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.