Lots of energy and new faces as New Zealand copes with Covid (but we can still pick up tips from pickleball)
By ROD BANNISTER – Squash Mad NZ Correspondent
New Zealand has been in a unique position while many countries around the world, including our neighbours Australia, have had to deal with unique situations when it comes to our wonderful sport, squash.
It seems like a lifetime ago when New Zealand spent a good month in complete lockdown and while Auckland has experienced a two-week lockdown while the rest of the country was open for business a month or so ago, life has been pretty much back to normal.
All Districts in the country have been playing competitions and tournaments, all of our national events both junior and senior have been up and running, with our senior national individual championships taking place this coming weekend in Auckland.
It seems ridiculous to mention but some of our top juniors have had a good break since their nationals in Christchurch down on the South Island some three weeks ago! November sees the squash season draw to a close Down Under with a few annual summer events being held throughout December with the 2021 season getting under way around March.
The general vibe is that we are making every post a winner and events I have attended have seen full draws with people very keen to compete post lockdown.
Squashies in NZ acknowledge that they are fortunate and respect the position of many of our peers around the world.
It has moved to a position where we have in fact become a tad blase about Covid and the continuing challenges it is presenting around the world, mainly due to us living reasonably normal day to day lives.
On October the 10th we celebrated World Squash Day with many of our fellow squashies throughout the globe. In NZ it was noticeable that clubs have really begun to get behind our iconic day, supporting it not only on the day but through their social platforms leading into it.
Speaking with a few clubs it was great to hear that the event increased their visibility, gained more members and cross marketed with their tennis clubs to ensure everyone was a winner on the day.
Former world champion Carol Owens posted a great video from Auckland showing lots of happy faces with youngsters sharing their enthusiasm for the game with the hashtag campaign #whyilove squash … and many more clubs did the same to help raise the profile of the sport, locally, nationally and internationally.
World Squash Day coordinator Alan Thatcher is a visionary in this regard, capturing a day that we will never forget and forever support moving into the future. I can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store for us.
One project / vision I cannot let go of is the need for our sport to reinvent itself where we are more visible and accessible to the general public, far more emphasis on the social aspect, more affordable, have an open door policy, less bureaucracy and committee laden, brighter, female friendly, modern and courts that are open aired or have retractable roofs.
This is already in play with Public Squash in the USA and the Maspeth Steel outdoor court in New York. I’ve said more than once before we need new outdoor models otherwise our participation numbers will continue to fall behind sports like Pickleball and Padel.
These courts could work in with local clubs, but we seriously need to start taking the game to the people because, as it stands, new people are not being drawn to our sport. We need a Wow factor, courts that are head turners, well lit and in high traffic areas.
Pickleball and Padel are doing the exact opposite of what our stodgy, bureaucratic game is doing. Looking deeply at the American model, Pickleball is partnering with commercial food chains where they have their courts set up on site offering deeper ties with local communities with a significant emphasis on the social aspect of the sport.
This has led to Pickleball numbers growing to more than three million players in the States, attracting all the top racket brands and new investors along with an army of new players.
I was so intrigued by how quickly Pickleball was growing in the USA that I thought I would see what all the fuss was about, joining in on a few hit outs at my local club.
It was easy to contact the organisers, they were very helpful, it was easy to find, when I turned up they gave me a few tips and away I went for the investment of $5; no need to join on the spot to come back, no pressure to join the club, nor expectation that I play competitions or leagues, they were very welcoming.
I hit with similar level players and they loaned me a padel. It is a very easy sport to pick up, it was very social and I was was invited back. All in all a very pleasurable experience in a well-lit venue; I’m not convinced every new club squash experience is of the same quality!
Commercial / Funding Facilitator, SquashGym Palmerston North, NZ.