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Navy with Electric green logo Open Squash

Open Squash

Mar 13th 2024

Starting Squash as An Adult

Max and friends Patch

At Open Squash, many players begin as adults and find fun, fitness and community

Max Klein is the captain of his 4.5 league team at Open Squash in FiDi. Like many members of Open Squash—a nonprofit squash club in New York with a mission to broaden participation in the sport—Max only really started playing the game as an adult. Still, his journey into the game has been one of fitness, focus, improvement, and finding genuine community.

There’s a common misconception that squash is often played by adults who took it up as juniors. But the truth is, anyone can pick up the game and get good at it as an adult. Max is an embodiment of that, and now, he tries to convince his friends to get into the game. The more people put into it, the more they get out of it, he tells them. There’s also the added benefit of being able to play the game all year in New York, no matter what the weather is like outside. He’s a squash evangelist!

Max sat down with us recently to tell us more. Born in the D.C. area, Max studied Mandarin at undergraduate level at Cornell in upstate New York, then moved to China, to continue learning and exploring. He worked on U.S.-China trade policy and then for a few big American companies such as Intel and Amazon.

Speaking Mandarin is not quite as useful here in New York as Max imagined it might have been when studying the language back in college, but it still comes in handy when people “talk smack” in elevators, thinking that he doesn’t understand.

Max continued working for Amazon when he returned to the U.S. from China, initially in Seattle and then moving to New York. He started his own company here in 2023, a workflow suite for financial advisors to help them save time and deliver excellent client service.

Max first started playing squash at Cornell with some friends. They’d play for fun at the college’s amazing facilities, but he wasn’t on the college team. It was a social activity and one he enjoyed occasionally. That’s all. There was a squash scene in Beijing with a strong international presence. Then, when he got to Seattle, Max joined a squash league in the 3.0 division.

“I was sort of one-foot-in, one-foot-out. I didn’t really have strong connections to the squash community. I was busy resettling into the U.S. and a new job, so squash wasn’t my top priority,” he said.

When he moved back to New York, Max had always wanted to become a more regular player, but never found the right community where he felt that pull. He had been a member of another club in New York, but they closed during Covid-19. Then Open Squash opened in Bryant Park with a rigorous set of Covid protocols. Max started getting heavily into squash, then, captaining his 4.0 team at Bryant Park and eventually moving up to the 4.5 division to captain another team the following year.

At Open Squash, Max decided to “lean in” on squash because of the combination of fun and fitness, but also because he found a community of individuals like him, all eager to try to improve, he said.

“You want to play your best every single time you step on court,” he said. “Plus, you have to work hard when you’re out there. You really have to give it your all in that 45-minute slot, and I get a great workout every single time.”

As he started to spend more time playing, Max grew more passionate about improving. He got to know the people at the club, “and they shared the same mentality of wanting to improve themselves physically and mentally as well as play a great game.”

Playing in the league added another dimension to Max’s game—the element of structured competition. “Everyone is focused, supportive and shows up to take each match seriously." And of course, spending so much time with people, Max started to build great relationships in the club and around the city.

“And so, you’ve got a real community, you’ve made real friends,” he said.

Max went for an all-Chinese dinner at Hunan Slurp in the East Village with Li-Rong, a Chinese friend from Open Squash. The pair also played an all-Chinese squash match. In China, there’s an unusual way of counting to ten on one hand, which is convenient for keeping score—they used the method on-court during their game.

The game has also helped Max cope with the pressures of a demanding life in New York.

“Having the opportunity to focus your mind and body on something that gives you so much in return is incredible. Playing competitive sports is something easily associated with being in high school or college, but the truth is, squash offers that same dynamic in NYC.” he said.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Max!

Watch Max's video interview on our YouTube channel here!