Today's post is going to be all about me! I've already said that I don't like talking about myself, so you may be asking 'what happened?' Well I'm going to ask myself a hypothetical question that I thought would interest some of you...if I could coach a younger version of me what would I do? How would I coach myself? What would I have done differently? I'll also answer a question that I've been asked many times, why didn't I play professional squash? Obviously we all learn as we get older and our wisdom we've gained over the years are valuable resources for the younger generation. This is one of the main reasons I became a coach. When I was a kid, maybe 11 or 12 I was completely certain that I was going to be a professional squash player. There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that bot only was I going to be a professional squash player, but that I would be the best in the world. I had a lot of success when I was this age and I was determined to do whatever it took to continue winning.
So obviously I never purchased a PSA membership and I never became a world champion. I'll give a quick background on ow I got where I am. As I said I won a lot when I was 11-13 years old. I won the provincials, the Canadian Junior Nationals, the U.S. Junior Open, and many smaller events throughout Ontario. I played up an age group in most of the smaller junior tournaments to get good competition. My family sacrificed a lot of time and money to take me all around the country, not just for tournaments, but for league games, lessons, and camps. Twenty years ago the junior nationals were supposed to be out west somewhere, but my mom was sick and eventually passed away so my brother and I didn't go. I'm sure my mom passing had a part in what happened next, but I do not say this is why my pro squash career failed to evolve. The next year I sill had a lot of success, but I was also having injury problems with my knee. I don't remember it being too serious and I don't recall how much time I missed, but I also moved up into the under 14 category. Even though I had been playing up in the age divisions this was still a big jump. I was a very small kid when I was 12 and 13 years old. This is when I started getting beat by some physically stronger and just bigger kids and I'm sure inside my head I told myself my knees were the real reason I was losing. Even though I still finished 3rd at junior nationals that year and 2nd at the U.S. Junior Open I was seeded first and didn't win. I only played squash for another year or so until I eventually gave it up all together. So within just a couple of years I went from winning almost every tournament to quitting. What did I learn from this? If there was a kid in a similar situation how would I help him/her?
Well first of all I think that my drive and determination was what allowed me to be so successful. But I also did not handle losing very well. I think having so much success at such a young age was actually damaging to me. I felt like people should look up to me, that I was special, and that although I never shied away from working hard, I always thought success would continue. When it didn't I couldn't accept it. I identified myself as the best squash kid. I didn't have any balance in my life back then. I didn't even want to go to school. I knew kids in Egypt and Pakistan were practicing all day and barely went to school, so I would go to squash before school and solo hit and then spend almost every hour after school at the squash club. How else was I going to win on an international stage against all these kids that didn't have to go to school for 7 hours a day? I remember begging and pleading for them to let me dropout of school. They never caved and would always say, 'what happens if you go and get injured and you can't play anymore?' Oddly enough I replied, 'I'll coach.'
The first thing I would tell my younger self is how to deal and learn from losing. I would also attempt to explain the important of balance in my life. How it is possible to excel in squash and school. I'm sure this would be a difficult sell to my younger self, but I would try. Even though I would still encourage my younger self to pursue my dreams and play professionally, I would try and make sure I didn't identify self solely as a top squash player. I would also focus on strategies about how to deal with playing bigger and stronger kids. That being smaller has its advantages too! And that I need to play smarter to beat them, and I need to move well, hit accurately, be mentally tough, and most importantly persevere.
When I was going through this period in my life it was difficult for someone to relate to what I was gong through. I was lucky to have some good coaches through different patches and I owe them a lot for my success, but I still believe that a good mentor/role model (not necessarily a squash coach) could have made a difference. When we are young we live for today and have difficulty accepting what I believed to be as failure. I had lofty dreams and very long term goals when I was young, but I was more focused on winning than seeing myself improve and letting the outcomes happen as a by-product of hard work.
Finally, I also believe that some form of sport psychology would have been very useful for me. When I was a kid I always had trouble visualizing myself play winning squash even though I was winning a lot. When I tried doing this I always lost rallies and played poor shots. I expect most kids wouldn't buy into this (but I didn't want to be most kids), I think learning to focus and concentrate by meditating and visualizing yourself being successful would be very beneficial for the development of an athlete.
So that is a short summary about how I got where I am and why I got into coaching. I have to remember sometimes that the kids I work with don't all have lofty professional goals like I did, but thankfully most of them have a good balance of sport and education. I also try and emphasize personal growth and try and to be equally humble in winning as in defeat.
You may be wondering how I got back into squash and got to the level I did. Well I started playing again when I was about 19. I was pretty pathetic, even my brother kicked my butt;) One rally and I was exhausted. But I kept believing it would all come back to me. It took a couple of years, but I finally got back to an A level (which I was playing at 12) and then an Open level surpassing my ability when I had quit. Even though I still had thoughts of playing professional squash now and again I knew my 5 year hiatus during some prime developmental years would make this an extremely challenging task. I first coached in 2004 and soon realized I still wanted to play competitively as I missed so many of these years and tournaments. So I decided to go to Western because they had a good squash team and my brother was there. I trained pretty hard and improved a lot over my 4 years there and upon graduation I got back into coaching.
I think one thing in particular that I've learned since I've been out in Victoria has been crucial in my development as a coach. I think my ego (which was created when I was a kid) from being a good player and wanting attention was still clouding my coaching. Coaching is an unselfish profession and one day I realized that I have to work as hard for my pupils as I did trying to improve my own game. When I work with someone now, I don't want them to come off court thinking about how good of a player I am, I want them to be the star attraction and to have fun. I want them feeling good about their game and where their going. I want that person to believe in their ability and be motivated to keep going and trying to be the best they can be. Maybe this is why many good ex players don't make good coaches.
I have to accept never achieving my lifelong childhood dream, but I've accepted this now because I'm in a position to help others try and achieve theirs. And this belief I had when I was young and all the hard work I put in has made me a successful person; I know I can do whatever I want to do. Yes of course if I could turn back the clock I'd love to be playing against Ramy and Nick on the tour now, but even that would only last for so long. Eventually I would need to learn that life is about giving back not how good I got at squash. How good I am at something is a selfish act unless it's coaching, because the better I get at it the more I can give back. Even though it took a while to forgive myself for giving up on my dreams as a kid, it has all worked out for the best. I am in a position where I can help people with a lot more than just their squash game.