Monday, August 29, 2011


I've been playing strangely well lately. I've been thinking better and not rushing my shots. Not banging away as my default approach to the game, but really trying to think of every shot, even when under stress. 

I recently added a note on my smartphone, called Squash, Remember. I tried to write down all the things I should do but don't necessarily do regularly, so that right before I go out on court, I look at the note to remind my spongiform brain to keep these concepts actively in mind. I guess these reminders are working....

Here for your edification is my note to myself:

Remember to:

  1. move up
  2. volley
  3. keep him back
  4. watch
  5. even breathing
  6. hold your shot
  7. split step every time
  8. matches more often lost from mistakes than won from shot-making!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Degradations of Time Among the Static Crowd

I have played squash for a little over 30 years. I've made it a central element of my existence. It's one of the things I do, reliably. It burns off the detritus of life and allows me to function. 

Every now and again I'm struck how others in this world have not made exercise -- any variety, not just squash -- part of their life, and as I get older I'm beginning to see the effects of their nonathletic lives. I know people at work, in my community, friends of friends, who are my age or less and they seem to me very much older. They look older, they move older, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they think older. Invariably those people are the ones whose idea of sport is a bag of chips and the telly tuned to the weekly football game.

I know this sounds self-congratulatory, and I guess in a small way it is, but it has become increasingly obvious that the 'exercise effect' is medical fact. A recent study comparing exercisers to non-exercisers in The Lancet was notable for its sheer size. Researchers in Taiwan followed 416,175 men and women (in about equal numbers) with an average followup of over 8 years. They looked at weekly exercise rates and placed the participants in 5 exercise categories, from very high exercisers to those who did absolutely no exercise. 

Among their findings was this: that those who were in the 'very low exercise group', meaning they exercised an average of 15 minutes a day, had a 14% reduction in mortality compared with the non-exercise group, and -- astonishingly -- enjoyed a 3-year longer life expectancy. So for just 15 minutes a day you win 3 years over the couch potatoes. That's amazing. Benefits increase as exercise increases, so all you squashists out there should feel damn good about your health.

A highly demanding cardiovascular sport like squash does carry a small risk of a cardiovascular event occurring during play. It happens from time to time. I think all squash clubs should do what schools in the US are doing. In the US, about 100 athletes will die annually from sudden heart failure. That ends up being a 1 in 40,000 chance, so not much, but the chance is there. Clubs should have automated external defibrillators readily available and either staff or coaches should be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It's not hard and could save a life.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Footnotes From a Book Unknown

Ripped away from what was apparently a booklet about squash, your reporter found the following footnotes in the trash, which are offered verbatim:

1. The term 'nonmarking soles' is accurate, but it implies that there is no transfer of material from the shoe to the floor. That is not the case, as bits of gum rubber flake off under duress. Players have reported a burnt rubber smell, both from hot balls that have warmed up and from their feet after scratching across the floor at high speed. It was only discovered later, at a toxicology lab in Middlesex, that the aerosolated rubber from the balls was highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic, leading to the on-going squash ball scare.

2. There are of course many benefits to aerobic exercise. They include reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced body fat, increased metabolism, improved endurance, and toned musculature. Aerobic activities strengthen the heart and lungs and make them more efficient. Aerobic exercise improves the strength of bones, and – barring injury ligaments and tendons. Aerobic exercise burns away calories and trains your body to use fats and sugars more efficiently. Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and reduces stress and alleviates depression. And, since squash is in fact one of only a few anaerobic sports, all the above is magnified.

3. The following quote was also attributed to the former number-one, but he disavowed it later, saying it was ‘equivocal’ and not really what he meant: 

“It’s summer, so it’s no wonder my balls are so hot. When you are playing on 90+-degree courts, you know these balls will get hot, and mine certainly are. This observation is certainly obvious, but it is worth repeating: I mean, they are almost too hot to touch, my balls, and because of that I try to avoid touching them. But they are hot, that’s for sure. I can avoid touching a ball for an entire match, it’s easy to do, but if you were so inclined, what the heck, touch them and see for yourself. I’m not dreaming this stuff up…. Well, it’s summer. Some people don’t play squash during the summer for this very reason, because their balls get too damn hot in the summer. But I don’t mind; they’re hot balls, big deal.”

4. There is one unique injury that squash players suffer that other athletes do not:
Elite players, after years of play, can develop hip arthritis in a degenerative pattern that is not found in any other sport, including other racket sports like tennis. There is global, as opposed to partial, cartilage loss caused by frequent lunging. Hip arthroplasty is often the end result.

5. So called ‘endurance squash’ was an idea that sprung up as a result of the change to point-a-rally best-of-5 matches. Many matches against unequal players were over in less than a half hour, some even under 20 minutes. The old warrior ethos of squash demanded endurance, but the new scoring system took that important element away in many matches. So… endurance squash, with its own set of tournaments and trophies, was born, adopting a best-of-9 format.

6. Squash was proposed for inclusion many times in the roster of Olympic sports, but apparently no one was ever brash enough to bribe the members of the Olympic committee. “It’s all about money for them,” laughed Tony Dunsmore, head of golf’s Olympic study group.