By ANDY WHIPP – Squash Mad Columnist
Sport is a funny thing. Any sport wants to constantly grow in popularity … and in wealth. Wealth, in turn, helps to grow popularity and the cycle continues. Obviously some people also want to make money from the sport, and the wealthier and more popular the sport becomes the more money these people can make, and so on…
All sports all over the world require decent people to act as volunteers to give up many hours of their time to make decisions which they feel will help their sport, or their club.
This goes for the “big sports” and the “small sports” – even the biggest, wealthiest sport of football needs thousands of volunteers to run junior leagues, just as any sport does.
However, the “big sports” appear to know the difference in required expertise between running a small, local junior league, and the decisions made in order to grow and fund the sport on a mass scale. This, unfortunately, is where squash falls down – and these failures underscore why squash is in the “small sport” category.
Like many sports, squash is run almost exclusively by volunteer committees. The volunteers involved in squash fall into two categories: the “Doers” and the “Decision Makers”.
The “Doers” are often coaches or parents of junior players. These are good people. They are pure squash enthusiasts. They are rarely over 50 years of age. They are the organisers of events (club nights, tournaments, junior leagues etc). We all thank these good people. The sport needs as many of these people as possible.
The “Decision Makers” are the lead people on club, county and league committees. They are not always squash enthusiasts any longer. From my experience, they are usually over 60. I’m not saying age is a precursor to bad decision making, but sometimes it can lead to a conservative way of thinking.
Sport and business has changed massively over the last 25 years and, to move squash forward, our decisions cannot only be conservative. We need to move with the times – and realistically younger business-minded people tend to be better at this and are more in touch with the changing world.
For years squash committees have been a source of great frustration to the proactive “Doers” who only ever want to help and support our sport. I used to be the head coach at a large squash, tennis and fitness club. As part of the role I was a member of the club committee. In reality, all this meant was that I was privileged enough to sit and watch the older committee members make bad business decisions which did not help the club move forward.
Eventually I had enough and left. I know countless other people who have felt this way, and eventually gave up in frustration. As a result our sport has not only stagnated, but declined, as have the number of clubs containing squash courts.
I want to call for all squash committees to repopulate themselves with squash enthusiasts (the “Doers”) who aren’t there for a title that makes them feel important and to massage their own self-importance, but to give back and help the sport thrive once again.
I do realise a major issue with this: younger people have jobs and families. Their time is of premium importance to them, so giving up hours every week is not an easy decision at all.
But as I so often say – squash is a great sport with great people who genuinely want to help. I would ask for any organisation who can afford it (certainly clubs, counties and major regional leagues) to compensate in some way, the two or three “doers” who head their committee.
Maybe offer heavily reduced membership fees or structure potential rewards calculated on a commission basis. This way it actually costs the organisation nothing in-terms of real money. It will be money well spent.
It will bring in considerably more money for the establishment with a reinvigorated squash section leading to more members and a thriving squash community.
Squash needs to rethink and acknowledge WHERE the expertise is required – and WHO has the expertise the game so desperately needs.
ONE WORD – COMMITTEE, WRONG WORD – COMMITTEE. DELETE WORD.
I broadly agree with the sentiment expressed in this article.
But just as there are good and bad unpaid old (wo)men committee members, so too there are good and bad “doers”. I’ve been on a couple of committees in my time where some of the doers were, er, not very good, even though they might have scored highly on enthusiasm.
Yes, I agree that setting performance targets (KPIs, goal-setting, etc.) is the key. And if payments and/or discounts helps to keep the doers engaged and inventivised, then that’s good too.
I am sure this was written with great feeling and enthusiasm and I have seen this sentiment expounded many many times over the years. Indeed, 30 odd years ago I felt I was a “doer” and slated the SRA on its ‘mishandling’ of Squash as a declining sport. The popularity bubble of the 80’s had burst, and it was clear that squash needed to be marketed in a proactive way if clubs were going to survive. Very few clubs market squash well, sometimes because Squash was the add on to (initially a profitable one!) major sports clubs like Rugby, Football and Cricket. Sometimes, because Squash can be a section in a upmarket multisport club, and also because Local Authority Sports Centres rarely manage squash courts or competitive squash well.
So, Squash has always managed itself in ‘bubbles’ good “doers” can have success, but with relatively few players. Good administrators (“decision makers”) can run a Squash club for hundreds of players and organise coaches to cover the many different groups and arrange tournaments and box leagues to keep members playing. But both the “doers” and “decision makers” almost always fail to market the game to potential players outside the ‘Squash family’ – big mistake!
The SRA, now England Squash have been guilty of the same mistake, happy to keep the diminishing wheels turning the best way they saw fit. And yes, they have made many mistakes; a narcissistic approach to elite coaches and players, poor support for new, cub, county coaches, employing ‘Regional Managers’ to prop up the club bars, sometimes unable to attract sponsors for the major tournaments – like the British Open and generally treating club players and coaches like cash cows.
In their defence it is difficult to recruit good people into committees and even harder to find employees prepared to go the extra mile. It is also very difficult to improve participation on a diminishing budget and with little control over facilities, club activities and county committees.
Squash ‘bubbles’ will go on in the UK probably with ever diminishing numbers as fewer “doers” come forward as those that do can find the rewards in terms of making good players takes many years and the financial rewards are simply not what most coaches expect for the time and dedication expended.
When young Squash entrepreneurs come forward, putting their own money, time and effort into the game, we might see modern marketing methods used to improve participation in light modern clubs, well paid coaches and fantastic tournaments – I’m not holding my breath!