What Is Squash?
Coined as ‘Chess On Legs’ by one of the sport’s greatest ever players – Jonah Barrington (pictured above) – and cited by Forbes Magazine as ‘the healthiest sport in the world’, squash is a racket sport played between two people* inside a four-walled court using a small, rubber ball, with players taking turns to strike the ball against the front wall.
Squash is one of the best sports in the world for developing both cardio and muscular strength. During a typical 45-minute session, players can expect to burn up to 1,000 calories, exercise all the muscles of the body from the arms (ball striking) to the legs (lunging) and the core (stabilising) whilst playing a competitive, endorphin-bosting game.
Combined with the physical demands, squash requires fine skills (ball placement and shot deception) tactical skills (ball positioning and building of rallies) and serves as a supermen test of physical and mental reactions, with the ball frequently reaching speeds upwards of 170mph whilst players jostle and manoeuvre for supremacy of the court.
Professional players will cover up to 5km – comprising hundreds of 3-5meter sprints interspersed with hundreds of lunges in all directions – during a single match, with matches ranging anywhere from 20-minutes to over 2 and a half hours.
Squash is principally a two-person game, but you can play doubles, as a three or with many more people on court at the same time by playing condition games – such as only using three-quarters or the court floor for play, while the non-active players rest in the non-playable quarter.
History Of Squash
Harrow School in England is often credited as the birthplace of modern day squash, when the young schoolboys developed their own progression of the game 'rackets'.
In the early eighteenth century, prisoners at the Fleet, London’s notorious debtor’s gaol, created an outdoor version of tennis – called rackets, and it involved no more than smacking a ball against one or two walls. The ball, unsqueezable, was made from wound cloth and was similar to a golf ball; the racket was a stretched tennis bat.
Soon rackets spread across Great Britain and was a common pastime as workingmen played in tavern yards and alleys and schoolboys, such as those at Harrow School, played outside their classrooms.
Accompanying rackets was another socially-lubricated ball and wall game called fives. Named for the five fingers of the hand, this ancient version of handball was more or less the game of rackets without the racket. Many men played both sports in the same court. Fives grew so popular at English public schools that the two leading forms of the game derived their standards entirely from the quirky spots on campus where the boys played
The combination of rackets and fives sparked the creation of squash at the Harrow School outside London. Harrow boys were addicted to rackets. The chief place to play at Harrow was in the schoolyard that surrounded Old Schools, the main school building. One special nook of the schoolyard was called “The Corner.” It had two good side walls and a front wall with a buttress which dropped the ball straight down and a waterpipe that might send it anywhere – the precursor to the modern day 'nick'.
In 1850 Harrow built two open-air rackets courts. Court time was hard to get for younger boys. They had to be content to play in the tiny, stone-walled yards at their boarding houses or in village alleys. The yards and alleys, like the Corner, boasted peculiar hazards: water pipes, chimneys, ledges, doors, footscrapers, wired windows and fiendishly sloping ground. Split-second decisions and speedy hand-eye coordination were essential. Rackets, with its long, heavy bat and bullet-hard ball, was difficult for an inexperienced boy to learn in such cramped conditions.
With typical English flair, the young boys at Harrow invented something new. Rubber had just come into use and Harrow boys grabbed a rubber ball, sawed off the butt of their racquets and played a slower, easier game in their house yards. This version of racquets was called “baby racquets” or “soft racquets” or “softer.”
On 20 January 1865 Harrow officially opened a new complex of rackets and fives courts and the boys jumped on and played their new game of baby rackets. And this game became the game of squash.
Did You Know
- In 1912, the RMS Titanic had a squash court in first class. The 1st-Class Squash Court was situated on G-Deck and the Spectators Viewing Gallery was on the deck above on F-Deck.
- Squash is played today by more than 25 million people (1.2 million in the United States), and there are nearly 50,000 courts around the world in 185 countries.
- Squash has been voted the healthiest sport to play by Forbes magazine based on cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, calories burned, and risk of injury.
- An hour of squash can burn 600-1000 calories.
- Prince Philip played squash while Queen Elizabeth II was in labor (for 30 hours) giving birth to Prince Charles.
Historical notes courtesy of James Zug