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.