Things to Work on this 2018 Offseason

This season was jam-packed. From September to May, think I played 17 tournaments! While there were mental and physical ups and downs, I held up okay, and felt better at nationals in May than last year. I am hopefully that next season I won’t have to play as many tournaments, and that I’ll have a chance to take a midseason break at some point. This will allow me to reset both physically and mentally, and have a strong second half of the season. Traveling and competing is hard on the body, and I didn’t realize the value of rest and proper training until I hurt my back in March.

I am now about two and a half weeks into my off-season training. After nationals ended at the beginning of May, I took two weeks to do whatever I wanted training-wise. When I was home, this included mostly hiking, biking, some running, and lifting. I also got on court a couple times to play doubles and lives, which was fun, mainly because of the hitting partners. For the relatively small number of courts in Victoria, we have a pretty active membership, and it was great to have some of the hometown crew back together.

I’m currently on the 3rd week of my first phase of off season training, which will carry me through to the end of June. It’s focusing on improving my VO2 max using mainly treadmill intervals (anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes), and strength workouts (8 reps). In this phase, there are 3 conditioning days and 2 strength days, which gives me one day to do something different, like take a class, play squash, or take a rest day. So far I’ve used my “extra” day to play squash (once), take the Kettlebell and Core class at Body Space, and take a day off to go to Princeton Reunions (trust me when I say I needed the rest day…!). The Kettlebell and Core class at Body Space has been really great, as it has challenged me to integrate both cardio and strength with difficult movements. Plus, group exercise always adds to the intensity and motivation of the class.

So far, I’ve been sticking with the 5-day program, and have added extra workouts in only if I have the energy and motivation. As an athlete who typically workouts out 2x/day 6 days/week, I can’t stress how nice it’s been to only have to work out once a day. I love training, but I’ve been enjoying a more relaxed approach to my schedule, which has been kind on my body and also on my brain!

As the summer goes on, the program will change accordingly and some aspects will eventually become more squash specific. As for now, I’m trying to increase my VO2 max (i.e. get my cardio up to “speed” with my legs…) so that it’ll hold up when I integrate shorter, harder intervals with less rest… like squash!

After nationals, I immediately wrote down a few areas I need to work on this offseason. These “goals” may change a bit, but in bullet point form, this is what really stuck out to me after my final tournament. I’ve since chatted with a couple of coaches, and while I will integrate their thoughts into the program, I haven’t listed them below.

2018 Offseason Areas of Improvement

Squash

  • Improve backhand and backhand corner
  • Improve movement all around the court. Especially, work on being quicker and keeping my space from the ball.
  • Quick and efficient racquet prep

Fitness

  • More ghosting and squash specific, on-court fitness
  • Integrate consistent pressure sessions. I used to do this all the time in juniors and college, and found it really helped at the end of long games and tough rallies.
  • Build strength in tough positions (ie lunges…)

Mental

  • Meditate consistently. I started this last summer, and it helped in all areas of my life, including work, relationships, and how I interacted with my surroundings (mainly crazy people of New York!).
  • Read. I’ve just finished reading one of my new favourite books- How Bad Do You Want It, by Matt Fitzgerald. I honestly couldn’t put the book down, and found myself writing down important takeaways as I read. Reading a physical book (as opposed to online articles or Kindle app type books) is calming, and I feel that I get more out of the text.

Those are just the main points which stuck out in my mind after the long season. Although I’m starting to plan and think about on-court training, I’m not quite ready to get back into full squash mode, and am going to approach my re-introduction to on-court training with a relaxed mindset.

Alright, that’s all from me! I’ll be back soon, hopefully with some day-in-the-life posts and perhaps a recap of How Bad Do You Want It. Oh, and I almost forgot- I’m going to Bermuda this weekend for an exhibition (!!!), so I’m sure there will be a few things to say (or pictures to post) about that trip!

 

Canadian National Squash Championships 2018

This year’s Canadian nationals were held at the Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta. In juniors, I would play tournaments at the Glencoe at least twice a year, but had not been back since. The Glencoe is an enormous facility, housing several squash courts, tennis courts, a badminton arena, an indoor and outdoor pool, curling, skating rinks, and even a bowling alley! Since I’d been there last, they had also re-done the cafeteria, restaurant, and gym. It’s an old club, but has a classic yet modern feel. I wish I belonged there!

The committee and club did a fantastic job organizing the tournament. Everything ran smoothly, and having the entire badminton arena blocked off for sponsors, lounging, and court control helped accommodate the masses of people. Furthermore, the Glencoe featured an all-glass court for the event, which was also put up in the badminton arena. This was pretty cool, since usually only main world series events are held on glass courts. The only downside to the court was that the decals (ie. sponsors logos) on the front wall were very large- and white. Since we were using a white ball, you would often lose sight of it when coming off the front wall. This, coupled with the fast front wall and altitude caused a few flubs over the course of the tournament. All in all, I don’t think it was a major factor in the result of my matches, but the court did take some getting used to, that’s for sure.

Matches

My first match was against Erin Roberts. I had the chance to jump on the glass court prior to the match, and this served as an advantage. I took the ball as early as I could and put pace on it, to force Erin into the corners behind me. This strategy worked well, and I felt surprisingly comfortable on the lightning fast court.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

Now in the quarters, I drew Nikki Todd, a fellow Canadian teammate. We’d played a couple months prior, in the Queen City Open (see previous post for recap), and I had lost in a somewhat close 3 games. Although I didn’t hype this match up to myself or to anyone, I knew it was more important that just a quarterfinal. With Women’s World teams 4 months away, Squash Canada had declared this tournament as trials. The top 4 women would make the world’s team. Sitting in 5th place, I had to beat at least one of the women ahead of me for a place on the team. (5th place is a reserve, but does not travel to the tournament).

Nikki started off strong, and I lost the first game fairly quickly. She was more consistent at applying pressure with low hard drives- similar to what I’d done to Erin the previous day. In the second, I did my best to regroup, and narrowly missed out. The third was a bit scrappy, from what I can remember. I managed to save a couple of match balls, hit a drive  between my legs at 11-11 (which I will blame on a funny bounce), and squeaked it out 13-11. I knew I needed a good start in the fourth game, but quickly found myself trailing by 5 points. Not ideal! Now, with my back against the wall, I began to play better squash, and scrapped together some points. However, in the end I couldn’t pull it out, and went down in 4 games.

After that match, I had several people come up and tell me it was a good game and that I played well, but I couldn’t help feel a bit disappointed. I’m not sure if that was because I knew I would not be on the team going to Womens World teams this fall, or because I felt I could have played better. I actually talked with Nikki after the match and asked her what she had thought of it. I was curious as to what her strategy had been, given my strengths/weaknesses, and the court. Nikki said that instead of lobbing or hitting mid-height shots from a defensive, she aimed to keep the ball away from my volley, with low drives, or drops or boasts if necessary. As someone who likes to attack on the volley from the midcourt, I did find it a bit frustrating, since I had to find other ways to create pressure, and furthermore, neutralize her attacks.

My final two matches of the tournament were both against Calgarians. The first match was against Jamie Laird, whom I’d played Jamie once before in college, and lost in five. Jamie is a great competitor, and had been in form this tournament. The match was a bit of a roller coaster on my end, but managed to win in five games.

Following Jamie, I was up against fellow Princeton alum, Jackie Moss. Jackie graduated right before I matriculated, and played top 3 for the team. Like Jamie, Jackie is a great competitor, and can never be counted out. Now on the last day of the tournament, this match would not just be a matter of squash skills, but also a test of how well your body had held up after 3 hard matches. Despite playing 5 games the day before, I felt pretty decent, and closed it out in a close 4 games. Despite a few reffing blunders, the match was competitive and fair, and a good way to finish off my season.

Overall, I’m okay with how the tournament went. I was seeded 5th, and upheld that ranking. It would have been really nice to have done better, however upon reflecting, I came away with two “macro” positives. First off, I felt mentally much better than the year before (mentally, I was not in a good place for last year’s nationals). Secondly, I had more confidence in my game and in myself than at the beginning of the season. I guess playing 17 tournaments in the span of 8 months will help with that!

Victoria

After a fun night out (there’s always an end of tournament banquet), I flew home the following day to Victoria. I had the best week at home, running a bit, hiking, biking, working out, and also playing “fun squash”, including doubles and lives! I also got to go kayaking, and meet up with friends. The weather was perfect, which made it easy to be outside and be active. That’s one thing I miss about the west coast… no fight for quiet green space!

Early Offseason Plans

Since I’ve been back in NY, I’ve been coaching, and have taken a break from playing. My workouts have consisted of lifting, general circuits, Kettlebell and core at Body Space, and a run. I’m letting myself take the rest of May off from squash, and will start to ramp up off court training in June. As for hitting, I think I’ll get back on court when I feel like it. Last summer, I took nearly a 2 month break from squash- something I’d never done before. It was really necessary, but this off season I’d like to spend more time working on my game, so I feel better prepared for the fall. I am hoping that in the next few weeks, I’ll start to get the itch to play again, but in the meantime, I’m going to work on off-court, and enjoy life a little bit!

 

 

Queen City Open (Regina) and Texas Open (Houston)

Queen City Open

My final two events of the 5-tournament road trip were tough. My back was still bugging me a lot, and my movement was very compromised. Every morning I would struggle to get out of bed, let alone have a reasonable practice hit. Fortunately, as I’d move and warm up throughout the day, my back would feel a bit better, and after a good warmup and an Aleve, I’d be able to compete without too much pain. Funnily enough, even though the pain wasn’t as acute, my body still wouldn’t let me move in certain ways. In particular, any balls to the backhand and anything low were really hard to retrieve. My reaction time was also really slow, which made me feel like a bit of a boat out there on the court (ie. slow to turn).

Playing Jaycee in my first round match

One positive takeaway was that I had to be conscientious and smart about my tactics. I found that cross courts often got me in trouble, so I kept a large percentage of shots straight down the wall. In addition, since I was hesitant to cover the front, I had to be careful and tactful about when to go short.

About to serve to Nikki (Quarters in Regina at the Queen City Open)

My first match vs Jaycee was tense. was a bit nervous about my back going into the match, but after I realized I probably wasn’t going to make it worse, I tried to settle in. Jaycee played well, and I managed to win in 4 games. Aside from one game where I stepped up on the T, I was pretty passive for most of the match and let a lot of balls go to the back.

In the quarters, I drew Nikki Todd, a Canadian teammate. It had been about a year and a half since we’d played in competition, and knew I’d have to bring my A game. Also, as a Regina native, she was the home favourite. I think I played about as well as I could have given my back, but wish that I had been more confident to attack short. Nikki is very quick, and I was very aware of her ability to counter attack off of my weak short shots. Instead of giving her that opportunity, I played a lot of balls to the back- when in doubt, a tight, straight volley helped keep me from scrambling. The games were all close and competitive, but I ended up going down 3-0.

Aside from losing, Regina was pretty fun. My billets were great, and I really enjoyed getting to know the Queen City committee members.

All of the athletes participating in the Queen City Open

A few of the pros were also asked to work with some of the local juniors in a Saturday morning clinic. They were all very enthusiastic!

Novum Energy Texas Open

After the Queen City Open concluded, I flew to Houston for a 25k in some warmer weather. I can’t tell you how nice it was to finish off with a tournament in a summer-like conditions!

The first two nights Danielle and I stayed with a billet, Melissa. She and her family were incredibly welcoming, and we were sad to leave to go to the hotel! Since us athletes cover our own accommodation (and transportation), we are always grateful when the tournament promoter covers hotel rooms or arranges homestays. In this case, billets were arranged for qualifying dates, and hotel was covered for main draw players. I was in the main draw, but arrived during qualification, and was therefore put up with Melissa for a couple nights until the hotel bonus kicked in.

My first match was against #4 seed, Mayar Hany of Egypt. Mayar had just been in Regina for the Queen City Open as well, and had won the entire event. I knew I could look at this one of two ways: 1) Mayar could be confident because she was playing so well, or 2) she could be very, very tired from having played so many tough matches. I disregarded both thoughts, and just tried to focus on my own game.

I think Mayar was half asleep in the first game, and I won it narrowly 12-10. After that, it was as though I had awoken the sleeping giant, and I proceed to tank the next game, losing 11-0. Yikes. I don’t think I’ve ever been bageled before (ie. losing 11-0) in competition, and that got in my head a bit. The next two games were better, but I didn’t feel as though I was hitting the ball well, and was always on the back foot. She hit some ridiculously good boasts to the front left corner, that I just couldn’t retrieve (partly limited because of my back, but they were also great shots).

It was a frustrating match, because I felt that if I had played well and been healthy, the score could have been different, but at the same time I was relieved to be done with tournaments. After 5 tournaments in a row, my mind, and especially my body were in desperate need of rest.

Overall, Houston was a good experience. I really enjoyed meeting the promoters and sponsors of the event, and hope to return soon! The squash community in Houston is very enthusiastic, and I see great potential for either an urban program or simply more tournaments. The complex that we played in (the Metropolitan club) was right downtown, and was huge. Immense workout facility (weights, treadmills, basketball court, crossfit studio), as well as 5 squash courts, probably a dozen tennis courts, and a restaurant/bar. The saying “everything is bigger in Texas” is true!

 

Calgary CFO Consulting Services Open + A Trip Back Home

A resolution for next season: get better about tournament recaps! Although it’s been over a month now since the tournament in Calgary, I can still remember my matches and time there quite vividly. (It definitely also helps to take pictures to serve as little reminders!).

Two days after returning to NYC from Bermuda, I flew off to the other side of the continent for the CFO Consulting Services Open. I always look forward to playing in Calgary because they put on a great event, and I get to see friends from junior squash. (Shoutout: Thank you to all the sponsors, volunteers, and of course, Glenn Stark for putting on the tournament! You guys do a fantastic job every year, and make the event very special- especially for us Canadians!)

This year I stayed with friend and Canadian teammate, Danielle. I’ve stayed with her a couple times before, and we always have a good time. (I think the first time I stayed with Danielle was for a tournament in Grade 10!).

Breakfast by D!

Match vs Nouran El Torky

I had a bye first round, and drew an Egyptian, Nouran El Torky for a spot in the main draw. As the first seeded qualifier, I was technically “expected” to make it into the main draw, but it is not uncommon to have underrated players come through qualifying and beat the odds. My opponent was definitely one of those cases.

I went into the match with a neutral and relaxed mindset. I knew if I lost, that I could opt not to take the ranking points and it wouldn’t hurt my rating, which alleviated some pressure. Instead, I made my goal to just play and not worry about the outcome.

This “gameplan” (which was more of a mindset), worked surprisingly well. The score was like background noise- I knew it was there, but it didn’t have much bearing on my play. Even when the games went to a tie-break, I still felt calm. I actually found myself wondering if I was too relaxed, and was too indifferent about the score. As much as possible, I tried to let those thoughts pass and not bother me. I was playing well, and avoiding confrontation with my opponent (she tends to get into it with the refs and there are always lots of calls), and just tried to keep doing the right thing tactically.

After losing a couple match balls in the fourth game, I eventually lost in a tiebreak in the fifth. It was a very long match (about 75 minutes), that was more mentally draining than it was physical. I can’t imagine how spent I would have been if I had been anxious or wound up during the match, as opposed to having a calm, relaxed mindset.

Injury + Victoria

Unfortunately, my body found the match to be more difficult than I realized, because immediately following the very last point, I threw my back out. It wasn’t any particular movement that hurt it, so my best guess is that the injury was a result of massive overuse and repetitive motion. In other words, lots of squash and lots of tournaments, without adequate training and rest.

The pain was so bad that I couldn’t bend down to take my shoes off or put my pants on without holding on to something or compensating in some way. I even took some pain killers for the next few days to help the pain subside.

I flew home to Victoria the following afternoon for a little visit with friends and family. Before the whole back injury episode, I was hoping to get some really good training in. However, as the weekend progressed, it became increasingly clear to me that I needed to make rehab the central focus. Massages/rolling, mobility, and contrast therapy became my best friends for a few days, as I literally could not function if I didn’t do some sort of rehab every couple of hours. My back was tiiiiiight!

On the plus side, I got to see some old friends! Danielle, Lindsay, and I have known each other since Kindergarten (almost 20 years!), and I’ve known Casey since middle school. We go way back!

Casey, me, Danielle, and Lindsay

I also convinced my mom to go on some walks with me to enjoy the sunshine. How beautiful is the Pacific Northwest?!

After an amazing few days at home, I flew off for my last two tournaments of the road trip: Regina, Saskatchewan, and Houston, Texas. More on that in another post!

 

Stairs HIIT Circuit

In college, I would look forward to the stair climbing portion of our conditioning workouts. No matter how tired I was from the ghosting or other exercises, I could always keep going on the stairs. In hindsight, it was probably because there were only 3 flights to climb before we would run down and start again, giving our quads a bit of a break. Nevertheless, it wasn’t an exercise I dreaded (unlike court sprints…blah!)

A few months ago, I was coerced into running a set of stairs with my coach, John after our session. After one set of 9 flights, my quads were on fire. I don’t mean a slight burn in the legs- I mean such an intense feeling that my legs physically couldn’t accelerate anymore. The hardest part? Once the legs started burning, I had to keep going, which made the last couple of flights a huge feat of mental strength.

A little while ago, I decided to dip back into the dreadful stairs pain cave, and drew up this stairs conditioning workout to test the lactic capacity of the legs, as well as muscular endurance. I had Jello legs by the end of the session!

Stairs Conditioning Workout

Complete 3-4 rounds of each circuit, taking little to no rest as needed between exercises. Between rounds, take ~45-60 seconds rest.

Circuit 1

1)  Stairs. I did 9 flights, because that’s how many are in the building, but depending on your current level of fitness, that may be too many (or perhaps too little!) for you.

2) Bent over row (15 reps) 

3) Walking lunges (12 reps / leg)

4) Jump rope (60 seconds)

Rest 45-60 seconds, then repeat 3-4x

Circuit 2

1) Stairs

2) Bear crawl (30 seconds)

3) Kettlebell squat to OH press (15 reps)

4) Jump rope (60 seconds)

Rest 45-60 seconds, then repeat 3-4x

If you do end up trying the workout, drop me a comment and tell me what you thought!

Disclaimer: While I am a certified personal trainer, please make sure to consult with your doctor before trying this (or any) workout regimen, especially if you are new to exercise.