Monday, June 13, 2016

SMUS Squash

I've written over 200 posts and I only recently realized that not a single one of those talk about the squash program I run at St. Michaels University School here in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. When I first moved to Victoria it was to do my Masters of Education in Coaching Studies at the University of Victoria. While I was working on my degree I began coaching at St. Michaels also referred to as SMUS. This first season was just 5 years ago. During this time the program was quite new and the courts often empty. There were only around a dozen kids on the Senior School Competitive Team that I worked with. We would practice for 1 hour twice per week. I vividly recall that first practice in September when most of the kids hadn't played since the previous spring and could not even do rotating drives! Well, thankfully after a lot of patience and dedication things have dramatically improved.

Five years ago we had no Middle School Competitive Team, no team uniform and very few adult B level kids that were competitive at the provincial or national level. When the occasional decent grade 8 showed up in the after school recreational program we would invite them to come up and practice with our high school kids. Year by year we grew in numbers and strength.

This previous season was our biggest and most successful to date. We had 3 Senior School Competitive Teams (Regional, Provincial and National Teams). Each of these teams had between 7 and 12 students on them. The National and Provincial squads each run from September to the end of May, 3 times per week for an hour and a half each session. The Regional Team had 2 practices per week, but that was bumped up to 3 later in the season. 

This season was also our first for having a Middle School Competitive Team. After spending a number of years with only a competitive Senior School stream I was finally able to convince the school of the necessity of our kids being introduced to competitive play at an earlier age. We had 12 kids on this Middle School Team and they practiced 3 times per week for an hour each session. So yes, I had a very busy year!

I have a terrific assistant coach, Giselle Delgado who plays professionally as well. She only took up squash at university and it's amazing to see how far she's come in such a short period of time. She coaches all the above mentioned competitive teams with me. We have 2 other coaches that run the Junior School Program and the Recreational Ones. We are also lucky that we have an assistant to the athletic director who helps with consent forms and booking for all the ferry, hotels and plane tickets. 

At SMUS we cover every level and every grade! There are certainly hundreds of kids that get to play squash every year at the school and around  35-40 are playing competitively now. For having just 4 courts we have spent a lot of time working on the scheduling to make sure everyone has access. I'm hoping that the future construction of the school will include more squash courts so we can continue to squash programs for every child at the school while still being able to provide enough court time to our most dedicated athletes. 

Our tournament schedule for the previous season is quite typical. Our top players play 4-7 junior events within the province, the Alberta Jesters, The Canadian Junior Open and the Junior Nationals. We have also taken groups of our top kids to the Ivy League Scrimmages (part of the group that went in 2014/2015 pictured above) numerous times to watch the level of the College game. Next season we are working on a trip to the British and Sottish Open for a couple of our top players. Hopefully in 5 to 10 years from now this will be something we can do annually and with a larger group of students.

The SMUS Squash program has had some terrific results at the junior level and after graduation. We've had 1 boy and 1 girl play on Junior National Teams. We have 1 boy and 2 girls currently playing on American Collegiate teams (1 at Amherst, 1 at Dartmouth and 1 at Dickinson). We have an alumni who was an all American in 2014/2015 at Princeton (pictured below with some of us watching her compete at the Ivy League Scrimmages) and she is now playing professionally. Another boy of the same year was a member on the National Championship Team at Harvard. Our top girl this season finished 2nd in the under 19 division and has had lots of interest from a number of schools. We had two other girls that finished in the top 8 at nationals (1 under 17 and the other under 13) as well as 1 boy (under 13).

If a child is on one of the Competitive Teams at SMUS their weekly schedule would look a lot like this; three team practices per week, Junior Squash League on Saturday, many will take a weekly private lesson and some also participate in the local adult league. We are also fortunate that the school has an excellent Physical Education program and the kids are regularly running, learning how to train and playing other sports. There is also a Senior School PE program where the kids learn how to build a personal training program for their sport and then the get to spend the class time each week doing the training they've outlined. I'm hoping next season to include some lunchtime training for solo hitting, discussions or ball machine work for our most dedicated kids. Things are definitely moving in the right direction and it's exciting to see the program expand both in numbers and in caliber. 

So far I've only talked about the SMUS Squash Program, but in fact the school is most distinguished because of their amazing academic structure. You can do some research on their website here: There is boarding and we have introduced a number of them to squash and 2 of them made the Senior School Competitive Team, both of which only were introduced into the sport in grade 9!

Growing up attending Catholic and Public schools I always thought private school kids would be kind of stuck up (yes a stereotype from the movies!). I was quite surprised how different things were and still are. For the most part the kids are respectful, have a good work ethic, are intelligent and well mannered. If the stereotype was true, I would have moved on a long time ago. I mean, really if this school was like that would they ever allow a graduating class to design (and yes they use it!) this cool looking 'Blue Jags' logo??

Basically my evenings and weekends from September to June are spent almost entirely up at SMUS. Sundays are for lessons, Monday to Friday is various Team practices and Saturday is Junior League that I take a take turns running with 2 other coaches. We also have 11 tournaments that we take the kids to. For July and August Giselle and I run 2 x 1.5 hour practices at a local squash club for 3 different skill levels. June is my month to take a bit of a break and recharge for the summer training sessions and camps. Every season we make small tweaks and changes. This past season there were lots of positive changes. We even had our top 5 Junior School (grade 1-5) kids come up and join some of the Middle School Competitive kids for 2 months of practices at the end of the season.

Trying to get more going at the Junior School level is one of my next top objectives. I'm also hoping to get some weekly office hours to talk with the kids about training, tournaments, practice, school and life. I'm just lucky that I have 3 other coaches helping at the school because I certainly am unable to run all of these programs on my own.

This was certainly a long overdo post, but I am proud of what is happening at the school and the direction that we're heading. If you have a child interested in St. Michaels I would be happy to answer any questions about the squash program and I could put you in touch with the admissions office. I truly believe that we are well on our way to having one of the top school squash programs in the world. I'm also confident that we currently have more kids playing now and that will play for the rest of their lives than any other program in Canada. Oh and incase you've never been, Victoria is a pretty beautiful place to call home ;)

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