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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Tech Week: Ross Gerring and Squash Players App busy tracking down every squash court on the planet

Alan Thatcher
Alan Thatcherhttps://squashmad.com
Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad, the Kent Open and co-promoter of the Canary Wharf Classic. Launched the Squash 200 Partnership to build clubs of the future. Talks a bit.

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By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Self-confessed squash geek Ross Gerring is a man on a mission. He is busy locating and listing every single squash court on the planet. That’s right, every single one. They will all be listed on Ross’s Squash Players App (SPA).

The app contains the largest and most accurate database of squash venues in the world, and it’s growing every day, thanks to thousands of squashies messaging Ross to help with his research.

As of August 2022 it lists nearly 6,500 squash venues, with (best guess) another 2,000 to 4,000 still to be added.

Let’s do our own bit of research, too. First of all, who is Ross Gerring?

He says: Born and raised in England, I’ve been professionally involved with technology since 1989. It was this year that I left Portsmouth University and became a systems programmer at the Chase Manhattan Bank in the UK.

I’ve always loved squash. Being able to hit the ball with everything I’ve got, and have that ball stay in the court, was a revelation!

I worked, travelled and sailed the world for over four years in the mid 90s, mainly Africa, South America and the Caribbean. I arrived in sunny Perth, Western Australia in 1997, the birthplace of my Mum.

I started my own award winning website design and development company in 2000, called Itomic.com.au. We grew to over 20 team members, all under one roof. Since 2008 we’ve increasingly worked with offshore talent in multiple global locations. Married with four kids, I relocated my family to Melbourne in 2012.

Why did you build this app?

Back in 2019 our company wanted to experiment and skill-up with a new Google-backed technology for building mobile apps, called Flutter. I have a long history with squash, including personally developing a web-based squash league management system way back in the late 1990s. It was clear that squash was very under-serviced in terms of quality websites and mobile apps, and therefore the sport of squash felt like a great fit for us.

Global data from the Squash Players App

Did you start off with the intention of building a global database of squash venues?

No, not at all! We just wanted to experiment with building a professional mobile app for squash players that could act as a simple logbook of match results.

The key attributes of a match are of course:

Who you played
What was the score
When you played
Where you played

Capturing the first three is straightforward enough. But when it came to the question of “where you played” it gets a little trickier, especially if you’re a data-purist like me.

How do you ensure that the same, correct physical venue is being chosen by multiple persons playing at the same place over time? How do you prevent double or triple-entry of the same venue, e.g. due to mis-spellings, typos, etc?

Answer: you need an excellent authoritative global database of squash venues!

But… it very quickly became apparent to us that no such thing exists.

Sure, some countries and regions are better than others in this regard. But even the best ones (e.g. the national websites of England, Australia, NZ, etc.) clearly had errors and omissions in their data. And after the top four or five countries, it goes downhill very quickly.

Why is it so hard for squash associations and federations to collect and maintain high quality squash court data?

Time and cost. It’s very labour intensive to attempt to repeatedly find and survey every squash venue in your country or region. And you can’t expect every venue, existing and new, to know and remember to regularly submit their latest data to a centralised database.

How can your app solve this problem?

In multiple ways. The most important method, by far, is crowdsourcing, i.e. to leverage the combined knowledge of passionate squashies all over the world. We’ve made it incredibly easy, for free, for anyone, at any time, to add, update, and even delete, squash venue data via the mobile app.

As for Google Maps, initially and ongoing, we automatically extract all relevant data from the Google Map listing (if there is one) associated with each squash venue. And if there isn’t a Google Map listing, we help make this happen.

A number of other ‘smarts’ must remain top secret!

How are things looking in Australia?

For the latest squash venue data for Australia (or any country) just change the country name:

https://squash.players.app/country/Australia

It shows 563 venues, and 1,737 courts.
Anecdotally I understand that there were at least 1,500 venues in Australia at the peak, so probably around 5K courts.

What’s the importance of quality squash venue data? Who cares?

Without squash courts, there is no squash. What you can measure, you can manage.

UK data

How can regional, national and international squash organisations effectively manage their sport if they have poor quality venue data?

How can they know if squash infrastructure is increasing, or diminishing, and how quickly, in their areas of jurisdiction? How can they know where the best places are to encourage new courts to be built?

Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest early interest in our app has come from the more forward thinking organisations like Squash Australia, the PSA Foundation, the European Squash Federation, and more.

With high quality, accessible squash venue data, we make it easy for newcomers and squash enthusiasts of all ages and abilities to reliably find and play at their nearest and most suitable squash venues, anywhere on the planet. This is highly consistent with the “Squash for All” message of World Squash Day and the PSA Foundation.

Thinking of planning a holiday and can’t be far from a squash court? Our database contains a rapidly growing list of all hotels and resorts in the world with courts!

Why not just search Google Maps for courts?

Well, our Squash Players App is like Google Maps on steroids.

Many squash courts (publicly accessible or not) are hidden inside multi-sport centres, hotels, universities, even businesses. Searching on Google/Maps doesn’t reliably find such courts. You could be living very close to a squash court, and not know it.

We allow for more useful and/or squash-specific information to be added to our venues, over and above what Google Maps offers up For example:

How many courts?
Pay & play (membership not required)?
Free parking?
24/7 access?
Online booking?
Hot shower?
Facebook page?
Cafe?
Water fountain?
and much more

How do you manage quality control?

Perfection is a journey, never a destination! Just like Wikipedia, our data will never be perfect. But it’s better than everything else out there, by many orders of magnitude.

And just like Wikipedia, we work on the crowdsourcing theory that for every one person who wants to mess things up, there are 100 lovely squashies who want to make things better.

We also employ both automated and human validation and verification of the data.

Can updates to the data be made via a website?

Not yet. We deliberately chose a “mobile-first” approach.

All the stats show that people (and particularly the younger generations) are increasingly preferring their smartphones to their desktops.

Anytime, any place, anywhere.

In the meantime, we use web technology for all the near-live reporting, e.g.

Dashboard

Reports and Charts

Hint: for squash venue stats for your country, use this format (just replace your country name): https://squash.players.app/country/Australia

Data you improve via the mobile app is automatically updated in the website reporting within a maximum of three hours.

How can squashies help you?

Easy! Download and install the Squash Players app (by Itomic), free from the Android and Apple app stores.

Create an account (you can use your Google, Apple, or Facebook credentials).

Use your local knowledge to ensure that all the squash venues in your area are fully added and updated with all the latest and best information.

As an added bonus for squashies and the environment, our parent company 101Sports plants a real tree for every new squash venue that is added and validated. This is thanks to our partnership with Ecologi: https://ecologi.com/101sports

How can squash associations and federations get involved?

Contact me for privileged access to the squash data in your jurisdiction. We can also discuss getting the best squash venue data on your own websites.
Encourage all your members to get busy in the app, making the data better for themselves, and everyone else.

We already have formal partnerships with Squash Australia and the PSA Foundation, with more pending.

What does the future hold for the Squash Players App?

Building and maintaining the authoritative global database of squash venues and courts is just the beginning, just the foundation.

We look forward to adding much more value for the broader ecosystem of squash: coaches, events, training, merchandise, bookings, etc.

We’re very keen to partner with specialist service providers to provide their services through our app, and vice-versa. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

And of course we don’t intend to stop at squash. The app and associated technologies are eminently clonable for other sports and industries.

Any final words?

Yes! Thank you so very much to all the wonderful squashies worldwide who’ve given their time and local knowledge to make our database so big and beautiful. Long may it continue!

Squash Players App: Further Reading

https://squash.players.app/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/squashplayersapp

https://www.linkedin.com/in/rossgerring/

Pictures courtesy of Ross Gerring (Squash Players App) 

 

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