It’s undoubtedly a little ironic but the off-season is one of my favorite times in the squash calendar, especially the first few weeks of it in April/May. I am sure many of you can relate, it is akin to ceasing to bash your head against a wall, like a long time-base endorphic experience. This year especially I needed a break. After leaving the Embassy and starting in the US private sector it has been especially busy. With juggling an engrossing job, running the first PSA event in the region, a young family and its demands, running Premier league, writing journal papers, buying a house, working through the US security and other bureaucratic processes for my job and maintaining multiple web sites, I felt a little down on horsepower and there was not a lot left for the court.
With many of these tasks now in the rear view mirror and with many weeks almost squash free, it is good to feel the energy levels, well dare I say it, on the surge. I have always advocated 2-4 weeks off every 6 months. Squash is such a demanding sport and it wears down your mental and physical resilience over time. Having a substantial break every 6 months lets the body repair the niggling injuries and, even those aching joints can rebound a little. It also allows the mental resolve to accumulate and that dwindling or missing desire might be rediscovered. I would go so far to say that without these breaks your longevity in the sport is very likely to be diminished.
On a cerebral level, having a break also permits a time of reflection and a different vantage point on your own game. Both good and bad habits that engrained over the last season will fade in muscle memory, giving the chance for a fresh start and a renewal. I always come back after a break with a clean slate view of what is not quite right with my game. Some would say this is fertile ground, and should not be that hard with or without a break, but when you have been playing continuously for a long time you lose perspective and sometimes even the obvious goes unnoticed.
My final point on having a break, is really relating to the fact that improving in squash for most of us, often comes down to improving physical prowess. The three S’s, strength, speed and stamina. Squash in the end is so much about them. Many people who have asked me for advice, especially those getting on in years, just don’t want to seem to hear this but there is no denying it. I can understand their selective deafness, after all, ‘tweaking that drop shot’ sounds a lot more appealing than ‘5 sets of 20 court sprints every other day’! Improving the three S’s is like running up a hill. It hurts and it is hard and there is no short cuts. To never give up on improving the three S’s to whatever our natural limits are at the age we find ourselves takes fortitude, and to attack it for a life time is somewhat cruel and unusual, taking advantage of a break now and then allows the body’s batteries to recharge for the next push.
Some people I have discussed this with disagree, and have expressed concern about losing their edge over the time they have off, others appear too addicted to the sport to consider a sustained break. All wrong, in my opinion. Any longer term strategy for everyone, except those few players trying to achieve elite status, should be based around one to two lengthy breaks through a yearly cycle. On that note, please be upstanding, raise your glass and toast the off season. To the off season.
Rod Barnes 18-May-2007