Sunday, April 14, 2024

James Willstrop helps Mark Fuller to continue surge in squash at University of Nottingham

By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Former world No.1 James Willstrop has joined Mark Fuller to beef up the coaching team at the award-winning University of Nottingham.

Fuller, Head of Squash at the University, is leading a successful development programme that has attracted hundreds of students to take up the sport for the first time.

Having a global celebrity like Willstrop on board will help to grow the profile of squash within the world of university sport. It will also send out a message that the UK is following the USA in promoting squash as a major varsity sport.

The University of Nottingham is one of the leading centres, with the women’s squad winning a fourth BUCS title in a row after a thrilling final against the University of Birmingham, which hosted this year’s Commonwealth Games squash competition.

Fuller said: “Squash is thriving and building at the University of Nottingham both from a performance perspective, but also critically for the future of the sport by introducing new players to the game.”

The busiest gatherings at the University of Nottingham are the club squash sessions which run twice a week with 20-30 students turning up for each one.

Fuller aded: “These are mainly players who have only just started to play the game and maybe didn’t even know that squash existed before they came to Nottingham.

“The start of the year is critical in marketing to the new freshers coming in but the social media and other marketing runs throughout the year with new members joining all of the time.

The Univerity of Nottingham celebrates winning the Participation Club Of The Year award

“The club should reach 200 members this year, of which I estimate about 50% are players who had not played squash before coming to Nottingham.

“As a club this is what we are most proud of – squash is a fantastic game and it is such a shame that more people are not introduced to it and given the chance to fall in love with it.

“All our coaches work really hard to help these players progress, and we now have players regularly representing the University teams on a Wednesday afternoon who started playing for the first time only a year ago.

“I think that we have been very lucky with great, passionate coaches such as Coline Aumard, Owain Taylor and now Cameron Bentley Chessum, who all have a passion for growing the game and introducing new players.”

Last year the University of Nottingham Squash Club won Participation Club of the year in recognition of the number of new players that it introduced to the game. This was up against stiff competition from more than 75 sports at the University but shows just how popular squash is with students.

Gold for James Willstrop (left) and Nottingham-born Declan James (a PSL regular for Nottingham) in the men’s doubles at this year’s Commonwealth Games

A recent addition to the coaching team at Nottingham has been James Willstrop, who is working with all levels of the club.

Wilstrop said: “It was really nice to get the phone call from Mark to speak to me about this opportunity and it’s a real pleasure to be here.

“I’ve known Mark for a long time having played with and against each other many times. There was an opening to get involved and he reached out to me to ask if I’d be interested and I absolutely was.

“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and getting to know the players and squad. There’ll be a lot of group sessions, but I want to help everyone as individuals too. That’s one of the great things I think about coaching because there’s not a one size fits all approach.

“Everyone approaches the game differently, either mentally or how they approach the game, so as a coach you’re navigating all of that. It’s a million miles away from being a player, because in that world it’s all about you and you don’t really have to think too much about other people.”

Gina Kennedy wins gold for England at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

The University of Nottingham has a coaching programme that caters for players of all levels, supporting many players in their careers over the years and is happy to boast a fantastic alumni pedigree that recently includes Gina Kennedy – like Willstrop a Commonwealth Games gold medal winner – Coline Aumard, Hana Ramadan, Owain Taylor, Adam Auckland and Lucy Beecroft.

Fuller added: “It is brilliant to have James Willstop in to continue the progress that was started by Richard O’Connor in training and developing world class squash players at Nottingham.”

Team squash is available for all levels at the University of Nottingham with six men’s and four women’s teams competing in BUCS events, two teams in the local Notts League and a team playing in the PSL.

University of Nottingham has 10 teams competing in BUCS events

University squash in the UK has seen great growth over recent years with new centres being built at many of the key institutions.

The University structure in the USA has helped to give the sport a boost and it is the hope of the head of university programs that they can drive a similar increase in participation in squash in the UK.

Fuller concluded: “Our aim at the University of Nottingham this year is for over 500 students to have engaged in our program.

“Most of these will be playing the game for the first time so involving as many of them as possible in the community and giving them that squash bug will be a job well done.”

Related article:
How the University of Nottingham won a fourth consecutive BUCS title: report

Pictures courtesy of University of Nottingham and PSA World Tour 


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