Balls to the Wall: Look at Yourself
by Alan Stapleton

October 4, 2016

In my teenager days, of grip-and-graunch garage parties, the first hour of the party was spent with handbags of girls, standing, giggling and whispering on one side of the darkly-lit area, while pockets of boys, ever-so-macho, huddled just out-side, secretly eyeing their anticipated ‘prey”. Like an important squash match, these were nervous moments. where the “state of the court” is measured and competitors preen, plume and suss each other out. King William’s Town was blessed with only single sex schools, and the opposite sex was placed on pedestals and idolised. Alcohol, as a confidence booster, was generally in short supply, but if available, it was a boot-legged concoction of mixes stolen from Dad’s booze cabinet. Some head-stomping rock-n-roll music was generally used to ‘break the ice’ of this squash-like warm up. One of the favourite, “get-the-party-going” songs was Uriah Heep’s “Look at Yourself”, a wild rocker that pulled people to their feet to unsettle the dust from the freshly swept, cushioned and blanketed floors.

It’s doubtful if any of us, lusty teenagers took much heed of the lyrics, yet, ironically it was that confused teenager LOOK at YOURSELF introspection which was the cause of all that nervousness. We saw ourselves as too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, over-developed, under-developed…so the stalking started with pimpled faces and gawky bodies moving gormlessly in a mingled mish-mash of sweaty bodies, clapping and jiving to the loud-as-the-neighbours-will-allow rock screeching. As partners paired themselves off, lights were lowered, just sufficiently for the host-child to change the LP on the record player to slow the pace and allow for the afore-said grip-and-graunch “waltzing” to start. The unpaired repaired to their places, for more giggling introspection, or to sneak a “hidden dop” or cough on a furtive cigarette. And in the morning, amidst more introspection of success (or failure), rumours of hickeys and dickeys ran rife as to who ended with whom…….

At this time of the year, Conference Centres are over-booked as corporates pack their staff off to getaway venues to look at themselves. To analyse their year’s performances, put plans together, to right the wrongs and strengthen the strengths of the past year. Hours will be poured into presentations where staff will commit to sweat the small stuff, think out of the box, challenge the status quo…and then get back into their boxes, and do what their boss tells them to do in order to achieve those “stretched” budgets. A fair amount of time and budget is allocated to Party Time, and similar to those teenage parties, much Team and Self Introspection and rumour-mongering trails home, afterwards. The parties are normally remembered, the presentations, probably forgotten

Where am I going with this?

My year-end brain leads me down strange pathways. Aaah…Squash

With Inter-provincials and Winter Leagues, now just a memory, some squash players bury their hatcheted racquets in their cupboards, while others relax themselves into the more social, doubles and summer leagues where beers beaten are probably more important than results and rankings.

But, Now is the Time, that squash players, administrators, and coaches, need to stop, and listen to those “Look at Yourself” introspective lyrics. They too, need to take themselves away from the courts and review their year. Wait for January and you will be whisked away on a new year wave, and probably be dumped back to where you stand, right now

Like teenagers, many of us, are far too critical of ourselves as players. Probably, the first and most important question, we all need to ask ourselves, is “Why am I playing Squash?” Answer that question honestly, and you may be saving yourself a Uriahed heap of angst.

Whether your answer is “Fame…recognition…because I am good at it…because I enjoy it…it’s great exercise….to lose weight… I am meeting wonderful people…. gives me an outlet to be myself…. gives me an excuse for a beer”…. your answer is right

To the ambitious player, in search of squash stardom, then this “dead period “is key for you. It is ‘dead time” from a competitive perspective so an ideal time to iron out technical inefficiencies, build up a stamina base away from the courts, introduce a shot to your artillery, identify weak and strong areas of your game and to plan your next season in terms of tournaments, peaking and resting.

Be harsh, but gentle on yourself. Possibly get a coach, or fellow player to compare notes but do know that you are taking steps to improve yourself as a player, and those disciplines will improve you as a person. The changes may affect your play for a period. That is why, NOW is the time.

To the other, probably 98% of the squash population, the secret to your next successful season is to play, play and play more squash. But get out of your regular rut, and play some different players, ideally a bit better than you.

To those who head off into Squash hibernation, enjoy the break, bronze the beautiful bodies, grow that gut and soak up the sun. But be prepared. You may well be over-taken by some of the eager beavers who have sat down, set their 2017 squashing goals, put a plan together to achieve those goals, and then used this “dead period” to put their plan into action.

Me? I will keep on looking at myself. But as opposed to my teenager days, I know, I will never find perfection. And I must accept myself for who I am, and the talents afforded me. As a coach, I will keep on looking for new ways to develop players. As an administrator, I will keep on looking for new ideas to make my club a happier, user-friendly “home”. As a player, climbing down the squash ladder, as long as my gormless knee-moniaed body will listen, hopefully I will find some players willing to bash with me and share a beer, so that I continue my grip-and-graunch love affair with our beautiful game.