Wait, isn’t squash a vegetable?
Founded in England in the 1860’s, Squash is an indoor racket sport for two people, played by more than 15 million people in 153 countries around the world. It is played inside a four-walled court with light metal rackets and a small hollow rubber ball that, once it is warmed up to playing temperature, frequently exceeds speeds of 150mph. Forbes Magazine rated squash No. 1 in its survey of the World’s Healthiest Sports.
Starting with a serve, players are required to play a “rally” taking it in turns to hit the ball onto the front wall. The ball is allowed to rebound off the back and side walls—creating an infinite number of angles and shot possibilities—but is only allowed to bounce on the floor once between shots. Players can either volley the ball (hit it before it bounces) or wait for it to bounce first.
Points are won by out-manouvering the opponent so that they cannot reach the ball before it has bounced twice, or by forcing them to make an error (where the ball is hit out of court, or below the low red line on the front wall known as the “tin.”) It is also possible for advanced players to hit shots that can win a rally outright, by hitting the ball into the small area where the walls meet the floor (“the nick”).
Because a single rally can last beyond 20 or 30 shots, the dynamic lunging and “multiple sprint” nature of the movement require high levels of speed, endurance and plyometric power. At the advanced level, with these efforts repeated over the course of an hour or more, the sport is highly taxing on the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. To make it even harder, play is supposed to be continuous and there is typically less than 10 seconds rest between points.
Matches are played in a “best-of-five” format (first player to win 3 games), and each game is played up to 11 points with a tie-break occurring at 10-10. In a tournament setting, matches are refereed by an off-court official.
The game is easy to pick up, and one of the joys of squash is that it is possible to almost immediately have a very competitive match with other players. It takes many years to master all of the skills necessary to play at an advanced level, and so there is never any shortage of competition!
Club, city and regional leagues and rankings allow you to test your skills against others, and the US Squash Grading system uses match results to calculate your squash level. Mission Squash’s own squash curriculum covers the first years of player development and is aligned to the first few levels of the US Squash grading system.
Although matches are always played in an individual format (doubles is rarely played), it is possible for schools, clubs, Universities and even countries to compete against each other in teams. A team will typically consist of 5 players ranked from 1-5 in order of ability as judged by the team manager. It is common for players to “play-off” in the days leading up to a team fixture to determine the team order, although current ranking lists can other means can also be used.
At the fixture, held at home or away, each numbered “string” will play the same string player on the opposing team, with the team winning the most matches winning the fixture. An example of team play in Houston is the Houston Junior Squash League, created by Mission Squash in 2017, which features a mixture of school and club junior teams. Collegiate Squash fixtures in the US follow this format.
While Team Fixtures can be extremely competitive, the social aspect of squash is held to be highly important, with both teams typically sharing a meal and refreshments after the match.
Unlike tennis, in squash both players manouvre within the same court space. Because play is fast and competitive, special rules (“let” and “stroke”) prevent the players obstructing access to the ball, or engaging in dangerous play. This special responsibility on both players requires players to develop an early awareness of the importance of respect and sportsmanship. Most matches are self-refereed, and although competition can be fierce, players are taught to value the “way they play the game” over any result or outcome. Mission Squash Scholars learn the safety and etiquette of the game before stepping on court.
Is it like Racketball?
Yes and no. While both sports are played on a court with four walls, that is where the similarities end. Squash is considered as requiring considerably higher levels of skill, fitness, mental toughness and tactical awareness. Other differences between the sports are the dimensions and markings of the courts (it is not possible to hit the ball “out” in racketball), the equipment (both racket and ball are significantly different), the scoring system, and rules for preventing “interference” (designed to ensure players do not get in each other’s way and that play is safe). Squash is also played widely around the globe, where racketball is typically only played in parts of America.
There is a reason Forbes Magazine rated squash as the world’s healthiest sport. Players burn upwards of 1,000 calories per hour, and must utilize strategy, skill, speed, and mental endurance to outwit their opponent rather than relying on raw strength.
Squash is the fastest growing racket sport in North America and is played extensively at the college level, by Ivy League Universities and public colleges alike. There are welcoming communities of squash players in cities across the United States, and (much like with golf) businessmen have closed many a deal while playing a friendly game of squash.
The game became professional in the 1970s, and today there is a thriving international Professional Squash Tour, with over XX tournaments annually, YY players annually and combined prize money of $XXm. Recent developments in HDTV technology have allowed the sport to shine on the big screen, and PSASquashTV output is now franchized with XXX, YYY TV broadcasters, and available online through their own streaming platform.
The all-glass courts provide a gladiatorial 360 degree environment for spectators, and among the most highly anticipated events in the squash calendar are the Tournament of Champions, held on the concourse of Grand Central Station, NYC, The El Gouna Championships, held in Giza, Egypt with the ancient pyramids as a backdrop, and the Hong Kong Open.
In the US, the sport is governed by US Squash. The World Squash Federation governs the sport globally.
With recent developments in live player monitoring and analytics, a recent study found some incredible statistics highlighting the physical demands of the sport at the elite level.