PAUL SELBY, leading coach and head of a British squash dynasty, joins the big SquashMad debate on the use of single-dot balls for youngsters and recreational players.
In response to Richard Millman’s article in support of The One Dot Revolution, the first comment I would like to make is that, like Malcolm Willlstrop, I am a big advocate of using the Double Dot for all junior matches.
Right, let’s look first at the problems we face. The first is having an inferior ball made on the cheap caused by Dunlop switching their production to the Far East from the Wakefield factory when the company was purchased by Mike Ashley of SportsDirect fame.
The ball now is not a consistent product and can vary in its speed and behaviour from ball-to-ball. As an experiment, try rolling the ball across a flat surface and see the inconsistent roll. This is because the balls are not even round.
The biggest marketing error squash has made was to change from the Blue, Red, White, Single Dot Green, Single Dot Black progression to the much less popular Max, Max Progress, Single Dot, Double Dot group.
The Max and Max progress for 4-5 year old beginners is an absolute no-no. Better to use the old red dot so they feel they are like the big kids playing with a proper ball like they do.
My job I feel as a coach of junior performers is to progress them as fast as I think is possible on to the Double Dot (weather and court temperature allowing).
After watching the Under 11 National Championships in Manchester earlier this year I was embarrassed by the patronising nature of ESR in insisting the kids play with a one dot ball.
Most of these kids had been training with double dots and were only told as the ball was thrown down to them by the referee for their first match.
I am happy for kids to train with a variety of different balls in practice to try out different things and see if they can cope with different situations but for serious competition, let’s not dumb down the top kids.
If the less-able kids struggle, then maybe we should look at running a tournament alongside for the improvers where they can use a single dot.
As for the majority of squash players worldwide, the ball to be used must depend on climate and altitude (altitude, that’s right, not attitude).
If you are playing in Denver or Johannesburg, or Bogota, then a single dot might be way too fast. Likewise, if you are playing in Yellowknife, in the middle of winter, an old red dot might have a use.
Squash governing bodies (WSF step forward) should be addressing this issue and making some decisions on a:) Improving the quality of the product we are forced to use (96% of all balls sold are Dunlop). b:) Giving clear guidelines on which ball to use based on certain criteria i.e. Age, Country, Level, Gender, Temperature, Time of Year.
This is a worthwhile debate as we strive to keep players already playing and also entice new people into the game.
And don’t forget UK Racketball. It certainly does have a role in helping to keep players using facilities that may well have struggled and may even have closed without this new addition to aid court bookings.
I am sure my comments will not be welcomed by some, but some others may agree. This is the nature of debate and through it, we aim to reach a sensible, educated and researched consensus.
It is absurd that ESR should come along and impose a ball on a competition when it is inappropriate to the standard of play and the players aren’t used to using it. It really needs to be better thought out than that before wading in.
I can’t help feeling that if there had been more, accurate information on bouncier balls, players who have taken up racketball might have continued with squash.
Richard Millman also made the point in another thread that in bundling racketball with squash ESR may have alienated the North American squash community, who wouldn’t dream of playing racketball (let alone on a court intended for squash). I think this is a mistake. One of the impediments to squash moving forward is the disparity between the wordwide organisations. There seems to be a certain arrogance among the UK-based organisations that is unhelpful to the sport. Perhaps this is the altitude you refer to?
I also read the comments regarding UK Racketball made by Richard Millman, I’m not sure this is arrogance by the NGB’s in the UK, more an attempt to encourage an increase in court usage as so many courts have and are being shut down. If the knock on effect is it damages the sport elsewhere in the world, then of course the issue needs to be addressed by the body responsible for the sport worldwide as they have the overview. It’s obvious a national federation will consider it’s own domestic views and issues without considering the international impact of it’s decisions, why should it do anything other than try to make the best decisions for it’s own players in the unique circumstances of it’s own country?
It may not be arrogance, it may just be that poor decisions get taken. I was referring more to recent incidents than to the inclusion of racketball, actually – particularly the PSA’s decision to try to gag PSA players (which could be simply an attempt to rectify what it sees as a bad situation that was badly thought through).
I am also disappointed that more wasn’t done to address some of the obvious problems with the sport before the Olympic bid or things like approaching the TV companies. It seems that the PST may have the solution to the delays caused by lets, for instance, which is absolutely crucial to the way the sport is presented to wider audiences. This was first tested three years ago and supported by major players and at least one referee, yet I heard nothing about it being considered by any established squash organisation.
A ball for winter, a ball for summer would satisfy me.
An interesting debate, I’ve read a few of Richard Millman’s observations over the last couple of months and whilst they are always thought provoking reads, in my opinion they don’t always come across as stimulating debate rather, a rant at the establishment. That said, the ball debate is an interesting one.
If you look at squash, it certainly wants to progress, as a sport it’s not short of innovation, glass courts, white balls with cats eyes, lower tins, different scoring systems, different colour courts etc…and this debate, a different range of squash balls with different interpretations of when they should be used and by whom.
For those who remember, the old yellow, white, red and blue dots, we also had a yellow dot black ball and yellow dot green ball…and the black ball was, like the double yellow dot, “the ball of choice” for the vast majority of players.
Whilst I worked for SRA in a National Development Role I recall being invited to a meeting with Paul Walters, then of Dunlop, who wanted to create new innovation with the ball in order to make the game easier for beginners but maintain the quality of the product for regular players able to use the black yellow dot ball and also to provide a clearer structure of who should use what ball. With hindsight, it was a product led initiative rather than a customer led initiative, a bit like how apple used to operate…you don’t know what you want until we provide it for you….where as in this case the new product range wasn’t necessarily needed. However, it was developed and we’re using it but perhaps, it’s value wasn’t monitored effectively to assess the impact the new range had?
Moving forward and into this debate, in my opinion, the difficulty here is two fold, firstly, the monopoly Dunlop have over the market on ball sales and secondly the clarity of use of the ball and by whom.
The first issue is a real challenge, a number of manufacturers have tried to make balls to challenge the Dunlop monopoly but never quite got it right, I wonder if this is where our highly respected coaches could work together, perhaps as a “World Coaches Cooperative” to develop a new ball that competes effectively with Dunlop? We rely on the manufacturers for new innovation and see this in new racket composites all the time…what about with the ball, it seems it’s an untouchable holy grail?
The second issue is one where I agree with Paul Selby, World Squash needs to play a more active role to help clarify how and when balls should be used in matches. The problem, as Paul rightly points out is different balls come into their own in different conditions. For example, I’m currently playing at a club in Spain, the courts and conditions are warm, if we were to use a single yellow dot ball, the bounce would be up around chest height or higher, however, in England, where I used to play,as it gets colder, the same ball would bounce at a more comfortable height, perhaps giving us a better experience? So whilst guidance should be provided, it seems to me that our coaches are likely to have the biggest impact on the ball players use as they are rightly regarded as valued custodians of the game and as such their opinions have strength and influence.
So come on all you experience coaches, what about getting together and instead of debating….let’s see some work on a ball that really meets the needs of the squash playing population. If you did it under a cooperative you could reinvest all the funds into the development of the sport and perhaps address a bigger challenge I noted from the recent comments made by Sport England regarding the worrying trend of 90% male and 10% female playing the game in England. In my view this is about right, here in Spain too. I’d certainly be interested in opinions and views on this issue and how the squash world might reverse this. If the ratio of male to female continues to see females ebb away from the sport this could damage a future Olympic bid for Squash?
Great to hear from you. I remember playing at Brenfield more than 25 years ago! (I remember the result, but am too polite to mention it here!)
I agree that coaches are the ones who can influence opinions and decisions about which ball to use.
With temperatures in the UK now dropping to near freezing-point in the south and much lower in the north, it is certainly an appropriate time for such a debate.
With my own juniors, I certainly try to use the appropriate ball depending on ability and court conditions. The hardest thing is a mixed ability class.
Regarding your comments about female participation, most county league competitions for women have folded.
The few remaining women players no longer wish to drive across the county for midweek team matches, arriving home late at night.
The solution is to provide an entirely new, graded, competitive format for women players, of all abilities, based on local clubs.
And clubs, many of which have become male bastions, need to become more female-friendly.
I think the problem with the levels of female participation stems from lack of influx into the sport over time. I’m not sure how much the nature of the game may play a part and I think it doesn’t help that we now have a very male-dominated sport for females to compete in. Probably the answer lies in gaining a new generation of junior players and growing female involvement from there. More women’s tournaments might be a good idea, or perhaps WSA events with a mixed graded tournament attached, as often happens with PSA and BSPA events.
I agree that a simple solution is best, Lee. I’d go with three balls, based on purpose. One for general use, one for cold conditions, beginners and older players, and one for hot conditions. Yellow dot, red dot and green dot. The hot and cold balls should be used for competitions, where the bounce of the standard ball is significantly livelier or deader than normal, so that as near as possible to a standard bounce is achieved.
It is upto people in the know to approach the organisations and ask for improvements to be made. I wonder if anyone has actually done this.
Overall I think there are some excellent points here and certainly worthy of careful consideration and further debate.
Jeff Mulligan who championed the concept of the One or Single Dot made reference to the higher hang times and the improvement in technical development among players who consistently use a bouncier ball.
I fully agree with Paul Selby and others who have pointed out that expecting players who have been training with a Double Dot to suddenly be expected to play with a One Dot is nothing but damaging.
However I do feel that a concerted period of practice and training with the One Dot before playing competition may well bear surprising fruit as the rally durations and time for stroke set and execution may be beneficial and as Jeff says, may produce a Squash game for amateurs more reflective of the games played by the pros.
As Simon Crowther rightly pointed out I have bemoaned the insular decision to change the England governing body’s name to include the word Racketball.
This has nothing to do with my feeling that the game currenly known as UK Racketball is a major lifeline for the game of Squash world wide. I think the bounce of the ball in this game and the concept of the One Dot in singles have similar important benefits for the health and longevity of the sport.
It is just a shame than no one really considered the negative image and the relationship with North America, a continent that has been integral to the financial health of the sport.
I am sorry that Matt McFahn feels that my contributions have been rants at the establishment in the main. That was never my intent. I try to point out where I think we could do better and offer some sort of challenge to strategies that I believe could be better.
Without some sort of vocal alternative, those in power would never govern as effectively as when made to stop and think.
That was and continues to be my intention.
I have been a devoted servant of this sport since the early 1970’s and I can assure Matt that my whole purpose in life is to move us forward.
Well, now we are getting somewhere! Simon, I too agree that a simple solution is best. I think that the hard part might be establishing what would be considered a “bounce standard” to be maintained. I feel that the standard bounce is what the pros produce in normal (70 degrees) court temperatures. As long as we have appropriate balls for every condition and level. I like the idea of a seasonal ball choice. Even for the pros! From what I saw at the British open this year, looks like a 1 dot would have done the trick! I did actually have a conversation with some pros that thought that would have been a good idea.
Tennis has different balls for different altitudes. And they play them in the tournaments. Why cant we do the same?
One last thing, I love the attitude that it is up to us coaches to make sure everyone is playing with the appropriate ball as well as demand the governing bodies to make some appropriate guidelines based on what the community of coaches thinks is best.
I think the advocates of the single-dot ball are overstating its merits and overlooking its shortcomings. There are two problems I have with the single dot:
— It takes pace and variety out of the game.
I’m a dedicated club player who hacks away at the B level four or five times a week. My experience using a single dot has been that it makes playing shots to length with pace difficult — balls rebound too readily and are easy to retrieve. For similar reasons it makes going short tougher — anything that isn’t pinpoint precise is going to get picked up. The result is that play becomes more conservative; you end up rallying at medium pace to the back of the court, hoping for a nick or an unforced error from your opponent. Points may last longer, but that doesn’t mean they’re more challenging or more fun.
— Where do you draw the line?
I can see the merits of a bouncier ball for kids with ages in the single digits, older players with significantly decreased mobility, and novices who are first getting oriented to the game. But when you start dictating that some reasonably fit, experienced adult players should be using one ball while others should be using another you run into problems.
I relish the chance to get on court with stronger players. Doing so has been crucial to the development of my game. Different balls for different skill levels creates a barrier to this kind of advancement. What high-level player would be willing to change balls when hitting with a weaker opponent? (Or conversely, how much benefit would it be for a weaker player to hit with a stronger one using an unfamiliar ball?)
Saying that club players of all levels should use a single-dot ball just pushes this problem higher up the food chain. At what point do you graduate from single to double dot? At college? But there’s a wide disparity in talent levels among college players in the U.S. Many are weaker than the top-level club players, while a handful could rank among the top 100 on the pro tour (and, in the case of the women, some do).
I think I’ve seen Richard Millman’s name as a competitor in 5.0 or 5.5 tournaments. Richard, do you advocate using a single-dot ball for your competitive matches? And where would you draw the line between single and double dot play?
Some great debate, perhaps the diversity of the discussion demonstrates just how complicated this issue about the best ball for the best game actually is?
If this debate is to progress beyond this site it needs to engage the wider squash community to identify if there is a problem across different playing groups, ESR recently undertook a survey on the future of squash in England but I don’t recall there being any questions about the ball (I may be wrong).
I still stand by my thoughts that the lack of females playing the game is likely to be more damaging and deserves a greater debate, or as Richard rightly suggests, if there isn’t a vocal alternative things don’t get discussed or changed.
Not sure I’ve added anything more to the debate but definitely thought provoking and needs wider circulation from here.
(Alan……bizarrely I also remember the game you won 3-1, we didn’t play again as I progressed upwards 🙂 )
I completed ESR’s tightly focused survey, as I did last year. I then sent them an email suggesting a few of the things I think they should be asking about and focusing on. I got no reply.
Can somebody please clarify something for me? The 2 dot ball from Dunlop was developed and introduced in 2000. Was this ball in fact different(less bouncy) than the ball (1 dot)everyone including pros was using? We’re they trying to create a ball for the pros? A ball they could put away? Isn’t it true that with the new racquet technology, the balls were getting too hot for the pros?
If this is true, then I’m trying to understand why everyone blindly followed what the pros needed for their game when the game for the masses was doing just fine and was also growing. Paul, Richard, Simon?
I believe the double dot ball is the same speed as the single dot we used to have. The single dot we have now is the same speed as the white dot, which they did away with. The other spots are the same, so I don’t think it was an attempt to create a pro ball.
The single dot (black ball) replaced the green single dot ball and the Double dot replaced the single dot black ball. So no slower ball has been added to the range. The reason for the double dot is because when they changed the green ball to black. They then would of had two black balls with one dot but of different speeds.
As Dunlop had taken over Merco who had moulds that had a ball with two dots they decided to use these moulds to produce a ball that was visusally different from their new black single dot once the white printing on the ball had worn off.
Hope that answers your query Jeff.
So was that decided solely by Dunlop?
After what I feel has been some great feedback, I think we need to keep moving forward with a proposal of ball use guidelines that can be taken to the WSF. Then the individual governing bodies can take it from there. Rather than the other way around.
I propose the following:
Men/Women/Juniors -Everyday play
(juniors, you should rate the same way as adults so you can determine the correct ball)
5.0-Pro players : use double yellow
3.0-5.0 players : use single yellow
2.0-3.0 players : use Max progress (6% larger, instant bounce)
And if you are playing a lower level player, use the ball recommended for them. For example if you are a 5.0 and you are playing with a 4.0 player, use the single yellow.
Men/Women/Juniors- Tournament play
Same as above. It doesn’t make any sense to practice with a ball that you wont be playing in the Tournament with.
You see, I have yet to have heard any real reason why a lower level player, adult or junior should play with a 2 dot. I have only heard that “it is the way its been done, so why change”? Please tell me why its better to have shorter rallies, less workout, less fun, less racquet skill development, less of an ability to learn how to grind your way back into a point, which all in turn is slowly killing this great game? My guess is, that you can’t. Thats ok too. Its the reason we are having this important discussion.
Lets at least start with a guideline that everyone can follow. And the next time you see a member bring a buddy to the courts thats never played before, make sure they have a bouncy ball!
Best way to get them hooked, I promise!
Straight from the WSF website:
Which ball should I use ?
It depends on your standard, and the court conditions. The double yellow dot is for professional and team play. Club players may find the single yellow dot ball (which is a little bouncier) more suitable. On a cold court a faster ball should be used. Some manufacturers produce blue and red dot, or larger balls for beginners/improvers which are bouncier still.
Category: 11. Balls
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I learned to play squash 15 years ago, and recently wanted to start again. I went to the store to buy balls, but the balls they had are not what I remember. They were soft with two yellow dots. I remember a very hard ball with a green or blue dot. Has the game changed?
From your question I think yu must be based in USA. Until 12 years ago most play in the USA was ‘Hardball’ squash, played on a court 32 feet long by 18.5 feet wide with a hard bouncy ball. Since then virtually all Squash has changed to the International Game, which uses a much slower ‘softball’ and makes the players work much harder. The court is 32 feet by 24 feet. If the double yellow dot ball is too slow for you, try the single yellow dot or the Max Prgoress ball. The faster the ball the easier the game becomes. Have fun.
Category: 11. Balls
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A friend and I were trying to remember when the double yellow dot ball became the “standard”. I think it’s about 1999 and he is sure it’s more like 1989. Thanks
You are both right, to a degree. The Dunlop Double Yellow Dot ball, now in use by top players, was introduced in July 1999. The Single Yellow Dot ball is the most suitable for average club players. Around 1989, or even before this, Merco, an Australian company, had a Double Yellow Dot ball which was used for a short time in the Professional Men’s Tour. However, the quality was not sufficently good and play reverted to the Dunlop Single Yellow Dot until the re-launch in 1999.
Category: 11. Balls
Jeff, I think the problem you’re trying to address has more to do with mobility than skill level.
Take a look, for example, at the 3.5 and 4.0 divisions of the New York City league — a good-size cross-section of players. A majority of them are middle-aged or younger men who took up the game as adults. These guys are short on talent and/or squash instincts, but they can get around the court. Their points are long enough, and they hit hard enough, to keep the ball warm. Whether they’d benefit from a bouncier ball is, at best, debatable. What’s clear is that they’re happy with the game as is. They don’t need someone monkeying around with things ostensibly for their benefit.
The players I see struggling with the current ball are the older guys who can’t get around the court the way they used to. One solution would be to mandate that they play with single-dot or Max Progress ball, though that could be a tough sell. In earlier posts there’s been reference to the issue of ego, and few egos are more sensitive than those of older players contending with their diminished physical capacities. (Another approach is to play controlled games. I did that this morning with a veteran player whose knees are shot and we both had a great time.)
Here’s another idea that might be worth considering:
BRING BACK THE HARDBALL for singles play.
Many of the same players who have problems with the two-dot softball are already using a hardball to play doubles. I’ve met any number of older players who feel doubles has given them a new lease on squash life. Maybe a hardball would get them back on the singles court too. And the fact that it would be more like a different game, rather than an easier version of what they played when they were younger, would diminish the sense of stigma some might associate with the change in ball.
Another benefit is that it might be easier to implement. Lobbying the WSF, frankly, feels quixotic. (I have a feeling their response would be, “We already note in our literature that a single-dot ball is acceptable for those who prefer it.” End of story.) But you could introduce hardball singles on a smaller stage. Start at the local level; because it’s a novel idea and it’s distinctly different from softball, it stands a better chance of getting some real grassroots support. If that happens, then try to get US Squash behind it. If it succeeds nationally, maybe that would lead to international interest as well.
So that’s my modest proposal. What do you think?
Sure, I agree with that. The lower level guys are strong enough to get into some rallies that are decent. I am still saying that the one dot would help immensely in their development. To hit better length, and better short. Trust me, I am not fighting for this position. But, I do think that their should be some kind of standard that people can use. And perhaps a Tournament standard as well. And people can use what ever they want after that. I really just wanted people to know they had a choice. Which I feel, not many people knew. Maybe just make these WSF “suggestions” more official.
I am playing in a 5.5 tournament in a couple of weeks. And we play with the one dot here. I think it has improved my game a lot! And so I will hit a couple days before the Tournament with a 2 dot to get used to the different ball. I really don’t think it will be a problem. Keep in mind that the majority of folks don’t play in Tournaments and only are looking for a great workout and to have fun.
I also keep forgetting to say is that court conditions should also factor in. A winter ball and a summer ball. Although most courts here in the States are tempered spaces.
Just curious, when is the last time you played with a 1 dot?
As for hardball, love love that idea!
Last time playing with a one-dot ball was two years ago – my experience with it was described in my first post above. In the time since the introduction of the current dot system I’ve played with a one-dot three or four times, all circumstances where the ball just happened to be available and my partner and I decided to give it a try.
Whatever ball two consenting adults want to use for a recreational game is fine by me, but having two different balls for different skill levels in tournaments or leagues seems confusing and unnecessary. You’ve made reference to tennis — would tennis ever do such a thing? I don’t think so. I haven’t played in 20 years, but if I go out on the tennis court tomorrow I’ll be playing with the same ball as every other adult player, right?
Changes for elevation or court conditions make sense and are a separate issue. I know you’re well intentioned in suggesting different balls for different skill levels, but I think in the final equation that would do more harm than good.
Yesterday, in a club with a variety of temperatures on each court, we conducted a Squash Mad experiment with a double dot, single dot and the bigger Dunlop “Improver” ball, followed by a racketball clinic.
I am happy to report that various gentlemen players, of mixed ability and ages ranging from 22 to 62, enjoyed all four match situations, with the Improver ball a useful addition to the One Dot Revolution.
Too many people in squash are too serious and defensive. Let’s try all these permutations and find what works best for the ENJOYMENT of the MAJORITY of club members (that may not include the elite players).
Squash Mad is determined to talk to the Ninety Per Cent: that is, the majority of club players, the people who play for fun, and whose views are rarely sought or taken into consideration.
Too much squash marketing (and coaching) is aimed at the top ten per cent, ignoring the fact that the revenue driven by the often-invisible 90 per cent is what keeps the game alive.
I couldn’t agree more that we need to focus on the 90%! Plus, I’m sure that some of the 10% would love it too.
I can only imagine how many more people(juniors included) might stick with it and in turn help make squash a mainstream sport! Lets keep on spreading the word!!
This is a good point. There does seem to be too much focus by the squash organisations on the elite level, when the sport relies on every level beneath that. One of the advantages squash has over the gyms is that it not only provides an opportunity for competition, but is also a fun, friendly and social sport. It is by promoting squash in this light that we might hope to attract more players to get started.
Matt McFahn raised the issue of dwindling female participation. I know effort has been made in Kent to try to remedy this. Does anyone know what is being done about this nationwide? I know that in the UK Squashercise is broadly aimed at women. What about coaching or other squash activities aimed at juniors? Is any effort being made to get squash on the school curriculum?
Alan, enjoying the new site a lot as you’ve probably noticed. Is there any way to receive notifications of replies eg. log in with Facebook details? Many people will drift out of discussions if they have to check back.
Here is an interesting piece explaining what Tennis has done.
Thanks for sending through that link. I had no idea there was such a variety of tennis balls on the market.
So glad you endorsed my desire to look after the silent 90 per cent who play our great sport.
It should be a mission statement of every club and national federation.
Every “elite” player should be thankful for their health and their talent, and give something significant back to the sport by helping to mentor and nurture the 90 per cent.
Too many squash clubs seek to serve the elite 10 per cent and do very little to look after the majority of their members.
Would be very interested to hear readers’ thoughts on this issue … and to share some ideas on how we can keep the MAJORITY of our members happy.
Hey NY Nick
Thank you for posting.
Apart from occasionally being able to beat players half my age in team matches (and those days are receding along with my hairline) I believe the most fun you can have on a squash court is playing hardball doubles on the big US courts. Sadly, we have only one of these in the whole of Europe.
It makes huge sense to have a ball that works for the standard of player that’s using it.
Here’s a question from the UK: how many varieties of balls are there in hardball?
I only know of one.
Please enlighten me. Squash Mad is a forum where the world of squash can exchange ideas to grow the game.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than a US hardball entrepreneur offering to build proper (US) doubles courts in Europe.
We need some new ideas to energize the sport.
Hi Alan —
i’m afraid I’m not going to be much help. Doubles remains a fairly exclusive subset of the squash scene in the U.S. — I’ve been to clubs that have courts, but I’ve never set foot in one. My idea of using a hardball for singles wasn’t, unfortunately, based on personal experience. But Jeff or Richard could probably answer your question. I’d be interested to know whether the ball for doubles is the same one that they used for narrow-court hardball singles back in the 20th century. My guess is no, but I’m not sure why I think that’s the case.
There are two types of hardballs: One for doubles(blue w/red dot) and one for singles (fuscia w/white dot). In high altitude, they use the singles hardball. It is a tad slower than the doubles version.
Hardball doubles IS the greatest version of doubles for squash. I think this topic is worthy of its own thread.
As we get older, singles gets more and more difficult on the body. And what a wonderful way to mix in more squash than with a good and fun game of dubs with your pals! For those of you overseas, you are missing out. Head up to Edinburgh, I’ll send you some balls.
I argue that the game NEEDS a doubles game for the longevity of our players (at some point, you just cant play singles any more). But, doubles squash like doubles tennis is a lifetime sport. I’m not sure what the numbers are, but I bet that in tennis, over 70% of the people that play regularly, play doubles.
I hope you’ll enjoy this piece, plus the pictures taken at Edinburgh Sports Club.
Great stuff Alan!
Also great to see you with with my former roommate, JR!
As a veteran player, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see this debate now growing legs on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/squash/comments/1qx3le/thought_this_might_interest_some_of_the_regulars/
Looking back at my last post I realize it might need a clarification. I’m not suggesting that hardball singles replace softball or be mandated for some players according to their age or skill level. I’m proposing that hardball be introduced as an alternative for anyone who wishes to play it. Like doubles, it would probably appeal most to older players, but like doubles it might have enthusiastic proponents among younger players as well.
I think the thing is it would probably benefit the sport to simplify the presentation of the balls and have fewer of them since most of them are of no use. This should be done by the WSF, rather than just selecting what’s available from a manufacturer. The balls shouldn’t be imposed on anyone, just recommended for the appropriate level of play (with care not to aim this too low) and used a bit more widely at all levels, in tournaments as well as other circumstances, where the temperature requires it and at the discretion of the governing body under which the tournament falls.
To address Paul’s original point: that the standard of the current balls is poor, I have heard it said that the Dunlop balls are inconsistent many times, but I can’t say I have ever noticed it. I also didn’t notice a difference when the manufacture was switched to China. The only other balls I’ve ever played with are a Prince ball back in the dark ages and a Pro Kennex ball someone produced recently at a club tournament. Both were somehow very strange and I’m not quite sure why – they were the same speed as the double dot, but just weren’t as good as the Dunlop ones. So maybe Dunlop’s monopoly is actually more to do with quality than we like to give them credit for. I certainly think there should be a WSF/PSA/WSA/PST? spec for balls for manufacturers, rather than the other way round, and that if other manufacturers meet that spec and the requirements for quality, they should also merit accreditation. If there is a problem with the quality of the balls, then that should resolve matters.
Sorry to come late to this interesting debate. I might add a few points from personal experience – being part of the 90% Alan Thatcher mentions.
Firstly, we shouldn’t ignore the psychology in junior/recreational level sports – in particular the need to emulate our idols and feel as though we are playing the same game as them.
When I was quite young I played tennis and yearned to emulate Hoad and then Laver (OK, that’s a give away to my age range). When I was twelve, after some lobbying, my parents treated me to a (junior) Maxply Fort racquet and I insisted on buying Dunlop Fort balls (because that’s what they played at Wimbledon). Even then I wanted to move up to the full Maxply Fort, which I was allowed at age thirteen. Before this, my Father was smart enough to insist I play with equipment that was best to stimulate and develop my abilities.
When I took up squash at 18, at college, I played with a Dunlop Maxply racquet – guess who was at the top of the game then? Jonah and Geoff Hunt. I aspired to be Hunt – sorry Jonah…but you get the trend? We played with a Dunlop single yellow dot – the ball the top players used.
OK, maybe I was a shallow youth with an ego…or perhaps, I was just human.
I came back to playing squash 18 months ago after a 30-year hiatus (not enough time to do anything but work…to which my girth would attest).
Wow…metal/composite racquets and a double dot ball! Even green strings…you know, the kind that at first glance 30 years earlier, they would use to string a racquet you bought from a seaside stall! Where was the natural gut!
Luckily I ended up with a great coach (a contract with my wife so that I didn’t kill myself in the first two sessions on court).
During the last 18 months, under his tutelage, I’ve played variously with double dot, single dot and progress balls depending on court environment (temperature, glass v concrete) and type of session (technical coaching, drill, conditioned games, solo practice and competitive games). It took 9 months to where I could withstand shot and ghost drill sessions. Choice of ball depended. For backcourt drives the order of the day would be whatever would fall tight to the sidewall and backwall on the second bounce so that the routine produced the aerobic and anaerobic intent as well a reasonably difficult position for a straight drive. (How to lose 50 lbs.).
Similarly, it really does test the ability to ‘feather’ a drop volley into/close to the nick with a hot progress ball as opposed to a tepid double dot – where is the skill and pleasure in that when it dies of its own accord? Even I can look like Nick Matthew with a tepid double dot (OK, slight exaggeration).
However, this brings me to my second point. Perhaps our coaches need to help us get away from the ego to focus on the idea of developing our game and use whichever ball works. Actually, we need to do this ourselves so that solo work is productive…but a little help against the ego doesn’t hurt. Perhaps at my stage of life I’m more inclined to playing the best I can play rather than trying to be Nick Matthew. Having said this, if the development path for juniors is towards the top level of squash they will need to have a wealth of experience with the ball of choice at that level.
My third point would be that, even if we want to emulate the game the pros play we should focus on how really to do that. This point has been touched on already. Which ball, when used by even good club players, performs like the double dot when Ramy plays Greg on a temperate court – well I don’t know the answer exactly but I’ll bet it isn’t often a double dot. So, if we want to recreate the elements of the game at that level, for everyone, most of us shouldn’t slavishly be playing with a double dot. Of course you can certainly argue that reproducing the elements of the pro game isn’t what we should be aiming for.
As an interesting adjunct, having watched quite a lot of live squash in the last 18 months there is a notable difference between qualifying and main draw. The top 25-70 range players in the qualifiers tend to hit hard and low (not just for a kill but normal straight or cross-court drives). When they get into the main draw this just doesn’t work – it’s not the top 20 (certainly not top 10) players’ game. Whereas I’d be hard pressed to consistently return that kind of low hard drive it’s often a gift for the top 10 pros. What kills the qualifiers is accuracy and length.
Of course the concrete to glass court change has a major effect. However, I often wonder if the main draw games aren’t somewhat like a ‘lower skill’ game with a progress ball where hitting it accurately with just the right pace is paramount if you want to win points whereas the qualifying rounds are more akin to a cold court with a tepid double dot.
My point is, a ball for the court conditions may be the way forward. Having sat through some of the rounds at the KC Stadium for this year’s British Open I’m pretty sure even the top ten pros would have liked a single dot (and court heating).
There is an obvious last point. For sanctioned matches (tournaments/league games) we need consistency and transparency – turning up not understanding which ball the authorities have mandated is not a position to be put in.
Also, let’s not have the situation where the players can debate which ball to use before a sanctioned match or take issue with it (dragging the element of human nature we sometimes see with ‘let calls’ into the ball question isn’t an advisable outcome). This means, if we do tamper with the rules on balls, that some mandate able position from the WSF will be necessary.