Thursday, May 10, 2018

Is Squash The Best Or Worst Sport For Your Health?

All squash players and coaches know that squash burns the most calories per hour compared to any other sport. We also know that there is nothing more gruelling and also rewarding than a tough squash match. The media and squash players alike are aways trying to promote squash as the best sport because it involves strategy, is good for your health and can be played in almost any city in the world in a short window of time. Some players squeeze in a match at lunchtime and generally squash players have to be relatively fit to play points of 10+ shots and matches lasting over 30 minutes. But is it possible that too much squash can actually be bad for your health?

I'm just 36 years old, but I've had to deal with a lot of overuse injuries the past few years. I had my first knee surgery which was due to wear and tare. The surgeon also seemed assured that I'd be a repeat customer. Most of my injuries the past few years have revolved around my back and ribs. I'm not a tall person, just 5 foot 7 and maybe 150lbs and perhaps my stature and the amount of torque I put on my body has a lot to do for the decades of overuse injuries.

Squash involves a lot of sprinting, starting-stopping, twisting, lunging and on top of that rotational swings while in these difficult positions and heavily fatigued. Too much of anything is not good for the body, but how do you get really good at something without putting in a lot of practice? I played a lot from the age of 10-14 and then didn't tough a racquet for about 5 years (or I'm sure I'd be in worse shape now). I played a lot of sports when I was young, but when I was 12-14 and from 19-36 most of my active life and sport has revolved around squash. Back in university I would get knee pain jogging just a few kms, but playing squash didn't bother my body. Somehow my body had slightly adjusted to squash, but the imbalance caused by the years of repletion would not allow me to do a repetitive non-squash exercise like biking or running.

Chiropractors and physiotherapists have always noticed right away that my body is off balanced and overdeveloped on one side of my body. But even for those who don't pay sport we use one half of our body more than others. We have a dominant arm, leg and even eye, yes that's right eye. If you want to know which eye is dominant you simply place yours index fingers and thumbs together to make a diamond shape and raise it to the ceiling. Place some dot or making within this area and then close one eye at a time. The marking will only show up in this area in your dominant eye. I recall a chiropractor once using a machine he was using with Olympic athletes to help reset my eyes. I had to wear this fancy pair of glasses and some lights blinked in a specified order which would help reset your eyes so you would use both again. This is just an example of something that overtime with overuse we naturally develop. You can imagine how much more things can become imbalanced when it involves hitting a shot with our same arm and playing 80-90%+ of our shots on our dominant leg.

The past two years I've been working with a personal trainer once or twice per week and I've been doing some spin classes and doing lots of physio and massages. I'm basically trying to work on my imbalances so I can not only be healthy enough to compete again, but also so I can coach and not continue this trend of over developing one side of my body. I've done a lot of floating and recently starting doing some acupuncture plus I stretch and roll almost daily. Basically I'm at the point where if I'm not proactively working on rebalancing and strengthening my body I will get injured pretty quickly and the longer I continue trying to coach and play competitively while I'm a bit injured the more likely it is that this will become a chronic and more serious injury which again could lead to another surgery.

While I was back in Toronto for the junior nationals I was talking with an old trainer of mine form when I was a junior. After telling him some of the issues I've been having the past few years he recommended I begin taking eldoa classes. I've just started taking classes this week so time will tell how this will help my body longterm. I would try to explain what it is, but it's probably simpler if you just google it. I've heard many Olympians are starting to do it and it can be helpful for people like me who have imbalances and some spine/hip imbalances. I just got back from a physio session this morning and basically my body is still pretty twisted and this is why my back has been bugging me the past month. I started playing more the past month to prepare for nationals, but this in turn hurts my body more. So the more I play, the more I have to do off court to prevent injuries and balance my body from the strain and overuse and pounding it takes from competing. Now I know why many coaches don't compete anymore; it takes a LOT of off court maintenance and training to be able to play at all, let alone play regularly and be able to prepare properly for a tournament.

So I ask you once again? After reading all of this is squash good for me or slowly crippling me? I never wanted a desk job because I wanted to stay active and healthy, but little did I know that too much of squash can be just as bad on my body. From my experience I definitely feel like squash players, even young juniors need to do more cross training and off court maintenance. What exactly you do off court is not so simple though. Certainly some mobility work (both strength, motor control and flexibility) can really help, but you will also likely need to find some other exercises which can help you become a more well rounded better athlete. Exercises like yoga, cycling, running (unless you're already too imbalanced), rowing machines, skipping or just playing other sports can all help.

As juniors are continually trying to beat one another and are pushed to become the best they can possibly be, you have to be careful not to jeopardize someone long term health and well being just for some short term success. Practice hitting shots of both legs, stretch/roll, do strength work and play other sports. Sometimes an assessment from a good trainer or physio can help you be proactive. It's much better to plan ahead and prevent injuries from happening as opposed to waiting for problems to build up.

All this being said, I'll keep playing squash as much as my body all allow. I need to make sure I eat healthy, get a good nights sleep, rest when my body needs it and spread out my tough on court sessions. I also need to stay on top of my stretches, physio and hopefully doing eldoa regularly will improve my general mobility and back health. I also regularly use a swiss ball to sit on.

If I had to go back in time and talk to myself as a junior I would tell myself to make sure I did off court training year round and if they had physios and personal trainers back then I would have told myself to invest in them, because it's one thing to be active off court and another to do it properly and to best offset the imbalance caused by so much squash. I still haven't completely figured out the right method for me, but it's improving and I certainly believe this is information that should be made available to all keen squash players, especially the kids. I'll leave you with a quote from my club as a junior, 'get fit to play squash, don't play squash to get fit.' I finally get it! Squash is great for your healthy enough if you are healthy enough to play it, but the more you play the more prone you are to the accumulation of overuse injuries.

Check out the SeriousSquashShop.com for merch and instructional films. There's plenty of gear and 3 films available for download. Below if the trailer for the most recent video, The Advanced Secrets Of Solo Hitting (& Movement).


Sunday, May 6, 2018

2018 Canadian Senior Nationals Recap

Well I just finished the Canadian Senior Nationals and finished 2nd in the 35+ division, again. It was pretty sweet this year that they brought in a glass court for the event. It's too rare that anyone get to play on a 4 wall glass court now that the NSA has shut down. Although having this court was great (and you can see below that it looked awesome) it takes some time to adjust to it and was not all it was cracked up to be. Imagine a tennis player going to the French Open having only have ever played on hardcourts? And further yet and was unable to even hit on the courts prior to the tournament?

Not all squash courts are created equal! 

The tournament started with the open event qualifying matches on Tuesday which were played on the traditional panel courts and in Calgary there's an altitude factor so the ball is noticeably quicker and more difficult to put away. Not too long ago they used to use a green dot in Calgary, which was called the altitude ball. I guess these balls didn't bounce true so they aren't used anymore. This tactically and physically really changes the matches and is a big reason why Calgarians seem to always fair well when they play at home and don't do quite as well when they play at sea level. And for the record, yes the person that beat me in the finals was from Calgary. His game clearly suited the elements better than mine. But this post is not about my squash, nor is it too complain for losing my match. The masters events are just for fun for me, but my experience of playing some matches on the regular courts and the finals on the glass court give me a unique perspective for the open events.

One big problem with putting up a temporary show court is that it takes a lot of time to plan and set up. The court was not put together until Tuesday night and the open matches were starting at 10am on Wednesday. Some of the pros I know requested to get practice time on the glass court in the morning before their matches and were unable to. There were only 4 or 5 time lots and they were full. This meant that this small select group of athletes got to practice on the glass court while their opponents did not. You could see the result of this in the quality of the first round matches. At altitude on a glass court, with large white sponsors writing on the front wall made it very difficult to pick up the ball and volley. There were also lots of crazy, lucky bounces in the back corners. I've never seen so many top players aced in my life!

I like to think I have pretty good racquet skill and it was pretty frustrating to not be able to control the ball like Im accustomed to and feeling like the only style that was effective was to try and bash the ball and hit everything deep which also happened to be my opponents style of play. So basically my only shot of wining is to outplay my opponent at his own game; I don't like my odds and I too would have needed some practice time on the court if I was going to have a shot at wining. But if the pros can't get on to practice I know I have absolutely no chance of doing so. I can only imagine for pro players that are training full time how frustrating this must be to feel kind of incompetent. The better player should win and I don't think this was always true. The player who suited this style of play won. The style that suited the glass at altitude was fast and low drives. You could get away with more crosccourts than normal because it was very tough to see the ball early enough to volley.

I know that a club only hosts nationals every so often, but I thought it was completely unfair to allow only some of the pro players to practice on the glass. Either all or none of them should have been allowed practice time. When I walked into the glass court to warmup for my finals I was worried when I could barely see my first volley drive I hit. It took almost 2 full games to adapt to the court and by then it was too late. I think my game fits a glass court as I have deception, volley a lot and have a good attacking game. For the masters finals they rated the tin on the glass too which made it even harder to use the front of the court. At least for the pros they got to use the 17" tin. But I thought only the top few players seemed comfortable on the court and I heard many complaining. I played on this same court 6 years ago, but at seas level and with a low tin and without the white logos on the front wall and I don't remember having any trouble seeing the ball or using the front of the court. This time was much difference.

At altitude I think they should lower the tin to 15" to make the game more like a proper squash game. In squash you should get rewarded for creating an opening and taking the ball in short well, but with the bounce of the ball (and on the glass court the difficulty of seeing the ball), most of the time players were punished for going short if it wasn't absolutely spot on. Since it was tough to track the ball and it was moving quicker than normal most peoples short games were definitely far from spot on and confidence is such a hug factor for people short game, so once they miss a few or hit a couple of lollipops they tend to become tentative.

It's true both players have to deal with the conditions, but I still like the way squashes become more attacking and fun to watch. If you saw any of the live stream you'll know that this wasn't Canada's best version of squash nor is it the style being played at the pro level. I think all tins should actually be lowered even for recreational players and in time I'm sure that will happen. When you change the elements like the altitude and court it certainly evens the playing field and gives certain players an edge. Is all this complaining based on my biased result or a true fact from the event? Oh and I haven't even mentioned how silly it was having to wear all whites in the Glencoe too! I got away with my off-white Serious Squash tees so I'm happy I didn't have to go clothes shopping for sports gear. I know there was a guy who played 7 matches all in the same shirt and pair of shorts! lol

For all of my complaining it was a fun week and a well run event. I lost to a nice guy who played better than me on the day. It's hard to win when you can't hit a tight drive to save your life. If the glass court practice times were sorted out better I wouldn't have much to complain about besides not being able to adapt well enough to the conditions. Next year nationals is in Toronto so we'll see how many Calgary players repeat their title defence and how the style of squash changes. If they bring in a glass court let's hope they sort out practice times and avoid large white logos on the front wall. Oh and by the way I won a buckle and a medal, yes that's right a buckle for a belt :/ I really don't like complaining and making excuses, but I suppose that's exactly what I've done..

Here's a link to the draws if you want to se all the results: http://squashcanada.tournamentsoftware.com/sport/draws.aspx?id=D1BF2F57-1EB0-4183-A2A0-8CAB9AE232C2 If you want to see my match from the final you can check it out. Go to the 1:24 mark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sksdpBIlNg0




Sunday, April 22, 2018

What To Do When You Lose Confidence In Your Short Game

We miss an easy drop shot and then another. Next thing we know we tense up and push our drops and hit them without any confidence and as they get worse we just abandon our short game altogether. We've all been in a situation like this. Do you try and grind out the win without your drop or do you continue going for it and if so how long do you stick with it if it's not working?

This past weekend at the Canadian Junior Nationals I coached some kids who made some simple errors and began to lose confidence in their short game. Nationals is more important than a regular practice or league game so what can we do to get back on track when this happens?

When I think back to a similar situation in 1 of my matches the advice that helped me most came from a coach who insisted I play the shot when the opportunity was presented. The insistence helped me hit the ball short with some conviction, rather than doubt and my short game actually was meh sharper the next game and I ended up winning the match.

When I make a mistake now because my arm or hand is a bit too tense I simply shake out my hand afterwards to remind myself to stay lose. I always found it difficult to stay relaxed on the forehand side and play the drop when a smash was much less risky when you're not feeling too sure of your drop shots.

Another way I've helped myself get back on track in the past is to attack the 2nd good opening I got in a rally. Sometimes when we get an early and unexpected opening we aren't prepared to take the ball in short and don't get set properly. If we build the rally a little more and have the confidence to create a second opening later in the point I always found there was a better chance that I would be expecting this opportunity and I'd hit a higher quality shot.

Know what your go to short shot is. Even if you haven't given it much thought you probably have a certain attacking shot which is so engrained in your game that you don't have to think about how to play it and you can execute it quite consistently. If you can create an opportunity to use this shot it can get your short game going and your confidence along with it.

Another method I began using later on in my career is to focus purely on shot selection. Whenever I made an error on the execution I would never get upset at myself, because at least I was playing the right shot and in time the accuracy of these shots will eventually improve. If I simply had go even up on the right shot because of lack of confidence, sure I might have won a rally, game or match that I may not have, but I also may tarnish my long term growth if this becomes a go to habit because I believe every game, match and tournament must be won.

What I tried doing with some of my kids this past week was getting them to completely move on and forget about their errors. I tried reinstating how good their short game was and install some confidence in it. If you make a few mistakes in a row our confidence, anger and lack of focus are all vulnerable and it's really the mind that we need to be weary of and in control of when we face these bad patches. Even the best players in the world have lapses in focus, execution and shot selection, but they learn how to get their game and mind back on track quicker before they defeat themselves.  Like I mentioned above, learning to have a positive outlook on a mistake can be quite a rewarding perspective. In stead of looking at the obvious mistake we made, perhaps we should commend ourselves for creating such a good opening. And if the opening wasn't there, that's a whole other story.

I know another coach who told me the most important drop shot in a match is the first one you play. if you hit a good one you feel confident to take another one in, but if you miss and miss badly doubt can creep in. We are all vulnerable to doubt and the fear of making mistakes. If you are nervous or settling into the match it can be a good idea to build your openings and wait to settle your nerves or for a A+ opening were you can properly set up the space and your body for the well struck short ball.

Remember if you create a really good opening and your opponent is way out of position you don't need to hit the ball half an inch above the tin. Aim for tightness and think of your drops and boasts as working/pressure shots and look to follow up on the next ball if it's returned. There's also other ways to apply pressure than just drops. Try a kill shot, working boast, an attacking drive, picking the pace up or simply stepping up on the T and volleying more.

Another way I like to get my short game going is to play some heavier drops or kill shots. These shots are struck with more force so there is less chance of you pushing your drop or decelerating.

Really you need to commit to every shot you hit, especially short shots. Hitting a shot with confidence makes all the difference in the world. If you're thinking don't hit tin you're probably going to hit tin. Yes, just like don't hit your golf drive into that pond to the right.

If you really want to have the best possible short game you have to work on it every time you step out on court. Learn how to take the ball in short different ways, from different nights, angles, spin and speed. There's 10 short game drills in The Secrets Of Solo Hitting which can help too. Here's a link to the film if you want to purchase it. You can steam it, download a copy and it comes with a money back guarantee. SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos