Squash Mad

COMMENT: Pushy parents spoiling squash? A Squash Mum speaks out

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Parents need coaching, not just the kids

RECENT articles have highlighted the levels of poor conduct on court during some major junior tournaments, and incidents involving parents shouting at their own children, unfairly influencing the decisions of junior referees, and seeking preferential treatment from hard-pressed event organisers.  Here, a SQUASH MUM, who wishes to remain anonymous, voices her opinions on the subject.

Twitter is great for squash fans. Lots of the players use it, and just like in real life, they are accessible and responsive to the fans and supporters. However my best ever Twitter moment was a couple of months ago when I got a Tweet from Susan Matthew. See, even though her specific experience is a universe away from mine, at the end of the day we have something fundamental in common – we’re Squash Mums.

Having a child who enjoys squash enough to want to take part in competitions can provide a strange set of experiences for a parent. I remember Child’s first tournaments – he was six years old and the grin on his face when he came off court having won the first competitive game he had ever played was something I’ll never forget.

What was better, though, was that even after his ten year old opponent realised that this infant could hit the ball pretty well and started playing properly, that grin stayed firmly stuck on even though he lost the next three games comprehensively.

It was Child’s third or fourth tournament before he actually won a match I think, but he clearly had no expectation of winning anything, he was just having a great time playing squash with the big boys.

These days of course it is slightly different. Attitude still matters, and can be less predictable. Performance now matters and can also be unpredictable! Effort and concentration matters most. Lastly, results matter, and the fact that this is last on the list is both crucial to understand, and also the most difficult to thing convince Child of.

Where is that incredibly fine line between using competition – at tournaments and in training – at Child’s age as a development tool, and accepting that the point of competition is to try to win? Well I don’t know, but looking for that line and trying to stay balanced somewhere around  it is what we do.mum

First things first – Child plays squash because he wants to. He does competitions because he wants to. There have been periods when he has been less keen, and during those periods he’s had a break. So far he has benefited from those breaks, and come back more enthusiastic than ever.

He is very young – far too young to try to make him play when he doesn’t want to, far too young to feel that kind of responsibility. However Child is aware that we put in a lot of time, effort and – can’t pretend it isn’t important – money into enabling him to play.

So he also knows that as long he wants us to continue to support him in his squash we will do so, but that being the case, we do have certain expectations of him. We expect him to work hard and make the best possible use of all his training sessions.

We expect a positive and sportsmanlike attitude from him on court at all times. We expect him to always make his best effort on good days and bad, whoever his opponent is and however the match is progressing. That’s his end of the deal if you like, and if he does all that we’re happy, our expectations go no further. Mostly it works!

There is a minefield of potential things to get wrong though. Even having the wrong expression on your face while watching him play can mean the difference between a racket banged on the floor in annoyance and a subsequent loss of concentration, or an extra push of effort and renewed focus.

Dad and I once witnessed another squash dad getting so frustrated with his son’s under-par performance in one match that he was unable to stop himself shouting out criticism in between rallies.

Almost all of how a junior player behaves on court is the responsibility of us parents, and our responses to what they are doing are pretty much always reflected in their own attitude. Child’s coach gets pretty exasperated with me during training sometimes, but I hope I’m getting better at avoiding passive interference.

Parenting a junior squash player can be fraught with difficulty. Of course its great when they are playing well and doing everything their coach has told them to do, but they all go through stages where they lose confidence or have a bad patch, and these periods can be challenging for everyone involved.

The main thing is to try to keep them focused on what actually matters – concentrating, working hard and playing as well as they can in that point – never mind the last one, or the next one – THIS point is where you are now.

Dad and I once witnessed another squash dad getting so frustrated with his son’s under-par performance in one match that he was unable to stop himself shouting out criticism in between rallies, and early on in the match left the courtside saying he couldn’t bear to watch any more. It was pure frustration at watching his son playing below his level and not being able to help.

dadI am very familiar with those emotions as is Dad. I completely understand how this gentleman felt and I had a lot of sympathy for him at the time.

Expressing your frustration in that way can’t be helpful though, and when I can’t keep my positive face on I hide it, often behind a piece of conveniently located furniture, or a handy fake potted plant. And we never talk to the marker. Never. Don’t want to get started down THAT slippery slope.

Results. Do they matter or not? If they don’t, why bother? Well they do, of course, but they aren’t the be all and end all, not at this level. As we always say to Child, if you play as well as you can and lose, well, the other guy was better on the day and there’s nothing you can do about that!

Learning and development is key. The problem is getting the youngsters to actually believe it, because of course they want to win – and again we are back to finding a way to balance on that fine line.

I’ve been through periods where I have avoided going to tournaments because I know my own anxiety and frustration isn’t  easily concealed. During periods when Child has been having a rough patch it can be difficult for me to hide my nerves when he can’t seem to just relax and do what he can do, so I pull back and let Dad – whose anxiety and frustration is equally as bad as mine, but much more effectively hidden – handle things alone.

I think this is best for all concerned! Just at the moment though its not too bad, Child’s playing well mostly and his focus has improved a lot, he’s training very well and his effort and work rate is always excellent so we know that he takes all that on court with him every time he plays.

This makes it easier and I can cope much better, but it is always difficult keeping the nerves under control and – importantly – hidden, and the question “why do I keep putting myself through this?!” is a constant companion. There is a good answer though. Squash is brilliant and I love that Child loves it.

Since Child started playing in tournaments we have met so many people, made so many friends, and had so many brilliant experiences that I’m happy to spend a large proportion of my free time accommodating it.

As for Child, well, on weekends when he doesn’t have a competition, once his Saturday morning training squad is over he can usually be found ghosting around the living room so I think it’s reasonable to conclude that he is happy about it too.

I often hear other parents grumbling about the amount of time they have to put into it, the weekends spent travelling and stuck in various squash clubs – well I think there are a lot of worse ways I could spend my weekends, and it certainly beats doing the housework.

Learning and development is key. The problem is getting the youngsters to actually believe it, because of course they want to win – and again we are back to finding a way to balance on that fine line.

Child could be sitting at home gawping at the computer or the Playstation on a rainy Saturday – I’d rather he was playing squash. We miss out on the odd sunny Saturday I suppose, but I think we come out winners overall.

Of course it’s not just the tournaments. There are one to one lessons with his coach, various weekly squad sessions, county training, regional training, super regional training – and it all takes up a great deal of time. We were at a squash club a couple of weekends ago and the tables in the bar area were filled with kids snatching available hours to do their homework between matches – it’s not just us, then!

We’ve often worried about whether this is too all-encompassing for Child. Is concentrating on squash going to mean he misses out on other things? Well if I’m brutally honest, I think probably yes – but he doesn’t have to miss out completely, and we make sure he doesn’t.

He plays cricket in the summer, football whenever he can, sings in his school choir and never misses a school disco. He’s out on his bike with his mates when it’s neither raining nor dark, but his friends also understand that sometimes Child can’t come out because he has to go to training.

If I ever get the slightest inkling that Child feels such sacrifices are too much, we’ll re-think, but so far he chooses to play squash.

I hope it continues, but it is completely up to him.  There are a few young players we know who I could predict will give up playing in the next few years, purely because they are doing it for their parents rather than themselves and I don’t ever want Child to be one of those.

If he stops, I certainly don’t want it to be because of me. We also try to make sure he has breaks. When they work that hard, even a 9 year old can get tired if they don’t have a rest every now and then.

So for the moment, we’ll continue. We get the odd weekend off, but even then we aren’t able to keep Child off court completely, nor would we want to if he’s keen. A break from travelling and competition is welcome, though. I think, however, it is fair to say that as a family squash has become our primary non-work related focus. Well as I said, as long as we continue to make sure other things aren’t sidelined completely, I think we could do a lot worse.

I hope that makes me a Squash Mum. I’m not Susan Matthew, or Basma Elshorbagy and I never will be, but I hope I have a membership of sorts to their club. It is a very good one to be in.

 

Posted on December 22, 2013

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About The Author

Alan Thatcher

Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad and the new Squash 200 Partnership, building clubs of the future. Founder of the Kent Open and co-promoter of the St. James's Place Canary Wharf Classic. Author and Public Speaker.

7 Comments

  1. Richard Vitty December 23, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Great article by a very responsible parent.
    I know coaches who have banned parents from training sessions due to excessive interference. Personally, I try to guide parents towards responsible behaviour during training so that they don’t embarrass themselves, our club or this brilliant sport when they are at other clubs.
    This drip feed coaching can take years – just like teaching a junior to play better squash.

  2. Pat Jackman December 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Years ago the first tournament after the summer break was Ardliegh Hall in Essex. They had a prize for the worst parent! But what happens is, as these children grow up, they stop competing all because of the pressure that was put on them when they were young. In many cases it’s such a waste of talent.

    • Claire Wallker (Fleetwood) December 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm

      I can remember that, can even remember who it was as well, naming no names! But I think he’d have won it at every tournament I played in

  3. Jon December 23, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    My seven-year-old was playing in a county Under-11s tournament a few weeks ago, beating a nine-year-old opponent. As parents myself and my wife cheered our son on, and we also applauded the other child when he hit a good shot, and never clapped an error. The other kid persisted in smashing up his racket, throwing it around and nearly hit my son with it. His mother went downstairs to pull him off court, at which point his dad told me it was my fault for encouraging my son (obviously not listening to me clapping his son’s good shots as well). He then proceeded to ‘offer me out’ in the car park!!! I’m an ex-Welsh Premier League and Senior County player, and a qualified coach. I have never seen anything like this. This happened in sleepy Devon, by the way. PS. Great article!

  4. Helen December 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Please also recognise the parents that aren’t pushy but the child behaves in a manner where one would imagine the parents are pushy. If the child is so deeply passionate about the game and so desperately wishes to win, it is not always easy to remove the child or ban them for a long period of time for their behaviour and love of the game. These parents might need the support of other parents and coaches around them to help them to manage to discipline and help their child to behave in a manner that is acceptable in squash.

  5. Squash Mum December 24, 2013 at 9:46 am

    I do believe that it is the parents’ job from the start to develop and manage good attitudes in their kids, but I also recognise that difficulty of managing a naturally competitive nature which, at a young age, can manifest in what looks like bad behaviour. It is one of the difficulties of staying somewhere near that fine line I talked about and also it improves with maturity. Let’s not forget how young some of these kids are – Child started at six. Also the natural discipline of working hard to improve at a sport helps to develop that maturity faster anyway.

    Can I just say though that in my experience there are very few parents and very few youngsters who are contributing to this problem, certainly in the younger age groups. Perhaps the minority do stand out as noticeable, but I’d rather that than them becoming the norm.

  6. Aubrey Waddy December 25, 2013 at 12:18 am

    This “Mum” nailed it. Squash is a wonderful game. It can become a second passport for anyone who plays. It will gain a player of any ability a huge welcome ANYWHERE in the world. It’s that special. But pushy parents can ruin squash just as they can ruin other sports, and frequently do for their kids. “Sport”, think about the word. Sport is fun. Or that’s what it should be. I used the theme of the pushy parent in my thriller “Sex and Drugs and Squash’n’Roll”, about a young guy on the pro tour. Pushy parenting has a big influence in the story, in two very different ways. Give it a try. But if you’re a pushy parent, give it a miss – it will embarrass you!

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