Waiting….to Play Ahead of the Game
by Alan Stapleton

May 21, 2020

Can we grow in our vacuums? Are we flames in our Bell-jars?

I write this article in the middle of our Covid-19 Lockdown period. Although can “Middle” be measured? Somehow, “What was, what shall we do today and what will happen” have become our only focus.

Apart from, “How do I pay my staff? How do I pay these bills? How are we going to get the kids back to school….? And where I can find some beers!!

In the NOW, we are isolated. We, Squash players are barred from our courts, blocked from that adrenalin-rush of competitiveness. Stopped from the release of smashing rubber on string and the thwack of ball on wall.  Now, the crack of the beer opening, and the cooling of that hot-and-sweaty body are sounds and feelings from the past. The union of friends in winning-and-losing. Gone. Frustrated, there may still be a few, who jelly-leg and ghost, who volley against the wall and garden-bat to each other. But as the laziness of doing nothing creeps, somehow the drive to drive yourself, drifts.

But we are human, so we have memories that enable us to look forward. To look to the future. To plan, to anticipate. To remember and hence visualize that next match, the next league evening, the next training session or coaching lesson. Somehow, that ability to see into the future is what keeps us going. One day… That is the frustration. Right now, there is no fixed future. Everything hangs in the maybe. Seemingly, we are held in the confused (did someone whisper corrupt) deliberations of our politicians. And in their minds, we are Level 1 “Lifers”. We, Squash Players are bad. We get too close to each other. Play together in a confined space. Body-to-body. Sweating and panting in each other’s faces. Horror of horrors. Should we ever release these people? Rather let the criminals go…

But, Lock-down, if anything, has given us time. To reflect and think. Time to appreciate, what we have had, what we have and what others, don’t have. Beers are few, but braais, they are a-plenty. Where better to reflect and think, than next to a fire. Somehow, life, and work, and squash often gel into those flames. And amidst the Hansa’s, (and now the Zero’s) answers dance.

The Corona Virus has brought us all to a standstill. We have all been forced to gear back and slow down If anything, it has allowed us time to look at ourselves. To STOP, re-evaluate and re-set. Re-look at where we are, who we are, why we are we, what we love doing, what makes us, us? What makes you, you and me, me?

Working at SPAR, we are regarded as an Essential Service, so I have had the “privilege” of only a semi-lock-down.  It has been a strange time. All that we had planned was wiped away in one foul ‘flu-ish” swoop. We have been chucked into a cauldron of busy nothingness, a swirl of new challenges. But with regulations that change, and are applied differently, daily, we have no idea of what lies in the tomorrow. New ideas have been difficult to implement. For some, the risk-averse folk, many of these ideas have been horrific “It has been tried before, did not work…cost us money…. hurt the Brand” they muttered.  Conversely, many of the younger middle-management colleagues, were excited about the ideas, and wanted to implement NOW. “Get our noses in front. Offer something new… the opposition does not have it. Let’s be different. Helter-skelter. Let’s do it. “

Business so often falls into these traps. From “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” to the “Let’s Do-it-Now” trap. Reflexive, with little thought of Cause, and Effect.

In fact, some prefer things to have been done… Yesterday. And when implemented like this, business surges-stops-and-surges. We fly, and then we must fix the rushed mistakes. A stressed period of pain, usually unsustainable profit and maybe some flighting pleasure.

Fortunately, there are some, the Leaders, who have the gift of Time and fore-thought. Intuition and judgement. A gut feel. Their minds are practiced. They sum up situations. They have a view of the future. Sage heads, who can move in quickly, or pull on the reins, and slow the process. Reflective, they see the advantages, and realize the risks. Somehow, they have a peripheral awareness. They look further than the NOW. Playing their game ahead of the game.

Let me throw another log on the fire. Open another beer. Zap another Zero.

Why then, on the squash courts, do these successful, strategic forward-thinking leaders and businesspeople turn into middle-management NOW-neurotics. Totally reflexive. Everything becomes rushed.  Quick and fit, but their movements are often jagged. Front-wall watchers, with imperfect, but not debilitating techniques, they are often late onto tracking the ball. With ball travelling faster than body, off they rush. Fast, and then they stop, or run past, where they should be. Now, too close to the ball, the next shot becomes inhibited. They have no options. And are forced into another rushed, no-thought-shot.  Length-indoctrinated, too often, they hit straight back to their opponent. The Now-rush continues. Their squash becomes a sweating, helter-skeltered snowball.  A rushed frustration of tinned pain, sporadic points and flighting pleasure.

Somehow, on the court, they lack that judgement, intuition and peripheral awareness, that calm that strategizes through their boardroom decisions.

Watch the top players. Like business-leaders, they seem to float around the court, seemingly always in control. They too have judgement, intuition and that peripheraled feel for the game. So much Time. Either to jump in quickly, or to balance, delay and then deliver. Controlled. Their opponents have few options. But theirs, is an evolving process. A flow. Early racquet preparation, balanced movement. They have more options on the ball, and their opponents, have less

Top players see the advantage of a chosen shot and realize the risks. They can see further than the NOW. These players, like leading businessmen, are playing their game, ahead of the game.

They have Time. Unflustered Time.

Right now, we have time. Unflustered time.

To re-evaluate, to re-set, what makes us, us. At work and on the courts. Are we human? Or, are we dancing? Are we Puppets on our opponents’ strings? Mindlessly, reacting to opposition? Or are we a Phantom at the Opera, quietly thinking forwards.

When our cages are unlatched, our bars unlocked, and we rush back to our Courts, let us slow down. And flow with an early-prepared racquet. Let us be more balanced and strategic. If we are prepared, that ball will come out of the corner, or off the wall. Let us wait, just a tad longer.

What can we be doing to make us better?

Better Squash players? Better Leaders.

Sometimes, waiting is good. We are used to waiting. Let us wait some more…and let good grow in those bell-jars.