Muhammad Ali is known to have said, “What keeps me going is goals.”
At the World Masters hosted at UVA’s McArthur Squash Center, nearly 800 competitors gathered to test their mettle against each other, and themselves. A frequent misperception of events like this is that each competitor enters the tournament with the same goals: to compete hard and win as many matches as possible. My experience of the championship confirmed that the players were indeed bound together, however the commonality was our shared values and passion for the game rather than any performance ambitions. For the most part, people were happy to be there, competing and enjoying each other’s company.
The reasons people had for traveling to Charlottesville this summer were as varied as the ages and body types represented on court. The list is extensive and impossible to cover on this short page, and includes wanting to visit the U.S., connect with relatives, be immersed in the camaraderie of hundreds of other squash enthusiasts, keep an attendance streak alive, reach a fitness goal, or achieve a certain place finish.
My personal goal was to enter the competition uninjured, physically fit, and at my college weight. This would allow me to face my underlying fear of totally embarrassing myself, and this first goal I achieved. Secondarily I also wanted to win at least one match. Having lost to a well-qualified player in the first round, I was ready to pursue a plan of achieving this secondary goal despite a narrow chance of actually beating this excellent player. As the long, fierce rallies of the first game wore on, I quickly narrowed my sights to winning a game. Finding myself 7-0 down, I then recalibrated my goal to simply not being bageled in the first game! On reflection I recognized that I was happier to have won my first point in that game than the match I won later in the competition.
I’m sure the goals of others similarly shifted throughout the tournament. We followed 800 different paths to come together and jumped over thousands of hurdles to simply get to the registration desk, including clearing work and family obligations, financial barriers, major or nagging injuries, emergencies and unexpected challenges that we all face every day. Participation itself in the face of abundantly available excuses was an achievement for many.
What I did not see shift for any of the players were their shared values of courtesy, respect and fair play. More than fifteen hundred matches were contested, yet I witnessed almost no incidents of poor sportsmanship across a remarkable spectrum of ages, genders, nationalities and abilities. Witnessing the enthusiasm of the inspirational and interesting people at the World Masters reinforced for me how welcoming and inclusive the squash community is. To have the opportunity to compete against, watch, and cheer on all players in my age division was an experience I will not forget.
Having experienced this memorable event, I left mulling over our future goals, and what keeps the US Squash staff going. The answer was fairly clear: our steadfast commitment to sustaining our community’s lifelong positive engagement in squash. What’s your goal?