‘My Point’

My Point: Chapter 6

Studies or Squash

Players encounter this crossroad when they are about to embark for higher studies. Squash versus studies is a debate every squash player and or their parent have to consider at some point. There are enough examples of players excelling in either the study route or the study and squash route.

Why Studies?

Here we take a look at the pros of choosing studies over squash.

We are well aware that squash is not a lucrative sport and players who try to manage both do so largely because of love and passion for the sport. This route challenges and takes you out of your comfort zone. The comfort zone is a dangerous place for an athlete. Being too comfortable means the player will be reluctant to give themselves a higher set of challenges.

Choosing studies first doesn’t mean giving up the sport, although it may have been wrongly perceived to be so. Choosing studies merely means being self-disciplined and taking on more responsibilities.

This new role requires the player to balance the limited time between studies and squash. Not impossible. With prudent time management and devotion, players can excel in both fields. In the long run, it helps you mature as a person and a player as well.

Another common misperception is that if you study, you won’t be able to play on the PSA Tour and the chances are you will lose a few years of playing top level competition. However, do note, that the PSA Tour is growing bigger by the day and there are more and more tournaments all over the world and there will be enough tournaments for you to participate in.

Finally, there are a sizeable number of players who have successfully taken this route. They include current men’s world No. 1 Ali Farag and women’s world No. 8 Amanda Sobhy. Closer to home, Sivasangari who joined Cornell recently is not doing too badly despite playing less than 8 tournaments this year so far.

Needless to say, it is wise to have a fall back (diploma, degree etc.) in case the playing career doesn’t work out as planned.

Why Squash?

1. It gives you a head start. It helps fulfill your ambition and satisfy your passion for the
game

Without having to balance studies and just focusing on the sport, is a huge advantage as far as squash is concerned. As a professional, time can be fully devoted to training the various components (Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological skills). Training two or three times a day will boost your game considerably.

Ong Beng Hee, Azlan Iskandar and Nicol David are three such players who rode this route successfully.

Squash after Studies?

Of course, I have not discussed the cases of players giving up squash completely in favour of studies and coming back to squash after that. The reason for this is straightforward. I have not seen anyone being successful at the elite level coming from this route.

There you go folks; I have given you my views; it is now up to you to see what suits you and act accordingly. Remember, whatever you do, do so with full commitment, and passion. Success will then be yours.

 

 

My Point: Chapter 5

Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) director Major (Rtd) Maniam is back for another chapter of the squash thought process book. This time he delves deeper into the current trend of coaching and what’s the more progressive method for today’s game.

A few chapters ago I wrote about how coaching squash should be taking on a more game-based approach. I’m going a little deeper this time as hopefully this will be of interest to coaches, especially among the states as I hope to help them have an understanding on what the trend is, in coaching today.

Basically there are four guiding principles – game-based coaching, subconscious vs conscious, coaching the intention not the action and individualisation.

Game-based coaching

A lot of decisions are continuously being made in a game. Every shot a player makes is preceded by a decision-making process. “Do I play a drop, a lob or a drive….”? But, does the current coaching methodology teach you decision making techniques?

The traditional approach comprises huge amounts of feeding exercises or closed drills. These are very mechanical and to a large extent does not involve a decision-making process. Take the following as an example. The coach ‘feeds’ you for one particular shot where the ball comes at you from a fixed situation and the player has to return to one fixed situation. This does not encourage or teach decision making or perceptive skills. A decision-making environment has to be one where the player has to make a decision on what shot he’s going to play before actually playing the shot. In other words, he must have options to play two or more shots. To assist in his perception the coach must also have options. This will help the player perceive a situation better. These are called open drills.

Coaches should give players the options to hit the ball to a number of targets during drills instead of having to hit the ball to a fixed spot from a fixed angle (Closed drills- no options). In an open drill environment, the coach, with their keen eye and experience, can then guide the players to the correct shot selection in different situations. This can be done either by telling them or by questions and answers where the coach guides the player to give the ‘correct’ answers, this being the preferred method. Also known as guided discovery.

Subconscious vs Conscious

Scientifically it has been proven that doing something consciously is always slower and less effective when compared to doing it subconsciously. So players have to repeat activities often enough to ensure that this embedded into our muscle memory so that it can be performed when needed, sub-consciously – without having to think, almost like a reflex action. This is something that needs to be trained.

The legendary Tiger Woods says, “There is a ‘think box’ and a ‘play box”. Think box is where you are thinking about the mechanics of stroke production. Whilst there are values in this, it is slow and cumbersome. However, it can be useful when learning new skills or when reinforcing skills, particularly during practice sessions.  In competitions, however, it’s the play box that is activated. No time to think. Just play, using the skills, that has been trained and stored in the muscle memory.

Coach the intention, not the action

If you want to teach a particular shot, ask the player where he wants to hit the ball on the front wall and where he wants the ball to bounce. That’s the intention. Telling him how to hit the ball is teaching the action. Teaching the action will encourage players to get into the think box, which we are trying to avoid. Let them just play to targets. The whole idea is to reduce being too rigid and to allow players to play freely without thinking too much. This also helps getting into a rhythm.

Individualisation

No two players are the same. As such instructions and communicating information to players, can, and to a large extent, should differ. Some players like to hear the instructions, whilst some like to see the instructions, yet others would like to feel it on court. Use one or all methods to convey the information, in accordance to what the player prefers. Sometimes you need to encourage sometimes cajole and sometimes firm instructions. A coach needs to understand the psyche of each player and develop different methods for each player.

Summary

At the end of the day, these are all principles that coaches need to understand. It has been around for a while now and many teaching institutions swear by it. Over time, using these principles, you will discover that players will understand and enjoy the process of learning much more. When players enjoy the coaching sessions, they will learn faster and retain longer. There is no absolute one way to coaching but the above guiding principles leads to ‘A’ way. In my opinion this is a much more productive way. Give it a try.

 

 

 

 

My Point: Chapter 4

SRAM director Major Maniam is back for Chapter 4 of the squash thought process. This time he talks about the shortcomings of the World Doubles Championships and how the game can and should be improved.

There’s been talk of why we didn’t send our programme players for the World Doubles Squash Championships that was held at the Gold Coast, Australia. Whilst I have always had an interest in doubles, the timing was not really great this time. Firstly, most of our players are preparing for PSA tournaments which I find is more relevant at this stage and secondly the next major doubles event will only be in 2022 at the Commonwealth Games. Although there are hopes that one day it will be played in the Asian Games. But since, we still don’t have it in the Asian Games, players do question – why doubles? What are the benefits?

The answer is simple. We tend to gain more government support and monetary benefits if players get on the podium, which is relatively easier than singles. Although the top squash playing countries will still dominate. On another spectrum, WSF doubles is generally not actively competed worldwide and there are many reasons for this. The lack of approved doubles courts comes to mind first. Cost is a major factor. New squash centres are not building courts that can be converted to doubles because they don’t see the value in it, nor are there sufficient events to attract players to take it up.

Except for Commonwealth countries, the only other countries who play doubles are the Pan-American countries as they also have doubles in the Pan-American Games. A few months before the event these countries start playing actively and ‘hang up their doubles rackets’ the moment the event is over. This is certainly not the way to go. I just cannot pinpoint who to blame.

Let’s look away from squash. Racquet sports like tennis and badminton are extremely successful in doubles. I believe this is so because they use the same court from the start and have an active doubles tour. On the other hand, the dimensions for a squash doubles court is completely different and squash doesn’t have a doubles pro circuit, thus there is really no incentive for players to get into it.

So, what is the fallout from this. A World Doubles Championships that does not feature major players and only a hand full of countries participating. It’s a shame really. Such a small gathering of countries should never be called a world championship. Any world level event must have some criteria – enough countries and participants. I say this with all sincerity and absolutely no disrespect to participating nations. To me, the World Doubles in the Gold Coast was a failure because Australia who did their level best to get more countries to come did not get the support.

Should WSF give up on doubles? I have to reluctantly agree, because to continue promoting doubles, without the numbers to show is an exercise in futility. All regions
must be encouraged to organise doubles events. For your info, it is virtually nonexistent in Europe. Just to tickle a few, what about introducing Squash 57 in the Regional Games. No new facilities required except for a different size ball.

Another idea for the Regional Games is instead of doubles, introduce the Sudirman Cup format of badminton – a mixed team event. This can certainly be more interesting.

In addition, I would strongly urge the WSF to focus a lot more on the existing game. Concentrate on this beautiful game we already have and make it more exciting. For example, dabble on changing the scoring format – perhaps a seven-point per-game best-of-seven games is an option. With that many more ‘crunch points’ it should make the game more exciting. Challenge tradition – be bold.

With squash not included in the Olympics and with no opportunity to get in until 2024, I would say this is the most opportune moment to experiment with things in order to make the game of squash more exciting. We need to come up with something that can rekindle the interest of the general public. We need to make it more watchable in order to have a shot at the Olympics again in the future.

My Point: Chapter 3

After a break, Major Maniam is back for Chapter 3 in the squash thought process as he details how the game has changed over the years.

The game has changed. If you go back to the 70s, when wooden racquets were the order of the day; it had a small face and was as heavy as today’s tennis racquets. So just to wield the racquet itself was a difficult process. Because of that, coaches back in the days considered the technique of the swing as a crucial ingredient. A lot of focus was put on the swing, which comprised the back swing, the point of impact and a good follow through. Also a lock wrist and transfer of weight, was emphasised. These helped generate power and allowed players to hit the ball accurately and consistently along the side wall. Today, the racquets are the size of junior tennis racquets albeit lighter. One could wield it with greater ease to generate more power and control.

Also, back in those days, the scoring was different. It was the classic British scoring system which was a hand in and hand out system where you score only when you serve. As a result, players tended to lean towards a more defensive game. Quite often, you had one player attacking and one defending. Hence, you had those boring long rallies and not quite enough creativity on court. This, along with the 19 inches tin somewhat forced players to build a strong aerobic base. The focus on speed and agility was not as pronounced as it is today.

The current point a rally scoring system has made players focus more on shot making and has brought in some excitement to the rallies and the game in general.

On the physiological side because of the attacking nature of the game players need to have good speed and agility to cover the full court and that too at a much faster pace. Current players have strength and conditioning specialists who look at developing the full range of the physical requirements for squash. There is more emphasis on strength, speed, agility, lactate training as well as aerobic demands as the game is now more explosive in nature.

In essence all the above changes has led to a much more exciting game, particularly from a spectator’s point of view.

But has the coaching style and concept kept up with these changes? Not quite, I believe. To a large extent, there are coaches still using traditional coaching methodology. Squash is a complex sport where decision making is a crucial component. Therefore, the coaches have to change their programmes to include plenty of decision-making sessions. We have to teach players decision-making right from the beginning. A lot of traditional coaches do not do that, they concentrate heavily on ‘closed drills’. Closed drills are the type where both players are required compulsorily to hit specific shots. Thus, you know before hand where the ball is going to be hit to. There are no choices to make. An example of a ‘closed drills’ is the boast/drive drill. This does not test your decision-making skills. Whilst it has its values, it should be kept to a minimum. Players have to go through lots of ‘open drills’ which require decision-making. An example is where the player in front can play straight or cross court drives and the player at the back can drop or boast. They then need to make the choice instead of coaches telling them what shot they should play.

Overall, coaching has to follow a game-based approach because that’s ultimately our goal; to play a sound tactical game.

Ends

My Point: Chapter 2

Chapter 2 sees SRAM director Major Maniam looking back at February and reflecting on the biggest story to go down that month – Nicol David’s retirement announcement.

There’s no doubt that Nicol David’s announcement to retire at the end of the 2018/2019 Professional Squash Association (PSA) Tour season has a big impact. It goes without saying that Nicol has leaves a very tall order for the squash scene in Malaysia and it is going to be very difficult for anyone to emulate what she has achieved.

What we have in Malaysia today, is by and large down to Nicol’s contribution to the sport. She has brought Malaysian squash onto the world map. In fact she has put squash onto the map of sport in Malaysia. Without what she has done for Malaysian squash in the past we will not be what we are today. I believe, as I’ve also said many times, what she has achieved is extraordinary and it’s something that no player in the present era can achieve. Many will come close, but that’s about it.

But above all that, not only is Nicol’s achievement great, but she is great as a person too. She is very easy to talk to, always smiling and there is just no air about her. And because of that, she is well suited to do the things she has planned for the future. Her catchphrase ‘The Dream Continues’ – encompasses getting involved with the PSA to promote the game; starting her foundation in Malaysia to enrich and empower women through sports and squash and giving motivation talks.

The nation applauds and acknowledges her achievements and will provide just rewards. It should be an incentive for other players because the government is now looking into supporting players who have served selflessly for the country and are now at the tail-end of their playing careers.

I know that a lot of athletes have faded away after retiring and are having a hard time in life. Back when I was in the army, we were given options to take up resettlement courses three months before we leave the army. This is where army personnel learn new skill sets that will help them settle back into civilian life. Doing something like this for athletes will be really good and I believe Nicol has played a role in creating a sort of flutter for the government to look into.

I certainly want to take this opportunity to wish Nicol all the best and that SRAM is always there to help her in any way we can.
Of course there is the question on whether expectations and interest in squash will wane in Malaysia once Nicol leaves. I believe it’s a yes and no answer. Yes, we may never get the kind of results that Nicol has delivered over the years. But no, because I’m also confident that we have players who will still deliver results. Maybe it won’t be of the same magnitude as Nicol’s but it will still be results that will get the public to sit up and take note. I would say the ball is certainly in our court and we have to get out there and get the results.

Of course Nicol aside, we may also have a few other senior players who may retire soon. Nafiizwan for a start, has indicated that he may quit after the Asian Individual Championships and is interested in coaching although he hasn’t announced a date. I have encouraged him to join our team at the National Training Centre. I am keen to have him as a coach as I believe he will add value to the team. He is easy to get along with and the other National players look up to him and obviously will give him due respect. I am also fairly confident that he will learn the nuances of coaching fast and certainly hope to have him in my team soon.

To be continued…

My Point: Chapter 1

SRAM director Major Maniam looks back at the start of January and how the results has been for Malaysian squash. Read Chapter 1 to pick apart Major’s chain of thoughts.

We obviously got off to a good start in 2019. The results at the British Junior Open were great even though we didn’t get as many titles compared to 2018. It’s important to note that we have made a lot of progress with several players going deep into the tournament. In fact, we had 16 players in the quarter-finals, seven in the semi-finals, five in the finals and eventually two winners.

This was followed by the Asian Junior Team Championships in which the girls grabbed gold as expected while the boys finished third. To be honest the boys did not play great and were a bit of a disappointment. I honestly expected them to win and their biggest contender should have been Pakistan. As it turned out we were out of form and lost matches that we should have won.

But we have to put that behind us now as the focus is now on getting the players ready for Asian Junior Individual Championships that is held in Macau in June. Then there is also the World Junior Championships that we are hosting in August. We certainly have high hopes on the girls to do well in team event. I believe the target should be no less than a semi-final finish in order to keep up our proud track record of recent years. There could however be changes to the team lineup as the likes of Aira Azman, Noor Ainaa Amani Ampandi and M. Kiroshanna are already knocking on the doors. We are also placing high hopes on Aifa Azman and Siow Yee Xian to do well in the individual competition.

If there was one thing that proved to be a downside for us in January, that would be the news that head coach Peter Genever is leaving. I’m saddened by his decision to leave as I’ve found him to be a thorough professional who has command and respect of both players and coaches in the last two and a half years I’ve worked with him. We’ve had our differences but we shared them in a professional way and we always had amicable solutions for the betterment of team and players. I really find him to be very professional and fair. Some may think he’s harsh but he’s harsh because he goes straight to the point and doesn’t mollycoddle the players. He can look at you and tell you that your game is not there but he will also tell you why. He established a cordial coach-player relationship so some players enjoy working with him and his honesty helps people understand things better and that’s what I’m going to miss about him.

PG is however not cutting ties completely with us and I certainly appreciate that. He’s willing to help out our Malaysian players if they ever need to stop in England for a stint. He is also giving his input on the possible replacement and working together with Ajaz Azmat and Andrew Cross who will temporarily take over his duties once he’s gone. I’m truly thankful to his commitment and I am going to try and make the transition as smooth as possible whilst also getting a replacement in as soon as possible.

To be continued…