David, Squash Goddess

I don't think anyone in the entire world dislikes Nicol David, Malaysian squash goddess, who is currently celebrating her 40th month perched atop the women's rankings. How could anyone not love this person??! 

In addition to being one of the all-time great players of the game, she is a relentlessly positive ambassador for squash and by all accounts a terrific person with a stellar personality. 

She proved yet again how great she is during the semifinals of the recent Carol Weymuller US Open in Brooklyn, NY. Jenny Duncalf, who has been on a tear lately and would eventually go on to win the tournament (she also recently won the Soho Squash tournament in Egypt), beat Nicol in 3 games (6, 4, 3), a shock to all in attendance -- no doubt including Duncalf herself.

But true to her natural disposition, Nicol was gracious in defeat. She didn't complain of an injury or a mental lapse or bad officiating, she just praised her opponent: "She didn't let up an inch, and I just had to try and do something, and she just kept on going and went right through!"

She's a champion, a beautiful champion, inside and out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

To Market, To Market!

I wonder what it is the marketing guys at squash rackets companies are smoking nowadays and how on earth I might get some. Because they sure seem relaxed and unstressed.

Why do I ask? Well, have you ever noticed the perfectly dreadful names that these marketers give their rackets? I have an image of a bunch of guys sitting around a big conference table to decide the names of the newest line of rackets. Someone calls out a perfectly deplorable name, and an old gruff guy says, "Hell, that'll do," and boom, they're on to the next question. Namely, "What's for lunch?"

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

Dunlop has both the ICE Pro and the Hot Melt -- not sure what either name refers to but they seem diametrically opposed to one another -- can that be good?

Head has the Metallix and the Raptor, names that can at least conjure up images, but images which have nothing to do with squash.

Prince has the 03 Black (which, rather oddly, is used by John White).

Wilson, whose rackets I use, has something called the K Factor (the what?), the Sting (not bad..), and the Hyper Hammer, which is evocative of a murderous psycho.

Feather has the Super Hitter and the Heavy Hitter. That certainly explains things, I guess....

Harrow has come up with the Spitfire and the MOJO, the latter of which is not a bad name....

Black Knight has the Magnum Corona, which is a great name for a cigar, and the Bandit-2, which in the context of squash doesn't make sense.

So I thought I'd come up with a few good names for rackets, which I herewith submit and which any racket company is free to pilfer, be my guest:

How about:

* The Weltmaker
* T-King
* StrikeKing
* The Bother Stick
* The Prevailer
* The Major Dude
* The Tenderizer
* The BlisterMaker
* WarAxe
* The Vexer

You get the idea.... My favorite is The Weltmaker, but any of these would at least paint a picture and get the sales numbers up. Splash on some cool graphics and take it to the bank.

All the above being said, I now submit to you the obverse. Sometimes, strangely, marketing gets you nowhere, and sometimes deliberately poor marketing can get you noticed and become a marketing strategy of its own.

There is a takeout place on 45th and 9th avenue in New York City. They quietly opened up one day and the people have been flocking to it ever since. It offers a simple deal: you pay a real low price and you will get a nice piece of chicken with the restaurant's very own special flavoring. The name of the place is to the point:

The name isn't sexy, it's not French, it's not suggestive of anything other than what it delivers, and that's a piece of chicken. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why marketing is such a conundrum.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Urtak X-Tabs

Not too long ago I blogged about the surveying website called Urtak:

Urtak is a very clean, agile way of getting feedback on whatever topic you are interested in, which in this case, of course, is squash. Urtak is the brainchild of Robert Gibralter and his son, Aaron. I contacted the Gibralters, pere et fils, and was so taken with the concept of collaborative surveying that we set up a special Urtak domain, named 'The Squashist's Opinion Emporium.' You will note that the Urtak questions and the Emporium are always available along the right-hand side of this page. Anybody can ask any question they want, so long as it is about squash, so ask away. The more responses, obviously, the better. 

But simply asking a squash question isn't so special. What makes Urtak so interesting is its ability to cross-tabulate the answers from one question to those of another. For example, 75% of respondents said they are 'addicted to squash.' Of those who answered positively, 71% said that their squash arm had grown bigger than their other arm. (Of those saying they were not addicted to squash, only 43% admitted to having a larger squash arm.) That's cool information. (Marketers might even get some valuable tidbits from the site.)

When asked whether they play 3 or more times a week, 70% answered yes. When cross-tabulated with the question, 'Do you throw your racket?', 33% of the frequent players admitted, yes, they hurl the racket from time to time. Only 13% of the non-frequent players admitted to that indiscretion. It seems that the frequent players can be a little tense about their playing, n'est-ce pas?

One more: When asked whether they had hit their own shin with their racket, 83% had experienced the ignominy of this act. Cross-tabulation with the question of whether one is a 'competitive golfer' obtained this interesting statistic: Only 12% of those who hit their shins are competitive golfers, whereas 44% of the non-shin-hitters are competitive golfers. Does that say something about muscular control in golf? Or that golfers are wimps? 

You get the idea. It's data mining for fun. And since I'm at work right now, supposedly being productive, it is also important to point out it is a little addictive, so be careful.... 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Hard Truth About Hardball Courts

Several months ago someone sent me a link to a story in a newspaper serving a Seattle-area university, in which the writer bemoaned the large number of squash courts that were always vacant. The school’s gym was not so big that the amount of space taken up by these big, dark rooms, which were allegedly never used, didn’t go without notice. Tear them down, the writer said, and put something worthwhile in there.

Well, I thought, that’s a little harsh!

Knowing Seattle to be a good squash town, my curiosity was piqued enough to email the writer, in which I gave a little summary of squash in the US, how the numbers of players are actually on the rise, and surmising that what the school needed was a decent program and perhaps a good coach. The writer wrote back tauntingly, saying that there was no way a good coach could resuscitate a dead sport, and it was time to tear the courts down!

At first I wanted to wring the little bastard’s neck, but thought it would be unduly expensive to fly cross-country to do so. Then I realized, wait a minute, it just can’t be that no one is playing squash. I emailed the Seattle naysayer and, after a few more responses, gradually ascertained that the school had a bunch of hardball courts, upon which no one ever ventured.

Those hardball courts are a bad advertisement for squash -- they are a negative to the popular conception of the sport. They are uniformly underused throughout the country; most hardball courts exist nowadays only to provide a field upon which dust balls might play. And yet almost half the existing courts in the US are hardball courts, remnants of days gone by.

Look, I started playing squash with a hard ball. I liked it a lot, but the game has evolved and the softer ball and the larger court now represent the game. There are a few clubs that still have some active hardballers, and there is still a tournament or two, so I’m not suggesting that we throw these older players out in the cold. If the courts are still used, then keep your constituents happy and leave them alone. But most courts are visited by no one. Tear ‘em down.

I am hopeful that one day ball manufacturers will come up with a ball that has the feel of hardball singles but can be played on a softball court. The quick-reaction junkies enamored with hardball could then have a great time on the wider court without shorter rallies. Hardball exists today in a thriving and thoroughly entertaining form -- doubles. Long may it prosper.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pro Jelly

Just to reinforce my last blog, take a look at the mug of Canada's great former world #1, Jonathan Power.

Squash Canada created this effective poster starring their most famous export with the very nice line: There's a rumor going around that good players don't need eye protection: This should squash that.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Out Out Vile Jelly!

Not all that long ago I rearranged my good friend Ted Clarke's face. 

Ted is a solid A- player, straight A on a good day. I can't remember who was beating who during this match, but Ted beats me more than I beat him, and I believe in this particular match I was ahead and so trying desperately to seal the deal when disaster struck. Under some duress, Ted hit a shot that ended up in the front right quadrant, but it wasn't a well-struck shot, it was too far out in the middle of the court, and I was right on it with time to spare. I decided I'd do a little razzmatazz on Teddy and faked a drop to the right front corner, but at the last microsecond I took a vicious swat at the ball with the intention of hitting it hard to the back left corner.

Only problem was that Ted, hovering close to me, had bought my deception and was heading in to cover the nonexistent drop to the right corner. Two things make Ted a great player: his close coverage, wherein he is fearlessly close to his opponent while watching his every muscular twitch, and his great footwork, where it seems he has an extra second or two to answer the challenge presented by his opponents.

But in this case he got caught by my deception. As he was running in to intercept my fake drop shot he instead intercepted a very hard-struck racket which landed right in his face. Right in fact into the eye, if it weren't for the fact that Ted had impact-resistant goggles on. Ted went immediately down and immediately there was blood on the court. The picture is a lousy one -- sorry Ted, you are a handsome man, bub, but my cheap phone camera makes you look a little too scary -- but look carefully and you can see both a bruised eye and the tape around which he would receive stitches by a plastic surgeon. All that damage occurred even with safety glasses on; imagine the carnage that would have happened if he were not wearing glasses.

The surgeon was a good one, and he has no obvious scars. Needless to say, I felt terrible. An observer of the game -- luckily a doctor! and more about him later -- was watching closely and reported that it wasn't my fault, thank the heavens. I haven't hit anyone with a racket in probably 20 years and rarely hit anyone with a ball. Not a nice feeling!

The point of the story is this: Even among good players, stuff happens, and you can never be sure your sight is safeguarded unless you wear goggles. That the PSA hasn't mandated eye protection for pros is a shameful thing; one day we will read of some horrible accident in which some top pro is permanently disfigured or blinded by a mishap on the court. The PSA should get off their butts and make this happen, or grandfather it in and decree that any pro currently playing can do as he or she wishes but future pros must comply with goggle rules. Think hockey: they did this successfully and no one thinks twice about it now.

The excellent Will Carlin, a top US player who nearly lost his sight under similar circumstances, has written about this in several effective articles. Take a look at this one, from Squash Magazine:

Friday, October 16, 2009

The International Brotherhood of Squash

And sisterhood....

Above, a Wiki map of countries around the world currently experiencing significant deaths from wars or internal strife. The numbers are unfathomably huge, and with each number comes the sadness of families and friends and, often, a grim resolve to get even.... And so this testosterone-fueled cycle of violence goes on.

I've found that countries all over the world are packed with a lot of great people who are often shackled by mediocre governments. Or worse, criminal governments. 

Personally, I hate it when others think I am somehow representative of what my government might be doing or saying about some crisis point in the world, and I try not to make the same mistake with others. I like the fact that, in one sweaty room, an American can play a great game with a resident of a nation that might not like the US government a whole lot, but there they are, having a game, and a respectful one at that. (They can discuss politics while having a beer together later on.) How about a Pakistani playing a great match against an Indian rival, an Egyptian beating the tar out of an Israeli, but shaking hands after the carnage, a Serb congratulating a Croat after a tough 5 games.... It's sport, a common language that levels everyone to the same plane. It's a beautiful thing. 

Here's a quote to ponder -- Philo of Alexandria, an important philosopher of the first century AD who melded theological ideas from the Jewish tradition with Greek philosophy, came up with what many consider a precursor to the Golden Rule:

Be Kind, for Everyone You Meet
Is Fighting a Great Battle!

Live that rule, on court and off, and watch that map of strife whither away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Respect Attained

I mentioned it briefly before but it is worth highlighting again that the US Team did very well at the Men's World Team Championships at Odense, Denmark. They were seeded 12th and ended up at 12, but they lost a close match to South Africa and a tough match to Malaysia, both of which might easily have gone the other way. If it only were easy! 

US squash has struggled to gain respect on the international circuit and I think, this time around, it finally has won it. Chris Walker, the US Men's National Coach and a great pro player in his day, is to be congratulated, as are the members of the team: Illingworth, Lane, Gordon and Quick.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An Old, Bad, Tortured Story

Today's the day when golf and rugby 7s have formally achieved member status into the Olympic club. An old, bad, tortured story for us in squash, now, of course, so sorry for bringing it up yet again.

I have to just mention that I was impressed with a CNN blog, written by Digital Sport Producer Paul Gittings, that called out the IOC for the money-grubbing fat-cat schmucks that they are. The blog, found here,, includes a nice shot of golfer John Daly smoking a cigarette. Now there's an athlete! 

Gittings reviews the other sports that had been up for inclusion and saves the best review for squash: "Most people believe that squash is already in the Olympics because it’s the sort of sport that should be, requiring immense skill, stamina and courage, played by some of the fittest sportsman in the world and in most countries in the world."

Thank you Mr. Gittings, and if by chance you are a squash player and based in New York, I would be happy to play a game--beer afterwards is on me!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Je Crois Que C’est Stupide, Alors….

I believe is the principal source of squash news and commentary on the internet at the moment, and I’ve had it bookmarked for years. One reason I think the site is successful is its commentator, Framboise. (Like Madonna, she uses only her first name.) She displays a cheerful disregard for relating the news using an unbiased, classically journalistic approach, instead offering a much more personal look at the game and its players. She is unabashedly both pro-squash and pro the players who try to make a living playing the game, who she describes with obvious enthusiasm. As a result of her efforts, the players seem awfully human, as does Framboise.

Her wit emerges through her writing, and her reporting gives her an earth-mother quality, as when she notes that so-and-so is very very cute or that so-and-so looked a bit sad today. The result of all this is that Framboise is herself a ‘player’ in the world of squash – she has become one of the interesting personalities that one associates with the game.

She’s biased towards France, but cheerfully so, and ready to admit it should anyone ask. (Squashsite is an English-language site but has a subsection in French.). But she’s more likely to say she’s rooting for France because Thierry is soooo cute or Gregory is soooo adorable than for any other reason.

But, all that aside, she also knows her squash, offering very nice summaries of the action, often zeroing in on the psychological battle that is transpiring on the court in front of her.

However, her knowledge of squash doubles is a bit soft. In her recent blog during the Men’s World Team Championships, she spent some time interviewing Chris Walker, the US Men’s Team coach, whose guys played a very good tournament that just missed propelling the team into the top-10. Framboise talks to Chris here:

In this discussion she reveals that she is either unfamiliar with or uninterested in hardball doubles. She notes that Chris Walker still plays squash in the US, “but on the Doubles circuit, for a Hardball Doubles Team, I understand. I’m sure it means something for our North American friends, beats me though….” And with that throwaway line, hardball doubles is dispensed with.

Framboise, dear, I love you, but hardball is a MUCH better game than softball doubles. Mon dieu!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Heraldic Crest of the Squashist

When you get to be a famous squash bloggeur, good things start to happen. One such thing is the creation of my very own heraldic crest, with the words of the old family motto emblazoned thereon. 

I'd like to thank Shawn Patton for getting this done, and Eric Zaremba, his graphics guru, for actually doing the artwork. Shawn is now rolling out from beta-testing an impressive new website,, about which more later. Erik the guru is available at should you need a talented graphics guy.

Here's the logo:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Go Ask Urtak

Here's an amusing diversion for you. Go check this site out:

Urtak is a new site that presents what they term 'collaborative surveys,' where anyone who participates is allowed to ask a question. The site covers whatever in the world anyone wants to ask, but it is clear that the owners have a fondness for squash, since there are many squash-related questions.

There is an engaging mix of serious questions and some silly, often funny questions ("Do you ever dream of playing squash outdoors on a beautiful day?"). They are all of the yes-no variety, so you can bang through them quickly, yet the overall findings from these surveys are undeniably important. If you want to know how many players wear safety goggles on the court, Urtak can give you a decent approximation. If you want to know how many people think of themselves as sore losers, go ask Urtak. Obviously, the more responses the more accurate the findings.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Squash, the Original Extreme Sport

‘Extreme’ sports are all the rage, so much so that there’s even a regular circuit for these X games. I’ve often mused that squash might fit into this category well. Compare the caloric demands of all the sports, below. Squash is one of only a few sports that is classified as anaerobic, in which the demand for oxygen cannot be maintained during a strenuous rally and the player must slip into oxygen debt.

Another example of the extremes in squash is the amount of time a ball is actually in play, when compared to something like tennis. The average tennis game may have 3-4 shots per rally, whereas that number is often considerably higher in squash. The time between serves, which can seem interminable for viewers of tennis, must be short in squash because of the game’s rule of continuous play. Thus the ‘match intensity,’ which is the actual time the ball is in play divided by the overall length of the match, is considerably greater in squash (and, for that matter, badminton, which tends to get short shrift from those who have never experienced it but whose intensity levels rival those of squash).

Although I’ve read a tennis player covers about 2 miles or so in actual match play, I maintain that the distance covered is often greater in squash, although I admit I can’t prove it. I can come close: On two occasions I strapped a pedometer to my waist when playing an A match, with long rallies, to see what the result would be, and in the first instance it was about 2.8 miles and in the second it was over 3. However, a pedometer is not going to give you an accurate reading in squash because of the lunging, sliding nature of squash motion, so you will have to slap a big asterisk next to those numbers.

Caloric demands of squash has a service called Calorie Count, available here:
It has figured out the caloric demands for a 150-lb person playing one hour of the following sports. Here are their findings:

Badminton, competitive:  476

Basketball: 544

Bowling: 204

Boxing, match in the ring: 816

Cricket: 340

Curling: 272

Fencing: 408

Football, competitive: 612

Frisbee, ultimate: 544

Golf: 306 (don't hurt yourself, Tiger…)

Gymnastics: 272

Handball: 816

Ice Hockey: 544

Jai Alai: 816

Judo: 680

Lacrosse: 544

Orienteering: 612

Paddleball, competitive: 680

Racquetball, competitive: 680

Rollerblading, inline: 816

Rugby: 680

Skateboarding: 340

Soccer, competitive: 680

Softball or baseball: 340

Squash: 816

Table Tennis: 272

Tennis, singles: 544

Trampoline: 238

Volleyball, competitive: 544

Volleyball, beach: 544

Wrestling, per match: 408

I was surprised by a few of the higher amounts, particularly inline rollerblading, for which one’s momentum is usually directed in one direction and thus removes the stress of shifting one’s movement, and handball, which I have played, and which the slower nature of the game (compared to squash) argues, as far as I’m concerned, for a lower caloric intensity. Golf, once again, has revealed itself to be a sport for the indolent.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

More on US Squash ...

A lot more!

I received two interesting comments from my most recent blog bemoaning the fact that more enthusiastic squash players don't join the national squash association. (If you are reading this from outside the US, I'd be interested to know if similar problems, or attitudes, exist elsewhere. One reader, from Canada, listed with apparent satisfaction the benefits he or she receives from his or her regional squash association, all for $35 in Canadian bills, which last time I looked was worth more than the anemic US dollar...)

Another reader raised an interesting point, saying that not being on the East coast meant that he or she just didn't get enough value for his membership. It's definitely true that historically the East coast, from where I write, has been more involved with the game, so I wondered whether perhaps there is an ingrained regional specificity that has biased the national organization and its dispensation of energy and funds.

What exactly does the USS organization do, anyway? I decided to call and ask Kevin Klipstein, the capo di tutti capo of the organization itself, and ask. He told me that the list was long, and that USS did indeed provide abundant value for those outside of the East coast, but that this was a lingering perception. I asked for some facts, which he supplied later that day in an emailed list, as below. I pass it on, while reminding everyone that I am not a paid writer for USS and believe I am an unbiased observer of the game and its politics. However, I reiterate as strongly as I can that I believe supporting your national organization is a must for all lovers of the game, including those in Canada, Sweden, Egypt, England, etc.... Below, Klipstein's list:

What Does U.S. SQUASH Do for Me? Well, That Depends, Who Are You?

Squash Player/Fan/Enthusiast
Host website with information on every aspect of squash in the US
Provide online listing of tournaments and leagues run in the US
Provide comprehensive list of clubs in the US
Provide technology infrastructure which allows players to enter scores from everything from a challenge ladder match, box league, team league or tournament which count towards ratings calculations
Provide the online tools to teaching pros, coaches, tournament directors and districts to manage every type of competition with results counting towards players’ rankings
Generate regularly updated rankings at the club, district and national level
Annually offer tens of thousands of dollars in seed money for new middle, high school and college programs nationally
Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for College Squash
Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for Middle and High School Squash nationally
Field our National Teams: Junior Women, Junior Men, Women’s Men’s Teams across a host of competitions including the World Championships, Pan American Federation Cup, Pan American Games and the World University Games
Run the U.S. Open Squash Championships
Host over 20 National Championships across juniors, adults, singles and doubles
Host 8 Regional Championships and 5 Junior Championship Tour events
License, host, co-host or facilitate financially
  • 2 men’s professional tournaments (NAO, US Open)
  • 3 women’s professional tournaments (Texas Open, Weymuller, Greenwich)
  • 3 doubles professional tournaments (Johnson, Kellner, NAO Doubles)
  • Two annual international competitions (Lapham-Grant, Copa Wadsworth)

U.S. SQUASH Member
Provide regularly updated national, district and club-level ratings and rankings
Offer a full-year subscription to Squash Magazine
Send monthly e-newsletter with national squash updates and links
Offer discounted fees for participation in U.S. SQUASH sanctioned leagues and ladders
Provide 35% discount for U.S. Open and other event tickets
Facilitate discounts at Hilton Hotels
Enable the Life Time Fitness “Be Our Guest” program which allows current U.S. SQUASH members a free “guest pass” to Life Time Fitness Clubs when traveling outside of their home region. Other clubs are being added to this network.
Provide ability to email other members of the Association via online system, and ability to “Find a Match” using online system, screening by location, skill level and availability
Host U.S. Championships for qualified junior, adult skill, adult age, and doubles players
Allow access to official U.S. SQUASH Coaching and Referee Certification programs
Offer Scholar-Athlete Program which recognizes junior squash players with a 3.5 GPA (or higher) and a Final Season Ranking
Offer Coaching Certification Courses to improve the skills of the teaching pros and coaches in the US
Offer Referee Certification Courses to improve the skills of officials in the US and encourage fair play nationally
Send a personalized membership card and other mailed updates throughout the year

Squash Clubs
Provide insurance coverage for sanctioned tournaments
Offer membership retention tools such as use of online software for hosting tournaments, leagues and ladders
Provide access to database of players to be used for communicating with club membership about club activities
Offer club rankings for players of every level
List clubs on website and promotion of all tournaments, leagues and ladders to help support membership retention
Support teaching professionals via Squash Professionals Affiliate (SPA) program (see Club Pros)
Offer a full-year subscription to Squash Magazine

Club Pros
Offer Coaching Certification Courses to improve skills as coach
Allow use of online software for hosting tournaments, leagues and ladders, also used for communicating with club membership about club activities
Access and support via the Squash Professionals Affiliate program which offers….
  • Personal liability insurance coverage for coaching
  • Access to a pre-screened, preferred network of health insurance providers
  • Eligibility for U.S. SQUASH Membership Incentives
  • Discounts on tournament sanctioning fees throughout the season (up to 20%)
  • Waived sanctioning fees for annual Club Championship
  • Waived sanctioning fees for use of U.S. SQUASH Leagues & Ladders
  • Free admission to the U.S. SQUASH Professional Development Conference
  • On-court performance apparel from U.S. SQUASH
  • A Squash Professionals Affiliate recognition certificate
  • Discounts up to 50% on Coach Certification Courses offered by U.S. SQUASH
  • Free entry into the SPA Championships
  • Eligibility for U.S. SQUASH Lifetime Achievement Award, Rookie of the Year and Most Respected Professional Awards

Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for College Squash
Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for Middle and High School Squash nationally
Access and support via the Squash Professionals Affiliate (SPA) program (see Club Pros)

Playing Pros
Run the U.S. Open Squash Championships
Financially responsible for prize purses for approximately
  • 30% of men’s professional tournaments in the US
  • 50% of women’s professional tournaments in the US
  • 20% of professional doubles tournaments in the US
Provide direct support to the US’s top six players through program called TOPS which includes
  • Direct financial support over $10K annually total
  • Mechanism for athletes to raise funding support on tax deductible basis
  • Athlete health insurance
  • Performance bonuses from the USOC
  • Reimbursement for PSA/WISPA dues
  • Waived entry fees at U.S. Squash Championships

Urban Squash
Offer discounted membership with full benefits
Provide 2 for 1 entry into Regional and National Championships
Waive junior charges and event sanctioning fees
Annually offer more than $30K in funding grants to National Urban Squash and Education Association and new and emerging urban programs

Provide liability insurance for sanctioned play reducing costs
Supply a centralized membership database with membership fee collection service and robust reporting tools at no cost
Offer tournament, team and box league management software at no cost
Provide regularly updated District ratings and rankings

Other things U.S. SQUASH Does
Represents squash as a Member of the United States Olympic
Represents United States as a Member of the World Squash Federation
Maintains the Rules of the Games for Squash in the United States