Danny Massaro: Husband, ball machine, bag carrier and coach
By MIKE DALE – Squash Mad UK
Danny Massaro has been a squash coach for 15 years. His most famous protégé also happens to be his wife, current world champion Laura Massaro. Danny is also a lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance Psychology. As a prelude to a new series of exclusive “self-do” exercises coming up on Squash Mad, the 40-year-old, based in Chorley, Lancashire, discusses his background and how he helped guide Laura to the top of world squash.
“My first involvement in squash was as a decent county junior in the late 1980s but I drifted away from the game. I lived on my own in a bedsit flat for three years in my late teens which really made me grow up.
It made me realise that I had to make things happen for myself as nobody was going to do it for me. Loneliness makes you appreciate people and also teaches you to like your own company.
I think that’s why I am now generally friendly and at the same time quite strong in myself. I find people interesting and I think I have empathy because I know everyone has their own mental stuff going on and life isn’t easy sometimes.
During that time I coached a lot of football, particularly women’s football, I was a DJ, then became a sports lecturer. I discovered a deep fascination with the psychological aspects of sport and read widely, building my knowledge extensively.
Then, around 2001, two squash courts were built right underneath my office at the college where I worked. I started to take an interest again and taught squash for A level students doing PE. Some of them asked me to coach them, and that’s where my journey into squash coaching began.
I played nearly every day then, really changed my life around, and I got to a decent county standard within two years. I did my badges, got my UKCC level two and three qualifications and set up Lancashire junior squads. Nick Taylor, an old friend from junior days, introduced me to the technical side of the game which I absolutely loved. He helped change my swing and movement; it all just fascinated me.
It was during this time that I met Laura. We used to play each other at the David Lloyd club in Chorley as she was one of the top U19 players looking to break through professionally. I started to help her and the rest is history. It was just perfect timing. What can I say? We fell in love.
Our journey has been incredible really. Laura has become British Open and world champion; no British woman has ever done that before. It’s unbelievable, very emotional.
I learned lots from Laura and she from me, but to this day she reminds me of my rubbish ideas and technique when we first met. It still makes me cringe.
In 2007 we married and at the same time I left my comfortable well paid job and leapt into-full time coaching and part-time university lecturing.
Lately I’ve being travelling with Laura a lot more and I have some young pro players living with us in Chorley, including former British Junior Open finalist Ashley Davies. I love it. It’s such a great challenge and privilege helping them grow up and learn about life and the squash tour.
With Laura I am a husband most of the time, then I am ball machine, bag carrier and coach, then I am Columbo, the bumbling police officer, acting like I don’t know what I am doing so I am a bit of a fool figure, then I am friend, mentor and psychologist. I play all sorts of roles in order to support her the best I can.
Laura’s personality means she prefers a prescriptive game. She writes three things down and sticks to it, no matter what. Say to Laura, ‘Just do it how you like, how it feels’ and she hates it. She will say, ‘No, tell me what to do.’
Conversely, someone like Ashley dislikes it strict, rigid and plan-based. He is more of a gut player who works on instinct. That’s part of his personality and he has got a big heart when he plays. He will dig deep and is a warrior, so if I make him think too much about a plan it ruins him.
He does it better by feeling moment to moment what is needed, whereas Laura does it better from a pre-meditated point of view.
If I gave Ashley a strict plan I would kill his instincts which are his strong point, but Laura is decidedly more thought-based.
I have trained extensively in psychology, particularly neurolinguistic programming (NLP). That has changed me massively in how I communicate with players and ask questions to break down the brain.
It can help a lot at tournaments. You get a sense for what players need if you know them well – what to say, what not to say, what to prioritise, to keep your opinions to yourself and not bombard players with ideas or feedback.
I’ve messed that up loads of times and afterwards I’ve thought, ‘what were you doing saying that!’ Mind you, when they win it’s all forgotten, so the trick is.. don’t lose!
It’s a guessing game most of the time, but if we have trust and confidence together we generally can move on and get better. Laura and I are quite good at tournaments now, but it’s taken us long enough!
Next time: Why Danny perceives a squash coach as ‘the flour in a tasty cream cake’ and how his ‘coaching inspiration’ David Pearson helped turn Laura into a world beater.