Even with a trio of top retirements, Genever aims to emulate Asian Games success in 2022
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
Former world number 23 Peter Genever was appointed the National Head Coach of Hong Kong China in September last year, succeeding former England National Coach Chris Robertson. It certainly was no bed of roses taking over the role in such challenging times, when the world is fighting a battle for survival against the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the Hong Kong squash camp, they have also lost a pair of their most decorated siblings through retirement and have yet to be tested given the restrictions to events.
The 46-year-old native of Hampshire is certainly no stranger in Asia, having spent over seven years spearheading the Malaysian squash camp from 2012-2019. During his tenure there, he has guided the women’s team to second placing at the 2014 WSF Women’s World Team Championships and more recently in 2018, a first ever men’s individual medal at the Commonwealth Games through Nafiizwan Adnan.
Not surprisingly, Nafiizwan, or The Komodo as he is better known, was pull of praise for Peter when asked to comment:
“He is the best coach I’ve ever had. I would love to get tips from him on how he handled the pressure when we were not doing so well (as players then) and how he knew and had the belief in me that I would achieve the targets we set right at the end of my playing career.”
Amidst lockdowns everywhere, we managed to catch up with Peter electronically to find out how he’s settling down in Hong Kong and to learn of his plans for his charges, among other things.
Peter, you left Malaysia in March 2019. Tell us what has happened since then till now.
We went back to the UK in 2019. My wife was working while I was looking after our two children and doing some part time coaching locally at The Avenue Club in Hampshire. We had planned this for some time and wanted to see whether a permanent move back to the UK would be an option. With the backdrop of Brexit, it proved to be an ‘interesting’ time so we were in the process of looking at a few options in the UK but also some opportunities to go on the road again.
Obviously, you were working with elite athletes in Malaysia and then going back to the UK coaching at the club level, it was a very different standard. How excited are you to be back working with the elite athletes?
I find coaching people fascinating, so I enjoy being on court with any level of player who wants to understand the game in different ways and improve. Obviously, at the elite end of the game, that desire to improve can border on obsessive, so while it is a hugely satisfying experience there is the need to make sure it is healthy for the player – at least for the majority of the time. The ability to balance one thing against another becomes one of the big challenges.
I know you have been in HK for a while now. Was it only a temporary stint since they have only recently announced your appointment?
I was initially approached for an interim period of six months by Hong Kong Squash. They needed someone to bridge the gap and allow the Hong Kong Sports Institute to follow protocol in advertising the permanent Head Coach position. Given the reputation and determination of Hong Kong Squash to be at the top of the game I felt it was an opportunity too good to miss.
So I suppose the family is happy there?
Yes, we are finding our rhythm now. The children have school and a routine which they are comfortable with, so this goes a long way to creating stability for the family. Obviously, the COVID-19 situation has been very difficult for everyone and given us all a fresh perspective on how we operate from day to day.
Having stayed in Malaysia for quite a number of years, would you say that HK seems to be a pretty natural place for you?
I have always enjoyed being in Hong Kong. My first trip here was for the World Juniors in 1992 and I have been here regularly over the subsequent years. Maybe this and our seven years in Malaysia made moving across have a familiar feel, so settling here has been a pretty seamless transition so far.
I like the combination of the modern and the old, particularly with the architecture and the different districts and how this changes so quickly. We live in the New Territories, which has a little more space and natural landscape which is good for the spirit too.
Succeeding Chris (Robertson), do you see big differences in your style of coaching which the players and coaches will have to adapt to?
I am not sure if they are big differences, but we have made changes to most areas of the training environment to better suit the ideas that I believe are important. I think this would be normal. I don’t see permanence in a training schedule as being profitable to players so we vary what we do at the appropriate times. Adaptability is key both during competition and training, so this is a good thing to be accustomed with.
Do you feel you have big shoes to fill?
For sure! Even speaking about him in this way feels a little out of turn given his impact and contribution to the game as a player and coach. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Chris. He visited me in London in 2011 when I was coaching Tom Richards and Joe Lee as part of the England programme at that time and since then, both with his time with England Squash and Hong Kong Squash, he has always been open in sharing his ideas on how best to work with players at the top level.
Having been in Hong Kong for a while now, I am sure you have a rough idea of the scene there. What would be the first few big ticket items you will be working on with the team?
The basic things really. The first thing was to make sure every player knew that the onus was on them to understand how they can improve. It is a simple thing but they must get better at playing at the competitive level. This will mean different things to different players, but in their own way, they must be more efficient and effective in their ball striking, decision making and movement at competition game speeds. We explore different ways to do this but most of what we do comes back to these principles.
With Annie Au, Leo Au and Joey Chan retired recently, that has perhaps left a big gap In the Hong Kong team. Max is also perhaps coming to the tail-end of his career. What are your thoughts?
When you lose established players such as the ones mentioned, then of course initially there has to be a gap. Sometimes, the opportunity has to present itself in this way for other players to step forward. Perhaps the system in place supports this hierarchy as well, which is problematic. The performance model needs to be layered in a way that players are challenged and are challenging to move forward from the bottom to the top at all times.
We run a centralised programme in Hong Kong, which means the players, coaching, support services and facilities are all in one venue. The advantages of this on paper appear to be very clear but the disadvantages can reside within the advantages and counteract what we have. It is vital we maintain a competitive attitude so the next group of players can emerge as early as possible.
Who would you say would be the next ones to watch from Hong Kong?
I like the look of the current performance squads for 2022 Asian Games – Yip Tsz Fung, Max Lee, Henry Leung, Lau Tsz Kwan, Wong Chi Him, Tang Ming Hong, Ho Tze Lok, Liu Tsz Ling, Tong Tsz Wing, Lee Ka Yi, Vanessa Chu and Chan Sin Yuk.
The squads have a decent blend of experience and youth. Our first priority is to meet expectations at the Asian Games in 2022 and in the process, see who has the ambition and desire to make an impact on the wider stage.
Running alongside this will be to move the potential and junior players closer in level to the performance squads. Ensuring the junior programmes are training coherently is fundamental to our future success.
With the current COVID-19 situation, and controls seem to be stricter in Hong Kong and Asia as a whole, what are you working on with the players to ensure they are in the right competitive mind for when the borders reopen to them?
In some ways, having a new coach coming in during this time has helped as we have introduced a new way of working. The coaching staff have to be creative with provoking positive reactions within training to stay competitive. But the players have to drive that competitiveness themselves and in the periods where that can become difficult, the coaches need to make our targets visible and help motivate in a supportive way.
The Asian Games is perhaps the biggest event in the books of the Hong Kong sports authorities. In the last event, Hong Kong and Malaysia shared honours with two golds each. What would be your target for the 2022 edition?
We want to emulate the performance in 2018. This will not be easy given we have lost key players but I believe we have the quality within the squads to strive for that target. We are excited to challenge ourselves to do that.
We have yet to see a promising enough Asian to challenge for a spot on both the men’s and women’s top ten in a while now. What do you feel Asia players in general lack?
They do not lack anything comparatively. The ability is undoubtedly there but in terms of competitiveness, appreciation and application of excellence, and executing this strategically under pressure, then all countries are trying to catch up with Egypt. But let’s not forget it took Egypt a number of years to find the training environment and conditions to match their ‘form of life’ and realise their squash potential.
The key thing for Asian countries is to keep the momentum consistent and to continue moving forward over a period of years. This is where the Australian and English systems have perhaps struggled in recent times and with it, so have the results and the depth to their squads.
Pictures courtesy of World Squash Federation and The Star