Join the fight to save the healthiest of all sports
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
It was wonderful to see Britain’s national newspapers present the health benefits of playing squash and racketball in their coverage of a recent survey published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Regularly playing squash and racketball could help stave off death the longest, wrote the Daily Mirror.
“Scientists have narrowed down the sports and types of exercise that are linked to significantly lower odds of dying before those who do not do those activities.
“Racket sports, swimming, aerobics and cycling seem to be the best for prolonging life, the research concluded.
“Meanwhile, those who partake in swimming, aerobics and racket sports such as squash, badminton and tennis, also have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases such as strokes.”
The report was featured in many other national newspapers. The Daily Mail headline read ‘Forget that jog: Why squash and tennis are the best way to stay fit in middle age’.
“Playing squash, tennis and badminton is the best way to reduce the risk of suddenly dying, a study has found. The racket sports reduce the risk of death by 47 per cent compared to doing nothing, researchers discovered.
“The study, which looked at the impact of different sports on health of people with an average age of 51, found swimming cut the risk of death by 28 per cent, aerobics by 27 per cent and cycling by 15 per cent.
“Interestingly, it discovered that taking part in running and jogging, or football and rugby, did not have a significant effect on cutting the chance of death.”
This kind of information needs to be used as ammunition by squash federations fighting court closures not only in the UK but elsewhere across the planet.
Better still, it provides myriad reasons for building a new kind of community sports club where squash and the sister sport of racketball can be a focal point for providing genuine health benefits for players of all ages.
According to The Mirror and the Mail, the study examined information on more than 80,000 adults across England and Scotland who took part in annual health surveys between 1994 and 2008.
That was a period when many so-called health and fitness chains went on the rampage across the squash landscape, buying up clubs, closing down the courts and filling the buildings with gym machines… destroying the sport and charging members a fortune to sign up.
I know of many such businesses who ban juniors from the premises, which demonstrates how little they care about the sport of squash or making health benefits available to young people in a society where childhood obesity is now rampant.
At a recent meeting I attended in Kent, one health care leader from Kent County Council presented the alarming figures that one in three children are leaving primary school either clinically obese or showing signs of being so. (That figure has now been revised to 40 per cent).
Few of these children are able to reverse this trend during secondary education, which is a measure of the failure of school sports classes to deal with the problem.
With participation numbers in squash falling from a high of three million in the 1980s to a tenth of that figure now, the sport needs every piece of ammunition it can grab to halt this trend towards oblivion.
We need a new type of thinking, and certainly new leadership, to build community sports clubs where squash and racketball are promoted as fun sports that can deliver significant health benefits to residents of all ages.
The sport needs to recalibrate its modus operandi, its reason for existence, and focus on these urgent issues, instead of programmes which concentrate on delivering elite coaching to the best players while others are allowed to fall by the wayside.
Elite programmes perhaps need to be funded separately, because the absolute priority for our sport right now is in building participation numbers and working harder to retain those members who play social squash for the sheer fun and the obvious health benefits.
When I took to social media to alert readers to this health survey, I followed up with the following message:
To all fitness clubs: SQUASH is the best game for fitness.
So build more courts, promote squash and stop filling courts with gym machines.
The response on Twitter was overwhelming. Squash lovers from all over the country shared the message and added horror stories of their own, with a kind of Orwellian doom prophecy where gym machines take over the world and kill off organised sports like squash.
Well, we clearly need to organise ourselves a lot better than we are at the moment if we are to reverse this trend.
Hopefully, this publicity can help to galvanise squash and racketball players to unite with a vision to protect and grow the sport.
Clearly, the money crunchers at the big fitness chains care little about squash. Some hide their few remaining courts around the back of the clubs, often next to the swimming pool boilers, while others are clearly hell bent on eradicating squash from their premises altogether because their accountants have figured out that they can cram a dozen exercise machines into the space required for a single squash court.
They always miss the point that squash players will make the club a massive part of their social lives. It’s not just about the time the players spend on court, the accountants seem to ignore the money their squash members spend on rackets, clothing and restrings, and the significant secondary spend in the club bar.
As these health figures show, squash players are likely to continue these spending patterns well into old age, unlike the majority of fitness members who get bored with the whole process, allow their memberships to lapse, and force the management into employing staff who often behave like the worst call centres while harrying people to renew their direct debits.
Among those who joined the Twitter spree was squash-loving MP for Neath, Christina Rees, who has already sparked a lively debate about the sport in the House of Commons.
I am hoping we can hear a lot more from her in the future on this subject.
For now, feel free to share your ideas in the Comments section below.
Squash Mad will not let this drop. It’s time for action.
There is no doubt that squash is a healthy sport. It raises the heart rate like no other because of the intensity. However it is also known to produce quite a few serious injuries because of that intensity. i.e Achilles tear and snaps plus of course cardiac problems for those vulnerable. I have seen both these.
The problem of gyms is all of course about profit over common sense. Gyms are souless places in general with grim faced automatons. Its been proven that for example heavy gardening and outdoor pursuits are just as good for the well being; and in a happier environment.
Everyone who plays squash to any degree of seriousness knows about its appeal and the community atmosphere is produces. Squash nuts are the same breed as Golf Nuts. There is an addictive nature but without any chemical side affects.
Cynically; I cannot get too excited about the future of squash because I believe society has broken down a lot in the last 10 years; and people are far too distracted with a range of issues.
Firstly, I am a squash fan and keen (although not very good) squash player. For me, the problem squash has is simply accessibility. If you think about the number of hurdles a potential convert to the cult of squash has to overcome to get their first lesson or game, they are quite daunting.
Firstly, you need to find a club (and if not a club, a court and a partner to play with). This is probably the easiest part of the whole process. Mr Google usually does a good job. BUT, here comes the first decision…visit a club or go to the local leisure centre.
If they elect to go to the local leisure centre, logically they need a partner. This is not easy to find unless they have a friend also keen. When they get there, they hire the equipment, usually use a two spot ball (if the centre has any to spare) and find out that actually, it is not that easy to start off with and perhaps elect for a spot of swimming instead…convert lost.
Now, if they elect to join a club, they may ring in advance to get the “lowdown”. We can’t under estimate how intimidating that first call could be to someone. Quite often the numbers will “ring out” or they may get anything from the bar steward of the sports club who does not know much about the squash section, the cleaner, the “spinning” coach, it may ring out, or if they are really lucky, get someone genuinely keen on squash willing to talk to them and tell them about any club nights, training sessions etc.
I would guess that the latter scenario is quite rare.
Even if they have got the helpful response, they then need to make it into the club and into the inner sanctum…the squash courts. This is also a trial bearing in mind that these potential acolytes to squash are often a bit unsure as to what to expect, perhaps nervous or unclear whether the game is for them. They turn up either at a random time (see ringing the club) or at a “club night”. They then face “The Door”. Now in my experience, these are almost always solid wooden things, a dark colour with an intimidating code lock on them that clearly says, “you need to be one of the chosen few to proceed past this point”. It is rare that these doors are open, they are often buried within a “sports club” and even when the club is open, the door is locked (perhaps they should just go for a swim instead or join in the Zumba class next door??)
But the determined few will make it past this trial and into the squash courts. Here they will either be greeted with a deserted series of concrete boxes (most courts lie empty for the majority of the time depending on the club of course) or a hive of energetic grunting and high energy sport (this is why we play it isn’t it?)…BUT for the beginner, this can be VERY intimidating. If they are lucky, they will be greeted with a friendly smile, asked if they want to play a game with someone who can guide them and get them started. If they are unlucky…
For me, the game of squash needs a complete rethink as to how we remove these barriers and encourage strangers to give it a try. It starts with the very top of the sport and needs a strategic approach to removing all of these barriers to starting the sport we love. I was lucky to start later in life but very nearly didn’t because of the barriers I mentioned above. The various federations spend a lot of time advertising the sport to people who already play but I see almost nothing promoting the sport outside of its current participants.
I would also suggest that part of the coaching progression from Level 1 should be focused on the big thing our sport has…the great fitness benefits outlined in the article. So why aren’t the clubs and coaches encouraged to run “fitness sessions” on the courts alongside squash coaching. Complaining about the courts being taken over by more general fitness activities is pointless. These spaces are great for aerobic training (without equipment which clearly gets in the way!!), yoga, pilates etc. After all, the squash gurus are always saying players should be doing this kind of stuff to get better?
This would help create a pathway to the sport. Yoga and Pilates session at 10am – 11am on court 2 and 3, followed by beginners squash lessons 11am – 12pm and free play for those who paid for the lesson 12 – 1pm?