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Walker
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SQUASHTALK TODAY

 

Crossing
the Chasm:
from softball to hardball doubles


Dedicated to American Squashers …

Any
Squash anyone?

What does that
mean?

As I make
the move across to the “dark side” from my own game
of Squash to the American Hardball Doubles game, life and the word
‘Squash’ now have new meaning!

To clarify…….
‘Squash’ as I know it, you
call ‘Softball’.
‘Squash’ as you know it, I
call ‘Hardball’ (whether it’s the
Doubles or singles game).
‘Softball’ as I know it is
a game likened to baseball but the ball is bigger and you ‘pitch’
under arm.

Chris Walker on the Singles
Court
(photo © 2004 Fritz Borchert)

So when somebody
here in America asks me if I want to join in a game of ‘Squash’
I still find myself asking whether that would be Hardball or Softball!
Well, from now on I am going to speak your language in this article.
Ok!

Any Squash
anyone?

Having played
Softball singles all my life and a little Softball Doubles it was
always going to be a challenge (especially as a Brit) to welcome
and convert to the American Doubles game. “ But”, I
thought, “in the twilight of one career, why couldn’t
I prepare for another? The two games both have rackets, balls and
walls. Surely it’s not that difficult to translate 30 years
of Softball experience to the Hardball game! Just a couple of games
would do it; and I’d only have to stand on the left wall of
the court hitting forehands for the next 10 years!”

Softball Doubles – the 2002
Commonwealth Games

(photo © 2004 Fritz Borchert)

I was excited
about playing the game because it would give me a chance to continue
to play at the top level of a professional sport and help wean myself
away from the Softball circuit that I loved. Having said that, I
didn’t really know what to expect.

Under the watchful eye of my current Doubles partner,
David Kay (formerly of the Union Club, NYC), I made a commitment
to learn the game and compete on the ISDA (International Squash
Doubles) tour where suddenly I was one of the younger players on
the circuit! In Softball the average age of a top player is probably
about 27 (at the age of 36 I have been the oldest touring Softball
pro for several years). The ISDA was definitely different……
I think the players’ average age is nearer 35!

That was 2 years ago, time enough to reflect on
the two racket sports and have a considered opinion on both. In
our first season Kay and I reached a team ranking of 4, so that
proved my Softball experience was useful in enabling me to compete
at the highest level. It was also encouraging for me – my career
expectancy as a Softball player was already way past its sell by
date!

The
games are different.

Hardball Doubles in action
(photo © 2004 SquashTalk archives)

The swing is
shorter and quicker on a Doubles court because the ball is faster
off the wall and through the air. With players like Damian Mudge
around, pace is also a big way of winning points – you would
rarely see a Softball pro being out-gunned by sheer power on the
ball. Something that Mudge always has the capability of doing should
you leave him with the opportunity.

A fun element
in the Doubles game, which is not part of the Softball singles game,
is the value and necessity of Teamwork. Building an understanding
between you and your partner is crucial to any kind of success.
The introduction of strategies such as focusing your attack on one
of your opponents to expose a weakness, or forcing an error because
of relentless pressure, adds an extra dimension. There is also an
evolution of skills and understanding between Doubles’ partners
that noticeably improve through regular matches.

It’s interesting also that winning shots,
or potential winners, play a different role in each of the racket
sports. In Doubles there are many opportunities during a match for
someone to play an outright winner using the angles of the court
and the speed of the ball. In Softball you have to move your opponent
around the court and wait a lot longer for a dividend from playing
great shots. This may come about because you have worked your opponent
so hard that they cannot physically live at the pace of your game
anymore. They are too tired to continue effectively because they
have been patiently and relentlessly moved around the court until
they just can’t anymore!
The instant gratification is there in the Doubles game but in Softball
you get the pleasure of seeing more of your opponents leaving the
court in a pool of sweat, blood and tears that have been brought
about by the slow painful attritional side to the game. It’s
definitely more sadistic! Jonah Barrington (ex-world Champion and
British Open Champion) wrote a book called ‘Murder in the
Squash court, the only way to win’…. And he isn’t
far wrong!!

ANTICIPATION
AS A FUNDAMENTAL

A fundamental mind set and key element in the Doubles game is to
try to always anticipate what the opponents potential winning shot
is going to be, and then sprint rapidly off the mark to go and cover
it – if any other shot is played then usually one of the team
is able to cover it. (With Softball more shots can be retrieved
at the top level because the ball is so much slower and the court
smaller). With the Doubles players covering one side of the court
each a majority of the time, the most obvious difference in the
two sports is highlighted – you don’t need to be as
fit ‘endurance wise’ to play Doubles because on the
Softball court you are on your own, there’s no partner to
carry you for a point or two if you need to get your breath back.
Having said that I would say that the explosive element (being quick
off the mark) of Doubles is crucial to success at the top level
and a bit of extra upper-body strength undoubtedly helps performance
especially as a match progresses in to the second hour.

I try to translate my experience from Softball competition
to the Doubles game ALL the time. The mental approach, the psychology
of winning and the ‘head’ games on and around the Doubles
court are pretty much the same.
Whatever way you look at it (whether it is Squash, Doubles, Singles,
Hardball or Softball) the desire to compete, to pit our wits against
another man, to play the perfect game, to execute the perfect shot
and have the chance to ‘express ourselves through the game’
is the motivation. That’s what draws us all back to the little
white room, wielding an adaptation of a caveman’s club to
chase around and swing at a tiny piece of bouncing rubber for an
hour or two!

Oh and one last thing that comes to mind…..
a characteristic that does stick out as elementary to both racket
sports is that ‘lobs’ buy time and get you back in to
the rally! Never underestimate the value of a good lob!

Happy Squashing!

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