Sunday, October 1, 2023

New Year heralds new era for Australian squash

Squash Australia set for massive changes in bid to break Egyptian and English dominance 

SQUASH Australia will undergo a major overhaul in the New Year, as leading government and sport officials look to catapult the country back to the forefront of the top sporting nations worldwide.

The governing body for squash in Australia have announced that the hugely successful AIS program will be replaced by the new Winning Edge approach in 2014, as they look to herald a new era for the sport.

Australian sport has suffered a decline in recent years, with their dominance in squash wavering dramatically since the likes of Sarah-Fitz Gerald, Rodney Martin and more recently, David Palmer (pictured right) enjoyed success at the top of the world rankings.

But with the likes of Cameron Pilley and Kasey Brown threatening to break into the top-10, outgoing head coach Bryon Davis is confident the new initiative can help to deliver success for the country once again. 

“It’s about benchmarking against the world’s best, and that’s what the AIS is all about now with the Winning Edge strategy, trying to establish the world’s best athletes and that’s what sports are trying to deliver on,” Davis told Australia Squash.

“I think the philosophy is sound and will help provide accountability throughout the pathway and the sport. It will just take time.”

With the focus now on a more decentralised approach, there is no role for a centrally-based coach. As a result, Davis will be leaving his position as head coach later this month.

“There’s a real touch of sadness, given the tremendous focus on excellence that an AIS program gives a sport – Gary O’Donnell”

But after overseeing several successful World Championship campaigns for Australian players, Davis is confident that his work, together with legend Geoff Hunt before him, will provide a smooth transition into the Winning Edge scheme.

“I think we’re reasonably well placed from a pathway point of view, but clearly I think there are challenges around the numbers of participants in sport, and that’s more broadly across the sport sector,” the former world number one added.

“For the first time next year we’ll have eight states and territories involved, so we’ve got a united program where every State and territory will be developing underpinning programs. So the onus will be on the States and Territories to help support players coming through a pathway, and to provide training and competition opportunities.”

“It’s just getting enough kids into sport, we’ve got challenges across the schools, and all the rest of it, and getting sport back involved. It has to be a push from all levels.

“From a performance perspective, it’s back to the athletes, its individual responsibility. It’s their career; they have to make the decisions that are best for them, and with the support mechanisms in place to be provided by the sport.

Under the AIS program, Craig Rowland and Joseph Kneipp won Commonwealth Games gold medals, while Michelle Martin notched up half a dozen British Open titles.

The program has also benefited from the input of world class coaches with legends Heather McKay, Ken Hiscoe, Anthony Ricketts and Rodney Martin all making significant contributions throughout their tenures.

Unsurprisingly, Squash Australia CEO Gary O’Donnell has fond memories about the 27-year-old program and while he recognises the difficulty in implementing an entire structural overhaul, O’Donnell remains optimistic Winning Edge will become a resounding success.

“There’s a real touch of sadness, given the tremendous focus on excellence that an AIS program gives a sport,” he said.

“The AIS put Australia at the leading edge of the world sport structure, a lot of the world of sport has caught up, so it’s time to morph into a different structure. That’s what we’re at the start of. We’re nowhere near being at the finish line of what Winning Edge is all about.

“It’s very challenging, but in the end sport is always about the challenge, so as an organisation and as a sport, frankly we just have to be up for the battle.”

Source: Australia Squash; Picture by Richard Millman

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