Secrets of success as Nick Taylor builds an island-wide squash community and brings a top pro tournament back to Jersey
Squash Mad is delighted to profile the success of Jersey squash coach Nick Taylor, who is busy building the sport at every level. Having left behind a successful squash set-up in Manchester, he set about improving facilities, encouraging more youngsters to take up the sport, and promoting the game at the highest level by creating an annual Jersey Classic.
Not only that, he made sure that the professionals became fully integrated with the island’s junior squash community to effectively build strong links between some of the game’s top stars and the grass roots of the sport. Nick tells Squash Mad Editor ALAN THATCHER all about the challenges he has faced, and overcome in spectacular fashion.
I arrived in Jersey in July 2008. I was shocked when I saw the Jersey Squash Club. It looked old and run down, although the courts were in pretty good shape.
First on the agenda was to introduce mini-squash to as many primary school children as possible.
Jersey certainly punches above its weight in regards to sports development.
We are an island nine miles long and five miles wide, not much more than the size of a village, but we have nine full-time sports development offices in athletics, table tennis, cricket, football, netball, rugby, swimming, community (multi-sports) and obviously squash.
Squash was bottom of the pile in regards to popularity. Most people in Jersey had not even heard of it, and I was frequently greeted with the phrase ‘squash is what you drink isn’t it?’
Believe me, that’s not funny when you hear it all the time! I wrote to all 24 primary schools with no response, then I rang the head teachers. ‘They will ring you back,’ the assistants told me. Then I visited everyone, would not take no for an answer and eventually one school agreed to try out squash.
All they had to do was put a time schedule together for the day, and I would do the rest.
I arrived at Plat Douet school in October 2008 and delivered mini-squash to more than 230 children from reception to Year Six. They all loved it, and all took a leaflet home about squash in Jersey. We had after-school and weekend clubs in place and a handful of young players signed up, including our current Under-15 Island champion Antony Harkin.
By the end of 2009 we had delivered mini-squash festival to all 26 primary schools reaching out to more than 8,000 children aged from 5-11.
We have 16 courts in Jersey across five venues, but the Jersey Squash & Racketball club is the premier venue and home to the governing body, the Jersey Squash & Racketball Association www.jsra.org.je
The club don’t pay me a retainer but allow the JSRA and me to run our programmes with free court usage, a great way of club embracing professional players.
Like I said earlier, the club wasn’t in great shape and certainly not attractive to new members.
By 2010 we were down to 60 members and in my opinion if we hadn’t had a director of Squash and Racketball the club would not be here now.
Clubs like Ardleigh Hall, near Colchester, and Lancastrian squash club, Leigh, both steeped in squash history, are gone forever. I didn’t want that to happen to us.
A new committee was put in place, the old part of the club was decorated, thanks to our sponsors Tadhg Macfirbhish from builders JPMauger.
We introduced a foundation membership to fund the refurbishment of the male changing rooms, put new carpet down and any carpentry work was done for free through a member, Darren Menard, a great lad!
We now have more than 255 members, and 80 kids attend the junior sessions on a Saturday morning. We have well-structured leagues, both team and individual, a schools team league with 8 secondary school teams competing.
I am proud to say we also run a community session with 30 children from less privileged backgrounds playing. These are free sessions, after-school clubs on Tuesdays with more than 40 kids attending. Interestingly, lots of these parents are now playing racketball.
In 2008 there were three people playing racketball fortnightly. We now have hundreds playing island-wide with more than 100 playing in a league at a venue near the airport called Les Quennevais Sports Centre run by ex-squash player Gordon Burgis.
Some of our young players are now old enough to become more involved and, after taking their Level One coaching courses they will be ready to help out with additional programmes.
My ambition was always to host a PSA World Tour event in Jersey, and spark a return to the glory days of a golden era in the game.
Back in 1988, the Daily Mail Classic was held in Jersey, and the final was won by the legendary Jansher Khan, arguably the best squash player in history.
The event was held on a glass court in the Gloucester Hall at Fort Regent. I loved hearing tales about the event but obviously there was no legacy in place, so I set about filling that gap.
The Jersey Squash Classic was launched in 2013 as a $10,000 PSA event, but I wanted to achieve much more than merely staging a tournament.
I wanted to involve the whole squash community so we invited local players to take part in the qualifying event.
The connection had to go even deeper, so the professionals were also contracted to hit and inspire the local primary schools, with the result that 127 Year Six pupils had a chance to experience the event and learn first-hand from the professional players.
In 2014 the prize money grew to $15,000 and popular Guernsey man Chris Simpson repeated his tournament victory of he previous year.
In 2015 we are aiming even higher, with a $20,000 glass court event linked to an amateur squash classic, hopefully bringing 250 amateur players over to Jersey to compete in a fun three-day event and watch the pros perform in the evening.
It’s the perfect mix for enthusiastic club players, to feel part of something bigger, enjoy the camaraderie that goes with such a tournament, and, hopefully enjoy being part of a project designed to grow the game.
Jersey Squash and Racketball Club president Gerard Gardiner writes: “JS&RC is delighted to have made a major contribution to the island squash development programme. As Jersey’s premier squash and racketball facilities we offer a stimulating and encouraging environment to juniors and parents and our members recognise the value in growing the adult membership of the future.
“We work closely in partnership with Nick and the JSRA and consider our hosting of the Schools Programme to be a cornerstone of our endeavours to integrate JS&RC, its facilities and the island community to benefit the sport and community health and education generally.
“The quality of the JS&RC venue enables us to attract international events including the Jersey Squash Classic, the Jersey Squash Festival and top-class exhibitions which provide sporting role models for Jersey’s aspiring squash players.”
Pictures courtesy of NICK TAYLOR