Daniel picks Ali Farag and Anthony Joshua as his top role models
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Squash has a new superstar … and he’s just 10 years old. Daniel Tiwana has amazed viewers with his own lockdown training video on YouTube. More than that, he has captivated the squash community with his articulate commentary that goes with it.
Daniel first started playing squash with his dad, Tabs, at the fabulous Arbutus Club in Vancouver. Daniel enjoys playing the adult members there and admits to being knocked around “accidentally” by a few older and slower opponents.
However, he understands this is all part of his squash education as he aims to excel on the junior tournament scene once the squash world is open for business again after the lockdown.
Daniel is delighted to be back on court training at the Arbutus Club now that coronavirus restrictions in British Columbia have been relaxed. He calls it his “second home”.
He lists his main role models as Ali Farag and British heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua, and cites Farag’s sporting attitude as being as inspiring as his skills on court.
Daniel’s video attracted several thousand views, a sponsorship deal and some impressive comments from professionals, including Nicol David, Declan James, Mike McCue and Jaymie Haycocks.
World No.23 James, who is also a big fan of Joshua, wrote: “Thanks for the inspiration here, Champ. Keep training hard and doing your thing. Loving the way you conduct yourself and the crazy skipping skills. Look forward to seeing you on tour one day. Respect.”
Daniel’s father, Tabs, has converted his garage at home so that Daniel can enjoy two hitting sessions every day. As well as solo sessions, Tabs is seen doing some feeding.
Tabs insisted that he shared the video because of the positive feedback he had received which showed that it had inspired many other youngsters to try squash.
Daniel is certainly the most articulate youngster I have encountered since interviewing a similarly precocious Olivia Blatchford Clyne at Grand Central Terminal during the Tournament of Champions in New York in 2003.
Incredibly, Daniel admits that he has never enjoyed junk food and declines to eat pizza, hot dogs or burgers. Now he makes nutrition a major cornerstone of his training programme.
Describing his brutal training sessions, he says on the video: “I had to adapt my training in quarantine with everything focused on helping me to become the best player I could be. As Muhamad Ali said ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough’.
“My goals are to win the best junior squash tournaments in the world, which means the British Open and the US Open. And that’s what motivates me when I’m training, and when I feel exhausted. I tell myself that there’s little kid, somewhere in Egypt, Pakistan or England who wants it more than me, who might be training smarter than me or harder than me.
“And that’s when I try even harder. I picture that kid. And if that kid does beat me when we play, because we eventually will, then I will look him in the eye and I will have a lot of respect for him. Because I will know how much sweat and pain he will have had to go through to beat me.
“I try to watch the best players in the world and learn from them. I love the movement and patience of Ali Farag, the backhand drop of Karim Gawad, the forehand drop of Mohamed ElShorbagy. I love the core strength of Gregory Gaultier and the precision of James Willstrop. For pure guts and heart, I want to be like Mohamed ElShorbagy. For pure shot making, maybe Mostafa Asal, and the best player I have ever seen has got to be Ramy Ashour.
“But my favourite player is Ali Farag because he’s such a fair player and such a good sportsman. He’s incredibly competitive, of course, but he plays the game in the right spirit. He’s the best role model, I think, for junior players.”
Daniel is also happy to offer advice to other aspiring juniors. He says: “First, pick a great role model. I love watching Anthony Joshua train. I think boxing and squash are very similar. AJ is a beast, but he prays for his opponents before his fights, before he goes into the ring and destroys them. How cool is that? He is always positive and relaxed, and he surrounds himself with friends who keep him laughing. AJ is a fantastic role model.
“Second, try to read about champions from different sports. I just read Andre Agassi’s autobiography and I’m reading Hank Haney’s book on Tiger Woods right now. I’ve read about Muhamad Ali and Bruce Lee. I’m trying to get that “champion’s mindset”. What separated those guys? What made them so good? How can I become as mentally strong? That’s the difference at the elite level. Another great book for winning in general is The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.”
Daniel is certainly the most knowledgeable, intelligent and thoughtful squash player I have every encountered at such a young age. To gauge his level of understanding of the challenges he faces if he is to succeed in squash, read the following nuggets of knowledge that inspire him to be the best player he can possibly be.
What age did you start playing squash and why squash?
I first picked up a racquet when I was probably 6 or 7. My dad is a very keen club player and I would hang around outside the courts at our local club. For the first year or two, I probably played squash once a week, mainly for fun.
I suppose the big turning point came last September-October when I was 9. I told my dad that I really wanted to get good at squash and to compete. That was the green light he was waiting for. I started playing regularly and started getting coached properly.
Normal weekly training schedule (non-pandemic)
1. I have two coaches at the moment. See them once a week: Marco Toriz at West Coast Squash Academy and Viktor Berg at Van Lawn.
2. Backtrack: Shout-out to my first coach, Ian Woodhead. He was at The Arbutus Club but has now left to coach in Ottawa.
3. The other 4-5 days, I usually hit with my dad and that’s allowed me to improve pretty quickly. We mainly do drills rather than play games. I’m really looking forward to getting back on court now to see if I can beat him. He’s a pretty skilful player with great hands – so he’s a great feeder when we drill – but he’s also incredibly lazy as a squash player and he’s not that fit. I think if I move around the court now, I can take him out.
How do you set your goals?
The most important thing I focus on is the next training session, the next match I play, the next tournament I enter. I try and keep things as simple as possible. One of my coaches gave me a great piece of advice and I repeat it to myself all the time: “Focus on the journey, not the destination. There is no end goal. Just let everything fall into place.”
What motivates you to train harder?
I want to see how good I can get. It looks like hard work – for me it’s FUN! The on court and off court; both are necessary to becoming a complete squash player.
There is a sense of accomplishment after a really hard session of training, when you’ve pushed yourself to the limit either physically or with what you’re able to do on the squash court (Anthony Joshua says a really hard practice is like “putting money in the bank so I can cash it out later during the match”).
My dad once told me: “There are two types of squash players – runners and shot-makers. It’s more fun to be a shot-maker but to be really good, you have to be both. You have to be able to beat people both ways.”
I have to thank my brother, William. What you haven’t seen in the YouTube video is that William did every single drill and ghost and skipping session right beside me. He would always push me to do one more set of push-ups or hold my plank for 30 more seconds. We fight a lot like most brothers but he really cares about me. I’m very lucky.
Training with Intensity/Focus:
1. Hank Haney in The Big Miss – “Tiger hit every shot at the driving range as though it was in a tournament and it had to be perfect” “Never took a shot off even though he might have been practicing for hours”.
2. Quote from the late Kobe Bryant: “It’s not how many hours you’re at practice, it’s how many hours your mind is present at practice.”
In my age group at Under-11 this year, I would have played in the Canadian Nationals. And then the US Junior Open U11 and the British Open U11. The last two are obviously the biggest, most competitive, junior tournaments in the world and I want to see how I match up with the best kids in the world. Outside of those three tournaments, I’ll probably play more U13 local and national tournaments so I can get harder matches and improve more quickly.
Three things to remember for a squash match (great advice from Viktor Berg):
1. Focus on the squash match and nothing else. No distractions.
2. Take the ball as early as possible – Volley EVERYTHING!
3. Be as creative as possible. Use your imagination to play very shot.
1. Watch a lot of SquashTV. Sometimes watching an hour of squash is more beneficial than an hour of training.
2. Tactics – when a game gets to 8-8, as PJ would say on Squash TV, it’s the “business end”. What do the pros do differently when it’s 8-8 rather than 1-1 at the beginning of a game?
Garage Drills (I usually do 2 garage sessions daily; 2 of the 3 things below):
1. Volleys (forehand, backhand then cross-court) 400 of each.
2. Drives that come off the back wall (have to be accurate, small target area on front wall).
3. Freestyle! (spins, cuts, ball control on racket). Developing super soft hands.
1. Started a few weeks ago at the start of quarantine.
2. Watched Anthony Joshua and YouTube videos. Learned how to do more complex moves such as high knee cross overs and double unders.
3. Helps my squash game – makes me lighter on my feet.
1. Dynamic /explosive across the middle. That’s where points are won and lost as a pro.
2. Rather than take banana shape to corners, I try and take straight lines. Don’t have time in elite squash to take banana shape.
3. Ghost every other day. 6 sets of 10. Go to each cone twice for every ghost (alternate with William).
1. Helps me volley as much as possible and not lose balance on the T. (Nick Matthew is best example).
2. Become stronger physically so I can deal with bigger opponents (adults or older juniors).
3. Lots of ab work (crunches, plank etc).
4. Hundreds of push-ups! Usually do 300+ push-ups daily.
Looking after my body:
1. Eat healthy
2. Rest and recovery (stretching every day and ice baths after brutal ghosting sessions)
3. As an athlete, nothing is more important than my body: “I have to look after my body if I want my body to look after me!”
Other sports/hobbies outside of squash:
Usually I’m playing baseball in the Spring. I love baseball but not playing baseball has allowed me to focus on squash during quarantine especially.
Since quarantine started, I’ve been teaching myself to play the piano from an app I found. I’m getting quite good and really enjoying it! I also love going for a bike ride and playing with our German Shepherd, Henry.
How do you relax in your free time?
1. I like to read – lots of sports autobiographies at the moment.
2. I also love to watch good TV shows. My favourites are Grey’s Anatomy (I’ve watched every season and every episode at least three times I’m guessing!), The West Wing (started watching recently (in Season Three now; absolutely love it), and This Is Us.
3. I also loved The Last Dance. It’s my first time seeing Michael Jordan and I love seeing that incredible drive and focus that separated MJ (just like Tiger, Ali and other great champions).
4. I also love watching great movies. Best movie I’ve seen during quarantine has been Parasite (it was very clever on so many different levels – no pun intended!).
My absolute favourite food in the world: Lamb popsicles in Bengali Masala rub! I’m very careful about what I eat. Always been this way before I got serious about squash. No junk food, no sugar. Even as a kid, I would never eat pizza, hot dogs, or burgers.
Now my usual daily diet: oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Chicken breast/pasta for lunch. Meat/fish and veggies for dinner. I try and have fruit before and during a training session. If I want to treat myself: yogurt or dark chocolate sometimes.
If you don’t become a professional squash player, what do you see yourself doing for a job?
World class neurosurgeon like Derek Shepherd in Grey’s, minus the getting killed part in Season 11.
Let’s hear from Dad, Tabs:
Daniel recently turned 10 (in March) and he’s in Grade 4 at St. George’s School in Vancouver, BC. Daniel was born in Vancouver as well. He has an older sister, Anna aged 14 (doesn’t play squash), and older brother, William (plays squash semi-competitively and actually trained with Daniel during quarantine), aged 19, who’s just completed his first year of university. Dan’s mom, Binday, doesn’t play squash. Me? I’m a squash nut!
Pictures courtesy of Tabs Singh