Life Lessons From The Squash Court

Last year I returned to the squash court after a twenty year hiatus. I love the game. A friend and I took weekly lessons from an instructor who was a retired elementary school teacher – which probably explains his patience.

Our instructor broke down the game of squash for us. Here is a summary of what I learned. As you’ll see, learning to play squash well is rather like learning to live well.

The Rules of the Game

1. Find the teachers who care enough to teach you, even when they don’t get paid.

2. The best teachers are far more concerned with making you a better player than making you feel better about your game.

3. After the teacher is gone is often when you finally learn the lessons.

4. Take time to learn the basic skills.

5. The goal is to learn to hit the ball well – not just hit it.

6. Practice the basic skills over and over again until you’ve mastered them.

7. Good skills become good habits.

8. If you have developed good habits, when game time comes these will automatically kick in.

9. There is a difference between being taught skills and actually learning them.

10. The more you put your entire self into hitting the ball, the more impactful your efforts will be.

11. Learn skills first; strategy second.

12. Practice the skills on your own before rallying with a partner.

13. Practice one component of the skill over and over again before moving on to the next component.

14. Know the difference between a rally and a game.

a) A rally is when you hit the ball to your partner so that he or she can return it.
b) A game is when you hit the ball to your opponent so that he or she can’t return it.

15. Slow down your rally: the purpose is to develop your skills not score a point.

16. You will NOT win the game if you haven’t mastered the basic skills.

And what is “the game” but a happy, peaceful, purposeful life?

But, just like in a good game of squash, real life speeds up. So if we don’t have good habits firmly in place, which for me are: proper rest; good nutrition, clear priorities; balance; living within my means; exercise; fun; spending time in nature; ability to say no to unreasonable demands on my time; healthy boundaries in place; time with friends, family and pets; downtime on my own; creative time for writing; time for e-mail and business correspondence; time for household chores; and so on, when life does get busy again, I’ve learned the hard way (more than once) I won’t last very long in the game.

But unlike a game of squash, the stakes of losing in life are significantly higher.

It’s called burnout. And I can tell I’m heading towards burnout when:

I start to feel overwhelmed
I get really sad for no apparent reason
I am absolutely exhausted
I burst into tears easily
I get really stressed out
I get sick
It feels like an elephant is standing on my chest
I get depressed
I lose focus
I want to give up
I question my purpose
I stop smiling
I make poor decisions
I go deeper into debt

And then, if I still refuse to admit I’m losing the game, my cluster migraines start again and I am effectively yanked from the court – sidelined – for a month or more.

The “game” – what we perceive to be a good life – is different for each of us, of course, as are the costs of losing.

However, regardless of our individual situations, if we don’t take time to learn the necessary life skills that will get us from where we are to where we want to go – in as healthy and happy ways as possible – and then practice those skills on our own, then hone them in rallies with the people around us, then we won’t develop the good habits that will become automatic for when game time comes.

And game time always comes; if we’re still breathing, we’re technically still in the game.

But just as the game of squash is broken down into the necessary skills that, when practiced enough in non-game conditions become good habits, so it is with life…for how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Dreams. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. Please visit for details.