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Open Squash

Feb 15th 2024

Squash Is The Healthiest, Fittest Sport

Thaisa Serafini (Patch)

Brazilian Coach Thaisa Serafini Brings A Performance Mindset to Open Squash

In 2003, Forbes Magazine compiled a list of the ten healthiest sports. Squash topped the list based on a simple calculation. Forbes reporters looked at cardio endurance, muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility. They also looked at injury risk and energy expenditure. Squash, they found, beats rowing, rock climbing, swimming, cross-country skiing, and a host of other sports. It's the best form of exercise.

That's no surprise to Thaisa Serafini, who serves as an assistant coach and head of fitness at Open Squash. It's a New York-based nonprofit squash club with two locations—one in Bryant Park and one in FiDi. The goal of the club is to make squash accessible to everyone.

"I used to be so fit that I would run for everything," she said. "I would get every ball my opponent hit at me, and I would not get tired. That's the mindset I brought to the game. You might be smarter than me and make me run around, but I was going to run around forever. I never lost a match because I got tired."

Thaisa Serafini Winning Brazilian Title (Patch)

Winning her ninth national Brazil champion title

Thaisa was the Brazilian national champion nine times. She also achieved a ranking of 56th in the world on the professional squash tour. She always incorporated fitness into her game. Being from Brazil, she saw the impact that fitness had on her country's successful soccer team. She saw how hard other sports incorporated physical fitness into their training. They had fitness coaches and physiotherapists. When Thaisa went to college, she also studied fitness and learned how important it is.
 

"At the time, in squash, the player's coach was responsible for everything. They were doing nutrition, physical training, game strategy, everything," she said. "It was only based on their experience but I saw how things could be more professional in squash. More like in other sports. So I realized I needed to study hard to become a good physical trainer. It wasn't only about my own experience."

Thaisa now leads physical conditioning sessions at Open Squash for adult members. She also coaches juniors and works with them on physical training, too.

Thaisa Serafini with her coach (Patch)

With her coach during her professional career

"Being fit won't only help you win a squash tournament," she said. "It also helps those who want to enjoy the game. If you want to play your whole life, without training your body right, you start to get injuries. People say squash is hard, but that's not true. It's about how people tend to play it. They jump on court without warming up, playing six times a week. If you do that, you'll get an injury. It's important to focus on your conditioning to enjoy the game over the longer term."
 

Open Squash members who work with Thaisa report an improvement in their enjoyment. They're also able to move away from injuries. Her conditioning classes feature mobility, dynamic warmups, cardio, movement, and then weight training. They always finish with abs and stretching.

"I switch things up and run circuits with the players," Thaisa said. "People's cardio improves, then their strength and balance improve. They tell me they can move on court better. They can play longer. Their body gets stronger and they start to feel better, avoiding injury. Fitness also brings more confidence and self-esteem along with the physical changes."

Thaisa Serafini at the TOC (Patch)

Competing in New York's Grand Central Station in a New York event during the 2023 Tournament of Champions

Thaisa also swims once a week. Having played squash for 29 years, training twice a day, with only one day off, she finds swimming ideal. It takes impact out of her cardio training, relaxes the body and helps avoid injury.
 

Thaisa started playing squash when she was 10. She loved the intensity of the game. Her favorite phrase when she's training people on court is, "the bear is coming."

"I use it because that's the sense of urgency that you need to feel when you're about to take that first step," she said. "It's about a bear coming for you. If you don't move fast, the bear is going to get you. It's demanding and engaging. There is nothing like it."

Thaisa Serafini at Open Squash (Patch)

Thaisa at Open Squash

Thaisa loved playing the game all over the world, traveling to Australia and England. She feels the most important thing juniors need to learn is how to hold the racket. Then how to move on the court—"the connection between the racquet and the feet, it’s huge." She also says that mental fitness is key.
 

"The number one thing about squash for juniors is enjoying the game," she said. "It's supposed to be fun!"

Thaisa's most important learning—from a coach in England—was to avoid comparisons.

"He told me life is more than being number one in the world," she said. "Because even if you do make that rating, then at some point in your life, that's going to finish. You're not going to be a number your whole life."

Juniors sometimes face pressure on court, Thaisa said. But she teaches them to enjoy the game, first. That's what leads to the best performance, in the end. Every squash player is different, but they all have the capacity to enjoy the game.

"And that's a choice you make," she said. "It's about what you want to get out of the game. Not about people's expectations. What do you want?"

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Thaisa!