Monday, October 9, 2017

US Open Round 1: Why Coll Upset Gawad

I thought this US Open match was worth a full post. I was on court coaching during the actual match so I had to watch Karim Abdel Gawad and Paul Coll on replay when I got home. All squash fans knew this was going to be the match to watch and I always love people playing who have a contrast in styles. Tough draw for those guys and easily worthy of a semis or even a finals. Here's a few points I have on the match on the refs and why I feel the better player won on this night.

Can having the best racquet skill in the world ever work against you? Does Gawad's gift make him less attentive to tactics? We all know Gawad has the best control and perhaps the best touch in the world. What he does with his racquet really is amazing; he makes the game look easy. In the first game I thought he was looking pretty sharp and confident. The announcers talked about how he liked to take out his opponent's legs by going short a lot early in a match. What I was watching was that he just didn't feel threatened when Coll was hitting from the front so he was shooting more than he would against a more lethal opponent. Coll has a nice counter drop, but has little no deception. I believe he was trying to put work into his legs and letting him run up and back to the T over and over. Gawad was volleying a lot, but most were going short.


I know this is going to sound trivial, but I really felt like he had to play more length and set up the short game better. If you looked closely at where Coll was standing when Gawad was going short, he was often in front of him very high up on the T. When your opponent is that far up on the T expecting a short ball often the hardest movement is when they have to go backwards in the back corners again. Obviously when you do this your opponent also is not going to be able to put as much pressure on you as they scurry off to the back corner to retrieve an attacking volley drive. I really think this one slight change could have turned the match right around.

Likely Gawad didn't want to get stuck into Coll's style of play and a more traditional type of squash and he wanted to open up the court and move the ball around, but going short that frequently, and often from behind your opponent is going to lead to some tins and a few shots being just off target which Coll could counter. Coll's attacking game is built on his counter punch where he uses his blistering speed to pounce on anything short. There's no doubt that Gawad can do things with his racquet that Coll can only dream of, but he demonstrated that if you don't need to have the best hands in the world to beat the best in the world.

I know a lot of people are upset about the conduct stroke near that gave Coll match point. Here's my take on this. I thought a lot of the calls were shocking throughout the entire match. For the most part these two guys are quite clean and don't call many lets. The one area that bothers me is how Gawad only appears to really hustle to a shot or back to the T when he is either looking for a stroke or trying to provide some subtle interference his opponent must maneuver around. As he volleys from the midcourt short and Coll is right behind him he moves quickly back to the T making Superman have to go around him or ask for a 'let.' You never like to leave a decision up to a ref especially when they seem to have trouble with the rules.

So in short, I can see why the refs were in that position to give a conduct stroke, but it didn't look like he ran that hard into Coll. If Coll didn't fall down would it have been a conduct stroke? If he didn't bump into him isn't it considered insufficient effort? What exactly is the appropriate amount of contact allowed or required to get a stroke in this situation? For now this interpretation is up to the ref and they thought it was excessive. It was such a crucial point and from thinking you were going to receive a stroke to being penalized a stroke is a tough pill to swallow. the match was pretty much over at that point.

When the ball was hot and bouncy Coll seemed to be able to get all of Gawad's shots back. Changing the ball after the third game evidently favoured Coll and Gawad needed to slightly adjust his tactics until the ball began to slow down. It's interesting how something like the bounciness of a ball can have such an impact on the outcome. Why is it in the rules that players can only ask for a new ball after the third game? Why at all? Why not after every game?

Did the best squash player win? On the night, yes I believe so. The player who demonstrated superior tactics and made less errors prevailed. But I do think Gawad's racquet skill are second to none, but that doesn't always mean you're going to win if you don't get the tactics just right. So although he is probably feeling hard done by the ref's I think he only has himself to blame for being in that position. If he played a little patient I think things could have worked out differently for him.

Have you hard that Serious Squash has a new instructional film out? Mastering Deception is now available at SeriousSquashShop.com which also has loads of Serious Squash march in stock. Both Mastering Deception and The Secrets Of Solo Hitting come with a money back guarantee. Here's the trailer:







Saturday, September 30, 2017

If You're A Heavy Sweater

By heavy sweater I don't mean clothing, I'm referring to your perspiration rate! Anyways, I was a pretty heavy sweater and because of this I'm going to share a few of the tips that has helped me over the years.



Obviously the first thing to focus on if you perspire a lot if being properly hydrated well before starting your match. This is something you learn how to do better with practice. This was tough as a kid as I would get stitches pretty easily if I drank too much liquid prior to a match. One time during a 5 setter in university I was so dehydrated that I couldn't stand up straight because of the cramping in my stomach. Somehow I won the 4th game by shooting without being able to move, but fell short in the 5th in an extremely painful occurrence. It was frustrating because it was a match I would have and should have won if it were not for this pretty intense case of dehydration.

Using electrolyte tabs and sports drinks can also be useful when you are sweating heavily. Although I don't quite understand why kids finish a bottle of gatorade before even stepping on court.

Another key for me was having 3 or more racquets with relatively new grips on them. Even with top of the line grips in good shape on my racquets they would get soaked as the match went on which affected my control. For this reason I would switch racquets after every game. This means you also want to have the same strings, type and thickness of grip and model of racquet to change to.

I would often wear a wristband on my racquet arm to help keep sweat from rolling down my arm and also to wipe sweat off of my face. For a couple of years I had longer hair and this caused me to sweat a little more and my goggles would fog up and get lots of sweat on them. For this reason I started wearing headbands or bandanas to help keep my eye guards clear. It's very tough to play well when your goggles are fogged up and have sweat droplets on them. Another key here is to make sure your shirt is cotton. If I wore a dry-fit shirt it would just smear the sweat on my eye guards. A cotton shirt with a bit of a dry spot is much better at cleaning off your goggles.

Switching shirts between some games was also something I did regularly. I never wanted to go back on court after a game with a shirt that was totally soaked.  A wet shirt is heavier and won't be any use cleaning my eye guards. I've even heard of people having a spare pair of shoes and socks because their feet sweat so profusely.

I also got into the habit of wiping my racquet hand on the sidewall or backless between every point. I tried every trick in the book to help keep my hands and gris dry and it was often still challenging. With all of these tips above I was able to minimize the impact of a slippery grip and bury goggles. It can make a big impact on the game if you can't hold your racquet properly or see clearly so remember hydration is not the only concern for us heavy sweaters.

Preparation is not just about the physical, technical, tactical and mental training, it's also about learning how to avoid and deal with issues such as hydration and excess sweating. Keeping some extra clothing and electrolyte pills can make a big difference along with spare racquets and new grips. Don't put in all of this hard work only to let something like a sweaty grip or eye guards derail you from your best performance.

Until October 3rd there is a 50% OFF sale on all orders over $100 on SeriousSquashShop.com. Enter the code nicks at checkout. You can now also pay with Bitcoin! Pick up your copies of Mastering Deception, The Secrets Of Solo Hitting and some Serious Squash merch for a great price!



Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is Deception Only For The Pros?

I know it's been a long time since my last post, but I'm back. I've still been posting some tips and videos on social media so if you want to check out the latest tips and skill challenges feel free to follow Serious Squash on Instagram and Facebook.

Recently Serious Squash produced its 2nd feature film, Mastering Deception. In this video there are 3 strong squash players, myself and 2 women currently both professional squash players on the PSA World Tour. Why did I decide to do the 2nd film on this topic? Five reasons. 1) It's one of the areas I'm most knowledgable about 2) There isn't anything out there on teaching this topic effectively 3) It's under taught and misunderstood 4) I believe it's critical to learn how to disguise, deceive and anticipate to become a high level squash player 5) It's a lot of fun to practice and implement

As a player for many years and now a coach for 10 I know the importance of understanding disguise and deception from early in the learning stages of squash. Of course we always start off by getting the grip right and learning how to just get the ball to the front wall and move back to the T, but after the very basics are understood I believe it's critical for any player with aspirations to play at a very high level to learn how to disguise their swing.



We watch the pros on Squash TV and often don't even notice their disguised shot, only the odd taxi we marvel and wonder how in the world did they completely fool another top pro. At a certain level if you don't disguise your shot your opponent will simply be cheating on their T position and will be on your shot and applying pressure to you no matter how good the execution of your shot was.

A few years back when I was working on my final Master's project I was designing an app for shot selection from the front of the court. My idea is that most players don't know what to do up there. Our opponent's are behind us and if we have too much time we normally think about it too much and hit a terrible shot, other times we panic and try and hit an outright winner, but we feel the pressure of our opponent breathing down our necks because we shape up for our shot so earlier and have decided to go for an all or nothing winner. The problem is, that most of us can't hit outright winners even while feeding ourselves in practice, let alone in the heat of competition.

While I was working on this project I exchanged a few emails with Roger Flynn who is kind of the squash guru for decision making. At the time he was the head coach of Scottish Squash. He told me that he liked to use the term, coupling when he taught people disguise. That when you shape up for a shot it should look at least the same as 2 different shots. If we ever shape up for a shot which only has a single outcome we better make sure our opponent is out of position or be under lots of pressure and just trying to retrieve the ball.

This coupling idea is something that must be used when you decide to hit straight or crosscourt length from the front or when you play an attacking boost or decide to crosscourt out of the back corners. If we telegraph our intention prior to hitting it we expose ourselves to a quick attack by our opponent. This is why I believe option drills are important. It's so critical to learn not only what is the right shot to play, but learn how to anticipate and both make it tougher for our opponent to read what we are about to do.

I've seen and worked with players who are well accomplished, and are unable to make changes and 'couple' their swings after years and years of grooving very separate strokes for each shot. This is why I feel strongly about learning this part of squash earlier rather than later.

I have always used deception and disguise in my games, and often times way too much. But I do know that played the right amount and executed properly it can make a fit player exhausted extremely quickly. The fact that squash racquets are so much lighter, and head light versus when I started playing it allows us to snap the ball and change direction at the last second and also rapidly increase or reduce racquet head speed. This has made squash much more exciting at attacking. If this is a topic that interests you I definitely recommend checking out the new Serious Squash film. It comes with a money back guarantee.

Here's the trailer and you can purchase your copy at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Serious Squash Film #2 Mastering Deception

If you've been wondering where I've been I've been away on holidays and since my return I've been writing and book, learning to play guitar and also running a lot of summer junior training sessions. Last week I filmed the 2nd Serious Squash full length film with 2 friends and PSA tour players, Giselle and Nicole. Pick up your copy starting August 7th at SeriousSquashShop.com Here's the trailer.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Secrets Of Solo Hitting Team Packs

Are you coaching or part of a squash team and want to make big progress as a group? The Secrets Of Solo Hitting is now available for teams and squash clubs to purchase. You can order a pack of 10, 25, 50 or 100 downloads at a largely discounted price. The 10 pack is available for $125, 25 for $200, 50 for $350 and 100 for $500. A single download is $25 so this is a great value if your team or club is motivated to improve their skill. Once ordered you simply share the links with your teammates or members and each person will be able to download a copy for their own. Pick up your team copy today at SeriousSquashShop.com

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Best of Eye Rackets and Serious Squash Skill Challenges

To celebrate Canada Day and a 9 month partnership between Serious Squash and Eye Rackets here is a best of skill challenge compilation! Enjoy :) and until the end of the long weekend order anything at SeriousSquashShop.com with the code 'canadaeh' and get 30% off your order :) Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians! 


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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Play To Win, But Focus On The Process

A pitcher in baseball may want to strike out the batter, but all they can do is select a pitch and try and hit his/her location. What the batter does afterwards is out of the pitchers control. A poor pitch can be swung on and missed while a perfectly executed pitch can be hit out of the park. This post is about learning to focus on making your pitch (with confidence) and accepting whatever follows. If you can continually concentrate your efforts on improving the quality of your pitches you will give yourself increasingly better odds at producing the desired outcomes. Everyone wants to win, but nobody can always win or completely control the outcome.

When we grow up we are surrounded by people praising achievement. People who win elections and win sporting championships get parties and parades thrown for them. I loved squash more than other sports because winning or losing was mostly in my control. In a team sport you can only do so much and I enjoyed having a big part to do with the outcome. When I was young I also loved winning tournaments. They'd make announcements at school after you won a tournament and you'd get some really cool trophy or squash racquet. I remember even making the front page of the local newspaper at some point.

I know from experience it's a difficult balance helping a kid along this journey because most parents want to support their children and embrace success, but also are careful of not pushing too hard on the result side of it. I enjoyed winning and being the best at something and my motivation was 100% intrinsic. If we're good at something we tend to like it, practice it more, become more skilled at it and win even more; the trouble with this process is that our ego can disrupt our progression and the ability to perform at our best because we are only thinking about winning and not necessarily on the process, which after all is what dictates the results. What a tough concept to grasp.

Fear or anxiety of a poor performance and outcome leads many people to avoid participation in tournaments. It's much easier to handle winning than it is losing. Other people love competition and only play their best squash when they're in a tournament. Do you still register for a tournament when you have no chance of winning it? Do you play better when you're a favourite or underdog?

After many years of playing and coaching at tournaments I have a more relaxed approach to competition, but don't let that fool you into thinking I still don't want to win every match I play or coach. It goes without saying that we should always give everything we have to try and win, but winning should never be our goal. I always try and praise effort and preparation over results. If you've done all you can to prepare and leave it all out on the court, the rest will be simple. I believe the outcome focus for tournaments puts extra pressure on you. I've seen it many times where someone plays not to lose and is unable to find their zone and coincidentally their best squash.


Although I've just stated how your focus should not be on winning, there is 1 trait that going into a tournament expecting to win can give you which is desirable and that's confidence. There's a big difference between someone that goes out there not expecting to win and someone who is. This is the difficult balance we need to find as a squash player. How do we step on court each time with the confidence to be successful without focusing on the outcome?

Many times when we play against stronger opponents we give them too much credit and play without belief that we can win and because of this we don't leave absolutely everything on the court. Even at the highest level you don't always see the underdog do absolutely everything within their power to win that match. But again, how can we do absolutely everything within our power to win our match without focusing on winning? It may sound cliche, but it really is about focusing on the process. If we can focus on the process we can concentrate on playing the right shot more often and less about avoiding slightly risky shots and not losing. If we think so much about only winning our current match it can hold back our long term development and we may not give our best effort when there is no chance of us winning. Try your best, play the right shot, commit to it and accept whatever the results may be. It's not just about this single shot, point or match. Maybe your opponent is simply better at the moment, but if so that's just a great opportunity to learn and become better from it.


A little more on playing a stronger player, at least try and keep them on court as long as possible. I see it all the time and people just try forcing the ball short from poor positions hoping to sneak a few cheap points or don't try at all, but that isn't going to beat a better player or allow you to improve; if anything you're just ingraining destructive mental habits. The best chances1 to beat a stronger player is to get into super long rallies and hope that they lose their focus and give you a few cheap points because maybe they are thinking too much about not wanting to lose. They may even get more tired than you expected and all of the sudden you can find yourself creating some more positive openings. That's why you should always give it everything you have and never panic during a match. If something isn't working yet, it doesn't mean it won't at some point. Keep fighting until the last point is over. You see people lose focus at game or match ball all of the time. It's almost like they let their focus slip because surely they can close it out from here. We start thinking about winning, or that we are about to win and we change how we think and play. This nicely illustrates how destructive the outcome focus can be to our squash.

In Canada we don't have an under 11 at nationals because they are worried about early specialization and kids competing at such a young age. I think this is crazy, because I believe it's up to the coaches and parents to help the kids learn about trying their best and having fun at a young age. We all need to learn how to handle both winning and losing. Yes there will be a few tears, but that's okay it's a learning process at this age. It's still a learning process in the under 19 division too! I think all kids will develop better if they can learn the delicate balance between wanting to win, but focusing on the process and development. Eventually you realize just how many areas there are we can improve in our squash game. We can improve our swing, our accuracy, our power, play around with different types of spin, make better shot selections and of course improve our mental game and get fitter, faster and stronger.

Winning happens if we improve all of our skills and become the best player we can be. It's nice to see your hard work pay off in the form of wins and rankings, but this is where fitness and technical testing can help too. If we can measure our improvement in our training sessions, we will have confidence we are improving without the need of specific outcomes or rankings. If we increase our confidence in our ability to play longer and harder railer or hit specific shots more accurately in our matches we will have a better chance of being successful.

You probably have heard the popular term, 'focus on what's under your control.' In sport this is so critical to playing your best. If we waste our energy getting upset about a lucky shot our opponent hit or a bad ref or a tough draw we are setting ourselves up for trouble. All of these things are out of our control and this is what makes life and sport so fascinating. It's learning how to handle adversity and focus on doing our best which this journey is all about. I love the challenge of trying to find the optimal mindset for playing my best squash most consistently. If you can do this and stay hungry to become the best you can possibly be you will get your share of results so don't worry about this area.

Wanting to win is fine, but focus on the process and on improving your game. When I ran a provincial junior camp before nationals this year I worked with some amazing young players. I had a questionnaire and the first question was what are there goals for nationals? Many had to win or make semis, etc. There's a lot that goes into winning such a big title and it's great to have such motivated athletes, but I also felt they were too result oriented. How are they going to play relaxed squash, especially when games are tight if they are focused on the outcome only? Again, you never know how the draw is going to be and how the other kids will play. Squash isn't like a class in school where getting an A for everyone is achievable. In squash there is only 1 winner, but that doesn't mean many of the kids competing shouldn't leave happy with how they performed and where there game is at. It's the fact that they (their ego), their coaches, parents and peers all want them to win too. Kids can easily attach their self-worth to their sporting results. If someone leaves absolutely everything out on the court and plays to the best of their ability that is as good or even better than someone who won the tournament. We need to learn how to feel satisfied with these areas regardless of the result. As I've already mentioned praise effort and preparation not results.


A competition is simply a tool to measure your game and how much you've improved and what you need to work on going forwards. If you come up a bit short you may be hungrier than the person who won the title. If you won the title you may put too much pressure on yourself to repeat this the performance the next time. These are the lessons that I love about sport and I wish I had someone to help me rid my ego and outcome focused squash brain when I was young. If I knew how damaging it could be to solely focus on the outcomes I'm sure I would have changed it because I wanted to be the best I could be, but I had no idea that my winning every single time I stepped out on court mindset was also causing damage to my development. Nobody wins every match and if you are you aren't getting challenged. And I know there's people out there saying that this is a soft Canadian way of thinking, but I disagree. I am all for trying to become the best you can be, but I think there is a healthier process of getting to this place.

I just got back from playing in the 35+ Canadian Nationals. When I was playing in the 30+ a few years back I played to win. One time I did and another year I was the runner up. The year I lost it bothered me a lot; I kept replaying in my mind how I could have won. But even now at my age I've realized how debilitating these goals and mindset can be to my performance. Yes I did finish 2nd this time around too, but I didn't leave the tournament constantly thinking about how much it sucks that I didn't win. I know how I can prepare a bit better next time and that's that. If I only played in a tournament when I knew I had a really good chance to win I may never play tournaments again; that's part of the beauty of sport. I used to always be asked 'what happened?' or 'how'd you lose to that guy?' if I didn't win a match or a tournament. That puts a lot of pressure on you, so it's really about learning to not care what others think about your squash game and letting go of your ego and focusing on what is under your control, the process and getting better. Yes I wanted to win this time around and I had a shot at it, but it just didn't happen. I tried my best I can live with that. Maybe I'll win next year and I'll give everything I have to make that happen, but that's not my goal.


Have you bought a copy of The Secrets of Solo Hitting yet? 99 copies sold and counting! It's a 64 minute instructional squash video on solo hitting. There are over 30 solo drills with tips on how to improve your solo practice. Pick up your copy at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos Here's a preview from the Serious Squash Youtube page

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

2017 Canadian Nationals Recap

I just got back from competing in the Canadian Nationals. I missed playing it the last few seasons because of knee problems, so just to be back on court and competing was a win for me. Unfortunately I had trouble backing up a tough match and lost in the finals of the 35+ 3-1. Anyways, this isn't a post about me so let's move on.

Today I'm going to talk about the men's and women's open events. Here's a link to all the draws if you would like to check out the full results: http://squashcanada.tournamentsoftware.com/sport/draws.aspx?id=984B9FE1-9DAC-427F-A4BE-76D48ABFBF60 Being around squash for my whole life you get to know almost everyone and you get to see juniors rise up and become some of the best players in the country. Canada has had some success on the PSA circuit over the years and we all look up to the footsteps of Jonathan Power (who for the record did not play this year). There was a good blend of some competitors around my age who are nearing the end of their careers and others are just beginning. Shawn Delliere and Shahier Razik have both won a number of the mens' titles over the years and Sam Cornett was back after missing last season due to injury. Cornett has had lots of great results on the PSA tour since her comeback so most people were favouring her to recapture the title. Hollie Naughton was the defending women's champ and Andrew Schnell was last years champ on the men's side.

The women's draw is the most competitive I have ever seen. Canada has a number of women ranked in the top 75 in the world (I believe 5) and there are others playing close to this caliber. Although the women's draw was smaller the caliber and competitiveness was good. It was encouraging to see a couple of the top local juniors in the mix.


The women's semis were set with the top 4 seeds and both matches were incredibly tight. Unfortunately both ended with bad calls by the ref. Down 10-9in the 4th and 2-1 in games Cornet had the momentum, but Letourneau was awarded a stroke for a simple let and the entire crowd gasped in shock and was vividly not happy with the call. I was thinking as watching this that if Cornett had won that point she was going to win that match, it was that critical. Shame when you see something like that. In the other semis (which I didn't see all of) I heard there was a wrong call at 9-9 in the 4th against Nikki Todd which gave Naughton match ball. I was worried about the refing from my very 1st match when I was awarded a no let when I hit my opponent during my swing which caused my ball to hit the floor. I don't know if the refs have got a new set of rules they're using. I don't like bringing up this topic again, but anytime a ball was hit lose it was either a 'no let' or a 'stroke.' It was really strange and you never knew which was coming regardless of the amount of impedance of the swing. There was no consistency with these calls. In my semis my opponent and I agreed to change poor decisions twice and the ref got angry and asked if we even wanted him to ref. I realized quickly it was not worth arguing or getting upset about any calls, you just hope they didn't occur in big points and unfortunately for the women it did happen in big moments in incredibly exciting and well fought matches. Moving on.

After Letourneau had caused a big upset and taken out Cornett I felt it was going to be very tough for her to mentally and physically back that up in the finals against Naughton. Letourneau was up 2-1 in the finals when you could see she was getting a bit fatigued and forcing the ball short too early and from defensive positions. Somehow it's kind of encouraging knowing the top players struggle with the same things everyone else does at times. Naughton went on to win in 5 and is the defending champ. But with the depth and caliber of the women in the field this title will be up for grabs every season!

On the men's side there were also plenty of upsets. The defending champ, Schnell lost in 5 to Mike McCue while less surprising was Nick Sachvie who beat Shawn Delliere in 3 straight. Sachvie has been climbing up the PSA ranks quickly and cleaned up during the weekend without dropping a game. Watching Sachvie play I felt like he has less obvious areas to work on than the other guys do. His movement and court coverage is unbelievable and super efficient. It would have been nice to see him tested and to see how he handles the pressure of tight matches. He definitely has the ability to continue cracking on up in the men's rankings. It's all going to come down to the tactics and mental game. He's got the movement and the racquet skill. If he can get out on court with some of the top pros I'm sure it would help him continue his rapid development. That's the challenge here in Canada when you become the best. Since the NSA has closed their doors there is no set place and team for upcoming pros to go train. Currently a group of them go to club in Toronto and work with a couple of the coaches there, but it doesn't have the draw or appeal of a place like the NSA and JP did.


I thought they caliber of squash was very high in the men's too. It will interesting to follow the men and women as some careers are winding down and others are just getting going. The top 4 Canadian women all have the ability to crack the top 30 and there's a few after that who aren't too far behind them. Sachvie seems to have the clear cut edge in how far up he can get up the rankings. I could see him making top 30 or even 20 in a few years, but at that stage you need to be getting regular hits with the top guys and on the glass court. Schnell is extremely fast and an amazing athlete and has already had some success getting into the top 60 and winning last years title so convincingly. We all know Razik and Delliere have already reached impressive previous career highs a few years back. I believe Razik got to the low 20's and Delliere around 30. Neither could find success on the glass court against the top players so let's hope our next crop of players can do better at this transition.

It's a shame that Squash Canada doesn't have a stepping stage or funding for juniors to the PSA for the top kids. It's tough to stay motivated and on the right course for year after year unless you happen to get a great team in place on your own. Even then, managing this financially is a major struggle. $1,200 for winning nationals barely covers expenses if you don't happen to live in Toronto. Other countries have paid pro leagues, more national funding and plenty of coaching and training available for their top players. If I was a top up and coming Canadian pro I would definitely need a lot of help, but would be afraid to ask for it and wouldn't know where to turn. Going to a good university program seems the simplest really. Other than that I say go abroad. If you want to keep our top players in Canada try and help get a PSA event at your club or reach out to sponsor 1 of these amazing athletes. And how about trying to get a glass court set up somewhere permanently in Canada? I'd be happy to make some space for it on the west coast :)

Did you watch Nationals is person or on the streaming? Let me know your thoughts. And if you haven't already checkout out the new Serious Squash film, The Secrets of Solo Hitting has now sold almost 100 copies to people from all over the world. It's a 64 minute advanced instructional video on how to solo hit most effectively. Pick up a copy at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos and if you'd enjoy it I will give you a full refund!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stay Unrealistic and Prove The Doubters Wrong

When I was a kid I had very supportive parents. They would bring me to squash tournaments all over North America and even over the Scottish and British Opens one year. I had a lot of success as a young squash nut winning the Canadian nationals and U.S. Open with some other high finishes along the way. As a young boy I beat some players that went on to play professionally and make it inside the top 50. Unfortunately I quit playing squash when I was 14 for about 5 years so I never really got to make a go at becoming the best I could be. I also dreamed of becoming a world champion and was convinced I would, but why do some kids stop chasing their goals and others don't?


When you're a kid you think anything is possible (at least I did) and if you worked hard enough you could do whatever you want. Teachers ask kids what they want to be when they grow up and they often say something pretty unrealistic like an astronaut; but someone has to be an astronaut. Just because something is a long shot doesn't mean it's not going to happen. How and why do kids stop believing in themselves and chasing their dreams? There's probably a few reason why this occurs.

Kids are stereotyped because of their physique or where they come from so some don't get as much attention and don't get selected to higher level teams. Parents also feel like kids should grow up at a certain age and think and act more like an adult; which basically means focus on making money and doing less of what you like. There's also a definite lack of unrelenting belief within some people. People are too quick to think they just don't have that fire or willpower, but it is something anyone can have in the right environment and upbringing. I believe this is a learned habit and having a taste of success can go a long way to fuelling your dream.

When I was a kid of course (yes I'm the small 1 in the below pic) I would always say I wanted to be a pro squash player and not just that but world #1. Even after having quite a bit of success not everyone was thinking my dreams were very realistic or sustainable and I'd always be told to focus more on my studies. I remember 1 time my parents asking me what would happen if I for example have knee problems and could no longer play professionally? I remember stating that, 'if I get injured and can't compete anymore I'll be a coach.' So it wasn't my first choice, but it's funny that's what happened.


See parents are always worrying about what could go wrong and worry a lot about their children. Parents want their kids to be able to take care of themselves and becoming a professional squash player means more than likely they'll be disappointed, possibly uneducated enough to get a good job if squash doesn't work out and also have financial problems (because we all know there's not much money in pro squash). If parents are pushing kids into squash normally it's to help get them into a good school, not to make a living doing it. It's this sensible and protective nature which eventually kills the dreams of kids. Just because your parents didn't achieve their childhood dreams don't let this affect your passion. I believe this is why the kids of successful athletes are more likely to make it to the pro level; not only are the kids seeing the work ethic and lifestyle it takes, but they see what daddy or mommy did and of course they think if they did it we can to and the parents also think this way. If you're surrounded by people that believe in your dreams you'll be far more likely to achieve them.


I've heard many other parents over the years who also told their kids what they should be striving for and to set realistic expectations so they don't get let down when they fail to achieve their unrealistic goals. How would anyone in the world every achieve anything great if we all erred on the side of caution and realism? You only live once and I don't understand trying to take the safest route just to avoid disappointment. Wanting to play professional squash is a long shot let alone making a living playing it, but it is certainly possible. It can also open up doors to other avenues, so my big point today is to support the dreams and goals of those around you no matter how absurd and unrealistic they may seem. As soon as we start putting walls up and telling them to grow up and think about their future we kill their hope and without hope there is no more dreaming or passion. You may just be amazed by how far motivation and belief can take someone.


Some parents may have unrealistically high expectations for their kids, so let's not confuse these with intrinsic desires and goals. So if you have a kid that wants to be the best in the world at something don't tell them it isn't going to happen. Even though I didn't become #1 in the world or play professional squash I know from my experience and success as a young kid that I can do anything in the world if I put my mind to it, am passionate about it and stick with it. Just because you think it's a silly dream it's wrong to tell someone they can't do something so if you care about that individual you should support them and believe in them. And if you're the 1 having doubts yourself hopefully this post will give you some extra courage to keep fighting for your dreams.


Even if you don't achieve what you originally set out to do you'll likely realize 1 day that it was the journey which mattered most, not the destination; this is why process goals and making the most out of what you have is so critical. I think this is why many of the former world #1's over the past few years have let their standards slip. They reach their life long dream and the drive to chase the top of the podium is gone. It's also much tougher to play trying to maintain something and to not lose than it is if you're hungry and gunning for the top and your childhood dream.

I read in a book how LeBron James has set a goal to become the best player of all time, not just the best player in the league each season. So if you are so fortunate to reach your dream goal you better think even bigger and come up with some goals that other people would think are impossible. It's also key to focus on the process of becoming the absolute best you can be. If you can do this you will still find ways and areas to improve upon regardless of whether you've achieved your outcome dream goal or not.


I remember about 5 years ago running a provincial camp for the top kids here in British Columbia. I handed out a questionnaire to them and 1 of the questions asked what their dream goal was for squash. Only 1 of them put to play professionally. Many of the goals were extremely modest or not challenging whatsoever; it basically showed me that these kids were not going to go as far as they were capable of simply from the response of a single question. I believe these low standards are learned behaviours from their environment and as a coach they drive me nuts. I know a kid can never be that good if they don't think they can. I would much rather work with a less talented child who goes to bed dreaming of becoming the next world champion and has the work ethic to back it up.


I really hope I reach at least 1 person with this article and if I make a difference in their belief and goals I will be extremely happy. Whether it's you as a supporting role or as the athlete him/herself. I know when we lose to many matches or have a poor season we get down on our game and our expectations about what we can do can quickly diminish. But squash is not a sprint, it's a long race and it takes a commitment to your long term development and the mind is the key to achieving greatness.

Learning to cope with poor performances and disappointment is something your team can help you with, but ultimately has to come from within. If you need that extra incentive to fuel you along, try and prove any doubters wrong. Someone doesn't select you for a team, work harder and prove you belonged. Many low draft picks in major league sports carry this chip on their shoulder each and every day at practice even well after they have been successful. Don't play and practice angry, just play with determination and complete confidence that you have something to prove. Just because you haven't or somebody hasn't done something before it doesn't mean it can never be done. The main obstacle is also what can be your greatest asset, the mind.

Ramy Ashour will have doubts about his health and his hamstring for the rest of his career and for good reason, yet he continues to fight. Why? Because he still believes and has hope while others are all to quick to write him off and wonder why he won't hang up his racquet. He wouldn't have gotten to the incredible level that he has without having to deal with plenty of criticism and adversity over the years; when you handle these instances well it makes you tougher and you gain more confidence in your ability to do anything you put your mind to. Even though it's his body letting him down, it's the battle in between the ears which are the toughest to overcome.


Don't let others tell you what you can or can't do. As a former top junior and coach I know how important belief, intrinsic motivation and will power can be. Prove the naysayers wrong and become the next world champion and be sure to thank me in your acceptance speech in 10 years time :)

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

2017 Canadian Junior Nationals

I always enjoy not only coaching my only athletes at the nationals each season, but also watching the top kids and how they're developing. I wrote a review from a previous nationals and I mentioned that kids were not shooting enough. That has certainly changed and today I'm going to go over a few other things I noticed from the top kids. Here's a link to the draws if you want to take a peak: https://squashcanada.tournamentsoftware.com/sport/draws.aspx?id=0B5066C6-BCD8-48CD-B57A-ADF9E4B706B6

The nationals this year was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Although we weren't at altitude 4 of the 6 courts were quite bouncy while the 2 back courts were quite cold. Kids definitely had to be able to make major adjustments to their targets, T positioning and tactics depending on which court they were on. The 4 bouncy courts tended to lead to a lot of overhitting by the older kids. I was quite surprised how the top kids rarely hit a medium paced drive; they either chipped the ball with no pace whatsoever or they hit the ball as hard as possible, which would land way too short or bounce way off the back wall. So for me 1 of the biggest problems was the lack of dying attacking drives from the back of the court. Because of this lack of well weighed drives there was an obvious lack of volleying from the midcourt as well. Here's a short clip on how to easily practice some attacking drives.


Another challenge on the bouncy courts was bringing the ball short. The kids still went short, but they were still trying to hit winners. The top kids are all excellent athletes and very fast so trying to hit outright winners with a bouncy ball certainly cost them more mistakes. I really think they should be aiming for the angle of their drops and to get them tight and focus on them being a working shot, not an outright winner. Their so fast there's no need to try and hit a drop with no margin when they can cover the next shot anyways. It's the mindset that really needs to adjust here. They should focus on working their opponent and making them do hard movements and pop out lose balls by being accurate with their weight of drives and keeping their drops tight. And here again is a short clip on volley drops. Hit it with slice and get it finishing tight off the volley. If you aim for the nick it will likely bounce back away from the wall with such a hot ball.



An area I see some of the kids developing nicely is deception. A few of them have some nice holds from the front of the court. This holds true for even a few of the younger kids. It's enjoyable to see different styles and a more attacking brand of squash being played by the top kids. Even though they often play the attacking shot incorrectly and force the ball short when out of position it's a better to be a little overly aggressive than passive for their long term development in my opinion.

There's something that was blatantly poor from almost all of the kids at the event. This was their serves. I can't recall how many times many of the kids would simply put the ball in play and hit it right to their opponents racquet without breaking it off the sidewall. There was also very little creativity in serve variation. This is something I remember hearing a lot about when I was young and I guess kids still overlook the serve and the importance of how it can set up the rally.

I can't wrap up this summary without a quick mention of the refs. Oh boy. I hate picking on people that spend 4 full days doing a thankless job, but there were some pretty brutal decisions. I witnessed foot faults and no lets when strokes should have been awarded. I heard that the refs were told to make the players play the ball and to award no lets if they didn't make every effort, but clearly when it's an obvious stroke this shouldn't apply. I also think a foot fault warning would suffice. It's also disappointing that a few matches ended on blatantly incorrect decisions. This did demonstrate how well behaved almost every single kid is at this event. I was pleasantly surprised with how well the kids handled the refs calls, even when they were match decisive.

Lastly, I'm more than a bit concerned about the future of our top kids. They've clearly dedicated their lives to getting to the level their at, but where to they go after juniors? I'm sure some will go to a school and play squash, but what happens after that or if they want to pursue a pro squash career instead? There is zero system in place that helps with this process and there is no funding for them as well. There's also not enough small PSA events throughout Canada that these kids would be able to compete in to gain some affordable experience. As of now there's only 2 options in my book. The first one is to build up the resources themselves around them. It takes a big support team around an athlete to help someone play successfully at the pro level. This option may indeed be best set up at a top post secondary squash team at the moment.


The second option would be to go to another country and try and get in a training group with some other pros. There's many pro leagues in Europe which you can play in and make some extra money in. It's really a shame there isn't a better system to help our top kids get from juniors to the pro level. Instead of Squash Canada worrying about if they should have a under 11 divisions and specializing an athlete too young, they should focus on helping those that have dedicated their lives to squash and have no system to help them take the next step. We all have ups and downs in our squash career and it's so important to have a team to help keep you in line and on track during those dips in confidence or motivation.


Did you play in or watch any of the Junior Nationals? Please share your thoughts and stories. And if you were 1 of the kids that had some troubles with the areas I mentioned above, checkout the new film I recently released. The Secrets of Solo Hitting is a 64 minute advanced instructional film which contains 30 of the best solo drills. The drills are sectioned into 3 categories: Straight Drives, Midcourt/Volleys and The Short Game. There is also a Technical Testing section which would be extremely useful to use over the summer months to set some goals as you develop your technical skills and consistency. Over 70 copies have been sold so far to people from all over the world. Check out the preview video below and order your copy today at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-video


Monday, April 17, 2017

Let The Coaches Coach and The Trainers Train

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about what I would do if I could go back and coach myself now knowing all that I know. I mentioned a number of things, but there is something I would add to that list. One are I would definitely like to go back and do is work with a personal trainer and even take some group fitness classes. When I was young I had a treadmill, stationary bike and a weight machine in my basement. Even though it was great to be able to do some cross training and certainly something is better than nothing, I really I had no idea what I was doing or how much to do of everything.

Even as I got to university I generally ran our team practices along with the off court training.  I would often take the team to run hills and do wind sprints by the squash club. On court we would do random drills and often finish with some court sprints. When I was a kid I just don't think any junior worked with personal trainers. Parents already invest enough money into lessons, camps and tournaments so what's the point of a personal trainer, especially on a weekly basis? At the university level we all knew the importance of off court training, but again we weren't specialist so we just did what we thought we should do. The idea of working with a personal trainer never even crossed my mind. At university I was on a very tight budget on I couldn't afford such luxuries. I always worked hard, but to get the most out of it that effort needs to be guided into the right direction.



Now that I'm 35 and have had 1 knee surgery and many years of coaching under my belt, I've finally come to a realization that I have to regularly work with a trainer, see a physiotherapist and get a massage. It helps now that I can write off a portion of these expenses through my work medical coverage, but still it is a difficult concept spending a few hundred dollars per month of these luxuries. The difference now is that they are all essential, especially trying to deal with the decades of playing and coaching.

If I could go back to a child and coach myself I would very much like to work with a personal trainer and have someone help set up a training program for me. As a squash player you're never quite sure how much of what to do and parents are always cautious about their kids lifting weights. Squash is such a 1 sided sport so it's an essential part of self care and not only will it help your squash game it also will help you avoid long term overuse injuries which I have been dealing with the past few years.

I know from taking the level 3 coaching courses in Canada that squash coaches are expected to be able to plan out an athletes physical training. To me this is absolutely ridiculous because this is not our area of expertise. I never had an annual training plan when I played and I've worked with some pros that don't use one. I think they can help some people, but are not necessary. And what good is an annual training plan if we don't know when to mark up which type of training? I mean sure I know we need lots of cardio and agility and I can help improve your court movement. I know strength training is important, but not too frequently during the season. But how am I supposed to tell a pupil how often to do which exercises and which types of training are best at certain times of the year? They have people who are specifically trained to do this so why in the world would someone expect me to know how to do this as well as a trained expert on the subject? Surely I should I only be expected to know how to coach?

Most squash coaches can get you fitter. We can run you through some ghosting an court sprints and circuits. But knowing the specifics of the technique for each movement, duration, intensity and frequency is something personal trainers should handle. Learning how to lunge and squat properly is critical in training and for squash training. I don't know any professional sport in the world where the coach runs the conditioning part of an athletes training. I heard awhile back that the fitness and conditioning coaches in football are the most important parts of the coaching staff.

I believe that our kids would be better off with a personal trainer working on this part of their game and the coaches focusing on the squash side of it. This is the beginning of building a team around an athlete. Being a well rounded athlete is essential to playing at a high level of squash and avoiding injury. The only way we will optimize the hours we spend off court training is learning how to do it properly, so I am all for personal trainers/strength and conditioning coaches.

How young should kids begin working with a trainer? My trainer says around grade 8-9 is when a kid is most trainable and is a great age to start working with a trainer. Kids bodies adapt so quickly if they are working on the right areas with proper technique. I wish I had this opportunity when I was a kid, because I had the shots and racquet skill, but was quite small compared to the other kids so would get overpowered. I also dealt with some knee problems on and off. These are things no squash coach I had could have fixed. These are areas I believe that a quality personal trainer could have helped me with though.


It's so hard maintaining a high level of every type of fitness trait throughout an entire season. We shouldn't worry about slightly lapses in 1 area if we are concentrating on another area. I know I often stopped strength training during the season because I was on court so much, but this is another area i wish I had stuck with even just to maintain my strength and off season training gains. Being young and not having the money to fund proper training was a real issue for me. So how could I have changed this? I could have tried to get a group of 3 or 4 of my peers together and work in a group setting with a trainer. I could have also signed up for some group classes like a spin class or yoga. Sometimes in squash we think we can do it all by ourselves because it's an individual sport, but the sooner you realize you can't and shouldn't the better off you'll be.


If you fortunate enough to have a great trainer in your corner you'll know how much they're helping you for your game. Even now when I play a strong player, I normally have the shots to contend with someone, but it's the physicality of the squash at this level which I have trouble with. I know it's not genetics, it's simply a matter of proper training. Look no further than Paul Coll or Fares Dessouky to see how important off court training is. The way they can move on court and for how long is because of the off court training. As you get better in squash you should be spending more and more of your time training off court. Not only are you trying to get fitter, stronger and faster, but also avoid injuries. You've got to be healthy to compete and handle the physical demands to play at the highest level.





Looking back at the old sign posted up in my squash club as a child, 'Get Fit To Play Squash, Don't Play Squash To Get Fit' holds more and more truth to me now. Back when I was a kid it was more about the endurance, Jonah Barrington insane level of endurance. I don't know how many of the top players lose these days because of aerobic endurance, it's more the intensity and pressure of the rallies, or even injuries. In hindsight it's easy now to say that Ramy is probably dealing with his injuries from major overuse, which is also a necessity to becoming a top squash player. How would things have been different for him if he had a top personal trainer working with him as a child? We rarely do proper training to prevent injuries until they begin to occur, but that doesn't have to be the case with squash.

How much of what you need to do off court to train for your level of squash depends a lot on your body type, genetics, your style of squash and your training history. I feel it takes an extremely experienced personal trainer to know exactly what is best for each person. There's simply too many individual differences one must take into account that it's unrealistic to expect a squash coach to have this wealth of knowledge. Training people in large groups as a squash coach can offer some overall strength or fitness benefits, but if you have lofty goals for playing at the highest levels you must seek beyond your coach for the strength and conditioning compartment.  It takes a team of special individuals to allow 1 person to succeed. They likely charge as much or more than you squash coach will and unless you understand just how important they can be to your success I doubt you will invest in one. Hopefully I've given you a few reasons to reconsider this.

Let the coaches coach and the trainers train. Coaches should be able to help you with your technical, tactical, mental and squash specific movement patterns, but the off court training does not fall under our realm of expertise. Squash Canada, like most other countries should change their coaching curriculum accordingly. I believe they should include more mental skills training and discuss about how to build a team and program to allow kids to succeed from the grassroots to pro level. I think they should also want coaches about doing too much physical training with their athletes when they are unqualified and their students could get injured. The challenge here is that if many of our athletes aren't already doing some fitness training outside of squash we feel we must include some in our practices. It's simple to include fitness training into a group session, but if it is exercises are done without the knowledge or ability to correct form there is not much good coming from these sessions.

Check out the new full length solo hitting film available for purchase at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos The Secrets of Solo Hitting is a 64 minute instructional video on what I know best, coaching/solo hitting. This includes 30 of the best solo drills with tips on how to best perform each drill. The sections are divided into 1) Straight Drives 2) Midcourt and 3) The Short Game. There is also a Technical Testing section and a Bonus Tips one. Stream or download your copy today. To date there are over 60 copies sold to keen squashers from all over the planet. Here's an in depth preview video about it from my youtube channel:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Importance of Solo Hitting

How did I get good at squash? If I had to credit 1 thing over my entire life it would be all of the time I've spent solo hitting. Of course there were a few coaches along the way and the support of my family which helped, but I've spent thousands upon thousands of hours on court by myself solo hitting. Why? I wanted to get better, a lot better and the more time I spent on court hitting balls the more I improved. I loved that I could practice squash whenever I wanted and I always enjoyed hitting the ball and trying to learn new shots.

As a coach I've always told my pupils that solo practice is a MUST for any player that wants to be good. You can't make someone want to solo hit or be great. This is a quality that has to come from within the player. If you coach someone with this quality coaching is simple and really enjoyable.

As I got to a men's open level I felt I couldn't play matches everyday or I would get injured so I always tried to mix in lots of solo practice within these hard training or match sessions so I could still improve without overdoing it physically. My theory was that if I could control the better I would also have to do less work in my matches. There's also no better feeling than learning a new shot and executing it in your matches.

If you want to be able to confidently play the tactically most correct shot at any time during a match you've go to practice each of the shots over and over. You need to rehearse each shot until you've gotten extremely consistent and you no longer have to think about the technique of your swing while you hit it. If you're thinking about how to swing for a certain shot during a game you're in big trouble.   So if there are certain shots you have to think of you probably just haven't rehearsed these swings enough to become automated. Even once a skill becomes automated the level of precision for each shot must improve as you move up in levels. When you start playing just getting a drive to the back or hitting a drop a foot above the tin are well executed shots and will be pretty effective. As you improve these targets become more specified and vital to your success.

Last year Eye Rackets contacted me because of all the skill challenge videos I was posting. They started in good fun and slowly but surely people in squash took notice. In October I signed a 3 year contract with Eye Rackets and they are supporting my new venture in solo drills and skill challenges. I'm always looking for new cool and difficult drills to complete and I have a few on the to film list at the moment.

A couple of months ago I thought it would be fun to make a longer video and sell it online. I knew instantly that my 1st video should be about solo hitting because that's my most knowledgeable area and I believe it's so essential to a squash players development. I didn't realize how much work it was going to be, but after a couple of months of writing, filming, editing and marketing it is finally complete and for sale in the Serious Squash Shop. So far I've sold about 55 copies to people from all over the world. It's so neat that with the internet I can reach a small number of dedicated squash enthusiasts who are as passionate about squash, improving and solo hitting as I am. Feel free to share this with info your friends, unless of course they're also your competitors ;)

I've just put together a fun little promo video. Here it is if you'd like to have a peak.


If you'd like to order a copy of the film it's available at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos and for $25 you can stream it and download it for safe keeping. There is a lot of information on this film so I'm sure the keenest will refer back to it as they work on their game and improve their solo skills.