Squash Mad

Daryl Selby’s freak eye injury sparks new debate on goggles

Daryl Selby wears goggles the day after his eye injury

At the top level, performance takes priority over safety issues
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor

The subject of eye protection in squash hit the headlines again after England captain Daryl Selby suffered a freak eye injury in his National Championships match against Ollie Pett.

With their first round match just a few minutes old, Selby deliberately hit a backhand crosscourt down the middle from the front left corner to avoid giving his opponent an easy volley and Pett, reacting quickly to an unusual situation, attempted to play a shot behind his back.

The ball spun off the frame of his racket and struck Selby in the right eye. He was taken to hospital in Nottingham and an examination showed internal bruising to the eye but no sign of a detached retina.

Selby was awarded a walkover because Pett’s unfortunate shot was deemed to have caused the injury that led to the match being prematurely ended.

The next day, Selby sported a pair of goggles for his quarter-final tie against George Parker. Taking nothing away from Parker, but Selby’s performance was clearly a subdued one, according to some knowledgeable players close to the England camp. Despite those opinions, Daryl refused to use his injury as an excuse and stressed to the audience that George had won on merit. 

Selby, at 37, must have completed thousands of hours on court, playing and training, without worrying about getting hit in the eye with a ball.

At the highest level, no doubt you trust your own ability, and that of your opponents, to strike the ball safely and accurately.

At the very apex of professional sport we frequently hear the mantra that success is down to fine margins. So, if wearing goggles might diminish your vision and concentration by a small fraction of a percentage, then athletic performance outcomes are likely to be given priority over health concerns. If you are frequently distracted by your goggles misting up, then many players are likely to leave them at the bottom of their bags, unloved and unwanted.

However, squash has different rules in place for different territories and different tournaments.

If you play recreational or college squash in America and Canada, you will not be allowed on court without eye protection.

While wearing goggles against George Parker, Daryl Selby plays the ball behind his back. A similar shot by his opponent the previous day led to Selby heading to hospital with an eye injury

Play doubles in the Commonwealth Games and the same rules apply. We also expect our juniors the world over to wear eye protection at all times but most countries do not enforce such strict policies for adult players.

I remember Daryl Selby being involved in an incident during an emotionally-charged 2014 Commonwealth Games match in Glasgow, when he and partner James Willstrop played home heroes Alan Clyne and Harry Leitch.

Clyne was trapped behind Selby in the back left corner and the Englishman wound up a ferocious backhand drive. He had no idea that, as he struck the ball, Clyne would wriggle round him and take the full, immense force of his racket follow-through to his head.

Fortunately, Clyne was wearing an I-Mask that absorbed much of the impact. Selby, it must be pointed out, did nothing wrong. Clyne, in attempting to escape from a position where he was trapped behind his opponent, put himself in the danger zone. He was obviously afraid of Selby going short, but did not bargain for the big flat kill.

Alan Clyne wears his iMask in the 2014 Commonwealth Games

I have often wondered what kind of injury Clyne would have sustained had he not been wearing such a substantial piece of eye protection.

I speak from a position of painful experience, having been struck in the eye with a racket when I very first started playing the game of squash.

Stupidly, I was wearing spectacles with glass lenses. I remember the incident, some 44 years ago, with absolute clarity. I was on match ball and placed a decent backhand drop close to the left wall. My opponent, a left-hander, took a wild, desperate swing, missed the ball and his follow-through ended with his racket smashing my specs and driving shards of broken glass into my left eye.

My girlfriend, now my wife (40 years a squash widow this July) was watching from the gallery. Luckily, she had her car outside and drove me to Eastbourne Hospital. Sadly, her rusty old Morris Minor was on its last legs and the wobbly suspension meant a rather uncomfortable, bumpy drive to the hospital.

A doctor carefully fished several pieces of glass from my eye and sent me away looking like a pirate, with a patch over my left eye.

For the next three mornings, tiny pieces of glass found their way to the surface of my eye. A trip to the optician for a thorough check-up revealed no more glass deposits in the eye. It also led me to wearing contact lenses.

Since then, like most players, I have vacillated between wanting to protect my eyesight and the frustration of stopping matches to wipe sweat off my glasses or goggles.

As a coach, I felt it was helpful to reinforce the message about eye protection by wearing goggles while I took junior groups. After all, it’s rather contradictory to insist on your pupils wearing goggles and not wear them yourself.

A famous picture of Jonathon Power after a freak eye injury in New York

As a lover of doubles, I often, but not always, wear goggles while playing. That decision is often more to do with how much I trust my opponents than anything else.

At club level, I have seen some horrific situations during doubles matches where players with big, dangerous swings see no reason to adapt their playing style in the interests of safety.

I clearly recall playing doubles with my then teenage son many years ago when he hit a crosscourt that beat his opponent, only for this guy to turn on the ball and smack his shot straight up the middle of the court, right into my son’s face. Yes, he was wearing goggles, and the ball struck him painfully on the cheek.

The moron who hit the ball failed to apologise and tried to blame my son for his powerful crosscourt. Obviously, stopping play and asking for a let did not occur to this particular individual. Words were exchanged and I instantly decided not to go on court with this idiot ever again.

Of course, in much of the world we make life difficult for ourselves by playing doubles on a singles court, making collisions and injuries far more likely.

Americans, of course, have wonderful, purpose-built, hardball doubles courts. Try to squash a hardball between your fingers and you will instantly understand why eye protection is mandatory. A hardball strike to any part of the body will cause a bruise that will change colours as the seasons pass.

Sadly, those doubles courts were not replicated on this side of the Atlantic (apart from one in Edinburgh, the only American-sized court in the whole of Europe).

Following the 2014 Commonwealth Games, when a new court dimension was finally agreed upon for doubles, the technology has been available to convert a singles court for doubles play by pressing a button.

However, there must be some inherent impatience built into squash players because nearly every one of those electrical installations has been wrecked by players trying to force the machinery to go faster than it’s programmed to by pushing and shoving the wall. Now, court builders simply recommend a manual solution to moving the side walls for doubles play.

So, stupidity (or lack of patience) is clearly an issue in the game. Too stupid to wear proper goggles, too stupid to ask for a let, or too impatient to wait for a court wall to move.

Lack of care and coaching for newcomers to the game is another important subject. Far too many clubs happily take membership fees from new adult members without ever trying to teach them the rules, the etiquette of the game, or offer basic tips about health and safety while on court.

Most injuries occur when beginners flail their rackets around uncontrollably, hit the ball up the middle of the court, and have no idea how to  keep out of harm’s way.

We know that the newbies are the most likely people to get injured playing squash, and we happily smirk and wince from the gallery as we see them risking life and limb down below.

But, whatever your standard, there is no accounting for a freak mishit shot spinning off a frame, as Daryl Selby found out this week, and the closer you are to your opponent, the more likelihood there is of you being struck by the ball.

I am sure most players will have their own experiences, opinions or horror stories concerning eye protection. Feel free to share them below.

Pictures courtesy of England Squash and Squash Mad library

 

Posted on February 15, 2020

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About The Author

Alan Thatcher

Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad and the new Squash 200 Partnership, building clubs of the future. Founder of the Kent Open and co-promoter of the St. James's Place Canary Wharf Classic. Author and Public Speaker.

18 Comments

  1. Simon February 15, 2020 at 9:58 am

    Great article. Thoroughly agree.
    We are the manufacturer of iMask, which does not fog or affect performance. Just watch Mostafa Asal in the TOC this year. Wearing iMask and giving the world’s best a run for their money.
    If everyone had to wear eye protection that would level the playing field anyway.
    How many times does it need to happen before changes take place?
    Money can’t buy another eye.

  2. SquashMum February 15, 2020 at 10:19 am

    At squash child’s club there is a rule that juniors and anyone playing doubles must wear eye protection on court at all times. However they also say that anyone from age 14 is not bound by this (in singles) if their parents sign a waiver. Incomprehensibly, many parents actually do! The only time squash child is allowed on court without eye protection is during one to one coaching sessions with either of his coaches. Given that one of those coaches is Daryl, I wonder if this might now change.

  3. Lee Horton February 15, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Excellent article Alan. I am a seasoned club player who wears eye protectors for doubles but never singles.
    I am aware it is dangerous and not intelligent, but like most people I figure it it won’t happen to me.
    Bizarrely, I would adhere to a set of rules that said protectors were compulsory.

  4. Richard Millman February 15, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Alan
    Thanks for your article.
    The very fact that as you say there is no accounting for a freak wayward shot is exactly why everyone should wear eye protection.

    My good friend Robert Graham, one of the few players to take a game from Jahangir at the peak of his career, received a similar freak direct strike to his eye in a match with a good player many years ago. He was told at the time that the damage might catch up with him at some point. Sadly recently he has been struggling to save his sight in that eye.

    To me personally it is absolutely insane that all squash players don’t wear eye protection all the time.

    The imask as demonstrated recently by Mostafa Asal has zero affect on a players capacity to play the game. I have never once seen Asal moan or complain.

    Eye protection in my view is following a similar path to that of seat belt wearing years ago.

    Many people drove cars for many years without accident or injury.
    And yet when seatbelts became law, mysteriously the numbers of anonymous statistical injuries and deaths were drastically reduced.

    It doesn’t. matter how infrequently eye injuries happen. Once is enough.

    Ask Robert Graham.

    Best

    Richard Millman

    • Alan Thatcher February 15, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks Richard.

      That’s a very sobering response, and one I hope players of all abilities will take on board.

      If Mostafa Asal is happy to wear eye protection on court, then so should every young player moving from junior to senior ranks.

      Several readers on social media have also pointed the risk that an eye injury might cause serious issues later in life, as Robert Graham is sadly finding out.

      Thanks also for your kind words of encouragement after my hip replacement last month. I discarded the crutches the other day so I look forward to moving smoothly on court at Canary Wharf, with a microphone if not a racket!

      Best wishes,

      Alan.

  5. Richard Millman February 15, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    You are most welcome Alan.

    It is clear that many folks who don’t wear eye protection are sensible ‘adult’ members of society.

    Similarly many sensible ‘adult’ members of society elected not to wear seat belts until it became mandatory.

    Many sensible ‘adult’ people have had their lives saved by having the decision as to whether or not to wear a seat belt taken out of their hands by legislation.

    Squash eye injuries are an entirely preventable injury.

    If you wear quality eye protection that is made to international standards you simply will not lose the sight in your eye.

    Many people thought they were safe to not wear a seat belt because they had never had a problem in many years.

    Many of those same people died.

    Money can’t buy another eye.

    The sooner the PSA and WSF make eyewear mandatory the sooner we will remove the current situations where juniors who see top players playing without eye protection and who want to emulate them, take their eye protection off.

    I know many grown ups think they can make these decisions for themselves.

    That’s what they said with seat belts.

    Grown ups don’t always understand the consequences of their actions to other people or themselves.

    With respect.

    Richard Millman

  6. Paul Selby February 15, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    Interesting reply from Richard but I am sure Asal will ditch the imask as soon as he turns 19 unless they offer him a serious amount of money to continue to wear it. That is the same as all the recent juniors who are now turning 19 who are compelled by the PSA rule that says all U19’s must wear eyewear. They turn 19 and ditch the eyewear. I can’t see the PSA making it mandatory for all Pro players to wear eyewear. A good question to ask will be to Daryl. Will he now continue wearing eyewear after this freak accident.

  7. JEROME ELHAIK February 15, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    Interesting article Alan! In France U19 players must always wear eye protection, including during training and warm-ups … But the rules disappear once you turn 19. You see the odd player wear eye protection in tournaments in France, but they are very seldom. I agree that in general they are people who got hit or almost in the eye before, we tend to think that it won’t happen to us before it happens.

    As far as I am concerned, I wear special sport glasses, not for safety reasons but before I got fed up breaking my regular glasses. They are not squash specific but they work pretty well.

  8. Richard Millman February 15, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    Hi ALAN
    Sadly I have to entirely agree with Paul’s expectation that Asal may ditch the eyewear when comes of age.

    This of course will simply further propagate the number of future eye injuries which are entirely preventable.

    Obviously until someone takes the awful step of suing the WSF and PSA for failing to enforce a rule that would entirely remove the problem, which would cause a sad furore in our sport that is small and can’t afford such internal fighting, we will have to stand by as people’s lives are seriously damaged.

    A shame that some very wealthy caring individual couldn’t come along with a serious sponsorship of the game conditional on the implementation of a mandatory eyewear rule.

    Or perhaps the British government might eventually realize what it costs to society when someone loses their sight both in immediate or long term costs.

    I suspect the little pieces of money that professional squash players feel might be at risk by wearing eye protection when others don’t, would fade into insignificance against either a major lawsuit or the financial costs to those individuals who will undoubtedly lose the sight of an eye in the next 20 years – because we can’t get together as a community to save them.

    Sad – but a fact of life in most of the world outside North America.

    It would be interesting to discover exactly how many serious eye injuries there have been in Squash world wide in the last 20 years, and the stories of those people after they got injured.

    Any game researchers out there willing to save someone’s eyes?

    I for one will always wear my Imask.

  9. David Keating February 16, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Team USA player Chris Hanson (PSA 66) has often been wearing goggles lately. Good for him!

    His personal webpage features him on court at the TOC with goggles.

    https://www.hansonsquash.com/

  10. Jack Dale February 16, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    A slight correction about the Squash Canada Regulations for eye wear:

    The statement about the United States is correct. Squash Canada requires eye wear for juniors (under 19) and recommends them for doubles. Although I think some doubles events and leagues require them.

    I once took a racquet to the face while crowding. While the goggles broke, they did prevent a serious injury. The blood vessels in my eyelid were damaged, but did not bleed through the skin. The resultant bruising caused me to explain that I was trying out a new eye shadow.

    You bet I recommend wearing goggles. I was uncomfortable going on to court without them. If you are concerned about sweat, wear a headband.

    • Alan Thatcher February 17, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      Hi Jack
      Nice of you to admit that you were crowding your opponent! In that situation you have nobody to blame but yourself!
      I recall playing a match many years ago when my opponent played a loose ball that bounced around the T. Instead of giving me time to play the ball, he rushed towards the middle of the court, crowded my swing and caught my follow-through in his face.
      Instead of admitting it was his fault, he accused me of dangerous play!
      No doubt my friend Smithy from Lexden will remember a similar incident when we played racketball a couple of years ago. Again, a small amount of blood was spilt when his head (and the rest of his body) mysteriously got in the way of my volley!
      Alan T.

  11. Alan Goldberg February 17, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    Eyewear for all. My own almost horror story was a friendly match about four years ago (this will sound like the Clyne story) when my opponent looked like he was hitting a drop shot and then went for a cross court. I tried sneaking around him and caught his racquet square on the bridge of my nose. And just as it was designed to do, the frame immediately absorbed the blow, broke in two, the lenses popped out away from my eyes and a day later, a small abrasion.

    I make my living with my eyes and so do the professionals. Mandatory for all.

    • Alan Thatcher February 17, 2020 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Alan.
      So many people have similar horror stories to tell and, reflecting on these moments – that stay with us for ever – we all realise how lucky we were not to have suffered more serious injuries.
      Alan T.

  12. Sasha Cooke February 17, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    The squash community feels a reasonable duty to Junior players to protect them from possible injury. That makes sense.- there are many areas in life in which we feel that the young are not ready to make educated choices. For many adult players, though, pleasure in the game is diminished if they are forced to wear eye-guards. Automobile travel and airplane travel are a necessary part of modern life, and fatalities in these forms of travel drive up insurance rates for all of us, so seat belts are a social good. Squash is a voluntary recreation, and should a player lose sight in an eye (which is rare to the point of being what I recently heard called “decimal dust”) he or she causes no harm financially or otherwise to anyone but him or herself. Clubs should post signs that protect themselves from liability, but beyond that I can see no reason to legislate eye-guards for adults. I accept that is is wise to wear them, but I don’t use them myself when I can avoid it.

  13. Oliver Lu February 26, 2020 at 3:07 am

    Back in the early ’90s I stayed in a chateau in Rougemont, Switzerland for a few nights…there was a small building across the courtyard and the (American) owners of the chateau told me it contained an old dilapidated hardball doubles squash court (so Edinburgh might not have the only one in Europe although it might be the only functional one).

  14. Richard Millman February 26, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Wow! Thanks for letting us know. I think there may also be some doubles courts in Madrid – anyone know?

  15. Paul February 28, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    I bought an imask straight afer seeing that incident at the Commonwealth games. I was always more worried about getting hit in the face with a racket, having seen more of this at my local clubs than eye injuries from a squash ball. I don’t feel it hampers my performance even though I look like a bit of a doofus!

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