Monday, September 1, 2014

Why Egyptians Are Ruling The Squash Court

Ok so the title gives away the topic of today's post. It's probably an interesting subject for all of us squash coaches and players. I'm going to talk about why I think Egypt is dominating the squash scene. I don't feel I need to list all the top class Egyptians to make this claim, so I'm going to get right into it the thick of it.

When I was young I thought that kids in Egypt and Pakistan were so good because they didn't have to go to school or if they did they didn't do much homework. And I also thought that squash was a way out of poverty for some of them, so what chance does a kid have from a middle class family have? How could I possibly be more hungry and work as hard (or harder) to be better than these kids? Some of this may have some merit I can't really say. As I've gotten older and learned more about the world and squash I've come across some other reasons why I believe Egypt is now dominating the world circuit both on the adult and junior stage.

Some Egyptians have similar traits as most of them are exceptionally quick, deceptive, read the game well and are great shooters. On area that is not consistent is their technique. Some have a classic squash swing while others have quirky and uncommon techniques, but they all appear to get the job done. So this demonstrates that technique does not have to be what looks best.  And because their swings vary so much I feel we can eliminate this as the reason they are atop the squash world.

There must be a lot of good squash players all playing together in Egypt. Which means that they must be used to a high level of competition. This must have something to do with their high skill level. I've heard from people that have been there that the top class players still get on court with the youngsters and this must help pay it forward and give back to the next generation. I'm sure these reasons have something to do with their success, but are not what I believe to be the main reason for their dominance.

Once a country becomes dominant in a sport, such as Canada in hockey or Brazil in soccer (sorry is this too close to the world cup to bring this up?) they motivate the youth of their country to take up the sport and continue their winning ways. Having these great role models must help improve their grass roots development and their overall squash strength as a nation. But once again this is not what I feel is the most important aspect to their global squash success.

What I feel is the major strength of Egyptian squash lies in the tactics. The Egyptians play to win. I can't think of a single one that doesn't play attacking and aggressive squash. They don't pass up opportunities and are always looking to take the initiative on court. In Canada as I'm sure in other countries, when we coach our youth we want them to have success at a young age so we tell them to hit shots that have a high rate of success...hit length and more specifically hit it deep to their backhand! This may work at the junior level and most of the way up in the professional level, but this tactical style of play also means that they don't take any risk and learn how to play attacking squash. And when one of our kids do try a shot they know what their coach and parents and outside the court cringing at their lousy attempt.

I know people in Egypt could confirm or deny this and make a better argument on this subject. But I feel that creativity and attacking squash is not frowned upon, and is actually encouraged in Egypt. They are continually reinventing how the game is played. Even though this may mean a few errors in the short term these young players are learning to play a style of squash that better suits the glass courts and the lower tin (for the men's game). When I watch an Egyptian play a shot I feel like they have countless shot options whereas many other players are quite predictable because they've been taught to hit shot x when in position z.

So what can we learn from this? Should we encourage our kids to become shooters and attack every chance they get? Well maybe, maybe not. In my opinion I believe we should avoid using the term 'don't do that' or 'hit this shot' as this limits their creativity and makes them predictable. I don't think the kids should play the way we think they should play and want them to play the game. I also feel like playing more games, condition games and working on volleys, deception, anticipation, shot selection and the short game are all vital and under taught at the junior level.

I believe in encouraging creativity even at the expense of some unforced errors and poor decisions. Once a kid has spent a few years learning the 'fundamentals' and has developed a style of play it will be difficult for that person to change how they have been taught to play. While I bet the young Egyptians play the same style of squash from the grassroots level on up. Even though the young Egyptians may make lots of 'learning errors' and more mistakes then winners at a young age they are also developing shots that will one day cause the rest of the world much difficulty.

My last point has to do with the flare and creativity of Egyptian squash. I feel that they enjoy squash more because of this component of their game. Where some coaches in other countries tell kids not to do this or that. Yet Mohamed Elshorbagy plays drops from the back through his legs, hits a ridiculous forehand drop from the front of the court with a big backswing, and hits a crazy backhand fan topspin volley drop/kill shot. Not to mention what the great Ramy Ashour can do. But you can tell that they have spent countless hours developing new shots and grooming risky low percentage shots into high percentage winners. They are artists and take pride and are passionate about their craft. How many people can claim the same feeling because of the accuracy of their straight drive? It's no coincidence that my favourite players to watch are all Egyptian!

I know I am making a few assumptions. I have never been to Egypt and would probably have a much different opinion if I did. So this is my opinion from an outsiders perspective; base solely on what I've heard throughout he grapevine and what I see on PSA Squash TV. Some of my opinions may be right and other points may be off the mark. If you have any experience or thoughts about why the Egyptians are doing so well please let me know. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my points. And if you've been to Egypt or are Egyptian please let me know why you feel that your country has produced so many world class players.

1 comment:

  1. I'm an Egyptian who learned to play squash later on after I came to Canada. I don't claim familiarity with squash community in Egypt but I'm familiar enough with the Egyptian sport culture in general.

    It might surprise many non Egyptian squash fans to know that squash is not a popular sport in Egypt. Ashour, El-Shorbagi and Shabana are not household names in Egypt. Few people outside of the small squash Egyptian squash community will remember or recognize the Egyptian top players.

    Contrary to the assumptions you had when you were young, most of the squash players come from reasonably well to do families that can afford elite club memberships and coaching. I think this allowed for the development of a relatively closed squash community with it's own subculture that prides itself in its achievement without expecting recognition at home.

    You're spot on about the creativity and of the Egyptian squash players. When it comes to sports, Egyptians in general appreciate mastery, creativity even sometimes over results. Think of Brazilian soccer.

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