Thursday, June 13, 2024

Olivia Weaver: How philosophy, team changes and coaching has shaped US Squash star

Birmingham — Sitting in The Rep lobby, it was perhaps no surprise to hear Danny Massaro discussing philosophers Sartre and Nietzsche. Squash Mad was only asking about the qualities which have taken American Olivia Weaver to the world’s top five. Yet, the Princeton graduate is an ardent thinker, while it was the critical assessment from her courtside coach which took her to the British Open quarter-finals and an enticing match-up with defending champion Nour ElSherbini.

This is Weaver’s 11th tournament of the year. Should she prevail and win the biggest title of her career, she will no doubt look back on a game-changing summer as the catalyst.

Building a team

Squash has seen the likes of Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro concoct key, trusted and expert personnel around them, and Weaver is summoning the same.

After finishing Princeton University, she started to worked with Peter Nicol and Graeme Williams, in Philadelphia, alongside the help at the US National Centre, while Massaro has helped in the psychology department and manage her team development.

It was Nicol who first connected with Laura, which in turn led to Danny six years ago.

Olivia Weaver squash

“I had seen her play against Millie Tomlinson who I was coaching at the time,” says Danny. “I remember thinking ‘she’s good’. I think most people thought the same, that she could play the game. Her intelligence means that she has asked questions and she has some bright people in her team.”

Last year, her widening team couldn’t get to the World Championships to support her. With a need to have a go-to at the major, plus work on some of her technical aspects, it led her to super coach Rodney Martin last summer. The partnership has clearly helped in her dynamic hitting.

Game changes

Weaver, 28, has also inaugurated swing changes, her movement became more aggressive and she upped her game pace. She admitted to being more of a “feel” player against the elite, was told she had to play at a faster pace, end rallies when openings came and latch on to the ball earlier. “Rod brought that next level of movement and pace, and aggressive hitting to my game,” she said earlier this year.

Twice a winner in 2024 and a multiple semi-finalist, including the World Championships, it is clear that Weaver is not only fitter and hitting the ball more cleanly but her defence and mobility have also been boosted.

At the back end of this season, Danny has worked on Weaver’s belief processes, like Neuro Linguistic Programming just as he did with Laura, attitude and mentality. This, says Danny, separates the best from the others. 

Philosophy and squash

“She said it’s like a philosophy degree being with me, discussing Sartre and Nietzsche, inferiority complexes, psychological theories, spiral dynamics,” admits Danny.

“Olivia loves it and it is affecting how she thinks about life and existence — and the by product starts to affect and put squash into its appropriate place. It means she is balanced and treats it really properly. She has freedom and her marriage has been a big thing and how she can manage it on tour.”

Off-court value

With four years until her home Olympics in 2028, squash will see whether it has the marketing power to benefit the players. “In terms of sponsorship, she would be a great player to back,” says Danny.  

Olivia Fiechter, before marriage, wins at ToC

“She reminds me a lot of Laura. There is no stone left unturned. She respects everybody in the way that ‘I will listen to you and take in the information’. One thing I used to say to Laura was to make sure the coaches, the experts, felt appreciated and they will give you loads in return. It’s not always about you and your moods, there are rituals and if you are going to them not to waste their time.”

Belief

At last month’s World Championships, Martin admitted that Weaver was still learning how to conduct herself at the backend of tournaments.

ElSherbini had the match experience to beat Weaver in Cairo, slowing the match down, playing more passively and the new world No.4 couldn’t squeeze the Egyptian in those moments. 

Given her rise, Martin says the rising American was delivering on the belief that can beat the top women.

Making a difference

At 2-1 down to compatriot Sabrina Sobhy in the British Open second round on Tuesday, Danny says he did make a difference to Weaver’s game plan, which ultimately turned the tide. “She took it in, with all the trust over the years, and it was a technical thing in her swing which she could just click into. And it was down to Olivia to do that, which she did. Often the coach doesn’t make a difference, but I’m glad in that instance that I could.”

What Weaver said…

“I knew that I was going to have to dig deep and put in a really good performance to win today. I’m so grateful to have had Danny Massaro in my corner, who I’ve been working with now for years. He doesn’t get to see me live that often, but he was so critical to get me back to the basics and finding my game out there.”

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