What the Olympics Taught Me About Squash - By Melanie Heim

Every minute in August, somewhere in the world, a squash player could be heard asking, “Why is that an Olympic sport?”

To which a second squash player, possibly in the same part of the world, would respond with something like:

I know! Since when is beach volleyball considered a sport?
Who would have thought that a women from Saudi Arabia would get to the Olympics before squash did?
Skeet? What is that?
Women’s boxing but no squash?
Badminton, tennis and ping pong! Isn’t something missing from that?
Can someone explain team handball to me?

I could go on, but I’ve run out of frequent flyer miles. There are plenty of arguments for why squash should be an Olympic sport and just as many explanations for why it’s not. Meanwhile, many sports have lots in common with squash and can teach us things about our game. Here’s what I learned from the XXX Olympiad:

Weightlifting – Technique. This can mean the difference between success and your arm falling off. Sure we need to be strong and fit, but you put undue stress on your parts when you step or swing incorrectly. Listen to the pros. Work a little more on form and worry less about just killing the ball.

Water Polo – Stamina. No matter how tired you feel during a match, at least you get to stand on dry land. These aquatic gods and goddesses tread water better than Navy Seals and do it while wearing silly hats that tie under the chin in a big bow. You need never feel self conscious in those safety goggles again. More importantly, work on that fitness so you don’t feel like you’re drowning during the fifth game of the tough matches.

Soccer – Strategy. Formulate one, and follow it, even if this just means promising yourself that you’ll hit deep to the backhand side. Smaller and less experienced than many of their opponents (and certainly less pampered than their male counterparts who were flown business class to the Olympics), the Japanese women’s soccer team tailored strategies to fit their opponents and then stuck with them. As of this writing they were the favorites to win the gold.

Archery and Shooting – Focus. This means getting all the static out of your head, going over all the steps you need to follow for the thousandth time, calming yourself and finally executing. No panicking. No distractions. No shutting down. Just calm, focus and control. Plus the glasses are pretty cool and probably would work on the squash court.

Fencing – Footwork. Mine sucks, and so do my shoes. Fencing might be the most difficult Olympic sport to watch live because the action unfolds so fast. It just looks like a whirl of swords. But if you watch a super slow motion replay, you’ll see footwork that combines quick short steps with lunges that propel a body down a strip, and back, in lightening-fast time. You can’t hit the ball if you can’t get to the ball. One of the pros at my club is always telling me about having a faster first step, and now I know what he means. While I’m at it, I’m getting new shoes. What is this with using a new ball every third day but only buying new squash shoes every year?

Tennis. Fashion. We’ve all faced our own Serenas and Andy Murrays. We give it our best, and, as the ladies on my club team consistently demonstrate, do it with grace and style. Plus, who knew Uniqlo made tennis clothes! How great is that going to look with the new shoes!

I Can't Quit You - By Melanie Heim

My friend, Marcy, and I often talk about this woman we refer to as the Exercise Addict because we see her every time we’re at the gym. The joke is on us, since we must be at the gym an awful lot ourselves in order to spot an addict.

Even as we’re laughing at ourselves, we’re secretly making a distinction between someone who works out every day (crazy) and someone who plays squash just as often (dedicated). In this twisted logic, the desire to perfect that backhand, come out on the winning end of a five-game match, or finally beat someone who plays at a higher level, indicates self-discipline and goal setting that is to be admired. Meanwhile, someone in the weight room every day is probably just a narcissist. Without the regular trip to the gym, that person’s life would be meaningless, and without the post-workout rush of endorphins, life would be joyless. (I told you the logic was twisted.)

But if it’s not addiction that brings us back, what is it? And what’s missing among the newcomers who try squash, take a few lessons and then give up in frustration after two or three exhausting matches against more experienced players? I think it comes down to one or a combination of three drivers – friends, goals and keeping up with the next guy.

I’m proud to be part of a women’s team that has won our league championship (Women’s B/C) two years in a row. No doubt, we have great players. But we’re also friends. We stick around to watch each play our matches. We look forward to team practice, not so much to work on our shots as to hang out and yak (often to the chagrin of our very patient pros). Not showing up disappoints the other people who do. That’s why our team captain would come to practice on a Sunday morning even if she’d barely rolled into bed just a few hours earlier after one of her legendary Saturday nights out. You can’t blow it off or give up. You have a friend counting on you.

What about the squash players who don’t look like they have friends? You know, the rude, aloof or socially akward? Or the folks who always forget the score, never offer strokes or push opponents out of the way rather than call a let? There’s no way concern about a friend motivates them. These folks have goals. Clearly, they’ve fallen victim to one motivational book too many and have set attainable goals, like learning to execute a perfect cross-court lob, moving from 4.0 to 4.5, or winning a club championship. Sure, the girls on my team are nice, and I like them. But just as motivating was a very strong desire to win the championship. The beginniners who stick with squash long enough to become regulars are the ones who have set modest but challenging goals for themselves. The others likely have moved on to a personal trainer or Bootcamp Zombie Dance Yoga.

Then there’s the other guy. What’s more motivating than a regular partner who beats you three out of five times? Or someone who works out one day more a week than you do? On any given weekday, starting at about 6 am, you’ll find a pretty dedicated group of players mixing it up at my club. What started out a few years ago as a weekly match between two pretty evenly matched early birds has developed into a loose community of regulars. These guys wake up when it’s still dark and make it to the courts in all kinds of weather because they know the other guys are doing it, too.

The center of this masochism? Reg, a super-competitive, cute, middle-aged, A-type personality, who sent out emails about morning squash like calls to prayer. When Reg wasn’t on the courts, he was downstairs in the weight room. How could the others not show up when they knew Reg was possibly gaining a competitive advantage? So the guys showed up, and a culture of cage matches (three on a court) was born. If Reg beat you on a Monday, you showed up on Wednesday to try again. If you beat him on Wednesday, you showed up on Friday to see if you could do it again and beat a few of the others, too. Between games, competitors analyzed what they did wrong, what other did right, what needed to be done in the next game. You could almost hear these guys thinking, “My employees will suffer for how badly I played today!”

Despite the intense competition, or perhaps because of it, the early morning squash scene would have continued even if Reg stopped sending out the emails. And that’s what happened. A few weeks ago the emails stopped. The guys kept coming, wondering where Reg was. Not long afterward, they found out Reg had died, suddenly and without explanation. We’re all still bewildered. And saddened.

How to respond after the condolences, the memorial service, the shared anecdotes? By playing. Not because we’re addicted. We play because our friends are there and counting on us. We play because we’re driven by some internal desire to hit a little stronger, last a little longer, win more often. And we play because of the other guy. In this case, to honor Reg.

See you on the courts.

Posted on June 29, 2012 by Melanie Heim

Montréal Tennis Lifestyle - By Sean Corbett

In terms of tennis lifestyle, Montréal is especially unique in Canada. It covers the gamut from all types of courts and surface variety, encouraging playing communities not only for high level players and beginners, but surprisingly for weekend warrior middle-ability players (which I find to be the rarest sort in other cities I've lived). There are numerous fantastic private courts to suit exclusive tastes (my favorite Montreal tennis story is calling one of the them and asking how much it cost to play, and the fellow replying "I can't tell you unless you are a member", then after I asked him how I become a member he said "I'm sorry, I can't tell you that either"... which pleased me in line with the Groucho Marx club joke). For those of you who have played at Uniprix indoors, you'll know they have a world class facility that makes the winter shorter by half, and have gone the extra level by laying down some (awesomely fast, if memory serves) clay courts on the roof!

But nothing is more exciting than when summer rolls around and it's time for another Rogers Cup tournament. The access to player practice sessions had always been amazing, but was kicked up a notch last year with the scheduling of some top players onto the main courts for their practices. You are missing out on an incredible beauty of life if you haven't watched Roger Federer hit forehands from a few feet away. Personalities tend to come out more in practices as well, as it's easy to forget sometimes that these are really just a bunch of young guys with a grueling schedule and a press-scrutinized life performing day after day after day in massive pressure situations. Finally, I will never forget the atmosphere on National Bank court when Milos Raonic had his breakout match and was pushing Fernando Gonzalez to the brink back in 2009.

If you want my tip for the hidden gem of the city, check out Poly PAT up in the North East. It's got an amazing curved practice wall that can be accessed from both sides, and a ton of synthetic grass courts that are really easy on the knees. You can see all the courts laid out on a map with additional details on my website:
http://www.montreal-tennis.ca/

Enjoy your tennis!
Sean Corbett

Friday June 22, 2012

The Tao of Tennis - By Brooke Stephens

The Tao of Tennis

You ask, "What is the Tao?"
A Taoist may answer, "Tao is that which makes you ask the question."
"How is tennis related to Tao?"
I'd say, "there is no difference between Tao and tennis. In fact they are actually the same thing."

Tao and many other Eastern philosophies like Zen have much to teach in the way of game or sport. There has been many connections made between Zen and sports, and less so between Tao and sports. While Tao and Zen are similar in nature there are some subtle differences in their style of practice, thought, and origin; Tao being more philosophical and Zen being more ritualistic.

Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, said "He who speaks does not know. And he who knows does not speak"... and yet he said that.

Wanting to lose

When people give us tennis advice they usually focus on mechanical tips and strategic ideas about positioning, all in the hopes we can increase are chance of winning the game. The Tao of Tennis is not concerned with winning, actually it is more concerned with losing. Tao puts emphasis back on the losing side of the game and studies why we desire to win in the first place. Understanding that a players desire to win can actually have the opposite effect and make them more likely to lose.

Why? It is easy to see that as humans we value winning, progress, and the idea of improving things; including ourselves. We see it as a challenge to get better and it's exciting to see the progress we make. Tao teaches us not to mind losing matches, that is to accept and understand negative aspects of your game. This will bring about a balanced approach and get you closer to the middle-way. The ancient double-helix symbol of Yin and Yang shows this balance; it explains that the positive and negative aspects of life are intrinsically connected and can't be broken. So both sides of the game, winning and losing should be studied in order to have a full understanding of the game and it's subtleties.

What can losing teach us? One lesson it teaches is to be humble and respectful of our opponents talent, and to learn and appreciate how your opponent plays the game. Once you unmask your opponents strengths and weakness, you can adapt to their style. You can get a lot of enjoyment playing around with certain shots your opponent finds difficult, or better yet, with shots that they find easy. Another lesson is seeing the anxiety associated with losing a match, or even the anxiety from the thoughts themselves and how they affect your play. When we can accept losing completely then we instantaneously become a better player; both in skill and in sportsmanship.

No-thought

Notice the difference in your game as you rally, as opposed to when you play a real game. This is an important realization in tennis! In a rally you tend to hit more consistent, more fluidly, and just easier. In a match and you tighten up, become stiffer, don't follow through on your swing, a natural tentativeness in your game ensues . Why is this? Simply put, a rally doesn't matter; nobody cares whether you hit the ball out a little or if it bounces twice. The very act of not caring about the outcome improves your game in a certain way. Your body and motion are allowed to relax which improves endurance and injury prevention. Remove the thoughts of winning or losing, remove the thoughts of directly the ball, and allow your body to act on muscle memory and instinct. Like a cat you respond to the approaching ball instantly and are able to make the shot quicker, and thus you have more time to setup for the ball.

How do I remove thought from my game? This is a question that can't be answered in any real way because the technique is not the important part. Rather the realization of these thoughts and emotions is the first step to take. Watch your desire to win and start from there. The rest is yours.

By: Brooke Stephens

Are you interested in writing a blog? Let me know.

Next blog to come... Wu wei

Who will win the French Open, Nike or Uniqlo? - By Dax

As Novak Djokovic, the top ranked tennis player in the world, strolls into Roland-Garros for the French Open, tennis aficionados and bookies alike will be waiting with bated breath to see which one of the three key records will be broken. Will Rafael Nadal become an unprecedented seventh time winner of the French Open? Or will it be Roger Federer adding a seventeenth Grand Slam singles title to his already impressive stash? Or better still, will Djokovic be able to claim the title and the glory of being the first man in the past forty-three years to win all four majors in a row? If there was blue clay on the courts, I would have put my money on Federer!

But wait; there may be another potential winner here! Clearly, as the clothing sponsor for Federer and Nadal, Nike has a lot to win, or lose. Enter Novak Djokovic, in all hisUniqlo glory! Djokovic has apparently chosen to move away from his current sponsorSergio Tacchini in favour of the Japanese casual wear company, owned by Tadashi Yanai, Japan’s richest man. Djokovic is expected to sport the new line of Uniqlo tennis wear at the 2012 French Open, scheduled to start today. Perhaps Joe Mimran of Joe Fresh may want to keep an eye on Milos Raonic for potential sponsorship; what with being Canadian and all?

As the proud owner of a few Uniqlo shirts, picked up during my bargain hunting strolls through SoHo, NYC, I now feel that I have a head start on Djokovic, at least off the court!

Dax is an avid racquet sports enthusiast, music lover and novice blogger, with a day job in Telecom Marketing. He can be reached atdax.nair@gmail.com, or you can follow Dax on Twitter: @daxnair.

http://racquetsocial.com/?p=180
Posted on May 27, 2012 by Dax

Squash out! Rugby sevens and kite-surfing in; really? - By Dax

By now, some of you may have heard that squash was denied a spot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, this has been the plight of squash! The general sense is that there just is not enough profile for the sport, and the players. There are no superstars in squash; nor are there obscene amounts of prize money to be won. The two top ranked players of the game, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew are British. Announcing the inclusion of squash, in the year of the London Olympics, would have been the perfect boost for the profile of the game. Instead, golf, rugby sevens and kite-surfing got the nod!

So, are you doing your part? You are an ardent squash enthusiast and lover of the sport. You play at least two or three times a week, and believe it is a tough and demanding sport, that merits inclusion in Olympics. But then, are you really a squash fan? Can you name some of the top players who currently play in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) circuit? When did you last go to watch a squash tournament, outside the one held at your club? Do you at least watch Squash TV? On the contrary, you probably are able to rattle off the names of at least five tennis players, and watch Wimbledon on TV!

Now here is what you can do, to try to change the status quo. Join the World Squash Day, to back the Olympic bid for 2020. To overcome some of the traditional objections, bodies like PSA have introduced changes like Point-a-Rally (PAR) scoring, video replays and extra referees. White squash balls make the rallies easier to follow in a glass court. Badminton and table tennis have been around as Olympic sports for a while now. The fact that the some of the top players of these games come from the most populous parts of the world may have something to do with the large fan following.

Dax is an avid racquet sports enthusiast, music lover and novice blogger, with a day job in Telecom Marketing. He can be reached atdax.nair@gmail.com, or you can follow Dax on Twitter: @daxnair.

http://racquetsocial.com/?p=144
Posted on May 15, 2012 by Dax