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.