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Finding your metrics

February 20th, 2011 1 comment

I’ve had a good week.  I’ve finally taken the mental steps to commit myself to actually exercising or dancing everyday of the week, and have found the time to do some other mental housekeeping that’s been weighing on my mind for the lesser part of a month.  As with all of these things, the problems themselves weren’t the issue – it was that they were weighing on my mind; taking up space, and unaddressed.  Once you mentally address them, the problems do two things: they turn out to be pretty minimal, and they disappear.  Your thoughts clear up.

* Bonus section for my Dad included at the bottom of the post!

I was addressing these things, reflecting on the above fact, and sitting at work on Wednesday trying to figure out why I was having what felt like a particularly unproductive day.  The question planted the seed in my head, and I started wondering what measurement I was using to determine my productivity.  Was I looking around at everyone else in the office and assuming that they are 100% productive?

I was.  And I realized that the metrics I was using to determine how productive I am were out of whack.

If you think back to the ways that you measure your own growth and/or progress, the most common metric that you probably use is the people around you.  Our friends, members of our family, and our peers at work are all people that we use to try and gauge how we’re doing.

Probably the second (if not most) common metric we judge our own progress and position in life by is advertisements and celebrities – no doubt this is a ridiculous metric to adopt, but it’s the easiest thing for us to draw a comparison to.  We also use fictional characters, or the people that we read about in the news.  “Geez, Matthew Perry was on Friends when he was only 24 – what am I doing with my life?”

The metric that is the best to judge ourselves against is the one that we use the least – ourselves.  Many of us will read that  and think “Well that’s not true – I’m easily my own harshest critic”.  This is fair, but it’s not the same thing as what I’m describing.  Being a critic of yourself means that you demand a high degree of performance from yourself.  You expect yourself to excel at the things you do, and when you make a mistake, you don’t let it slide.  But how do you determine your level of progress toward your ultimate goal?  Generally, by comparison to some other group.

The secret third group from which we draw our own metrics and comparisons are the fictionalized version of ourselves.  This is the version of ourselves that doesn’t make mistakes, and does everything we want to do perfectly.  When compared to this version of ourself, we never live up.  It’s the harshest metric of all.  It’s the person that we imagine ourselves to be when we lose sight of our own limitations.  Comparison to this fiction generally results in us saying things like “I’ll never get where I want”, or “I haven’t made any progress at all”.  Comparisons to this metric are the most subconscious, and we are least present when we make these kinds of judgments.  It’s rare that one of us intellectualizes this kind of thing to the extent laid out above – we usually just start to feel that way and get upset about it.

Thinking about the metric and standard to which you are comparing yourself can go a long way toward helping you feel better about your own progress.  This is all part of gaining an awareness of our own limitations.  We’re not the same person as our friends, and certainly not the people we see in advertisements (“Look, these people own a house and a Lexus, and they’re otherwise identical to you!”).  We have made different decisions about what we’ve chosen to commit ourselves to, our bodies are capable of different things, we have different upbringings, and different starting points (take it for whatever you like, but we have not all started our lives from the same socio-economic position).

I would love to spend every day working at my job, and every night taking dance classes or squash lessons.  But I can’t – I’ve made a commitment to study and become a lawyer, a commitment to my wife to be a good husband, and a commitment to my future to budget my money and spend only what I can afford to.  When I talk to my friends in Vancouver, it can certainly be difficult at times to hear about the seventh dance class they’ve taken that week, but I have to remind myself: they’re not the same person that I am.

Understanding what you’re comparing yourself to can really help teach you to find happiness within your means.  If you are forever comparing yourself to people that have a different set of limitations and commitments than yourself, you’re forever doomed to seek out things outside of your reach.  There will always be grass that is greener on the other side – happiness comes in finding the realization that the grass we have is all that we truly need.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not advocating that you should turn your sights entirely inwards, to the detriment of any outside influence.  It’s important to meet and discover new people, and to understand why they do things differently than us.  It’s healthy at times to look to people outside of yourself and see if they’re doing something that you wish you were doing.  If you don’t, you’ll never poke at the decisions you’ve made, nor question your choices.  The greater risk is that of falling into complacency (if you don’t know what the word means, it’s where people go to die).

The important thing, as always, is striking the right balance.  Look outside of yourself at the people around you and ask yourself if you’ve made choices you’re happy with, or if you’d like to realign yourself.  This helps you determine if your current goals are things that you still want to pursue and achieve.  If you find that this comparison leads you to want to adjust your goals and achieve something different, then make a point of mentally adopting that new goal.  Once you’ve set your sights on this goal, however, the comparison you make to determine your progress should be with the you in the past.  Look back to see how far you’ve come, and look forward to remind yourself of your goals.

Above all, just keep yourself moving.  If you’re moving backwards, make sure that you’re doing it in pursuit of a goal that worthy of you.  It’s okay, and often  necessary, to move backwards, provided that you’re doing it in pursuit of something that matters to you.  If you’re moving forward, make sure that you don’t start adopting false metrics and fooling yourself into feeling negative in spite of the progress you’ve made.

Wrap up

My goal when I’m working is to blog weekly, usually at the end of a week while commuting on the ferry.  I have a large number of ideas to write about, as I keep a list to try and give myself subjects that interest me and to avoid writer’s block.  But it’s hard to avoid this problem, so I’m always looking for new subjects.  As I most enjoy writing about what I’m doing, I’ve been thinking about including some writing on our legal system, as I see it and continue to develop an understanding of how it works.  If this is a subject that would interest you, reply to this post as a comment, or hit me up to let me know on twitter @adamquiney.

Writing is tough work, and it’s a commitment.  It gets easier when you know that people appreciate what you’re doing, or even that someone is hearing your voice.  So, thanks to everyone that takes the time to read to the bottom ^_^.

Bonus section for Dad

My parent picked me up from the ferry on Friday and we went for a fantastic dinner and conversation at a beautiful pub on Sidney’s waterfront (did you know that Vancouver Island is beautiful?).  Dad mentioned that I “should put a summary at the bottom so that you don’t have to read through everything to get the point”.  I find this suggestion hilarious, as half of the point of my writing is that I think there’s intrinsic value to be found in the journey, rather than simply arriving at the destination.  But hey, I don’t judge, and I’m thrilled to know that I’m managing to trick him into being the one getting lectured, instead of me!

So, the summary today is this:

  • Be aware of who you’re comparing yourself to, and make sure that you’re being realistic with yourself and your progress
  • Be wary of closing yourself off from any outside comparison.  There’s value in being exposed to external influences and opinions.
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Update, pure and simple

November 15th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and that is a tough thing to feel slipping.  When the crunch periods are on, it’s hard to find the time or mental energy to think about subjects that I want to expand upon; when the crunch periods are off, it’s hard to motivate myself to do even more writing.  As you can see, it can be a challenge trying to find a place to write creatively in there.  When time is a scarce commodity, the best approach for me is usually to go back to the basics, so that’s how this post rolls.  Just an update for you, and an opportunity to do some writing that isn’t schoolwork for me.

School..

has been going really well.

This past week, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve felt like the material has been starting to sink in, and the landscape is a little bit more clear to me.  We also got our first midterm grades back, which was a welcome piece of feedback that I think we were all ready for.  I did better than my expectations, and so that made the pill a lot easier to swallow, but I think that most of us were really just happy for the opportunity to be given a benchmark.  Our professor sagely commented “for those of you who did well..  Don’t fall in love with it”, and so I will be making an effort to remain vigilant as we continue onward.  I don’t know what other option I really have.

After the last couple of weeks, the remembrance day holiday was a welcome reprieve, and even though one I had a make-up class scheduled on Friday, the workload has been a little bit lighter this week.  I think that I’m also starting to gain a better understanding of how I can best absorb the material, which is making me a little more efficient.  That’s the hope, anyway – I won’t be able to tell anything for sure until I have the means to test that: time passing and more data.  So, we’ll see.  If nothing else, I have certainly been trying out a number of different means for approaching this material.  On that note…

Habits and productivity..

are a mandatory topic in any blog post.

This wouldn’t feel like a blog entry if I didn’t include some notes about productivity or habits of mine, as of late.  In the process of training myself better moderation, I’ve had some minor epiphanies, which has been exciting.  The opportunities in life for growth are really a significant aspect of what makes me tick, and so it’s always exciting when I’m lucky enough to reflect on one of those opportunities as it’s occurring.

The first thing I’ve noticed about my own habits, and I suspect, many others, is that training moderation is easier when we give ourselves the opportunity for flexibility.  When it isn’t absolutely necessary (it rarely should be) to abstain from something, a flexible system with clear boundaries will provide you with a habit that has a greater chance of sticking for the longterm.  Abstinence does not provide you with any opportunity to adapt to new circumstances, and is not really a practice in moderation at all.  Some people may tell you that abstinence is a virtue, but my own belief will always be that life and happiness are about balance, and part of that balance is the skill of moderation.

The most significant thing about that has come out of this process has been my growing understanding and ability to articulate the concept that moderation is a skill.  The significance of this discovery is that I can now begin to approach this skill with the wisdom and hindsight that I’ve gained in the past, trying to train other skills.  Never mind that – the fact that moderation is a skill at all means that it’s not just some innate ability that someone is born with, but rather something that you can make better, over time, if you wish.

Some of my own thoughts as I’ve begun to think more about this notion are that:

  • Moderation works best in a framework
A framework provides you with some kind of boundary.  It gives you a benchmark from which to practice moderation.  If you take away these boundaries or benchmarks, then you will fall into the trap of shifting baselines, a concept pioneered (I believe) by the thoughtful Randy Olsen (his movie Flock of Dodos is excellent).  The longer you spend doing something a certain way, the more natural that way feels, and the more difficult it becomes to objectively assess where you sit. (Randy applied this concept to the Great Barrier Reef, I believe, noting that the baseline for what the reef looked like when it was healthy shifted dramatically between his time as a student, and when he took his own students to see it.  The reef had shrunk and withered significantly, but to the class, this was the baseline that they would be acquainted with, and see as natural, dulling the sense of urgency to do something to maintain its health as an entity).

With a clear framework, you have an objective baseline to which you will always be able to look and ascertain if you’re moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

  • Moderation and Willpower hang out together

The more you practice moderation, the greater your willpower becomes.  Moderation, over time, means becoming adept at following through with something when you desire, but doing so in a manner that looks ahead to the future.  It requires exercising a degree of restraint and willpower, but in a manner that leaves you with reserves.

Willpower, then, can be thought of as our energy to moderate.  For your muscles, you have a finite amount of energy that you can expend before you need to back off and give them a rest.  For the practice of moderation, you have willpower.

Make no doubt about it, willpower is a finite commodity.  We all have some measure of willpower that we are able to exercise when we need to.  But once that willpower is expended, it is like any other muscle or mental quality that can be trained; we need to give it time to recharge.  The more that you practice and exercise moderation, the greater your reserves of willpower will become.  When you practice abstinence, you make decisions rarely.  You are not exercising moderation or your willpower, because you are rarely exposing yourself to the situations that would allow for it.

  • Moderation works best with flexibility

By providing yourself with a flexible framework, you give yourself a clear, objective boundary within which to work, but allow yourself some flexibility within that boundary.  Setting yourself up in this manner gives you the opportunity to adapt to circumstances as needed, and allows you to exercise an element of control at multiple points.  Part of the key to moderation is actually providing yourself with the ability to make decisions at multiple tiers of willpower.  When you practice abstinence, you train only one level of willpower – never doing something ever.  However, what about if/when that level of willpower fails you (and let’s be honest here: nothing is truly failsafe; especially our willpower)?  You haven’t trained any other aspect of your willpower.  That one level fails, and you cave with no more defences.

Flexibility gives you the power to exercise your willpower on multiple levels, and on a continual basis.  Doing so allows you to check in with yourself more frequently, and see how you’re doing.  It gives you many small victories, which encourage the growth of your self-esteem, and a few small losses, or failures.  But failure is an essential part of life; it’s better to have a small failure, with small victories surrounding it to ground your perspective, than one big failure, with the last success far enough of back in time to be fading from your memory.

Flexibility lends itself to iterative change and continual feedback, two qualities that lead to greater success in many of the endeavours that we choose to pursue.

  • Moderation can be applied to anything (it is worth practicing)

Some people will think that talking about moderation means that I’m talking about either alcohol abuse or drug abuse.  But moderation is a skill that we practice in everyday of our lives, though much of it is beneath our level of awareness.  It isn’t until you start to think about moderation as an independent skill unto itself that you begin to see its presence constantly.

Injured yourself playing a sport, but want to keep playing?  Want to stay up, but know that you should go to bed?  Know that you should be working on an assignment, but procrastinating instead?  All of these are examples of situations in which we are aware of what the correct decision is, but must exercise our willpower to overcome our short-term impulses.  In most cases, we don’t even contemplate the reserves that we are or are not exercising, make a decision, and get on with our lives.  Wouldn’t you like to have a little more willpower?

  • Moderation itself requires moderation (it is reflexive!)

Moderation really does apply to everything, including itself.  It’s important to find times when you allow yourself a little bit of excess.  Remember, the act of practicing moderation is one that uses up willpower.  The difference to be aware of is that the moments of excess you allow should be ones of which you are cognisant, rather than simple lapses in judgment.  By mentally allow yourselves these breaks, you will ensure that you keep an eye on your baseline and prevent it from becoming a habit.  You keep your goals in sight and stay true to them in the longterm.

Okay, I’ve covered off the productivity update, if that’s all you’re here for, see ya!

Dancing..

is made better by having awesome students.

Our studio has been doing well, and the classes continue to be enjoyable.  My own growth has come in the form of improving my ability to choreograph, and working on technique when I can find the time (not as often as I’d like).  My class’s progression has been rapid and fun, which is great – I’m enjoying the process of learning along with everyone.

I finished off the last term with some more work on popping and a little bit of waving.  In order to do some work on gliding, I decided that we would work on a little bit of gliding at the start of two or three of our classes.  Partially to warm the class up, and partially because gliding can be a very disheartening skill to learn when you first tackle it: the balance required is slow to build, and it can be painful on your calf muscles.  Additionally, it’s just not a way that we’re normally geared to move, so there’s a reasonable amount of muscle memory that needs to be trained.  We also added in some new fundamental techniques, some of which I’d just been shown this summer, like the popcorn.

Two of my friends from school came and checked out my first class of the new term, which was a lot of fun.  Because we hadn’t done it much last term, and because I love it so much, I started the first term off with some locking.  I went through some fundamentals with the class, and then began putting some choreography toward the end.  We went considerably far back, starting with the Watergate, a social dance that Sugarpop taught me this Summer, and that ties in directly with the lock from which the dance gets its name.  The fundamental movements that we went over this class included:

  • The pace
  • Uncle Sam point
  • Giving yourself five
  • The lock
  • The pimp walk
  • The scoobot

I have never taught some of these before, so it was a lot of fun figuring out how best to convey this information to the class, and seeing how people handled learning some of the new movements (some of them much better than I did when I was learning!)

The next class I reviewed the choreography that we had learned so far and we then moved to tutting.  The class all groaned when I announced that this was what we would be doing next class, so I was happy to see that most people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Tutting can be a frustrating art to learn; it requires moves that demand a good deal of flexibility in your fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  Though lots of people work on flexibility in their lower body, it is less-often exercised from the forearms down.

I was disappointed to see that one of the students that had shown considerable promise last term didn’t return, but I saw some other new students in his place, so things balance out, as they usually do.

Squash..

still rules.

But I’m not getting to play it as much as I’d like.  I have been biking to school, and teaching dance classes, so my fitness and flexibility have not suffered to a great extent, but my touch is starting to fade as time goes on and I don’t have the opportunity to hit the ball as often as I’d like.  I have been playing on the squash ladder at school, which is a lot of fun and a good way to meet new friends, but the level of play isn’t equivalent to that which you would find at a club that is dedicated to squash.  Still, it does give me an opportunity to work on my length, and it’s a lot of fun.  I’ll take squash wherever and whenever I can get it!

And that..

is it.

That’s the end of the update for now.  Although my updates will continue to be sparse while I’m in school, I absolutely intend to continue writing.  If I stopped doing this, I think that I would have lost a significant aid to my own growth and potential.  Thanks for continuing to read, and stay tuned!  Please leave me a comment if you have any questions related to the content I post, or the subjects I write about.  I’m always looking for more inspiration to fuel writing, and if it comes from without, it saves me some of the mental energy required to come up with new ideas.

Frustration

July 24th, 2009 3 comments

Argh.

You ever have those periods of time when you feel like there are things you should be doing, and you’re not doing them?  Or where you can tell there’s something intangible pulling at the back of your head, but you just can’t place your finger on it?  Or maybe you come home from work and feel like you should actually be doing something, but instead you just sit in front of the TV?

I’m sure you have, because we’re all human, and this is just a natural part of the cycle we go through on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis (the frequency is different for everybody).

The more I learn to practice GTD effectively, the less often I feel this way, as I can allow my brain to embrace the mind like water ideal, and return to old ideas when I see fit.  Still, it is impossible to feel and act productively one hundred percent of our time, and so the goal must be to maximize the amount of time we can exist in this state, and learn to accept (and yes, minimize, though this is less important than acceptance) the times when we do need to feel the way I currently do.

As an exercise to break out of this mental state, I write.  As of late, two things have been on my mind more anything else: squash and dancing.

I hav been dancing a lot lately, as we are running two jam sessions a week at Vibestreet Dance, and that requires that I come up with something to teach twice a week.  I can’t even rely on teaching the same thing twice, as the same students may show up, and I end up feeling guilty about not being able to provide something new to them.  Maybe this is just something that I need to get over, as part of this whole exercise should be of benefit to myself, not just my students. A teacher that is not gaining something from each lesson that they teach is not missing out on part of the teaching experience, as are their students.

I have taken a couple of workshops lately, and they have been very helpful in showing me new ways of teaching something, as well as many new techniques that I would like to work on and incorporate into my own styles of movement.  Recently, I’ve been given lessons in breaking, locking, popping, and house dancing.  That’s a lot of stuff!  Getting lessons in these new styles of dance is awesome, and is opening up my awareness and broadening my own inspiration to a great extent. However, this only results in frustration if I can’t find the time to actually practice what I’m learning.  House, locking, and breaking are all very new styles to me, and really require that I take the time to sit down by myself and practice the basics. This is hard to do at home because of the way I have been feeling.

Even though I’m a reasonably experienced popper, I will never be fully satisfied with my level of skill (this is kind of a general theme for my approach to things I’m truly passionate about).  I often hesitate to teach something in class that I haven’t had the time to sit down with and internalize. Part of the solution here, I suppose, is just accept that nobody’s perfect, and that even if I’m still learning something, I can help the class with it.  One of the things that I really want to avoid is attempting to show my students something that I’m still learning myself, and in doing so, teach them bad habits, or end up getting them frustrated as I cannot break it down very well.

If you’ve read through the paragraph above, you’ve just seen me provide myself with some therapy, as I think I’ve come up with the solution to my first problem – just do it, and don’t worry about whether or not the class is disappointed that I’m not perfect at a move.  We all need to learn, and there’s nothing wrong with learning along with the rest of the class. Even better if I can provide a tiny bit of direction to help them along the right path.

The other thing that I think I probably need is a couple of sessions in the park with my ipod to just go over the techniques that I’ve been taught lately and internalize those. In GTD we have the concept of an open loop – something that requires action and is tugging at our mind.  Everything that I’ve learned lately is sitting in that same space.  It’s occupying space in my head, saying “You should put some time into working on me, otherwise you’ll lose this knowledge”.

The other thing tugging at my mind has been squash. Although my opportunity to increase the amount of time and effort I’m putting into dancing has been incredible, and something that I’ve wanted to do for a looooong time, it’s taken away from my ability to play squash. Although I’ve certainly been keeping myself fit (dancing requires a lot of energy, and I’m riding my bike as often as possible), I can feel the rust starting to creep up on my squash game, and this drives me nuts.  Part of the reason for that is because I trained so hard this past season, and was really feeling good about where my efforts had led me. 

Although all of our hobbies should be things that we do for fun, and don’t become a burden on our mind, it’s difficult for someone like me to make that leap and just let something be.  That’s the nature of life though – if you want to do more of one thing, you are going to have to sacrifice something else.

In an effort to have my cake and eat it to, one of the projects I have set aside for myself to take on once I end my tenure at work, is biphasic sleep.  The notion of biphasic sleep sounds extremely silly when you initially hear about it: go to sleep more frequently in order to sleep less overall.  With one single phase of sleep during a twenty-four hour period, our body generally requires eight hours of sleep.  However, by breaking our sleep up, we are able to train our body to fall into REM sleep more quickly (which is the part of sleep that is evidently important), and thus require less sleep overall.

Although some people are absolutely insane and have managed to function quite effectively (arguably more effectively, if some of the blogs out there are to be believed) on as little as six twenty-minute naps a day (that’s a mere two hours of sleep in a twenty-four hour period!), the goal I’m setting for myself is quite a bit more modest, and is based on the Hispanic tradition of siesta. The aim is to reduce my core sleep period to about five or six hours, and supplement that with a twenty-minute nap in the evening.  In doing so, I will be able to create (as though by magic) an extra two hours of spare time, everyday.

This almost sounds too good to be true, and it very well may be.  However, I enjoy an experiment as much as the next guy, so we’ll see how things go.  I could end up with an extra two hours of spare time every night (which may also be essential, if the workload required for Law is what I’m told it is), or I could fail spectacularly, in which case I will have spent a couple of weeks deprived of sleep, and return to my normal monophasic sleeping schedule.  The worse-case scenario doesn’t strike me as that bad, so why not try it right?

Anyhow, I think that’s a sufficient ramble.  Our drop-in sessions at Vibestreet have been growing steadily, and last Monday we had about twelve people in attendance to learn some popping from myself, and some breaking from Steve (good strength training!).  If you’re interested in learning more about any of this, drop a comment and I can blog and elaborate further.

Goal check-in

January 11th, 2009 No comments

It’s just shy of two weeks after the new year, so I think that it’s a good time to check in with myself after the goal I set towards the end of last year to focus heavily on fitness and healthy eating. As I mention in the blog post I’m planning to publish shortly after this one (just needs editing now), I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. However, I’m absolutely in favour of setting goals that are achievable, pursuing those goals, and treating failures or stumbles as an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and determine if you need to set your immediate goal a little lower, or stay the course. So, that’s really what this is – a chance for me to check in, see how I’m doing, evaluate my progress, and then see if I need to change.
So, what were the goals? Nothing particularly specific, mostly that I wanted to be mindful of my calories, cut back on drinking, and though I hadn’t mentioned it explicitly, I wanted to make sure I was getting in exercise about six days a week and lifting weights five days a week. When I say exercise, I really mean something aerobic. Lifting weights burns calories, but nothing compared to squash, running or biking. I treat weightlifting as a cross-training exercise.
I was using livestrong.com for a while to keep track of the calories that I was eating on a daily basis. Livestrong is a great tool for this, and I highly recommend it. What did I learn? Well, I was eating about 20% more calories, on average, than I needed to. For those that are curious, this, for me, was roughly 400 calories a day. Cutting that many calories is not that difficult if you are aware of it and willing to make changes to do it. Just not eating is the worst approach, because it’s not sustainable. I made the changes I wanted to by making sure I had healthy snacks at work (fruitsource fruit bars and fresh apples, cheesestrings, low-fat whole grain crackers, and granola bars – make sure they aren’t dipped in chocolate or peanutbutter though) cutting back on drinking (more on that shortly), and snacking less late at night.
Now that I’ve got a general feel for how many calories I’m eating daily, what the number of calories that something contains is, and how many calories I need, based on my fitness regime, I haven’t been using livestrong very much. I think this is fine, since the website was only there as a tool to help me achieve my goal, not the goal itself. I may start using the website again if I feel that I’m starting to slip and eating gluttonously (note: this doesn’t mean drinking one extra beer, it means eating three chocolate bars in a day), but otherwise, I don’t feel like I need it anymore.
Did this change make a difference? Well, it’s tough to say. When I started, I weighed about 190 pounds. When I weighed myself at my parents, right before the start of the holidays, I was roughly the same weight. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure though, as I’ve been working out five times a week, and I (and Bay) can tell that I’ve been putting on muscle-mass. As a result, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shed unneeded fat, and replaced that with heavier muscle tissue. Sounds pretty good to me. I’m going to chalk this goal up as a success so far.
Am I going to continue on with this? Absolutely. I don’t set my goals as something that I achieve and then discard, and neither should you. This goal is intended as a lifestyle change, so now that I’ve determined where I want to be, I will keep at it. The benefit is that it only gets easier from here, since the habit is setting in.
How about cutting back drinking? Well, I approached this goal by initially cutting out all of my alcohol consumption, and then gradually re-introducing. This allowed me to re-calibrate myself, and gave me a fresh benchmark from which to determine how much drinking I felt comfortable (from the point of view of obtaining my goal) doing. I also bought, and continued to stock my fridge with, O’Douls non-alcoholic beers. They make a lager and an amber, and although I normally prefer medium to dark beers, I think their lager is the better of the two. Non-alcoholic beers aren’t great, but they’re not horrible. When I come home from a squash match, I feel better about myself cracking open a non-alcoholic beer with 60 calories than I do a regular beer with twice that. Plus, it has a small placebo effect on me that partially quenches my desire for alcohol.
Why don’t I just stop drinking completely? A couple of reasons. The most obvious one, to me, is that I enjoy it. I love the taste of beer, I love drinking with my friends, and I love some irish cream in my tea on a rainy day. Put simply, I don’t want to stop drinking completely, so trying to set this as a goal is just a way to set myself up for failure. I want to make sure I’m always setting goals for myself that are reasonable, and inline with my personality. Anything else is a waste of my time. The second reason, and this is similar to the first, is that it’s something I do with my friends, and is a part of the squash community. Having a beer with a friend after a tough squash match, or when working on their computer, or just hanging out – these are all things from which I derive great pleasure, and I don’t want to remove those from my life.
I think I was pretty successful in attaining my goal. As I mentioned above, I was successful reaching my caloric goal, and cutting back on drinking definitely helped towards this. I essentially cut out having more than one beer after a squash match, and stuck to drinking non-alcoholic beers at home on the weeknights. I’m pretty happy about this result, and I’m going to give myself a checkmark on this goal too.
Hey, how about those holidays? Well, I made a decision heading into the holidays. I decided that I would allow myself to open up the gates, cut loose for two weeks, and then tighten back up. I did this because I know that I possess a finite amount of willpower, and I know that the holidays are a time when there are a lot of opportunities to eat and drink. If I tried to restrict myself during this time, I would probably be miserable, annoyed, and severely stretching the limits of my willpower. Atheletes know that to train effectively, you need to spend time throughout the year where you give your body a rest and let it recuperate. The mind is no different, and if you’re exercising your willpower, you also need to make a point of giving it downtime where you don’t have to exercise it.
Incidentally, I read a study recently that had tested whether or not your willpower was affected in the long term each time you tested it, and this turned out to be true. This means that if you have a goal to not buy clothes at all this week, and you go window shopping once every day, you will be weakening your willpower each time you go window shopping. If you want to maintain your willpower, the best way to do it is to avoid situations where it will be tested altogether. (I’m not advocating that you should cut yourself off completely from something you enjoy doing. Just be mindful of the fact that you’re weakening your resolve each time, and keep this in mind before making the decision).
The last goal was to focus on fitness. Generally I try to avoid setting goals that aren’t measurable. I mean, how can you check in with yourself on a weekly basis and ask yourself if you’re really “focusing on fitness”? I actually had something more specific in mind when I decided on this approach though, as mentioned above. Weights five times a week, and no more than one or two days a week without any aerobic exercise.
So how did I do? Well, the first step was getting my bike back from being stored at my parents. It turns out I really like biking, so this made things a lot easier. If I didn’t have a squash game booked, I now had two options that I could pursue instead: jogging or biking.
Generally speaking, I think this goal is the one I am most proud of. I’ve managed to continue with my lifting regime for at least two months now (probably closer to three), and I don’t find that it is cutting into any other part of my life. This is a pretty ideal situation for a goal that involves establishing a change in your lifestyle. If, after pursuing it, you can look at your current daily routine and not feel dread or like you are going to have to make drastic changes to fit something in, you’ve achieved your goal. Like I mentioned before, I’ve noticed a visual difference, and I definitely feel stronger. But, looking any different was not my goal. Let’s check in with the rest of the goal.
To further this goal, I’ve been getting up early some mornings to go jogging with Bay. Bay is part robot and able to achieve her fitness goals based on seemingly impossible conditions, such as having five hours of sleep, but I’m not, so it’s been a challenege some times to get up. Jogging is a great way to condition your heart and lungs, and with a set of headphones and an iPod, it’s very enjoyable. I load up my iPhone with my favorite skeptically-themed podcasts and spend an hour learning while I’m jogging.
As far as being successful, I would say that this goal has been my most successful. I have been training hard on the court, and my game has improved thanks to my efforts, and the excellent coaching of Mike Johnson. However, on top of that, I have absolutely noticed that a higher level of fitness has made a huge difference. I can play in long grueling rallies with the confidence to know that I have the energy and the conditioning to make it through to the end. After a tough rally, I’m recovering my breath faster than before, and in rallies where I’m really chasing the ball to recover, I can make a good shot, settle in, and get back my wind to continue onwards.
All of that aside, the most significant change I’ve noticed has been mental. With a higher level of fitness, I have the confidence to play the best shots in a rally. The funny thing about squash is that the more tired you become, the more inclined you are to play low percentage shots. These are shots that will only be effective a low percentage of the time, but will outright win you the rally when they do win. Generally speaking, you should steer clear of these shots, especially when you’re locked in a difficult rally. However, when you start to get tired, your mind plays tricks on you, and tells you “End the rally now, don’t keep hitting the safe shot up and down the wall. Just put the ball away and win”. With a higher level of fitness, I can quash this voice and say “Sucks to your assmar Piggy, I’m playing safe shots up and down the wall until an opportunity to apply pressure to the opponent presents itself”.
So, definitely a checkmark goes to this goal. As an added benefit, coming back from holidays was much less brutal than I had expected, likely just because I had a fairly high level of fitness going into the ‘days, and so even given the excessive eating and drinking, I was still able to come back afterwards feeling relatively fit.
How about the process of getting back into the swing of things after the holidays? Well, by the end of two weeks, I was pretty much ready to get back into things. I’d had more than enough to drink, loads of junk food, and generally I was feeling pretty lazy. This is generally the way everyone feels when they make their new year’s resolution – fed up with their excess, and ready to get on the healthy wagon. The only difference is that I’m just returning to the same gradual process that I put into place earlier this year, rather than making a giant sweeping change.
So, that’s about it. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone reading that is trying to come up with a different way to set and achieve goals. In summary – set achievable goals, pursue them, check in, and revise as needed.

Fitness Update

November 23rd, 2008 No comments

Fitness
Blog entries have been few and far between as of late, and there’s a number of factors involved. Now that the US election has wound down, there has been less lunacy to blog about. Fallout 3 was released about a month ago, and although I wouldn’t call myself a video game addict by any stretch of the imagination, I’m definitely keen to immerse myself fully when a good game comes out. Work has been extremely busy, and I have also had some contract work ongoing throughout the last month or so.

All of these factors have kept me from finding myself with the spare time that usually breeds creativity and inspiration to blog.
Given how busy I have been, I’m particularly pleased that I’ve been able to maintain my fitness routine and continue driving towards my related goals. For most of us, exercise and healthy eating are the first things that we sacrifice when time becomes tight and more pressing issues arise. So, mostly for my own documentation process, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been able to keep up with.

  • Eating healthy
  • I’ve stayed on top of entering my food into livestrong.com‘s calorie counter, and that has proven to be a pretty good resource. They also released an application for the iPhone, but it sucks and crashes constantly. Even so, the online calculator is very functional and has been excellent for my needs. Being obsessive and neurotic about what you eat is dangerous, and falling into that trap can be a slippery slope. I notice that having an idea for how much I have left to eat for the day helps me remain mindful of what I’m eating.

    I don’t hold myself to any particular amount (if I’m hungry and I will go over the number of calories I would normally eat in a day, I say screw it and eat anyhow), but I’ve noticed that by being aware, I snack less.
    It’s also been interesting to notice how tracking food has caused me to move towards eating healthier foods. When I notice I’m hungry and want to snack, being aware that a bunch of hearty trailmix has the same amount of calories as a chocolate bar makes it a lot easier to choose the one that I know will sustain me longer.

  • Biking
  • Man, am I keen on biking. My parents bought me a mountain bike as a graduation present when I left UVic, and although I got a lot of use out of it initially, once I moved downtown, we had to store it with them due to space issues. Now that Bay and I have a condo, we’ve got much more room to store it, and designated areas in our parkade to lock it up.
    Since my main atheletic pursuit is squash, my main goal for cross-training is something that is low impact and will help develop my cardio. Biking is the optimal choice, since there’s no impact on the joints and Victoria is very well suited to the sport.

    Beyond all of that though, I’ve found biking to be very meditative. Even though I don’t buy into the spiritual aspect of buddhist and zen philosophies, I’m definitely a believer in the power of reflection, introspection, and meditation. Giving yourself the time to sort out your thoughts, consider how you’re feeling, and reflect on your day, week, or year is something I consider essential to happiness and living a relaxed life. Bicycling, if you can find the right route, lets you fall into a comfortable (and sometimes difficult) rhythm of physical activity, and frees your mind to travel whereever it wants.

  • Jogging
  • Okay, so, it’s not the best idea, since I’m already putting plenty of wear on my knees on court, but I really do like jogging, and if I balance things out, I figure I’m okay to go for a jog a few times a week. Jogging is also very meditative, and has a lot of the same qualities that biking does. As an added bonus, I can load up podcasts on my iPod and listen to those while I jog (I do it when I bike too, but have to settle for one ear and low volume if I’m biking on roads).

    Podcasts are a great way to learn when you’re on the go, and you really do yourself double duty having one of them on while you exercise (I like to get a mental sweat as well as a physical one).
    Bay’s a big fan of jogging too, so we can usually get a couple of runs in on the weekdays if we get up early enough. Starting the day off with a good jog is a great feeling, and it makes the day a lot easier to get through.

  • Weight lifting
  • I started off training with weights because I realized I had a lot of time in between each Virtua Fighter match I was waiting to have start. Lately I’ve been playing different games, or doing other things, but the training has remained. It’s easy to fit a set in between doing things like folding laundry, washing dishes, etc., and not having to devote a specific block of time to it makes it very easy to continue.

    Lifting weights is especially good for a squash player, since the sport is very athletic, but mostly utilizes one half of your body. Weight lifting is a good way to help balance out the development, so that I can avoid looking like I an athelete on one side, and polio victim on the other.
    Lastly, if you need superficial motivation, lifting weights makes you look good and may boost your self-esteem. I’m not above caring about the way I look, and seeing the results of working out definitely doesn’t hurt the motivation.

  • Squash
  • Although my main goal this year is abstract, and to maintain a high level of fitness, I want to see the biggest gains in my squash game. My training partner Brendan and I are making a real effort to consistently hit with our coach, Mike, once a week, and do drills with each other one other day each week. In between that, I play games whenever I can.
    I’m noticing small improvements in my game, but the fitness regime I’ve set for myself has definitely made a difference. When we drill with Mike, which is extremely hard work, I’m catching my breath much faster, and can push through the grueling parts of the drill for longer than I previously could.

    These are small subtle gains, but they make a big difference in the long run of a squash game, where the person that starts to run out of gas first starts to make poorer shots, then needs to run more as a result, and so on ad infinitum. It’s a vicious cycle to break once it gets started.
    Squash can become a very mental game when you’re playing someone at a similar skill level to yourself, and simply knowing that you’ve trained well and have pushed through being this tired in the past can be a big boon. The player with the discipline to play safer shots that result in longer rallies will usually be the player that ekes out the victory in a close match.

So that’s where things are now. So far I’ve stayed on track with my goals, and am pretty happy with my progress. The real challenge will come when something new and time-consuming pops up. New video games are one thing, but large projects can have a bad habit of pulling you away from your routine.

Blogging about it so far has been a good experience. A common theme you’ll notice in blogs like Get Rich Slowly and I Will Make You Rich is that they recommend blogging or writing in forums about your own progress. Doing so will allow you to provide yourself with a measure of accountability, even if it is just to your anonymous readership. You will also be able to revisit your goals and your progress to date, excellent ways to stay motivated.

This approach has worked very well for me, and may or may not do so with you. However, if you want to make some changes in terms of your health and fitness, here’s what I recommend:

  • Set some goals for yourself
  • Having goals is an important way to stick with something. The key to setting goals is to set something that is measurable. Simply telling yourself “I’m going to jog every week” is not enough, because that’s difficult to track and to stick to. You can put off jogging until the next day. A goal like “I’m going to jog every Monday” is much better, because you have a specific date that you are going to stick to.

  • Figure out how much you’re eating
  • Healthy eating should be a fitness goal. Diets are garbage, and an awful idea. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of studies show that dieting, in the long-term, actually contributes towards increasing your weight, rather than decreasing it. You will definitely see short-term weightloss, but once you go off that diet, your body will see it as an indiciation that food is a scarcity, and start packing on fat for the next scarcity.

    Just like budgeting properly, before you can even figure out what you need to do, you need to figure out what you’re currently doing. Set a goal to track what you are eating for a week, and start using a tool like The Daily Plate over at livestrong.com. Don’t make any changes, just track what you’re eating. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have an idea of what your daily diet looks like. Maybe you’re eating less than you thought, or maybe you’re eating more. Once you know, then you can start making decisions as to whether you want to eat more or less.

  • Track your progress
  • Once you’ve figured out what goals you want to attain (and start off with small, easy to achieve goals – you can always increase later), come up with some way to track your progress. I like to blog about it myself, but you can use a journal, blog, online tracker, or any other measure. Just give yourself some way of tracking how you’re doing.

  • Check in with yourself
  • At the end of the week, evaluate your progress and determine how you’ve done. Did you meet your goal? If not, how come? Maybe your goal was too large? If jogging twice a week was too hard to meet, adjust your goal to once a week, and go from there.
    Above all, don’t give up, stick with it.

Fitness Goals for 2009

October 3rd, 2008 No comments

More in the realm of minutiae from our hero’s blog today..

I’ve been playing squash competitively for four years now. I love the sport, and it’s nice to have something that is both a very good method for maintaining fitness, and also a very fun sport.

On top of all that, the game has a very strong strategic component to it, and it is an extremely social sport. These are all aspects that bode well for my particular character, and help motivate me to stay focused and develop drive to continue improving.

However, I’ve never really approached squash with particular fitness goals in mind. The aim for me has always been to improve, but always with the main focus being that I wanted my shots to improve.

This past season I saw some reasonable improvement, though I wasn’t improving quite as quickly as I would have liked. That being said, the higher up in level you improve, the more you start to see the phenomenon of diminishing returns. Greater effort for less improvement.

This year I’m taking a new approach. My goals are certainly to see an increase in my squash game, but also to set some tangible fitness goals that I can drive towards. I would consider myself a very fit person for my age. I play squash four to five times a week, I jog, I lift weights, and I also make an effort to walk or bike instead of driving whenever I can. I try to eat healthy, I don’t smoke, and I drink a lot of water throughout the day.

K, that was pretty obnoxious, but necessary. Here are the areas that I would like to make some improvements towards this squash season:

  • Less regular drinking
  • Boy, do I love beer. It tastes delicious, I love drinking it with friends, and yup, sometimes I love drinking too much of it. I’m comfortable with this, it’s good to have some vices. However, if I can cut back on the amount of beer that I’m drinking on a regular basis, I will be able to cut back on the number of excess calories that I’m dumping into my system on a weekly basis.

    How do I intend to do this? Easy – just being mindful of when I crack a beer, and thinking about the number of calories that each beer has. This doesn’t mean that I intend to stress about every single beer that I crack – just that I’m aware and mindful of them.

  • Cut back on excess calories and trim off some extra weight
  • Summer was good to me, and filled with lots of decadent eating. I’m anything but overweight, but I would like to trim down for the season and minimize the amount of extra weight that I’m carrying around. Actually, I should rephrase that. My goal isn’t to lose weight. It’s to turn any extra fatty tissue that I’m carrying into muscle.

    To accomplish this goal, the first thing I’m doing is just taking note of the number of calories I eat every day. A little while back I posted the number of calories, on an average day, that my body is burning through. The next step is to figure out how close I am actually coming to this goal. I signed up for an account at www.livestrong.com, and their calorie calculator has a large database that you can search through (and, as an added bonus, can also suggest lower calorie substitutes if you’re interested). On top of that, you can also add in exercises and have it automatically calculate the amount of calories that you are burning based on this exercise.

    This a good tool. The most important thing to be careful of with something like this is to make sure that you don’t take being mindful of what you’re eating into the realm of neurosis. It’s easy to become neurotic about the number of calories you’re consuming every day, and things go downhill fast from that point.

    Update: After using livestrong’s daily plate calculator for a few days, I’m really impressed. They have taken a wiki-like approach to their database of foods, allowing users to manually enter an item that they have consumed, along with its nutritional information, and that information then becomes available to everyone out. I was amazed last night when I finished my glass of skim milk, and on a whim typed in “Islander Skim Milk” and saw “Comox Valley Islander Skim Milk” popup in the search results. That’s a pretty obscure brand that’s already been logged. Very handy.

    The most important point I want to make here, from my own point of view, is that if at any point I reach a state where I’ve eaten more calories than I need, and I’m still feeling peckish, I’m not going to stop myself from eating some ice cream as a treat. It is important to reward yourself when you think you deserve it. All work and no play makes for a habit that won’t stay.

  • Build more fast-twitch muscle
  • Fast-twitch muscle is the muscle fiber that helps your body make fast explosive movements. Squash requires both high endurance and explosive movements (think doing shuttle runs for 45 mintues), and I would like to continue to build on my legs to develop more of this kind of muscle.

    Weight lifting is one way to achieve this goal, but I’m only willing to go so far, and I want to take a varied approach to exercise so that I don’t get burnt out focusing on goals that are too focused. Training on the squash court is, at least in my opinion, roughly equivalent to a full session of leg workout anyhow, and so this will be act as my main way of training for this goal.

    Probably most important is just to make sure that lessons don’t drop off as time goes on. Although Brendan and I have a pretty good routine set up, it’s easily to let things slip if you don’t remain diligent.

    Going to the gym is boring for me, and I generally hate the sort of people that go to them. About two years back, I bought a set of spin-lock weights. Essentially just a bunch of ten pound weights, and two dumbbell handles. I can’t go much higher than fifty pounds on either side, but, I’m not really interested in going much higher. My goal isn’t to be huge, it’s just to suplement my fitness regime with some weight training. The other benefit of doing this workout at home is that it integrates perfectly with my other hobbies – do a set of reps, play a game of Virtua Fighter, do a set of reps, work on some design for my blog. For me, the key to maintaining a workout regime is to introduce it in a way that minimizes its disruptiveness. If working out every night means that I no longer have enough time to play squash, or hang out with Bay, guess which one I’m going to drop? I’m hoping that this approach will allow me to continue on with these goals.

So I think that’s mainly it. It’s interesting calculating calories. I’ve never bothered to do this before, and its funny to see how I stack up against the figures that are recommended by the various health authorities out there. In general, I try to eat when I’m hungry, and avoid eating simply for the pleasure of it (I really do enjoy eating, but also recognize the danger of giving into this impulse). Since the first step is simply to record what I’m eating, and not bother making any changes, I’ve discovered that I hit the mark pretty close (it’ll be interesting to see how that changes on pizza day at work), but that my diet is definitely carb-heavy, and low on protein and, get this, fat. Weird hey? I’m still trying to figure out ways to alter this balance, but I’ll definitely start to turn my eyes towards things like peanut butter instead of toast and margarine when I’m looking for a snack.

Oh yeah, and least shocking revelation of all, I’m getting too much sodium. Is there anyway for a human being these days to not consume too much sodium? This little bastard is everywhere!

Pac Rim Wrap-up

April 22nd, 2008 No comments

Pac Rim
I’m relaxing at home after a long weekend playing squash. This weekend marked what is typically the end of the squash season, as the weather starts to turn for the better, and people have less desire to stand in a small glass box getting a schvitz on with another dude. And now for the segue… I think that that description would be a good candidate for getting squash into the Olympics. The introduction paragraph is now complete, and I will move boldly onwards.
Hello, and welcome to the first paragraph of the body of this entry. First up, the results. I had a disappointing loss in my second game of the main draw to Cam Burnett, a great guy with a good broad australian accent (I’d probably be willing to forgive someone taking my wallet if they did it with a sweet accent). Cam went on to win the B draw, so that offers some consolation.
As I was worried about, the typical mental block I suffer from re-emerged to claim my brain for the three quick games we were on the court for. I’ve been trying out a number of things this season with gradual success, and the only approach is to continue adapting and until I resolve it.
Having said that, I’m pretty happy with how I’ve fared this season. I feel like I can play an A-level game without embarassing myself, provided I am able to hold in my head that I am, in fact, capable of that. It’s without a doubt that it is the battles that makes us stronger, so I can always try to hold in my head that this is a challenge to be triumphed over.
If anyone has their own tricks to share, I would be interested to hear them – leave a comment.
The tournament was precluded with Stu having to go to the hospital, which cast a bit of a pall over the whole thing. However, Dan received good news on Sunday, and it really speaks to the strength of the community that the event was still a huge success and a really great time. Rather than focus on the negative, it’s the positive parts of the tournament that I like writing about.
There were a ton of old friends in town that I haven’t seen and hung out with for quite a while, and it was great reconnecting with a bunch of them. Everyone has improved, and the squash was really great. The open draw this year consisted of a couple of friends, Thomas, Jarryd, and Ryan, along with some other familiar faces. And, to round it off, Sarah Fitz-gerald, the former world #1 female open player.
Jarryd and Sarah played first round, which was an interesting match. There was some contention about whether or not Jarryd was playing too roughly, and he received two warnings from the refferee about this. It looked to me like Jarryd was just making every effort to the get to the ball, and I was skeptical as to whether or not the same warnings would have been given out if Jarryd was playing another guy. Oh well, not a big deal.
Viktor Berg won the event, although I think that was mostly a foregone conclusion. Sarah came in second, which was interesting – I think most people didn’t really know what to expect of her, and whether or not she would be up for it, but she certainly was. I had to play my own game for the final, but I heard that Viktor was fairly in control the whole way through.
The partying was pretty great – we kept things rolling throughout the weekend, and there was the perfect amount of beer flowing – not too much, not too little.
Lessons Learned
One thing this tournament gave me an opportunity to do was practice adapting my pace. I haven’t really done this at all for a long while. If I think about it, most of our lessons are done at a fairly high pace, so it’s not something I’ve thought about. However, three of the four opponents I played against this weekend were weakest (in my opinion) against a slower pace.
Cam played a good all-around game, but Bevan confirmed my initial hunch when he said that he loved to hit pace. Slowing things down against Cam didn’t win me the match, but it definitely was the right path to head down. Anytime you can take your opponent out of their element, you introduce a little bit of uncertainty to their mindset.
Next up I played a little dude from England called Alex. Alex was 13 and definitely precocious at times, but he was pretty cool and I enjoyed playing him. He played a damn good game, especially for someone that only just came up to my torso (I guess that’s why he’s ranked 7th in England for his age group). The juniors that I’ve played have typically learned pace before they’ve learned playing soft and slowly. It takes a little more patience to play, and that’s always something that I find improves as I age. There’s always exceptions to every rule, such as Tyler Olsen in this case (who almost won the A’s – big ups the T-dot massive).
Alex adapted reasonably well to the shift in pace, but playing high took away a lot of his power, and it’s pretty hard for a little guy to volley early due to their height. Still, it was a great match, and I got to play the villain (playing against a cute 13-year old kid with a British accent is the ultimate introduction and setup for the villain in any squash-related super-hereo movie).
The last opponent I played was another junior who loves to hit the ball hard. Taking that ability away from him removed his ability to let out his frustrations (and this guy definitely gets frustrated with himself). I played softly and patiently and essentially let my opponent beat himself.
MVPs
Dan and Jocelyn are without a doubt MVPs for the weekend, largely carrying off the whole tournament themselves. There’s a million of other people that contributed in their own ways, and that’s pretty dudical too. At the center of that all, though, these guys were definitely at the nucleus.
Wrap up
So, the squash season is drawing to a close, but what a great tournament to end on. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the Sun and Surf tournament in the heat of the West Coast summer, and seeing how everyone has developed.
Two of my friends, Jarryd and Thomas, are moving out here for the summer, and that is likely to be a pretty good time. I see tacos and patios on the horizon..

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The importance of being a good liar

February 20th, 2007 No comments

I’ve been working on many different aspects of my squash game lately, and it’s starting to come together well. I’m not putting any expectations on myself to win any tournaments, but I definitely feel like I have a shot if I continue to play well, and I think I’ll be ready to move up into the next division (A’s) by the end of the squash season this year.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately, and which I think is a valuable skill to have, is good deception. Squash, at its core, can be reduced to two parts. There’s a physical component (anyone that has stepped on a squash court for a game without ever having played before can confirm that the horrible things that the game does to your ass alone are enough to prove this point), and a mental component. I’ll delve into these two ideas first.
Physical
Squash is played in a very confined space, but playing the game well is about making your opponent cover as much of that space as possible. As you continue to improve at the game, you get better at anticipating, and better at covering more and more shots, and this means that you have to learn more patience and be willing to rally longer. The longer you rally while controlling the T, the better your chances of winning the battle of attrition against your opponent become.
Some people may read this and immediately disagree – what about winners? What about errors that your opponents hit? Well, guess how you get to the point where you’re able to hit a winner, or force your opponent to make errors? That’s right – you keep them under consistent pressure, and let them either hit the error themselves, or hit a loose or weak return from one of your shots that you can then attack. Rallying and patience is what gets you to this point.
I actually just finished reading a Magic-related strategy article that I felt really applied to this scenario, describing the process of knowing when to apply pressure to your opponent, and when to regroup and play defensive and patiently waiting for a more opportune time to attack. Squash is the same way. You need to play safe shots until you achieve an opportunity to attack, and then consistently apply pressure to your opponent until they either hit an error, allow you to hit a winner, or they can get back into a rally (in which case you go back to playing safe shots and repeat this process).
Mental
Again, as squash is played in a very confined space, you need to constantly be looking for ways to move your opponent around that space as much as possible. If you wanted to take a very technical approach to the game, you could look at each shot you make as a way of maximizing the amount of running that your opponent has to do. If you can consistently apply this rule to each shot you make, you will no doubt have played the best game you possibly could have, and your opponent will have to follow the same rule themselves in order to defeat you.
As I mentioned above, the farther along you move, the more difficult it will be to simply hit winners, and the physical game will no longer be enough to win you a game. I was reading an article that my friend Rob sent to me in which Jonathan Power had written about the fact that the more you improved, the more you have to start thinking multiple plays ahead. If your opponent can start to read your pattern, they can start to cheat and anticipate your shots, and now you’re no longer maximizing the distance they need to run. Actually, if we get really technical, we want to maximize the amount of energy that our opponent has to expend – running in a straight line towards the ball forces them to generate some momentum and use up some energy. Better than that, moving in one direction, then stopping and changing that direction requires even more momentum and thus requires even more energy (simple right?).
In essence, you now need to not only make your opponent physically cover the most amount of ground, but also to cover the most number of shots mentally – by preventing your opponent from eliminating any one particular shot as something he might have to cover, you tax him more mentally, and cut down his ability to reduce the distance that he needs to run. Anticipation is one way of reducing the amount of space you have to cover, because you can use it to control the T and cheat over towards the direction your opponent will shoot – the more you cheat, the less you have to run. Clearly there is a connection between the physical and mental aspects of the game, and part of this connection, to me, is deception.
Deception
Alright, we’re finally getting to the point. So, we’ve reached a point where our opponents are getting better and better at anticipating the shots that we are making. We are no longer maximizing the amount of running that our opponents are doing, and so we need a way to tax them more.
By presenting the opponent with one shot, then hitting another, we have achieved one of two outcomes:

  • Best-case scenario – they start to cheat towards the shot that you are presenting, and are forced to overcome that momentum, change direction, and chase after the shot you’ve made.
  • Worst-case scenario – they are forced to remain stationary until the last moment possible: when you hit your shot. I call this the worst case scenario, but that’s a misleading name, because there’s nothing bad at all about this. By delaying our shot and forcing our opponent to wait until the last minute, you have forced them to generate overcome their inertia. They have to come to rest on the T, then need to generate more momentum to begin moving again once you’ve made the shot. It’s a lot easier to run straight from the back forehand corner to the front backhand corner, than it is to run from the same corner to the T, stop, then from the T to the front corner.

You can see that there is clearly value to playing with good deception. This is all very new to me (there’s no point in studying good deception if you aren’t able to hit a good shot – you may be able to send your opponent in the wrong direction once or twice, but after he starts to wait a little longer for your shot, he’ll just cover the bad shot and put you away) so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. These are the techniques that I have noticed contribute towards good direction.

  • Body/Head/Racquet positioning and posture
  • Think about what you look for when you see you’re waiting for your opponent’s next shot: The way they prepare their racquet, the way they have their body positioned, and the direction they look after they make their shot. There’s probably more, but these are the main ones I observe.
    So we’ve got three things straight off the bat that will help us out. By presenting our body posture in a certain way, we can lead the opponent towards believing that we’re going to hit a certain shot. Think about a boast in the back corner. Typically you position yourself with your shoulders facing towards the corner, allowing you to swing your racquet at 45 degrees towards the wall, boasting into the front backhand corner. If you have the space and time, you can approach and set up your shot this way, but instead of hitting a boast, use your wrist to pull the racquet head through earlier than normal and hit the shot straight down the line.
    This trick doesn’t always work, but it is important to remember that our goal is not to trick our opponent and win a point. It is to make them cover the maximum amount of distance and momentum for any given shot – remember that point whenever you apply deception to your shots and then think “Oh, that didn’t work, he covered the shot”.

  • Shorten your swing
  • I came across this one serendipitously (one of my favorite words right there. Go out and use it today!). I was taking a lesson with Stu, Jeremy and Tim, and Stu told me to focus on making my swing more compact, and using my wrist more to snap the racquet through. Think about the difference in swings for a drop shot and a drive. How about a hard, low crosscourt, and a lob? You not only want to provide the same body posture for all of these shots (and thereby increasing your deception), but you also want to be able to lead up to the shot using the same racquet approach.
    The shorter and more compact you can make your swing, the more you closer you come to bridging the gap between the swing you prepare for your drop shots and for your drives, and the more difficult it will be for your opponent to get a read on you.

  • Build your rallies and earn your deception
  • Anyone that has played squash before knows the importance of building a rally. We all go back to play the straight drive down the wall and treat that like our foundation. This is exactly analogous to dancing – I have a basic set of movements that I use as my dancing foundation, and I can slip into and out of these movements easily. They provide the palette from which I draw the rest of my dance on. The same is true for squash – you should have a good foundation made up of drives, which you can move in and out of as needed. When you’re in trouble, you return to this foundation until you can once again regain control of the T and start a new round of attacking.
    Deception in squash is the same as it is in poker. You need to present a pattern to your opponent before you can start to throw them off by deviating from that pattern. If you go in and use deception on every shot that you make, you’re going to train your opponent to watch very closely for your shots, and wait until the last minute before they move to cover whatever you hit. As I said, this isn’t a bad thing, but remember, we want to maximize the amount of energy our opponents expend on court, so we want to aim for as many of those best-case scenarios as possible.
    In order to accomplish this, you need to draw your opponent into following the pattern of your foundation, and then applying deception to force them off the pattern they’ve gotten accustomed to. This has the added benefit of forcing your opponent off their mental game. If you can settle into a pattern, you aren’t forced to think about the game as much, and can play a little more naturally. Causing your opponent to think along a certain pattern, then throwing off that pattern can be jarring, and will tax them mentally.

One last thing that Stu has mentioned to me many times in past – sometimes the best deception is the most obvious shot. If you’ve established the fear in your opponent of your deception, they will start to suspect the more obvious shots, and watch closely to what you are preparing when you are making a return. Delay your shot when it is appropriate, and then hit the safest shot.
You have to remember – you are always trying to maximize the energy your opponent uses, but this doesn’t mean deceiving them every time and it doesn’t mean necessarily hitting the ball to the place on the court that is the furthest away from them. Think of it this way: If your opponent has hit a really tight shot to the back corner and is now cheating very far back and to the side to cover your return, it may seem obvious that you could force them to cover the most court by dropping the ball in the front backhand corner, but this will not be the case if you hit tin, or hit the shot loose.
At every shot you make, there is a best choice that you can make that combines the following principles (and probably plenty more that I’ve missed): Maximize the amount of energy your opponent spends covering your shot, minimize the amount of energy your opponent can force you to spend covering their return (so hit tight shots that cut off their available angles), and minimize the number of errors you hit and winners your opponent hits (again, hit high-percentage shots that keep your opponent under pressure).
That’s the end of my lunch break, so that’s the end of this entry. In any case, I’m excited to pursue this further on the court and continue to add towards this aspect of my game. For good examples of deception in action, go on YouTube and search for videos of Jonathan Power – my friend Dan pointed out to me how compact his swing is, and if you watch, his approach to the ball is often very calculated. Try and guess what shot he is going to hit before he actually makes it and see how close you are. If you were wrong, how were you tricked? If you were right, what factors contributed towards you guessing that was the next shot? Once you’ve done this, come back here and tell me all about it, because I’m way too lazy to do that myself.

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SCRILLA

February 12th, 2007 No comments

Bling it on. That was the title of the tournament I and a bunch of friends checked out this weekend, up in Nanaimo. I’ll do some background first. Last year’s Nanaimo was the first time I’d gone to a squash tournament that was out of town. Bevan, Jarryd and I went up to the western themed tournament in my car and we had a great time. It was the first time I’d ever hung out with Jarryd, I met a lot of new friends, and all the variables lined up really nice. That’s computer-ish-y talk for saying that the Nanaimo tournaments will always have a special place in my heart. I think. I’m just faking it most of the time.
This year Dan’s parents were generous enough to lend him the SUV, so Nikki, Dan, Eric, Jarryd, and myself were all able to go up together. I met Dan and Nikki at lunch after I got off work, and we headed to go and do some shopping to pick up some clothing and bling to go along with the tournament’s theme. We pulled into the Yates St. parkade and I mentioned that I wanted to check out Sitka as it had been a while since I’d last gone in there. Awesome, 65% off all their clothing? What a wicked deal. I picked up a sweet zip-up hoody for only 39$, which is wicked, because I’ve wanted a new hoody for a while, and I like Sitka’s clothing and designs a lot. We’re starting out on the right foot here. We bought some incredibly gaudy ear-rings and necklaces from Claire’s in the mall, and talked to someone who directed us to Mayfair Mall for our ultimate tacky trump card: the grill.
For those that don’t know, the grill is the latest in hiphop technology, and looks something like this.
I’d already spent enough money on clothes and accessories, so I passed on the tooth-wear. Dan and Nikki each picked one up, and we headed over to Red Robin’s for some lunch before heading up. That being completed, we went and picked up Eric, then waited for Jarryd to show up. Weird, he got dropped off by some blonde woman that none of us knew. Turns out Jarryd didn’t know her either – he just offered to pay her ten dollars if she gave him a lift out to Eric’s place. Okaaaaaaay..
Alright, we’ve assembled the road trip crew, we’ve got beer, and we’ve got a destination in mind. We all headed up in the SUV and we’re starting to get excited for the weekend to come.
I dropped my bags on the floor, looked over at the two beds in one room and the couch in the other room, and wished that I hadn’t mentioned my ability to stun herds of buffalo with my snoring. I flopped on one of the sweet sweet beds knowing I wouldn’t be sleeping on it and instantly gained the ability “sleepytired +10″. I noticed the remote for the TV, reached for it, and in one deft motion that both displayed my incredible dexterity and my eagle-like hand/eye coordination (well, eagles would have really good hand/eye coordination if they had hands), I turned the television on.
Interlude – I don’t have cable TV, and I’m fine with that. I barely have enough time to watch more TV than a couple of hours during the week, so it’s not like I’m missing much. However, those that know me are aware of the fact that I can, and seem to enjoy, taking in large amounts of what some scientists wearing tin-foil hats call “mindtrash”. Dan and Nikki pulled me out of my catatonic TV state (“Hey look, I think Adam’s drooling”) and it was time to head to the squash club.
First night
We rolled into the squash club and head over to register. Blake’s girlfriend Melissa checked us in, and gave me a big compliment saying that my entry form was the best one they got. Many people go to squash tournaments to win their division and play good squash; I go to fill out the entry form. We got our tournament shirts and drink tickets (haiyo!), and headed to check out the draw. I was looking forward to seeing Blake – he and I get along well, and share some of the same quirks, which always makes it easier to be around someone. When I did see him, I was not ready for what I like to call the “Righteous Beard Bomb” that he dropped in my lap. Blake was a level 10 Amish person if ever there was one. Neck beard, bare upper lip. Do I need to say anything else? Seriously, this beard bomb was righteous.
11:40, my first match. Wow, that’s late. We stopped for coffee in Duncan, so I’m good on the caffeine tip. I run into a bunch of people I haven’t seen in a while and socialize. It’s nice to be back to such a welcoming environment – huge props to all the people that work to make that happen in up there. We head out to pick up Bevan from the ferry with Jordan as our navigator. I don’t really remember whether anything was happening in the ferry terminal – my mind was starting to drift towards the game I had in a few hours. Bevan comes off the ferry, throws up the horse shoes, and we break the good/bad news to him. You’re riding in the back of the “whip”.
First matches are looking good for everyone, and I like where I sit in the draw – I’m not seeded, so there’s no pressure on me, but I feel confident about my first opponent, and I’ve been playing well, so I’m just going to focus on that aspect and continue to let my confidence build. Confidence is a big thing for me when I’m playing squash, and if I feel good about things, I play a whole lot better.
Blair Bullus was my first opponent, who plays up at UVic. He was the guy that beat me last year, but I have been training a lot since then, and I think my game has really improved considerably. If he’s improved at the same rate, then worst case scenario, I’m going to have a really good match. We get on court, hit the ball around, and while he takes early leads in both the first and second games, I get my nerves and game in check and come back to win them with streaks of points. The third game my confidence was good, so I decided to switch up the game and change the pace to throw him off balance – I’m not taking away anything from Blair, but I was impressed at how the change of pace affected his game, and I took the third game reasonably quickly.
When the smoke had all cleared, most of us were still in the running! We had some drinks, stretched (well, I stretched and people made fun of my awesome back stretch maneuver), and chatted at the club until 1ish. None of us had games until the afternoon, which was great news. We didn’t want to go on a bender, but it’s fun to catch up with people, and takes a while to let that excitement die down – playing at 9 in the morning would have been a bit of a downer.
We headed back to the hotel to get caught up waiting for some B-looking movie to finish filming, and wound things down around 3 in the morning. We had been listening to tunes on Dan’s iPod, which was set up with speakers in our hotel room. Dan left it in my room, and had been controlling it with his remote control. The first thing I did when I went to bed was to unplug the iPod from the remote and the power source. I know Dan pretty well – it seemed like a valid precautionary measure on my part.
First day
I woke up in the morning, and flipped on the tele:
“What, why is this guy eating KFC out of a bucket and selecting women?” “Oh my god, is that Flavour Flav?” “Wow, I love this show”. That was my thought process over the first two seconds during which “The Flavour of Love” flashed in front of my eyes. Bahahahahahahaha, what a ridiculous notion, I couldn’t get enough. Flavour Flav, one half of the duo behind Public Enemy, now has his own show where he is essentially “The Bachelor. Ghetto edition”. Everything about the show feels so contrived, I can’t stop watching it. I head next door to wake Dan and Nikki up and get them stoked about Flavour Flav as well. I mentioned to them that the first thing I did when I went into my room was to unplug the iPod so that they couldn’t wake me up by turning it on. They looked at each and laughed – apparently the first thing they did when I went into the room was to try and turn it on, and were so dissapointed and confused when it didn’t work. Haha! One point for Adam. Eventually we get things started, and head out the door to the club.
The first match I’m playing is against the guy that is the third seed. He looks older than me, so I hope to get him running around the court and just play tight. I initially resisted it, but my game lately has drifted to taking advantage of my movement to the front to cover a weak drop, and a hard low cross court to the back of the court. This shot has been working really well for me, however, I didn’t want to become a player that had only hard low shots. One of the things I really like about squash is the fact that it can be so non-linear – playing just hard and low and not taking advantage of shots like lobs and drops is not the way I want to play. I decided that just because I played this shot, it didn’t dictate how the rest of my game was played, and so I started to just accept that this was going to be a shot I’d use. Good choice – it put away a lot of rallies for me this weekend.
John Cox played really good – he was nearly twice my age, but played just as hard as I did. I had him at match ball in the fourth game, but couldn’t put it away, and we ended up going to 10-9 in the fifth. I thanked him and the ref, and crawled out of the court. A lot of people really liked this match, which I took as a real compliment. People kept coming up to me and telling me how entertaining it was to watch. That’s a pretty high compliment when it’s coming from people that don’t even know you, and I think it’s only fair to point out that half that credit goes to my opponent.
I looked to see when I would next play – 5ish tonight. Annnnnd, my opponent won his match in 3 straight games. That’s not what I like to see. He’ll be going on court with just over half as many miles on his legs than I will be. I grabbed a beer, hung out and watched matches. We rolled back to the hotel for a bit, lay on our beds and watched some lazy TV. We got ourselves together, I pulled my eyelids open (I was getting tired at this point) and got ready to play. This time it would be the number 2 seed that I would be playing.
I was feeling mentally tired, but physically, still able to move around. I put a lot of effort into stretching this tournament, and it really made a big difference. Stretching is a thing that benefits you in subtle ways, and pays off in the long term. I started adding the yoga pose “Downward Dog” into my stretching routine this weekend, and that seemed to help pull my back out a little bit and keep it limber. I can’t get my feet flat on the ground yet, but will give it time and see how things go.
I went on court the same time Bevan went on against Arnie and duked it out with my opponent. He was a nice guy, but didn’t keep me under any pressure, so I was able to completely impose my game on him. After three games, we shook hands and both walked off the court a little relieved – as long as we didn’t go five, I think we were both happy, no matter what the outcome.
Second night
So just like that, I was in the men’s B finals! I came up to Nanaimo to have fun, and so I had already decided I wouldn’t let my standing in the main draw affect having fun with all my friends. I showered and had just enough time to talk to Dan before he finished up against Kevin – he couldn’t get his game going, and so he was out of the draw. It wasn’t all bad news though, as Nikki was also now in the finals for the women’s A draw. That’s pretty cool – two Cook st. players both in the finals.
We showered and hung out at dinner. Everyone got their costumes on, and rolled pretty hard in their finest pimp gear. Jarryd finished reffing his match and got into his costume, and in doing so, created what was perhaps the funniest moment I’ve ever witnessed:
His costume consisted of a basketball jersey, a chain around his neck, and a toaster that he was wearing. Screw wearing a clock around your neck – the new school ghetto way of doing things is to keep your toasting tech onhand and close by.
Jarryd rolled up to us, and I’ve never seen someone more stoked to plug in a toaster hanging around their neck and start making toast. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that metal conducts electricity, and started twitching when he turned it on and saying “Wha, why is it hurting?” We noticed that the chain around his neck was in the toaster and told him “Hey, get the chain out of the toaster”. What we didn’t realize was that Jarryd had specifically wrapped the chain around the element in the toaster prior to putting it around his neck, so the look of surprise on his face when he performed an experiment very similar to Benjamin Franklin’s was priceless. Fortunately for Jarryd, the toaster came unplugged, and he escaped with a set of marks on his neck that look a lot like one might expect to see if you put a really hot chain against someone’s bare neck.
Seriously though, who doesn’t like toast?
There were some kids breaking in one of the squash courts during dinner, so I went down to see what was up, and to bust out a little bit of popping – hey, I can’t pass up on an opportunity to bust out right? Then, we gathered the crew together and headed out at night to sample some of the dingy bars that Nanaimo had to offer – initially we figured we’d wait in line for an hour to hear some live music, but when that got boring, we checked out “The Cambie” (tagline: Shitty looking stable by day, shitty looking bar by night).
Second day
Sunday morning I woke up and headed into the other room to see if Nikki and Dan were already awake. Sweet, they were, so I didn’t have to lay in bed waiting for the rest of the crew to wake up. We gathered our stuff, Dan and I headed to the club to get the vehicle (based on the promise from Nikki that she would return the favour by getting us toast), came back and checked out.
Last day of matches, and its all about the finals. Dan had gotten knocked out the previous night by Kevin Smith, so it was Nikki and I playing in the finals for our divisions, Women’s A and Men’s B.
I went into my match figuring that I would probably not be leaving with the victory, but knowing that I’ve been playing well all weekend, and that as long as I carried along with that path, I would be happy. I’ve played Arnie Clark before, and the kid hits the ball in a way that usually makes people ask “How much steroids does that kid take?”. Seriously, it’s distracting to play against him because your ears start to hurt from all the sonic booms that his shots make. My game plan going on court was to take pace off the ball – put it up high and move him off the T so that I could control the rallies and make him do the running. When I was able to execute on this plan, I was doing well, but Arnie could hit the ball with so much pace that I would typically just get buried behind him making weaker and weaker returns until I either made an error or he put it away.
In case anyone is interested, here are some of the things I did wrong:

  • Volley the serve, nutbar
  • Yeesh, I came off the court after my second game, and Dan walked up to me to give me some advice. The first thing I said to him was “Hey, I should probably start volleying those serves hey?” He laughed and said that I was ahead of him and obviously knew what I was doing wrong – for the first two games, I would just concede the T to Arnie and put myself on the defense letting his serves go to the back and hitting a weak boast for the return. I hit a few winners from back there (which is nice, because I’ve been working on boasts with Stu, Tim and Jeremy), but this should not be the norm.

  • Keep the high shots wide
  • After my first game, Dan commented that I wasn’t putting Arnie under enough pressure because my shots weren’t wide enough – by keeping them nice and high, and a little wider, he was forced off the T that much more, and I was given that much more time to recover and be prepared for his return.

I felt a little bit outclassed, but the crowd was flattering, and when I came off after losing in 3 games, I felt a little better hearing people telling me I’d played well in spite of the fast loss. I didn’t feel bad about the loss – I’m really stoked that I made it to the finals, unseeded, and am going to make an effort to play some games against people that have styles of play similar to Arnie’s – possibly Dave Wheaton. I think that I can adapt to this fast pace and defeat these people, but it will require that I spend some time playing them in order to learn how to do it effectively.
I showered, and Nikki proceded to dispatch her opponent (Dawn, I think her name was) in 4 games. Nikki was playing pretty well, and I was mostly just glad that she’d decided to play the Women’s A draw instead of the Men’s B. So, it was on to the final match of the day: Kevin Smith and Adam Radzminski.
There was some drama last year between Kevin and I, as anyone that has been reading this blog knows, but his court composure, at least what I’ve seen, has improved since I last saw him playing, which was good to see. To me, court composure and keeping your cool is the single most admirable attribute I see in a squash player I respect. It’s easy to do drills everyday for weeks on end and get your game to a certain point (okay, it’s not easy, but it’s easier, I think), but it’s very difficult to keep yourself composed, calm and collected on the court when you’re being put under mental and physical stress chasing a ball around the court. Throw into that the potential for calls that you don’t agree with, and that you don’t usually get a choice of who is reffing your game, and it’s a recipe that requires real discipline to stay real out there. So, anyhow, I sat down next to Dan after showering, and hoped to see Kevin beat Adam, who was the favorite (I have nothing against Adam, he seems like a good guy, I just wanted to see a local bring home the prize).
The games were good, but Kevin didn’t quite have what it took to take out Adam – the guy is 6’4″ and makes it to the front and back in one step. It’s really quite impressive seeing how little effort he seems to expend covering shots on the court.
Wrap up
We all got our stuff together, and stuck around for the presentation of the prizes. Dope, I got to choose with a lot of awesome prizes left on the table (the sponsorship for this tournament is really good – again, nice work guys), and picked up a gift certificate for Sunday brunch at the Longwood Brew Pub for two. A nice trip for Bay and I to make when we’ve both got the time for it.
We said our goodbyes, hopped in the SUV, and headed on home. I’m sitting on the couch on Monday night finishing this entry off after having taking the day off to do basically nothing but lay in bed and recharge my batteries and get ready to shift back into work mode. After everything’s been said and done, this was an awesome trip, and Nanaimo did not dissapoint in any way – we rolled with a really tight crew, had a blast, and once again, I’m really looking forward to hitting this up again next year – hopefully playing in the Men’s A draw this time.
MVPs for the tournament: Nikki, Dan, Bevan, Jarryd, and especially Eric for being good enough to drive us down on Sunday. Also, Blake, Melissa, Amy, and the other members working the club who’s names I feel terrible right now for not being able to remember (let me know if you know them and I’ll update this). If anyone has any doubt about whether or not it’s worth the extra money it costs to go to a tournament that is out of town, let me assure you that the cost is a steal of a deal compared to the amount of fun that you have when you head to one of these. Put Nanaimo on your list of tournaments to check out for the next year’s squash season, and until then, keep your eyes open for the Comox tournament in April, and the Jericho Sun and Surf tournament during the summer. We’ll be making appearances at both of these tournaments, and we do guarantee fun times and awkward conversations.
I’ll be trying to make a new entry within the next couple of weeks as I prepare and train for the Beach Bash, which Dan is running this year out at Keating Squash Club. I’m hoping to pull a good performance in the B division again then, so I’ll be training over the coming two weeks in preparation for that.
Until then, laters.

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Back in full!

October 15th, 2006 2 comments

Alright, for the first time in a six weeks or so I’m finally starting to feel like things are getting back to where I want them to be. So, that means it’s time for an update (that and the fact that I think Jarryd will quit being my friend if I don’t get on it).
Getting injured sucks. All of the training I’d done during the past summer to improve my fitness and game are gone… It’s frustrating stepping back onto a squash court and not having any of that with me. Then, on top of that, add the fact that none of my physical game is where I remember it being.
I had just started getting back into the mix two weeks ago, when I got caught in the eye doing some drop shot drills. Getting hit was my own fault – I was cheating forward to get the drop shot that I knew was coming, and put my face right in front of the path of my friend Rob’s racquet. Oh well. He drove me to the clinic, I got four stitches put in my eye, and was out the door.
You know what four stitches means? It means two things: I’m off squash again until I get them taken out, and that I’m wearing goggles everytime I play from then onwards. The irony of the situation was that I had randomly decided to wear goggles this time when we were doing drills. I got frustrated part way through though, because they were fogging up and constantly getting sweaty, so I took them off. Three minutes later? Beaned!
The racquet caught me just above my eye, on the lid, so I’m actually pretty lucky – if I had actually gotten hit in my eyeball, I’d probably be dealing with some vision loss, and I’d be taking a much longer time out from playing.
So things were pretty rough. I got the stitches out in time to play the first game of Division 2 league, and I got PWNED. The guy that beat me was named Gary Sawada. He was pretty nice, played reasonably well, and the way I was playing he deserved the win hands down. I felt like I could beat him if I was playing the way I had been before injuring myself, and that was somewhat frustrating. By far the most frustrating thing was people offering me advice on what to do. This is always tough, because I know that it’s given with good intentions, but when you’re coming back from an injury, you know that you suck. It wasn’t that I didn’t know I needed to hit the ball tight and deep. It was that I couldn’t. I guess I should just suck it up and be gracious that I have people that are willing to give me advice – better that than have noone want to help.
Anyhow, I’ve been putting in the time since then working on drills and playing games in between that. I started jogging again, which sucked (I barely made it half the distance I was going at the start of the summer) but it’s all a step in the right direction. The past few days I’ve really felt like things are starting to come back to where I remember, and the best part about that is that I’m actually having fun playing the game now, rather than leaving the court miserable at how poorly I’m playing.
Dan and I did some work on volley boasts the other day, which is a shot I see him use all the time. I’ve always played this shot, but not really understood why it’s been so ineffective. I see Dan use it to great effect, and then when I would go and do it, the opponent would cover it easily and unleash some devastating attack on me. This is what I was doing wrong:

  • Hit the ball softly
  • Stupid eh? I should know better than this, but for some reason, I would just make the assumption that I need to crank on that ball. This isn’t a kill shot – it’s a moving shot, and you need to hit it softly so that the ball ends up softly in the front corner. As soon as Dan pointed this out to me, I realized how much sense it made, but it’s just one of those things that didn’t occur to me until it was said explicitly.

  • Don’t make this shot after the opponent has made a weak lob
  • Usually the times that I would make this shot were after my opponent had hit a weak lob. This is obviously a bad play. Why? Where is the opponent sitting after hitting a weak lob? Right at the front of the court, waiting for me to volley boast the shot right back to them. It’s just a bad choice. I want to be hitting this shot after my opponent has hit a weak drive – they’ll be caught behind me and have to run through the diagonal if they want to make a return.

  • Use this shot to cut off balls that would otherwise make it past me.
  • One of the nice things about this shot is that you can hit it with a little less time than you might need if you were trying to hit a volley drop or drive. Standing on the Tee, watching your opponent, prepared for their shot, you have a good amount of time to step across and softly launch the ball on its path to the front corner.

So that’s what in the mix right now. I took some pictures of my eye shortly after getting the stitches put in, and I’ll put those up tomorrow night, once I pull them off my camera.
Cowboy up.

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