Having worn the Asics Blast and Blade models for a number of years, I was keen to try their newest shoe, the Fastball. I initially noticed a shape and composition similar to older versions of the Blade, which was a very light and low-cut shoe. The Fastball did seem more cushioned and reinforced to protect the ankles and provide lateral support. The added stability addressed the most common criticism of the Blade, while maintaining the overall light and flexible theme. I felt comfortable in the Fastball right away, and the “breaking in” phase was nonexistent; even the slips sometimes associated with brand new shoes weren’t an issue. Similar to other Asics models, the fit is ideal for a narrower foot.
Overall, they are a nice medium between the low-profile Blade and heavier Blast. I would definitely recommend the Fastball to anyone who was a fan of the Blade, or has found the newer Blast models slightly too bulky.
Having restrained my urge to pen a review of the IOC’s decision to exclude squash from the Olympics (for the third consecutive time), I thought now would be an appropriate time for a preview of the new season. My 2013/14 campaign begins in just a few days with the $15k Nash Cup in London, ON. This tournament is held in high regard by PSA players for its great enthusiasm and hospitality. Big crowds populate the seats from day 1, players are given free meals at the club, and the members seem genuinely excited to have a Tour event in their own backyard. I am ranked as #5 qualifier, so progressing to the main draw would classify as a success.
The title of this post isn’t an open invitation to vent your frustrations of the day, rather an important question about your thought process on court. This is an exercise in metacognition; thinking about your thinking.
I’ve discussed the concepts of deliberate practice and “10000 hours” in earlier posts, and those themes tie in well here. To review, several sports science/psychology studies have shown that it takes a minimum of 10000 hours of deliberate practice to truly master a sport (for reference, I am at about 8000 hours…and nowhere near a master). Continue reading
I recently returned from a three-event tour of South America (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil). I was quite happily into the main draw of all three without having to qualify, and in fact was set to play two qualifiers in Argentina and Brazil, respectively. This represented a good opportunity to win some matches and tack on precious ranking points.
Having learned the sport in a relatively “rural” squash area, and now living in the biggest hotbed for junior squash in Canada, the topic of junior development is very interesting to me. I often think about the best ways to groom young players into stars, and try to figure out what key elements make or break a junior’s development. Hopefully there are some juniors or parents of juniors reading this!
I recently read a book entitled “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. Clearly this is an attention-grabbing headline, and flies in the face of many people’s beliefs about world-class performers in all fields. The notion of the book is that natural talent/gifts don’t necessarily exist. Rather, greatness is a product of many factors conspiring to provide an opportunity for someone who is willing to dedicate almost their whole life to this task. The book goes to great lengths to dispel the myth that greats such as Mozart and Tiger Woods were simply gifted in music and golf respectively. The author explains that to become world-class, a person needs to complete a minimum of 10 000 hours of deliberate practice at their chosen activity (more on this number later). Even “child prodigies” like the two mentioned above had put in far more than 10 000 hours of study and practice before the age of 16; they weren’t simply better than the rest by nature.
I recently played two tournaments near Canada’s west coast, in Alberta. The first tournament was a 10k PSA event in downtown Calgary at the lovely Bankers Hall Club. I wasn’t meant to be in the event, but due to a last minute withdrawal I was given a spot in the main draw. Continue reading
I recently switched to the Harrow Spark after several years using the Black Knight Magnum Corona. The primary difference between these racquets is the lightness of the Spark. The Corona is, in my opinion, a fairly standard racquet in terms of weight and balance. The head is almost completely circular while the Spark is more oblong.
There is, of course, a trade-off with a lighter racquet. The Spark is a very “maneuverable” racquet, meaning you can hit the ball with a compromised or improvised swing and don’t necessarily need a full backswing to make good contact. However, to generate power you need ample racquet head speed. It took me a few weeks to adjust to this difference; the Corona was heavier and thus more powerful. Overall I prefer the freedom afforded by the Spark. It is much easier to dig the ball out of the back corners, and to hit the ball when it’s behind you (or otherwise non-ideal positions). Having to generate racquet head speed is also a good thing for shot consistency and accuracy. I would recommend it for players who feel their current racquet is sluggish or difficult to control.
Now into the tenth month of the year, squash season is once again upon us. Leagues are starting up again and ever-present weekend tournaments have begun to dot the calendar. In this post, I thought it would be relevant to discuss some training methods commonly used by pros but often avoided by club players (due to boredom, time constraints, or difficulty). I will cover some on court methods as well as some ideas for off court training to improve your physical side.
Many keen club players know that drills are just as important as match play with regards to maintaining and improving your level. However, many players immerse themselves in mindless one shot drills where there are no decisions or critical thinking required. The foremost example of this would be the dreaded boast-drive pattern. While it may be an alright exercise to warm up for a few minutes, it is full of unrealistic situations. Nearly everything that happens in boast drive will never happen in a game. Other examples of these drills are drop-drive and straight length hitting. They are good for working on your swing and targets, but won’t improve tactical savvy. Instead, try some condition games. Even with another player of the same level, limit yourself to only hitting length, only hitting straight, or only hitting above the service line. Play a game to 11, then switch roles with your partner and take the aggregate score. These games force you out of your comfort zone, put you under immense pressure, and require total concentration. Jonathon Power was known to play straight-only against other top players of the time…and win! In short, do drills that require fast thinking and keep away from “going through the motions”. Re-create game situations and put yourself in unfamiliar positions.
As for fitness, there are many methods and exercises that can get you “squash fit”. Lately, I have become a fan of the classic 400m run. Find any regulation track. Run a full lap. Rest. Repeat. The 400 is regarded as the ultimate squash workout; not quite a sprint, not quite long distance. After just one lap, your legs and lungs will be in some pain. I believe the average person would take somewhere between 110-130 seconds for one lap. Rest time should generally be equal to run time. Our training group has been doing 10-12 sets in about 80 seconds with 70 seconds rest. It is an extremely difficult workout but remarkably practical for squash. You will feel substantially fitter after three sessions, and be able to hang in longer with better players. Get out to your local track and give it a try before winter comes!
Another concept recently brought to my attention is playing other sports to benefit your squash. It has been proven that playing multiple sports as a child makes you more athletically skilled as an adult, and I believe the different skills and muscle groups used in other sports like badminton or basketball can only improve your game on the old 32×21 foot box.
The National Squash Academy Open was held last week and it would be my first tournament in nearly two months. I had put in a good, consistent summer of training and was very anxious to finally get on court and see what improvements had been made. It was a nice change to be feeling 100% physically and take some rest days before the match, as summer training is very high volume and taxing on the body; you’re never quite fully recovered from your last session before you start a new one.
I was drawn against Tyler Hamilton, a fellow Canadian and opponent I’ve trained/played with often. I had never beaten him in a competitive match and had been thinking about the impending showdown every day since the draw came out a month before the event. I wanted to perform well at my home club, but more importantly wanted to prove to myself that I am indeed improving. I was extremely nervous the entire 24 hours before the match, which is a rare feeling for me. A poor performance would mean another first-round loss and a (seemingly) wasted summer of training. I tried to cope by visualizing well-played rallies and key points. Thankfully, I was able to positively translate this nervous energy. I forced a very high pace and got to a few more balls than I might normally reach. Tyler was off his game on the day, and these factors combined to a 3-0 win in under 25 minutes. I had a massive sense of relief and validation at achieving my goal.
In the quarterfinals I played Colin West, who ultimately finished second in the event. I continued in the same vein as the previous match, trying to keep the ball relatively tight and playing defense as needed. I was able to steal the first game, but Colin maintained a standard of play I could not match for long. Eventually I lost 3-1 in an hour, but again was pleased with my efforts.
As I thought about the tournament afterwards, I concluded that one of the keys to my win over Tyler was desperation; I brought a life-or-death attitude to the match, because I would not have been able to deal with the consequences of losing in my own mind. Leaving myself with no other options, I was able to perform at my best almost out of necessity. This desperation has been a common theme in many of my good performances in PSA matches, and I am going to try and reach that high level of intensity before all matches from now on.