He’s the highest ranked squash player in Canada for kids under 13, but Jake Beck has a sort of ho-hum attitude to the sport he dominates.
To maintain his interest, he plays up, competing in tournaments against youngsters in the Under-15 grouping. But even with the added challenge, he sometimes feels he’d rather be doing something else.
“I was pretty unenthusiastic this year, but the years before I was enthusiastic,” Beck, 12, said on the phone from his home in North York.
Other sports, particularly soccer, interest him more than squash these days, though during the squash season, which has pretty much wound up until September, he was able to maintain his concentration.
At the Canadian Junior Championship last month, he fell behind in the best-of-five final two games to nothing and trailed in the third, 7-3, before turning the match around. He won the third game 10-9 and then went on to dominate games four and five to win the title, 3-2.
“I usually beat him badly,” Beck said of his championship match opponent.
So what happened in the final?
“I just woke up when I was down two. I underestimated him.”
Playing close matches is a talent Beck seems to be cultivating. It’s what his father, Harvey, calls “a parent heart-stopper.”
In December, Jake advanced to the finals of the Canadian Junior Open and fell behind 2-0 in games to an opponent from Mexico. Game 5 went right down to the wire, but it was a match Jake couldn’t pull out. He lost 9-7 in Game 5 and 3-2 overall.
A year before at the 2007 Canadian Junior Championship – Jake’s first year in the age group – he lost in the final 3-2. Game 5 was decided in extra points, 10-9. For the drama value alone, Beck’s games should be on TSN.
He had an easier time of it last December when he travelled to Edinburgh for the Scottish Junior Open for boys under 13. He won that tournament rather easily, but the follow-up British Open in Sheffield was another matter. He finished in 17th place in a tournament he’d rather forget about.
“I could have done better,” he said.
Beck has been playing recreational squash since he was six and competitively for the last three years. Harvey is a recreational player and older brother, Aaron, 14, is ranked third in Ontario in the under-15 category.
Jake calls himself a natural athlete who loves to compete. On the squash court, “I rely on speed and stamina, and on my hands for drop shots and fake shots.”
One of his coaches, Mike Way, calls Jake “an independent spirit who marches to his own drumbeat.
“He’s first of all a great little athlete, so he’s fit and he’s fast. Coupled with that, he’s very determined. He’s the most creative squash player, so he does things Jake’s way. He doesn’t always do things the coach’s way.”
One unorthodox shot Jake seems to have mastered is a cross-court drop from the back court. “It’s a risky shot, but right now at his level, it’s working,” Way said.
“As he grows, he will have to learn to be a more disciplined player, but that creativity will serve him well. But he’s going to have to make those choices wiser and make creativity work for him.”
As the summer looms ahead, Jake is turning his attention to the other sports he enjoys. He’s a midfielder and back up goalie for North York Cosmos rep team, and he’s on his school’s track and field and cross-country teams. Oh, and he’s also played for the school’s badminton and tennis teams.
Jake attends St. Andrews Junior High School as part of its program for high-performing athletes.
“I’m a really good natural athlete,” he said. “I’m able to learn. I’m not a crazy-hard worker. It’s mostly my natural athleticism.”
Given that he trains six days a week during the squash season (September to April) and nine times a week before big tournaments, it looks like he’s got a different definition of hard work than most.
With all that training and natural talent, his goal to compete in the Canada Games when he’s 16 appears well within reach.