What do you mean “It’s August”?


I spend my summers working pretty hard. And I do mean at work. So when I look up and see how close September is, I get a bit of vertigo. Partly because I love the long hot days of summer (yes, even the ones in New York), partly because I can feel the squash season approaching, and partly because I know I’m not quite as ready as I wanted to be at the end of last season.

But the good news is that it’s cool enough now to get out on the road and stretch my legs. Later today, I plan to be somewhere on that splendid path beside the Hudson, trying to see if I can run a few miles. The first few times it’s more about remembering how much concentration it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other, how much harder it is to run on solid ground than it is on a treadmill, and how critical steady breathing is. This is where I am for the first four or five runs, assuming I can get out two or three times a week.

After that, things start to change pretty quickly. Pace-wise, stride-wise, breathing and focus. And I start to feel YES. I start to put on a bit of weight, energy levels go up, joints start to feel snug. All good. This year, I am going to limit myself to about 40 minutes running, and add some calisthenics and stretches. This is more about balance than science: my personal goal is to feel great on court, not necessarily to win the nationals… As a young player, believe me, I had routines and regimens aplenty!

Having said that, if you are also looking towards the season and wondering how you can get ready for it, I have one piece of advice: keep records of your training. Start now. It is the only way for you to know for sure that you are on track, that you aren’t skipping workouts, and that you are making progress.

There are a lot of programs out there for doing this. One that I have just found is called micoach, from Adidas. It’s got all sorts of tools to help you plan your workouts, maps for roadwork, advice, a calendar…oh, and lots of hype about their products (whaddya gonna do?).

Anyway. I hope you have been having a great summer and that you are itching to get on court with friend and foe alike!!

A Backhanded Compliment

Lefties are lucky. In singles they have the advantage that most of their opponents are used to playing most of their own shots on the backhand, which means a southpaw gets to play on their forehand. Power, reach, strength are in our favor on the smaller court, where the crucial movement to the back corners to retrieve a ball – and the stroke that is produced – must be a near perfect blend of speed, balance and technique. But I have a nascent theory about doubles.

Invariably, and logically, if someone sinister has a dextrous partner, they will each play their forehand side. And when the players are very skilled, the ball moves around the court at hyperspeed. But is that the same as good doubles? More to the point, is “good doubles” now the same as “good doubles” will be? Consider how much the singles game has changed since the early 90s. Will the young players be content to play the way their coaches and heroes do? Not likely!

So, here I am lying on my back watching the clouds. And what do I see? That same doubles team on court, toe-to-toe in front of the short line. The ball’s ripping around the court just as before. But something is different. Something about where the ball is coming from. And then I see that these two players have switched sides. They are both playing their backhands. What difference does it make? Well, here’s what I see (admittedly, these are fluffy clouds I’m looking at, and it’s a warm summer day): they have a more open stance, which allows them to take the ball ahead of their body; the natural torque produced by their legs and torso provide excellent balance and stability; if they take the ball a bit later, their shot is just as well disguised as it would be on the forehand; and, most of all, the pace is slower. Better shot selection, more variety, great reverses.

And if they have to go back, that’s fine. In fact, when their partner covers, they get to crunch a forehand! Ditto for those nasty divide and conquer line drives up the center: two forehands to lash out and deal with those.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on this, of course. But here’s where the idea came from. Imran Khan at the Far Rockaway Gold Racket Tournament last December. Every shot was hit with a purpose, intending to cause as much trouble as possible for the other team. Pace when he wanted, sure, but it was his ability to select the right shot that impressed me.

And, more recently, a fun game at Cityview. One of the players, a good 5.0 in singles, had never been on a doubles court before. Instinctively, he chose to play on his forehand. And he was pretty solid over there. Not comfortable, but he stayed in the game. However, after about 45 minutes and a break, I suggested that he switch to his backhand. I guess after skipping around the back of the court, dodging the weird spins and whacking the tin on shoulder height volleys, he was ready to try something new. And what a difference. His court movement sorted itself out, his anticipation improved, his accuracy and consistency went up and he started hitting with very definite pace.

I watched this and thought, Hmmm. Is this a future I am seeing?

Who knows. But in August, out there in Southampton, I am going to ask a few questions and watch a whole bunch of doubles…

Where’s the Floor?

OK. Yes, like most players, I’m in holiday recovery mode, which means unexpected twinges in my shoulder, a hot message from my Achilles and all that.

Fine. It’s just for a week or so.

But levitation? That’s something else again.

We were playing doubles last night. Struggling to put our game together, or at least look like we’d done this before. Not much luck: our opponents won very handily. Then, in a fit of indifference, we switched sides.

I am lefthanded and don’t get to my backhand very much, but whatever. At this point we weren’t in it for the glory. Anyway, I was up at the short line when the ball went past. Knowing it would come of the back wall I started to turn around to get it. But I turned towards the T instead of towards the wall. Pivoting on my left foot – except my left foot wasn’t on the ground, so it just floated away and there I was hanging in midair. Briefly.

Then there it was. Reassuringly solid. Unfinished birch. Very hard wood it is, too.

Posted on the run!

Location:New York (where else?)


I guess it’s old news now. Players as young as 25 are doing it, so it must be, right? To me, it looks revolutionary, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just a refinement of what the best shotmakers and touch players have always done, an extension of their instinctive compensation for a physical constraint.

The backhand.
That carving. The reaching for the far outside surface of the ball and then the simple, straight follow through. Sure, it’s obvious now, but when I first saw it, I thought it was something extraordinary. I’d watched Graham Ryding and Jonathon Power working each other on that side of the court for hundreds of strokes, but I hadn’t really seen it.
Now, of course, it’s de rigeur, which means everything has shifted slightly. Footwork, upper body, head, free hand. It’s so much more open now, so much more about what your hand is doing than what your arm is doing. Honestly, it is finally starting to feel like my forehand!

Kudos and Challenges

There are great contributions being made to the theory and practice of squash in the US by a number of individuals and organizations. Off the top of my head (currently attached to my body and wandering around New York City), I reckon we all agree that CitySquash and StreetSquash are dynamic, effective and worthwhile programs which deliver far more than the sum of their components.

Personal development. That’s what I’ve always thought was the most valuable result of a squash program. No matter the age, level or aspiration of the individual player. It’s a game that teaches self-reliance, while rewarding hard work, creativity and good judgement.
As with any untelevised sport, we worry about how to keep interest alive. The answer is simple: more, more, more! High school programs, college teams, recreational and competitive tournaments, leagues and challenges, ongoing training series for league players. Generous portions of opportunity at every level. Without these, there are too many cracks for players to fall through. They disappear for months or years or forever, even though they love the game.
Imagine the kid who starts out on the old American courts at Fordham, plays for a bunch of years, gets through school, gets to college and plays for the second team there. Is she done after that? Probably (sadly), but not necessarily. Maybe if there’s an affordable club with a pro running a good variety of programs, if there’s a city league up and running that gives her a team to play on, and beer and pizza after her matches, and if there are open clinics she can get to to help her move up on those teams or in the house leagues at the club, she’ll make the transition smoothly. Perhaps she’ll continue to grow into the game instead of out of it.
Big picture.