Friday, December 1, 2023

We must work together to save the game

We need greater links between the professionals and the grass roots
We need greater links between the professionals and the grass roots

Mixed messages about the game’s health as we aim for the Olympics 
By RICHARD MILLMAN – Squash Mad Correspondent


Recently the Professional Squash Association announced appreciable increase in the prize money funds of both the men’s and women’s professional squash tours.

Within a few days of this announcement several other related announcements were made.

First, the National Governing Body of English Squash, England Squash and Racketball, and their parent body, Sport England, released alarming news of yet further decreases in participation numbers in England.

Next, the International Olympic Committee announced that squash would be considered for the 2020 games in Japan alongside seven other possible sports.

Other contributory events are also bubbling on the back burner.

New Zealand squash has lost a great deal of its funding and has had to resort to the extraordinary step of advertising for a national team coach just for the World Championships.

South African Squash has also lost a great deal of its previous funding and has resorted to charging various levels of registration fees to its participants – creating some strife in the ranks.

New courts at UVA highlight the growth of squash in the USA
New courts at UVA highlight the growth of squash in the USA

US Squash is seemingly a beacon of light in the participation gloom, although when one considers that squash is the fastest or second-fastest growing sport in a rapidly diminishing pool of sports participants, it is perhaps akin to a lake where one carniverous species is quickly gobbling up the few remaining fish in the habitat.

I don’t want to play the pessimist. I spend my life trying to build squash programs and help to develop the game.

For young professionals trying to make their way in the game, it is tough enough just to survive – never mind take time to consider whether or not the future of the game is in good shape and certainly they don’t have time to contribute to the development of the game. It’s hard enough to pay the rent and get enough to eat!

Nevertheless, we as a community need, I believe, a more cohesive approach and a more synergistic attitude toward ensuring the continued survival of our sport.

There are some important questions to be answered.

What empirical proof is there (if any) that professional and elite level competition contributes to increased participation and health of the game?

Squash is one on a shortlist of eight sports for the 2020 Olympics
Squash is one on a shortlist of eight sports for the 2020 Olympics

If there is none (and I do not know that to be true) there is a danger that the PSA and those with Olympic aspirations are, to mix metaphors, clutching at straws while Rome burns.

It is frankly very short sighted to celebrate increased prize money if there isn’t going to be anyone to win it in a few years.

Another question is how to help governing bodies, who have never had to market the sport outside the game, to train a new breed of Squash Program Developer.

The idea that Club Professionals – themselves desperately struggling to make a living and never having been trained in the art of new business development – should somehow be asked to shoulder this burden, is frankly living in cloud cuckoo land.

There are a few people that have learned to develop programs – living half of the time in the outside community – in schools, community centers, the mayors office, the local recreation department, fire stations, adult education programs, police stations etcetera and half the time in the clubs and centers; animating the recreational players who don’t want coaching with match-making services, leagues, round robins, social nights etcetera and also acting as support staff to the coaches – supplying them with new clients and regathering the clients who want to take a break from coaching and return either permanently or temporarily to recreational involvement.

Coaches are purveyors of technical skills to people who want to be taught. True, enough most good coaches spend time offering free advice both out of the kindness of their hearts and as a marketing ploy.

But asking them to build membership and participation outside the club is the quickest way to have them spreading themselves too thinly and at the same time asking them to spend their time at something they don’t even know how to do in the main.

In most squash countries schools desperately need activities and activity coordinators. Facilities are usually dormant – and actually all you need is a rebound net to teach at school initially – young people graduating from colleges need jobs, governments want a healthier population and to support apprenticeship programs, and National Governing Bodies need people to market and develop the sport at every level from national, to regional, to local, to club.

There are several of us that have the skills and experience to train Sports Program Development professionals and assistants, but until the whole community admits that the future is bleak unless the whole community comes together, that aid will go unused and we will continue to watch governing bodies struggling with a life-threatening problem that they don’t appear to have the resources or knowledge to overcome.

There are bright spots, such as the development of the sport in new countries, but are these new areas simply 10 or 20 years behind the traditional countries and the problems that they now face?

By pointing to increased prize money, the US Squash participation growth, new countries who appear to be doing well, and the game’s Olympic possibilities, are we simply delaying more decay and the ultimate demise of our sport?

Squash needs to be marketed to non-squash players and existing players need to be animated, entertained and retained.

We rode the wave of enthusiasm of the 1970s and the 1980s and never learned how to develop new business because we were so busy trying to keep up with the demand.

Well, the demand is gone. If we don’t want squash to be remembered as a fad or temporary craze we need to get everyone together and come up with a comprehensive development plan for participation.

Or we’ll be gone.


Richard MillmanUSOC Developmental Squash Coach of the Year 2014
June 26th 2015

The Millman Experience


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  1. As it stands, there is a catalogue of problems and reasons why Squash is suffering in some countries. I would like to focus on England

  2. Sorry, clicked the wrong button ! Perhaps my thoughts are best left unsaid, as ‘there are none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear’ ! If anyone DOES want my views on the situation, please contact me.

  3. Seeing that beautiful EMPTY show court at UVA with the caption “New courts at UVA highlight the growth of squash in the USA” makes me wonder if Richard Millman has a cruel sense of humor. These new facilities serve more as squash zoos which relocate young squash animals away from their natural habitat. Squash is only enlarged when there is an aggressive local “breeding” program in place.

    As a veteran of 35 years of squash, I truly appreciate some of the questions which have been raised. I also have a great deal of sympathy for an evidence based action plan.

    I would ask ,however, if there are 18 “electronic game athletes” who have made more than $500,000USD in 2015, is squash an anachronism? Should pro player compensation be a yardstick for the health of the sport?

    Perhaps our governing bodies should include more people completely outside of the sport? New blood?

    There is hope, Over 35 years I have had the opportunity to meet a number of extremely gifted and accomplished people who are part of the squash “tribe”. The influence these folks wield at their day jobs is so profound I’m beginning to wonder “…how hard is squash trying to engage the talents which reside in our community? Do we merely need to inventory our skills to put the right folks over the right targets…?

    • Paul
      Thanks for writing.
      Blame me for the picture caption, not Richard.
      As someone who has spent some time in Virginia these past few years, I would say there has been a definite growth of the sport in the Richmond region, much of the development taking place alongside the promotion of top-class professional tournaments.
      These events have often been the focal point for the local squash community.
      Your final point has enormous merit. Squash has many intelligent, creative, high-achievers who could, should their day jobs allow it, have a huge, positive effect on the game.
      Best wishes,

  4. Richard, Alan and the others,

    Hi! The problem that Squash faces is very simple! It can be solved relatively easily – it is the barrier presented by the game itself to communicating it on commercial TV. Thats where the money and clout required for growth and inclusion in the Olympics reside! But it needs collaboration between Scientists who either know or can discover things about Squash and its Players that the latter never can and vice versa! Squash Players who can and do fathom depths in the workings of the brain/mind that Scientists never can! In the process the full range of concepts and technologies for communicating the game becomes available and with it clout and money! In other words collaboration. Short of that I am afraid that Richard’s predictions will come true.

    So I do not belabor this point here, this is a post from today’s DSR.



  5. One basic major problem: squash is expensive. Whenever I try to bring some of the students I work with to the club where I play, this is always a problem that comes up.
    For good reasons: it is far more expensive to build a squash court than any other playing ground (which in the mind of the builder/financer, would benefit more people).

    However, how is it managed in Egypt? Is it a sport only for the wealthy people?

  6. Over the 2001/2002 Season, my son entered 14 Sanctioned U11 events, winning 12 and losing in the final of the other 2. By 10 years of age he was ranked in the Top 20 in the U13’s and was invited to his first National Squad in Manchester, followed a few weeks later by a 2nd invitation. No reports were received, no contact with his local Coach, not once did a National Coach go on court, no advise was given, and the experience cost me about £150 each time. No further invitations came for over a year, no reasons were given, and my introduction to the workings of England Squash was complete. This was followed by eight years of National Squads following the same format, Coaches never once seen with a Racket in their hand. When I raised this matter, I was told that the players were there “to be observed, not to be coached”, which totally baffled me, a group of Level 4 Coaches doing nothing but watch ! THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN EGYPT ! Every National Squad invitation was signed by David Pearson, but not once did he attend, denying him the opportunity to see what talent lay ahead, and the chance to inspire and motivate these dedicated Juniors. So many talented Juniors have walked away from the Sport, including Junior Internationals and Top 5 National and European ranked players, many others have been left out in the cold with total indifference. THIS HAS NOT GONE UN-NOTICED BY THE SQUASH COMMUNITY AROUND THE COUNTRY.

    • Hi Eric
      Thanks for sharing this. These are exactly the type of observations that Keir Worth and all NGB’s need to be receptive to and to respond to and act on.
      Alan – it would be great if you could engage Paul Carter and the ESR coaching staff in a discussion on how they see things evolving to help prevent these frustrations in the future.

  7. Dotted around England are Coaches who are producing Champions :- Jonah Barrington, Phil Whitlock, Ben Ford, Hadrian Stiff, Tim Vail, the Selby family, Malcolm Willstrop,and David Pearson,to name a few. There are others who can make a vital difference to player’s performance in a group environment, and I would name Paul Carter, Robbie Temple, and Stacey Ross as strong examples. Nottingham has got it right as a training base for quality players. By comparison, the England Squash National Coaches have achieved little, if anything, other than keep their jobs on the back of other Coaches achievements. Why not disband the National Coaches set-up, sub-contract the roles to those who consistently get results, who would be more accessible on a more local basis. Representative Selection could be managed by a series of play-offs, as has been successfully done in Egypt for many years, and the damaging lack of transparency would be lifted, as would the element of favouritism. The number of promising players who could be involved would increase dramatically, raising the standard for many instead of the very few, as is both the current and long-term past situation. Food for thought !

  8. My apologies to Jesse Engelbrecht for missing him from my list. Jesse is doing a brilliant job at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, Surrey.

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