What’s On My Mind: The Reality of Egyptian Dominance
by Kenneth Tuttle Wilhelm

January 15, 2014

People wonder why….? Why are the Egyptians so creative with their game? Why are they so dominant in the junior world rankings? Why do their juniors rise into the upper senior ranks so early, so often rising into the Top 20, the Top 10, and it takes others so much longer?

Some say it’s inherent in the Egyptian ‘genes’, the risk-taking, the flare. But that’s not really the truth. The reality of their dominance is in the YEARS of play, training, and competition that is common to all the Egyptian players who venture out of from their nations borders, and step onto the world stage. And in particular the ‘play’ and training regimens that are in place for the youth.

Some will ask, what about the Europeans, the Australians, the South Americans, even now the North Americans, they too are training young, long and hard?

So why, what’s different? And everyone wants to look more closely at what the Egyptians do.

But, it could be ventured that the rest of the world needs to observe first what they are already doing at home that may be inappropriate for youth players. And then consider what could be done differently.

As a coach, whenever I travel and play, and every time I watch video of squash (recorded or live), I’m looking for tidbits of information, ideas, eureka revelations that I can incorporate into my training programmes. In fact, when I observe something, I make it a point of trying it out during my own personal practice time, and then working on implementing it in to my competitive matches. Once I’ve figured out how a new tactic can be trained and utilised in a match, then I begin to share it with players.

The first thing that I’ve noticed in my ‘travels’, is that no matter how small a junior is, invariably they are playing and training with a normal, adult-size racket. Why? How can this be when there are junior-sized rackets available on the market?

Why do coaches and parents expect that a junior (in particular prior to the age of puberty) should be playing with a full size racket? Juniors who are playing with a racket that is too big, will not only risk injury, but also will not develop proper techniques as they simply do not have the strength and leverage of longer limbs, that is required to manipulate the racket in an efficient manner.

Of course a pint-sized junior can wield a full size racket, and with a horizontal windmill swing, manage to hit some sort of length. But this is quite different than the technique(s) that is needed further along as one gets older.

Using a racket that is size appropriate, juniors can begin to learn proper swing technique right from the beginning. And very importantly, a size-appropriate racket will allow the junior to learn all the strokes comfortably from the beginning, maybe even develop control and accuracy.

While there has been mention of this recently, it needs mentioning again: Why is there a rush to make players use the double-dot yellow ball? Younger juniors in particular, do not have the strength to even get a double dot warmed up to the needed temperature, much less keep it warm, when their rallies are so short.

I’ve even noted in many competitive adult leagues that the double dot is required through all levels of play, and in the cooler time of the year, or on air conditioned courts, it’s obvious that the ball is no where near the optimal temperature. This certainly diminishes the quality of play, as juniors and adults alike, when playing with an inappropriately slow ball, need to favour strength of swing over control and feeling of the ball.

Shouldn’t we have juniors play with balls that allow for more control and touch, and don’t require a constant ‘bashing’ of the ball? Then maybe they can learn to hit the touch shots like the Egyptians?

If the pros rationally opt to use a single yellow dot when they are on an air conditioned glass court, because a double dot would be too slow, then couldn’t, shouldn’t, all parents and coaches reconsider what is appropriate for juniors, who have less physical strength than professionals?

I would propose that a ball of correct speed (when warmed up), would allow a junior (or adult), to stand in the back court, and hit a full length drive, where the ball will travel to the front wall (at about the height of the service line), and return all the way to the back wall, on one bounce, WITHOUT an unduly powerful swing.

Now, my final thought, and this is more directly related to the ‘Egyptian game’. Nearly everywhere that I’ve traveled and observed juniors in training, the foundation of the game is the straight drive. Not to diminish the importance or value of this shot, but the reality is, given an equally matched opponent, the straight drive is essentially a defensive or at most neutral stroke.

Given two players of comparable ability, then we invariably get the long rallies up and down the backhand wall. Because, from day one they’ve been trained to base their game around this straight drive.

Watching the Egyptians, it’s quite clear that their style of play is based around the T and taking advantage of all the attacking opportunities (angles) that are available by cutting off the ball at every opportunity. In addition the Egyptians are well noted for their deception in the forecourt.

It only makes sense that in Egypt, young players (juniors), spend a bulk of their time practicing and training in the front and mid court (especially when they are small and slight of build). Only as they start growing taller and stronger (with the advent of puberty) are they likely to start putting in significant time in the backcourt. By this time, the typical Egyptian junior has probably 3-5 years of front and mid court practice, training, and modified game play experience.

So I’d suggest three points for parents and coaches of juniors:

1. provide the junior with a racket of appropriate size, one that will allow them to develop proper techniques, without need for excessive swings.

2. have juniors play with faster speed balls, until their physical maturity approaches that of adults, and can accommodate increasingly slower balls.

3. focus the early years on the front and mid court.

Kenneth Tuttle Wilhelm is an accredited squash coach and educator based in Asia, and writes the squash coaching blog squashstepbystep.blogspot.com. He’s been coaching sports and teaching in international schools for many years. In a previous life he was a competitive badminton player reaching the A Grade level, and briefly held a world ranking in Men’s Doubles.

What's On My Mind is a column by rotating authors.
Contact: DailySquashReport@gmail.com

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