What are the qualities you look for
when evaluating a player?
In my mind, I have got a sort of check list of about 5 or 6 different things. The first and probably the most important thing is, is the player prepared to be reasonably honest with himself. For me, the true person who is going to make it to the very top is someone who can say yes, I may have a good standard, even a good ranking, but I could be a lot better. I'm also looking for someone who has got very fast hands, quick feet, who moves well, also someone who is obviously very dedicated, very hard working. Attitude is everything. I'm looking to see if he's got attention to detail, if he looks at things in a very detailed way, or if it's just kind of wishy-washy.
I've done a lot on the psychology of the game (sports psychology was a large part of my degree). You know, players come and say: "I want to be pretty good, and I think I'll do this, this and this." And my answer is, "yes, but HOW do you do this, this and this, in what kind of detail?" If you say, "I'm going to train hard this year", it's a very general thing. You have to be much more specific, and set a program to suit a particular player: where do I want to be in 3 months, in 6 months, how do I get there, what things do we need to do, and then, in six months time, you look back and say, well, I've got there, now, actually, the door is open, I can see what you were saying about this, this and this. So it evolves continuously. In short, you need to revaluate your goals all the time.
Quite a list. Anything else?
Preparation. I believe that preparation is everything. I think that a lot of players are not prepared, and I'm not just talking about on court, I'm talking about the conditions they are going on play. For example, Pakistan is a very difficult country to go to for us, because it's so tough mentally and physically. Most of the Pakistanis don't particularly like travelling away, they don't play particularly well when they are away, (apart from Jahangir and Jansher and the older generation) but in their home country, they are probably 3 times as dangerous as anyone else.
So, if during the preparation, I can pass my experience as an ex player across to my players, then I think it gives them a significant advantage. How quickly they get comfortable means they can then perform their best on that day. If it's good enough, it's good enough, if it's not, you get back and you start working again. That's the philosophy we always had. Win or lose, Peter has always been back down the club, within a day or two, evaluating, setting the next target.
Let's go back to "attention to details".
How do you determine it?
I'm going to give you an example. Recently, I saw three kids preparing a sandwich. One kid put just the right amount of butter on his bread, put a slice of ham he had squared, then he put a slice of tomato, a bit of mayo, salt, pepper, and cut the sandwich up. The others just slammed everything on! I have got to say that the reflection was that, from there, I could see who would do things meticulously. Yes, you need spontaneity, improvisation, flair, of course, but squash is a much disciplined game, and you've got to have fundamentally a lot of discipline. I remember Jonah teaching Rodney Eyles (who at the time, was 16 and training with Joe Shaw) how to make a pot of tea, and it would take about 15 minutes! Attention to details!
How do you avoid tension between your players?
I try and create a certain atmosphere. We have a lot of fun, a lot of humour, a lot of Mickey taking. You know, there is such a work ethos within the group; they have a lot of healthy respect for each other, because they know everybody is really trying. Also, if I sense when there is a bit of tension, I'll come out and tell a funny story, or making a bit of fun of the person who is rising, and if you can make him laugh, the tension goes. We use humour a lot!
NEIL TALKS ABOUT
I'm pretty sure that Peter would have found a way to get there with or without me but I probably saved him a lot of time.
Win or lose, Peter has always been back down the club, within a day or two, evaluating, setting the next target.
When Peter started his career, he only had me as a support, and I only had him. That made it very difficult for both of us, because he lived with us as well. It was a big strain of my personal life and everything else, but then again, I was prepared to make that sacrifice because I had got a player that I genuinely thought could be the best player in the word. Then he met his girlfriend, and it was the time my daughter was born so we drifted away for a while then he came back again, but he had found another outlet for his emotions which was good, and necessary.
It's probably Peter's first victory against Jansher in the final of of Al Ahram in June 97. There is a lead up to that. In April 97, Peter and Jansher played the longest final in history of the British Open, 2 hours and twelve minutes. Peter lost 15/10 in the fifth. But I knew the moment had come, and that Peter would never lose again against Jansher.
Then I arranged a match between them here, in Chingford, between the 2 tournaments. Peter beat Jansher 3/1, 17/16 in the 4th. I knew he was going to play him again in of Al Ahram if he could get past Barada.
It was maybe the most intimidating situation I've ever seen. Barada had beaten Rodney Eyles the day before in a filthy match the day before and was playing really really well against Peter. Peter was handling him very well, and then Barada kicked Peter from behind (it's actually in the opening credit of the PSA Super Series), and Peter found himself flat on his back. But Peter handled him so well, and then he beat Jansher the next day in front of the Pyramids. It was incredible.
I think it's not so much about the age of the player, it's more the matter of time he's been doing it. If you look at Janhangir and Jansher, they were at the top 10, 12 years, it's about the limit. I don't think you can have much more in you. Peter's problem is not the big tournaments, Peter's problem is to get up day to day doing the work required to stay at the top. And as you get older, that becomes increasingly more difficult to do. Peter is now number one, he thinks he can get away with a lot, and he can, because he is good, but the other players are hungry….
ONG BENG HEE
Beng Hee has been with me for 6 years, pretty much from the start, and this boy is getting there, he is really developing. He has been around 7 in the world ranking, I don't think he is quite there yet, even with his game, the way he wants to play the game, but he is getting there,. I have sent him to David Pearson to see if he can help him with his forehand swing, because we have been doing it for a long time, and I think he is a bit robotic. So he is gone up there, and he is enjoying the sessions, and the job is to make him a number one player in the world.
LJ has been training with us for 18 months now. When he first came, it was obvious to me that his forehand wouldn't sustain certain pressure. I know that when he gets up to the top level, or even a bit higher, his technique and his swing are not going to be able to survive. His opponents will make it so difficult for him in certain areas, and he will start to hit the ball where they want him to hit it. What I'm trying to do with him is to give him a framework with which he can still play his game, all his shots, but he can deal with difficult situations, and get in and out of those situations.
He is an amazing guy. A lot of people think he could have been better, but I don't think so. He was a pleasure to work with, he was so entertaining! He came here for about 16 months, and he kind of enjoyed the experience, but he didn't really, his background is so strong. I think he got better here, because of the environment. I think it gave him a bit of confidence to play with a lot of the top players. He was a gifted man in a lot of aspects, and he also taught me that it doesn't have to be that serious all the time. But he would come at the session at about 11.50, and the session would finish at 12! In 95, he actually forgot to enter the British Open! He blamed me, of course, but he just forgot to send back the form! So, we got him in as a qualifier through the SRA. He beat Peter in the first round, got to the semi-final and he got a game of Jansher. All the French crossed over to support him, and it was one of the nicest tournaments ever.
One of the best games I ever saw was during the match that Thierry played
against Peter during the last Super Series Finals. Peter won the game 15/3,
but it went up to 14/2, and there was not one unforced error from either
player. You know, if the ball was off the wall, Peter finished it. Thierry
didn't give it to him. They were both playing really well.