The game will look very different when we reopen
By ROD BANNISTER – Squash Mad Correspondent
We live in very interesting times. Six weeks ago if you told me I would be sitting at a desk in New Zealand working remotely for Squash Australia having meetings with work colleagues using a myriad of online platforms, I’d pat you on the back with a wee sarcastic smile and move on with my day!
The rest is history.
Our current situation is making a significant imprint on the sport of squash in Australia. Having been deeply immersed in the game there over the past 12 months it has been very interesting observing and talking to a wide variation of squashies throughout the country during this time.
It’s apparent that Covid-19 has presented our community with many unique challenges; good, bad and otherwise.
What I will attempt to do throughout this article is to be as neutral and objective as I possibly can to bring you my own perspective and input on how squash in Australia is coping during lockdown. For me there are still more questions than answers.
Centre owners / operators: It is has been fantastic watching from afar many centre owners use this time to do maintenance work on their centres; there’s too many to single out and I don’t want to showcase more than others but there’s an abundance of repair work taking place all over the country, maintenance upgrades, courts been plastered, courts being painted, lighting being upgraded, door frames being re-aligned, floors being sanded and much more.
On the upside people have been super-productive in this space, utilising time that they would have not had to do stuff that they don’t get to do when they are stuck at the centre undertaking daily operational work. The government has also put support plans in place to assist many owners when it comes to income so they can hopefully get through this period.
This time has allowed our community to:
Spend time with our loved ones: We complain about being time poor and not being able to do the things we want to do, well guess what …
Train: What a magnificent time to work on a set skill(s) and get better at it; e.g. my young daughter’s specific focus is on how to move effectively and efficiently on the squash court so we’ve built drills in around this.
Recover from injury: I’ve spoken to a few athletes who have seen this time as a blessing. They have had niggly injuries for a few years and had no time to heal.
Improve weaknesses and strengths: Identify your super strengths and get better at them and focus on getting better in one area. The obvious one for me is to get fitter.
Upgrade centres: As outlined above, there’s no time like the present.
Study: Whether it’s current study or something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.
Learn new skills to complement our squash addiction: Turn a part time love into a more time efficient activity e.g. I’ve seen one of our young stars spend more time skateboarding.
Bring out old creative skills that we haven’t explored for years because we’re squash addicts: Write, read, draw, knit ….
Think: The future is uncertain to a point but take this time to think about what your future looks like and plan to make it come to life.
Streetsquash: My baby; it comes under one of the headings already outlined, but get creative and keep the game alive while there is no game or no courts.……
Are some of the interim discoveries just that ? Or are they going to be a fabric of our community going forward? In essence, time will tell.
Well, this is the million-dollar question and a very challenging one that we can only make assumptions around at this stage. There is some ‘talk’ that centres could be open in and around July. To what capacity who knows, and there are no facts to support these claims.
To add, all the different States have varying levels of lockdown rules and stages in place so it’s anyone’s guess at this stage. And it’s out of our hands as well as being too early in the piece to make set claims on doors opening.
Will the game as we know it ever be the same? My thinking is that some people will rush back to it, some will stay away completely, and some will come back if there are strict parameters around top level hygiene practices which will be par for the course if / when centres do open.
We witnessed as we got closer to lockdown many competition teams having a drop off in numbers due to people choosing to stay away for their own unique reasons. I’m not convinced that we will see an influx of numbers when the doors reopen.
People will have changed priorities, day to day living will be high on the list, and I honestly cannot see squash as being an essential service to many; with our sport struggling at the best of times without being established in schools, on TV or mainstream media we may be in for a bumpy ride for at least the rest of 2020!
Biggest winners: Innovators and centre operators that have been pro active during this period, engaging with their clients online through social platforms, emails and so forth showing their up beat attitudes during this period and showing their client base they’re ready to go when they are! Making sure they are in constant contact with the decision makers when their centre opens and communicating to all through this process.
The centres that have been upgrading, undertaking competitions, presenting online challenges, setting up online coaching, fitness classes, quizzes and engaging their stakeholders will pleasantly surprise their clients when they open with their own unique WOW factor!
Biggest losers: The exact opposite of what the above is undertaking, no activity, apathy and a general lack of energy at this time will not serve anyone into the future. They need to get off their behinds and communicate. Be innovative or die.
What happens when we reopen? I believe we will have centres operational in the back quarter of the year. There will be strict rules around personal hygiene and social distancing practices. We will have limitations on group gatherings at a centre at one time e.g. a maximum of 10.
We will see two players on a court allowed at one time with no cross over with other bookings that follow, say a 15-minute break before the court can be used again, personal areas being taken care of by the clients wiping down seated areas, court space, door handles and anything else they come into contact with.
Competitions: There will be a possibility only for pennant competitions to come back, where there will be limited numbers in attendance at one time and no social gatherings afterward for snacks and drinks.
I highly doubt there will be any travel for tournaments outside your region and, at a push, there could be unique tournaments held within our regions where all the above practices are an absolute requirement.
As I said, there are more questions than answers.
But one thing’s for sure, our game will not be the same.
Squash Pro/Operations Coordinator, National Squash Centre, Gold Coast, Australia.
Owner: BANNY Sports (like us on Facebook).
Ambassador – Stellar Rackets.