We need leadership, teamwork and a clear vision to grow the game
By CHRIS SARGENT – Squash Mad Correspondent (Grove Park Squash Club)
So, where now for the real, beautiful game of squash? Clearly, the news about squash being excluded from the Paris 2024 Olympics is very disappointing. Particularly for all the talented youngsters out there. I really do feel sorry for them.
But, on reflection, we have to ask ourselves “why do we want to be part of the Olympics?” Do we hope it will bring money into our sport? Do we hope it will help drive participation?
Do we hope that once every four years some people will sit up and take notice? To think that being in the Olympics is the be all and end all of developing the game we love is wrong.
We can drive participation ourselves but we need to all work together. I believe we try, but, we need to have a coordinated, co-operative, cross-community approach to do this.
Sure, we all “compete” against each other on a weekly basis but, let’s call the new approach “coopetition” – we cooperate to drive participation and then compete with all the new talent we attract to the sport for the fame and the glory (share nicely!)
We have our own “big stages” and set-piece events for our heroes and aspiring future stars to display their enormous skills and talent. These are evolving and give us a strong platform to promote the sport.
The PSA’s SquashTV, in combination with the WSF, are creating a TV spectacle that is a real showcase of excitement, skill and endurance – everything that a sport for the 21st Century should be.
Events such as the British Junior Open showcase the unbelievable abilities of the younger generation. Our task as people who love this sport is to get the message out of our own Social Media “echo chambers” and into the wider public realm.
For those who shy away from competition, the health benefits of Squash are well known. It should be the “go to” fitness activity for the globe – HIIT combined with fun and excitement – what else could somebody wish for?
As a squash community, in the UK at least, we don’t always help ourselves. We are too fragmented in our efforts to promote the sport we love. The difficulty we have is that, if you ask anyone outside of our community about squash, they know very little about it.
Many youngsters have never even heard of it as a sport! Hence, our young players (our very best ambassadors (sorry @nickmatthew!) rarely even talk about it to their friends as it is just too hard to explain. It is not a sport in the public consciousness.
As individuals and clubs, working in isolation, we only have a very quiet voice. Our social media accounts have few followers and they all tend to be squash players!
We also compete against each other for new players and, I suspect, there is a little bit of complacency about where club participation is going.
At times, there is also resistance to getting on the court with new players and encouraging participation as it detracts from our own “work out”. Juniors are kept to junior sessions, we create silos which create barriers to new players getting the most out of this great game.
We need to get organised. As a well-organised community, we should start shouting from the rooftops about this exceptional gift of squash.
Our clubs and county associations should be coming together as collectives to utilise social media, coaching and volunteer networks to get out into schools and communities. We should be looking at how we can “train” clubs and county associations in using social media and how best to market our sport and helping everyone spread the word.
A tweet by one club is heard by a few, tactically retweeted and shared it can be spread globally in seconds. I believe there is a lot of untapped goodwill waiting for a plan.
So, we should be looking at how we can utilise the collective social media power we have as a community to spread the word of squash, we should be celebrating success not just with other squash players, but with the wider world.
Our county associations, assisted by England Squash, should be looking at how we can get squash out into the public consciousness – pop up courts in shopping centres, exhibitions at local county shows, countywide schools programmes and engagement with public bodies such as DfE. An individual club does not have the resources to do this on their own. Pooling our efforts and resources, this becomes not just possible but beneficial to all.
None of this is easy but I feel the vision of Olympic participation is one that we need to accept is fading for the foreseeable future. It is possibly even a distraction from our real goal.
The future of our sport is in our hands. It starts at the grass-roots level and needs to be driven at that level.
England Squash and other bodies cannot do this on their own. They do not have the resources. Neither can individuals or clubs. We need leadership, coordination and a plan.
We should not feel down about exclusion from the Olympics. I actually think this gives us a real opportunity.
So, a challenge to our community and England Squash: What is the goal? This goal should then be passed to our county associations and their clubs to develop some clear deliverable objectives and help guide the club in delivering on them.
For example, at our own club, Grove Park, in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, we are looking to double our membership in five years. It’s a big ask but we have plans in place to try and deliver on it and we will see what happens. However, it feels like we are currently acting alone!
With a sport-wide goal, the county associations and clubs can identify what support they need and we can get going on making #Squash a mainstream, go-to sport for people in our community.
Perhaps then the Olympics will finally have their heads turned by the greatest sport on earth!
Pictures courtesy of Grove Park Squash Club. Graphic by Lee Coverley.