‘Our stars are dotted all over the world but we are all working towards doing well at the 2022 Comm Games’
By ROD BANNISTER – Squash Mad Correspondent
It’s a time of change for squash in Australia, with Lachlan Johnson moving in as the new High Performance Manager. Here he answers a few questions from Rod Bannister, Teaching Pro at the Carrara National Centre in Gold Coast.
Hi Lachlan, what attracted you to the role?
I’ve worked across a number of sports in science and coaching roles while I was at the Queensland Academy of Sport, and I played squash competitively as a junior. The opportunity to use the skills I’d gained in an elite sport at the QAS, and apply them to the sport I grew up with was the major drawcard.
Who are your top athletes and where are they based?
Our athletes are everywhere! Most of our top men are in New York – Ryan Cuskelly, Cam Pilley & Zac Alexander. Donna Lobban is in Sheffield. The rest of the top players spend most of their time in Australia – some in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and the Gold Coast. There’s a number of good juniors coming through Perth as well.
What’s the National Squash Centre’s program on the Gold Coast?
The players who train at the National Centre (Carrara Squash Centre) train every day at the courts. We’ve also set up a great network of service providers on the Gold Coast – psychology, strength and conditioning, nutrition and physiotherapy. Our S&C coach is based across the road from the National Centre, and we use the Gold Coast Suns (Australian Rules Football team) facility for some sessions as well. They’re in the building next door so it’s great to have some good partnerships on the Gold Coast.
What’s the HP plan for the next three to five years?
We’re working towards the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022 firstly, so we’ll be looking at how we can prepare for that to give ourselves the best possible chance of success there. We have a lot of experience on board with players who have been successful in previous Commonwealth Games, so we’ll be looking at how we can utilise that experience.
While we’re doing that, we’re also building on the support we can provide the next generation. Having Stewart Boswell on board is really exciting and he’ll be instrumental in that area. We also have Jenny Duncalf working in the Pathway area to broaden our reach to the next generation around the country.
What’s the next generation of Australian players looking like?
There are a number of promising players coming through the junior ranks who we think can make the transition to senior PSA level as they move through juniors. and Ethan Eyles and Alex Haydon have a lot of international experience already. All the girls in this years WJC team which made the quarter finals are eligible for the individual event in 2020, which is promising. One of our younger players, Oscar Curtis, reached the semi-finals of our Junior Championships this year as a 14-year old. There are a number of good prospects.
What’s the biggest HP challenge in your role?
Australia is a big country, so being able to provide support and involve everyone is difficult. I speak a lot with my HP Managers in other sports, and it’s a common challenge. By virtue of the successful era Squash Australia had in the past 20-30 years, we have a lot of really good people across the country who are keen to be involved. Making sure we reach them and provide avenues for them to contribute to the next generation is important, but it’s a challenge!
How’s your men’s team shaping up for the World Teams event?
Quite well. It’s the same team which won bronze in France in 2017, and since then, they’ve enjoyed further international success. Cam and Zac both won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and we had some good success at this year’s World Doubles. There are a few teams who have top players ranked in the 20’s and 30’s, so I think it will come down to some key match-ups, and we’re confident our men can put in a really strong performance.
How exciting is it to have a national squash centre?
It’s really nice to have a good facility where our HP players can train day-in, day-out. The courts were built for the Commonwealth Games, so they’re in really good shape. It’s far more cost-effective for us to set up our HP training centrally with service providers on-hand close by, so it helps that we can do that on the Gold Coast.
What’s the benefits of hosting major events like the world juniors in 2020 at your national centre?
It’s exciting to have so many world class players coming to the Gold Coast. Our focus in HP is on a lot of players in that next generation as well, so having the best juniors in the world in our backyard will give them some exposure to junior squash of the highest level. We’ve been really fortunate to have had the Commonwealth Games and World Doubles here in the past two years, so this provides another access point for our community to see world class squash.
What does a young up and coming athlete need to do to succeed in a HP environment?
They need to be driven to succeed. The HP environment we’re setting up will give the athletes access to coaching and support services which will assist their journey to world class level, but the players ultimately require a significant internal drive to do whatever it takes to reach the top. It’s no different to any other sport – we just want to put the tools and support in place to allow our players to go as far as they can.
Interview by ROD BANNISTER. Edited by ALAN THATCHER.