Today I'm going to talk about college squash. In particular, the College Squash Association (CSA). I saw this short documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnK0H--atHo on the CSA website the other day. It follows the trinity men's squash team around the year after they finally lost in the finals 5-4 to Yale. They had gone 13 years undefeated until that match.
There were a few things that stood out when I watched this documentary. The first thing that I enjoyed was listening to the coach, Paul Assaiante give speeches to his team. Some of them I found very uplifting and thought that they really helped kicked his team up when they needed it. I also like that he told it to his team straight up and didn't cherry coat things even if they won. Paul also did a few things I could never imagine doing, singling out an individual and telling him he forgot how to play squash and also his emphasis on the outcome at any expense was always quite clear. I felt like he put added pressure on some his team matches. I guess he knows what he's doing as the results speak for themselves. He knows how to reach his kids, motivate them, and get them to buy into the team philosophy which can be unusual and challenging for us that grew up playing an individual sport.
The other things that I noticed and it brought back memories of the college squash system, was how fired up the players and teams get watching. I don't have a problem with the team being loud and cheering on their peers, but I never enjoyed the players that banged on the back glass between rallies. I remember one time at Cornell having non-squash spectators cheering and yelling during rallies and applauding any point won regardless of how it happened. So you have to be mentally tough and stay focused. It's a much different atmosphere then we are accustomed to up here in Canada.
I also don't appreciate the excessive celebration each player does at the end of their match. Even more so when it's done before shaking the opponents hand. I also never liked they ridiculous yelling of, 'come on,' or 'use it' after their opponent makes an unforced error. I know it feels great to win and there is a lot of added pressure trying to win for your team, but they take it too far. You can tell at the end of the video how much Harvard must have felt watching Paul give his speech about how special and destined his team is. I have friends that have gone to trinity and have nothing against them, but I do feel like Harvard got some well deserved justice this past season.
In the CSA matches, in particular the team finals, it gets pretty intense and generally the atmosphere is electric. But we are taught early on in squash to be gracious in winning and defeat; to act the same regardless of the outcome and show respect to your opponent and the other team. Plus if you're that good you should expect to win and not be so pumped up and over the top ecstatic when you do win. To me this shows that you were playing squash very tense and the testosterone takes over and maybe this is why that boy forgot how to play squash. I still remember one of John Wooden's (a famous college basketball coach) comments, he said the only thing worse then losing too much is winning too much. Wooden said that this put too much pressure on his team for each game. His team once went 2 years or so without losing a game and when they finally did they were able to relax and he claims they were able to play without that pressure ended up winning the NCAA title again that year.
Playing squash while doing your undergrad is a lot of fun. I just hope the kids I coach don't fall into the same behaviour patterns as many of the college kids demonstrate. They aren't all like this. I had a lot of well mannered and contested matches over my 4 years. I think Canadians generally have a good reputation for behaving and respecting their opponents.
While on the topic of the CSA and Canadians, I can't finish off my post before writing a few words about the challenges we faced and still do at Western. Being the only Canadian school that participates in the CSA we always heard rumours of coaches meetings where they discussed trying to get rid of us. We heard a lot came from 1 or 2 teams specifically and these were teams that were trying to get into the top 8 (div 1). Clearly they thought an easy way to move up a spot is to just get rid of our team as opposed to actually beating us on the court. So it's kind of surprising that Western is still allowed to compete. Maybe because we are less of a threat these days. All the teams are getting stronger and as Jack Fairs has gotten older and is unable to coach the team there are a number of challenges moving forward. It was a great opportunity to travel to all the different school and compete against them being based in Canada and I don't know how many more years they will be continuing to compete in the CSA.
In closing, squash should be fun and I know a lot of people that have quit after they finished college. In college, it's all about overtraining and an even greater emphasis in placed on winning. Of course we already want to win, but there is that pressure that if you lose you let the team down. With such large teams it's difficult to get individual coaching and guidance. You get kind of thrown in with a big group which means you have to do drills and train in ways you may not enjoy. In college many people play reactive squash, meaning not to lose. So if you want to be an attacking and proactive player you better learn to do it before you get to college. And you better get good at it before you get there or chances are your coach won't appreciate your use of the front of the court. But of course winning is the most important thing in college, so if you can attack well you and you win your matches you probably won't hear any complaints. I may have painted a bleak picture on college squash, but believe it or not I actually really enjoyed it. Hopefully for those considering going down this stream the documentary and my post will help prepare you for what lies ahead.