Balls to the Wall: Open Letter to my Squash Playing Child by Alan Stapleton

Happy Thirteenth Birthday … may the squash racquet and bag bring you much fun, fitness, many nicks, the guts to patience out some long rallies, and a squashed box full of real friends who will carry you through the blood, sweat and tears that will always accompany this great sport

We are so happy that you have taken an interest in squash. What a great game. Relatively inexpensive, easily accessible, in wind, rain, night and day. Please don’t stop playing your other sports. They are all great teachers of life and the skills you learn from them will add to your squash skills. Team sports will teach you so much about working with others, understanding others, leaning on one another’s strengths, accommodating their weaknesses. And they will complement all that you experience through playing individual sports … standing up for yourself, working on your own, making decisions, taking responsibility.

As you become a chopper, like Mom and I, and move into a working, family life, where time gets squashed, Squash and those individual sports will probably become your zen space. Your bit of “me-time” where you can smash and sweat away your daily frustrations.

You are starting off on a wonderful journey. You will have disappointments, injuries and setbacks, some horrible losses, and some wonderful wins. They will lead you to becoming a better, all-rounded person. You will also meet an array of people who will add much to your life. Embrace them. Some will offer good advice, some bad. Swirl them around on your tongue, let them waft through your senses and your sensibility. Swallow the good. Spit out the bad. Use squash as a platform for networking. You never know when someone you have met on the squash court, might knock on your door to open up an opportunity. Some will become friends for life. Others will drift off into other mists. Some will seem almost schizophrenic in their nature. Off-court, warm, friendly and fun. On-court, fiercely competitive and aggressive. Others will use you, bleed you dry. They too, will teach you. Teach you the meaning of the word, “No” – a word that can offer you time to perfect your own talents. But learn from them all and let them be the spit-and-polish that makes your personality shine

Now, when you are starting – play, play and play some more. Weaker players, stronger players. Don’t be scared of losing. But let every loss be a lesson learned. When you play someone weaker than you, limit yourself, practise different game plans but don’t be soft on them. You have to learn how to win as much as you have to learn to lose. But win graciously. It is a cliché but Pride does come before the fall. And you will fall. Have no doubt.

As a parent, know, that we will support your sporting decisions. Know too, that we will always be supportive of you on the court. But we will be “back-seaters”. Squash is a horrible game for us as parents. We are so close to you on the court, we can feel your frustrations, we can hear your lungs rasping, we can taste the dryness of your nervousness, we seethe with your internal anger when your shot smashes into tin, that sense of disbelief when the marker calls against you. But we will never get involved. We will help where we can, find suitable coaches if you need, travel to your matches. But once you are on court, you are on your own. Now, you must fight your own battles, enjoy your wins and take the consequences for bad shots or bad decisions.

We know you are ambitious and seek always to be the best that you can be. That is good. We cannot ask for more and that is all we wish for you. To use your God-given gifts and skills to the best of YOUR ability. But those gifts and skills are rough, uncut diamonds that only you can polish. That, takes time, effort, and hours of hard, habitual, lonely slog.

Enjoy your own company. Squash is a sport where you can practise on your own. Develop a habit of doing solo practice sessions and know, that with every session, you are getting closer to that player you want to beat. Every session will take you one step ahead of your closest competitor. Watch and analyse as much good squash as possible. Imitation is a powerful form of learning. And if you hit your straps and start hitting the higher echelons, we will try to make plans to get you overseas. That is where you will really start to learn.

In reality, a miniscule number of players make that final cut. If you reach the dizzy heights of national or international circuits, we will be very happy for you and proud of what you have done. But if not, we hope that you keep Squash as a friend, and use her to balance your life. There is no disgrace, in being, just “a squash player”. One who plays for the sheer love of the 45-minute competitive sweat, where the grungy, drab pressures of the day can be smashed against a wall, and you can walk away, feeling refreshed, and good about yourself. And league squash, at whatever level you play, still offers the team spirited, competitive camaraderie of friendship. In fact, Nth Leaguers probably get more fun out of the game than anyone

So go my child, and enjoy your squash journey. Fill that Squash pot with a balanced mixture of ingredients and enjoy the tastes, aromas and experiences that squash will add to your life. And when other players come to write against your name, let them write about how you played the game, and what you gave back to the game. For what you give, will come back to you, in many more ways.

All our love

Mom and Dad

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