By Will Carlin
So, the national rankings came out last month. Judging by the rancor in New York City, the ten-year experiment on ratings and rankings still doesn’t have its kinks worked out. While it is clear that there are valid criticisms about the system (but let’s not start that discussion right now), it’s also obvious that the most common complaints are based on the “fact” that someone knows that they are better than so-and-so, and it shows just how wrong the rankings are that so-and-so is ranked three spots ahead of them.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the entire premise of the system is based on head-to-head results (called “exposures”) and that ratings have severe inherent weaknesses if there aren’t enough exposures in the system. Volume, however, is only part of the story; the other part is that for a truly national rating system to work accurately, there have be players who travel.
For whatever reason (and there are many theories, including rising costs, greater demands on time, more options for entertainment, and even the PAR scoring system), in recent years, despite an enormous rise in the travel and play of junior players, adults have been increasingly less likely to pack a bag and go play a tournament in another city.
That’s too bad for the ratings, because in order for anyone to really have an idea of whether their 4.5 rating means anything compared to a 4.5 in another city, there really need to be a few players who not only are active in their own city, but also travel to a number of other cities. These crossgeographic exposures are critical to the national rating and ranking system.
Over the past few years, after a series of squash surgeries, my own rating and ranking dropped precipitously, and in an effort to get it back to something approximating reality, I have spent the past few seasons traveling to quite a few tournaments. I thought I might share a few random travel tips.
If you are renting a car, reserve the smallest model you find; you can always upgrade when you are at the counter if you need to (and it often is cheaper than doing it in advance). Smaller cars also get rented out more quickly than the larger, luxury models (which may mean a free upgrade).
Take a break every two hours or so from driving. Sure, go to the bathroom, but also grab a drink and sit down inside for a few minutes. Driving is fatiguing, and particularly if you are playing the same day, these mini-rests help a lot.
Plan to arrive before your match the same amount of time that it takes to drive to the location (if the drive takes four hours, arrive four hours before your match). I have lost many matches because there was not enough down time between the drive and my first match.
Bring your own headphones and a smartphone or tablet (don’t forget to fully charge them before you leave). When you want to get some rest or just need a little peace and quiet, put the headphones on. This will discourage people around you from engaging you in conversation, although you also may need to avoid eye contact. Having said all this, some of my flights that seemed to pass most quickly were because of great conversations with seatmates. If you are not too tired, don’t close yourself off to it.
Always take an aisle seat if the flight is over two hours; that way, you won’t feel bad about getting up and walking up and down the aisle. On really long flights, try going to the galley area and doing some push-ups or sit-ups just to get the blood flowing. If you time it right, you can do it when no one will notice or you can use it to start a fun conversation with a flight attendant.
First of all, get a real squash/tennis bag. They are organized very well these days and the last thing you want is for your racquet handles to be sticking out of another bag.
How many racquets? My number has increased over the years, and I now take six. Why six? Because I have actually gone through four racquets in a single tournament (two popped strings and two cracked racquets—not out of anger, thank you very much), which means that I was on racquet #5. So now I take six.
Grips and more grips. Particularly if you are partial to a brand. Bring your own. There is nothing like the feeling of a fresh grip, and if you get to the finals, treat yourself to a new wrap.
Everyone has a different system for the number of shirts and shorts, but enough pairs of socks is critical. Bring more than you might possibly need. They don’t take that much room, and there is nothing worse than realizing that you are out of socks.
I always take two pairs of squash shoes to a tournament. I sweat a lot, and if I have a long match and have to play a few hours later, I like to put on a non-soaked squash shoe.
Bring a clean towel. I am constantly surprised how often I have needed my own towel at a tournament. They take up a lot of room, but bring one anyway.
It is true that the ranking system isn’t very accurate yet, but that is at least partly because it needs more results, and it needs more people traveling to play. So instead of complaining about it (or at least in addition to), please depart.
Exit stage left.
Make like a banana and split.
Have a nice trip and see you in the… um…fall.