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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Robert Eberhard: How our new lifestyles can help squash grow in 2021

Robert Eberhardhttp://activscout.com
Robert Eberhard, MBA, is Founding President of the Whistler Squash Club. He is a Level 3 Squash Coach, a multi-line racquet distributor, a volunteer with Squash BC, and an active Masters Player. He is also an award-winning Digital User Interface Designer, and Founding CEO of ActivScout (a Social Marketplace for Racquet Sports).

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Robert Eberhard: How our new lifestyles can help squash grow in 2021
By ROBERT EBERHARD – Squash Mad Correspondent

Changes to our lifestyles, brought about the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, will present opportunities for growth in squash. But only if the game’s leaders are smart enough to understand the signs, react to the trends, and grab squash by the neck and drag it kicking and screaming in a new direction.

Covid has changed our lives. Some in very personal ways, with the death of a loved one. For others, it will have an indirect effect.

Many learned individuals much smarter than myself believe that these changes in society would have happened anyway. Covid has taken a 10-year timeline and condensed it down to about two years. New start-ups are sprouting up all over, taking advantage of these changes in society.

Previously, many people, including my father, would have avoided technology and mobile reservations at all costs. Now that everything needs to be reserved, it has forced a societal change in how we conduct our daily lives. This societal change has provided an opportunity to generate critical mass adoption for ideas that make life a little easier for everyone.

Covid will dramatically affect the squash community, but it may not have the anticipated effect that many of us are anticipating. I am optimistic. I see squash coming back with more vitality than ever before and more robust than it ever was in the early 1980s, with a massive caveat.

This vision will not come to fruition without a significant amount of hard work and a change in how we communicate.

We will need to bring ourselves to unite as an industry and leave the politics behind. We can’t just be independent clubs reinventing the wheel over and over again. We need to come together as a single voice. We need to share our successes and failures to learn from them and grow as a community.

Squash Mad is an independent platform designed to share ideas to help the game grow, so I look forward to seeing plenty of readers’ responses below the article. This is a platform where we can listen to each other, and learn from each other, so please feel free to share your ideas.

The following are some of my predictions for our post-covid squash community. I have broken them down into seven forecasts for players and clubs.

The Change in Player Patterns

1: People have the latitude to work where they want. Remote work may increase the popularity of some suburban and rural clubs at the expense of downtown (city centre) clubs. This trend is a reversal of what has been happening over the past several decades.

2: People will increasingly place a higher priority on health and well being. This reprioritisation is an opportunity for squash.

3: There will be a more significant number of people that will suffer from burn-out. This concept may be counter intuitive, but people tend to pressure themselves to succeed when they are intrinsically motivated.

4: Being intrinsically motivated is a direct result of the trust associated with the permission to work independently from home. Squash can play a crucial role in breaking up a personal day and providing physical and psychological relief.

5: There will be an increase in retreats and long working vacations. As a result, networking and communicating in a new and creative way will play an important role when arranging games with players from different clubs. There will be a hobby renaissance and an openness to take up a new activity.

6: Remote work will increase our propensity to communicate through writing instead of talking. This cultural shift will further increase the complexity and social importance of text and social media.

7: We will rely more heavily on crowdsourcing reviews and on friends’ testimonials for the products and services we purchase within the squash community.

Squash bodies that embrace technology will be the winners, says Squash Mad writer Robert Eberhard

The changing demands on a club

1: As players, our time will become more flexible, providing clubs with an opportunity to fill non-prime-time slots more easily.

2: Demand for variety will increase, making multi-purpose courts a desirable addition, including movable walls for multi-purpose spaces.

3: AR / VR gaming environments will become a critical attraction for bringing in new and younger players. Multi-Ball and Interactive Squash is just one example. More will be coming.

4: Many clubs will outgrow their current facilities and will need to assess how to grow effectively without looking ad-hoc.

5: Clubs that utilise technology, to maximise their revenue and minimise their operational costs, will be the big winners.

6: Clubs that embrace social networks will be better adept at creating a stronger sense of community. They will also bridge the gap better, bringing online social to in-person social, while more intuitively understanding their clients’ needs.

7: Sharing is about to overtake search (Zuckerberg’s Law), and as a result, communication through social networking will enhance a club’s ability to market itself to the surrounding community.

These predictions were first made public on Gerry Gibson’s “The In Squash Podcast” Episode 179 featuring Robert Eberhard.

READERS’ COMMENTS: Readers are invited to share their thoughts below.

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. I have been working from home for over 10 years as a full stack web application developer. The other adults of my age with young families commute to London and don’t have time to enjoy a game of squash during the day. Hey, has Covid changed this? No longer are they wasting time on a train anymore. Squash needs to understand government policies if it is to demand the footprint that a squash court owns. This is the latest document from our local council. Squash needs to work to find ways of meeting the needs of this document. https://cdn.easthants.gov.uk/public/documents/Welfare%20and%20Wellbeing%20Strategy.pdf A younger age group needs to find squash and connection to social media is the way.

  2. I’ve worked for myself from home for a few years and hope that more of us get to enjoy the flexibility to arrange a mid-morning game at the last-minute, because it’s great! If it does happen, I can imagine online services matching people across nearby clubs based on ranking and perhaps helping to book courts at the same time, becoming popular. I want to be able to open up my phone and know I’ll be on court at 11:20am within a couple of taps, have it pop up in my calendar and then go back to work.

    My concern for squash is the profitability of services like this (and the innovations that can then hang off them) for a single minority sport. For example, it’s easier to justify building and maintaining a rank-based player matching and facilities booking service if squash and ideally multiple other sports already use the same ranking and booking technologies ubiquitously. Sharing methods with other one-on-one sports (golf, racketball, tennis?) is probably the key. This starts with squash aligning on a few solutions under common guidance and the obvious path is for the governing bodies to centralise and offer these facilities as part of clubs’ affiliation. It should be easier for my village club to decide to tick the box to activate Squash England’s booking system than to think about looking at other vendors. This benefits everyone – the service vendor can make one large sale, squash as a whole can demand specific features in services, small clubs don’t need to lumber one of their members with IT duties, integration across the country and between countries becomes easier and roll-out of new services can happen centrally. It also helps players to become citizens of the world rather than citizens of their club, even if clubs retain restrictions on bringing guests. There’s no reason this sort of thing couldn’t work for an individual visiting another country.

    • Aidan, there are so many of us out there that feel your pain and recognize the challenges of formulating a solution with an economic model that addresses the needs of all of our sports stakeholders. This was not an easy solution I can tell you that right now and it has been something that I have been personally dedicated to for many years now. ActivScout is an AI communications platform designed to address the problems that you so eloquently point out. In todays digital economy, consumers expect a quality FREE app that focuses on you as the player and it’s not about the needs of the club. That is the defining difference between an App and a Website or Software Platform. ActivScout is also a FREE integration for club management and booking systems. We understand that these booking systems get paid to solve club problems, not people problems so our goal has been to provide a world class communications platform for players with an AI platform that recognizes the habits of a player over time, learning how to match you up with an ideal opponent. From the player’s perspective it’s always more convenient when someone calls you for a game and organizes the court booking on your behalf, so why not let technology take over that role for both you and your opponent? ActivScout is also opening up its API to plug into ranking systems around the world to help create “Citizens of the World, rather than citizens of (a) Club”.

    • I see outdoor courts being an important part of the evolution of squash but the challenge is that its a two sided marketplace and with two sided marketplaces you have a chicken and egg scenario. You don’t have the volume of players to warrant building the courts, but you don’t have the players because you don’t have the courts. It will still happen but it will be a slow process because for each court that is built you need a champion to go out and really sell the idea to investors. The ActivScout platform that I am proudly a part of is one of those missing pieces of the puzzle because you need good communication so that as a global community we can form funding labs to help those champions raise capital.

    • Rob. We have already published articles supporting the research into designing cheaper outdoor courts to make the game of squash more visible, more accessible and more affordable for whole communities. I am talking to friends in numerous countries about this very topic. On friend in Australia told me: “I just want to build a court where ordinary working-class folk can play squash.”

  3. Agree with the supposition that is the main theme of the article, but would the author agree that this is a time of great reset and we will have to build from the ground up, literally. Infrastructures have been decimated and any technology – new and old – will require places to operate. That means investment and significant capital. How will investors be given the confidence that this will work? (PS I think it will and has to.)

  4. Ian, you have made a very important point regarding new technology that can provide the infrastructure for the future and a united squash community. I have been working on this for a number of years now with ActivScout. I believe that you have the same mind set with Formula 4 Activity.

  5. Can squash leaders work WITH tennis and pickbleball leaders to grow all racquet sports rather than work against each other?

    • Hello Ben. Thank you for making that hugely important point. The Squash 200 Consultancy is doing absolutely what you suggest, planning clubs for the future with multiple racket sports available on site, plus a gym and social facilities for the whole community.

  6. Well done Robert for doing this.

    COVID has knocked squash – and many other sports – sideways but, by pressing the pause button, it has triggered some overdue fresh thinking into how we reset the approach to reversing the decline in participation numbers and court numbers at grassroots level. Well-considered articles such as this and the current ‘State of the game’ coverage in Squash Player Magazine really help to create a momentum of thoughts and ideas.

    I’m the squash and racketball chairman at our club. On the face of it things are rosy. We have a buoyant squash section; strong membership numbers; thriving box leagues; an elite training squad at the pro level; we make continuous improvements to the facilities each year; etc. But… we have had no ladies team for a number of years; we have no one under 30 playing team squash, other than 2 pro’s in our 1st team; whilst we have had great junior squad sessions for a long time, that doesn’t seem to translate to a progression path that sticks.

    You are right. COVID will create opportunities as well as threats. More people will work from home more often. Some will be able to play at lunchtime. Without a commute at either end of the day every day, some will play before work; and playing after work won’t have to mean 8pm when you’re shattered. Awareness of the importance of exercise for both physical and mental health will be magnified, at least for a while.

    Going forwards, we (including my club, and we will do this) need to:
    # support coaches in going into schools. Coaches are the key to attracting the next generation of players. Volunteer club old codgers like me aren’t able to do it.
    # get more ladies coaching and more ladies managing, to get more ladies playing.
    # ladies showers and changing rooms that are fit for 2021.
    # have a big push on racketball for beginner adults – great fun straight away.
    # be a more welcoming environment for beginner adults, with emphasis on how much fun it is – not just ‘join the boxes’ – so they stick.
    # we go after tennis players, football players, cricketers at our local clubs, many of whom will like the idea of great indoor exercise in an hour in their off-season. Targeted marketing rather than than the occasional general open days.

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