Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Team Canada @ The 2018 World Junior Squash Championships

If you've been following Serious Squash on Facebook or Instagram you'll already know that I was just in India at the manager of Junior Boys National Team. The team consisted of Julien Gosset (our team captain and #1 player), James Flynn (our #2), George Crowne (our  3) and Ryan Picken was our #4. We also had 3 players from Canada participate in the individual event. Here's the link to the tournament website: https://www.wsfworldjuniors.com




Photo on a local coffee shop in Chennai


Our preliminary team seeding was 9th. Canada hasn't done too well on the international stage for a number of years so not many people expected much from our squad. Julien was the only seeded player in the individuals event seeded 13/16.

The team did almost a week of pre tournament training in Mumbai before heading to Chennai for the big event. I was also supposed to be with the team, but had some major setbacks getting my visa. Let's just say if you have to get a visa to go to India don't use the courier service and avoid the Surrey BLS office by all means necessary.






I had to get my flights changed because of the visa difficulties, so I didn't end up leaving Victoria until July 12th. I took a red eye to Toronto, had a 10 hour layover before taking a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, a 6 hour layover there and finally a 9.5 hour flight to Chennai. Yes, I was wiped, but at least I made it.

The team arrived the day after I checked into the hotel. This was my first time in India and it was quite a culture shock. I've traveled abroad before so I wasn't too taken aback by the traffic, pollution and lack of clean drinking water. The first tuk tun ride was quite the experience where our head coach, Jonathan Hill ordered an 'Uber' which to our surprise turned out to be a yellow tuk tuk (pictured below). They were a cheap and quick reliable source of transportation, if the driver knew where you wanted to go.


When we first arrived at the courts to practice the outside temperature was almost 40 degree celsius. And there was no air conditioning in the club! Wow that was a tough first day on court. The Indian Squash Academy was really a beautiful facility though. They had 3 courts at the front of the club, a 4 wall glass show court around the back with another 4 newer glass back courts. I wish we had something like this in Canada.

After a few days of practice and getting adjusted to the hot and bouncy courts the tournament was about to begin. Luckily for our guys the air conditioning did kick in and the temperature was not much of a factor the rest of the way. The morning of our first matches in invidious we had a player wake up ill and was quite sick, Somehow he went on to win 2 matches that day and must have hid it just well enough from his opponents. Even more surprisingly was that this was some of the best squash he would play all event.


The individual draw was 128 for the boys. All of our 4 boys won their first 2 matches on day 1. Having 4 Canadians into the round of 32 was a big deal. The next day Julien, George and James all won again while Ryan lost to a 3/4 seed form Egypt in a close 3; with a weak ref and some fishing and blocking by his opponent. On to day 3 of the event and we had 3 Canadians into the final 16. This was big news in Canada and throughout the event.


In the round of 16 Julien lost 11-9 in the fifth on his first match on the glass court to another top Egyptian seed while James lost to the Mexican #1 and top 90 PSA player in a tight 4 games. George I feel played the match of the tournament against the top seed and defending champion Marwan Tarek (pictured below) and lost in 4 on the glass court and for a moment in the fourth game I thought he looked the fresher of the 2 and had a real shot of pulling off the major upset. But Tarek showed his class and experience and pulled away in the fourth to close it out.


After such a strong showing by our boys the seeding committee took notice and it was now between Canada and England for the #2 seed heading into the team event. The vote was unanimous and we secured the second seed and were poised to have the highest ever finish for our team in history; that is if our boys could recap the performances they displayed in their individual event.

After a little break between the individual and team event we got our pool draw. We had Scotland (seeded 17) and Argentina (seeded 15) in our pool. We rested James for our first match and won dropping just a single game to Scotland. It was evident though that our boys were a bit edgy as many of them were playing on a team for the first time and representing their country and the World Championships.

On day 2 we played Argentina and George came out a bit flat and nervous and went down 0 - 2 to the Argentina #3. Obviously we were all surprised after displaying worldclass squash against Tarek. It just goes to show how pressure and focusing on the result can negatively impact your performance. Luckily though George got it together and can back to win the next 3 games quite convincingly O next was Julien who had a tough match against their #1 losing in 5. So here we are down to the final match, if we lost this match we would play Egypt in the round of 16; no pressure James! Luckily James is a big time player and played at a top 5 level of all the juniors at the event. He sealed the deal and our team all had a big sigh of relief.

The cool glass court setup in the Express Avenue Mall

I thought we were playing not too lose as opposed to playing to win. The mental game is so intriguing and really was a difference maker in many fo the closely encountered team matchups. After getting through our pool we were drawn against Australia in the round of 16, a one time powerhouse of the squash world. All the boys played much better and we won all 3 matches. Next up was the quarterfinals against the US. James had beaten their #1 in the individual event in 3 straight games and Ryan had beaten their #3 while being sick in straight games too. So even though the boys were a bit nervous because of the occasion they were confident.

This match started out with some major jitters. James who had been playing unbelievable so far went down 0 - 2 playing at the 2 position. All of the team members and coaches were a wreck with the ups and downs and mixed emotions from this match. I normally don't get nervous watching and coaching my kids play, but I most certainly was in this instance. After James won I started to relax a bit. We were up a match. Julien went on to play at the #1 position and was controlling the pace and most of the rallies. He was up 2 - 1 in games and 10-6 when he stretched for a ball int he back left corner only to slip and in that moment our whole team went into shock. After a delay of 2 or 3 sends Julien was down clutching his right hamstring in tears and we all looked at ourselves in complete shock. 'Did this really just happen?' We were all getting ready to celebrate, George was untying his shoes and Ryan about to text his friends to celebrate the occasion of a guaranteed medal and a matchup with England in the semis.

Julien came off limping and it was clear immediately that it was serious. He only had 3 minutes to recover and go back and resume play. He got his leg bandaged but could not put any weight on his leg. The plan was to go back out up 10 - 7 and just go for a nick on the 3 return of serves and if he didn't get one default the match. He did actually hit one put it popped up just enough for his opponent to retrieve it while Julien was stuck watching from where he struck the ball from.

As Julien hobbled off court George was now having to prepare to play a must win match. Meanwhile I was dealing with the physiotherapist and an in shock Julien. I had to take him to the tournament hospital for an examination. When I left it was 1 - 1 in the deciding match. I was in shock at the tournament thinking about what had just happened. I've never seen something like this take place and now here it is happening in the biggest match of our teams young squash careers.

While waiting for Julien to finish his examination at the hospital I got the message that George has lost 12 - 10 in the fourth. He obviously felt terrible about letting the team down, but none of us blamed him because the pressure and the shock of that moment likely would have gotten the better of most players in that same position.

We all got back to the tournament hotel around 10pm that night and had a team meeting and dinner. It started somber and we aired out some of our frustrations and disbeliefs. This is when Julien I think stepped up the most, he was the injured one and felt bad not only about being potentially seriously injured, but also for letting his teammates down when he was so close and sure of victory. He stepped up and said the right things to get the team refocused as we still had to compete and we were scheduled to play the reigning World Champions, Pakistan at 11am the next day on the show court at the mall.

That night most of us didn't sleep and when I did I dreamt of the nightmare that we'd just experienced. The next morning we were still in shock and now very tired. Luckily James was up first and he played pretty well, but lost a tight match to the #1 from Pakistan. Three of the games went to extra points so it really could have gone either way. We were in a hole here. One point away form a medal and now we must win the next 2 matches without our #1 player in the lineup. George was on next and did not come out sharp. It took a lot of encouraging to get him going as his confidence was fragile as he also felt like he let the team down the night prior. Thankfully Julien and Jonathan were able to get though to him between games and after dropping the first game came back to win in a scrappy 4. Now it was up to Ryan. His opponent was playing great squash and we ended up in a fifth and deciding game. Ryan got down 8 - 10 in the fifth and miraculously pulled it out 12 - 10. What a turn of events the team had gone through in such a short period of time.

Somehow we sneaked that match out and now had a chance to finish off the tournament on a high note if we could beat the tough Malaysian team. On the final day of the event James was again on first playing as our #1 now and played amazing to win in 3. Ryan was a little off this day and lost in 3. Now it was up to George. Could this be his moment to pick the team back up in a big match? His opponent was skilled and it wasn't easy but George came through with a gutsy win in 4 to give Canada a fifth place finish.


Fifth may not have been what we were expecting, but after what this team encountered in the quarterfinals it's pretty amazing that they were able to regroup and come back with 2 big victories. I think we all learned something from this event and that it really is never over until it's over and that pressure and adversity are sometimes our biggest opponents.

 
 I missed the team photo at the final banquet because I was sick :(

It was a long 3 weeks for the coaching staff! 

During the entire last week of the event I was struggling wth some sort of illness, so I cannot wait to get home, drink some tap water and sleep in my own bed. It was overall a terrific, life changing experience for the whole team and I am very proud to have been a part of something so special. A big thank you to Jonathan for choosing me to be the team manager and for all of the boys for playing so hard and representing Canada so well. Will I go back to India anytime soon? Hmm I enjoyed everything besides the sickness so probably not. I did meet a lot of great people and someone even stole 1 of my Serious Squash shirts lol. So if you happen to see someone wearing a purple Serious Squash shirt (pictured below) at your club ask if it's a medium and where they go it lol. And if there are more spelling and grammar errors in here than normal it probably has something to do with the lack of sleep I'm running on at the moment.



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Heartfelt Thank You From Stuart Dixon For #SavingTheVictoriaSquashClub

The campaign to #SaveTheVictoriaSquashClub started off as a last ditch effort to save the Victoria Squash Club. The club has managed to just get by for quite some time now, but there were 2 large bills upcoming that the club simply couldn't afford to pay. Stuart and his wife Sandy have put plenty of their own money into the club over the years, but that can only go on for so long. Unfortunately this year it seemed like bankruptcy was the only option.

Last week I ran a few ideas by Stuart on how I could help him drum up some money for the club so it could stay open. At first I thought about hosting a club golf tournament, but there was only a month to plan it and we had to raise $27,000. Later on I thought about this crowdfunding idea and began working on the site (GoFundMe.com/SaveTheVictoriaSquashClub).

Stuart is such a well respected and iconic coach in Canada and all around the world, so it would have been horrible to see his club close. But within 3 days of launching this campaign we had already raised more than what we had hoped for. Social media is amazing for things like this and it wasn't a tough ask for anyone who's ever met Stu.

This time last week it was looking like the club might be closing for good and now just a week later the club and the community have come together like never before. Not only have we raised over $40,000, but more importantly the spotlight has been placed on the struggles of running a privately owned squash club, even if it is led by a hall of fame coach and wonderful human being.

What's next for the club? Well we have a club survey coming out soon to try to get some feedback on how the members would like the club to operate moving forward, knowing full well that changes are imminent and necessary. We are also looking to assemble a management team/committee of devoted volunteers to help the club become a more successful business and ensure that it's a long standing staple here in Victoria. It's unbelievable how many people have reached out and offered their support above and beyond making a donation. It's because of this outpour that we are now confident that things are going to turn around for the better. How quickly things can change...

Here is a heartfelt video of Stuart thanking everyone who helped save his club. If you'd like to follow along the progress and updates to the club bookmark VictoriaSquashClub.com and follow Serious Squash on Facebook and Instagram. I'll be posting updates as we go. There's plenty of great ideas and lots of motivated people with 1 common goal, and that's to make the Victoria Squash Club thrive!


Sunday, May 27, 2018

48 Hour Update On The #SaveTheVictoriaSquashClub Crowdfunding Campaign

48 hours into our campaign of #Save|TheVictoriaSquashClub we have raised $19,635 from 90 people which means we are well on our way to the target goal of $27,000. It's amazing how quickly things can get around these days with social media and it also shows how many people have been impacted by the club and longtime coach and owner, Stuart Dixon and his wife Sandy. A campaign like this seems to bring out the good in so many people and lifts everyones spirit.


Over the weekend I've received dozens of emails and phone calls from concerned current and past members asking how they could make a difference on top of making a donation. So many people have expressed gratitude for what the club and Stuart means/meant to them and they want to ensure it's successful for the long haul. So we know reaching our goal and raising $27,000 is the first step and crucial for the club being able to keep its doors open, but we all understand that there must be some changes in the club to ensure we don't encounter a similar problem down the road.

As we continue to raise funds to pay off these 2 upcoming large bills, we will also be looking into ways of changing the club. Now that the spotlight is on the club and it's struggles people appear extremely willing and eager to help. I believe this campaign has done more than just raise some money for a business and a great man in need, but it has brought together a community that is going to make some real positive long standing changes. I believe these changes are going to begin to unfold shortly.

We are going to have a club meeting soon and I am going to propose a board of directors forms. There are quite a few options as to how the club should move forward from here so we will see where it goes from here. I will keep you posted on the process of the club as I believe the Victoria Squash Club is going to transform from the brink of bankruptcy to successful. The love and support is there and I think it's only a matter of time if we use the momentum this campaign has built up.

If you want to be a part of this unbelievable story and make a contribution it's not too late. You can make a monetary donation (donations will be taken until the end of June) and we will also be having a silent auction in a couple of weeks so if you have an item you'd like to donate please let me know. Here's the link to the club's crowdfunding page:  https://www.gofundme.com/SaveTheVictoriaSquashClub

Thanks again so much to all of you who have donated, shared this campaign and reached out to me to show your love and support for Stuart and the Victoria Squash Club! Let's not just #SaveTheVictoriaSquashClub but help it thrive!