Friday, March 1, 2024

Blog: It’s a numbers game

egypt2013winBy ALAN THATCHER

Two correspondents on Twitter made some salient points about Egypt’s domination of junior squash following a fourth consecutive victory in the Women’s World Junior Team Championship in Poland at the weekend.

One asked: “How are they doing it and what can UK players do to join the party? There must be a fundamental difference in the coaching regimes.”

Another writer stated: “And they’ll probably win the next four as well! No other nation has a junior package to produce such sustained excellence.”

While agreeing with the latter statement, I will try to answer the first with a little knowledge gained in 30 years of junior coaching.

The simple answer is this: it’s all down to numbers.¬†

Numbers in every age group from under-11 to under-19.

Large numbers of juniors at every major club in Cairo and Alexandria, plus many others.

Numbers that provide intense competition.

Numbers that enable clubs to employ a battery of full-time coaches.

Numbers that keep growing as success breeds success.

Numbers enhanced by ambitious parents.

Numbers that grow as players like Amr Shabana, Ramy Ashour, Karim Darwish, Mohamed Elshorbagy and many more, both male and female, bring pride to a nation that is undergoing such political turmoil.

You are now seeing those same numbers reflected in the upper regions of the PSA and WSA rankings as Egyptians steamroller their way to the top.

Look at the PSA, with six players in the top 11: Ramy Ashour (1), Karim Darwish (5), Mohamed Elshorbagy (6), Amr Shabana (8), Tarek Momen (10), Omar Mosaad (11).

There are plenty more in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s who want to join them up there.

In the WSA rankings, we see  Raneem El Weleily at 3, Nour El Sherbini (11), Omneya Abdel Kawy (13), Nour El Tayab (20), and the rest of that World Team-winning squad on the horizon.

Squash is second-only to soccer in popularity in Egypt. It is a unique situation. There is no other country where squash enjoys such popularity.

Pakistan was once in that situation with a wave of champions launched by Hashim Khan in the 1950s and followed through by Jahangir Khan, then Jansher.

Since then the Pakistan squash scene appears to have been damaged by in-fighting and corruption, in a nation where girls are often violently discouraged from taking part in sports.

England always used to compete in the numbers game, with large clubs employing full-time coaches who created large junior sections.

Squash, like every other sport, faces a massive battle encouraging young people to be active, when so many facets of their life are delivered via electronic means.

When I moved to Kent, the county was enjoying a phenomenal era of success, with players like Paul Johnson, Adrian Grant, John Russell, Ben Ford, Chris Tomlinson, John Russell, James Robbins, Sue Wright, Stephanie Brind and many others developing through a tight network of clubs based in south-east London.

At that time, Kent had a number of large clubs, led by Bromley Town with 16 courts, and several more with six, eight and ten.

Most of those clubs have either downsized or disappeared altogether, often due to the rape of our sport by the falsely named health and fitness industry.

With the courts disappearing, coaches have had to look elsewhere for employment. Not surprisingly, participation numbers have fallen.

Kent currently has two female national junior champions, but we don’t have enough players to field county sides in all of the age groups.

We have launched a wide-ranging Development Programme to try to bring the numbers back up, but to maintain the momentum we need more coaches to manage these schemes in every town.

It’s a long-term process, and we need to face up to the fact that young squash players who head to university might not return to their home county when they find employment.

Centres in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Pontefract are leading the way with some superb junior programmes, led by talented and productive coaches.

We need more of them.

Elsewhere in the UK, I spoke to one junior coach who admitted having to tread carefully when it came to disciplinary issues at national level.

Had he dropped one of his players, he did not have another player of a similar standard to replace him.

That’s the numbers game in reverse.

Going back to last week’s Women’s World Junior Championships, what happened to Scotland, Wales and Ireland?

Where were they?

Perhaps it was a numbers issue.


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