13.5 C
London
Monday, June 21, 2021

JAMES WILLSTROP: The talent is out there, just don’t rush it

Lee Hortonhttps://squashmad.com
Former Sun, Mirror, People and Sunday Express sports executive. Knows a bit about newspapers and the art of talking a good game. Brighter than some but a way to go to match others.

More from the author

You don’t have to set the world alight as a kid to become world class

The JAMES WILLSTROP Column

young jamesnick matthew juniorIn sport there is a tendency we have to hark back to the past with affection; somehow the passage of time seems to heighten our nostalgia towards a particular era or athlete.

It’s not just in sport: Politicians are often only revered retrospectively. Churchill’s Conservative party lost the election in 1945, just after the end of the War. Now look at his reputation. Musicians too are often judged by their early output and this sometimes impacts conceptions of later work.

England Squash has produced a host of world-class squash players over the last 20 years. World number ones, British Open and World Champions have not been scarce. Testament to the players, but also to the systems of coaching and support within and outside the association, which is second to none. Good systems mean there is pressure to keep repeating this success.

Unfortunately there is an unsympathetic question which surfaces every now and then: ‘Where are the next batch of English players to follow you lot? The quality isn’t what it was before at junior level!’

Firstly, I should point out that generations like the current one cannot continue prospering in this way. It is simply impossible to produce world number ones and world champions constantly.

As a further answer though to these barbed and critical questions, the premier Junior event in the world, the British Junior Open is played every January in Sheffield, and is the marker that the cynics probably cite. The English players do quite well, but don’t have the clout of the Egyptians at those tender ages.

We know that Egyptian kids are channelled into squash with greater zeal, whereas the English tend to take their time and mature later. We get less sun, too, which is clearly a disadvantage. Being a Yorkshireman I can vouch for that.

I remember winning the British Open in 1997 aged 13, and the magazine report posted the headline that I was the sole British winner in all age groups, and it asked where England’s other winners were. Sixteen years later, in 2013, the headlines were the same when Emily Whitlock won the girls U19 event. Those ‘disappointments’ in 1997 have now become part of England’s most prolific generation ever. There is no reason why today’s generation can’t continue this success in some way.

But becoming world class involves an intricate process of development, and it certainly doesn’t have to involve setting the world on fire as a kid, or as a 20-year-old. Results at junior level are a guide, but not the be all and end all.

As a young player, Peter Nicol, to my knowledge, never won a British or world junior title. It was an unremarkable junior career that segued into an unbelievable senior one. Laura Massaro became British number one for the first time in 2012 at the age of 29, as a result of continuous application over many years and now at her peak she finds herself a British Open Champion.

wallerAdrian Waller (pictured left) and Joe Lee are two players who have very exciting futures. Both 24, there’s little hype surrounding them but with the help of those close they are quietly going about their business, travelling the world, amassing crucial experience. These things take time, and that’s just what the critics don’t understand. They quickly overlook two players like Adrian and Joe, because they haven’t risen to the top right now.

Nick Matthew is the current world number 1 and was ranked 38 in his 22nd year, Adrian was 42 in his. Joe was 57, so they aren’t far off statistically either.

They have the attitude and the drive and they look set to do some damage in years to come.

These criticisms of England’s perceived lack of talent coming through should be questioned. The coaches and support systems are clever and calculated, and are still working as efficiently as ever; they have had an immeasurable impact on my career. Squash is a sport which requires years of persistence. Players and coaches need time, and they realise this. It is important that they have faith in their work, if others don’t.

Source: Yorkshire Evening Post

 

Related articles

2 Comments

  1. Great article by James. We shouldn’t put too much
    pressure on our juniors to perform at a young age.
    Beware the parents and coaches who are living their own dreams through their juniors and are not listening to what
    the kids want.

  2. Excuse me for asking, but how can a 7 time National Junior Champion, 3 time British Junior Open Champion, and a World Junior Champion possibly claim that junior careers have little influence on senior achievement? I must also point out that, as I was given to understand, Malcolm Willstrop is due the credit for coaching James to these heights, and not England Squash. It must also be noted that England Squash disposed of Jonah Barrington and David Pearson, how smart was that?!! In the case of Emily Whitlock, her father, Phil, is due all of the credit and not England Squash. Worth studying therefore, is exactly who is producing top players. With regard to Richard Vitty’s remark, does he not realise that juniors have dreams of, one day, becoming a World Class player? Agreed there are a few pushy parents, but the vast majority are merely doing the best they can for their children, often struggling with the huge expense of competing.England Squash focuses only on a very limited number of juniors, picked up or dropped at will depending on short-term results. This lack of continuity has resulted in dozens of former England Junior Champions, England Junior Internationals, and No.1 ranked age-group players walking away from the sport, many with unquestionable talent and potential. Equally dismal is the fact that some of those selected for ‘special treatment’ and backing lacked the commitment to pursue a career on the professional stage, including a 6 time National Junior Champion, not only a waste of funding, time, and effort, but other more committed players had been abandoned due to selection decisions. I have every respect for James Willstrop’s achievements, but there is a ‘dark side’ to Squash in England that needs to be addressed if it is to improve.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest articles