Sunday, April 14, 2024

Coronavirus, coaching and cash: Coaches share their views on the shutdown

Zoë Shardlow (far right) on England duty with (from left): Sam Mueller, Krissy Burkin, Natalie Townsend, Rachel Calver and Kate Bradshaw

‘I am worried about by immune system, I have cancelled all my lessons and I won’t be able to pay my rent’ 
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor

Two squash coaches based on the south coast have shared their experiences concerning the impact on their lives of the coronavirus pandemic.

Zoë Shardlow and Brian Ward both face a total loss of income and, for Zoe, that means she will be unable to pay her rent.

Here they share their experiences and views on the current events affecting the game, their health, and their livelihoods.

Zoë Shardlow lives in Chichester. Aged 46, she coaches at Bognor and at The Avenue, Havant, and is one of the Sussex junior coaches. She is also manager of the Sussex senior side. She writes:

I was the England Under-16 national champion. I was in the England Under-19 team, with Cassie (Jackman/ Thomas) that won the 1991 World Junior Team Championships.

I then got diagnosed with narcolepsy (a neurological disorder that affects your ability to wake and sleep). Jonah Barrington spotted it while I was at Millfield and my meds meant I couldn’t play professionally, so I quit and had 20 years where I had nothing to do with the game.

I then got a job in the kitchen at the Chichester Lawn Tennis and Squash Club so I could play there. I got into coaching and now I play for the Sussex seniors and England Masters teams.

As for the coronavirus, well, the good thing is, as a female, full-time squash coach I’m used to having no disposable income (and no time to go out anyway), so it’s possible I won’t notice too much of a change.

I saw this pandemic coming early, and took it suitably seriously. I get to both clubs I work in by bus and I have an autoimmune condition and am concerned my immune system might again overreact, so I cancelled all my lessons over a week ago, persuaded my parents, who live nearby, to self-isolate, and have only been out of the house for supplies since then.

Already I can’t afford my next rent, but I’m genuinely not worrying about it, mainly because it won’t help.

I’m concentrating on embracing the challenges in front of me and I see those as primarily mental. How we frame this coming event and its associated trials will determine how well we get through and how quickly we can pull things together again afterwards.

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It’s all about mindset. I’m already posting stuff on social media to encourage others to stay upbeat and set their sights on the future and I’m part of a couple of online support groups.

It’s so important that we realise that what the future looks like will depend on us.

My brother is an international Ultimate (Frisbee) coach and top cameraman and when he’s not globe-trotting he does online video coaching for teams all over the world.

So I’m looking at possibilities in that area and I’m also really interested in mental coaching, in squash and further afield. I’m excited about working with some players over this period when they won’t have any access to courts.

This will be a defining time for players and it is going to be really interesting to see which ones are positive and proactive and can use this period productively to progress their game, and which ones just focus on physical work, and end up getting demoralised and not moving forward.

As a fall-back I obtained my Security Industry Authority (SIA) badge a couple of years ago, so there could be some opportunities to do some security work in this next period, certainly if the way people have been behaving over toilet rolls is anything to go by!

How people can help: If you want to help a squash coach survive in these troubled times, then why not offer to pay them now for half a dozen or ten lessons that you can take at a later date? Commit now to your own future growth and development and help a coach stay in the sport. It’s a win/win move, and a smart little investment that could save the sport.


The future of squash? Brian Ward (right) brings a new meaning to safe distancing as he poses on court with a Star Wars Stormtrooper. Let’s hope the virus does not spread throughout the Galactic Empire

Brian Ward lives in Horton Heath, Hampshire. He coaches at Winchester Racquets and Fitness Club, Botley Park Hotel, David Lloyd Port Solent, Bounty Squash Club, and Southampton University Squash.

Brian describes himself as being 64 years young. He took the plunge into coaching after a career working in sales.

Brian says:
I spent from September 1988 to May 2016 working in Sales. Alongside this from about early 2000 I was also working as a squash coach building up my experience and client base. This expanded quickly until I was working 7 days a week, evenings from about 5:00pm to 8:30pm along with Saturday and Sunday for between 3 – 5 hours each day.

In May 2016 I decided to resign my “day” job and take up coaching full time. I was fortunate that I was able to build on my workload and started work at WRFC along with delivering squash in schools, initially under Hampshire Squash then working on my own.

I can say it took a lot of hard work and dedication to build up my workload after I left work and I spent a lot of time talking to clubs and people and looking for new ventures. Within three months (whilst on gardening leave) I had a full time squash coaching portfolio that has been maintained until the current issue hit us all.

I have been trying to rationalise my thoughts for you and I have to say it has been very difficult.

For me the situation is much less stressful than my younger colleagues as I am at an age where I am comfortable financially.

My primary concern is that if people get used to not playing or being coached at squash for any length of time and see they have more money in their wallets to spend on other things they will get out of the habit. This is often the case when clubs shut down, it is usual that a large number stop playing rather than move to a new club, we could discuss the reasons such as distance, cost, atmosphere etc. but it does happen.

The other issue I have is that not only do I have very little income at present no club has offered to drop or reduce the facility fee they charge. One club has just asked me to pay the annual fee and when I asked if this would change, as for the next couple of months I will not be delivering many if any lessons, private or club based, they did not know the answer.

They offered that when it is back to normal they may look at what can be offered. I would suggest this is not going to help me out when I most need it. The other club I work out of is deciding on a week by week basis and again have not yet mentioned the monthly facility fee although we are free at present to carry on with private coaching at both clubs, which of course is reducing daily.

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Schools were responding in line with UK Government guidelines and generally all work in schools will stop tomorrow.

The majority of people have now decided to stop (having coaching) and will contact me when they feel it is appropriate to do so. In total my income will drop by around 80% from this week onward and no doubt will go down by 100% in the next week or so.

If I had a mortgage and/or kids then it would be in a stressful time whereas I only have to cope with being at home almost 24 hours a day. Many young coaches will have basic bills to pay and will see their income drastically reduced and, being self-employed, currently they have no immediate right to sick pay or similar. I can see this affecting the thoughts of many looking to do the job full time as it is precarious in terms of income.

On the back of this there seems to be a major push to get as many people qualified to act as coaches and of course this reduces the work for each coach and many of these will also be employed so have a main job but are then taking work away from the full time coaches. This is especially relevant in these times as people often don’t move coaches, they just stop. Not sure if this is particular to the corona situation but it does reflect on the work available per coach.

Enough of me, I think the UK Government has handled this very well in that they are keeping us appraised of the situation, have put in place plans for financial cover, and each and every day flesh it out with more details.

I am aware that this is a major disruption to us all and things take time to highlight and get plans in place, and they are doing this. One point I think is very good is that they are allowing the UK population generally to decide what action they want to take but have as much information as is available to do it.

This means that those who are young and fit will generally keep playing and coaching as it is basically a one-to-one situation with plenty of space between coach and client. A full clampdown or club closure would prevent this reduced income to be realised.

Very exceptional circumstances for us all and we will get through it hopefully with little or no loss of players in our game. 


Lynne De Wet, Racket Sports Director at the ACAC Club at Short Pump in Richmond, Virginia, USA writes:
Our club ACAC Short Pump, which is one of a chain of 12 clubs in the USA, closed on Monday and the hope was that it will open after a week, but I doubt that. We have two singles courts and a doubles court.

As regards remuneration, the company will be paying 75% of my hourly rate and no money for commissioned lessons which we usually get at a 60% rate.

Pretty much all the clubs with squash courts are closed in Richmond. This is a tough time for all full-time coaches.


CALLING ALL COACHES: Please comment below and share your experiences. 



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