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.