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Issue November Exero#1 01, 5555  BLA BLA BLA  2009 1

ZAGMAG uniting squash fans from around the world

find us here at

squashzag.com


2  ZAGMAG  Issue 01, November 2009

contents 3

contributors

ASK THE EXPERTS

What’s the string tension should you play with and how to pick the best opponent.

5

photo by Michael Fiteni

ROY OLLIER

TIM BACON

Roy has been a squash pro for over 30 years reaching #19 in the world. A former Canadian #1 in 1984, he has been the winner of over 100 tournaments worldwide, including the U.S, Australian and Canadian National Age Group Championships.

Tim Bacon is a lecturer in Exercise and Sport Studies. Tim presents regularly at national and international coaching conferences on coaching and sport psychology and is on the US Squash coaching committee. He is currently revising the Squash Canada level 3 coaching course, is a certified level 4 squash coach (Canada) and member of the Canadian Mental Training Registry and the NSCA and CSCS. Tim is the squash coach at Smith College. Check out his blog Science of Coaching Squash.

EZSQUASH.COM

ALAN THATCHER SQUASHUK.COM

Alan is a journalist, TV commentator, author, Chairman of Kent Squash Racquets Association and an England Squash Club Coach. Alan also helped found World Squash Day and is a principal of SquashUK.

9

PRO TIPS: BACK TO BASICS WITH DAVID PALMER

David goes over the 4 most basic (and most important!) aspects of the game.

11 LEARNING FROM THE GREATS

BY ROY OLLIER

Roy dissects the games of legendary squash players ... Khan and Norman.

12 COACHING SURVEY

Are you a good coach?

MICHAEL FITENI

MICHAELFITENI.COM Mick was born in Melbourne, Australia and has been living in The Netherlands since 1997. Since his early teens he has been a professional squash player and coach. For the past four years he has branched out and occupies his ADHD, when the court lights go out, as a journalist and photographer.

THE SQUASHIST

All the best stuff from around the squash world.

15

THESQUASHIST.BLOGSPOT.COM The Squashist prefers to remain anonymous, but he is a publishing executive in New York City whose obsession with the game frequently overwhelms the uninitiated.

ON THE COVER: The new SquashZAG logo. Designed by Vidyn.

Steve is a full-time England Squash Level 3 coach with over 17 year’s experience. He has coached on England National Squads, and has been the personal individual coach to Natalie Grainger, Jonathan Kemp, Jenny Tranfield, Dominique LloydWalter, along with 3 other British Junior Champions.

ASHAWAY.COM

A vintage article featuring a young Jonathon Power.

Alan Thatcher contemplates his life and death with his tale of squash and survival.

STEVE TOWNSEND

STEVEN CRANDALL

FLASHBACK: COURT JESTER BY BRUCE GRIERSON

18 A SQUASH STORY: A LOVE THAT NEVER DIES

A keen student of the game, who only took to Squash in 2005 (and hasn’t dropped his racket since). He sets out with one goal, on the court and off, to promote Squash. He’s the force behind the popular Squash Tribute Videos on YouTube which help spread awareness of the game and some of its’ greatest legends. If you want to meet someone with a true passion for our sport, we’d recommend looking him up.

TOTALSQUASH.COM

13 14 WHAT WE LIKE

ZEESHAAN JAMAL

SHONA KERR

WESLEYAN.EDU Shona Kerr is the head coach of both men’s and women’s squash and holds the rank of adjunct assistant professor of physical education at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

Steven is the Vice President of Ashaway Line & Twine Mfg. Co., the only U.S. manufacturer of string for squash, tennis, racquetball, and badminton. Operated by the Crandall family since 1824, Ashaway has been making racquet strings since 1949. Ashaway is the Official String of the Professional Squash Association and the Women’s International Squash Players Association.


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  3

What’s all the rac(q)uet? It used to be we played a sport called ‘squash racquets’. Nowadays, you are much more likely to say you play a sport called ‘squash,’ with the ‘racquets’ dropped -- as is the case even with the governing body of our sport, which has morphed from the US Squash Racquets Association to US Squash. That’s good; it’s a modernization that reflects current usage. But I notice one thing that bugs me, probably because I am an editor and I get paid to be bugged by such things. I still see the word ‘racquets’ used, although nowadays ‘rackets’ is much more frequent. Even within the same publication you can still find reference to the game of ‘squash racquets’ while noting that so-and-so plays with a certain type of ‘racket.’ The English language is like a river, ever moving onward. Clearly the old ‘racquets’ is losing out to ‘rackets,’ so let’s put it out of its misery and drop it

ask the experts STRING TENSION Q: I’ve heard different advice for string tension for power versus control, what can you advise? Steven Crandall, Ashaway answers: Many squash players harbor misconceptions about racquet string tension. String tight or string loose for power or control? A lot of players get it wrong. Because string tension has a big influence on your game, it’s important to understand it and get it right. Cut to the chase: tighter strings enhance control, while looser strings enhance power. How you use this information might vary from one player to the next, and there are exceptions and qualifications, which we’ll get to in a moment. But the basic fact you need to know is worth repeating: string tight for control; loose for power. Thin strings are power strings, because they stretch more when you hit the ball. More “trampoline effect” means more power. Thick strings are control strings, because the stringbed remains flatter. It’s easier to control the direction of a bouncing ball when it’s bouncing off a flat, stable surface. The same goes for tension. Strings that are strung tight are already stretched almost as far as they’ll go. When the ball makes impact, they can’t stretch a lot more, which means not much trampoline effect, but a nice, flat stringbed for good control. Strings

QUICK TIP by Roy Ollier Don’t Forget that at any level the serve and the return of serve are 2 of the most important shots in the game. Your serve is the only time when you can stand still, focus, aim and then be directly on the T. When Returning the Serve concentration is critical in getting your opponent on the defensive straight away. Make the most of both of these shots.

don’t feel they need more power, so they usually string up tight to enhance control. Players who are less powerful tend to go either way. Many of them also string tight for maximum control, while others string

loose to put a bit more pace on the ball. It’s a personal decision. The string and the racquet have to work together, and a certain amount of trial and error is usually required to find the exact tension that works best for you and your particular racquet. Larger racquets-especially those with very long heads-need slightly higher tension for comparable playability. You may also have to adjust tension based on the stiffness of the racquet itself. Some frames are very rigid (i.e., more control), while others are a bit “whippy” (i.e., more power). Don’t be afraid to go up or down a couple pounds when you restring, looking for the ideal response. Different stringing machines may produce very different results: for example, 30 lb. on one machine may be equivalent to 25 lb. on another. In order to get consistent results, find a stringer you like to work with and stay with him or her. Strings lose tension naturally. Strings made from fibers like Zyex® and natural gut hold tension better than nylon strings, and they also tend to be more resilient. Most lose roughly 10 percent of their tension by the day after they’re strung. The more you play, the greater the loss of tension. When strings get looser because of tension loss, they become less powerful, not more, and they begin to lose their control properties. When your racquet no longer has that “zing,” it’s time for a new string job. Don’t put it off.

WHO DO I PLAY?

Q: I’ve played a lot of different opponents, beginners to advanced, but which kind of player is best to play and when? Shona Kerr, Wesleyan University answers: Tournaments and league matches select opponents for us but who we play in our own time and during practice we have control over. Who you play can have different benefits to your game and where you are in your training plan can determine who you might want to call up.

TRAINING BENEFITS

completely, right now. THE SQUASHIST

that are strung loose stretch a good deal upon impact with the ball, so lots of trampoline, but less control. How tight is tight? 40 lb. is the maximum recommended by most squash racquet manufacturers. Much tighter than that, and you risk excessive string breakage, and even racquet breakage. Below 20 lb., control becomes extremely difficult because the strings shift around too much, and power begins to drop off as well. But within that 20-40 lb. range, you’ve got lots of room to tune your racquet. You can use string tension to emphasize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, or strike a happy medium. Power playerspeople who are physically strong-generally

OPPONENT ABILITY WEAKER

SAME

STRONGER

TECHNICAL

TACTICAL

PHYSICAL

PSYCHOLOGICAL

Excellent - allows time Good - allows you to Average - does not push to focus on swing/move- practice being in con- you physically. ment adjustments. trol and to choose your shots.

Good - builds confidence in being in control, shot selection and technique.

Good - allows you to test how well and how long “good” technique will stand up to an equal player.

Excellent - It is here Excellent - pushes you where you will see im- physically hard and tests provements in percep- your fitness capacities. tion, anticipation and shot slection. Also test out and practice sticking to game plans.

Excellent - good practice to remain focused in the moment and staying emotionally in control.

Average - a stronger player will apply too much pressure for you toa have time to consider technique

Good - can be used for Good - more pressure defensive game practice, equals more work. working on patience in rallies.

Good - no pressure to win, good practice on hanging in a match and being patient.

So as you can see there are different benefits to be gained from playing different opponents, all of which are valuable. The timing of each should be considered for maximum effect within your season plan.


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Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  5

FAVORITES

gregory gaultier, WORLD #1

PROFILES

ATHLETE: Zidane MUSIC: House MOVIES: Braveheart BOOK: Tintin et milou (ha,ha) FOOD: A good steak and fries OFFSEASON ACTIVITIES: Beach and beach SPORTS - YOU PLAY: No time for other sports SPORTS - YOU WATCH: Any racquet sport + football QUOTE MANTRA: No pain, no game DREAM CAR: Ferrari DREAM VACATION: South America photos Michael Fitini

“give it your all, even if you have only 1% in the tank, there is always a solution”

Q&A

by Michael Fiteni

Michael Fiteni sat down with Greg and tossed him a few questions ... SZ: Childhood ambition: when I grow up I always wanted to be ... GG: the best in what I was doing. As I started playing squash at 4, I decided to give 100% in that sport. SZ: How did you get started playing squash? GG: My mother used to work in a squash center and as my school was close by, I was jumping on the court every day. SZ: Best advice you received early in your pro squash career? GG: To give it all even if you have only 1% in the tank, there is always a solution. SZ: Advice or perspectives you would give a 16 year-old aspiring to be a PSA professional? GG: Not to expect too much from himself at the beginning as when you come from juniors and you are used to winning most of your games, it’s not easy to start losing in the early rounds in seniors, it’s a different world, but you have to take every game as an experience and use it for the following event. The other good thing is that you start meeting other poeple and start

travelling on your own and have to do things on your own, which makes you more independant. SZ: If it wasn`t for _______ and ________ I would never have attained my current level of squash success. GG: My own pride and desire! SZ: Biggest sacrifice being a full-time squash professional? GG: You are not home much and can’t enjoy spending time with your family. SZ: What movie best describes your playing style? GG: The Fast and the Furious! SZ: 3 Best squash players of all-time? GG: Jansher, Power, Nicol SZ: Who are some of the people you admire and respect the most in the pro game? GG: I respect most of the players in general but do not admire anyone. SZ: Which PSA Event is the most enjoyable for you and why? GG: New York TOC, I love New York, I like playing in Grand Central station, it’s a good crowd always vey busy and I like the city SZ: Who is the funniest person on tour? GG: Hisham Ashour, he is a comedian! SZ: Aspects of being a Touring Pro that you could do without?

GG: Being tired most of the time. SZ: What contribution or impact would you like to make on squash now and after your playing career is over? GG: I just want to give the kids a good image, I mean I try to, and hope this sport will keep growing and one day join the Olympics. So I’ll give anything I could for my sport. even after my career I’ll be involved in the sport. SZ: If you could spend one day with anybody or group, alive or dead who would it be? why? GG: Federer, to get his secrets SZ: Are we alone in the universe? GG: just God knows SZ: Any fears or phobias? GG: Loch Ness monster SZ: Life after squash … career, personal? GG: I haven’t thought yet about what to do, but I’d like to coach kids... SZ: Three words to describe yourself? GG: Joker, generous, friendly SZ: When I travel, the thing I miss the most: GG: My squash bag cause it’s in the storage room of the airplane and it s my best friend SZ: When I pack my bags for a tournament, I make absolutely sure I don`t forget:

GG: My underwear SZ: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? GG: To take it easy a bit more SZ: Career Low-point (loss, injury, other) GG: Injuries - twice ankle and once wrist SZ: Top 2 Career Hi-lights (gratifying, memorable) GG: Runner up at the World Open twice, winning British Open 2007 SZ: Despite the challenges, demands and mixed rewards of being a pro player … what keeps your fire burning? GG: The glory only, that feeling is something that not everyone can have, and it’s the best feeling. SZ: If you could play another sport professionally, what would it be? GG: Motocross! SZ: Career-wise, if I wasn`t a Touring Professional I would be a ... GG: Lumberjack! (laughing) SZ: What is your Everest? Ultimate accomplishment yet to achieve? GG: Win the World Open and become World #1 SZ: Thanks Greg, talk to you soon!


6  ZAGMAG  Issue 01, November 2009

“the glory ... that feeling is something that not everyone can have, and it’s the best feeling”


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  7

julian illingworth, USA #1 Q&A

by ZeeShaan Jamal

Zeeshaan Jamal sat down with Julian and tossed him a few questions ... ZJ: Childhood ambition, when I grow up I want to be a ... JI: Doctor ZJ: How did you get started playing squash ? JI: My father started me playing when I was 7. Our club had a great junior coach and there were several other good juniors my age and a little older to push me along. ZJ: Best advice you received early in your pro squash career? JI: Not really sure this advice worked, but it was revealing. I was playing

Palmer that afternoon and had a hit with Shabana that morning. He told me “Yeah David is easy to play against, just keep the ball out of the middle and you’ll be fine.” Still working on keeping it out of the middle better! ZJ: If it wasn’t for __________ I would never have attained my current level of squash success. JI: Khalid Mir, Gareth Webber ZJ: Biggest sacrifice being a full-time squash professional? JI: Being away from home a lot, having to worry if playing soccer or going out or whatever will affect my squash game. ZJ: How would you describe your playing style? JI: I like to play assertive and aggressive squash, while taking pride in keeping the ball tight. ZJ: 3 Best squash players of all-time? JI: Must be Jahangir, Jansher, and……. Jonathon Power? ZJ: Who are some of the people you admire and respect the most in the pro game? JI: Chris Walker has mentored me a bit, and I respect his professionalism, as sometimes it can be a weak point of mine. ZJ: Which PSA Event is the most enjoyable for you and why? JI: I like TOC. Great atmosphere, great fans that actually get into it. Also I live in New York now and have had some of my best

results at that tournament. ZJ: Who is the funniest person on tour? JI: I find Simon Rosner to be one of the funniest guys. He rarely knows when or why he is being funny, which certainly adds to my amusement. I think it’s a cultural thing. ZJ: Aspects of being a Touring Pro that you could do without? JI: Being talked down to by the PSA board. Long flights in economy

BOOK REVIEW Raising Big Smiling Squash Kids: The Complete Roadmap for Junior Squash By Richard Millman and Georgetta Morque Squash offers your kid unparalleled benefit - opportunities to travel the world, top colleges, a sport that can be enjoyed no matter what the weather, and a game where you dont always need a partner for practice. Plus: friendship, character building, and a lifetime of health and optimum fitness. Whether you know squash or not; whether your kid is 2 or 18 and just starting out, or has a few years of squash experience, this book offers a complete roadmap to all the game has to offer. You’ll find practical advice ranging from the best age to get your kid started in squash, to pursuing a career in professional squash, to finding ways squash players can give back to their communities. Gain insight into squash organizations. Have fun along the way at the best squash camps and vacations. A book for every squash family! Source: Google Books

ZJ: What contribution or impact would you like to make on squash now and after your playing career is over? JI: Once I am done playing, I am sure I will do something unrelated to squash for a career. However I would like to coach some juniors in the city I end up in. I would love to have a little core of good juniors to coach a couple times a week. ZJ: If you could play another sport professionally, what would it be? JI: I always really enjoyed team sports more than individual sports. What I really loved about soccer is that you actually compete with your friends on the same field, you win and you lose together, and that I think is more rewarding than winning by yourself. You can get that in squash a bit at a team competition, but even that is not really the same. I would say soccer or basketball. ZJ: Career-wise, if I wasn`t a Touring Professional I would be … JI: maybe a ski bum somewhere, or getting laid off by a Wall Street bank ZJ: Passions, talents or interests people would be surprised to learn you have? JI: Interested in film and video editing. ZJ: Thanks Julian - talk to you later!


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  9

pro tips BACK TO BASICS with David Palmer

1 2

1

It is vital that your racket is back in ready position inbetween points, during the rally and while you move to the ball. So many players run to the ball and then rush to get their racket into position just before they play the stroke, this is much more likely to produce a poor quality shot. If your racket is back, ready and set before you even move to the ball, a clean accurate shot is much more likely.

2

A common mistake is standing too far back. It can take a little courage to force yourself forward, but the further forward you can get, the more often you can volley. It is as simple as this: the person who stands on the T the most during a match, wins the match. So be brave, get forward and volley.

Keep your racket up. Control the ‘T’.

3 Think feet, then ball. 4 Look after your equipment!

3

Having your body positioned in a comfortable, strong and well balanced position before you hit the ball will have a superb effect on the quality of your squash. While you are warming up, practice getting yourself set and balanced before each shot, when you are balanced don’t forget tip 1 (keep your racket up and ready).

4

Your racket, it is an extension of your arm: Racket Grip, it is the contact point between you and your racket, it should be comfortable and not slip. Changing your grip every 2 weeks is a good practice. You can do everything right with your shot, but if you have an old grip and the racket moves in your hand as you hit the ball, it’s uncomfortable and may cause a miss hit. Racket Strings, it is the contact point between your racket and the ball, they must be in top condition, use a qualified stringer and a quality string (such as Ashaway’s Powernick 18) a good stringer will ensure a consistent tension across all the strings and maximise the life of the strings. A good practice is to have your restrung as many times a season as you play a week, if the strings go slack, don’t wait for them to break - get it to your stringer. You wouldn’t wait for your car tyre to burst! Your footwear, is the contact point between you and the floor you are trying to cover as efficiently as possible. If you are slipping and sliding around with blisters, it seems obvious, but essentially, it makes it a lot harder than it neds to be. Ensure your shoes are comfortable and the grip is not worn.


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Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  11

ROY OLLIER

LEARNING FROM THE GREATS During my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to play 6 World Champions and many of the world’s best players over the last 30 years. Let’s look at some of the greats of the game and see what parts of their game made them great.

Jahangir Khan

and being undefeated for close to 6 years is unbelievable and also having won 6 World Championships and 10 British Opens sort of says it all. Did he never feel sick or injured during that time? I guess you have to think that even at his worst he was still better than every other player. Wow!!! Ok, so let’s have a look at his game. Jahangir based his game on hard low length, getting you scrambling to the back of the court, then intercepting with volley boasts, or if anything was loose he would finish the point with a straight volley drop shot which usually found the side wall nick. With him being incredibly fit, the pace was severe. As the match wore on, whatever attack you had was turned into defense. As he got older he developed more and more shots thus lengthening his career.

farthest point of the court. If you have them in the backhand deep corner, your next shot should end up in the front forehand corner or the front backhand corner. Remember it is a big court out there especially if your opponent is the one doing all the running.

Ross Norman Ross has been New Zealand’s best player, and apart from winning The World Open amongst his tournament victories, he also happened to be the player who ended Jahanghir’s 550 match unbeaten streak.

What can we learn from Jahangir?

Jahangir probably gets my vote as the World’s Greatest Player. Having won over 550 tournament matches consecutively

1. Hitting good length is the basis of the game. Without it you are always going to be in the back court digging balls out and it is only a matter of time before your opponent hits a winner. 2. Keep your opponent moving to the

Unbelievably, that happened to be in a World Open final. Up to that point Ross had lost on many occasions to Jahangir. So it goes to prove that everyone is beatable; it just might take you longer to achieve the victory. What can we learn from Ross? 1. Never give up no matter who you are playing and what reputation they have. 2. Ross was again incredibly fit. He hit the ball very hard for quite a thin guy and had a big loopy swing. Again very basic in his approach, hitting excellent length and taking the ball very early. He used his speed around the court to force you into making mistakes by keeping you under pressure. By having the big swing he could add a bit of deception by shaping up for a drive and changing it to a dropshot at the last minute. Another champion who worked out the best way to maximize their strengths. To sum his game up in words … Pace, Volley and Pressure! Stay tuned for the next edition as we’re dissecting Jonathon Power and Rodney Eyles!

STEVE TOWNSEND

SHOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR PLAY FOR PAR? “I prefer traditional scoring, because when serving it gives me a degree of freedom, knowing that I won’t lose a point and I can therefore play more aggressively.” This it seems is a common argument as to why people prefer traditional “English” scoring. When serving, some players will feel able to go for a risky or difficult shot, which may have a high reward and which without the safety net of the serve, they might not otherwise have gone for. I would question their underlying logic. That is, that a rally when hand-in (serving), in traditional scoring is less important than one when receiving, when one may possibly lose a point. This is flawed thinking. The person who

wins most rallies in any given game will win it. It matters not who was serving. What is certain is that if your opponent wins more rallies than you, you cannot win that particular game. Therefore all rallies are equally important and deserve equal effort. With this in mind, one needs to find the best game plan for each rally, and excepting the serve/return phase of the rally, maintain an almost identical strategy from rally to rally regardless of server. Of course your strategy may change throughout the match as conditions change and opponents change, and of course, you’ll learn what is effective and what is not. But this won’t be conditional on who is serving. A good opportunity to win a rally is exactly that whether serving and receiving, and should be grasped as

www.ezsquash.com

such. So to answer the question in the title, if you have been playing with the belief that you ought to change your strategy dependant on who’s serving, then yes you will need to change your strategy for PAR to 11 scoring. Find the best way to win a rally, and stick to it. You should also change your strategy for traditional Hand in, hand out scoring too. Play each rally with equal care. The only caveats to this rule lie with the attitude and strategy of your opponent. You can use their flawed desire to win some rallies more than others to your own advantage. This is taking your tactical game to another level. Perhaps your opponent plays more aggressively when serving knowing that they will not lose a point should they lose a rally. One sensible “rally plan” would

be to be more defensive and wait for an opportunity to counter attack. On the other hand perhaps your opponent is more defensive when receiving serve? This might allow you to be patient and pick your opportunity to attack, as your opponent will be slightly harder to pull out of position. Or use this opportunity to really work them hard, aiming to reap the benefits later on in the match. Considered application of the discussed points could very easily make the difference between a hard fought but comfortable victory, and a gallant loss. So get thinking “What’s the best plan to beat today’s opponent?” and execute in every rally, until you find it’s not quite right when you’ll need to tweak it, or you are shaking hands as the victor.


12  ZAGMAG  Issue 01, November 2009

coaching POSITIONS

SURVEY

HOW GOOD ARE YOU? The purpose of this tool is to assist you in identifying the areas of coaching that you need improve upon. Give yourself an honest rating under each category. Once you have completed the evaluation, total your score and see how you measure up.

1 - Strongly Disagree

2 - Disagree

3 - Agree

4 - Strongly Agree

ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS

Damon Leedale-Brown Damon

Leedale-Brown

named as men’s and women’s head squash coach at Haverford College. Leedale-Brown worked previously with Nick

I arrive on time

1 2 3 4

I dress appropriately

1 2 3 4

I always prepare a practice session plan with logical progressions

1 2 3 4

I challenge all athletes

1 2 3 4

I show concern for the health and safety of all of my athletes during practice and competition

1 2 3 4

I set clear boundaries for athletes

1 2 3 4

I have the ability to treat minor injuries and exhibit reasonable conduct when handling accidents or emergencies

1 2 3 4

Matthew and James Willstrop

INSTRUCTIONAL SKILLS

(top-ranked professional play-

I introduce skills clearly and accurately

1 2 3 4

ers) and has provided perfor-

I demonstrate skills properly and uses correct techniques

1 2 3 4

I ensure that the activity is suitable for the age, experience, ability and fitness level of each athlete

1 2 3 4

I encourage questions and creates a non-threatening practice environment

1 2 3 4

I explain the reason for doing the activity/drill

1 2 3 4

I assist in the development of short and long term goals, for each athlete and for the team

1 2 3 4

I have the ability to analyze player’s strengths and weaknesses

1 2 3 4

mance training and coaching to US Junior and Senior national teams, high school and college programs, highly ranked Junior players and squash summer

COMMUNICATION AND INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

camps.

I am enthusiastic and positive

1 2 3 4

I am dedicated to the sport and the team

1 2 3 4

I demonstrate a sense of fair play and promotes sportsmanship

1 2 3 4

I am patient and tolerant

1 2 3 4

I am honest and fair

1 2 3 4

I am a good role model and sets a positive example at all times

1 2 3 4

I have a sense of humor

1 2 3 4

Great coaches ...

I treat all players equally and enforce team rules consistently

1 2 3 4

... are interested in you. You’re not just a “means to an end” but a person they respect and appreciate.

I use appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication

1 2 3 4

I find a way to make all the athletes feel good about themselves

1 2 3 4

I know when to use discipline and when not to

1 2 3 4

WHAT MAKES A GREAT COACH?

BY MARK SANBORN

MARKSANBORN.COM

... identify what you do right, not just what you do wrong, and provide ongoing feedback. (I define feedback as “information you can use to improve your performance.”)

COACH METER:

... provide suggestions about how you can improve, do better and be better.

51 - 75

Good, you have mastered some of the necessary skills but need to improve certain areas of your coaching expertise.

25 – 50

Needs Improvement, you could use some help in some areas of your coaching and would benefit from more interaction with other coaches in your sport and from exploring and accessing the resources from your squash association.

1 – 24

Not today. Please contact your local squash association to sign up for coaching clinics to develop your coaching skills and to make you more comfortable and effective in fulfilling your coaching responsibilities. You have what it takes to become a great coach one day!

... encourage as well as instruct. ... show you how what you do helps or hurts your team. ... are honest even when it isn’t easy. You can count on them to “speak the truth in love.”

Total:

76 – 100

Excellent! You are a well organized coach and have great communication skills. Keep up the good work and continue your coaching development through further training, education and certification!


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  13

training CARL PETERSON, BPE, BSc (PT)

SQUASH SURVIVAL GUIDE Due to the asymmetrical nature of squash training and playing the most common injuries are of the overuse variety. The cumulative effect of pounding around the court and repetitive stroking actions can cause tissue breakdown and inflammation (micro-trauma). Injury prevention is an important part of the training plan of every athlete, parent and coach. The best planned and periodized training program is of little use if you are always injured and unable to train or compete effectively. Learning survival strategies to minimize injuries is far more productive than learning how to treat them! Here are some simple tips to promote performance through injury prevention that all athletes, parents and coaches can benefit from: Develop a Team of Sports Medicine & Science Specialists: The multifaceted needs of today’s tennis players cannot be met by the coach or parents alone. Optimal performance needs a combination of factors including coaching, physical and mental preparation and proper nutrition and medical monitoring. As the athlete progresses up the competition ladder and the sophistication of performance increases, the coaches and parents must act as coordinator for the sport medicine and science needs of the squash player. Get to know your local Sports Physician and Sports Physiotherapist. They can help you to locate other Sport Medicine & Science Specialists that you may need access to such as: Sports Massage Therapist, Podiatrist, Nutritionists and Dieticians, Sport Psychologist or Mental Trainer, Exercise Physiologist, Sport Vision Specialist (Optometrist), Kinesiologists and Strength and

Conditioning Specialists. It is important to develop a network of reliable, qualified, sports medicine backup personnel that know you and understand tennis and the rigors of training. You and your coach should work closely with the Physician / Physiotherapist to determine an effective pre-habilitation or rehabilitation program.

Your sport science and medicine can help in planning, structuring and modifying the training schedule. Proper Rest, Recovery and Rehabilitation Techniques: Training for and playing squash is both physically and mentally demanding and recovery sessions must be incorporated into your sports specific training programs. The benefits of structured recovery sessions are well documented both in terms

TIM BACON, MA, BPHE

of improved performance and decreased injury rates. Athletes, coaches and parents all need to be aware of the importance of recovery following heavy workloads. It is difficult to have a 100% injury free training program. As a player you are working hard, pushing yourself to the limits to achieve your best performance and injuries are an ever present danger. However, inju-

ries can be minimized and controlled with a sensible injury prevention and management strategy at the heart of your training plan. Parents can be the frontline in injury prevention and management strategy. If any deficiencies are identified and prehabilitative (training for training) programs are prescribed, the parents need to reinforce these as part of the overall training schedule. Finding a skilled professional may

DEVELOPING MENTAL TOUGHNESS Q: What is the quickest and simplest way to get your athletes to be mentally tougher? The answer lies in helping them track and then compare their best and worst squash performances on a regular basis and learning from this comparison. After every game have your athletes answer, in writing, 3-4 simple questions: What was your level of activation before the match. What was your level of anxiety before the match. What were you saying to yourself shortly before the match. When you were playig your best, what were you focussing on or paying attention to. After every tournament, or every 4-5 matches have them sit down and spread the evaluation sheets out and try an pick

out patterns and similarities for good versus bad performances. What they are likely to find is that best matches occur with: High levels of activation prior to the match. Medium levels of anxiety. Self-talk before the match focussing on strategy, effort, or having fun. Focussing on the task during - meaning tactics or strategy, or effort, or something simple like watching the ball which allows an automatic focus. But instead of telling them this - let them discover it for themselves - much more effective! Note: This approach forms the basis for the Canandian approach to mental training initiated by Brent Rushall and Terry Orlick in a number of their publications - and refined by later generations of mental training consultants like myself.

not always be easy, but ask other players, coaches and sport medicine professionals for suggestions. Successful coaches use sport specific training and recovery programs that are scientifically based. They make effective use of mental training and ensure optimal health and nutrition. It is vital that all coaches keep up to date with current research on training techniques and constantly update their coaching practices. Carl Petersen is a Partner and Director of High Performance Training at City Sports & Physiotherapy Clinic’s in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He works with athletes ranging from club level to those on the WTA / ATP tennis and World Cup ski tour. He travelled fulltime with the Canadian Alpine Ski Team for 15 years. His physiotherapy and fitness coaching roles have given him the opportunity to work with, coach and design training programs for Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold and World Cup medallists. Petersen has worked and lectured to physicians, therapists and coaches on 5 continents most recently in Australia, England, Ireland, Paraguay, Argentina, Turkey, Switzerland and the USA. He has published over 200 articles in a variety of publications for both the Scientific and lay community which have been translated into 6 languages. He has also written or co-authored 3 books including Fit to Play Tennis-High Performance Training Tips and has produced a series of core stability training DVD’s entitled Fit to Play™ & Perform. More information available at www.citysportsphysio.com


14  ZAGMAG  Issue 01, November 2009

what we

akal.com k ar

HOT BALLS

like

With Christmas approaching here is something from Karakal to put on your list for Santa Claus. Now how cool would it be to pull this gadget out of your squash bag when you and your squash buddy next break your ball mid-match ?!

Michael Fiteni one of squash’s renaissance men athlete, coach, photographer, journalist, member of band - has some terrific (squash) photography that borders on art.

GREAT DESIGN

eyandpacey de pac s

Robert Pacey brings great energy, fresh perspectives and welcome design skills to our sport. These are just a few of his projects in squash.

AWESOME SITE

om n.c ig

Here is one game promotion idea from Squash Ontario that we think really hits the mark by being web savvy and appealing to both juniors and their parents.

ysquash.ca pla

COOL PHOTO

m i.co en fit

mic ha el


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  15

flashback

1998

BRUCE GRIERSON

COURT JESTER In November of 1993, at the world team squash championships in Karachi, Pakistan, Canada drew Scotland in the first playoff round. But when the team bus arrived at the courts, Jonathon Power, the nineteenyear-old prodigy from Toronto, wasn’t on it. Coach Gene Turk tracked Power down at his hotel, where he was still sleeping, and brought him to the stretching area, where other players were warming up. Power was there in body but his head was far, far away. He stood, heavy-lidded, in a tearaway basketball tracksuit. “What do you want me to do?” he asked Turk. “Well, stretch!” Turk said. Power bent over to try to touch his toes. A cigarette pack fell out of one jacket pocket and a lighter fell out of the other. A few feet away, limbering up on the mat, the world champion, Jansher Khan of Pakistan, watched this little bit of vaudeville. He couldn’t believe it. He was looking at a clown. He was looking at the future of squash. Team members today tell that story with bemusement, partly because they know how things turned out. Four years later, Power became the first North American ever to beat the long-reigning Khan, and created the tantalizing possibility that he might one day tame his demons and become world champion. But mostly the story circulates because it captures Jonathon Power in amber. He is not as other men. Or at least not any other elite professional athlete. When he walked into the office of Graham Carter, a top Toronto money manager, a year ago, Power projected an oddly contradictory image: the worldly naïf. “Here was a kid who has had no real advisers for his whole career, and the guy is number three in the world, and prior to six weeks ago, he’d beaten the number one six times in a row,” observed Carter. Like those eccentric math geniuses who tackle complex theorems all day but have trouble boiling an egg, Power did one thing awesomely well but was almost comically deficient in the routine demands of a professional life. He didn’t have a credit card. He didn’t even have an OHIP card. He’d plied his trade in sixty countries, logging hundreds of thousand of air miles, but had never bothered to get on a frequent-flyer program. What kind of sponsorship deals did he have, Carter wanted to know. None, Power said. Equipment? No. Shoes? He bought his own. McDonald’s had approached him about doing some promotions, but no deals had been finished. There had almost been a racquet agreement, but that fell through after Power left the court audibly slagging the racquet that had let him down. The rep for the company happened to be in the stands watching, and the next morning, he called to say he would not be doing business with Jonathon Power, like, ever. This wasn’t going to be easy. When most people think of squash - if they think of it at all - it’s as a pastime enjoyed by toffee-nosed Ivy League seniors,

captains of industry, TV psychiatrists. Or just dorks who spent the summers of their youth bouncing balls off the garage and never outgrew the fascination. People who actually play squash (a fairly small number), or watch it (an even smaller number), have a model in their mind of how top squash players look and act, what they stand for and where they live. The model is probably someone very like the current world number one, Peter Nicol of Scotland. Small in stature - for squash is a punishing game, and only lightweights can withstand the pounding on the joints over time. Gentlemanly - for squash’s British traditions stress fair play, and, historically, exchanges between players and referees would not have sounded out of place in the Old Bailey. (“Let.””No let.” “Appeal.” “Sustained.”) Highly focused - for squash, which has been likened to speed chess, is a game of infinite combinations and angles and moves and countermoves and perpetual calculation of risk. Supremely fit - for squash is a game of heavy aerobic demands. Deferential to their coaches - for squash is almost a tradesman’s pursuit, best learned at the hip of an experienced mentor who can groove you in. Jonathon Power defeats all the stereotypes so completely you’d be tempted to conclude he was dropped into the game by some lesser god just to shake it up, the way John McEnroe landed in tennis in the seventies like a hound on the kitchen table. He is quite a big man - six feet, 175 - and he seems, eerily, to get bigger the moment he steps on a squash court, the way some actors look bigger on stage. On court, wearing his trademark red bandana, Power calls to mind the young Christopher Walken in the Russian-roulette scene in The Deer Hunter, where Walken sits zombified in the Saigon gambling den with a gun to his own head, somehow absolutely certain the bullet has the other guy’s name on it. He is not the scion of some wealthy industrialist, who grew up in the shade of a single private club. He was a military brat, born in Comox, B.C., whose sports-fanatic dad was director of athletics at Canadian military bases and took a fierce interest in the physical education of his kids as he moved them from town to town. He did not go to an Ivy League school. He didn’t go to school at all beyond grade eleven - he dropped out. Having won national junior titles since the age of ten, and having glimpsed the life that awaits an international squash celebrity when his father sent him to England to train with the coach of the great Pakistani champion Jahangir Khan, he saw no point in waiting to turn pro. And he did not, having turned pro, instantly settle into a mature, ambassadorial role. In 1990, when he was sixteen and just breaking into the circuit, he lost in the first round of a tournament in San Francisco an unthinkable outcome. Power wasn’t to be seen for the rest of the week. He hadn’t

gone home; he’d drowned his miseries in the local rave scene, conducting private research into how many drugs and how much alcohol an athlete can ingest without its affecting his equilibrium on the dance floor. Squash seemed the last thing on his mind. But two days later he showed up for a tournament in Denver and made it to the semis. Few players accompanied Power into the night. But everyone watched, a little bit amazed, as the bell-bottomed boy went down the rabbit hole and popped back up at match time ready to play. The night before the semifinals of the 1994 Alberta Open, Power got forty-five minutes of sleep. He won. From the Delphic, on-court utterances (“If you choke, you’re a dead man!”) to the basketball slang that so bamboozles European umpires (“Hey, double-pump, ref!”), he earned a reputation as squash’s Yorick. Or perhaps squash’s Howie Mandel. At one tournament, Power walked past an umpire and said, by way of greeting, “Whose life are you going to ruin today?” In the Qatar Open final in 1997, after Power contested a call by the strict Irish referee Jack Allen, Allen leveled a long gaze at the Canadian. “Mr. Power, please do not talk back to me.” Power feigned surprise, raised his palms, put on his best puppy-dog face, then said, quietly, “Jack, I was only having some fun.” The crowd was in his pocket. You’d be tempted to call Jonathon Power “anti-establishment,” but that would imply a firm position on the other side of the equation. Power isn’t anti-anything. He just is. “He doesn’t do too much to please other people,” admits his father, John, a top player himself and currently the squash coach at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In interviews, Power has not tended to censor his thoughts - to the delight of the media and the despair of the people looking out for him. After he publicly cut up then world champion Jansher Khan after a loss, Power’s coach, Mike Way, took him aside and said, “What, you wanna give the guy more armour?” Power didn’t particularly care. In 1997, when Power accused Khan of failing to clear back from the ball to allow Power to hit it, yet masterfully hiding the infractions from the inexperienced referees, Khan was reported to have replied: “I never block players. The referee can see everything. All players have this problem. That’s how squash is. I think it’s more of an excuse for losing.” Power figured Khan must have been misquoted, because, he said, “he can’t form the sentences that quick.” Last fall at the Qatar International, the night before his semi-final match against Jansher Khan, a man named Ali Al Fardan took Power aside and made him a deal. Al Fardan, one of the most prominent jewellers in the Middle East, was the tournament’s chief sponsor. “If you beat Jansher tomorrow, and then go on to win this tournament,” Al Fardan said, “any ring in my store is yours.” (Power had endeared himself to Ali the year before at a party at Al Fardan’s lavish penthouse. Al Fardan had arranged for a belly-dancer to perform. This caused palpable tension among the

guests in the strict Muslim country. The players themselves, unsure of protocol, were keeping a dignified distance. The party was stiffing. Then Power got up and started to boogie. All those years of raving finally paid off. He faced the dancer and slowly gyrated to the rhythm she set. He languorously undid his shirt a button at a time. He was in his element. He saved the party.) With the ring on the line, Power did beat Khan, and then beat Nicol in the final, and Ali Al Fardan honoured his bargain. Power showed up at the jewellery store the next morning with a friend. Al Fardan brought out a couple of display boxes and laid them on the counter. Power conferred with his friend, who knew a little bit about jewellery appraisal. Then he pointed to a ring of white gold; he thought he saw Al Fardan flinch just a little. The ring was going, in that market, for about $12,000 (U.S.). Power paid the tax on it and took the ring home. He put it in a safety-deposit box and promptly booked a couple of airline tickets to Paris. He cooked up a story about having to play some matches there, and then he called his long-time girlfriend, Sita Schumann, and asked if she wouldn’t mind joining him. He gave her the engagement ring by the Seine. They will marry this summer. Had he not met Sita in a Toronto bar in 1991, and had he not turned on the charm when he needed to, things might have worked out quite differently for Power. Sita’s influence has been a key plot point in his life, in the estimation of many who know them both. He’s still unlikely to be mistaken for Prince Philip, but Jonathon Power circa 1998 is a demonstrably mellower version of the Jonathon Power of even a few years ago. “He’s cleaned up his act a hell of a lot - the drugs and so on because he knows Sita won’t tolerate that,” says former national junior coach Stuart Dixon. “She’s also given him some goals, like, ‘Jon, you can be world champion.’ And he’s starting to believe it a lot more.” After that first formal meeting with Power in Toronto, Graham Carter agreed to take Power on - practically pro bono, initially. He called up his friend Wade Arnott, the hockey agent. “How’d you like to try your luck with a squash player?” he asked. And so began the construction of a crude infrastructure around the young man who had somehow gotten so far without one. Carter and Power have become fast friends, with Carter assuming an additional role as a kind of financial tutor. They took out an insurance policy to save Power’s bacon in the event of a career-ending injury. Carter set up a holding company called Top Seed Inc. to catch the endorsement money, when it comes. If corporate-sponsorship decisions were made on native ability alone, there’d be no discussion and no worries. Blank cheques would quietly be written on mahogany desks by men with three-legged names. Power is a unique talent. Even fellow players who don’t like the gamesmanship and just generally find it hard to get around his big backside when he sticks it out as an impediment, doff their hats before his


16  ZAGMAG  Issue 01, November 2009

skills. “He does things with a racquet that just make you want to play squash,” acknowledges Nicol. When Power was a young boy and the family was living in Montreal, his father would pull him out of school and they’d drive to Toronto to watch the top players who were coming through for tournaments. Thus did Jonathon watch and model and mimic - his preferred method of learning. He soaked up Australian Brett Martin and Kiwi Ross Norman and the Pakistani Jahangir Khan, but in the end developed a style all his own. The difference between a top club player and a Jonathon Power is hard to appreciate just by watching each of them hit. Oddly, framed by a court thirty-two feet long by twenty-one feet wide, really mediocre players can seem more dynamic than the pros. The dentists and accountants - guys with barely reconstructed tennis or racquetball swings who do scary things like turn and play the ball directly at their covering opponent saying “Coming around!” - are obviously working out there. They skid on their own sweat and sport raspberries on their naked butts in the shower room afterwards. The top pros, by contrast, hardly seem to be running at all - they just shark around the “T” in the middle of the court, drifting, finning, conserving energy. From some angles, they look like a couple of cleaverbearing chefs hustling around each other in a kitchen. The game looks simple at this level. The ball seems peppy and the court looks small and easily coverable. Tight, compact swings drive balls off the front wall and down the side walls, making a sound like flies being swatted. The chief virtue of the best squash shots is not speed but “length,” whereby the ball is hit so that the second bounce, if you let it come, lands near the junction of the floor and back wall - and from the gallery this looks perfectly innocuous because pros take the ball early, or when they don’t they can still usually dig it out from the back, and so the point goes on and on. No flashy smashes or halfvolleys or aces: just the slow, calculated working of the opponent out of position, setting up an eventual loose ball that can, with luck, be put away. Power has limited patience, so he’s not inclined to let points drag. And this is what’s most remarkable about him as a squash player. In a sport in which you’re not supposed to be able to win a point quickly, he can. “He has the remarkable ability to hit a shot more than one way,” says Mike Way. Many of Power’s strokes start off looking the same. Then, like a baseball pitcher, he directs the ball, with astonishing accuracy and touch, at the last second with a crack of the wrist. “What amazes me is when I watch him send the top players in the world in the wrong direction,” says Gene Turk. “That should never happen at that level. His short game is so good, players must feel they need to get a jump on the ball, so they make a commitment.” And the moment they commit, Power goes the other way. To avoid being cartoonishly wrongfooted, anyone playing Power must come to a complete stop, then start again when the ball is struck - an exhausting proposition over the course of a match. Unlike other top-twenty players, some of whom have crippling workout regimes, Power has never been very fit. But until recently he hasn’t needed to be because he himself reads his opponents like airplane fiction, and because, as British player Tim Garner puts it, “Normally, his opponent does four times as much running as he does.” Few squash players have ever been as

dominant as Power is when he’s on. Or have self-destructed as badly as Power has when he’s off. Often he has roared through to the semis of a tournament without dropping a game, only to sink quickly in the cream of the draw with brainlock. “When he gets into trouble, he has a tendency to do one of two things,” says Colin McQuillan, who covers squash for the London Times. “He gets petulant, or he stops.” In the 1998 Commonwealth Games final - probably, because of the live BBC-TV coverage, the most widely watched squash match in history - Power seemed to be cruising to victory when a couple of calls went against him. His opponent, Peter Nicol, started playing tougher and clawing his way back into the match. Power began to cave. At a game-break, fellow Canadian Graham Ryding went over to speak to his teammate, who sat at courtside looking uninterested. “Don’t be such a dick,” Ryding urged. “Don’t let him do this to you. You’re the number-one player in the world.” Briefly reinvigorated, Power played better in the next game. But then so did Nicol, to take the match. At one point Power threw his racquet at a wall in disgust, missing Nicol’s face by inches. He comes as a boxed set: the virtuoso and the drama queen. And in the remote corners of the squash-literate world, they love it all. Next to Jansher Khan, Power may have the biggest fan following on the circuit. He is routinely asked for his autograph in countries where the sport is appreciated, if not necessarily played, by the masses the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. The selling of squash at the professional level seems to be predicated on the hope that if non-players could be seduced into watching this game, they’d be bitten. Hence, exhibitions and tournaments are often held on portable courts set up in some of the strangest, most exotic, most public places in all of sport. A downtown square in Brussels. Grand Central Station. The Palladium dance club. The lower concourse of the World Financial Center. And most spectacularly, the Giza plateau, where last year players fought to keep their concentration as camels moaned in the darkness beyond, Egyptians prayed toward Mecca on courtside rugs, the pyramids loomed through the front wall as the lights went down, and 5,500 fans went nuts in the stands for the local boy, Ahmed Barada. If he had been born in Cairo, or Karachi, there’s little doubt Power would already be a wealthy man. The young Egyptian, Barada, to whom Power has never lost, appears on TV there more frequently than the test pattern, bombs around Cairo in a Mercedes, has seen his face on an Egyptian commemorative stamp, has reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in government bonuses for good performances at home, and is one of only a handful of people to have President Mubarak’s private phone number. (Barada is, in Power’s estimation, “just a little shit.”) Jansher Khan, as an employee of quasistate-run Pakistan International Airlines, draws a salary of about $1,000 (U.S.) a month - enough to support four families in Pakistan. (“You can’t be more boring than Jansher,” Power told me a year ago. “He’s no ambassador. He doesn’t really talk to anybody. He arrives at a tournament with his entourage and as soon as it’s over he wants to go home. He’s singlehandedly destroyed the game, I’d say.”) “If Jonathon moved to England he’d be a millionaire, no question,” says Tammie Sangster, the local rep for Head racquets. Prince, the racquet and apparel company

that sponsors Peter Nicol, has said it would jump to the pump if Power transplanted himself, like tennis player Greg Rusedski, to Britain - a bigger squash market. There would also be tax advantages to an offshore move. “Squash players are in an almost unique position to do it, since they’re legitimately out of the country for more than six months of the year,” Carter says. “Until now, he hasn’t really been earning enough money to justify [moving], but he will be if he keeps winning tournaments.” Power is already a kind of de facto international citizen. He rents a flat in Amsterdam where he hangs out during the European squash season - our winter season - because it’s a convenient halfway point between tournament sites and because “I can make more money there from exhibitions.” I once watched him trying to settle a hotel bill in Cairo in American currency. He thumbed through his wallet: Dutch guilders, pounds sterling, Canadian dollars, Egyptian pounds - no U.S. bucks. But Power appears to have no intention of grounding himself outside Canada for good. “I like Toronto,” he says, simply. Carter believes there is money to be made in North America - by exploiting the U.S. corporate market, doing exhibition matches, speaking engagements, clinics, and so forth. Whether there’s serious money here remains to be seen. The powerful American sports-marketing reflex has been unresponsive to squash. McDonald’s did come through with a smallish deal requiring that Power wear the golden arches on that red bandana for every professional match he plays, and a couple of equipment companies now give him free gear, but you won’t see Power announcing plans to go to Disneyland, or slaking his thirst with Gatorade, on TV. Big squash tournaments in North America tend to be underwritten by the likes of Rolex or Mercedes-Benz. Power seems a better fit with Airwalk or Jones Soda. Recently, Carter and Arnott sat down with John Nimick, head of the Professional Squash Association in Boston, and raised the question: How can we leverage Jonathon to grow the game while at the same time doing what’s best for Jon? Carter and Arnott could well make the argument - and no doubt they have - that Jonathon Power is the best thing to have happened to squash since a couple of British public-school boys (or so a prevailing theory holds) invented the modern game when they punctured the ball they were hitting against the school wall and dampened its bounce. Squash needs Power. It has tended to be a boom-and-bust game, enjoying robust health in the seventies and early eighties, then tumbling into a recessionary decade or so when key promoters left the sport, and, as Power puts it, “people got tired of seeing the same Pakistani guy winning year after year.” Indeed, you can count the dominant players of the last thirty-five years - Khan, Khan, Hunt, Barrington - on one hand. Squash is desperate for some juicy competition at the top. Now, in the Scot and the Canadian, it has it. The polite, straight, indefatigable little steam engine versus the charismatic shotmaker. Peter Nicol and Jonathon Power, stewards of a rivalry that seems destined to hold and deepen until one of them blows a knee or knocks the other’s block off. At this year’s U.S. Open at Boston’s genteel Harvard Club, Power roared through to the finals and ran into a confident Nicol, who was feeling he had finally solved Power’s game. In a glass court incongruously plunked down in the middle of a room where heads of state sometimes dine, Power was on (for him) his most excellent behaviour. Whether for the benefit of his

backers in the crowd - Carter, Arnott, John Power, untold would-be sponsors - or just to see what would happen if he bridled his id, he was practically a gentleman out there. Of course he couldn’t resist a few theatrics. After one questionable call, he straightened up, in mock anguish, with a sharp intake of breath, as if he’d taken a gutshot from the cavalryman on the mesa. The crowd was on Nicol’s side. “Stop whining!” someone snapped when Power queried another call, and the remark drew a little splash of applause. “I was hoping the Scotch boy would win,” one distinguished member told an acquaintance in the locker room after the match, “because the other boy was a pain in the ass.” Being the “bad boy of squash” is a little like being the bad boy of the philharmonic wind section. The refugees from the arenarock crowd are going to love you, but you can’t expect the long-time subscribers who came for The Nutcracker to roll over easily. In that Commonwealth Games final, Nicol beat Power in four games. The first three were epic. The fourth was over in twelve minutes. “The one thing that gets me about Jonathon is, I don’t think he has respect for anyone,” Nicol told me last fall. “I see him as being so close to the finished article, and yet so far away because of that. He could be fantastic for the sport, practically the saviour of the sport. But in the end he always fucks it up.” Last summer, I watched Power on court at the Toronto Athletic Club. He had come to do drills and to spar with Graham Ryding, the number two Canadian. He was coming off a disappointing showing in a major tournament, having been forced yet again to pull out with an injury. A little square ball machine sat in the front corner of the court puffing out squash balls to Power’s backhand, and Power put down drop shot after drop shot. “Two years ago there’s no way he’d have done this for thirty minutes,” his coach Mike Way said quietly, referring to the tedious drill. Power overheard this remark. “Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been in the club for thirty minutes,” he said. Power was considered pretty much uncoachable for much of his career. Buddha himself - teacher of those who cannot be taught - could not have taught him. “Do you think anybody off the court can tell you what you might be doing wrong?” Way asked Power once. “No,” Power replied. Way has described his past coaching style as “eggshell coaching” - volunteering suggestions only at opportune times, “waiting until the exact right moment and then planting the seed.” He has compared his charge to Andre Agassi, which would make Way the equivalent of Nick Bollettieri, Agassi’s long-time coach. “Nick made Agassi’s practice sessions shorter and shorter to keep the boredom factor down,” Way told me. But now Way was being more directive. Almost stern. And Power was paying attention to every word - as if he had suddenly clued in to what’s at stake. For years, Power was far and away the best Canadian player. Now, slowly, Graham Ryding is closing the gap between them. “Graham always worried Jonathon,” John Power told me last year. Jonathon is a better athlete, but in some ways Graham is a better squash player. Technically, Jonathon can compensate with strength and imagination.” Ryding knows Power’s game better than anyone. If Ryding has been good for Power, to push him, and Power has been good for Ryding, to pull him, Power and Ryding have been good for the five or six players who are drafting behind both of them and coming up fast. Peter Nicol is clearly improving. Having lost to Power six straight times, Nicol then


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  17

won their next three meetings. Shots that Power used to hit for winners are now coming back with interest.

with no idea who the skinny guy was or how he hoped to make the squad looking like that.

Arnott and Carter have made clear what’s expected of Jonathon Power. “You have marketing value first of all by winning, and secondly by having a presence on and off the court,” Carter says. “We’ve told Jonathon, your job is to win. If you keep winning and you aren’t financially comfortable in the end, then we’re not doing our job.” The last couple of years, Power has averaged close to $100,000 in total income from all sources. He has always understood that figure could more than double if he were to rise to world number one overall or, especially, become world champion. To leverage the boy to sell the sport, “Number two isn’t good enough,” says Arnott.

Power has taken an enormous gamble on squash. “The problem with you Americans is, you go to college,” he told a family friend from New Hampshire. “These are your prime squash-playing years.” It was a joke, but at the same time no joke at all. Without an education, he has, as they say, little to fall back on, but Power has never thought about falling back. This is it. He must make as much as he can now - otherwise, he understands, he’ll be forty-four years old and wearing that McDonald’s bandana under a little headset at the drive-through window. He must earn back

World Open in the Middle Eastern oil state: the world championships. To his huge relief, he is still alive. He met the man he has most feared meeting, compatriot Ryding. And crushed him in three quick games. Back in Canada, the squash world is abuzz. Squash Canada’s Web site racks up a record number of hits as players and coaches log on to follow Power’s progress. A question mark hangs in the air. Everyone has wondered what a healthy Power might be able to do if he were ever to perfectly focus the beam. In the quarter-finals, Power plays the Egyptian, Barada, who has somehow squeaked ahead of him in the world rank-

Strange as it seems to say about a twentyfour-year-old, time is running out. Squash takes its measure on the human body in invisible increments. The relentless jointcompression and subtle body contact of this “non-contact” sport grind down knees, lower vertebrae and especially hips. With few exceptions, the top squash player’s body gives out by his early thirties. There are no Baryshnikovs.

And so he has had to catch up as if his life, or at least his career, depended on it. “I hadn’t seen Jonathon in three or four years,” recalls Alex Pogrebinsky, the Edmonton massage therapist who has worked with bobsledder Pierre Leuders and figure skater Kurt Browning, among others. “Then in 1996 he had some exhibition games in Edmonton and he came to me for a massage. His body had changed. He had these big legs. He had done so much training, I didn’t recognize him.” That October, Power chewed through the pack unseeded to win the Tournament of Champions in New York City - his first major victory on the tour. He started stringing some wins together: Hamburg, Budapest, Hong Kong. He shot into the top twenty for the first time, debuting in the top ten at number six. He has since experimented with exercise routines he once would have scoffed at: plyometrics - a system of explosive muscle development. (It gave him shin splints, initially.) Under the guidance of his new trainer, Chris Broadhurst, he recently found himself face down in a dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens with five acupuncture needles in his naked butt. Broadhurst went upstairs to attend to business, and some Leafs players came in and shuffled past

On a Qatar Airways flight to London, the pilot makes an announcement: the new world squash champion is on board, and he will be receiving free drinks. A flight attendant walks down the aisle, past the suddenly anonymous Peter Nicol, and serves champagne to the beaming man in the row behind him. Bottle this. Exploit it for all its symbolic value. For in a strange way, the appearance of the feral boy, Jonathon Power, actually does honour the game he now seems ready to rule. Squash, as the distinguished squash writer Rex Bellamy observed, was conceived in a prison (the famous Fleet debtors’ prison). Power’s ascension reminds us that squash, like opera, belonged to everyone before the elites kidnapped it. The blood of rebels runs through its deepest plumbing. The preceeding article originally appeared in Saturday Night magazine (Oct 1998). It is reprinted on SquashZAG and ZAGmag with the permission of the author.

Even more than most players, Power has been struck by injuries, which have tended to come in bunches and always at the worst possible times - a bizarre golfing accident here, an unlucky basketball injury there. At last year’s world team championships in Kuala Lumpur, Power disappeared into the bathroom just minutes before Canada was to play England in the final and somehow sent his back into spasms on the throne. I once asked him about the condition of his knees, which had been giving him grief from overstress during the Professional Squash Association’s demanding fall schedule. “They wake up sore,” he said, “but once they get going, they’re good.” Back in juniors, Power had created future trouble for himself by failing to work out. At the world junior championships in Hong Kong, the Canadian team coach, Stuart Dixon, had a couple of experts check out Power’s aching back. “What we discovered is that he was physically very, very unbalanced,” Dixon says. “He hadn’t done the weight training or the strength development. These people told him, ‘Unless you do something about this upper-body imbalance, your life span in this sport will be five years, max.’ “

a sponsor has just become a poster boy for Dunlop, the world’s leading squash brand. He will endorse a new racquet line, and his autograph will appear on every boxed squash ball that rolls out of the factory in the new year.

what his parents so painstakingly invested. For twenty years, since Jonathon was old enough to hold a racquet, the Powers lived on a complicated system of debt juggling continually borrowing, working credit-card floats, taking out loans to pay off interest on other loans, all to finance the development of their kids’ squash. In the spring of 1997, Power returned from a tournament at which he’d done well. He approached his dad with something to say but not quite the tools to say it. “Here, I’d like you to have this,” Power said. “He gave us $8,000,” his father told me last summer. “In cash. He just pulled out this big wad of bills. He didn’t care if he ever saw it again. Nonetheless, his mother put it in an RRSP, and set up a plan to pay it all back.” But there remained one more thing to deliver. “I guarantee you Jonathon is not going to keep losing to Peter Nicol,” national-team member Kelly Patrick told me this fall, after Power had dropped his third straight match to the Scot. “He’s too competitive. If this keeps up, he’ll either explode, implode, or just play the best squash ever.” November 29, 1998, Doha, Qatar. Jonathon Power has just come off the court after his quarter-final match at the Mahindra

ings. It is all over in twenty-nine minutes. Power, the assassin, decamps quickly. Seven hundred stunned Egyptians, who have turned out to lend their usual raucous support, look for a lightning rod for their rage. A small group of them rush the umpire’s section and are restrained by security. In the semis Power meets his friend, Australian Anthony Hill, the only player acknowledged to be as wild as Power. “I’ve been trying to keep out of trouble all week, but it doesn’t seem to have worked,” Hill remarks after losing. He pronounces Power “unbelievable.” The final is almost anticlimactic. Peter Nicol takes the first game, but then Power, who has ripped off his ankle brace to play unencumbered, cannot be stopped. This time it’s Nicol who gets tired on the fast glass court, and Power who gets stronger as the match goes on. It takes seventy-two minutes for Jonathon Power to become what the London Daily Telegraph calls “the first World Champion from the New World.” “What was your game plan in the final?” he is asked by reporters. “I don’t usually have a game plan,” he shrugs. “I just wing it.” In Toronto, Wade Arnott is already fielding calls. The kid who a couple of years ago couldn’t buy


18  ZAGMAG  Issue 01, November 2009

a squash story

ALAN THATCHER

A LOVE THAT NEVER DIES A wise soul once said that chasing a squash ball around the court was very much like chasing women: as you get older you learn which ones to let go. I stopped chasing women years ago, but somehow the urge to keep chasing that pesky little ball around the court still fires me up almost every day. Call it an obsession if you will (my wife certainly does). I prefer to think of it an enduring love and passion for a sport that has held me in its thrall ever since I glanced over a balcony at two experienced pros playing a fun exhibition match down on the Sussex coast more than 30 years ago. The shots and the angles had me spellbound. The obvious enjoyment of the two players was clearly shared by the audience. I felt like an outsider, almost an intruder, stumbling A wise soul once said that chasing a squash ball around the court was very much like chasing women: as you get older you learn which ones to let go. I stopped chasing women years ago, but somehow the urge to keep chasing that pesky little ball around the court still fires me up almost every day. Call it an obsession if you will (my wife certainly does). I prefer to think of it an enduring love and passion for a sport that has held me in its thrall ever since I glanced over a balcony at two experienced pros playing a fun exhibition match down on the Sussex coast more than 30 years ago. The shots and the angles had me spellbound. The obvious enjoyment of the two players was clearly shared by the audience. I felt like an outsider, almost an intruder, stumbling in on a private ritual. They, of course, were all in on the Big Secret. They knew the names of all these exotic, esoteric shots: the boast, the nick and the corkscrew serve. They knew all about straight drives, drops, lobs and kills. They all knew about fitness. But, looking at the amount of booze being sunk on the balcony as they enjoyed the drama unfolding down below on court, it was obvious that most of them had never ventured into the land occupied by the two guys down there on the court. The territory where fitness and stamina was translated into pain, sweat and tears. As I began to learn the game I was instantly captivated by one simple, deeprooted feeling, the sheer joy of smacking that little rubber ball as hard as I could. I guess it’s a guy-thing, or a throwback to our hunter-gatherer days, that feeling of testing your physical limits and being en-

couraged by the results. That feeling has never left me. As I improved my squash, and began climbing up the club ladder, I developed an insatiable thirst and hunger for knowledge of every aspect of the game: the great masters, their stories, their sacrifices, their joys and their tactics. More relevant was learning how to beat the guys in Box Ten in the local leagues, and, more often than not, licking my wounds from the defeats, trying to learn from those painful experiences when I had been given the run-around by opponents whose hamfisted unorthodoxy was a source of irritation and bafflement. Learning how to cope with so many different styles of play was also a great part of my squash education. I also ventured for a few years into that territory of pain and suffering when, twelve years after being an absolute novice beginner, I moved to Kent and found myself as the club number one. Working unsociable evening shifts on the sports desk of a London newspaper, I had plenty of time on my hands in the mornings and would spend hours on court practising shots and putting myself through the court sprints and ghosting routines recommended by the Old Masters like Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt. As team captain I was able to arrange most of the team matches to coincide with my nights off, and I enjoyed both the competitive and social aspects of the sport. Playing and learning is one thing. Training and learning is another. But transcending those processes is the ultimate squash education: watching and learning. As my squash stepped up a notch, so did the entertainment available on my doorstep as the world’s leading professionals dropped by every year to compete every year in the Chichester Open. It was a golden era for squash as the sport, and the tournament, made the seismic move from the cramped, sweaty confines of a 120-seater glass-backed court to

the all-glass court situated on stage next door in the luxurious surroundings of the Chichester Festival Theatre. At these two venues I witnessed the end of the Barrington-Hunt era and watched amazed as this teenage powerhouse called Jahangir Khan began his reign of dominance. You wouldn’t have known it from watching me play at my modest level, but Jahangir and I clearly had something in common. I could see that Jahangir shared that same animal instinct for smacking the ball as hard as humanly possible. The main difference was this: JK was clearly in the superhuman category. I was still a raw but keen novice. As I improved, my working patterns became less predictable and I found myself unable to play team squash on a regular basis. However, as I neared my 40th birthday, I decided to make a massive push to increase my fitness levels in the hope of making an impact in the senior agegroups. I added gym and track work to my fitness schedule, lost a lot of weight and felt ready for a new challenge. Then came the car crash. I was driving home from a club committee meeting one winter’s night when I breasted a hill and found a car driving straight towards me, on my side of the road. This boy racer slammed his car into mine at 70mph. My car, travelling at the legal limit of 30mph, was shunted backwards into a lamp-post. The engine came smashing into the body of the car. Miraculously, it rested on my knees, taking just a nick of skin out of each one. My face crashed into the dashboard and I had numerous cuts from the flying glass as the windscreen exploded into a million pieces. The seatbelt locked one shoulder in place and spun the other one forward. It took months of osteopathy to get me walking straight again. My ribcage was smashed and the pain was unbearable. I was in a wheelchair in hospital before I was able to walk again. Amazingly, I was back on a squash court

“I could so easily have been killed in that smash. The police told me the seat-belt saved my life and the medics told me that my squash fitness helped me cope with the trauma and get back on my feet quicker.”

within six months. The summer league team was a man short, and, as club captain, I reluctantly stepped in to make up the numbers. This was my first time back on court and, at first, just the noise of the ball came as a huge shock. I played at five in the team and scraped a narrow win. Physically I was never the same again. My ribs healed up but the back injury has plagued me for years. So too has the weight I put on while I was in rehab. I had so many kind visitors who all brought round red wine, beer and chocolate. It was great, it was lovely. But it resulted in twenty pounds of unwanted lard accumulating round my middle. Thanks guys! The accident changed my feeling for the game. I loved it even more. Learning to walk again was a major obstacle, going back to work was another. Getting back on court was a joy. Winning no longer mattered. Simply being able to play again was enough. Every day of my life is a God-given bonus. I could so easily have been killed in that smash. The police told me the seat-belt saved my life and the medics told me that my squash fitness helped me cope with the trauma and get back on my feet quicker than most people. I carried on playing, I got my England Squash coaching badges and developed a passion for teaching. I was still learning all the time. I was privileged to watch Jahangir and Jansher come and go, and then enjoyed the Nicol-Power rivalry at closequarters as my involvement with the game moved into event promotion and TV commentary. Now the Egyptians have created a new era of wizardry and I hope to be able to contribute to the game by creating new events and new campaigns to try to halt the decline in the media coverage of our sport. On court I know I am slowing down. I have other priorities in life. So I’ve decided to stop the partying. And make one final effort, despite being the wrong side of 50, to get fit again and see if I can get my body back in the kind of shape it was in before that car crash. I’m lucky. I’ve got plenty of willing training partners. I love the routines, and I still love that old, almost-forgotten feeling of pain and suffering when you push yourself beyond your own limits on court.


Issue 01, November 2009  ZAGMAG  19


ZAGmag November 2009  

The first issue of ZAGmag from the team at www.squashZAG.com

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