Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stretching, the Truth

Finally, after a long delay and rehab, I'm about to take my first tentative steps back on the court. Monday morning, 6:30 AM, I'll have a racket in hand and a ball in the air, just hitting by myself and doing some light ghosting. Next week I'll go back to match play.

Part of my rehab has involved stretching, and stretching, it turns out, ain't all it appears to be. For most people it would appear to be axiomatic that stretching before and after physical exertion is clearly beneficial to injury prevention and whatever sport you are playing. But a note of caution to all you out there who contort your limbs before the big squash match: unequivocal proof that stretching is beneficial does not exist.

I've been interested in this for years because, historically, stretching before a match has never been helpful to me, and when I did it -- mostly because everyone else waiting for their matches seemed to be doing it -- my injury rate increased. (I know what you're thinking: I didn't stretch in the correct way. Trust me though, I did.)

I found in particular lower limb injuries increased when I stretched, so I finally got the message: For years I haven't stretched before a match. After a match I will do light stretching for a brief period of time, and I find that helps recover from the match.

But enough about me, what do the experts say? They say they're stumped. One study (Am J Sports Med. 1993;21(5):711-9) split male runners into two groups: one group of 159 runners would use a standardized warm-up, cool-down, and stretching regimen; the other group of 167 runners acted as controls and did not use the regimen. The study found no beneficial effect among the stretchers, who experienced more injuries per 1000 hours of running.

A more extensive review of injuries in runners was performed by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent medical group that exhaustively reviews the effectiveness and appropriateness of treatments and medical interventions. Physicians know that a Cochrane Review is the most thorough approach to understanding in an unbiased way what is the best approach to a medical problem.

One Cochrane Review looked at various interventions for preventing lower limb injuries in runners (Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2001;(3):CD001256). This was the first
major review on the subject. The review looked at any appropriately randomized trial that touched on the subject, and found 12 trials with 8,806 participants. Of these, 5 trials with 1944 participants and 3159 controls looked at the effectiveness of stretching. Their conclusion: "There is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of stretching exercises for major lower limb muscle groups in reducing lower limb soft-tissue running injuries."

Other studies
have not only found no benefit but have found injury rates that, as in my personal experience, increase with pre-workout stretching. One study (see it here: To Stretch or Not To Stretch?) found that runners who stretched before running were about one third more likely to be injured compared to non-stretchers. The study also found that stretching after a workout helped lower the risk of injury. Here's another study that had the same result in exercisers in general, not just runners: Res Sports Med. 2008;16:213-31.

The best study on stretching was done several years ago at West Point Military Academy (I'm sorry but I can't find the reference). Half the incoming freshmen were given a stretching regimen to do before physical exertion of any kind ("And that's an order!") and the other half were told to not stretch. Injury rates were then watched for their entire 4 years at the academy. You guessed it: The stretchers were injured more often than the non-stretchers.

So what's the take-home? I think the truth is that stretching after exertion is always good for you. None of these studies has found anything wrong with that. However, in some people -- and judging by these studies it may be more than 50% of us -- stretching before exertion may permit your muscles to stretch beyond what they should, thereby encouraging injury. Furthermore, I think those who are naturally fairly limber and loose-limbed, myself among them (and that's a description of an awful lot of squash players), are the ones who are likely not benefited by pre-workout stretching. Finally, there is an age quotient to this. As you get older you become a little less limber. Whereas stretching in my 20s and 30s increased my injury rate, as I've advanced in age (and wisdom) I am naturally less limber, and stretching naturally becomes more and more a beneficial thing.

Which is why come Monday morning, I'll stretch. A little....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Great One: A Meeting With Peter Nicol at the ToC

Serendipity smiled on me this past Friday. As a commuter who goes through the lovely Grand Central Terminal every day to get to work, I went by the Tournament of Champions site on Friday night. I will be attending Monday night's quarter-finals, but I like to hang out at the ToC as much as possible when the games are on. I see a lot of my fellow squash addicts from the city and we get to indulge our addiction in sight of the best of the best. And it is quite a show! One of the fun things to do is to hang out on the opposite side of the front wall of the squash court and listen to the comments from everyday New Yorkers who are looking at squash for the first time. Some of the comments are absolutely hilarious. One from Friday, as a youngish couple gazed wide-eyed at the spectacle of the very close Touminen-Waller match : "What the HELL!? Just looking at that makes me tired!" She rolls her eyes; he looks annoyed.

Event Engine knows how to do these things right. And it turns out I know the engine in Event Engine from my long-ago youth. Melissa Winstanley works with John Nimick to organize these events, a fact I only recently became aware of. And on Friday, lo and behold, there she was. Back then she was called Missy Conkling, my next-door neighbor growing up in suburban Nyack, 30 miles north of the Big Apple. My parents actually bought the Conkling's old house; the Conkling's then built a new house on the parcel of land next to ours. When anyone brings up Missy Conkling in our family, it's always accompanied with the phrase, "I always thought Missy was great...."

We hadn't seen one another in over 30 years, so we had a very nice chat and caught up on the various doings of our family members. She then offered to introduce me to her daughter, who lives in Scotland (that should have tipped me off...). "Sure, she's right over there." We go over to say hello, and I see this beautiful young lady sitting talking to a man. He looks familiar, though I can only see half his face. Then I realize who it is: Peter Nicol!

Now I looooove Peter Nicol. You may recall in an earlier blog (here) I opined that Peter was the best player of the past decade (tied with Shabana). Despite interrupting a private conversation, Peter was very pleasant and interested in my ramblings about squash topics. In addition to being one of the greatest players of the game ever, he is a relentlessly positive ambassador for squash and blessed with a stellar personality. He is every bit the gnetleman he is purported to be. And, it turns out, he is marrying the daughter of my long-ago next-door neighbor!

He told me he hasn't been playing a whole lot of top-level squash lately, so it will be tough for him on Monday when he plays Jonathan Power. Nonetheless, he's still very fit and I expect a good showing.

I have a very nice picture of us sitting together chatting, which to protect my secret identity I can't share with the world at large!

If you are in New York City, or anywhere near it, check out Event Engine's ToC. It may surprise you!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dear Director of Marketing:

I am not in squash professionally, I'm only a squash enthusiast, but I am in publishing professionally, and nowadays that means I do a lot of work providing as much value as possible for our advertisers, whether they are in our print publications, on our websites, or perhaps buying a presence in one of our emailed newsletters to our audiences. If I see a way to significantly improve my advertiser's market position, I will let them know, and if the means by which this is accomplished happens to involve advertising across the many channels we offer, then we have reached the proverbial 'win-win,' and everyone's happy.

My point is that the media world has changed considerably over just the past few years, and marketers of goods that have always relied solely on mass media to get their point across should now reconsider that stance, as heretical as this may appear to be.

Indeed, for a relatively small amount of investment, I have just the marketing edge you are looking for, and I can prove it ....

It's the sport of squash. The U.S. Squash (USS) association undertook an extensive review of its membership back in 2006. Using an outside specialist firm, the USS wanted to better understand its diverse membership. Based on earlier direct-mail invitations to its e-mail list, 1,429 squash player surveys were completed. There were a wealth of findings, including:

  • 86% were males
  • Average age was 43 years old
  • 81% self-identify as being White (<2% off US average of over 79%)
  • 92% have a 4-year college degree or higher
  • Those with a graduate degree: 57% (US average, 9%)
  • Mean household income is $287,000
  • Percent with household income over $100,000: 58% (US average, 12%)
  • Percent who own home: 80% (US average, 66%)
  • Mean household non-real estate assets valued at $1,407,000
What were their occupations?

  • C-level (eg, CEO, CIO, etc.): 19%
  • VP: 9%
  • Director or Manager: 19%
Where and when do they play?

  • 52% play at a private club
  • 30% at a public/commercial health club
  • 19% at a country club
  • 18% at a college facility; and
  • 11% at a squash-only commercial club. 
These numbers are important because it shows that squash players invest in the game they love.

  • 52% of respondents were from the Northeast; 20% were from the South; 15% from the West; and 13% from the Midwest (therefore it is no longer true that squash is only a regional, northeast sport)
  • Respondents play on average 2.6 times a week.
What kind of vehicles do they own?

  • imported luxury car, 29%
  • domestic luxury, 5%
  • sedan, 32%
  • sports car, 16%
  • SUV, 38%
  • Motorboat or sailboat, 10%
  • airplane(!), 1%.
Other sports?
On average, 30% or more of the respondents said they played the following sports:

  • golf, 49%
  • tennis, 45%
  • skiing, 38%
  • cycling, 37%
  • running, 37%
  • swimming, 31%. And 14% sailed....
If one defines 'high-wealth households' (HWH) by those with incomes over $250,000 and net worth at >$1M, then you arrive at 430 respondents whose numbers become particularly impressive. HWH:
  • have a significantly higher average household income ($538,000 vs. $287,000) 
  • have a significantly higher non real estate asset value ($2,937,000 vs. $1,407,000)
More ...

  • Average # of airplane flights per year, all respondents: 5.9 (HWH averages 6.8)
  • Average international flights per year, all respondents: 1.9 (HWH averages 2.3)
In what do USS players invest?
  • life insurance, 35% (HWH, 45%)
  • 401K or IRA, 77% (HWH, 85%)
  • stocks, 65% (HWH, 83%)
  • bonds, 37 (HWH, 52%)
  • real estate, 36% (HWH, 51%)
  • venture capital, 11 (HWH, 20%).
I could go on. Squash is a demanding sport, it's tough to do, so there will never be millions of players in the US like some other sports. But squash is nonetheless a robust sport, with wide interest in countries all over the world, whose relative demographics and financial information in many cases likely mirror those found in the US study.

A global brand would do well to promote itself in a milieu where these smart, high-achieving, relatively well-to-do individuals are fully engaged: in squash magazines, squash websites and other media, and by sponsoring tournaments that can be found on every continent save Antarctica. You will find your dollar goes a lot further than in such high-expense sponsorships like those found in golf and tennis, and the demographic and financial profile of the squash player is unrivaled. No sports segment comes close. If you are a luxury brand that needs to target individuals whose pockets are deep enough to consider purchasing one of your products, then it's time for some new thinking.

Oh, one more thing. Another old-school line of thought said squash spectators were too reserved, that the media quality was so problematical that you couldn't see the ball, and that the players were uninteresting and unexciting. Check this link out, which refutes all those points,and then some. It's 155 seconds of what squash is all about: Today's Squash.

Feel free to contact me with any questions. I personally have nothing to sell, but as a publisher I hate to see a great opportunity go unexamined.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Mind Wanders ....

As I convalesce in my boot cast and time slowly plods along I am, quite frankly, getting crazier and crazier. I do not like sitting around on my butt, and look forward to that happy day when I can once again stroll onto a squash court, turn around and bang the door shut, and proceed to have a good honest all-out war with my opponent. I'm not sure how some people exist without squash or its athletic equivalent.... I swear I have gained about 7 pounds in the last week, if that's possible...

Anyway, this enforced hiatus has given me the opportunity to poke around on the internet, and I wanted to pass on some squash sites that I think are worth visiting. Here's what I have bookmarked in the squash category and sites I visit at least every few days (apologies to whomever I've forgotten): This is the squash site out of the UK, and has the best mix of news, stories, pics, etc. It's my first destination when clicking around. This site aggregates content from a lot of other sites, in addition to generating its own. It is particularly good about finding interesting tidbits from less-familiar sites and broadcasting them to its international audience. Definitely my second destination.

And below, a hodgepodge of sites, in no particular order: You can get news about pro tournaments on this site's news page. Likewise, the ladies.... Go now and buy one of their great WISPA calendars! Sweet! Great photos of recent squash tournaments can be found on this site, by pro photographer David Barry. He wouldn't mind at all if you were to purchase one or two... Likewise, check out, from Steve Line -- more great shots! And... Debra Tessier's This is US Squash's site. It used to be pretty dead, but USS is now providing updates at least every couple of days, and often every day. There is also a link that takes you to the very latest pro squash news. This is the Metropolitan Squash Racquets Association's blog, which I just discovered. The MSRA is New York City's local squash association, of which I am a member. It is a nicely active group with some great tournaments and a lot of players. The blog has stories of local interest, but also articles that would be interesting for squashistas the world over. This site is the web presence for 'Squash Player' magazine. The site is a visual riot and it is not easy to navigate around, but with luck you can still find some interesting things here. This is the polling site I have blogged about in the past. It's fun to go there from time to time and answer some questions, and even ask some you want answered. This is particularly valuable for getting very specific player information, including historic match summaries.

If you are interested in hardball doubles, check out And the women now have their own dubs site: Here you can get the official word from the official WSF website. Has a good Links list...

There are several blogs I've discovered that are worth following: The motto for this site is 'Get high playing squash!' and is from the Detroit Athletic Club's pro, Mick Joint. You get the impression that Mr. Joint is not afraid of having a good time. This site is about "Squash och ...bara squash, tror jag," which means it's about 'squash and only squash, i think..." Yes, it's in Swedish, so obviously not appropriate for everyone, but it is another example of an active site by an active pro who no doubt makes squash a lot of fun as well as a great sport. We need more like this! This is a blog from Cyrus Poncha, the well-known Indian player and coach. This site is from a graphic designer who takes a designer's eye to the game. This site is a group effort from several WISPA stars, headed by the great and all-powerful wonder-girl herself, Nicol David. Her fellow Stars are: Aisling Blake, Alana Miller, Annelize Naude, Manuela Manetta, and Semantha Teran -- good stuff! I only recently discovered this site. It's a professional looking site and worth watching. Another newer site that has some very good postings, check it out. This is a blog by local Memphian John Branston on all things athletic, but he has written about squash several times. You would think that Memphis would be a dead zone for squash, right? Think again... Don't forget to visit YouTube and check out the squash videos. Hisham Ashour has an interesting one in which he demonstrates the rare but wonderful Mizuki squash shot; you can access it from the Squash Guy's channel. This site is from a coach, who doubles as a father to a top junior 6.0 player, who triples as someone who studies ancient Greek poetry. Musings on squash and more from director of racket sports, Barry Gifford.

Well, that should keep you occupied. It did me, although I realize it's time for another hydrocodone! Hot damn!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Arthroscopist Meets The Squashist

The Squashist had his ankle arthroscoped by a very good team headed by a podiatrist, who found much inflammation and impingement, which was the cause of the pain in the joint. 

Am currently on the mend, enjoying the wonders of hydrocodone, with which nothing seems impossible and all things seem amusing! 

A week on crutches, then off to physio. But feels pretty good already.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Ten Commandments of Squash

I have been away awhile, having vacationed down south in North Carolina. There's not a ton of squash down there, but there is a ton of religion. With that in mind, I was inspired to ascend the mountaintop and bring back the following list of musts for our international brotherhood of squash. Hark thee then:

  1. Always wear non-marking soles!
  2. Don't hog the hits in the warm-up!
  3. Try to play at your level 70% of the time; a notch below your level, in order to help out your brothers and sisters in squash, 15% of the time; and a notch above your level, in order to receive that help, 15% of the time!
  4. Never show anger on the court; if you do, apologize immediately!
  5. Always wear protective eyewear!
  6. Socialize a bit before or after the match; don't become so focused by sport that you lose your humanity!
  7. Play continuously; don't try to delay the next point by artificial means!
  8. Always shake hands after the match; emerge from the court not as bitter rivals but as friendly adversaries!
  9. Never forget that you are an ambassador for the sport!

and finally:

    10. Never shoot blind!