On my way to play squash the other evening, I was waiting to cross the street when a flicker of light caught my eye—like the sparkle of rain drops or phosphorescence in water. Only it wasn’t raining and the nearest water was a few blocks away in the Hudson. Instead, it turned out to be the windshield of a parked SUV and the glass was reflecting a shimmer of moving lights. They swirled and sparked across the glass and I stood on the curb momentarily mesmerized until the light changed and I stepped into the street. And then I stopped. It’s so easy to move quickly in this city, to briefly register something out of the ordinary and then continue on without giving it much thought. So I stepped back on the curb, and I looked.
An early evening breeze was blowing off the Hudson and it was ruffling the leaves of one of the young street trees. Sunlight was catching the undersides of the leaves, turning them gold before they slipped back to green and then again to gold in the wind. It was no longer a common street tree; it was enchanted. Or maybe it was nature reminding anyone who noticed that it was still there—even next to Dunkin Doughnuts.
So why am I writing about magic trees in a squash blog? Well, because occasionally something reminds me to slow down and see something anew. I see trees every day. I see squash balls (almost) every day. See the connection? Uh, no? Well maybe it’s a stretch, but here’s the thing—it’s just as easy to get in a rut of playing squash as it is walking by trees. (And, no, I am not smoking vegetation of any kind as I write this.) And it doesn’t have to be trees. Pick your underappreciated thing to walk by. Neighbors/co-workers/squash players you pass in your hood/workplace/gym without acknowledging. The deep deep blue of the sky as you exit your subway stop at dusk. The full moon glowing like a ripe summer peach as it rises above our fair city.
Okay, I’m not saying a squash ball is a ripe peach, but I do believe that we can play better squash if we think more about the objects with which we play. Maybe it helps to take a little time away from it – as I’ve been trying to do this past month (not so successfully). Before this enchanted tree incident, it had been a whole week since I’d played. So when I stepped on the court, I felt both more relaxed and focused than I had been in a long time. And I found that I wasn’t just hitting the ball, I was thinking about how my body connected with and affected the ball. All winter I’d been playing, competing, taking lessons when I could—and I was definitely improving—but it’s hard to slow down when moving fast. When you see lots of trees, you start not to see them.
One of my most awesome gym class instructors occasionally tells us to think about the muscles we’re using for each exercise in order to use them fully and most effectively. It works (I know; I feel more pain!). So why not apply that to squash—at least while you’re training? Think about where your feet are, where your racquet is, where on the ball you want to hit it, where you want to place the ball. I know we can’t do this so easily in competition, but in practice and friendly games we can. And eventually it’ll translate to competition.
You don’t have to take my word that this works. Watch any good player in a match—the ball moves fast, but the player looks like they have all the time in the world between shots. I’m still waiting for that kind of timing to happen to me...
Until then, slow down, watch some soccer, check out some trees, and have a happy Fourth all. Hope to see some of you at the Street Squash RRs in July!