Knowledge is power for the memory man of squash as he plans for life after stellar playing career
Interview by ALAN THATCHER, Squash Mad Editor
Nick Matthew is enjoying a successful end-of-season flourish after making it a priority to manage his schedule carefully to peak at the right times.
He has also stepped back from massive training workloads and placed similar importance on staying fresh, healthy and supple, and building in suitable rest periods, to avoid injuries caused by over-stressing the body.
As he prepares to fly out to El Gouna, he can look back on the wisdom of this approach leading to recent triumphs in the British National Championships (his ninth), a sixth title at Canary Wharf, and a runners-up place in the British Open.
His defeat to Gregory Gaultier in Hull followed a brutal battle in overcoming top seed Mohamed Elshorbagy the previous day while Gaultier was fresh as a daisy following the retirement of his semi-final opponent, Ramy Ashour.
After El Gouna and the Grasshopper Cup in Zurich, Matthew will be busy planning his coaching commitments in the summer.
One of his priorities will be to develop the squash program at the Millbrook School in upstate New York, a place where he feels very much at home.
Matthew said: “It’s a bit like the Peak District, near to where I live in Sheffield. Lots of people in New York have summer places by the lake. It feels a bit like Old England, with the scenery and the mountains.”
Matthew, who is busy developing his own academy, is impressed by the facilities, the atmosphere and the ethos at Millbrook.
He added: “I am really looking forward to the summer camp there this year. When we looked at partnering with summer camps we looked at a number of potential venues and Millbrook stood out head and shoulders above many of the others.
“Greg Reiss runs the squash and tennis program and I met him via Dunlop North America.
“I was delighted to meet their headmaster, who makes a point of knowing all of the pupils by name. It’s a special place, and the atmosphere is so relaxed off court.
“That resonates with my own philosophy. I like to make sure the pupils have that balance between the hard work and the fun side.
“At school, the pupils have to play four sports. Their squash season is November to February. It’s a small window in that time for training before the season starts.
“I knew a couple of the pupils who had been to camps before. The better players are very keen and the others view it as a more of a social sport.
“You can see that they have a lot of fun and as they play you can see that suddenly they start getting it, and begin to understand what the game is all about
“Ironically, that process can be far more enjoyable because you know the super keen ones will be checking up results and know all about the top players, whereas with the new ones, you are introducing them to a whole new world they previously knew nothing about. So that can give you a great buzz when you see them starting to get all enthusiastic about the game and telling all their friends.”
Matthew is clearly enjoying his squash as much as ever. At Canary Wharf, I was privileged to watch close up as he dealt with the challenges presented by four different opponents in the space of five days.
First, he battled through two tough opening games with left-hander Ryan Cuskelly before the Australian simply ran out of ideas in the third.
Another Australian, Cameron Pilley, presented a contrasting test in the quarter-finals, but Matthew took him on at his own game in a match of high quality and high pace.
Paul Coll, another opponent from the southern hemisphere, stepped up looking for a major scalp in the semi-finals but Matthew weathered the storm and imposed his own controlled game on the proceedings to complete three consecutive victories in straight games.
In the final, against Fares Dessouky, Matthew absorbed the best that the young Egyptian could throw at him and triumphed in four games to delight the packed crowd at the East Wintergarden.
At 36, Matthew has absorbed so much knowledge (just watch him in action on Question of Sport) not only about the route to the top on court, but also the mental highs and lows that accompany any athlete’s journey through their career.
He revealed: “I felt pretty tired after Canary Wharf. A lot of my success was down to emotion and adrenalin. When you stop you have to train enough to go again.
“I am not used to winning the big events these days but I know that there is no point feeling a million dollars after a win because you know there will come a point soon afterwards when your tiredness catches up with you and you feel rubbish. With the years, you know that you will not feel good all the time. It’s all about understanding the rhythms of the mind and the body.
“With the British Open coming up, I stayed in London for a few days after Canary Wharf, then had two quiet days at home, then got my body back into shape with some physio and massage before two days of tough gym work.
“I then had a tough session on court with Joel Makin to get ready for my first round match in Hull against Borja Golan.”
Matthew knows there are no easy matches in the early rounds any more. He added: “I have never known a time when first round draws are so competitive. One week I am playing Fares Dessouky in the final at Canary Wharf and in the next tournament he is playing Mohamed ElShorbagy in the first round.
“It sounds good to say it when you are being interviewed on court, but every tournament is hard and different people are turning up in the quarters and semi-finals at every event.
“Maybe the seasoned player goes on to win, but there are so many tough challenges coming from so many different players these days.
“As for Paul Coll, everyone is talking about him, especially after his win at St George’s Hill before Christmas, and I have been watching him closely.
“When I played him at Canary Wharf I was incredibly impressed with his touch at the front of the court. He was tough to break down and he is obviously very tough mentally.
“Coll, Miguel Rodriguez and Omar Mosaad have all shot up the rankings. They then had to change their mindset because they became the hunted instead of being the hunters.
“Rodriguez got to the top four and although you are not playing any differently, suddenly you can feel all the pressure on yourself. You put pressure on yourself and have to understand that you are there to be shot at.
“It feels easier on the way up and sometimes it feels easier to get there than it is to stay there. With some players it feels like you have moved up too fast and you then need a period when you perhaps go backwards before you can go forward again.
“All of this is a learning process and the kind of thing I hope will help in my coaching.”
That career change is expected to be announced after next year’s Commonwealth Games, in Gold Coast, Australia, when Matthew will be seeking a third men’ singles gold medal.
He has no hard and fast plans for his own delivery style as a coach, but has a lifetime of achievement and knowledge in one of the best memory banks in squash.
He said: “I am always keen to increase my knowledge of every aspect of the game. I guess my own style will eventually emerge, from the things I have learned and the people I have learned things from, plus my own experiences and personality.
“It’s impossible to be another David Pearson. He has a unique eye and style of coaching. You cannot pretend to be someone else but you can absorb a lot of knowledge from all the people you have worked with down the years.
“I guess I will teach values that I have assimilated down the years. My own style is to take the ball early on the volley and as I coach I realise that I am coaching with a lot of David’s characteristics. You want to be dynamic and creative but you also need to talk about the fundamentals like the grip, the swing and movement….get fit, volley and be tough and make your opponent feel the pressure.
“DP turned my game around and you have to do that with each individual person. To be an effective coach you have to learn about them as a person, and not try to impose the same lesson style on every single player.
“Also, you have to understand that when you say something to two different people they might each understand it differently. You definitely have to make lessons fun as well as competitive.
“Every coach needs a USP (unique selling point). I am lucky to have absorbed so much from people like DP, Mark Campbell, Paul Carter and Peter Nicol.
“They played through that old, hard era of squash and now the game is more dynamic with all the Egyptians on the scene.
“Since I have started learning how to coach, I realise I am bringing coaching into my own game.”
With that, Nick was off to another training session. Getting another few hours in the bank, as Jonah Barrington used to say. For Nick Matthew, it’s another investment in the memory bank as he readies himself for the transition from player to coach.
Every squash player in England will be hoping he can help to build a new generation of home-grown players to come through and challenge Egypt’s current domination.
If those players can absorb knowledge like Nick Matthew, it will be a great start to the process of building future champions.
Selecting the right school for his first squash academy in the United States might have seemed like a daunting task for Nick Matthew, a three-time World Champion, but when he learned of Millbrook School, the decision was an easy one. With eight courts, a squash program that began in the 1940s, and a firm commitment to developing young men and women of character, Millbrook School proved the perfect match.
“Millbrook School promotes a great set of values for students and my goal is to reinforce them through squash,” said Matthew. “The goal of my Academy is to pass on my passion to a new generation of players and maybe even find some future World Champions.”
Starting this July (see dates below), Matthew and his teaching staff will deliver unparalleled squash instruction and one-on-one guidance to kids aged 12-18. Campers will also have the opportunity to enjoy a range of other fun activities, like mountain biking, swimming and horseback riding.
Beyond the three initial week-long summer camps in July and August, Matthew will oversee instructional clinics with the Millbrook teams throughout the year, pre- season training for the varsity teams, and exhibition matches at the Mills Athletic Center with other world ranked players.
“This exciting new relationship between Nick Matthew and Millbrook School will serve to attract top student athletes and will have a significant impact on our squash programs as we continue to enhance our competitive team sport experience for our players,” said Millbrook’s Director of Racquet Sports Greg Reiss.
1st Session: Sunday July 23rd to Friday July 28th
2nd Session: Sunday July 30th to Friday August 4th
3rd Session: Sunday Aug 6th to Friday Aug 11th
Each camp is a 5 night, 6 day sleep away / overnight camp.
For registration information visit www.FutureSquashStars.com
Pictures by STEVE LINE (courtesy of PSA) and Millbrook School