Monday, May 29, 2017

Tiger Trouble

This is a little off topic, but there's a lot we can learn from the news today about Tiger Woods. I turned on the sport highlights this morning and all the videos were about Tiger getting a DUI and people talking about this being the biggest downfall in the history of sports. Of course drinking under the influence is bad, there's no doubt about that. I don't know the stats off hand, but I know lots of people are injured and killed from DUI's every day across the world. But there are also probably thousands upon thousands of people that do this each day. Again, I'm not saying I agree with this, just that Tiger is not the only one who makes has made this mistake and paid the price for it.

My biggest problem with the reporters today is how happy they all seem to throw Tiger under the bus. I'm not saying he should receive special treatment, but there is a lot of research showing how difficult it is for pro athletes having to adjust to life after sport. He's had loads of surgeries and has not had any glimpses of success on the golf course in years. Not only that but Tiger was the most famous (and probably richest?) athlete of the 90's and 2000's. How is anyone supposed to live any resemblance of a normal life after all of this? I don't think any of us can relate to what Tiger is going through. He has the spotlight on him all of the time and he is forced into being good role model and saying politically correct things. We want hugely successful people to be the best role models for our young because they appear to have it all and are also model citizens. But even model citizens have low points.

Does someone who's super rich and famous really have it all? I can only imagine that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Once someone has achieved their lifetime dream which was their sole purpose each and every day of their lives, how exactly are they going to find meaning in their lives after the best is over? What does it feel like when you have to act like someone that the media wants you to be? As a coach, I feel like I have to be a good role model for all of the kids I coach, but that this in turn makes me want to be a better person so I enjoy this aspect of it. I'm sure I'm not the only coach or teacher that feels this way. Sometimes it can feel like you are 2 different people; 1 when you're at work (or for Tiger under the microscope any time you leave your house) and another when your'e not. It's incredibly difficult for these 2 to match up and I'm sure it causes a lot of stress. Do you think they should or can be the same? Or is that unrealistic expectations to put on someone? Most people would say they behave how they are expected to at work and off the clock they are themselves. Isn't that what we have come to expect from not just pro athletes, rock stars, but every single one of us?

Does someone not deserve to have a private life regardless of their spotlight in the media? This morning the reporters were upset about how Tiger put on this facade pretending to be the perfect role model and are in shock about how non-perfect he really is. My big peeve here is that humans make mistakes and that goes for each every one of us. It's about learning from our mistakes and from other people mistakes. This is more the message I hope is uncovered from this story. Should we not feel bad for what Tiger is going through? We loved him now we all despise him. Can we not turn this into a positive somehow and realize how fake media interviews turn famous people into? With social media being so popular these days it's difficult to hide the truth and it doesn't take much to tarnish someone's reputation. But I believe it's about trying to become a better person by giving back, being true to yourself, not following the money trail, following your passions, forgiving those that make mistakes and not being afraid to admit your own mistakes. And dealing with getting old and things change we need to learn how to adapt too.

I can only imagine what kind of life Michael Jackson lived the last few years of his life. I'm sure the same happens to many of the rich and famous. We all envy them, but maybe it not all it's cracked up to be. I would love nothing more than some of these greats to write an absolute truth biography and be completely open about all they went through. Theo Fleury did this and revealed that he had been molested as a child. I feel like if he never got this off of his chest he would have carried this weight around his whole life and never would have been truly happy. Maybe we don't need to make all of our skeletons public, but certainly having someone to speak with and help you through difficult times is an extremely important thing to have. Does Tiger have someone like that now that he is separated and has gone through piles of coaches? I still think Tiger means well and has just done some stupid things. And instead of publicly shaming him, I feel he could help a lot of other celebrities and pro athletes about how to better deal with the difficulties of falling out of the spotlight and losing their ability to compete at a high level.

Giving back is a way that can provide meaning and purpose much more valuable than any possession. Giving just money away is one thing, but actually going out and putting in the work is another.  Maybe Tiger will get into coaching or become even more involved with some charity work. He still has the platform to make our world a better place and I hope he takes this opportunity to do so. Gold is such a self-driven and internally focused profession so I imagine this makes changing your focus and motivation incredibly challenging.

Nobody is perfect and knowing how Tiger believes he can do anything he sets his mind to, I'm sure if he wants to he can turn this all around. Sometimes it takes a major low before you realize how far you've let something slip. I think we should be a bit more open minded and give Tiger a chance. In the end he seemed bigger than life, but that pressure in itself must make everything that much harder. People struggle and are often better for it in the long run. Let's hope Tiger will be too. I don't condone what happened, but you've got to feel for the man. He may appear to have it all, but clearly happiness isn't something you can buy. Only time will tell what's next for Tiger.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Just Play!

One of the great things about squash is that compared to other sports it really can be played your entire life, but for many of us it isn't. In squash you can be competitive and play tournaments at age, from under 11 to 75+. Since finishing juniors or varsity squash we tend to see most squash players disappear from the competitive squash scene. Some will continue to play the odd regular game with someone at their local club while others will turn to the more social and easier on the body game of hardball doubles. Once I got into coaching I also failed to play as much competitively for a variety of reasons. I think a lot of this stems from people moving on to the next stage of their lives and today's post is about trying to keep people in the sport after their junior and college careers and in doing so increasing participation in squash tournaments.

Team pic after winning an OUA title for Western Ontario from about 10 years ago (from all my years at university there were just 3 of us that played nationals this year)

When you're a kid you don't have many responsibilities. Even at university squash practices are all scheduled for you. There's also a lot of perceived expectations and self-imposed pressure that can take its toll on you over the years. When we finally finish competing as a junior or varsity athlete we have to set up everything on our own and clearly many of us do not make the time or have the desire to organize our own daily training schedule. Our focus turns to more adult like things such as careers and making money. Early adult life is for getting our career and our love life in order so we push aside our hobbies such as squash. It can also be quite a relief to let go of all that pressure you felt to win during your junior and college days.

Besides the challenges already discussed above there is another issue I believe keeps people out of competitive squash after juniors and university. As an individual sport we have all worked vey hard to get to a certain level and to play at our highest level requires daily practice both on and off the court. If we are unable to prepare to play at our best many of us just won't enjoy stepping on court and playing well below our potential; none of us want to lose to some junior we know we're better than. After all squash does require an extremely high amount of physical fitness to be successful at a high level which is very challenging to maintain when a weekly training schedule isn't planned out for you. Is this starting to sound familiar?

Long time rival and friend from juniors in the finals of the U.S. Open

From years of playing squash we have built up an ego about our skill level and who we believe to be better than or similar to. We like to preserve this level in our minds about what level we can play at with just a little bit of discipline and training. But even still at this years senior nationals (held in the squash capital of Canada, Toronto) the masters divisions of 30 and 35+ were very tiny. We don't have to worry about playing 2 matches in a day or losing to some kid because they're training every day and we're too busy living like adults. In the women's masters events they didn't even have entries in the lower age groups. It's kind of ironic that representatives of Participaction were on hand at the nationals when it's the one's who weren't in attendance that need that kick in the pants.

I know from growing up in Toronto and playing at university how many strong squash players there were and still are in the area, yet most didn't play in the nationals. Is it because they don't have the desire to play tournaments anymore or do they not think they're good or fit enough to enter? The age groups are much more about fun than the competitive open or junior events. I wonder why most didn't play when it's in their home town while I'm flying across the country to go compete.

I guess the main thing I take from all of this is that I wish more people would just get out and play and keep the squash spirit alive! It's easier to say than do, but if we don't worry about winning and losing and simply having fun and reconnect with old friends we battled against as juniors it could be a lot more fun than pain. If the nationals was held anywhere besides Toronto I'm sure the age group draws would have been even smaller.

I don't know what we can do to get more people to participate after juniors or varsity squash, but it would be great to keep more of these people stay in the game. Squash is a pretty small scale sport and it's a shame that so many skilled people who spent such a large portion of their youth playing squash stop competing and being a part of our sport. I know people begin to have families and get busy with their careers, but I know I would really miss squash if I just stopped playing and being around the game.

Do we need to find a way to make squash less competitive or less physically taxing for those that aren't playing much, but were once strong players? What if we played to 7 PAR or best of 3? Or simply guaranteeing just the 1 match per day? I'd actually really like to see the low tin used on all courts for amateurs so this could be a good step too. Or perhaps the best way to keep all of these people involved at tournaments is to provide lots of free beverage tickets ;)

Squash Canada and each province needs to find a way to keep all of these previous juniors involved in squash at any capacity. I know there is a big gap right now for people that want to go from juniors or varsity squash to the pro level. Maybe it's just up to each and every one of us to just sign up as long as we are relatively injury free. Nobody is ever completely healthy and fit when they get into their 30's and this is why they have age groups! I know it's too easy to listen to the reasons why you shouldn't, but remember life is about experiences and getting outside of your comfort zone. Hopefully this trend will change and we'll see more people getting back into the competitive side of the game. Remember that you don't need to be playing the best squash of your life to play in a tournament. There is more pressure to prepare for competitions when you're a kid, but this is only self-imposed when you're older. Sign up and play and don't take yourself so seriously. Let go of expectations and your ego and you may just find yourself enjoying the best game in the world with an old peer.

Play squash because it's fun and because you love it. If you're worried about the outcome you have to remember it's just for fun and exercise. Let's help keep the game strong with increasing participation which likely also will increase the tournaments beer sales too! Support your local club tournaments and play provincials or nationals whenever possible and especially if they're close to your hometown. This post doesn't just have to do with Canada or Nationals, but any club in the world. How many times have you made illegitimate excuses not to participate in a tournament because you didn't feel 100% prepared for it? Let's all try and say 'sign me up' a little bit more. Let's try and remember that the game is bigger than any single one of us.

I leave for vacation tomorrow so there will be a break from postings. I'm certain I'll come up with some new great topics to write about once I return so stay tuned for those. This summer I also plan on beginning to film the 2nd Serious Squash instructional film. Stay tuned for more details. If you haven't hear yet, the 1st film is a full length instructional video titled 'The Secrets Of Solo Hitting.' It contains 30 solo drills and tips to improve your game. The film can be streamed and downloaded at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos and there is a no questions asked money back guarantee that comes with it. Here's a video preview of the film:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bellevue Squash Classic Finals: Gaultier vs. Farag Analytics

When watching the finals of the Bellevue Squash Classic I did some charting. In the semis I charted one of Farag's games because I was surprised how rarely he plays straight drives. He does move unbelievable so clearly he doesn't want to get stuck into a controlled/patient style of play. I was curious if his lack of straight drives is why his technique on his drives is a little suspect. But this post isn't about technique, it's about shot selection and notation.



In the semis where Farag played Marwan Elshorbagy I only charted the first game. There were 115 shots in the first game and 42.6% of Farag's shots were straight drives. Also 10.4% of his shots were boasts, which seems very high for the first game at this level. 25.2% of his total shots were short so he was certainly trying to move his opponent around. In the finals I decided to chart Gauliter because I thought he played more structured and we would see this in the numbers. I think we know Gaultier crosscourts a lot from the forehand, but is generally quite patient. Here's how the numbers looked.

Game 1 - total number of shots = 244
47.9% straight drives
31.5% crosscourt length
14.3% drops/kills
1.6% boasts

Game 2 - total number of shots = 142
45.7% straight drives
26% crosscourt length
26.8% drops/kills
1.4% boasts

Game 3 - total number of shots = 136
52% straight drives
20.6% crosscourt length
24.3% drops/kills
2.9% boasts

Match Totals
Number of shots = 511 + serves
Straight drives = 253/ 49.5%
Crosscourt length = 142/ 27.8%
Drops/kills = 106 (10 errors)/ 20.7%
Boasts = 10/ 1.9%
Long = 395/ 77.3%
Short = 116/ 22.7%




It would be interesting to see more stats like this against other players and be able to compare them from match to match and event to event. Would Gaultier play more or less short or more or less straight against a more traditional player? It would also be interesting to know how many shots per rally or game his best suit his game or give his opponents their best chance. The French General was pretty fortunate to win that 2nd game and it looked like he lost his focus and started going short at the wrong time. He also popped up a lot of his drops, which I can only assume has something to do with his ridiculously low string tension. It as nice to see him stay calm out there and both guys seemed to be really enjoying the match.

Do you think the shorter or longer rallies favour Gauliter? He did well slowing the pace down and lifting the ball and his movement really is outrageous. Still I think Farag was close and had a chance to win all 3 games. Do you think Gaultier should go short more or less? Should he play straighter on the forehand and cross or boast more from the backhand? He certainly gets stuck into patterns, but because he's such a great mover he can get away with this predictability. I'd really like to see a healthy and fit Ramy have at least 1 or 2 more good battle with Greg before they retire.

Have you ever charted your own match? What you think is happening may be quite a bit different from what actually is going on out there? Sometimes just a few more shots to 1 area of the court can change the game around. Maybe being slightly more patient, or just a little more aggressive is all you need to turn things around. When a pro plays 100-200 shots in a game a difference in 5-10% of shot selection is huge. This could have to do with settling into the match, gaining confidence, the players getting tired or the ball softening up.


Have you hear about The Secrets of Solo Hitting? It's a 64 minute instructional video which contains 30 solo drills which will help you improve your squash game. Pick up a copy at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos and if you don't enjoy it I will give you a full refund. So far there are over 100 copies sold to people from all over the world. Here's a preview of the film