Some of the best moments of my college experience have happened completely by accident. Someone spilled a pint of Guinness over my shirt during freshers’ week and I sat beside them during every lecture for the rest of the year. I decided to go to social badminton on a whim in the first week of September and fortuitously met one of my closest friends. But one of the most unexpected experiences I’ve had has been falling head over heels for a sport I’d never even heard of before coming to Trinity: squash.
My journey with squash started as a completely half-hearted joke among my flatmates last April. Having exhausted our enthusiasm for every possible board game under the sun, we decided to spice things up a little by making our own game of truth-or-dare jenga. Despite only having eight flatmates, we comprised the majority of the 2021 Trinity squash club members. Eager to push up their numbers for the coming year, every second dare challenged the player to sign up for the squash club. Not being one to shy down from a dare, I successfully navigated the Trinity Sport website to sign up that same evening.
At the time, I had little to no intention of actually attending any sessions with the squash club. But by the time September rolled around and my two flatmates were struggling to contain their excitement about the reopening of indoor sports, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a go and get my money’s worth for the cheap signup fee. I tried to prepare for my first training session by watching a YouTube video about the rules of the indoor racket sport, only to find myself completely lost within two minutes. My one main takeaway from the video was that not only should I expect to be hit by the ball, but I should also expect it to hurt. In the end, I decided it would be best to just learn on the job.
I showed up to the first session in Sportsco on a Monday evening with the full expectation that I’d be running around like a headless chicken for the next two hours. It had been several years since I’d put myself completely out of my comfort zone by trying a sport that was entirely alien to me. I was lucky enough to have one of my best mates showing me the ropes, so I didn’t need to worry about being judged for how silly I looked swinging at a tiny ball that moved faster than my eyes could follow.
One of the most unexpected experiences I’ve had has been falling head over heels for a sport I’d never even heard of before coming to Trinity: squash
I wish I could go back to that first session and count the number of times I swung my racket with an air of overconfidence, only to completely miss the ball. If I had to guess, the number would be in the high forties. Every time it happened, all I could do was laugh it off. I couldn’t remember the last time I was this bad at something that I’d signed up for willingly. The hardest thing to get used to was the running. I’ve never been the most graceful runner while playing other sports, but there’s something flat out embarrassing about chasing a tiny black ball around an enclosed room while tripping over your own feet.
“Always go back to the T”, my friend would tell me, pointing at the red crossing lines on the floor. What I think he failed to recognise, or maybe simply chose to ignore, was that by the time I’d run to the corner of the room to try and return one of his infamous drop-shots, my legs were consistently too banjaxed to get back to the centre of the room. I left the first session in a sweaty state, having made a right show of myself. But the feeling I experienced walking home wasn’t embarrassment or dejection. It was hunger. An insatiable desire to improve. Despite not being able to move my legs the next day, I already agreed with my friends that I would be back for the Friday session in a few days’ time.
For the first few weeks I tried to focus on one specific aspect of the sport to learn and work on – getting consistent at connecting with the ball, improving my movement around the court, making my serves more difficult to return. By the time the two hour session was over, I would feel pretty confident that I had a good grasp on one aspect of the game, only to come back four days later to learn something new and find myself right back at square one. By far the most difficult thing to do was to put everything I’d learned together when playing a match.
This is true of almost any sport, but one of the worst things you can do while playing squash is to think too much. Trying to remember the right way to hold my racket while telling my feet to run in very specific diagonal directions proved to be a recipe for disaster. There is also the possibility that your opponent could, at any given time, accidentally pelt the ball at you at far-too-many kilometres per hour. It wasn’t until I put all of these things out of my head that I started to notice some improvements. You’re going to smash your racket against the wall. You’re going to look like an idiot scampering to reach a dropshot. You’re going to trip over your own feet. You’re going to get hit by the ball, and most of the time, it will be by accident.
Even if I only got into the sport by accident, it’s been so cemented in my schedule that I don’t think I’d be able to quit
There was something oddly addicting about getting better. Week after week my friends and I started to have more competitive matches. Of course I would never admit it to them, but catching them out with a drop shot or powerful drive which elicited a reaction of “Wow, good shot!” gave me a form of validation that I haven’t experienced since my love of sport began in my early years of childhood. I got caught in a cycle of improvement and enjoyment that still hasn’t gone away six months later. The more I practised, the more I improved. The more I improved, the more I enjoyed it. The more I enjoyed it, the more I wanted to practise.
I haven’t looked back since September. I’ve met some great people and gotten to know them on the court. I’ve got some nice bruises to show off from being pelted with the ball. I’ve even got a shiny new racket to whack against the ground in frustration whenever I lose a point. Even if I only got into the sport by accident, it’s been so cemented in my schedule that I don’t think I’d be able to quit. With how successful my journey with squash has proved to be, I’m looking forward to the outcome of my next game of truth-or-dare jenga.