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Archive for category squash

Trick Squash Shot For A Winner

British squash player James Willstrop (world rank #4) pulls off a trick shot that leaves the commentator in ecstasy at the North American Open in Virginia. Willstrop spins his racket round the ball twice before wrongfooting opponent Ramy Ashour (rank #1) to win the point. It’s amazing that humans can become this proficient.

This video also gives you a bit of an idea of how the game is played.

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Joys Of A Passionate Fan

Johan (left) and Tommy

Johan (left) and Tommy

On February 12th, I watched the Trinity College men’s squash team beat Harvard 5-4. It was the third time Harvard has lost to Trinity by that close score in just the seven years I have been following Trinity and traveling to Boston to be in the lion’s den there. One of the most critical contests was when Trinity’s Johan Detter was playing in the number six position against Tommy Mullaney and was behind in the fifth game, 8-10. Harvard needed just one point to win that early game. But Johan fought tirelessly and won the game 12-10. What a victory. Number six is just the first wave (3-6-9), and Trinity won all three matches.

The next rotation was stronger for Harvard, winning two out of three. The last wave would be the decider, and Harvard won two more right away, so the teams were tied 4-4. But Trinity closed it with a decisive win, squeaking through yet once again. I was proud to cheer along with the enthusiastic Trinity fans who had made the trek to Beantown.

Johan and Bill Belichick, head coach of New England Patriots

Johan and Bill Belichick, head coach of New England Patriots

One of the parents in the stands near me earlier was Tommy Mullaney’s father. I expressed my sympathies. After the match was over, I saw him again and talked to his son. Though I was glad he had lost, I also felt sad about how he might take his defeat. Harvard hasn’t beaten Trinity in the last 24 years. And he was so close. You often see movies in which the mature man in his 40s or 50s has lived a depressed or dismal life after dropping the catch that would have been the winning touchdown or the last out. So I wondered how this will affect Tommy’s life. In the movie Parenthood, Steve Martin complains that his complete happiness is dependent on whether or not his son catches a baseball pop up hit to the kid in the outfield.

But I sensed how important that early, close win was to the team match, and was relieved when Tommy was unable to close the deal. I was awed that Johan came back under so much pressure. I was ecstatic that Trinity won again.

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Two-Year-Old Basketball Whiz Inspires Me To Practice

This video looks like it’s for real. Quite amazing to see a two-year-old on his way to becoming a basketball star. A feel-good video that reminds me how one can improve with hours/years of practice. Especially if your technique is good.

Tomorrow I am going to play in two doubles matches: my usual Wednesday morning game and filling in as a needed fourth in the afternoon. I can’t wait to try out my new serve. I saw a pro squash match at NYC’s Harvard Club in which the player changed his grip for forehand and backhand…you are supposed to keep the same grip in squash. What he did on the back hand is move closer to the racket head (away from the butt of the handle). I tried it, and it gave me more control and power and hits in the sweet spot. At a squash clinic, I learned that most pros do NOT change, but most DO choke up more on the handle. So I am doing that in tennis.

Still frustrated that my serve lacks power, I practiced after yesterday’s match to fall on the ball more and into the court…even though my current coach said I should jump UP, rather than forward. Just as if I was shooting a basketball. Well choking and falling forward made an enormous difference. I practiced for an hour and can’t wait to see tomorrow if I can duplicate those serves under the pressure of a game. Very exciting.

Now if I’d just started all of this when I was two or three, I might be a champion…

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Danger Lesson At The Squash Court

After my first squash clinic of the year, seven-year-old Alexander challenged me to a game. I have lost to a 10-year-old in the past, so I sized up this younger opponent and beat him 11-1. Then he told me it was the second game of his life and the first day he ever played. How did I lose a point!

A friend who had been talking with this aggressive youngster told me that the kid had volunteered his goal to become a Formula-1 race car driver. “That sounds pretty dangerous,” my friend had told him. “Not as dangerous,” Alexander answered, “as flying to the moon!”

Out of the mouths of babes come wonderful gems. They spit them out as effortlessly as a cough and a sneeze. Too funny.

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Record-Breaking Day

I broke three achievement records today. So I am certainly proud of myself.

I did 58 continuous push ups. My record was 57, done in Moscow in 1984 or 1987. So all this recent effort is showing some results. Just took me 25 or so years to do it…

I beat Joe Marshall at tennis 6-4, and then lost the next set in a close tie breaker, 5-7. But the joke is that he is a right-handed player who used his left hand in our contest. So it’s a small satisfaction.

I have now done SOME exercise every day for 187 straight days. A huge achievement for me, but a friend who used to be a dancer was totally unimpressed: “Only 5-10 minutes a day? That’s not very much exercise.” The fact is that sometimes I do it after 1:00 AM. Other times after 3-5 hours of tennis and/or squash. It actually takes all my effort to keep the record going, to remain disciplined (by doing ANYTHING AT ANY TIME) in spite of travel, business, family activities. I am still proud of my staying with it. But it’s all relative. I once knew a retired prima ballerina, and she still fit in a “mere” 1 1/2 hours of ballet exercise every day.

Yesterday after 90 minutes of singles and doubles tennis, I drove an hour to a prep school and took a 90-minute, non-stop squash lesson. I was exhausted. I asked my 17-year-old instructor how much he practiced during the squash season, and he said at least three hours every day, and he rose at 5 AM (as did other students) to do some of his workout before class!

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How A Squash Player Should Learn Tennis

A squash player named Stephen commented on my March 2nd post about how Practice Does Not Make Perfect. He also asked how he should learn to play tennis. So here is his post and an answer (below) by Bjorn Runquist, a local coach for squash and tennis. I would also add that if you can play squash, you don’t need more cardio training to play tennis. I played about 8-10 squash games yesterday and was exhausted in just 1 1/4 hours, whereas I can go 2 of singles and 4 of doubles and not be nearly as tired. Let us know Stephen how you do…

Hi ira,

I stumbled upon your bog whilst looking for tips on how to improve my squash game.

To put it mildly, you have inspired me. I mean that in no small terms either.
I’m a 23 year old University student from the UK and the Chairman of our Uni’s Squash team.

All too frequently I find myself frustrated that I cannot compete at the level of some of the teams we play (just last week I lost a game to a player who turned out to be a Hong Kong open champion).

Like you my return is not good enough, especially the backhand, so hearing of your troubles and the revelation about “perfect practice” really hit home with me. Now I cannot wait to get back on the court and get a good mindset going.

I’ve looked over your site a bit and read your story about how you wanted to embark on the journey of change, and all I have to say is well done.

I’ve always been larger (not obese by any means, just carrying extra padding :)) and have used it as an excuse to not play tennis, as the movement required for it really takes it out of me. After reading your blog however, I feel shamed within myself that I have not tried harder to do what I dream of doing, and getting that “beach body” and playing tennis.

So here is a little question for you.

I’m fairly good at squash, good all round strokes, but have never really played tennis other than a playful back and forth. What would you think the first step should be?

Should I get a coach? Work on my strokes or serve? gain cardio to hang with the guys in rallies?

Hope you are well today,

Stephen

Here are Coach Bjorn’s suggestions:

Advice for your web site commenter on tennis: definitely get private lessons. The stroke is so different from tennis and is critical to being able to hit the ball hard and keep it in the court. The business of simply striking the ball is, I think, much more complex in tennis— there are more “correct” ways of doing it in tennis than in squash (slice, top-spin etc). Once you have the strokes down, the game is simpler than squash, but changing technique from squash and getting a proper stroke in tennis is critical to anything else— get private lessons, visualize and hit a thousand strokes without a ball (the tennis stroke starts at the feet, goes through the knees which drive the ball and shift weight in the right direction and finishes with the racket and the critical follow-through of the last 3rd of the swing).

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Spicing Up Your Tennis Game

Federer and Nadal play tennis in Dubai

Kate St.Hilaire sent me a link to 25 photos of sports being played in unusual places, like a basketball court on an aircraft carrier and a soccer field on a Tokyo rooftop. Here are three of the sites related to my favorite sports, even though the tennis courts are strictly humorous publicity stunts for Roger and Rafa. Amusing to me is that one of the sites is the portable squash court in New York’s Grand Central Station…I went there for a match and didn’t think it was unusual at all!

Squash in Gaza

Tennis in Qatar

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The Joy Of Improving At Sport

Today I was a case history twice on how to improve at sport. Maybe there is a message for non-athletic activities as well.

I played my best tennis ever for two hours in the morning, using the new techniques I’d learned from local coach Rob Ober, who’d roomed with Andre Agassi at their tennis camp. The open stance and serve pointers he gave me took a couple of weeks to adjust to, but I am now swinging and serving well enough to be more competitive with some strong players in the area. My ground strokes have more power and sometimes have top spin.

In the afternoon I played my best squash ever for an hour and a half and won eight games out of 12 against a player who beat me all five games the last time we played months ago. I was using the new swing, serve return placement and body position that I’d learned from local coach Bjorn Runquist, who had wisely taught me that “Practice does not make perfect, but PERFECT practice is what makes perfect.” A major distinction.

My tennis partner in the morning was a 4.0 player who has seen me play at least three or four times with months or years between viewings. When I first faced Phil Farmer four years ago, I wasn’t even at the level of the 75-93-year-olds with 50-75 years of experience I was playing with. I could out run the older guys, but they could place every shot so accurately that if the ball came near them, they earned a point. Drops and lobs were a key part of their strategy. At the end of our games back then, Phil gave me some wise advice that I really appreciated him mentioning. He said it seemed that I hadn’t identified his weaker side, forehand or backhand, and that my game would improve if I noticed things like that and adapted my game to each player. I was grateful for his suggestion.

A couple of years later, Phil saw me at his club, where I was a guest, and he commented that my game had improved. A real compliment. In the last year, I have been learning about doubles strategy from Joe Marshall and the books he and Rob Ober recommended. So today Phil praised my game a couple of times, noting that I was playing “good smart tennis.” My volleying at the net was also pretty good.

It’s very gratifying to work at something and make progress. To challenge yourself to grow or improve at a skill and then realize that objective. For now I just want to keep getting better. There is no end goal, like winning tournaments or becoming the best in the country or the county. I just want to play with stronger and more experienced players and be invited back into their games. I am enjoying the journey and not focused on any final destination.

I remember a friend telling me sadly that he had stopped playing tennis regularly, because so much activity had injured his body, and now his level of play was only going down, rather than up. It was too upsetting. But I am still on the upside of the curve, aiming for the highest point I can at this age.

Somewhere in the future, I will reach my peak performance, my level will start to flatten out or decline, and I will be back playing mostly with the 75-90-year-olds. I hope that happens, when I am almost 90 myself. I may have wistful moments about how good I was in my early 70’s, but at least I will still be alive, playing, enjoying some cardio, and having the thrill of making each winning sweet-spot-shot.

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How To Create Better Performance In Sport And Life

Here is a secret I read about that is allowing me to execute new techniques in tennis that are improving my game. More importantly, this same strategy might also be applicable to all other aspects of our lives.

You know I am always attempting to improve my athletic performance, especially in tennis, but also squash, ping pong, skiing, shooting, hunting, archery, etc. etc. No matter how hard I try, it is incredibly difficult for me. But also for some professionals and strong amateurs.

As I watch tennis tournaments, I see certain pros making the same weak shots over and over, even if they are not winning consistently by using those shots. Roddick does his slow slice backhand. Schiavone does her slice shots on both sides. Llodra still plays serve and volley (and gets passed constantly). And I hear the announcers—often former pros themselves—saying that it’s almost impossible to change your style, your habits, even if they don’t lead to points and victory.

By the way, I see this among adults, when it comes to their careers. Even when some actions do not lead to success or positive results, they stick to what is familiar and hope that the outcomes will be different. It may be basic human nature that serious change can only be altered by a trauma or life-threatening or economic-survival confrontations.

I recently wrote about college squash players who see a new kind of shot (from overseas) that makes many easy points, but they are unable to incorporate those shots into their games. And three college squash coaches confirmed how hard or impossible it is for their team members to adopt those new shots and use them in their games.

This week I spoke to a prep school tennis coach who said his kids were great on ground strokes, but were incredibly resistant to practicing overheads, serves and net volleys. They stay with what they do well, practicing ground strokes for hours, even though they are are just young teenagers still in high school. Already too “old” to change? The coach can barely convince his students to practice the other parts of their game.

Now I am a much older guy (I will be 71 this week) who has only been playing tennis as an adult for five years. I read, take lessons, watch videos and TV and attempt as much as possible to improve my game. I have come to accept that in spite of my new knowledge or instruction, I often can’t implement the new advice or technique.

Some challenges are remarkably easy in concept: watch the ball when you serve. The least pressured shot in the game, I think. I am totally in control, no running required, no angles or spins to return. And yet I just haven’t been able to consistently prevent my brain and head from looking over the net at my opponent’s court BEFORE I HIT THE BALL to see where it is going. So frustrating!!!

I have told myself to “watch the ball.” I read a book that told me to “watch the seams.” I recently attempted to “Look for the brand” (the printed name of the manufacturer). Sometimes I can execute one of these three necessary instructions. But not most of the time. I see those slo-mo videos of Federer and others staring at the ball until it’s left the racket long ago. I strive to enter their skin, brain and body. I scream at myself to imitate the video. But I can’t. All I can do is laugh at my bad habit.

Then I read somewhere that it almost impossible to modify an existing, ingrained habit. That is why it is so important to learn skills correctly at a very young age. That is why so many tennis and other sports stars were taught the ideal way to play their games, when they were 5-10 years old! Start later than that with bad habits, and it almost impossible to break them, modify them, get rid of them. The neural circuits are too embedded.

So what do you do? Here is the simple answer: create brand new habits. Don’t even try to modify the old bad ones. Force your brain and muscle memory to make a new circuit, a brand new way of doing the old trick. In my next post, I will describe what happened last week?

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Life After College Squash

Here is an article I wrote that was published online today at dailysquashreport.com . I sure do love this game. The photo by Michael T. Bello was taken during the finals of this year’s national individuals. Can you find me in the crowd? I wrote about the winner (on left) in an earlier post .

final match to determine who is champion—3/4/2012

Watching the top college male squash players compete defies any concept you had of what athletes can do. It makes all other sports look like they are in slow motion. You cannot believe these guys can move so fast, volley so instantly, and hit a ball with a racquet so precisely. It is an amazing game. I have been watching it for just six years. And what these young men do is often spectacular.

But in spite of their hours and years of practice–some started playing when they were six–their devotion and love of the game, their skill and excellence, their heart, courage and unfathomable drive to win, it is all largely unappreciated in the United States. Anyone can attend a game for free and usually find a seat. You can sit next to the players who are watching their teammates. You can listen to the coaches give players counsel between games, and you can enjoy an intimacy with the sport that is just not possible when you are one of thousands of fans 30 rows up at a more popular sporting event like football, hockey, basketball, tennis or baseball.

If we are drawn to the other sports because we played them as kids, or can watch them on TV or at local venues, it still doesn’t explain to me the sparse crowds and why I became addicted. Sometimes there are just 20 non-player spectators at a match, and most are parents. At major rivalries and national competitions, there may be 200. At one national singles championship, the semi-finals match may have been watched by 30 of us, the finals by 70…and these numbers include players and coaches who are screaming for those from their schools. We are a special crowd of enthusiasts. Probably a bit eccentric. But all of us love the game and its surprises, the sweat and endurance, the athleticism and cheering, the tension, suspense and anxiety.

Although there is a pro-league to graduate to, almost none of the top college athletes can make it. The level of professional play is just too high, and the pros are practicing six hours a day, not two. The kids participate at school for the thrill and satisfaction of competing and excelling, learning to be part of a team or training for the rigors of adulthood.

And then it is over. After years of striving and fighting, practicing, camaraderie, discipline and defeat, admiration and adulation…it is finished. They leave school and sometimes, these days, they have a job. Often they don’t have any plans. They are facing the emptiness of a sour economy. They are hoping one of the 60 or so resumes leads to an interview. If they are from overseas, they have only a year to find employment and sponsorship. And if they do not, some will go back to India, Mexico or Egypt.

When the matches are over, and the winners decided, I am thrilled for the victors. But I am also sad for the frustration and disappointment of those defeated. They have given so much to be the best. And yet it was just not possible at this time. There was a poignant moment for me at this year’s individual semi-finals, when I saw 20 people crowding around the winner of a close five-game match, and the loser—whom I know—was a few seats away, sweating, exhausted and totally alone. I was glad to be there and console him as best I could.

Either way, for victors and runners-up, what do you imagine it is like to be among the best in the nation in your sport, and then to be done with it? To never again achieve that level of athletic excellence. I have been at many seniors’ last college match of their lives. I doubt the impact of that finality had really hit them. They tell me they are looking forward to the new life, without pressure and practice and the huge responsibility of playing for their team and their coach’s respect. They have been living for up to four years with the weight of that commitment. We all need to take vacations. But the end of the line is much more than an interval. It is a life junction. It is a new path. It is a beginning that leaves behind the brief and limited fame and familiarity. Maybe it equals the letdown of the empty nested mother whose kids have moved out and on for good.

I see the brightness in their eyes, their smooth and healthy skin, their wide, white smiles and the innocence of their demeanors. I know men from my high school days who five decades later still thrive mainly in those years long ago, regarding them as the best in their lives—when they caught touchdown passes, made winning baskets on the court, were ecstatic from the roar of the crowd.

I hope today’s young squash players do not pick their pasts over the present as the place to spend their futures. But the joy of their achievements is a peak period in all our lives that those who watched and created can remember forever.

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The Difficulty Of Thinking And Acting Outside the Box

Ali Farag (left) and Ramit Tandon in the college finals

You hear it all the time: to be a success in business, you have to think outside the box. Also in America, the squeaky wheel gets the grease…though in Japan the nail that sticks up too high gets hammered down. So some cultures encourage individuality, while others promote conformity and not rocking the boat.

In sport however—and maybe war—it pays to be different, to surprise your opponents, to be able to deceive and do the unexpected. That is why it was so unbelievably thrilling this past three-day weekend at the college squash individual nationals to see the country’s top players competing to be the best, the first, the number one talent. But in addition to the joy of watching outstanding sport, there was an incredible lesson learned that I still can’t digest easily. And it has to do with culture, mentality, and the inhibitions of group behavior.

A happy champion kisses his father, Amr

The first place trophy went to Ali Farag, a Harvard sophomore who grew up playing squash in Egypt. Three of the top five professional players in the world (and 7 of the top 16) are all from Egypt. Even in 2007, the Wall Street Journal was writing about how the Egyptians had “Cornered the Squash Racket.” So Ali grew up in a society that is squash-centric, where some say squash is the first or second most popular sport (along with tennis), and where young players at 15 or 16 are so good they become professionals. In fact Ali won the world Juniors and became the 66th ranked professional, before he transferred to Harvard and can compete as a student. He is only 20.

Watching him play is like art: fluid, deft, surprising, precise. But most impressive is that he has shots that I have hardly ever—or never—seen others use. Granted I am not so experienced in watching, but I have attended dozens of matches involving top college players, and this weekend and two weeks earlier at the team finals, I saw Ali making shots the others don’t even attempt. Shots that win him points, games and matches.

Ali (ctr) with mother, Mona, and best friend Mohamed Abdelmaksoud

I sat next to a college squash coach at one match and heard that Ali is certainly gifted, “and his mind works so fast that he is considering five different shots in the time that others are just planning to use one. He chooses instinctively…It happens so fast that even Ali doesn’t have time to think about it.”

Why don’t the other players just copy Ali’s shots I asked a second college coach? “Because they are used to just doing what they have grown up doing.” That wasn’t very satisfying.

So I asked Ali himself after one match. “Where I grew up, everyone plays like this,” he explained. “I just followed what I saw all around me.”

Why don’t the other players do the shots that you do? I asked him. “I don’t know. Ask them” he advised me.

So I asked a third coach, one I have known for a few years, why don’t Ali’s competitors adapt? They see a new shot, a winning shot, at the beginning of the season. Why don’t they learn how to do it, practice until they do it perfectly themselves? “It’s too late for the seniors,” I was told. “Maybe the juniors can try to integrate some of the shots into their game. But it’s very hard if you haven’t grown up doing it. You can’t easily change your style of playing.”

Well I am crushed. This is too upsetting. You have to adapt in life to survive or succeed. And I am being told that in squash—and maybe other sports…and maybe in other life pursuits—once you learn how to do something, you can’t change easily…or at all? That is terrible. If your career meets a roadblock, is it hopeless to surmount it? That’s not what I was taught. If your profession becomes obsolete, are you supposed to go on welfare? Not what I have been taught. If you play football, and an opposing team comes up with an original play or defense, can’t you learn it? I thought so. If serve and volley tennis strategy was losing in an age of new rackets to base line play, shouldn’t you change your tennis game? I know that is what the newer pros have done. Couldn’t the older guys?

But in squash, three coaches told me it just isn’t so easy…so Ali and others with his skills might just dominate the game for a while. Very exciting to watch. It was like a professional outmaneuvering an amateur in some of the matches. Brilliant. Unexpected. Masterful. He just does his thing, barely breaks a sweat. He is from another world, and the new culture he is visiting can’t respond effectively, so he wins. He never lost a game in the 15 he played in the tournament this weekend. No one won more than 7 points in 12 of those games, and no more than 5 in 9 of those games.

In the final against Ramit Tandon from India of Columbia University, Ali gave up 10 and 8 points the first two games, but just 4 to win the match. Quite a talent. I still think there is a bigger lesson here to be learned about life…

After showing this story above to Ali’s father Amr, he wrote the following comment:

“We read the article and we were both very impressed. We liked the flow of ideas, the very descriptive words and definitely above all the philosophical part linking learning to life in general. However, I might have some explanation. I think it is easier to learn things when we are younger and definitely things we acquire during childhood become part of our system. It is like you sometimes find a kid 6 or 7 years old who can speak 4 different languages because his parents come from different parts of the world and yet live in another country. That would be more difficult for a teenager for example. Yet, I also believe in your words that this should not be an excuse for us to stop learning and always trying to acquire new skills to get us where we want.”

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Practice Does NOT Make Perfect

As I have said many times, you can tell a great deal about a person by how he or she handles the challenges and frustrations of competitive sports. Sport can also teach one a great deal about philosophy and how to live a life. Well here are some examples of why sport and life are so frustrating.

I wrote earlier that after watching a weekend of college squash (the team nationals), I wanted to upgrade my game. But too few contests and too little practice made me unable to return serves well or at all. I lose half my points or more by not returning the serve.

So I asked Bjorn Runquist, a squash coach at nearby Kent School, to hit me a few hundred serves. Practice Makes Perfect. Right? Wrong! Prior to the lesson, I imagined I would just hit ball after ball and improve my eye-hand coordination. Build up muscle memory and confidence. But after less than 10 returns, things changed. My expectations were not to be realized. I had new frustrations, because Bjorn told me I was stroking the ball incorrectly. I was following through like a tennis player. And that is partly why I either couldn’t hit the ball or returned it so weakly that my opponent won a simple point. So the coach made me practice the back hand stroke instead. Along the rail (wall), cross court, deep into the other side. And then came his startling insight: “Practice does NOT make you perfect. PERFECT practice is what makes you perfect.”

It’s about time I discovered the difference. Even though I have only been playing squash infrequently over 2 1/2 years, I have been watching hours of it live by following some of the best college players in America. But I never noticed the correct back hand swing, and that poor technique has been dooming my returns. Maybe this week I can go to the nearby court and practice “perfectly” to become a better player.

This frustration on the squash court reminds me of a madness on the tennis court. Originally I was taught by a coach who fed me 60-75 balls one after another out of a wire basket. I’d seen other coaches with supermarket baskets full of balls. My second coach used just three! After I’d hit one ball, he’d come forward and talk to me about my shot. He’d ask what I thought about it, how it felt, if I noticed that I did anything incorrectly or why I did what I did? Then he’d feed me another ball…and we’d talk about that shot. After the third ball, he and I would go pick up the three balls. I wanted to practice swings by the thousands. This coach would drive me crazy (at first) with the frustrating talk and minimal hits.

But like the squash coach last week, this tennis pro also believed that practicing the wrong swing over and over was not beneficial. In fact it was totally detrimental to build incorrect muscle memory. It took me a long time to accept this unconventional approach to teaching tennis…or any physical skill. But I became calm…eventually…after incredible lessons of how to deal with expectations, frustration and relaxing on the court, like a Zen Buddhist monk. Can you see my virtual robes? I have to avoid tripping over them. I also had to learn how to become more aggressive—a killer in fact—so that I could win more of my games.

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Terrible-Squash Confession

Some of my friends think I have a bit of athletic talent…or at least moderate proficiency…age aside. So after watching four days of squash, I was itching to get back on the court myself. To not overdo it and remember the motions, I hit balls yesterday morning for 30 minutes. Then later the same day, I played with a friend.

To be completely honest, I was decimated. So here is an email I sent to the squash coach at the school where I play squash:

Dear G—

I played my first match this year and, as usual, lost every game. I have never beaten this friend. He was impressed how well I hit the ball when we warmed up. Then we played games, and I still can’t return a serve high off the side wall. I lose almost all my points by missing the ball completely or hitting it so poorly that he just puts the ball away on the next shot.

He likes to play 9-point games. Once he serves, he just wins straight points. I only get a few because he lets me serve first. So I lose 2-9 or 4-9. Once I had him 7-4…then he served right to 9-7. Last game I had him 1-0. Then he served 9 straight points.

So G— do you have a student I can pay to just hit serves to me for a few sessions? I must practice this return of serve off the wall. I’m pretty frustrated and have to learn to handle this shot…(end of email)

HELP!!!!! ANYBODY WANT TO BE MY SERVER SAVIOR??

Today I played tennis for over three hours. All the players are very strong, and I have the weakest serve. So my team almost always loses, because I am broken frequently, when it is my turn to serve. Otherwise we are very competitive. Lost one set in a tie break, and then the next two, 2-6, 2-6.

Ahh the challenges of sport. You gotta love ’em…even if they are maddening. And I can’t rationalize one iota by telling myself that my opponents have been playing for decades. I must get better!!!

By the way, I have realized that in both sports I need to have stronger quads, so that I can bend my knees to achieve power in the tennis serve and reach quickly for the squash ball. So now I have more exercises to do…push ups, abs, lats and now quads. aaaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh.

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Baset Chaudhry Plays Gustav Detter In Exhibition Squash Match

Gustav Detter (left), Ira and Baset Chaudhry before the match

Over three days this past weekend (Fri/Sat/Sun), I watched 17 hours of college squash at the national tournament in Princeton. You would think I’d be saturated, blurry-eyed and ready to take a rest…NOPE. Yesterday I drove to the squash courts at the Millbrook School in New York State and watched an incredible exhibition match between Baset Ashfaq Chaudhry and Gustav Detter.

Both were top players at Trinity College, where I followed their contests for three and four years. Baset was the #1 college player in the country. Gustav was #1 in Sweden, was 4-time All American, and is now the #1 amateur player in the U.S. This match promised to be sensational.

And it was. The level of play was way beyond almost all of the games we had just seen at the Nationals. Gustav is working out on the courts 3-4 times a week. Baset is not quite as fit, but still a powerful and amazing competitor. It took five games to determine the winner, so you know it was close. But I was in awe of what I saw. Gorgeous, rough, athletic, nimble. Astonishing gets and terrifyingly hard hits. Some reports from the old days suggested that no one hit the ball as hard as Baset. And few were as quick and anticipatory at Gustav.

Of course there have been plenty of great college players over the years, and I have only seen a few of them in action. But after four or five years of watching top college squash, I have some appreciation for really outstanding play. And I feel privileged to have watched today’s match between two squash stars and giants.

I also want to mention that during all the matches I saw at Princeton, some were dull, uninspired, lacked subtlety, nuance and finesse. Still great competitors, with determination and heart. But true brilliance in sport really stands out. At the Friday session, we watched a Trinity player decimate his opponent with cross court backhands and gentle drop shots that were positively poetic. It was lyrical to watch such skill, craft and beauty. The game soared toward its potential. It was divine.

The next day, this same player was quickly beaten by a different competitor who raised the bar even higher. We were mesmerized and dumbfounded. How could a level of play so high the night before now appear so much lower? But it did. And the game was magical, grander, subtler, even noble. OK OK, I am getting a little carried away with superlatives. But it was startling to watch…and then be uplifted even more by today’s match.

Just goes to show you that you never know when someone will come along who can do it better, more skillfully, deftly, winningly. The memory of these three matches were among the many highlights of the weekend. I feel so fortunate to have witnessed such exalted athletic prowess, been part of the crowds, and enjoyed the passion of watching thrilling sport.

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Trinity’s Squash Coach Writes About The Team’s Loss In National Finals

Trinity on left, Princeton on right, Princeton Coach Callahan talks about his team's victory

Trinity College’s men’s squash team won the national championship 13 years in a row under the guidance and leadership of Coach Paul Assiante. The team also set a record of winning 252 matches in a row, an historic success that only this year was interrupted by Yale’s long-sought victory. (Search Trinity College on this site, and you can read many of the stories I have written about these achievements) Paul’s book describes how he/they did it, how he built character in his boys, how they rose to the occasion in 2009, when they beat Princeton 5-4 in the last of nine matches on the Tigers home court. I was there then to scream and see victory won in the fifth game of the ninth match, when Baset Chaudry came from behind at 0-5 to win the game 9-5. Monumental excitement.

colorful Princeton Tiger fan

Yesterday Trinity fell to Princeton in the Nationals, and I was there to watch the effort, hear the Princeton fans’ cheers and whistles as their long-awaited victory edged closer and closer, and to tell the saddened Trinity players afterward that they had given it their best.

When I wrote to Coach Assiante this morning, here is what he sent back to me. As one friend wrote me back, “it brings tears to my eyes.”

Dear Friends of Trinity
For the last 13 years on this Monday I woke up happy. Happy because our men had brought another national championship home to the college
Today I woke up proud. I have never ever been more proud to be at Trinity, to be a bantam and of a group of young men.

Yesterday we lost in the finals to Princeton 5-4 in the national finals to a terrific Princeton squad and I could not be more happy for my dear friend coach Bob Callahan. He is a class act and he has waited a long time for this.
Our path to the finals was challenging in that after losing mid season to Yale and seeing the streak slip away, we rebounded beautifully and won the remainder of our matches.
In the quarter finals we beat Franklin and Marshall but did not play well. Against Harvard in the semi finals we won a mighty battle that finished Saturday night at 9pm
Fifteen hours late we were standing on court in front of a large and boisterous Princeton crowd to play for the crown
We went down 1-2 after the first round, but came roaring back to go up 4-2. Sadly our men could not hold off the tigers and saw the lead slip away to a 4-5 loss

So why would I be proud you might ask
During the award ceremony both teams lined up to receive their awards and to congratulate each other. I looked into the eyes of everyone of our guys and there was not a dry eye in the house.
This loss hurt them deeply!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The boys went “all in” ! They completely exposed themselves and as a result they felt the full pain of defeat. That is living life to the fullest. Most people never take the chance to experience either the elation of victory or the devastating sting of defeat
They congratulated Princeton with class, and walked out of that facility visibly shaken but like men!
In life you are remembered not for what you do, but for how you do it.
This is a group that will be remembered as courageous and classy. Vince Lombardi said “show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser”
When we stopped on the garden state parkway to eat two hours later they were still crying.
These men are not losers
They are champions, and they represented this game, this program and this college in the absolute finest ways possible.

Please join me in raising a metaphorical glass to these young men.
I could not be any more proud.
Coach A

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Yale Defeats Trinity In Men’s Squash, Ending 13-Year Winning Streak

Trinity fans tense up as their team heads toward defeat

Well it’s probably my fault that while I was away skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho, I was not at Yale cheering as usual at a tough squash contest between the Yale Bulldogs and my favorite team, the Trinity Bantams. So Trinity lost! As you may recall, I have been a groupie for the team for 4-5 years now, ever since my daughter played squash in high school, and her coach told me to watch the best college team in the country in Hartford, only an hour away. My wife and I have been going to many of the away games as well, supporting the team members, whom we met and liked, and yelling as loudly as anybody possibly could. I have written about some of these victories in the past. Amazingly the match once again came down to the ninth and last contest and the fifth and last game. Agonizing. In spite of the pain of defeat, I wish I had been there for the excitement and tension.

Trinity's Johan Detter hears advice prior to the final match

Yale fans rejoice...as they should for such an historic win

A friend told me about Trinity’s loss after our tennis match. He was very considerate to wait until after the tennis game to give me the bad news…and he was an opponent! Of course I was stunned. I was out of it too, given all the travel and attempts to survive the dangers of skiing after a year-long absence from the slopes.

I feel badly for the team and coach, whom I have known for years as well. Coach Paul Assiante has a great book about his success you might want to read, called Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear. It’s a very exciting insight into the team, a close national match at Princeton, and how to motivate people to perform at their best.

Now here is the Hartford Courant’s story by Jeff Nowak about the inevitable day that Paul always said would come. Photos are by Bettina Hansen. If you want more detail about this historic match and its aftermath, here is a lengthy New York Times article.

Trinity's coach (rt) gives congratulatory hugs to Yale's coach Dave Talbott as Yale team members celebrate their victory

All things must end, or at least that’s the adage John Roberts and the Yale Bulldogs squash team announced to the world Wednesday night, January 18th, as they put to bed the longest winning streak in varsity intercollegiate sports history.

Trinity had won 252 consecutive matches, including 13 national championships, until Roberts’ dominant victory over Johan Detter in the fifth set of the final match of the day gave the bulldogs the 5-4 win at Brady Squash Center at Yale.

“Going into today I knew I was going to be on last, so I was hoping I was going to have a chance to win it for us,” said Roberts. “In the fifth you realized it was just a grind. Luckily, I got a good start and I was able to close it out.”

Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante said his team is still getting better, and having the streak over isn’t as much of a relief as he expected it to be. “Losing sucks, not a relief,” said Assaiante. “This isn’t fun, I hate losing, but this is only going to make us stronger.” Read the rest of this entry »

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61 Continuous Exercise Days And 150 Push Ups!

after 150 push ups—1/11/12

Time for an update photo, so here I am after doing 150 push ups. Now don’t be too impressed…there were 49 in the first continuous set, and then another 18 sets (yes, 18) of 5-7 each. Still quite exhausting. Having given up on any regular gym visits of 45 minutes to an hour, and unable to make it more than 2-3 times a week, when I was going, I stopped basic exercising for months. Occasionally I’d do a few ab crunches or bent over rows or push ups.

But then I challenged myself to do something—anything—every day. And I have done just that for 61 straight days (and 63/64 days). Today’s push ups took 12 minutes. The two previous days I spent 8-10 minutes doing crunches. At least I look toned. Although whatever I am doing is only resulting in a 2-pack or a 3-pack (depending on the light).

These daily mini-workouts are in addition to sports activities. For example starting January 1st, I have played squash three times (three different days for 2 3/4 hours) and tennis six times (five days and a total of 14 1/4 hours).

I am very proud of my sticking to the exercises. This was impossible in my entire previous life. Who am I now? A guy who is packing it in, while I am still able. Happily, my tennis level is much higher as well.

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Still Exercising Daily…Almost In My Sleep!

Did I just say how easy it is to do these daily exercises? Ha! Drove to Brooklyn early yesterday to celebrate my grandson’s first birthday, partied for hours and came home. Ate and crashed in front of the TV, until I fell asleep. Woke up at 12:30 am and headed for bed…until I remembered that I hadn’t done my daily mini-workout. Was too tired to do anything UNTIL 1:30 am, at which time I strained to do bicycle crunches…just 130 or so real ones, and then another 120 (250) total, where I can’t reach my elbow to the opposite knee, but at least squeeze the abs a tad.

Only the desire to keep this continuous-days-in-a-row record going (57 as of yesterday the 8th) enabled me to do the exercise. Plus my writing about it on this site. Much easier later—today—was playing squash at a local clinic for 1 1/2 hours. And I learned some terrific techniques for powering my backhand: face the left wall—not the front wall—and turn your shoulder even more to unleash the corkscrew with torque. Wow did that work well. Only executing it in play is the challenge. Easy to understand it.

The assistant coach, Trevor, had some very impressive advice, when I told him I had trouble in squash and tennis watching the ball. He said he looks for the two yellow dots on the squash ball! Can you imagine how difficult that is? They are about this large: o Well, maybe a tiny bit bigger. I have been attempting to look for the brand name on the tennis balls, having had no success watching the ball or finding the seams. I CAN do it sometimes, when I serve. Just have to keep practicing and build up the muscle memory is what Trevor promised.

By the way, earlier in the week I did 135 push ups total, although it took 16 sets of 5-10 after a measly 40 first set. That’s a long way from my result a few days ago of 50 at first and then just 12 sets of 6-8 to reach 129. Keep practicing. Now for today’s workout at a reasonable hour, 6:30 pm…new record: 51 + 15 sets of 5-9 to total 140 push ups.

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I Am Trounced On The Squash Court

How did you spend New Year’s Eve? And then New Year’s Day? I drank too much wine and champagne with friends and family during my last 2011 dinner and midnight. Up early with barking dogs, I was not only tired and sluggish, but also had a slight hangover. Ah well, it’s not rare that I ignore my capoeira master’s instruction (of 28 years ago) to never poison my body with alcohol. But it isn’t often that I drink so much that I feel it the next day. And as long as I was so woozy, why not start the year off with a few squash games after months of not playing?

My 23-year-old son was the opponent, and he played a lot of squash in high school. Beating him is a special occasion, which I wasn’t exactly up for. We played five games, and I lost them all. Very frustrating. The fourth sounds like it was close, when I tell you I lost 7-9, but then I have to confess I was ahead 5-0…until he once again got tough.

When he was younger, I always made him work hard to beat me. No easy wins just because he was a kid. Now he gives me the same treatment. I get it. It’s my own medicine. But winning any point is a real triumph. That fourth game felt so good—I had lost the earlier ones scoring just 3-5 points—that when he asked me afterward if I was up for yet one more, I thought maybe I should quit having come so close. But I didn’t. I actually fantasized that I might be victorious in the fifth one.

Ha! What a joke. I never won a point and ended up with a humiliating 0-9 score. But all the cardio did wake me up, burn off the booze, and humble me greatly. How does he anticipate my shots and reach out successfully to them for winners? Must be the speed and energy of youth. Makes me wish I’d started playing when I was younger.

At least I can still play, move at all, make a few points (some games!) and bond with my boy. What a joy to see his satisfied smile. A great way to begin the new year…Then today I played again with a friend. Love that game.

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Amazing Sugar Story

Andres Vargas

I have been hearing for years how terrible sugar is—fattening, rotting your teeth, bad for your health, like a poison for your body, causes diabetes, heart disease, promotes cancers, which thrive on it.

But a top athlete, Andres Vargas, wrote that he can even tell that it affects his performance. Andres played squash for Trinity College, the top team in the country, and finished the year as number six in the country. His college squash record is at the bottom of this post.

Hi Ira,

I just finished reading the article by Jonny Bowden you mentioned on your blog and thought it was pretty interesting.
For me, the sugar is much worse than high cholesterol foods in an athletes diet. Personally, my performance changes
noticeably when I eat a lot of sugar, but it changes slightly when I eat foods such as milk or egg yolks. Anyway this
was just a comment to the post on your blog.

Best as always, Andres Vargas

Here is a typical description of the dangers of eating sugar that I pulled from the internet:

The truth is, most American consumers are so addicted to sugar that they will deny their addictions in the same way that a crack or heroin addict might. And yet, when it comes down to it, sugar controls their behavior. If they don’t have their sugar in the morning (in their coffee, pancakes and cereals), sugar at lunch (in the salad dressing, pasta sauce, soda and restaurant food) and sugar at dinner (there’s sugar in pizza, ketchup and BBQ sauce, plus virtually all restaurant foods), then they suffer serious withdrawal symptoms and go crazy with moodiness and irritability. They start blaming everyone around them for silly things, and they may even become sweaty and light-headed.

Refined white sugar is a pleasure drug. If you don’t believe me, just put a spoonful on your tongue and observe the instantaneous effects. You’ll experience a warming, comfortable feeling that makes you feel safe and happy. They’re not called “comfort foods” by accident.

Sugar is, essentially, a legalized recreational drug that’s socially acceptable to consume. And yet, just like other drugs, it destroys a person’s health over time, rotting out their teeth, disrupting normal brain function, promoting heart disease and directly causing diabetes and obesity. The argument that “street drugs are outlawed because they’re dangerous to a person’s health” falls flat on its face when you consider what sugar does to the human body. It’s a lot more dangerous than marijuana, for example, and yet marijuana is illegal to possess or consume.

Andres’ college squash record:

Tri-captain…three-year starter…CSA First Team All-American…two-time CSA Second Team All-American…3rd on team in wins last season…2007-08 CSA First Team All-American… won the deciding match in a 5-4 triumph at Princeton in 2008- 09…2007-08 NESCAC Rookie of the Year…2nd on team in wins in 2007 08…member and captain of the Colombian National Team…majoring international studies and hispanic studies…son of Martha Heredia and Raul Vargas.

YEAR BY YEAR RECORDS
2007-08 18-2
2008-09 15-3
2009-10 16-1

Career 49-6

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Practicing With Better Players Is Supposed To Improve Your Game

Ira (in blue) with three top squash players—Ryan Thompson (left), Zack Wilkinson and Gustav Detter (far right)

Here is a true, amusing story that proves practice doesn’t always make you perfect right away…at least not for me.

I went to a squash clinic this morning and hit with four players. First was a warm up on the only court with a single—it was 10-year-old Zack Wilkinson. I held my own. Then the coach of the Millbrook School in upstate New York, Greg Reiss, who had arranged the clinic, took me on for points. I did ok, won a few, returned a lot. Then I hit with my friend, Gustav Detter, one of two top squash players there for an exhibition who was 4th best in college squash his senior year at Trinity. (You can read about him below.) It’s a joy to hit with an athlete of his caliber. Just returning a shot and making a point is exquisitely satisfying.

After taking a breather, while Greg stepped onto the court with Gustav, I asked Zack if he wanted to play a game. I was finally ready for him, and watching three days of Trinity winning the nationals last weekend assured me that I could play better in competition. I had the wisdom that comes from watching the national champions and their opponents. I had new strategies. And I had just rehearsed with two superior athletes.

I lost 5-11. Blonde smiling Zack is three fourths my size, and one seventh my age, but he could place the ball too far away. Thank goodness I have no pride in these matters.

Then we watched Gustav play professional Ryan Thompson from Namibia, South Africa, who coaches at St. George’s School in Newport, RI and has ranked as high as #136 in the world. Gustav recently won the Swedish Nationals for the first time and was in really good shape. The match was sensational. Though less than 50 people were in attendance, the level of play was breathtaking. The athletes were holding nothing back. It came down to a fifth game, and Gustav was in danger of losing. Twice he faced match points, but held on and won 13-11. He told me later, when I asked, that the pressure does not bother him, because he has been in that position so often.

After everyone left, I practiced until a Millbrook School sophomore arrived. We hit for half an hour and then we played one game. I lost 7-11. A real improvement. Felipe Pantle is there as a result of the City Squash program. He is a very strong player. He is 15 years old. I have a long way to go…

Now here is some exciting background about Gustav:

A four-time All-American, Detter left Trinity with a 65-11 career record. Detter played most of the 2009 season at the number 2 position, compiling a 17-2 record and finishing the season ranked number four in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

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Digging Deeper When You Are In A Hole

Andres Vargas (rt) and Chris Binnie (who won the 9th match in the final)

On February 25th at the college squash national quarter finals, Trinity’s #3, Andres Vargas, defeated Franklin and Marshall’s Mauricio Sedano, 12-10, 12-10, 11-8. The closeness of the final numbers doesn’t reveal a startling comeback I witnessed in what I may recall correctly was the second game. Vargas was down by a score of 3-9. It only takes 11 points to win, although you have to win by at least two points.

There were less than 10 of us watching this game on the side courts with no bleachers. The eight or so folding chairs were mostly empty of fans. But standing beside me was a Trinity team member who does not rank in the top 9, so he was not playing that day. He casually said to me—in response to my expression of concern that Vargas was in deep trouble—”Don’t worry, Vargas will win this game.”

I was shocked. What made him think that? How could he be so sure? He was absolutely certain. When the score increased to 5-10, so that F&M’s player just needed one more point, my Trinity neighbor repeated his prediction. “Vargas has heart. He is the ultimate fighter. He will win this game.”

And then something emotional and inexplicable happens…Vargas wins two more points. It’s a 7-10 game. The distance to the finish has been cut to one point for F&M, but “ONLY” five points for Vargas. Still seems impossible to me. Yet having just won four out of the last five points, the momentum has clearly shifted to Vargas’s side. Trinity fans are hopeful. Maybe it isn’t impossible. F&M needs just one little point in the next five or so efforts. But it doesn’t seem like such a sure thing any more.

Remember that the first game was very close. It had been tied at 10-10, before Vargas squeaked ahead to a victory. This was not a pushover competitor. In this game, F&M had been ahead by 6 and then 5 points…Nevertheless, Vargas claims the next five points, forcing his way to another 12-10 win.

I turned to his Trinity teammate beside me. “How come you are not surprised?” I asked. Vargas had just won 9 out of 10 points. “He just digs in and wins. He is a fighter,” was the explanation. Not very clear nor satisfying to me. But he did it. I had witnessed it.

When Andy Roddick was playing Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009, there was a moment when Roddick was up a set and winning in the second set tiebreak 5-2. I was sure—well 99% sure—that Roddick would win two points, before Federer would win five. But Roddick blew it…and maybe never recovered. He lost the match in the fifth set by a score of 14-16.

Federer just dug deep. And he does it over and over. In a recent interview, Roddick said that Roger plays consistently at the highest level, whereas the other top 10 pros like himself lose focus, have more off days, are unable to maintain winning game play.

I tried to dig deep at tennis today, like Vargas and Federer. We were behind 0-3, and I was serving. I tried to be a killer, instead of a gentleman who doesn’t mind losing. It is my biggest challenge. But I believe I can do it…and we came back to win that game 6-4. Who’d a thunk it?

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Sports/Exercise Report For February

A very physical month. I did something athletic 21 days, up one from last month, though below my record 25 days in November 2009. I am not counting four days, when I just did some push ups or wall sits for a few minutes, as compared to 2-5 hours of tennis. And there were only 28 days in the month. So I was active almost every day.

I played tennis 14 days, for only 32 1/4 hours, almost identical to last month’s 15 days and 32 1/4 hours and below my record of 18 days set in June, and below my all-time record of 42 3/4 hours. My tennis game is still improving, though I was crushed yesterday (only 6 games for me in three sets) by a player I have never beaten. I am hitting the sweet spot much more often on my forehand, thanks to a slight rotation in my grip…when I can do it quickly enough against a super fast ball coming at me.

I played squash once for for just one hour, went cross country skiing once for 1/2 hour, went downhill skiing once for 1 1/4 hours, did spinning three times for 2 1/4 hours, shoveled snow off the roof twice for three hours.

A third month of almost no ab crunches, just one 20 minute session. I went to a hotel gym once and really worked my lats and quads. I am now doing wall sits, where my back is against the wall, my knees are bent 90 degrees, and I just count the seconds of agony. This is all to improve my ability to bend lower in squash and ski on a planned trip to Utah in March.

Slight progress toward my goal of reaching 100 push ups, which I did on 10 different days…its been 11 days in each of the last three months. I had days of 51, 51 1/2, 53, and 54 all up from 50, which was my best in three previous months. The training program that supposedly takes six weeks is still impossible for me. I am stuck at the goal for the first day of the fourth week, which is five sets: 21, 25, 21, 21 and 32, each followed by a 60-second break. I remain unable to complete the fifth set, but did achieve 23 1/2 one time, up from last month’s record of 22. So this is a very slow climb up the path to my goal.

The real challenge for me is after playing tennis for 2+ hours to have the strength—both physical AND mental—to then be more active, whether skiing, push ups or other exercise. I feel like I get lazy, though I know my physical life is very respectable, even impressive to some friends who live on their couches.

Trinity Squash Wins 13th Consecutive National Title And 244th Straight!

the Trinity team in all its high-energy glory—2/27/11

The team just keeps on breaking records, in squash and for any collegiate sport. But when I watched three days of great play this past weekend at Harvard’s courts, there was no assurance that Trinity would be victorious. The crowd on Sunday at the finals with #2-ranked Yale was so large that people were sitting on the floors everywhere, standing on garbage cans, and shouting so loudly that at one point in the last match, a point was replayed when the Yale player complained he couldn’t hear himself think. This was not like the unearthly quiet of championship professional tennis. The two boys in front of me seemed totally drunk as they yelled nasty words toward one pony-tailed referee.

Amusingly and surprisingly, there were students from Harvard who came at my invitation and then rooted against my Trinity favorites. They wanted to be on hand at this historical contest if Yale should upset the reigning champs, as they hoped. After the match, one of them said he had switched sides and was for Trinity.

There are three rounds of competition in these games played on three different courts simultaneously: the first round is played by the team members ranked 3, 6 and 9; then 2, 5 and 8; then 1, 4, and 7. Trinity was behind after the first round 1-2, and after the second round 2-4, when the Trinity #5 lost in the fifth game by a score of 9-11. That was such a close match. Then Trinity won the 1st string and the 7th string, tying the team scores to 4-4. So the entire tournament would be decided by the last match of the 4th string.

While I was exhilarated when Trinity won some of the points and games in the earlier matches, and jumped out of my seat and waved my hands and fists in the air, I was totally tense and numb and shut down emotionally during the 9th match. I was too scared with the possibility of defeat, even though many around me were either for Yale or against Trinity winning yet another national title. If I weren’t such a fan, I would probably cheer for the underdog as well. But I know the guys and admire the team way too much to feel any guilt about one more victory.

Chris Binnie seconds after his historic win for Trinity

During the second round, I spoke with Chris Binnie, Trinity’s #4, and he seemed nervous as he realized how close the overall contest was and that a lot might depend on his match coming up. I told him to take deep breaths, my usual advice for relieving tension that does very little for me when I am facing powerful tennis shots.

But Chris functions under pressure far better than I do. He won the first game 11-9, then the second game 11-9. Those are nonexistent margins. Then he lost the third game 9-11. So close. But he took the fourth and final game 11-7 for his match and the whole tournament for his team.

Coincidentally the last shot by Yale was hit out of the court and into the crowd…right at my feet. I recovered this historic ball, still warm from the pounding it took and relished this prize memory I could savor forever. When I saw Chris’s smile after he had settled down 15 minutes later, I gave it to him with no hesitation.

On February 18th, the NY Times had an article about how Trinity dominates squash. It is very balanced and even describes what the Trinity coach is going to tell his team when they finally do lose a match…which all agree is inevitable.

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Sports/Exercise Report For January

A respectable month, with some improvement. I did something physically demanding 20 days, same as last month, though below my record 25 days in November 2009. I am not counting three days, when I just did some push ups for a few minutes, as compared to 2-5 hours of tennis.

I played tennis 15 days, for only 32 1/4 hours, down from last month’s 16 days and 36 1/2 hours and below my record of 18 days set in June, and below my all-time record of 42 3/4 hours. Happily my tennis is at my best level ever, though my backhand is still poor. I have learned how to lob—a great weapon—serve more powerfully and accurately, and hit the sweet spot much more often on my forehand, thanks to a slight rotation in my grip.

I played squash twice for 3 1/4 hours, down from four times for 6 1/4 hours last month. My physical activity included two days of cross country skiing (only 1 1/2 hours), an hour of tiring snow shoveling, and a half hour of spinning to try it out for my upcoming charity ride in two weeks.

A second month of not one ab crunch, and as you can see in a recent picture, my abs are less visible. I did gain almost 7-8 pounds this last two months due to holiday food and major efforts to keep eating and not miss meals.

My challenge of reaching 100 push ups made some progress. For the third month in a row, I did some push ups on 11 different days. My maximum without stopping increased to 50, up from 46, which was my best in three previous months. The training program that supposedly takes six weeks is still impossible for me. I am stuck at the goal for the first day of the fourth week, which is five sets: 21, 25, 21, 21 and 32, each followed by a 60-second break. I remain unable to complete the fifth set, but did achieve 22 one time, up from last month’s record of 17.

Nevertheless all of this effort is strengthening my upper body muscles. I read about Jack LaLanne’s strategy of straining the muscle until it is exhausted. I am doing this, and it is very tiring. I also see that my triceps are growing substantially. No surprise. I just hope that my other chest muscles will enlarge as well.