People who know me well, people who I work with, already know that there is one sacred slot blocked in my calendar every other week. It’s called Squash Time. Every week I’m going to the squash / tennis club near my place to play in an amateur squash league. Next week will mark a one year anniversary of my first game there, so it’s naturally good moment to reflect back about my history in this sport.
I started playing squash at the age of 25, so very late. I haven’t been playing tennis or any other racket sport (except casually playing badminton on summer vacations back when I was a kid) before. It was really a new thing for me and together with a good friend of mine, we started on our squash journey by just booking a court and trying to play for at least an hour every week. Naturally, we were terrible at the beginning; every serve going further back than a service box was a point for opponent; rallies longer than 10 seconds were super rare; a technically clean hit of the ball was a reason for celebration. We also used a wrong ball (ball in squash has one or two dots with color system marking how easy it is to keep the ball hot, which is crucial for this sport - another fact that we learned the hard way).
It was fun anyway, mostly due to the fact that squash matches can be epic (to play, not to watch) if both players are on the same level. To play a long rally, involving a lot of cross court runs even if you never hit the ball cleanly feels epic. We played like that for about a year. Then, we learned about a league and decided to give it a try.
In a first two hours of playing in a league with much better players than myself I learned way more than in a whole previous year. The lesson was sometimes painful and bitter; but seeing myself improving that quickly made me really motivated to play more and play league games every week.
I’m incredibly grateful for finding this sport; not only by how amazing it can affect one’s body (some people regard it as the ultimate sport, as it requires flexibility, explosiveness, balance, and stamina. It is also great to get fit quickly - I played in a league once with a guy who’s been claiming that he lost 40 kilos in 4 months by just playing squash 4 times a week) but for giving me back something I always liked - regular physical rivalry.
My history with sports in general includes playing football in my school years. We had a great team of good friends, but in high school and later it was getting harder to play regularly - because of parties, less time, people moving to study in other cities etc. I loved rivalry aspect of football, working as a team together and pushing myself on training ground. It’s probably controversial take, but in my definition of sport, rivalry is a must; for this reason I don’t recognize jogging, going to the gym and other such things as a sport; those are exercises. I’m still doing gym (and I was doing it before I started playing squash), but it’s certainly less exciting.
Back to the squash story. For the first few months I was loosing nearly every match in a league. League was usually split into three groups, depending on player level (known for a league organizer), with eight players in each group. In two hours, one has to play all opponents in their group, and the best two people in a group play a group higher next week (and the worst two play in a lower group). I was stuck in the worst group for a couple of months, but my game was improving.
Now, after a year, I play usually in the best group or in the middle group - and I already won a middle group couple of times. It feels great to win with people who were beating you easily just a few months ago. And given that I’m still one of the youngest people in this league, I feel the best is yet to come.
Squash is a great sport on tactical level as well. I realized it after I started watching PSA World Tour tournaments (it’s a highest level of squash one can play). There are so many aspects to consider before each hit - where the opponent is, where am I, how much front-wall height should I use, what’s the optimal length for my ball, how can I move my opponent from the middle of the court. You have usually less than a second to make those calls. Given that you can play short or long, drop, lob, drive directly from a front wall or play a two or three side-wall boast, it’s a highly tactical game. I’m still learning it and it feels great.
To end here, let me only mention that it’s a great feeling to discover new things (or sports) in life, and proving yourself that you can learn such a difficult sport quickly is even better.
If you’re struggling with your health, or have a few kilos to loose after the pandemic of lockdowns, don’t wait: grab a racket, get a friend and step in the court for an hour or so. You may thank me later.