Friday, December 8, 2023

Padel and pickleball boom leaves squash standing still

Having downgraded squash, LifeTime aims to build 600-700 pickleball courts across USA By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor) As Covid regulations are being relaxed in many parts of the world, it’s time to assess the future of squash and the impact of lockdown. While padel and pickleball continue to expand at a phenomenal rate in […]

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  1. Thanks for the reporting, perhaps this will be a wake-up call to the sport we love. Squash is a niche sport, it’s wonderful but very specialized and demanding, and the sport needs to broaden its base. Unfortunately the double yellow ball makes that a challenge and not enough effort has been done to promote other balls or forms that will keep people playing after age 30 or 40 and make it easy for new adult players to try and play.

    My understanding is that Life Time has also been experimenting with Squash 57/UK racketball in select facilities for some of the same reasons the CEO mentioned, that “it is accessible to everybody and easy to learn”. With a short handled racquet and a lively ball, Squash 57 is another terrific option to accomplish this and I’d love to see squash leadership including associations, clubs, pros, manufacturers and retailers get on board. World Squash has seen the light and Squash Canada is also now promoting Squash 57 as a life sport that is easy to learn, fun to play and a great way to get some exercise. The exact attributes that are driving pickle ball’s success. I’ve played and promoted squash my entire life and am sorry to see the adult game wither. The rise of pickle ball and perhaps padel will only accelerate that trend.

  2. The post-Covid decline of squash in England is obvious to anyone involved in their local club. Investors have been voting with their wallets. People have been voting with their feet. Courts are increasingly empty despite a migration to racketball, ‘Squash57’.

    The pro game of squash thrives, but it needs constant replenishment with top ability youngsters. Perhaps this will continue in some parts of the world. But will young people in the UK want to take up squash in an environment full of the novel Visa/Mastercard-friendly 21st century sports that are making it into the Olympics? Girls and boys from elite schools will continue to enter the game, thus ironically taking it back to its 19th century roots, but the less fortunate won’t be able to find the facilities to play. Evidence suggests that Padel tennis and Pickleball will be enthusiastically adopted as they become more widely available, just as squash was fifty years ago.

    I’ve recently returned to playing squash after a two year break. I started with an enjoyable few weeks of racketball. Then the move to squash. Straight away the game’s outstanding USP was revealed: IT IS SO INTENSE. I don’t believe that other racquet sports, with the possible exception of badminton, come close to the sheer physicality of squash. This quality both rules it out as the preferred choice for legions of recreational players, but emphatically rules it in for genuine alpha-female, alpha-male ATHLETES with good hand-eye coordination and an intense competitive spirit.

    If the UK squash authorities had the wit to rebrand the game as the top of the racquet-sports pyramid, squash would rightly achieve the cachet of being ‘the special one’, the game to aspire to, the one real athletes should play. ‘Mere’ recreation would be admirably served by Squash57, Pickleball, Lawn Tennis and Padel Tennis. But for sheer competition, the almost boxing-like intensity of squash would make it stand out as the place for the gifted.

  3. The word is ‘choice’. In the 70’s squash was the pre-eminent indoor racket sport, no-one had heard of pickleball, let alone an outdoor alternative (to tennis), Padel. Whilst agreeing with David Kerr’s comments on ball selection and Aubrey Waddy’s analysis, the fact remains that in all cases squash becomes more and more elitist and suited to the accomplished technician in the skill and art. Generally, if anyone is inclined to move away from the rigours of the treadmill and other gym machines, and maintain physically activity, with bat-n’-ball, then racketball, pickleball and Padel are obvious choices – they encourage participation at levels to suit all players and combine competitive endeavour with social interaction.

  4. It’s all about Doubles.

    Squash singles is too grim for most people.

    Pickleball and Spec Tennis have a singles option, but 90 percent of those players only want doubles.

  5. I’ve said since I started playing doubles squash (when singles moved to softball…so a long time ago!) that hardball doubles was the best game, for the reasons our comrades have made above. It’s fun, social, technically demanding, with great opportunities for gasp-provoking shots, just much more fun to watch, and to play, than singles.

    I can’t speak to padel, as it hasn’t invaded the northeast yet, but I play pickle all the time, and it’s social, and really fun. I liken it to playing ping pong while standing on the table, complete with paddles, 3 other players, and a light, maneuverable ball. And it’s real social fun. Squash doubles is the grown up version of pickle, with much harder shots, greater intricacy and brilliant shotmaking, and a much tougher workout. And it’s really fun to watch.

    But here again, there are so few courts, and no momentum for more to be built. Pickle is really fun, but I wonder if its ease of play is a hindrance to its longevity, like racquetball was in North America in the ‘70’s. The upside, it seems, to pickle is that people of all ages are playing it, inside, outside, and in limited space.

    Pickle actually has all the hallmarks of a potentially massive sport, but none of the grit of padel or doubles squash. North of the Mason Dixon line, pickle will have to go inside in the winter, but even there, you can get 4 pickle courts on one tennis court, which makes it very interesting for the club owners, as long as they can fill them. I won’t give up my squash, though, for anything.

  6. The bottom line is that no one is building commercial courts and our existing courts are closing. Can we build courts faster than they close to offset the erosion? Seems unlikely.
    It also seems that there is a lack of awareness regarding just how much the sport is in decline.

  7. Squash, yes – pickleball, yes – Padel, yes, table tennis, yes – the list goes on and that underlines the player/consumer’s demand, to chose whichever suits them. If you can’t beat them, join them and build multi racket sport facilities that cater for all (establishes inclusivity) and provides options for players of all ages and level of ability.

  8. Sports like Pickleball use the same infrastructure as a badminton, volleyball or basketball court. This makes it more accessible to more people. In Canada, many facilities are building multiple-purpose gymnasiums for that exact reason, to be able to utilize the same space for multiple activities. The sport is easier on the body and easy to learn.

    Squash although being our sport of choice is in a rough spot. On the professional scene Squash can be displayed at more diverse and iconic settings than Pickleball or Padel. However, at the recreational and lower competitive levels Squash has a hard time keeping up. Still struggles to capture a wide awareness and most still have no idea about the game. There has been a decline in participation in past years and the arrival of Covid-19 has led to more facilities rethinking the purpose and use of the existing courts.

    I will still promote Squash to the masses as it provides a much higher level of adrenaline rush than other racquet sports. Many of the ageing population that play Squash ultimately switch to hardball doubles and now to Pickleball. But, for those facilities that do not have Pickleball yet or willing to make the investment in building Hardball Doubles Squash, using the existing Squash courts in other ways is key. Such as, introducing Squash57 or playing length games.

    Hoping that one day there will be a link and rethinking of how players develop. Little kids could learn fundamental skills in an open setting of Pickleball, then refine those skills on the squash court.

    • I have enjoyed reading all of these well crafted and carefully thought out responses, just as I hope you all enjoy reading the posts that help to shine a light on critical issues that would otherwise go unreported.

  9. Squash as a sport isn’t the same as a steam engine that to be replaced by diesel or new technologies. Gym companies removing squash courts isn’t a positive progress like Industrial Revolution, completely opposite however, it’s destroying the tracks and foundations rather than upgrading engine technologies. Totally backwards and evil. Shame on them!

  10. The very first time I was introduced to squash after college in my 20s, I knew I would be playing it for the rest of my life. It had so many things that I love in a sport: speed, power, finesse, technique, strategy and intensity; all simultaneously existing in a thrilling omnidirectional space/time continuum. But what sets squash apart from other racquet sports for me is its Zen-like nature—from the solo practice of perfecting lines and angles, to the repetitive movement patterns tracking a small black ball in an all-white room, to the pas de deux form that emerges when you play a partner. I really hope it survives and thrives!

    • Hello Daniel.
      I love your comments about the combination of elements that make us fall in love with squash.
      If squash is to survive then we need to engage with a new generation of commercial investors who can see a return in building new courts.
      Federations seem unwilling or unable to do this, so it’s left to a small hardcore of enthusiasts to try to fill that void.
      As I mentioned in the article, I am talking to potential partners from padel and pickleball every week.
      I was delighted to publish the nine-part series from the brilliant court designer Lee Witham, and I absolutely share his vision of squash existing alongside other sports in venues where the game is visible, accessible and affordable.
      Also, please read the articles written by club owner Eduardo Alvarez about the decline in squash and the number of fitness chains and new businesses that are choosing pickleball instead. Padel is also riding over the horizon in North America with significant investment funds for building new courts.
      There is a kind of smug delusion in squash (and tennis) that by having what many call “a superior sport” will guarantee its longevity, when the facts suggest otherwise.

  11. Thanks Alan, I agree with all this and hope the discussion will energize leaders within the sport. Here in the USA, it’s been frustrating to see the adult sport wither. While interest among adults built the sport here, all the focus seems to be on juniors and parents hoping squash gets their kids into a competitive college. I blame the ball for this decline and have been playing Squash 57 and doubles as a way to extend my own squash career. The model of a racquets complex that combines squash, padel, pickle ball and fitness would be fantastic and I’d love to see that develop here. Or somehow work with a company like Life Time Fitness to incorporate this model into their broader plans. Regardless, we need the national, club owners, pros, equipment manufacturers to challenge the current status quo and create a vision to rebuild interest in squash. And soon……courts are disappearing as Covid, pickle ball and now padel pressure participation. We need to send out a SOS to those leaders – Save Our Squash

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