Squash and Lawn Bowls – A Question of Pace
Originating in England when prisoners would hit a ball against the walls of their cells, Squash was later played by boys at Harrow School in the 1860’s, using balls made with of innovative natural rubber. However, when the students discovered that a deflated, “squashed” flat racket ball responded better and returned faster, the ball changed again. The game spread to the USA and was brought to international fame by Hashim Khan who smashed his opponents to win the British Open in 1951. Today, there are squash courts and leagues all over France.
For spectactors, squash is exciting and noisy. The ball thuds into the wall, rebounds and is whacked again, usually accompanied by squeaks from shoes that have hit the ground hard, and gasps for air. For players, this isn’t a sport for those who aren’t fit and who can’t take sharp, short, rapid movements or lengthy rallys.
As a game for two players, or two teams of two, the ball is hit against a wall in an enclosed court and is returned by the opponent(s). However, rules about where it can be hit, where it can bounce, the fact that the ball can rebound off one wall onto another, and that all this can happen in the blink of an eye, makes it an intense workout for both body and mind.
Try to play with others who are at the same or similar level. Playing against someone more experienced is, well, an experience. Whilst they will hardly move, you will be thrashing around, banging into walls and even falling over in an effort to hit this bullet-like object back.
Squash rackets come in different shapes and sizes to suit player skills and style of play. Beginners, for instance, would usually choose a teardrop shape which is easier to use and can be more powerful than the classic “head-shaped” versions. The beam of the handle (girth) is also important. The thinner ones provide greater manoeuvrability and control, with thicker versions generating more power.
The weight also comes into play. The lighter the racket, the faster it can be swung, and the more power it will exert. Heavier rackets, often favoured by those who really know what they are doing, offer more control. Looking for that “sweet spot”? Then opt for a closed throat racket which has a smaller string-bed. An open throat, with a larger string-bed, is more forgiving with off-centre shots.
Squash balls are also available in different sizes and are clearly marked with dots depicting skill levels. Blue indicates beginners, red is for those who are progressing and play recreationally. Intermediate players may opt for a single yellow, whilst advanced or pro levels might choose double yellow dots.
Without doubt, you are going to sweat, a lot, so choose synthetic clothing rather than cotton which will stick to your body. Comfort, as with every sport, is key.
England's Alice Green at the World Squash Championships
Played in Europe as early as the 12th-century, Lawn Bowls is a challenging game of speed and tactics. Particularly popular during the WWII as a stress reliever and requiring minimal physical fitness, it is now played in more than 50 countries, with competitions held worldwide. It may not be played in every village or town here in France but it is certainly gaining in popularity.
They may look sedate and relaxed but under that cool exterior, every lawn bowler wants to achieve the perfect fast or slow bowl on a slow or fast green. That takes incredible concentration, presence of mind and practice.
For a start, it’s tricky! The balls aren’t symmetrical which means that they curve as they travel. By feeling the ball in their hand and recognising which side of the ball is biased, players can determine the length, direction and speed of their throw. Every part of their body is used to balance, grip and project that ball forward in a stable, precise and clean bowling action.
Then there is the green (or artificial turf), is it fast or slow? A fast green will need a ball to be bowled slower. Whether it’s the short-mat game in a social club, or the longer outdoor version, the perfect bowl will be in an outward direction, at the right angle so that, when it curves, it reaches the billiard ball sized “jack”.
Social by nature, Lawn Bowls can be played as singles, doubles and triples, or even in teams of four, with teams bowling alternately. The closest ball to the jack wins but it can be difficult to tell with the naked eye and, as this is a competitive game, this is when the tape measure comes out to verify the distance.
First published in the September and October issue of The Local Buzz