By ANDY WHIPP – Squash Mad Columnist
This week I wanted to have a look at elite professional squash players who have become coaches. Any sport would want their top icons to follow this path and to pass on their wisdom to the next generation. I’m interested to see how many of these elite players have chosen a coaching career away from their native country.
I only wanted to look at players who were ranked inside the world top 20 and who retired from the PSA circuit within the last 20 years. My graphic below tells the story.
Before I began researching this topic, I actually expected a much larger proportion of coaches to have settled in a new country to make a living as a coach.
Obviously the list shows that more coaches have left their home country than have stayed. And for very obvious reasons – money!
Let’s face it, when considering career options, money is likely to be the decisive factor. It certainly trumps national loyalty.
However, wouldn’t it be lovely if nations could hold on to their own super-stars to inspire and coach the next generation of national superstars – otherwise it’s possible / probable there will not be a next generation of superstars from that country.
As an Englishman, hoping that several English players will once again mix it with the Egyptians in the world top 10, I believe it to be essential we find a way to hold on to our top, recently retired players.
I know being a top player doesn’t guarantee being a top coach (it really does help though, no matter what some people say), but their experiences are certainly of high value. Even if not a coach to many different players, accepting a mentoring role can be hugely helpful, like Jon Power with Diego Elias.
The exodus of English players and coaches has been massive, generally losing them to the United States, especially with major colleges offering some excellent compensation packages. The pull from wealthy places like America and Qatar is very strong.
How can England compete with countries who can offer wages three or four times higher than if they were to stay in England? With great difficulty is the answer … but maybe not impossible.
Hopefully the trend could be changing. Our most recent retirees, legends Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro, have both opted to stay put in their home towns.
Maybe America has reached saturation point where there just isn’t room for more ‘headline’ squash coaches? Possibly, but I’m also sure Nick and Laura could get a job almost anywhere they wanted.
Nick, prior to lockdown, had already extended his Academy roots to America with regular coaching visits.
Whatever their reasons for staying put here in England, we need to ensure we do not lose them. Nostalgia and loyalty are definitely of importance to them both because they are genuinely good people, but we cannot rely on only that to keep them here: everyone needs to make money, and the more the merrier.
We need to ensure they are well supported by England Squash, even if they generally choose to go about their business privately, running private coaching sessions. There needs to be a relationship of support and publicity between player and governing body. Keeping their names and legacy alive is essential and in the interest of all parties, especially for England Squash.
I would guess Nick and Laura do feel well supported at the moment, and long may that continue, because there is a shelf life to loyalty, in any form of business.
Australia have also had a tough time holding on to their top players, with the exception of Rodney Martin. He is just one man though, in a massive country. They have had a long time out of the international elite squash limelight, and because of the country’s location, they struggle holding on to their players – Stewart Boswell and Anthony Ricketts both lived and trained in England, and Cameron Pilley lived in Holland for the majority of his career.
Recently, Squash Australia have definitely done the right thing and must be delighted with the return of Bozza (lured home from Qatar) and Ricketts (after a stint in New Zealand) to try to rejuvenate elite squash.
It seems they have realised the massive value these players have, and the importance of them both in helping the nation become great once again within squash. I can only assume they must have readdressed what they are willing to offer in terms of financial security in order to compete with the likes of Qatar and America.
I’m sure over the next two decades Egypt will always have enough top ex-pros to help out as there are just going to be so many to choose from! So even if they lose a few to other countries, there will be many more to offer coaching and mentoring back home in Egypt after they have finished their playing career.
What I am trying to point out is that any national squash governing body should recognise the value of their elite players in developing the next generation, and try their best to hold on to them after they retire from the professional circuit.
This will not always be possible for a number of reasons, but they must at least try. I think we are approaching a time now where this may be slightly easier than in previous years as America has so many coaches already, but countries can only hold on to their players if they acknowledge and reward their importance before it’s too late.
Andy Whipp’s popular column will have a regular slot here at Squash Mad every Friday from now on. Please tell all your squash friends to tune in to the only independent squash news service.
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Pictures from Squash Mad archives