Sunday, April 25, 2010

What's Urtak? Some Recent Findings ...

It's time for another look at what's doing at The Squashist's Opinion Emporium, made possible by our good friends at Urtak (accessible to the right of this blog, as well as here: Squash Urtak).

So far Urtak's squash forum has over 10,000 responses, so thanks very much for those who have taken the time (it doesn't' take long!) and thanks in advance for those who will respond in the future.

Here are a few interesting findings:

1.  When asked if they are addicted to squash, 79% said yes. Of those who said yes, 74% said they can tell a lot about someone from the way they play the game; but to those who said they weren't addicted, only 53% said squash was a good barometer of personality.

2. The squash-addicted proved to be more generous with their time, as 83% of addicts claimed they happily played the game with less talented players, while only 69% of non-addicts did so.

3. Addicts also hung out with fellow squash nuts more: 85% of them said they did, as opposed to 70% of the non-addicts.

4. Beer seems to play a larger part in the addict's worldview. 83% of the squash-addicted said a beer tastes great after squash, while only 56% of non-addicts admitted as much. Perhaps they prefer wine?

5. There was a big difference in scoring preference. 71% of addicts have changed completely over to the 11-point scoring system; only 44% of non-addicts have done so.

6. Addicts seems to be willing to put their money where their enthusiasms lie, as 81% of the addicted belong to private clubs, as opposed to 64% of non-addicts. Learning to play the game with your nose up in the air takes considerable fine-motor control.

7. Squash addicts are also much more supportive of US Squash's efforts on behalf of the game. When asked if USS is doing a good job, 66% of addicts said yes, but only 20% of non-addicts agreed. As one of the addicted who believes without question that USS is indeed doing a good job -- I'd say a great job, in fact -- I'd cheekily like to venture the opinion that squash addicts have a deeper knowledge of the challenges and successes we see in our sport, and that as the non-addicts become ever more ensnared in the addictive joys of the sport, they will come to see the light.

And finally, racket manufacturers should take note that the response
was evenly divided to the question whether the quality of a racket makes a significant difference in performance: fully 50% thought it didn't make a perceptible difference. That, dear sirs, strikes me as a marketing problem! You all should be buying more advertising and supporting more squash tournaments as a way of gaining dedicated adherents! I'm sure the same nonchalance can be said for squash sneakers and squash clothing. 

Hey Nike! You have a worldwide sport here that has yet to embrace a particular manufacturer en masse. Wake up! Throw us some money and we will be yours!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Whack-It Ball

I read today on that Peter Nicol has decided to play in a racketball tournament, England's Dunlop National Racketball Championship, where he may end up playing 5-time winner Daryl Selby. [But, see Postscript below...]

Now why would Nicol go and do a foolish thing like this?

Actually, I can understand. About a decade ago I moved from the city to suburbia, and because of the move I didn't have enough money to maintain my city squash club membership. Believe me, the Squashist was very sad about this. Very sad indeed. After a while I realized that there was a local fitness club that I could afford to join so I could at least stay in shape, so I did, and I found myself drawn to their racquetball courts. What the heck, I gave it a whack one day. 

It's not squash, you run much less, and you are mostly concerned with hitting to the back corners, so tactically it is less interesting. Still, it's a court and a racket and a ball, so I hit a few times. I then noticed they were having the club tournaments, so decided to sign up. The pro there said, well, if I played squash, I should do okay in the 5th grouping, of which there were 11 in all. Although I didn't practice at all and only played the tournament matches, I won easily.

I then went back to just working out, but lo and behold time went by and the club championships came around again. This time the pro told me to play the 2nd grouping. That too I won, again without practice, although the final was tight. Soon after this, I recovered my financial wherewithal and rejoined the squash club, and so have never played racquetball again. But I had a pretty good time playing. I'm told, incidentally, that the 3 top players at the club, the ones in the 1st grouping, are all ex-squash players who have adopted the sport since there are no local squash courts nearby to play on.

The racket skills and court sense one learns in squash are transferable to both racquetball and racketball, the latter of which is what an American would call racquetball but played on an international squash court, which I believe is the version most common in the U.K. where Nicol will play the tournament. I very much suspect Nicol will win this tournament, his skills are too immense. I am reminded of a story about Gary Waite, an excellent squash player as well as top hardball squash doubles player, who became the champion Canadian racquetballer, just to see if he could. Heather McKay, Australian squash champion who is the winningest female squash player ever, also famously played racquetball, winning multiple American and Canadian championships.

The point is that racket skills and court coverage are transferable. That is the intriguing idea behind Racketlon, a marathon racket skills tournament in which opponents are tested in squash, badminton, tennis and table tennis. Each set is played to 21 points, with the winner being whomever scores the most points across all sport disciplines. Racketlon started in Finland in the 1980s where it was called mailapelit, meaning 'racket games', and has continued to gain adherents. 

I recently had a chance to play badminton, and found that the court movement and wrist action were similar enough to squash that I did well. And since I play tennis regularly, that sport's different stroke biomechanics are not a problem for me. Furthermore, a squash player's coverage of a tennis court is as good as anything a tennis player could offer. The problem for me: table tennis, which is much different from the other games of racketlon.

There is something about a racket player, no matter what the racket. See ball, run to ball, hit ball. I already feel a little sorry for Mr. Selby, poor fella. 

POSTSCRIPT: It seems The Squashist has revealed a touch of ignorance with this blog, and stuck his big size 13 foot into his gaping maw. Mr. Selby, it turns out, is a top squash player, in fact is currently #9. I'm sorry, Mr. Selby, I didn't appreciate that fact when I wrote this blog! It does argue in favor of my basic point, though, that squash players can walk on the racketball court and play a mean game from the get-go, but it also puts into question whether Peter Nicol, retired from the pro game, can likely put up stiff enough resistance against a top-10 squash foe. However, Mr Nicol rarely does me wrong, so I still say he'll take it! Selby, prove me wrong!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The 5-Let Rule Passes a Test

There was quite a bit of interest in the idea of the 5-let rule (see here), which was recently given a test run at US Pro Squash's Franklin & Marshall Invitational Tournament. Many comments were rabidly against the idea, while others were more open to it. My reaction was positive, since I thought it was at least an attempt to address the fan experience, which I believe is hampered by bickering over lets. 

Guy Cipriano, long-time hardball player and doubles aficionado, was able to get a brief e-mailed comment from John White, F & M's squash director, who played in the tournament. Guy was kind enough to share White's comments with me.

White felt the experiment with 5 lets 'went well.' He noted that the 'players played more balls than normal when there was minor interference.' I think that's the principal result of this rule: players will not automatically stop when they could just as easily nudge around their opponent and get to the ball. White also said that Mike Riley, the ref, was careful to award strokes if he felt the opponent was blocking the other player, trying to force the player to use up a let call. 'This made players get out of the way more.' Another good result.... White's feeling was that the 5-let rule needed a few more trials to test its overall utility, but so far, so good.

This of course was a limited test. You had top players who were willing to give this new concept a go (including Baset Chaudry, who despite reports has apparently not given up the game of squash), and a capable ref who was prepared to handle the different dynamic that resulted from the new rule. Is this a good idea for amateur tournaments? Clearly, no. For other pro tournaments? Quite possibly yes, if further trials pan out.

While the new rule was a success, the tournament was not a success for John White. Most unfortunately, White suffered a torn plantar fascia on the bottom of his left foot in the semis, and now can be seen shuffling around in an orthopedic boot waiting to heal. Having had to wear just such a boot myself in the last few months, I deeply sympathize!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kjell Olsson, R.I.P.

For those who have read this blog for a while, you may know that I am a Swedish-American. I did not grow up speaking Swedish. Instead, I decided I wanted to learn more about my mother's country and started learning Swedish about 4 years ago. My Swedish teacher would visit me once a week in my office and we would talk Swedish; he'd give me assignments and I would do my best to learn the words, grammar, pronunciation, and beautiful lilt of this fascinating language. I would also get to talk to my very wise teacher, who had a great combination of humor, calm, and intelligence -- not only about teaching Swedish but about life as a whole.

One thing he learned early on about me was my interest in squash, so he went on the internet and got information about squash that was written in Swedish. That's a smart teacher! I found myself discussing the importance of proper court movement with Kjell, in Swedish, even though he had never played, nor would. But he pretended to be interested. And as he did he gently corrected my grammar.  

Sadly, I just found out that Kjell (it's pronounced 'Shell'), who had a week or so ago gone to Sweden for a visit with his children, fell, and ultimately died from the fall. 

It's a sad day. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Zug on Chaudry

James Zug has a great article in the just-received March issue of Squash Magazine about the backstory of Baset Chaudry's on-court meltdown. If you are a US Squash member you'll get the publication soon or already have it, so please read the article, it's a very nice bit of reporting. (And if you are not a US Squash member, again I ask, 'Why not?!') 

In it he reviews Chaudry's stellar squash and academic career and explores the emotional turbulence that ended in Chaudry's inexplicable -- even to him -- fulmination. As Zug rightly notes, 15 seconds of poor behavior clouded years of gentlemanly behavior, off-court as well as on-, sometimes in the face of outrageous taunting from spectators whose 'Paki-bashing' included chants of 'terrorist' and references to Bin Laden. Truly disgusting behavior, none of which should be permitted at an academic institution. 

I'm on the record for forgiving this mistake, based on his aforementioned exemplary college career (see The Chaudry Incident). As it happened, Baset removed himself from the individual college championships, thereby stripping himself of a chance to tie Kenton Jernigan as the only other squash player with 7 intercollegiate or team titles.  As you read Zug's article, you see both how sad this result is, and how unnecessary. 

The most newsworthy item in the piece, however, was the revelation that, according to Zug, Chaudry "doesn't like squash." I was thunderstruck by that. (His first love was apparently cricket.) The many hours of grueling courtwork have left Chaudry numb to the joys of the game -- for me, a terrible legacy. I've heard this story before: college squash players are so over-trained and over-extended playing the game for their alma mater that, upon graduation, they leave the game forever, all youthful enthusiasm well and truly spent. Chaudry tells Zug in an interview that his rackets "are locked up now."

I wonder, what does that say about the coaching?