Lockdown leads to positive new vision for delivering the game Down Under
By CHRIS YEEND – Squash Australia
The COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 in Australia will be forever etched into our memories as a challenging and testing time for our nation. The Pandemic was hot on the heels of one of the most intense fire periods in memory with smoke from the fires circulating around the globe long after the last ember was put out and the Coronavirus had well and truly set its mark on the world.
For Squash in Australia, despite the external challenges that the environment has presented the nation for the best part of the last six months, the internal feeling within the sport presents itself with great optimism.
Once a sport that boasted more than one million participants less than 30-years ago, saw a drastic drop in numbers, before a revival several years ago had the sport again rising upwards in participation across Australian households.
Squash in Australia closed its doors for all Centres less than two months ago and in that time, it has seen great success off the court in its quest to continue that upward rise in passion and participation when the doors open again.
Squash Australia took one giant step forward when the doors closed for all Centres in March that has been evident over the past six weeks or so since it happened; a big step forward to leap over the hurdle of COVID-19 with the launch of Street Squash the very next day.
Street Squash is more than just punters heading outside and having a hit with the racket and ball, it was a defining concept for the sport. Even though Centres lay dormant without a ball being hit; backyards and parks jave come to life with the sound of balls being cracked against a wall, a sign, a trampoline and elevator doors.
Street Squash changed the way people played and loved the game immediately after Centre doors were closed, where even your casual player who rarely got to a court but still had access to a racket and ball, were able to fulfill their love of the game at home with the ‘No Court? No worries’ attitude.
We are witnessing Australia-wide new and innovative ways that people of all ages are engaging with the sport and even those who hadn’t picked up a racket in many years, return to have a hit, and in ways never seen before.
Street Squash genuinely showed the community that we as a sport will not be defeated by this pandemic, and since that time, it has sparked a wave of drive and enthusiasm of new ideas to change how the sport is delivered across the nation.
Through Street Squash, paddle and racket packs were flying out the Squash Austraia e-shop door and into the homes of Squashies around Australia at a rapid rate that exceeded all expectations. More than 20 packs arrived on the doorsteps of Australian house-holds in the first 10 days of being launched.
In other areas, National Coach Stewart Boswell discovered new ways to engage, educate and mentor the High Performance team who are scattered all across the country.
The High Performance space has improved with a greater focus on Well-being with more around-the-clock work being done to provide programs and resources to assist in the well-being and education of its players not only in the squad now, but for future players.
This increase engagement has flowed through the hearts of many Centres and State bodies across the Nation.
The likes of Coffs Harbour, who run regular online coaching sessions with its players each week, and perhaps one of the most exciting concepts in the country with Squash and Racquetball Victoria launching and running weekly trivia nights on Tuesdays that include special guests in the form of well-known players. Punters pay entry fees with the money going back into Squash in Victoria.
Squash Australia will run Coach and Referee Conferences in June with special guest speakers involved in running sessions online across the month to upgrade the skills, knowledge and accreditation of coaches and referees across the country while not having to leave their living room. Previously, punters had to travel to a destination for these conferences; now they can enjoy it from home.
Squash Australia has built stronger relationships with key government organisations to ensure a positive, pro-active and united approach to when the doors open. This has never been as strong as it is now.
Its Participation team has been in over-drive working to get access to further funding and continue the consolidation towards building more enhanced programs for States and Centres to deliver.
Its Communications team has been driven from the first day of the doors closing to provide as much relevant information to assist States, Centres, employers and employees relating to the Pandemic with the immediate launch of the COVID-19 page on the Squash Australia website. It is updated as often as possible with relevant information specific to the Squash audience.
Squash Australia’s social media traffic exploded when the doors closed with an increase on information available about the Pandemic, behind the scenes access to its High Performance team, and its Staff, Street Squash, coaching and referee videos and countless other initiatives to keep the sport relevant in the eyes of Australians.
Engagement statistics saw records broken and that has shown the evidence that people in Australia do love the sport and want to know more, and its growth in online branding across all Centres is rising to new, high levels.
The doors closed one day, Squash Australia were on the front foot the next, and without bias, but it is a reflection of the strength in the team at Squash Australia, its board, its States, its Centres and its players and volunteers across the country that this sport will thrive when the doors open as it has been thriving since the doors closed.
And, on a positive note, Northern Territory will be the first to open its doors to the Squash world started from three days a week commencing on Saturday May 16, followed by regular hours from June 5.
The message is clear and simple: Stay safe and stick with your sport
Picture courtesy of Squash Australia