Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh God, Please Don't Let It Be So!

There are a few sports out there which, unlike squash, have Olympic dreams that are absurd in the extreme. I remember reading not too long ago about 'beach tennis' trying to become an Olympic sport. If you've seen it, and if you know how phenomenally un-international this marketing-inspired sport is, you'd laugh along with me. 

But here's a new entry in the wannabe column: pole dancing.

And I'm not kidding. The International Pole Dancing Championships were just held in Tokyo, and acording to this article, "Hong Kong-based Ania Przeplasko, founder of the International Pole Dance Fitness Association, said efforts are underway to make pole dancing a "test" event for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. Pole dancers had tried to get on the schedule for London in 2012, but were too late to make a serious bid." Did she just say 'serious'?!

Formally a skill reserved for strippers, pole dancing even has a men's division. 

Yet another sign of the end-times, I'm afraid....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

WikkiLeaks Document #23657.25 Reveals Squash at Center of Rift Between Allies

WikkiLeaks has once again sent the diplomatic world akimbo.

One cable (#23657.25) from 2007, received from H. Pritchard, U.S. Junior Assistant Sub-Associate Charge d’Affaires, revealed a fractious and embarrassing incident in which the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, ridiculed the then-president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, to his face, causing an immediate response that was as undiplomatic as was the original Egyptian attack.

As talks dragged on during an Arab League meeting that year, Mubarak, who was seated next to Musharraf,  and who had invited Pritchard and a small coterie of US diplomats to join his delegation as observers, leaned over to Musharraf and said, “Let’s cut this nonsense short and you and I go play some squash. I’ll beat you, guaranteed, despite the age gap.”

Musharraf, struggling to maintain diplomatic niceties, said: “Hosni, my dear fellow, excuse me but I would so kill you in a game that it is not even worth considering. The great genius of Pakistani squash runs deeply through my veins, old friend. Do hush up, I’m listening to the speeches.”

Mubarak, not one to shy away from a challenge, said: “That’s crap, and you know it. I haven’t seen much of the vaunted squash genius from Pakistan lately, you buffoon! Do you know I still play twice a week?”

“So I heard, and I also heard that you play only doubles, and threaten your partner with death if he should lose a game for you. We are not in Egypt now, old pharaoh, so where is your support when you need it?”

“You’ve heard wrong, as usual, just as your intelligence within your sad albeit mightily armed country is giving you a continual stream of faulty advice,” Mubarak said, jabbing his finger at Musharraf. “Use your eyes, use your wits, and you may yet succeed in running that mess of a country you claim to run. It’s like in squash -- eyes, wits and a smidgen of sense are the recipe – but do you have them? I think not!”

Pritchard, seated behind Mubarak, grew uncomfortable, and, squirming in his seat, said, “But …,“ only to have Mubarak swivel immediately and cut him off. “Shush, or you know what will happen!” Pritchard admitted in the cable that he recoiled, eyes agape at the warning….

“I would kill you in a game, Mubarak, and any roomful of Pakistanis would do likewise to a boatload of your best Egyptians, and there is no changing that, so quiet, please, will you?”

“Do not offend me, Musharraf! Do not irritate me to the point of anger, or you will see….” Mubarak growled at Musharraf, eying him stonily, while Musharraf glared icily back.

Pritchard leaned in once again, trying to restore calm: “Gentlemen, please, as allies and friends, could you please…”

“SHUT UP!” both Musharraf and Mubarak yelled, turning to Pritchard head-on, shouting within inches of his face. At that, Pritchard thought it would be wiser to leave, so he stood up, straightened his tie, bowed, and left.

“What a fool…,” grumbled Mubarak.  “Perhaps a racquetball player, eh, Pervez?”

“Heh heh,” softly laughed Musharraf. “Yes, I suspect you’re right, Hosni old friend. Oh well…. Tea? The Darjeeling is nice….”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Run To Your Bookstore

I was given a prepublication copy of a new book by Paul Assaiante, Trinity College's squash coach who happens to be the winningest college coach ever, of any sport, and James Zug, the incomparable writer who, in addition to his historical books, is famous in the squash community for writing "Squash: A History of the Game," which if not already on your bookshelf should be (buy it now and here).

This great duo teamed up to write a book which on the surface is a firsthand account of the 2009 national intercollegiate team championships against Princeton, a match that the Trinity posse would end up, as we all know, winning in a squeaker, 5-4.

I confess that I never had a coach anywhere near as good as Assaiante, and I also confess that before reading this book I had only the thinnest notion of what separates a good coach from a great one. I also had no idea what the phrase "run to the roar" was supposed to mean. 

One of the keys to Assaiante's success is an all-consuming, 24/7 passion for his boys on and off the court. Indeed, he explicitly says as much: "The reason we finally became national champions in 1999 and the reason we haven't lost ever since is not recruiting or luck or better technical knowledge or tactical advice. There is no secret, mysterious formula. The reason is time."

Each chapter nominally looks at each match that was played that day, but the focus in fact is much wider, exploring what it means to be a parent, what it means to love, the importance of living in the now, the measure of character, and the alchemy of control. This book is a much bigger book than simply a squash book, or a book about coaching. That's why I would recommend it without qualification for anyone who is a squash fan, a sports fan, a person interested in the philosophy of life, or a parent. Particularly a parent....

Assaiante pulls no punches, yet most of the punches he inflicts are directed at himself. When a kid loses a match, he wonders how he could have coached that boy to a different result. When a student does well on the court but struggles off, he agonizes how he can help. He is constantly questioning how he can do his job better, and gradually, he does. About the book, he writes: "This is not easy. At times it is tragic, disappointing, painful. I have made horrible mistakes. I have suffered and I have made others suffer. And those moments have taught me as much as the victories."

Assaiante is not content to water down the story in any way, because the story has its ugly aspects, but he seems determined to record his failures straight on without blinking so that others might learn from his missteps. If that's not a coach, what is.... 

And threaded throughout this book is the recurring nightmare of his son's heroin addiction, a torment that tortures him still. 

The voice of the book is first-person singular, with Assaiante doing the speaking, but the presence of Zug, crafting the lines, is ever apparent. This is another great work by Zug, an award-winning author and senior writer for Squash Magazine.

This is a full book, with no circumlocution. Its about two bats and a ball in a box, but it's about a lot more than that.

You can buy the book here. I urge you to do so.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is The Printing House in Jeopardy?

Please don't let them do it again!

It's a story heard before in the world of squash.... Real estate costs are considerable in a metropolis. Squash courts take up a relatively large chunk of a club's real estate. Wouldn't it make financial sense to convert this real estate into something where more paying customers can fit into that real estate, thereby improving income? Spinning, maybe, or another room of fitness machines?

We've seen this in Australia and the UK, among other places, where clubs of long standing have shortsightedly killed squash programs, even unarguably successful ones, for the pursuit of greater income. I wonder how many clubs have regretted that decision? 

In every squash club where I have been a member over the years, the squash program has attracted squash players who go on to actively use the fitness facilities, attend the social events, and generally speaking enliven the club. Squash players are more fanatical than your average fitness-seeking members, they don't join for a few months and then quit when their fitness craze ebbs, and these ardent players tell their friends, and they tell their friends, and so on, and so on. Squash players help attract members to clubs! They positively affect the club bottom line.

Yet the scuttlebutt is that New York's Printing House, with an active 250 squash players and many years of successful NY/NJ Metro league play, has been purchased by the Equinox chain, which will shutter their 5 courts. I haven't been able to confirm this, but if it is true it will be a real loss for players in lower Manhattan. C'mon, Equinox, reconsider, don't make the same mistake that those other clubs have made.

The Printing House faithful have launched a campaign to get the attention of the management at Equinox.
1) Join and 'like' the campaign's Facebook page
2) leave a message on Equinox's own Facebook page, begging them to keep the courts open; or
3) write a letter to Equinox corporate headquarters, at 895 Broadway, New York, NY, 10003.

You don't have to be a NY-er to take action. We have got to make an impression on management that this move is a bad one! Write them now, please!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Professional Squash in America: Growth, or No?

The Boston Globe's Alex Beam wrote an irritatingly snarky column recently discussing the PSA-PST lawsuit, in which, after poking fun at the sport itself, making the obligatory reference to the vegetable, and generally attempting to dazzle the reader with his wordplay, he quotes PSA board member and lawyer, Richard Bramall:

“We are well established in other parts of the world, but in many ways America is the most important market for the PSA, because we want to grow in the US, and we are continuing to grow in the US.’

So that raises an interesting question, just how much has the PSA grown in the US? If you go onto the PSA's website and click on Calendar, there you will find the facts—all the tournaments and their purses through the years. I went back 5 years, to 2006, and compared the data. I reviewed all the numbers, separating out USA-based matches with those held in the rest of the world.

This tedious exercise proved two things: One, that I apparently have nothing better to do and my life is pathetically boring. And two, that the PSA's efforts in the US have not been particularly impressive. Here are some of the facts:

To be fair, one should keep in mind the economic duress of recent years, but even with that factor, it is hard to argue that the PSA's efforts in the US have been particularly stellar. Another way of looking at the data is to compare US purses with World purses over time:

This analysis shows that the total purse for the rest of the world has grown 48% between 2006 and 2010. During that same time period, the US purse has fallen 14%. The number of tournaments in the US has barely nudged upwards, while the rest of the world has many new tournaments. (The one mathematical oddity is that, with precious few tournaments in the US, the average player purse in the US is higher than the rest of the world. Oh, thanks.)

The stagnant growth in the US is one of the factors that has led to the alternative Pro Squash Tour, to help squash professionals in the US earn a living. They can't do it with the PSA alone, at least not with these numbers.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PSA Called 'Predatory,' and Now There's a Petition To Sign

As I presumed it might, the PSA vs PST dispute is now headed for the courts. The core legal issue is whether the PSA engaged in predatory behavior by singling out PST events over other, similar leagues and tournaments. 

And now there is a petition to sign. For those who feel strongly about the PST, signing the petition is a no-brainer. But even those who think the idea of 'no-let' squash is nuts should consider signing if they want to support innovation in the sport of squash and open up the game to new thinking. To my mind the PSA acted imperiously, without consulting its membership in a significant way. The link is here. It would be nice if these two organizations could have a meeting and work this out. Perhaps decide this on a squash court, maybe a best-of-7 match? Limit the lets, say, to 5??? 

Here is the complete PST release on the suit:

US Based Pro Squash Tour Files Suit to Defend Itself and Its Players
from UK Based Professional Squash Association Ban

Natick, MA (October 26, 2010) — On Monday, lawyers representing the US-based Pro Squash Tour (PST) filed suit in New York state court against the UK-based Professional Squash Association (PSA) and two other defendants for allegedly improperly restricting competition in the United States, including New York State.

The suit is in response to the PSA’s unilateral ban on October 14, 2010, barring its members, under threat of expulsion, from participating in any PST event. PST is challenging this anti-competitive ban to protect players’ rights and to defend itself against this egregious move.  The ban’s unfairness is clearly illustrated by the fact that the UK-based management is solely targeting U.S.-based PST events while allowing its members to participate in any other league, tournament or exhibition match in the world.

“The management in England singled out our successful and growing American tour,” said PST Commissioner Joseph McManus. “And they appeared to have made this decision in darkness without discussing the idea first with their full membership.”

The six-count suit includes allegations that the PSA engaged in improper and anti-competitive conduct by interfering with PST player agreements and business relationships. The suit further alleges that the predatory behavior is being conducted with the specific intent to exclude competition and achieve monopoly power.

PST Commissioner Joseph M. McManus said he wants the players to be free to compete, if they so choose. “The irony is that we are now put in the position of defending players and their rights against the very organization that should be protecting them in the first place.”

More than 150 years old and played by more than 20 million people in 185 countries, including 885,000 in the U.S., squash has shown sustained growth in the US. in recent years. The US based Pro Squash Tour was founded in 2009 and coordinates a tour with stops across the United States. The season begins in September and runs through April.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Open Letter to the Squash Community, From Joseph McManus, PST's CEO

Okay, I've had my fun with photos, but when you get right down to it, no one's laughing. Joseph M. McManus, the commissioner and CEO of the Pro Squash Tour, has just released an "Open Letter to the Squash Community." Here it is, in its entirety:

Dear Squash Fan,

This past week, the management of the PSA without warning announced, effective immediately, that it was banning its members from playing in PST tournaments. 

This blanket ban includes all members of the PSA: world members, continental members, country members, ratings members, and junior members. It also does not discriminate between the world #1 and the world # "last". 

This ban was, moreover, singular in its focus. Simply stated, the squash players on the PSA are free to play in any tournament or event – except for the U.S.-based PST. 

Further, the management induced ban, which is in conflict with its own Tour Guide, was done in complete darkness without input or a vote from PSA members. 

The PSA management's surprise attack on its own members was shocking in its draconian measures and its immediate change in policy was beyond thoughtless. It was heartless. Pro squash players plan their calendars months in advance to effectively balance world tour tournaments with lessons, clinics, exhibitions, and other tournaments and league play. 

And pro squash players are constantly balancing their check books. When tournament fees and player levies to the PSA are honestly accounted for, the total player purse for the world tour is slightly more than $3 million. Divide that by the 500 players PSA says are members and the average professional squash player earns roughly $6,000/ year playing on their tour. 

Now subtract plane flights, meals, hotels, cabs, et al for 12+ tournaments. The average player on the world tour actually spends more money playing on the PSA than he earns. He also has to spend a few hundred dollars in PSA dues before playing a match. You can quickly see that players need to earn money elsewhere. 

On the PST, we pay squash players to play squash. We have no initiation fees. In fact, our tournaments are open to all – without restriction. We are designed to give players who are in the U.S. an opportunity to make money playing squash. 

We also professionally manage every event to ensure a first-rate fan experience. I have personally been on-site for every night of every tournament. This obviously limits our growth, but it improves quality. We are focused on quality. 

Contrary to the PSA's recent public statements, we do not rank our players. Rankings on world tours involve a rolling, 12-month weighted, algorithmic average with divisors and penalties for players in losses. 

Nor does the PST affect the PSA world rankings – unless the PSA chooses to continue penalizing its members for playing on the U.S.-based PST. 

We do give players points for winning matches. At the end of the season, we'll give the top guys a bonus for a job well done. This may appear to be a semantics debate. The distinction is important, however. 

The PST is 1 year old and very new to this international game. There are 185 countries that make up the world squash community. 71 participate in the Commonwealth Games. Of note, the World Squash Federation, a PSA partner, doesn't acknowledge our product as being squash. US Squash, the National Governing body of squash in the United States, makes no mention of our tournaments anywhere on its website. (And all of our events are in the U.S.) 

Moreover, there is one dominant and regularly updated squash news site ( in the world. They are not yet covering our men's event results either. In our entire history, we have coordinated 7 tournaments. 

The notion that our US based tour is a threat to the world tour strains credulity. 

In fact, the management of the PSA has gone to great and creative length to cleverly craft a reason to pick a fight with us. 

If we paid their 10% PSA tax for tournaments to be “recognized” in London, one expects all would be forgiven. 

This ban is merely a case of a bully trying to impose his will on a smaller, weaker and newer kid on the block. 

The great irony is that we are now being forced into the position of defending pro squash players' and their individual rights to the very organization that should be protecting them. 

And we will. 

We will fight to protect professional squash players' rights to earn a living in any country and any tournament they choose to enter. The PSA can end this fight immediately by lifting this ban. 

And I hope they do so. 

Joseph M. McManus
American Pro Squash, Inc. dba PST

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fit and Ready To Play

There is not a lot of fitness training information specific to squash available on the internet. 

One excellent site is a blog entitled "The Science of Coaching Squash," located here. This site is presented by Tim Bacon, a fully certified squash coach and strength and conditioning specialist. Bacon is an experienced fitness guru, and well known in the squash world. Check out his often-entertaining site and learn the science behind coaching squash.

Another resource I've recently become aware of is the Fit and Functional website, found here.This site is run by Charles DeFrancesco, whose Fit and Functional company offers personal fitness training either at clients' homes or at various locations in New York and Connecticut. He also consults for schools and fitness centers. DeFrancesco is also certified at the highest level, and his stable of trainers all are well-certified and some have specific, squash-related experience.

But one of the greatest things about DeFrancesco's website is the free e-book on squash-specific training that is downloadable from his 'education' page. Click here for the book, which I heartily recommend, and get training. The book is 176 pages of information that can help you keep going while others whither and avoid annoying injuries. Check it out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Delhi Squash Animal

Here's Shera, the mascot of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, having a go on the squash court....

I feel pretty confident I would beat that furry little rodent....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How the BEEB Sees Squash

At the risk of protesting too much, I was interested to read this BBC blogger's report of the squash competition at the Commonwealth Games. The squash tournament was viewed positively in this blog, and he argues that it should certainly by an Olympic sport. Great. But he also comments on the tumult over lets: "There is scope to bully your opponent [and] shout at the officials with seeming impunity." 

And: ..."Both players at times were furiously asking for lets. Getting a let in squash is part tactic, part truth and a lot of bravado. The encumbered party looks angrily back to the panel of officials, miming the action he would like to have taken with his racquet, while the blocker looks aghast and points to some area of the court with palms up and a shrug - the full Mediterranean "What's he on?" The officials have a quick vote between the three of them and deliver a polite "yes, let". The point is replayed sometimes more than once and the sweat goes on."

This is the part of squash that I'd like to say goodbye to.That's why I'm in favor of no-let squash. Does the idea need tweaking? Yes, of course. But I say, 'Tweak away..."

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Pro Squash Tour: Opinion Emphatically Confirmed!

I've opined on this blog on a few occasions that I thought the idea behind the no-let, "Point-Every-Rally" Pro Squash Tour was a great one that rightly places the fan experience first and foremost, where it belongs. The truth is, though, that I had never seen one of these matches, so my opinion was based on conjecture, not experience.

I now can give an eye-witness account of a Pro Squash match held earlier this week at the Sports Club/LA on New York's east side. This was tournament #3 of a tour schedule that now numbers over a dozen stops. The next event will be in Boston in mid-November.

And I say, don't miss it! The no-let match I saw, between US champ Julian Illingworth and Wael El Hindi, the highly creative Egyptian who now calls New York City home, was a grueling battle between two equally determined squashists who were willing to put their all into every shot. Yes, there were a few calls that had to be adjudicated by the ref. I can remember two let-point calls in the entire match, with both players receiving a call in their favor. Most of the time the players played right through, and it was not hard for them to do that in 95% of occurrences. Take for example the front corners, a place where many let calls are made, fished for or blocked over in normal pro play. In no-let, Point-Every-Rally matches, the players quickly learn that if they make an agile, fast stutter-step around their opponent—voila, no interference is made and they are right there, ready to strike the ball. It is a different way of playing, but not hard for these pros to get used to. 

There was a little bumping, but the only serious instance of that came when El Hindi tried to get around Illingworth, tripped and ended up on the floor. There were a few questioned calls, but those few (maybe 3 in the whole match) were close and understandable and were a lot fewer in number than the tens of calls one would normally have in a pro match.

These guys kicked their mutual butts. The play was highly creative. This is a vigorous, intense, forceful, supremely athletic, strong version of squash, and it makes standard, everyday, run-of-the-mill squash seem practically lethargic by contrast. The Illingworth-El Hindi match, which was for 3rd place in the tournament, lasted well past an hour, and that was with every rally ending in a point—it was intense indeed! Illingworth finally won it in the 5th, to a very appreciative round of applause. In the final, France's Thierry Lincou beat Englishman Bradley Ball, 3-0. 

My opinion of Point-Every-Rally matchplay has been emphatically confirmed. You have to check it out....  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On-Court Grunting: Here Comes the Science

In a past blog I noted the aggressive grunting by top female tennis pros, the likes of which can be quite impressive indeed. Male tennis players are not nearly so loud, but they do their fair share of grunting too. My point was that I thought that squash players should be allowed a grunt or two -- Hey, it's a tough game! -- and that our sport's obsession with insisting that a squash court is a no-grunting zone is a little too old-school for my taste. It's also not good for fans, who want confirmation that their favorite pro is out on court working hard.

Ah, and now the science..... Well, some intrepid psychologists got together and tested whether on-court grunting might have a negative impact on the opponent's game. The study (here) was published in the Public Library of Science ONE, an online, open-access journal. Their main finding is this: "When an additional sound occurs at the same time as when the ball is struck, participants are significantly slower (21–33 ms) and make significantly more decision errors (3–4%) regarding the direction of the ball both for easy and hard decisions alike."

Now, in tennis some of the louder yellers bellow their grunts at 100 decibels or more; in a confined squash court, that would be insanity. So we need to have these same researchers look at squash and quantify the degree at which a grunt goes from an acceptable audible pronouncement to an aggressive and unfair violation. I await the results.....  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ramy Ashour is Number One

No, I'm not talking about Ramy being the best squash player on the planet, I'm talking about his singing. Check this out: 

He should cut a record. I don't know what he is saying, but it sounds damn good to me. He's also quite comfortable performing in front of a crowd, as this video attests. 

Now we know what Ramy will do after his squash career is over. The kid's a great crooner....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'The Let Has Evolved from a Courtesy in a Gentlemen's Game to a Strategic Weapon in the Modern Era -- It Outlived its Usefulness.'

The Squashist has been an early proponent of limiting lets in pro play. The idea was advanced by Joseph M. McManus, the commissioner and chief executive of the Pro Squash Tour, which tested the hypothesis, liked what it saw, and then decided to go whole hog and chucked all lets, period. Not one is allowed. A gutsy move, whose impetus was to put the fan experience first and foremost in order to make top squash exciting and easy to understand for all types of fans. Predictably, there was much fretting, hand-ringing, gnashing of teeth, gaseous bloviating, and unsubtle orneriness from the sidelines. Still, they played on. And you know what? It's a great idea! 

Here now an interview with Mr. McManus:

I notice that you are now referring to the brand of squash that you offer in your Pro Squash Tour as "Point Every Rally," highlighting the difference with "point a rally" (ie, PAR) matches, which don't always end with a point since a let might be called. What has been the overall feedback from fans?

Everything we do at the PST is geared to entertaining our fans. Removing the traditional let from the game is only one improvement we've made, but it certainly has gained the most attention. 

The immediate feedback to our "Point Every Rally" squash has been magnificent. Since fans have been subjected to endless lets throughout their squash experience, it was hard for them to envision this new, more exciting game. Fans that have attended our tournaments can't imagine going back to the old style of play. It is simply more entertaining. (Note that we have posted fan feedback online here.)

Your reference to PAR squash not always ending with a decision is gentle to the point of being misleading. At the 2007 World Open Championships, there were 1,917 points played throughout the tournament. 959 (50%) of them required a referee's decision. Of those 959 decisions, 706 times (74% of the time) the referee chose a let (ie, do-over). Source is here.

The let has evolved from a courtesy in a gentlemen's game to a strategic weapon in the modern era. It outlived its usefulness.

Have there been any traditionalist fans who have voiced the opinion that they would prefer the standard PAR format over your "Point Every Rally" format?

Traditionalists preferred silent films to “talkies” and the horse and buggy to automobiles.

What about the players.... Do any pro players explicitly prefer the "Point Every Rally" format?

Yes, please go to our homepage or visit YouTube to hear their feedback.

I spend a great deal of time listening to players. And I listen closely. Certain areas of the game we have been able to fix immediately. Others require a longer term view. But they know I am listening. My partner in this effort is David Palmer. I regularly call him for advice and feedback. We all know him as the world’s most dominant player of the decade. Off the court, I know him as a trusted friend and advisor. John White and I are also on the phone regularly. As a former World #1 himself, he knows the game as well as anybody. He was also an early voice amplifying “Point Every Rally.”

How are the pros educated on how to play using this new format, which tactically must be very different from PAR? Is there a video they can watch, is there on-court instruction?

We tell them two things. Don’t hit a shot you can’t clear, and if you can play the ball, play it. It really is not much more complicated than that. The world’s best squash players are magnificent athletes with elite fitness, balance, hand speed, and hand-eye coordination. They don’t need me to tell them very much.
The pros tell me that there are some subtle changes to how they play, but that our innovations have made the game more fun on court. We are building a video library to help train referees and players. Also, whenever a player asks us to review a call, we do so and report back to that player on whether or not the correct call was made.
A lot of the early naysayers have worried about possible injuries with the "Point Every Rally" format. Have injuries been a problem? Has any player been injured at all in a Pro Squash match, and if so, how?
Actually, I find our squash matches to be cleaner. Since PST requires pros to clear their shot, we see less contact than on the other tours. 
We did have one player catch a racket on his forehead. He came off court, got a band-aid and returned to play and won the match. I don’t think that rises to the level of calling it an injury, but it happened.
The World Squash Federation has made no move to adopt the no-let format, but they are clearly interested in its development. Has the WSF formally contacted you for feedback on your innovation?
Andrew Shelley (CEO of WSF) and I spoke briefly. He is a very talented man with the challenging job of balancing constituencies who are invested in the traditional game. I will leave the politics of world squash to him and his staff.
We are singularly focused on our fans and growing the game.
What about referees? On the one hand I would think this makes the ref's job a little easier, but on the other I can see how it would be harder. How are refs faring with the "Point Every Rally" format, and what is their attitude to it compared to the PAR format? Do they prefer "Point Every Rally" or PAR?
I don’t think in terms of making referees jobs easier or more difficult. Rather, I focus on preparing our referees to be ready to preside over these matches.
All referees became referees because they love the game. In my view, however, they have historically been treated poorly. They deserve better. When I asked Mike Riley to serve as our Director of Officials, he and I spent a great deal of time discussing the game, its past and its future. In my view, he is the best in the world at what he does, and as someone who has played the game at a high level, he was uniquely qualified to address the problems we were trying to fix.
Although Mike was the first to lead PST in this direction, Bob Hanscom has been lobbying for this idea for a lot longer than any of us. All that is to say that some top referees were also lobbying for this change.

Has there been any interpersonal friction between players during no-let games that can be blamed on the no-let system? Are players clearing better now that fishing for lets has been taken out of match play?
I should define these terms for the reader. “Fishing” is a term used to describe a player who doesn’t want to play the ball, usually because his opponent hit too good a shot. So, he creates unnecessary contact with his opponent to ‘fish’ for a let from the referee. “Blocking” occurs when a player doesn’t get out of the way of his opponent or clears slowly and causes his opponent to run around him. In our system, fishing results in an “appeal denied” call from the referee and blockers lose the point.
In fact, we are very tough on blockers. Under the traditional rules, a player only had to make every effort to get out of the way. This is not acceptable in our game. We actually require players to clear their shots; making every effort isn’t sufficient.
We saw fishing eliminated from match play immediately. Blocking, however, will be a constant battle. We will continue to remind players that they shouldn’t hit a shot they can’t clear. However, in game 5 when players are tired and their legs are heavy, they’ll block. Our referees need to hold the line here even more vigilantly. Blocking is not a part of our game.
One last question: Should "Point Every Rally" matchplay be considered for amateurs at the club level, or do you see this innovation working only at the pro level?
It’s advisable for pros and amateurs to play with different rules.  Amateur baseball players use metal bats, while the MLB uses wood bats. The 3-point line is different in college basketball than the NBA. NFL and Division 1 football teams play with a plethora of different rules. Your readers, I am sure, are coming up with their own examples to add to this list.
Pros can simply do things with their rackets, the ball, and their bodies that amateurs cannot do. As always, I encourage fans to send me their comments and suggestions here.
Mr. McManus, thank you very much. I think the best way to judge this new format is to check out one of the Pro Squash Tours' events. Their calendar is located here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Playing Sick

Yesterday I played a great squash match. I have had a series of nagging injuries that I have slowly been able to rehab, and I'm happy to say I am almost back 100%. I have a hamstring pull that is still a bit bothersome but I've taken to wearing a brace and it doesn't bug me in a game anymore. 

So for the first time in nearly a year I am back playing pretty damn well. I am trying to adopt a slower, more thoughtful, less physical game since the mortal clock is ticking and I finally realized I better adjust. So I am still hitting hard rails and laser cross-courts, but I'm also trying to work on a much slower rail that ends in the corner and a mid-speed cross-court that seems to catch opponents off-guard. I'm also going for more drops from the back court, which was heretofore used sparingly by me. Every now and then, when you notice your opponent has taken his eye off the ball, it's worth going for. 

Yesterday, however, I woke up for my early morning game and knew I was not feeling well: a cold, with a bit of a runny nose and a stuffed, fuzzy feeling behind the eyes. This was this week's best game, however, and I felt, what the hell, I have to play, it is too good of a match. And I also had in the back of my head an old sports truism that sick players sometimes play better.

I'm not sure why that is, but I believe it. Not really really sick, of course, but a bit off. I was sick enough that I fully concentrated on my game and let all additional thoughts disappear. I was running well, shooting very well, and staying in the moment of the point better than I would have been if I were also thinking extraneous thoughts in the back of my head like the workday I faced after the match, how my son is doing, what's planned this weekend, etc. I only had enough in me to worry about the game, and that's what I did. 

And I did well.

Of course, there was a price to pay. As I explained in an earlier blog (here), my squash match resulted in further reducing my post-game immune system, and now, here I sit, a box of Kleenex at the ready, sipping down my NyQuil, a mild cold transformed into a big-time headache. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

Forgive me, but this blog has nothing to do with squash..... Last night I had the great good fortune to take a plane from Chicago back to New York City, flying into Laguardia Airport. I've flown a fair amount in my day and one of the things I've noticed is the difference in behaviors as a plane approaches its destination. There are three basic types. The first type of passenger stares out the window, watching the approaching earth as it glides by, perhaps pointing out a landmark or two. Another type sits and fidgets, a necessity because this type of passenger is a nervous flier. The final type is the road warrior, who has been in a plane a million times, is not interested in watching the city below him for the 100th time, and would rather continue his paperwork, or his novel, or whatever else has occupied him during the flight. 

But as we descended last night I was really struck by the virtual unanimity with which all the passengers stopped what they were doing and looked out their windows as this great, gorgeous, vibrant, remarkable city inexorably drew closer. 

For some reason I felt proud.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Sad to report, but SquashZAG really is down and out. There are a few additional last-minute postings on the site, but I can confirm that the site is truly shutting down. This is another blow to what could and should be a vibrant online community of squash enthusiasts, but for that to happen we really need more sites like SquashZAG. The ZAG was a very good site, and had a lot of offerings that kept people coming back to it daily. But to do that consistently, these sites need support. 

I've already kvetched about, and I notice today that this site is once again on hiatus, not having posted any news since Aug. 19. But I can sympathize, because that site suffers from the same thing the ZAG suffered from, and that is minimal staffing (which is a nice way to say, only 1 person) and minimal support from squash companies. 

There is still, a very nice site and the squash world's leader, but I would like to see some diversity out there. When the Olympic Committee, filled with money-obsessed nincompoops, analyzes the sport of squash and sees only one decent squash site, what does that say? To them it says, Let's move on, shall we?

I would love to see an English-language site from some foreign squash power, like the Australians, or even the Egyptians, since many of their squash players know English. But the most likely source of another site would likely be the US. Hell, didn't we invent the damn internet? Can't some slightly wealthy (that rules me out, sorry!) squash enthusiast bankroll a site that forces the squash firms to take notice? Or what about Squash Magazine, the minimally updated website for the print publication of the same name? The printed magazine is one of the benefits of membership in US Squash (now nicknamed USQ to the cognoscenti), but knowing what I know about the high cost of printing and distribution, couldn't this publication do more and better by focusing on the web, while ditching the printed publication, or perhaps publishing only an annual for the benefit of USQ members? Dunno, I'm just kvetching, but that smells like an opportunity to me.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Re-Primer on the Dubs Game

Peter Briggs got in touch and was pleased that some of his squash doubles wisdom was disseminated via the blogosphere. But he thought that a few changes would optimize his primer on the game. I have made those changes in red, and are available for viewing here.

On another matter, it does indeed appear that SquashZAG has unfortunately folded. It is a very tough job to do a full-time website largely by oneself, and it can prove expensive as well. The pressure eventually became too much. Too bad!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ZAG Down

Don't know why, but SquashZAG is down again. I hope it's nothing permanent. We need good squash sites on the web!

Friday, August 6, 2010

You Go, Datuk!

As an unabashed fan of Nicol David I was obviously happy to see her win the CIMB Singapore Squash Masters title again, which makes it four times straight. Is Nicol tough or what?

She beat back a very strong Alison Waters, and though the game score was 3-0, observers saw a tight contest whose first game went 18-16. I think Ms. Waters is peaking and I suspect she will be playing career-best ball in upcoming tournaments. She will be very tough to beat in the months ahead.

You occasionally read squash journalists who suggest that Nicol David has been so dominant over the past few years because, compared to Sarah Fitz-Gerald, she has faced a less talented crop of opponents.

I don't buy that for a second. That demeans the toughness of the Grinhams, Natalie Grainger, Vanessa Atkinson, a determined bunch of hungry Egyptians, and a score of up-and-comers like Ms. Waters. 

Nicol David is the best women's squash player in a very long time. Period. Sarah Fitz-Gerald ranks a very respectable second place, but Nicol is the best.

You go, girl! You go, Datuk!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Mediocrity

I just got back from a conference on custom content, a term that encompasses a lot but implies editorial or other 'content' that is created specifically for a sponsoring company. An example would be a magazine paid for by a pharmaceutical company that has a series of (hopefully informative) articles and, oh by the way, some of those articles refer to the company's products. It's a type of marketing that seeks to engage the consumer more enthusiastically than a simple ad could ever do. 

There are a variety of custom media nowadays, and many of the speakers spent considerable time opining on the benefits of using social media like Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere as part of a custom media marketing plan. The point was also made over and over again that we are living in a world where the sheer volume of information about everything under the sun has multiplied algorithmically, and will continue to do so. 

In fact, one opinion leader sagely decreed that nowadays 'everybody is a publisher,' with the profusion of blogs and tweets and chats and ramblings threatening to clog up the internet. Someone in the audience wisely asked, 'If that's so, what is the effect of all this 'content' -- some of it is not going to be any good, so how do we know the difference?' The speaker's answer surprised and pissed me off. He said that although the content on the web varies in ability, it is by definition 'just good enough', and maintained that big media companies aren't looking nowadays so much for quality writing (he cited The New Yorker) as they are looking for opportunities for engagement. It doesn't so much matter if the writer's grammar is dodgy so much as it is lively and engaging.

This conversation reminded me of my war against the word 'content,' which I have most emphatically lost. Early on in the advent of the internet people started calling the editorial that was to be found on their site 'content.' The word 'content' is such a nondescriptive, throwaway word for what should hopefully be editorial that is thoughtful, well-crafted, and artfully presented. 'Content', for me, an editor, was a disgraceful put-down. It sought to make the medium—the internet itself—more important than the message to be found in the words themselves. 

So now I go to a meeting and listen to a thought leader who admits, yeah, 'content' can be pretty bad, but big media doesn't care that much. Here's an example from the squash world of lousy content—editorial that deserves the damning sobriquet 'content.'

What does this have to do with squash? Well, not much, but the internet's insatiable thirst for whatever it can get to fill its trillion pages is a recipe for mediocrity. I'm happy to say I haven't met too many squash players who are mediocre people, I've always found something special about the people who play this game. We are all editorial people, not 'content' people. Thank heaven for that!  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Nike, Sports' Leviathan, Is Listening!

Not too long ago I decided to send a link of my blog's comments on Nike, about the opportunity that they are missing by ignoring squash, to their corporate office. Just for kicks.

So I experienced a little flutter of excitement when, a week or so later, I received a note in my in-box from Nike itself. Whoopee, I thought, this is great, finally I can start a conversation with the many-headed hydra of sports marketing!

But it turns out the email was from their 'Outside Idea Submissions Team,' and was a computer-generated response to my original email.

You are receiving this automatically-generated message because you have requested a copy of Nike's Outside Idea Submission Guidelines and Agreement. If you have already received the Idea Submission documents and have a question that is not answered by the Idea Submission Guidelines, or if you have a question about a pending submission, please reply to this message, type the word "Question" in the subject line, and type your question in the body of the message. You will receive a reply within ten business days.

The email then goes on to warn me that ideas submitted to them should have a utility patent or one pending. Uh, thanks for the advice, Nike.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wake Up, Man! was an early presence of squash news and commentary on the web, and for that it should be praised. It is also a one-man show, so generous leeway should be extended when evaluating its convoluted layout and sluggish frequency of updates. But when the last update to be found on SquashTalk is nearly 20 days old, the response is just to shake your head and walk away. 

The U.S. is the country where much of the forward progress of squash is happening right now, so for SquashTalk to be the principal source of web-based news from the US is, at this point, embarrassing. Those interested in what's happening in squash have two main choices:, the leader in information about squash, and, the top aggregator of squash commentary. In the U.S., one should also check out the US Squash site, both for its association news but also its links to World Squash News and player blogs. 

But someone out there, some U.S.-based, aggressive, web-savvy, squashist techie, should put some energy into creating a web presence for US squash players we can be proud of. C'mon, man!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

'A Primer on the Game of Doubles Squash' — Peter Briggs

Some new edits in red...

Overall Strategy

1. The most important and critical decision in playing winning doubles is to pick a good partner and to practice with him or her regularly so you know what they do under pressure and what shots they like to hit, so you can position yourself accordingly for the opponents' counter-shot.

2. There are four corners in the court and only two people on a team. The simple goal is to split the team on the diagonal and hit to one of the open quadrants.

3. Always hit deep before you shoot short. 

4a. Attack cross court to open up the court.
4b. Move laterally on the red line, not in a box step, when rotating with your opponent so you don't get blocked out.

5. Center your attack on the weaker player on the team and be relentless.

6. There are three attack and strike zones that correlate with the three red lines on the front wall.
Front-court attack zone, focusing on the lower red line just above the tin. All of these shots should be executed with an elliptical spin to lay the ball down (i.e., hit the inside or outside of the ball to make it spin elliptically).
a) Straight drops
b) Reverses
c) Roll corners
d) Three-wall nick
Mid-court neutral zone, aimed at the middle red line on the front wall and hit from the middle red line on the floor.
a) Hard rail
b) Hard cross-court
c) Three-wall nick
Back-court defensive zone, aimed at the upper red line on the front wall.
a) High rail
b) Cross-court lob
c) Skid boast

7. The number-one attacking shot is the reverse corner because the opposition usually has to play the ball back cross-court to your partner and they should be ready to attack on the volley. They can't go down the line because they risk a stroke call.

8. Volley every ball you can touch!! This is the Golden Rule of Winning Doubles. If the opposition's strategy is to push you to the back wall, don't go willingly. Volley! Visualize the ball walking at you and cut the legs off the ball with an open racket face, thereby assuring a margin for error on the tin.

9. When you pass the opposition on a cross-court don't try to hit the ball through the opposition. Instead, hit the ball high, hard and wide on the side wall and make one of the opponents go to the door; then either play a backhand or forehand from the back-court. Look at your cross-court opponent as having four targets. Vary your shot selection and don't hit the same shot or angle all the time. Remember that the attacking angle on an opponent will change according to how deep or shallow in the court your opponent stands. Aim your cross-court drives at your opponent's right or left shoulder or break the ball off the side wall at their right or left knee.

10. When defending, cover the shot that beats you, not just the shot that continues play.

11. Attack down the middle sometimes!!

12. Vary height and direction.

13. When defending a ball hit hard at you just block the ball with a fore-swing, do not take a back swing or full swing. If you do you will hit the ball out of the court or miss altogether.

14. Drop your back foot when digging balls out of the back corner.

Serve and Return

1. There are four different attacking serves. Practice all four serves before the match to get a feel for the temperature of the court and how high on the front wall you must hit the ball:

a) Lob to corner
b) Crisscross serve for a sharp angle
c) Chip serve to the side wall looking for a nick
d) Hard serve straight to the back-wall nick.

2. To return serve, stand one step's reach to the side wall.

3. Volley all service returns.

4. Rotate the back shoulder to opposite diagonal on cross-court returns of serve to assure good width.

5. Any returns of serve hit down the wall should be hit really low or really high so the opponent cannot block you out and attack the front corners.

6. Always have the racket up and stand with your weight on your toes and with knees flexed. That way, gravity helps you go to the front wall with a quick first step.

Preparation, Warm-up and Communication

1. Beforehand, do active stretching, speed volleys, and practice serves.

2. Talk with your partner. Decide what each of you will hit when covering for each other—usually a high lob down the rail.

3. Always have a plan.

4. Move on the court in sympathy with your partner. Always follow your opponent to the front wall and stay positioned on their outside hip because there you can cover more of their shot choices.

5. Always roll corner when the opposition hits a three-wall.

6. When deciding to hit a short shot to the front or a reverse take the pressure off your stroke production and just aim for the corner or intersection; then, either shot will be effective if the opponent is vulnerable -- front-side or side-front.

7. Motivate yourself by the thrill of winning rather than the fear of losing. Create your fate by your own hand. Take risk when there is a reward!

8. Visualize yourself volleying and attacking. 

9. Play at least five length balls before going short.

10. Breathe on all your short finesse shots and exhale as you stroke; it will relax your forearms.

11. Good squash shot-making is enabled by the threat of the shot you didn't hit.

Have fun! Doubles squash is a life-long endeavor! --  Peter S. Briggs (October 20, 2007)