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Open Squash

May 6th 2024

Squash Breakthroughs for Adults

Meet Zach Krumholz: the former tennis player who's quickly making waves in the squash community at Open Squash, Bryant Park.

Zach with Peter Creed

Zach Krumholz (right) on court at Open Squash with coach Peter Creed (left)

There's a new player at Open Squash, the nonprofit squash center in New York's Bryant Park with a mission to broaden participation in the game. He's got the regular players asking themselves, "how did he get so good, so fast?''

In eight months, Zach Krumholz has gone from a 3.5, or strong beginner's rating, to 4.5, a very strong intermediate game. At this rate he's on track to win the club's 4.5. championship and progress to an advanced level. It's the kind of improvement that most adult players dream of making over several years. Hours of coaching and training and solo practice still don't get you over that hump. It's so unusual, Zach has got players asking "how does he do it?"

"The first lesson I taught him, he was calling out the directions of the ball off my racquet," said David Hughes, an Assistant Coach at Open Squash. "He asked me to hit cross courts into the back for him, and he was saying where he thought the ball would go. 'Side wall.' 'Back wall.' And so on. It's very unusual for a beginner player to be so intentional about the game. I talked to Peter [Creed, Bryant Park's Director of Squash at Bryant Park], and said 'this guy's got the potential to be really good.'"
Now, Zach is having regular lessons with Peter.

"He was unusual as a beginning player because he asked a lot of questions," Peter said. "Often with a beginner you'll say, hold the racquet like this, follow through here, and they'll do it. But he was asking 'why?' and as a coach, that's quite a rare thing. At first it was a little disconcerting because I had to explain everything in more detail. But I realized he was asking all these questions because he wants to understand the game and get better. That's the ideal student, one who is keen to improve and wants to know everything during your sessions."

For his part, Zach also credits his history playing Division 1 Tennis at Yale for his rapid progression.

"Making the switch, it's about figuring out the strategy of squash, understanding where the ball needs to go," he said. "And then it's always about hard work. Playing a lot. Working with Peter. Playing games. Going to the clinics. Asking a lot of questions. And trying to get better from the back of the court and hit deep, because that didn't come naturally to me at first."

Zach, who founded Long Horizon Partners (a company searching to acquire then run one small business), loves the pace of squash and is playing five or six times a week now. It's safe to say he's hooked on the game.  

"As you get better, I love the long points. It feels like you're floating between the ‘T’ and the corners, it's a cool feeling," he said. "So much of it is about learning how to move. And I love the challenge of learning something new and getting better at it, as an adult. I also love the community of people at the club, all trying to get better and supporting each other as we do it."

While it's rare for beginners to get better as quickly as Zach has, it's also possible for older players to experience breakthroughs for unexpected reasons. Open Squash co-founder James Green, for example, has found he's had two breakthroughs in the game recently, at 61, after playing for years.

"The first happened when I started doing yoga," he said. "I found that I was more flexible and able to lunge deeper into the corners on key points. It made a huge difference. But actually the biggest breakthrough I've had was after a recent injury. I was suffering from sciatica and so I had to back off from playing so much, and I did a bunch of physical therapy and fitness training with Thaisa Serafini, the Open Squash fitness specialist. Getting so much fitter meant I could stay in points longer and I've come up to my highest ever level over recent months."

Other players experience breakthroughs for a variety of reasons but there's no substitute for working with a coach, said Coach Creed.

"Because of the pace of a coach's feed I can force a lot of repetition, I can get someone to hit 2,000 balls in 45 minutes. Zach's younger so he can hit 2,000 balls and play a few points, and then he'll come off the court and ask for more advice on what he's just done, and what he needs to do to get better," he said. 
Peter suggests, when he's asked, that players invest in coaching once a week if they're trying to improve.

"I'm a coach, not a salesman," he said. "But I really do think that having a coach once a week is the best schedule, because it allows you to work on things in between sessions and incorporate it in your game."

The most common things Peter works on with beginners are ‘T’-position—"it's a huge thing that people don't see as important." Then racquet preparation and "the feeling of being ready, so that if someone hits a shot, you can move lightly towards it, rather than take big labored movements, which become very draining."
Peter also emphasizes hitting consistent length into the back of the court, and building rallies slowly and patiently rather than trying to hit winners.

"The more we build the rallies, the easier the game becomes," he said. "It puts less pressure on you to hit amazing winners. If your opponent is on the ‘T’, and you hit three drives to the back, naturally your opponent might take one step back because they think you're going to do it again. That puts less pressure on your front court shot—you can hit a drop, a volley, but it doesn't need to be perfect because your opponent needs to move a little further back in the other direction. It's just like physical chess."

The biggest difference-maker for adults is being willing to practice on their own, and to do movement practice, or "ghosting," Peter said.

"If after every game you're willing to do ten minutes of solo, or ten minutes of ghosting, that's what gets you 1% better," he said. "And it's not fun, the solo work, it's the grind, it can be boring. But along with the fitness and the consistency, that's where you get better. Being willing to grind it out."