By Richard Millman, Director of Squash, Kiawah Island Club
So no doubt you’ve heard the moaning or perhaps you’re one of the moaners. “Why change? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” as the saying goes. Personally I love the old nine point scoring system. I was really comfortable with it. Uh oh! Comfortable? In other words it wasn’t too challenging. It didn’t ask me awkward questions. Now I ask you—does that sound like a good reason to stay with something? What do they say about Sharks?—Sink or swim?
So for one, if you have the courage to challenge yourself you will progress. Hide behind the old and you will not grow.
So what about the mechanics of the system? If you serve out you lose a point, not just the serve. So what effect might that have on the care you take over your serve? In previous articles I have expounded my view of the importance of doing serving practice routines and learning how to develop a range of change-up serves. If PAR has the effect of making us focus more carefully and intently on our serve, then I for one say—HOORAY! Perhaps the day of casually throwing the ball into play is on the way out.
Once upon a time about 25 years ago, the theory in nine point scoring was: When you are Hand-out play conservatively, when you are Hand-in, take risks. We also had two serves in those days and so Hand in was a veritable gambler’s den of iniquity. Consequently, whole rallies were approached with less than perfect focus. After all, even if you lost that rally you were still no worse off.
Now with PAR we need to be much more considerate of the consequences of our behavior. Mind you—none of us are going to make this attitude adjustment overnight. Indeed there is an existing precedent. When the PSA switched from nine scoring to 15 point point-a-rally scoring, pundits and players alike said that it would spoil the game. They said the matches would be much shorter. Indeed in some quarters there was a hope that the games would be shorter—perhaps this would be more attractive to TV. So what happened? Initially there were some blow-out matches, it’s true. And, for a while, players falling behind lost heart because they felt they couldn’t fight back as easily as they felt they could in the nine point system. Indeed, we saw players’ resistance fold—a bad decision on their part as, even if they didn’t feel they could win the game, they certainly could have spent time debilitating their opponent so that in the next game they were in a stronger position.
And therein lies the key: What is Squash really about? Is it about racking up points on a board? Or is it about finding a chink in the opponent’s armor, that by wearing them down, may result in a sudden collapse and a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat? In my view the job of a squash player is primarily to protect themselves, as a good general with a small force might do, and from a position of strength, tempt the opponent to spend themselves until, having expended too many resources, they can be destroyed.
This can all be done in one rally. How important is it then, that we learn to give each individual rally our full attention? Those that, feeling their situation is hopeless, give up because they don’t believe they can retrieve the game, are missing the point. No matter what stage of the match, a single rally can break the opponent’s resolve. Or multiple debilitating rallies—you can damage an opponent with your persistence and you never know when a seemingly strong opponent will break.
So we must focus and learn. Last year, in Baltimore, Shawn Delierre and Shahier Razik showed that intense focus can turn two evenly matched players into marathon duellers. In the longest match ever recorded in PAR scoring Delierre beat Razik in an historic 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 13-11, 11-5 victory after two hours and 30 minutes! The longest match ever was two hours and 46 minutes between the legendary Jahangir Khan and the great Egyptian Gamal Awad, using the nine point system. And that was more than 20 years ago—so there was plenty of nine point scoring after that. We’ve only had 11 points in the US for a few months!
So as we progress, our capacity to focus and treat each rally progresses. Eventually there will be a three-hour-plus match in pro squash. Meanwhile, we lesser mortals will learn to play each point with intense focus and purpose, realizing that each rally is an opportunity to break the opponent, rather than simply an opportunity to rack up a point. I will be very interested to chart our development over the next few years.
Those that embrace the new scoring system will quickly learn to adapt to it and their squash matches will gradually become longer and longer. Those that fight the new system will languish—distracted and disgruntled by what they feel to be an injustice and never educating themselves. They will suffer the distracting “noise” of issues not relevant to the execution of their games. We saw this with the change from the hardball to softball. Players who were skilled technicians of the hardball game found themselves lost on the softball court, all their years of training not only not helping, but actually damaging. Had we as a community been able to relay the specific differences between the techniques of our two equally valuable versions of the game to the existing community, great damage to the sport would have been avoided and many players would have continued their enjoyment instead of being lost to our community.
In closing here is my advice for PAR:
1. Be excited that the whole world will be using the same scoring system. This can only help us to market the game worldwide and in particular help our Olympic aspirations. The win by two system is particularly exciting and tests the nerve and resolve of the competitors—truly focusing the players’ entire beings.
2. Realize that you can win a squash match with one rally, no matter what stage of the match you are at.
3. Change habits formed in response to the old scoring system such as a casual attitude to serving, or to individual rallies.
4. Never, never give up. Your effort is always worthwhile. Even if you don’t win this match, doing good work will stand you in good stead as you develop your game, and…you never know when your opponent will crack! If it was survival you were fighting for—your very life—would you just let it go? And that’s what squash is—a living realization of a life and death scenario. Survival skills—it’s you or them—within the rules and by using your skill.
So let’s get good at PAR. Before the rest of the world does. Like the Nike slogan says: Just do it. Don’t doubt it, hate it, worry about it. No, use it to your advantage and become a PAR specialist. Pretty soon you won’t even remember not using it!
Skill Level Tips: Simple practice tips for 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 players
3.0 Practice serving accurately. Do at least 30 consecutive serves and put a paper target up on the sidewall you are aiming at. Work towards being able to consistently hit the wall within two feet of the target.
4.0 Try and extend rallies to the point where you feel your opponent is nearing his/her breaking point. Practice not worrying about the score, but instead, pay more attention to your opponent’s state. Then try and exploit it.
5.0 Spend a month recording your error rate. Try and get your unforced errors down to less than 10 per match. In this way make each rally a concentration in itself. Quality brings its own rewards.