Watching this year’s European Team Squash Championships (ETC) prompted me to find out more about the competition and its global counterparts. Here’s the result.
The ETC is an annual competition for teams representing countries belonging to the European Squash Federation. Every year, men’s and women’s competitions are held at the same venue at the same time with this year’s event taking place at Edgbaston Priory in Birmingham, England.
Countries enter teams of four or five players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in best-of-four singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for individual games won.
This year twenty-two countries entered teams with England beating Spain to win the men’s title and France beating England to take the women’s title.
The World Team Squash Championships (WTC) are also held annually although men’s and women’s competitions are biennial, taking place in alternate years and at different venues. This year, it’s the turn of the men to compete at the dramatically-named ‘Squash on Fire’ venue in Washington DC, USA. Last year, Egypt beat England in the final of the women’s competition held in Dalian, China. The 2020 women’s championship will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The WTC is organised for teams representing countries belonging
to the World Squash Federation. Countries enter teams of three or four players
to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round
of the competition, teams face each other in a best-of-three singles matches,
points being scored both for rubbers and for individual games won.
Last, but not least, the Asian Team Squash Championships (ATC) are held every two years, with men’s and women’s competitions being held at the same venue at the same time. In 2018, Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s teams both won their events, beating Pakistan and South Korea respectively. The championships were held in Cheongju, South Korea
The ATC is organised for teams representing countries
belonging to the Asia Squash Federation. Countries enter teams of three or four
players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each
round of the competition, teams face each other in best-of-three singles
matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for individual games won.
What does it take before somebody’s resilience breaks? Sam Halford is tested when his coach pushes him and his classmate, Matt, to their limits. But when does pushing somebody beyond their limits become too much to handle?
The first, taken from the 2016 tournament, is from a match between the eventual champion, France’s Mathieu Castagnet, and England’s Joe Lee. The second, from the 2019 tournament, also features its eventual winner, New Zealand’s Paul Coll, and England’s Tom Richards.
Neither rally lasts for much more than 60 seconds but both include a range of shots which could easily form the basis of a ‘how to play’ guide for beginners. If you take forehand and backhand shots separately, I counted over twenty types of shot played from the ‘T’, the front and back corners of the court, and mid-court. There are even back wall boasts and flying (attempted) volley-drops as a bonus.
Apart from the shots displayed, the ways in which the two rallies unfold lend themselves nicely to higher level analysis for learning and coaching purposes. For example, positioning, footwork, speed around the court and the sheer persistence needed to turn a losing position into a winning one are all on display. The need to retrieve is as important as the desire to dominate a rally.
And what about the value of the rallies in teaching markers or referees? Noticeably,there’s not a sign of an ‘out of court’ shot, a tinned shot, any body contact, or even a possible let or stroke. All players involved just get on with the game leaving the officials free to keep an eye open for anything which could affect their safety.
All that in two sixty-second snapshots. I never realised how easy it was.
I can’t say I’ve ever had the opportunity to review a book on squash so when one came along I made like Peter Marshall and grabbed it with both hands. The volume in question, Dick Hawkey’s “Squash Coaching and Refereeing”, was gifted to me by a retired diplomat who, in a previous existence, had made his living selling antiquarian books. Knowing that I was an aficionado of the game he was certain that I would be the best person to provide a home for the book, particularly as members of his family had started to pressurise him, for safety purposes, into reducing the mountains of memorabilia (‘junk’ in their terminology) hoarded in his one-bedroom flat.
The paperback book, originally published in 1975, is one of several written by R.B. (“Dick”) Hawkey who served as Director of Coaching at the UK’s Squash Racket Association in the 1960s and 70s. Most of them can still be obtained via archival book services such as OpenLibrary and Alibris, and even from Amazon.
Split into separate ‘Coaching’ and ‘Refereeing sections, the overwhelming majority of the book’s content is as relevant today as when it was written almost 45 years ago. In fact, with the exception of references to the marking system (‘hand-in’ rather than ‘point-a-rally’ is mentioned throughout), the information, insights, advice and guidance presented are as clear and concise as any coach, marker or referee could want. I particularly liked Hawkey’s statement as to the purpose of coaching squash, i.e. to help players enjoy the gamemore. Having fun was clearly part of Hawkey’s approach to the game as was its social side, from watching matches, chatting with others (players and non-players alike) and drinking at the bar.
The purpose of refereeing, states Hawkey, is three-fold:
to prevent injury; to prevent the “unpleasantly ruthless player” from having an
unfair advantage; and, to ensure a “fair result” for every match. Safety, on-court
manners and fairness are the watch-words.
On the subject of playing style, Hawkey is definitely not a purist. He observes that “virtually
every player who has reached the top in any sport has his own idiosyncracies,
his own pet shots, strokes of his own invention, things he can do that others
cannot and shots he plays a little differently.”
“If,” he continues, “the correct and orthodox way were always the best for everyone, it would automatically follow that every champion was the perfect example of complete orthodoxy.” He goes on to name several great sporting champions (including Mohammed Ali) whose styles clearly disprove such a hypothesis. “In squash,” writes Hawkey, “the greatest of all time, hHashim Khan, was a complete novelty in the game. He held the racket nearly halfway up the shaft and as he raced around the court at unbelievable speed, he would improvise shots at will.”
In summary, Hawkey’s squash philosophy is based on enjoyment, sociability, safety, good manners, fairness and improvisation. Not a bad message to pass down through the generations.
Thanks to Wikipedia for entries on Peter Marshall and Hashim Khan.
Well “better late than never” I always say, or at least I occasionally say when I’ve fallen down on whatever job I’ve set myself; in this case spotting squash-themed comedy sketches.
This latest offering comes from Irish comedy trio Foil Arms and Hog who, for reasons unknown (to me, anyway) choose to omit a comma from their stage name, assuming that stage names still exist nowadays.
The group comprises Sean Finnegan, Sean Flanagan and Conor McKenna and performs on TV, radio, the stage and online. Formed in 2008 while all three were students at University College Dublin, the group’s name evolved from the nicknames each of the members had for each other; Foil (Sean Finegan) so-called because was the ‘comedy foil’, Arms (Conor McKenna) because he was ‘All arms and legs’ and Hog (Sean Flanagan) because he ostensibly hogged the limelight. All very well, but I’m still concerned about that comma.
And the “better late than never?” Ah, yes, well the sketch does date from 2013 but, in my defence, I’ve had a lot on recently.
P.S. Do check out the Foil Arms and Hog website for tour dates, merchandise and downloads.
Salazar’s effort came in a first-round match against Number 2 seed Karim Abdel Gawad in the 2017 Hong Kong Open. The Mexican’s strategy can be summarised as follows:
1. Wrongly try to second-guess the direction of your opponent’s next shot and dive forward, full length, to return the ball.
2. Get to your feet.
3. Fall over your opponent’s leg and launch yourself horizontally towards the right-hand wall to return the ball.
4. Get up again.
5. Repeat step 1.
6. Return opponent’s next shot from a kneeling position.
7. Regain your footing.
8. Watch your opponent put the ball into the tin.
Salazar went on to lose the match 3-1 to Gawad who eventually reached the semi-finals, going out to fellow Egyptian Ali Farag who, one assumes, upset Gawad’s rhythm by remaining on his feet through the entire 55 minute encounter.
It’s amazing what some players will do to win a rally.
Thanks to PSA Squash TV for the clip. You can find their YouTube channel here.
Some readers of this blog will remember that, in a previous post, I mentioned that former World Number 1 James Willstrop was, amongst other things, a dramatic actor. Since then, it’s been pointed out to me that two of the ‘other things’ may be of interest to the curious, not to say obsessive, squash fan.
First up is Willstrop’s 2012 well-received autobiography “A Shot and a Ghost.” Unlike most ghost-written ‘in my own words’ sports ‘autobiographies’, Willstrop’s book was actually written by Willstrop and, therefore, really isan autobiography and a very personal one at that. It was journalist Rod Gilmour who originally approached Willstrop offering his services as ghost-writer, an action which possibly helped to motivate the latter to go it alone as an author.
Second up, perhaps not surprisingly, is Willstrop’s role as a motivational speaker in the ‘up-and-coming and can’t-get-away-from-it’ field of personal development. As readers of “A Shot and a Ghost” will recognise, becoming an elite sports champion requires the ability to set and realise goals, overcome adversity, develop a winning mindset and adapt to changes in the competitive environment. No wonder sports metaphors play well in the world of business and management ‘role modelling.’
Third up. OK, this one is a bit of a stretch. We’ve already addressed James Willstrop’s off-court identities as an actor, an author and a motivational speaker. But what about the small matter of artistry on the squash court.
I don’t know about you, but I think that Willstrop’s execution of the “Triple Fake” or “Windmill” shot is, to all intents and purposes, performance art. See what you think and spare a thought for Willstrop’s opponent, Karim Abdel Gawad, in the quarter-final of 2018’s Grasshopper Cup in Zurich.
The rally leading up to Willstrop’s winning shot wasn’t bad either…
Thanks to the Daily Telegraph for Rod Gilmour’s review of “A Shot and a Ghost” and PSA Squash TV for the clip.
“Monday Night” isn’t the first squash-themed short film to serve as a cypher for dubious behaviour in business and, I suspect, it won’t be the last. As a case in point, French director Lionel Bailliu’s 2003 film Squash showed two business rivals involved in on-court combat of the “fight to the death” variety.
In contrast, Karl Raudsapp-Hearne’s 2011 film contrasts on-court etiquette (or lack of it in the case of Larry Day’s self-destructive player) with off-court subterfuge, both opponents happy to plot against a new colleague to further their own financial ends.
“I guess that’s the game,” says Day’s character at the death.
For some players, I suspect that’s just what it is.