We are gaining on another new squash season and last weekend saw the annual trip to Cleethorpes for the 8 man professional invitation event, now in its 16th year. Mike Hallam is the man behind it and the members at this small community sports club have always welcomed us, organizing a tough (3 matches in 24 hours) but enjoyable event, which really serves a purpose for the players.
Over the summer months winter sport players will have most likely been using the time to get into a routine of hard graft on the training pitch which is vitally important for the more than arduous season ahead. About now, in the lead up to the beginning of the competitive season in squash it becomes important to find some match play to bring all the hard training together and gather specific match sharpness.
I played Chris Simpson, one of my training partners, on Saturday morning in the semi final and we both said afterwards how different it was to the many practice games we have played. Because there was a crowd, a referee and a competitive atmosphere providing something to play for, it adds a certain intensity to the thing which can't be found in practice, in spite of every effort. It is quite inexplicable but going through the process as a player year after year it is clear that the body and mind just needs this specific match intensity.
This curiosity is not limited to sportsmen and women. Bands often do 'warm up' gigs before they begin a main tour, so that they may practice the songs in a heightened environment and try out new ideas for their set. A recent Peter Kay documentary revealed that he did around thirty small shows preceding the beginning of his monolithic tour of Britain's biggest arenas. Like athletes, he must need to be match sharp and must go in to his first big gig in prime condition; if his material hasn't been tried and tested then he is rusty.
And with squash yes it is a physical thing. In the first matches of the season I get more tired more easily, I make strange errors, and even more interesting I sometimes forget how to win games, taking a lead and then strangely not closing out games. I suppose after playing all year round, suddenly taking two months off competition should confuse body and mind. It is easy to lose the habits and mental processes.
In the semi finals on Saturday morning Adrian Grant beat LJ Anjema from Holland 3-2, and I beat Chris Simpson 3-0. I lost in the final to my England teammate Grant in four physical and well contested games. Certainly a lung opener!
So apart from the rain, another good weekend in unlikely Cleethorpes. Here's to another sixteen of them.
James' book, 'Shot and a Ghost' is available to buy at willstrop.co.uk or on kindle