There’s something I love about squash and how it gives kids skills for life. Could be true of any sport. But it happens to be true about squash. There is beauty in the game, a beauty that captures the imagination and the heart. There is a right way to swing, a right way to make the ball travel along an intended line, an elegant and efficient way to move from point A to point B, a soft arc to the perfect lob, a harmony in geometry to the boast, a crisp, clip to the volley nick. The beauty of squash impresses itself upon young people as they are first exposed to the game. It captivates. It breathes into a child the desire to take part in the game. To participate in the beauty they see. This desire to participate gives rise to the desire to learn. That sets up a long novitiate in a practical set of steps upon steps, as a child applies herself and learns actions towards the form she has fallen in love with. It is a joy to watch kids climb this ladder of patient learning over time, this internship in life learning. But it’s also good to remember that it all started with a child who looked upon the beauty of the game and felt a desire to be a part of something beautiful, felt something like love. A love that, having once guided her actions in this sport, can later grow stronger and guide her steps in other life endeavors as well.
I’m in Philadelphia. At a Girls U11 Gold Squash Tournament. A glass door opens and my daughter, Ellie, exits the court, eyes downcast, shoulders slumped. She has just played a third game in a critical match against a close rival. The score: 1-11. A whitewashing. She had managed just 1 point in an onslaught of pace, placement, volleying and retrieving. I was waiting for her in our little spot where we did the between-game coaching, but she sped right past me, scurried around a corner and stood there, looking terrified. Spirit broken. What happened?
What happened was Ellie stood face to face with adversity and it scared her. It made her feel inadequate. It made her doubt herself. It made her want to run and hide. I walked over and said: “Why are you standing here?” I tried to draw her out.
She hit me with a zinger about her knee hurting and didn’t I know it and why didn’t I do anything about it? An evasion, a projection. I wasn’t buying.
Ellie and I had talked about this tournament. We knew every match would be a challenge. I had encouraged her to consider not going. I was worried it would be too tough. The top 6 entrants were all ranked in the top 25 nationally. There would be no free lunches. I wondered whether she was up to it. She takes losses hard. She’s a perfectionist. She’s a little fragile.
“But, Dad, I always like tournaments,” she said. “I think I’m ready for it.”
It would be the toughest tournament she had ever played, but I reluctantly agreed. “OK, we will just prepare ourselves for it, so you know what to expect.”
One of the primary aims of our program at The T Squash Academy is to bring children face to face with adversity and teach them to engage in the struggle, to struggle well. As a protective Dad, I might have sought to spare my daughter this struggle. But as an observer of children and of this sport, I knew that if Ellie embraced this experience it could teach her valuable lessons.
Since she had chosen it, knowing what was in store, I accepted. I hopped online, clicked the buttons, signed her up, paid the entrance fee and then started a dialogue, on court and off, aimed at preparing her for the experience of going up against players whom she could not beat, no matter what, and against players with whom she would have to rise up, tall in stature, if she wanted to compete. She would need to go with a spirit that was brave and free. She would need to lean out over the cliff and take risks.
I was afraid for her. Once I entered her in the tournament, there was no turning back. I felt a little like my daughter was being wheeled off to an operating room by a team of nurses and now a process was in motion. She would face a risk of harm and loss; but she also faced an opportunity for growth. We marched ahead with a spirit of optimism.
Round 1. A bye.
Next match: Quarterfinals, against the #16 ranked player in the nation. A steely competitor. All court game. Opportunistic short game. A savvy player who knew how to use mind games and psyche out opponents. Ellie started the first game strong but faded at the end in the face of the gamesmanship and skill this girl had in tandem. Then Ellie got shellacked in game 2. She walked out of the court stunned.
Here was a moment. Her lungs were heaving, her eyes teary, she was plaintive, ready to sob and throw in the towel. “Ellie, we’re not gonna do that,” I said to her, past her heaving chest and tears. This was not a time for softness. Ellie would need to find resolve. “This is why we came here. To play a hard match and not give up. You don’t need to win out there. Just don’t give up. Keep trying!” Ellie gathered her nerves and summoned her courage, took some water and some deep breaths, and went back out. In that game, she stood toe to toe until the score was deadlocked at 8 – all. Best game of the match. She fell that game, 11-8, to her seasoned opponent, but she had found an unfamiliar gear. Courage and belief in the face of adversity.
Next match: the back draw. Here Ellie drew another strong opponent. 24th ranked player in the US. Tall, solid from both wings, effective short game. Did I mutter: another great player? Darn! Two back-to-back losses would be tough for her to take. First game: neck and neck. Ellie made 4 errors and narrowly lost 11-9. So she was in it. But she was fragile. Doubting herself. Afraid. Not free. She kept at it the next two games but couldn’t shake this fragile, uncertain spirit and it hampered her play. She fell in three: didn’t give up, but she didn’t roar. I wondered whether she was ready to roar in an atmosphere like this.
To help her loosen up, I set up some practice games with some of her friends from Texas. This would prove to be the key. She played 4 or 5 games that afternoon and then started hopping on every available court, hitting, running, smiling, laughing, sweating. A little bird spreading her wings. This kept up the next morning, right up to her next match. I was worried she might tire herself out but figured I would let it play out.
Last match: 7th / 8th playoff. This would be Ellie’s shining moment. Her opponent was from Houston and is an all-court player, a heavy hitter who had beaten Ellie 4 weeks early in the semis of the Midwest Regional Championships. She was at a similar skill level to the other girls Ellie had played, a top 30 ranked player. But Ellie was not the same today. In the last 24 hours, she had acclimated to these waters; her limbs were loose; her feet light; her swing strong and easy.
In games 1 and 2, she asserted herself, got out front, struck her serves with confidence, was the first to crack the ball deep, shuffled, stutter-stepped, and lunged, took the ball short when there was an opportunity; took the initiative; rallied and defended. Always maintaining a 2 or 3 point lead, she took the first 2 games and led 2-0. Uncharted territory!
But in the 3rdgame, her opponent roared back. Down 2-0, with her back against the wall, the Texan produced a whitewashing, a display of excellence Ellie had not seen all tournament. Power, speed, retrievals, volleys, stinging serves, and attacking shots. Ellie was down 10-0 before she really even had a foothold in a rally. She lost 11-1.
And here we regain our story at the introduction. During the break after that game, Ellie was lower than at any previous point in the tournament. She was back in the valley of doubt, only this time she had been dropped there from the height of feeling like she might win a match. She was dejected. She sped past me and semi-hid behind a corner. I followed her. “Why did you come over here, Ellie?” I asked her. She stabbed me with an “I told you my knee was hurting and you didn’t do anything about it!” As she spoke, she began to sob. Here was a moment of truth. Should I meet her in her emotions or call her out of them?
“Ellie, deal with it,” I said, calmly but firmly. I knew she had the stuff inside of her to rise out of this surge of emotions. I would call her out. She muttered something else plaintively, wanting to crumple into tears. I said, “Ellie, we’re not doing that. It’s tough out there. I know. But what do you do when it’s tough?”
“Show my heart,” she said, recalling a phrase we had practiced as we prepared for this tournament and previous ones. When it gets tough, I’m gonna show my heart.
“That’s right,” I replied, “placing my hand on her heart. Show your heart. Get out there and show your heart. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, but you go out there and show your heart.”
That was the gist of it. I don’t remember much else, and there are only 90 seconds between breaks anyway. Ellie regrouped, took in some water and some deep breaths, and went back. Resolute. She was the first striker in the early points of that 4thgame, first to hit deep, quick to volley, speedy in retrievals, strong in body language. She never led by less than 2 points and at 7-4 and 10-7, key points in the game, she produced the goods. She won 11-7, 7th place in the event. She overcame her feelings of inadequacy and fear, and rose up to adversity, as if to say, “I see you and I fear you not.”
She walked off the court, over to me. I beamed. She radiated joy and confidence like a child transformed. I put my hand over her heart – it was pounding like a drum, roaring like a lion – and said, “You did it, Ellie, you showed your heart.” And so I knew, in this concrete moment in time and space – in this little cube of the universe that is the squash court – that my little Ellie had put her entire self out there, risked it, and discovered the joy that her wings could catch the wind.
Dear T Family!
As the year draws to a close and we get ready for 2019, let’s pause to recall a few of the highlights from 2018.
In January, Coach Dee began an exciting opportunity at Chelsea Piers (a premiere squash club in Connecticut). Dee’s departure prompted Coach Neal to return to the coaching staff, which felt just like old times. In February, we hosted the T Winter Silver, as 75 players flooded in from around the Midwest for a spirited weekend of play. Our top highlights: Aanvi won the GU13 division; Alexander took 2ndin the BU 13, and Natalie took 2ndin the GU15. As usual, our out-of-town guests raved about The T.
March brought some big surprises. In the Finals of the Boys U15 Nationals, JP upset the reigning #1 ranked player in the US, who had been undefeated all season. This meant JP was a 3-time National Champ – the first time that’s ever happened in Cincinnati! That same weekend, T Founder Neal Tew was named US Olympic Committee’s Developmental Coach of the Year, in recognition of his 9-year adventure developing junior squash in Cincinnati. It was quite a month for The T.
In April, it was Aditi and Nora’s turn to make waves on the national stage. Aditi traveled to Baltimore for the US Silver Nationals, and in Round 2 promptly took out the #3 seed from New York,11-9 in the 5th, en route to capturing 4thplace in the Girls U15 division. Meanwhile, Nora traveled to Connecticut to the US Bronze Nationals and powered her way to the semifinals, where she narrowly fell to the #1 seed, 14-12 in the 5th, before regrouping to take 3rdplace in the Girls U15 division.
June brought the summer squash season and the return of our well-loved summer camps. These were a great tune-up for the Midwest Summer Gold we hosted in July. 223 players from all over the country – from California to Massachusetts and everywhere in between – all here in Cincinnati to play an event we co-hosted with the Cincinnati Country Club. The level of competition was extremely high; it took courage from our kids just to step on this stage. We had several milestones. Rohan battled to 10th place in the Boys U17 division; Aanvi took 7/8th place in the Girls U13 division, and JP stormed to take the Boys U15 title without dropping a game.
In August, we had more summer camps and the first visit of a man we will be coming to know better in years to come. Josh Saysell made the trip from England to interview for our job opening and to help with the last session of camp. A former training partner and fellow Coach in England with Coach Jon, Josh was a big hit with the kids and the atmosphere swirling around him and Coach Jon was electric. During his stay, Josh interviewed with the Board, garnered unanimous support, and was offered the job. But first, he had to apply for a Work Visa. That would turn into a 5-month saga. While that saga simmered, Coach Neal spearheaded our Annual Court Builder Campaign to raise money to meet our operating deficit. This year we raised a record $32,250 from companies and families proudly displayed on our tins and back walls. We were ready for the start of the season!
It would start with a bang. On September 14th, our biggest challenge of the year sped into town in the form of our 2nd Annual Junior Championship Tour Event. 288 of the best junior squash players from every corner of this country, and from several other countries, came to Cincinnati, to battle it out on Queen City soil for the first of five JCT events on the national calendar. A daunting task! To meet it, we renewed our successful partnership with US Squash, the Cincinnati Sports Club, and the Cincinnati Country Club, along with Marriott and Summit hotels, to wow and impress all of our guests with a magnificent display of Midwestern grace and hospitality. The tournament went off without a hitch. Five of our Spartans qualified (Siena, Maggie, Aanvi, Aditi, and JP) and each received an education in the rigors of national-level squash. Two highlights were the Boys U17 and Girls U19 Finals: contests of epic skill, fitness, finesse, courage, and grace between players from Egypt, Australia, and America. It was pro-level squash played by high schoolers, with all the youthfulness, innocence, and beauty of the amateur play.
Also in September, our first Spartan cracked the college squash ranks, as Victor joined the Men’s Squash Team at St. Louis University. College squash is a big dream for many of our players; Victor’s step was a major milestone.
On the first weekend in October, a handful of Spartans headed north to Cleveland for the Rock ‘n Roll Silver, where Caine wowed us all with his first-ever Silver Championship win in the Boys U13 division. His final match was a story of confidence, courage, speedy play, and determination as Caine went up 2-0, lost the 3rd and 4th, then stormed back like a champion to take the 5th 11-7. Later in October, a larger crew headed west to play in the Chicago Gold. The larger tournament, tougher competition. Kenzie, 8, debuted in her first junior squash tournament and won a game in one of her matches. Ellie was our breakthrough performer, posting back-to-back upset wins to reach the semis and finish 4th place in the GU11 division. Early in the tournament, Aditi staged an epic comeback from 0-2 down, saving 4 match balls against one of her chief rivals from St. Louis. Then Aanvi and Aditi rounded out the top finishes of the tournament, earning 3rd and 6th in their respective divisions (GU13 and GU15) with some impressive wins over highly ranked opponents.
Meantime, back on the home front, Rishi began an impressive job of rallying wide support for his high school squash team at Cincinnati Country Day. These efforts would bear fruit in time.
November was a busy month and November 11th was a particularly busy day. That morning, our T Spartan junior team narrowly defeated the CCC junior team in a hard-fought interclub contest. The final team score was 9-8, with the deciding match going to DeHaven 16-14 in the fifth! On the same day, our men’s team debuted in the Cincinnati Cup, a team match between the top 14 adult players from the CCC, the University Club, and The T. In a major upset, Team T won! Later that same day, The T hosted the Midwest Regional Training Squad, a 2-day training camp for the top 4 junior players in the Midwest in each of 6 divisions. Intense training and match play, with Coach Jon as one of the coaches. It was wonderful to see the camaraderie and quiet intensity of these sessions and so great to gather all the squash talent in the Midwest in one place. Especially when it’s at The T!
Still in November: on the following weekend, we sent a big crew of Spartans to Detroit for the Deroy Silver. Here DeHaven reaped the harvest of months of hard work, defeating the #2 seed in the semis, then the #1 seed in the finals of the Girls U13 division. This was her first-ever Silver Tournament title, a goal she had set for herself ten months back! In the Girls U15 division, Aanya played beautifully and earned 2nd place. On the same weekend, we sent Aanvi, Maggie, and JP to the Baltimore JCT tournament, to tangle with the top players in the nation. In that tournament, Aanvi firmly planted her flag on the national stage, as she lost her first two matches, before storming through her next three to capture the Plate 1 pool. Could this be the moment multi-colored knee socks become a national squash thing?
As November turned the corner to December, The T prepared to host our best event of the year: the Midwest Regional Championships. This is the annual tournament that crowns the Regional Champion in each of 10 divisions. Lots of highlights from this weekend: Allie won her first-ever tournament match; 25 Spartans competed; 13 notched top 10 finishes; JP and Rohan won their divisions (BU17 and BU19 respectively); Aanvi and Aditi took 2nd in the GU13 and GU15 divisions; Ellie took 3rd in the GU11 division, and we debuted our cool T Squash Academy photo banner. The weekend was a big hit!
On December 17th, Rohan got a big piece of news in his mailbox, when a letter arrived informing him that he had earned a spot on George Washington University’s Division 1 Men’s Squash Team. Woo hoo! Our first D1 Squash player – we hope the first of many! Just a few days later on the 20th, we got another great piece of news: Josh Saysell’s O1 Visa had been approved! He now has the green light to come to join our coaching staff. Josh will bring great energy, skill, and experience to The T’s coaching ranks! We can’t wait to see what he and Coach Jon stir up together in 2019. It promises to be a great year!
Happy New Year T Family! Let’s make it a great one together!
After a recent weekend of coaching Junior Squash, I was thinking about what is beautiful about the competitive experience for children and why I love to coach. The daily tasks of coaching are extremely important. Identifying the fundamental skills needed, preparing exercises to build them and test them, helping a child make progress through these exercises, pushing, inspiring, and encouraging a child, validating the strides they make.
But it is altogether different to step onto the tournament squash court with a child where they test those skills in competition, under pressure – in the face of adversity. Here something other than skills come into play. Skills must be there; they must shine forth. But on the playing field, the person of the athlete comes into focus. Here, in the face of adversity, everything a child believes about himself or herself bubbles up from below the surface, swirls about in the psyche, and has to be sifted. Has to be dealt with. The good stuff, kept; the bad stuff, swept away, pushed into a corner and replaced with a positive message. This new message, if repeated and then ratified by real time results on court, can become a fixture of a child’s personality. I know. I have seen it happen.
I have been amazed at how much personal development can happen behind the back wall of a squash court, where a child huddles with their coach between games. The match-coaching process is not ultimately about the match being played. It is really about building a young person’s self-image, their self-belief. It is about laying the building blocks of a personality. There are few fields more ripe for the blossoming of self-belief than the squash court, where a child faces adversity alone, and must marshal the inner reserves to overcome it.
There is a field of psychological insight and therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to help a person think more objectively and in healthier ways. No matter what kind of negative experiences and patterns a child may have developed in the past, one can always learn new ways to interpret present circumstances in a more constructive way. Often a child’s past setbacks and negative thought patterns keep resurfacing when kids face adversity. They often have negative refrains that re-play again and again in their heads. The coach who knows this, and who can patiently play a different tune, when the old song pops up, can impact a moment, can shape a life in a profound way, can lead a child to a place they could not have gone without the coach’s direction. This is athletics as an exercise in facing adversity. This is a squash match that charts a course toward human development. It is something beautiful.
Angela Duckworth writes: “As with any other skill, we can practice interpreting what happens to us and responding as an optimist would.” We can practice, in other words, healthy human behavior. Squash is a beautiful field for this healthy human exercise: here a child can learn to find, in adversity, a path to develop tenacity of pursuit and an undefeatable spirit. The coach’s corner, behind the back wall, is a great place to help kids grow as human beings.
As Duckworth puts it: “If you experience adversity – something pretty potent – that you overcome on your own during your youth, you develop a different way of dealing with adversity later on.” It helps if your response to the adversity springs from a skill that you have mastered, and this skill proves vital to overcoming the adversity. This happens all the time in squash – first it’s a good serve, then good depth, then good short shots, then deception, then mental fortitude – and it’s an incredibly empowering experience for our kids. These experiences help them develop an optimistic attitude toward adversity – and that is a game changer. Optimism in the face of adversity “leads to perseverance and seeking out new challenges” which will ultimately make the child even stronger.
I love facilitating this kind of growth for the kids in our program at The T Squash Academy. It has been an 11-year passion and the light has grown still brighter over the years.
I’ve been thinking about parents and kids and the junior squash scene. What is the role of parental love vs pushing for performance; and how does this impact the way kids grow through advanced squash experiences? This is a tough one for squash parents (for reasons I’ll describe). What parent among us has not felt and expressed the desire for his child to perform better on the squash court? Who among us has not lost our patience or raised our voice when we’ve seen our child show mediocre effort or play a lackluster match? Is there a higher way we should walk? What’s the role of love and performance in parenting advanced squash players? What is the balance between love and performance?
First: a disclaimer. I have been the coach and parent of national level squash players for the past 8 years and I have pretty much made every mistake. I won’t be preaching from the pulpit here. But I’ve thought a lot about this and can share what I’ve learned.
Here’s how I see it. One of the keys is to distinguish between the role of the coach and the role of the parent. To advance in squash, a child needs a caring and competent coach who can identify the right skill inputs and challenges for the child, the right memories and metaphors to call upon in match time, the right tone and reassurance to provide when a child is fragile in the face of adversity, the right kick in the pants when the child’s commitment levels are flagging. A coach has the special grace of being able to provide all these things in such a way that the feedback will only relate to squash itself. The critiques won’t descend to the level of the person. A coach’s domain is the domain of racquet and court, just as an art teacher’s domain is that of canvas and brush. When an art teacher talks to a child about paint colors, the child’s identity is not in play; it is the same when a good coach speaks about squash. A caring and competent coach will speak in the domain of sport, a domain of expression, freedom and creativity. As such, the good coach can push a child to perform without stirring up feelings of inadequacy or questions of self-worth should their performance come up short. This is very important.
With the parent, it is different. A parent’s squash criticisms or admonitions have the power to cut to a child’s core identity. Am I loved? Am I worthy? A parent’s words at a squash match can reach this level. From their parent, what a child needs is love – steady, calm, like a flowing stream, always present to the child. The child needs this love in the dark valley of close losses and bad days; and needs it at the mountain-top of breakthroughs, both small and large. This is what the parent can provide that a coach cannot.
Squash is a unique sport. The crowds, and hence one’s parents, are sitting right there behind the glass, directly in a child’s peripheral vision and awareness. This means that if there is any residue of a parent’s stern expectation or visible displeasure, the child will sense it and it will register as an unnecessary layer of emotion and psychology that a child must process while playing, whether they wish to or not. If, during the psychological intensity and complexity of a squash match, a child also has to process whether a parent is displeased or not, it is a load unnecessary and inconvenient to bear. If that weight is increased by a parent’s vocal and pointed rebuke between games (God forbid) or right after a match, or in the dreaded car ride home, the child begins to perceive that their standing in their parent’s eyes is conditioned upon squash performance. This is a heavy psychological burden for a child to carry. This will neither help the child’s deep emotional security nor enhance their capacity to perform on court.
One of my favorite memories as a squash Dad was at US Nationals, at Harvard University in March 2017. My son was in his down year, playing the #1 seed in his division, who had recently returned from injury and was not at the top of his game. In an upset, JP edged out that match 3-2, narrowly clinching the 5thgame. I was thrilled for him but felt the pain and disappointment of his opponent, whom we had come to know well over the years. It was a crushing defeat for this boy. After the match, I saw him sadly climb the stands of Court 4 in the Harvard gallery and walk toward his Dad and grandparents. They had made the trip to Boston to watch, hoping to see their grandson become a national champion. The Dad said nearly nothing, just tenderly grabbed his son’s head between his hands, pulled him close and placed a loving kiss on the top of his head. That beautiful gesture is the thing I remember most about that entire squash season for JP. It was love in action.
From my perch, I say let the coaches coach to performance, let them call forth strategies, tactics and elevated effort. Let them cajole, prod and push. But if you are a parent (even if you have to be a parent / coach), let your love and warmth and support be evident and let it be constant. A strong hug with few words after a loss, an understanding “It happens, it’s OK” after a bad day at the office; a joyful embrace after a breakthrough. Whether it rains or shines on the squash court, let your interactions with your child be a place on earth where they know the steady sunshine of your love. For what will matter at the end of your child’s junior squash career is the emergence of a young adult personality, secure in their self-worth, humble about their limitations, capable of taking a loss with grace, confident in their strengths, ready to take their place in the next challenge life brings them.
Your child can’t carry trophies with them to college, but they can carry a heart that is confident and secure because it has been loved through all of life’s valleys, both light and dark, both victories and defeats. In the grand scheme of life, the squash court is a garden where we as parents can drip love, like seeds, into the hearts of our children. Let’s take up this loving task; the harvest will be beautiful.
What is the point of competing in squash? To achieve a ranking or lift a tropy? Or is there something else that our kids can develop through the athletic experience?
In the quiet of the holidays, between a recent National Tournament in Baltimore and this weekend’s Regional Championships at The T, I find myself thinking: what is the value of squash for a child’s development? Does it lie in seeking triumphs at the highest levels of competition? Or is there some value in the act of practicing, striving, competing – even failing – all by itself?
My take is that athletic triumphs are one of the beautiful elements of sport, but the character values that sports can develop are the most enduring.
I have come to think of the athletic experience as a kind of laboratory for personal development. Kids need a safe place where they can develop and grow healthy human characteristics. This human growth has to happen somewhere. It’s not enough for parents to say: “Now, be diligent; show some perseverance; don’t wilt when things get tough; repeat your efforts in a given area and you will build skill over time; be considerate of those around you; listen and be respectful of those teaching you; set a goal and reach toward that goal little by little, week after week, month after month.” None of these personality traits can be developed in a vacuum. There must be some concrete place, some tangible activity, some specific human community where a child can work them out, like a muscle. Where a child can be challenged to act in concrete healthy ways, be given a circumstance in which to play out that action and then judge from results whether they want to repeat that action or try another way.
Squash at The T can provide precisely this: a concrete place, a set of circumstances and a specific community in which kids can learn and grow. In this sense, squash can form our kids into little scientists of the human spirit; and the athletic experience is a laboratory where they can learn for themselves what sets of behavior produce healthy, happy, desirable outcomes. Once they validate that hypothesis in practice, they can repeat and strengthen those actions until they become a stable trait in their character. This process becomes a very concrete and tangible path to developing healthy and strong personalities.
Kids and programs are naturally driven toward trophies and competitive achievements. Trophies are milestones that are good and beautiful and can crown a child’s unique athletic prowess and effort. But the work of human development through sport can happen for every child, no matter their ultimate results. This is the real and enduring beauty of sport.
A friend of mine – and a Canadian National Champion – once wrote that she wished that trophies were like fruit or flowers: that they would rot and wilt after a few weeks. That way we wouldn’t hold them up as permanent markers of our progress. The real marker that we should celebrate is the growth of our children’s character – their personal character and their place as members of The T athletic community. The best character traits become ingrained in our kids – regardless of wins or losses – just by virtue of practicing, competing, winning and losing. Things like grit; like courage and determination in the face of adversity; like patience and discipline in the task of skill development; like overcoming fear; like kindness and consideration toward teammates; like dedication to a long term vision when no one is looking; like developing a healthy perspective in the face of setbacks. When I think of the work The T has done over the past six years, the fact that we do this kind of work is what I am most proud of. This is the enduring work of a coach and educator.
Squash is a canvas where I paint beauty into the world.
In recent months, I have worked with a few talented athletes who all share one thing in common. Gifted players, hard workers, lots of potential, but when they step on stage to play what for them is a big match, something happens. Their spirit sags. The brave, driven, confident person I knew in practice suddenly looks scared, timid, hesitant, even frightened. What is going on here?
I’ve watched this happen ten times in just the last two months, so it got me thinking. What’s the common denominator? How can I coach a child through this?
I have a hunch it boils down to this: at some point, a child with talent begins to identify his talent and the results it yields with his identity. So a squash player who wins a lot comes to think his identity is tied up in winning; or that winning or losing is tied up with the person he is. When this happens, and when the possibility of losing looms in any given match, the child feels a kind of visceral fear. Losing cuts to my core identity. I can’t lose . . . I can’t lose . . . what will people say about me if I lose? Then a child plays not to lose, instead of in freedom, instead of with an I’m-willing-to-risk-it-creativity towards the win. And when a child plays not to lose, something is lost. Either they lose the match, or they just don’t play to their potential.
So I’ve been trying to find a way to coach a child out of this psychological mis-perception. Here is my take. If I’m good at squash, it’s not true that squash is my identity. Then what is it? How can we get gifted kids to think about squash?
How about this?
Squash is a canvas where I paint beauty into the world. It’s not my identity, not a duty, not a prison where I serve my time. Squash is my passion. If I misplace a few brushstrokes, or even botch a whole painting, I don’t let that stop me. I’ll just paint over it tomorrow, or paint a new canvas altogether! Anyway, in a great painting, there are shadows just as there are vibrant colors in light. My losses are like this; they have a place on my canvas; they are the shadow, in the larger picture, against which my wins stand out in relief.
Squash is not my identity; it’s a place on earth where I make beauty, where I express myself; it’s a track where I run at dawn, in the crisp morning air, when no one is watching. Or this: have you ever seen hawks soar in the wind? When I play squash, it’s like that. It’s gusting winds where I soar just for the hell of it. Because I can and because it’s beautiful. Squash is a big wave, and I’m a surfer who loves to ride big waves, who searches for the kind of waves that knock me off my board, but which, on a good ride, I will crest a long way toward the shore.
Squash is not my identity. It’s my passion. I don’t have to win; I GET to paint beauty on court, I GET to compete. When I play, it’s not about winning, it’s about making something beautiful, it’s about competing, it’s about bracing myself against a big wave, the kind that will either beat me or be tamed by me. When I do that I feel my spark. I feel alive. I feel alive! That’s why I play this game.
There is nothing quite like the joy of getting a child to shift their thinking and find the freedom to create beauty on court. It’s sport as a bridge to learning about life.
On November 30th – December 2nd, the Mid West Regionals Junior Championships will be held at The T. This is our second time hosting this premiere event. Kids from across the region will descend on The T to vie for the honor of being Regional Champ in their division. We will host Boys and Girls U11, U13, U15, U17 and U19 divisions. Matches will run from Friday early evening through Sunday early afternoon.
Hope to see you there!
Summer squash camps are a great way to include exercise and fun into those long summer days. Our squash camps are directed by our professional squash coaches and full of activities that improve squash skills at any level. They’re also a great deal of fun and build confidence, sportsmanship and camaraderie among the campers.
What do the kids do during camp?
Squash camp engages the child in many levels of squash from technical & tactical objectives of the game to match analysis and refereeing instruction. There will also be match play and physical testing each day to build practical strength and agility. Other ball games will be used for warm ups and each day we will go over to the pool for lunch. All kids must bring lunch or can purchase food at the sports club using their account.
2018 Camp Dates:
18th-22nd June ($475)
9th-11th July ($285)
23rd-27th July ($475)
6th-10th August ($475)
Camps run from 9am to 4pm daily.
To register for camp:
Contact Coach Jon via email: Jon@thet.us
*Spaces will be limited. Register early to ensure your child’s preferred date.
On Monday 13th November, Adam Murrills of England will be coming to the club. He has appeared in 12 World Tour Finals with 3 World Tour Titles to his name! He’s currently at his career high world ranking of 80.
Members will have the chance from 6:15pm – 7pm to challenge him in a full game.
Following that at 7pm there will be an exhibition match between Adam & Coach Jon, who hopes you will all be extremely noisy in his favor!!!!!!
Finally there will then be a soft ball doubles exhibition match including all the coaching staff here at the T and Adam at 7:30pm.
We will also be showcasing our new Sonos system along with microphone which was generously donated by Beacon Orthopedics & Spin.
Seats will be limited and cost $10.
Please let Coach Jon know if you would like to reserve a seat and book a place to play Adam!!! It promises to be a great evening of Squash.