Wednesday, March 4, 2020

School Squash

As a Canadian squash coach and someone who has participated in the Canadian junior squash circuit many moons ago, I feel like I am in a good position to be able to discuss today's topic. I know I could easily be talking about the reffing controversy and the videos from Sobhy and Elshorbagy, but I don't have all of the details behind these stories and the facts I have gained are from a variety of people on social media who may or may not know what the backstories are.

Perhaps when the Windy City is done and the dust has settled I'll write up a post about it all. I am pretty excited for the finals tonight though. I feel like both finals should be great and I would not be surprised to see an upset from Coll over Farag. They are the 2 best movers in the game so it should be a great match. While on the women's side Raneem and Sherbini have the best racquet skill on tour.

Let's get on to today's topic; school squash and in particular in North America. When I was 1 young I played the U.S. Junior Open a few times and won it once and I think came 2nd another time. There were almost no strong American players back at this point in time. My how things have changed...
After my junior years Squash Ontario started up an annual summer tradition called Battle Of The Borders where the top junior players from Ontario would compete against the best American kids. That's right, a single province versus all of the U.S. In the early days Ontario was stronger, but now things are very different. Canada now sends their top players from the entire country and we almost always lose and it's not even close. The depth of talent in the U.S. now is so much greater than in Canada and I think it's pretty obvious why.


The U.S. has more courts, more coaches, more money and they really love and support their sports, but the main reason I believe that the U.S. has taken off in squash is because of their school squash programs. The College Squash Association (CSA) is basically the minor league system for the PSA World Tour now and the level of play is substantially higher than when I played (2005-2009).
Another school squash area is in the middle schools and high school levels. In the U.S. there are over 1,400 kids that participate in the High School Team Championships and I don't the exact numbers for the Middle School Team Championships, but there were 4 boys divisions of 16 teams and 3 girls divisions so the numbers was likely in the high hundreds.

As someone who has worked as a head coach for 8 years at a Canadian private school I'm well informed to discuss the Canadian school squash system. There are a few schools in Canada that have squash courts on campus. In British Columbia I believe there are 3. I has a full time squash coach the other 2 hire part time coaches. In Ontario I don't know the exact numbers, but there are a handful fo schools that have courts and none of which I'm aware of have a squash director or coach.

Over the years whenever I've looked at the current job openings on squash websites I most notably see U.S. schools looking to hire qualified coaches. Almost half of all of the jobs I see nowadays are for American schools. It's no wonder that the US has such a large crop of strong juniors and the numbers at their school team championships demonstrates the priority the country has placed on their squash programs. You really can't compare what the U.S. is doing to Canada or anywhere else for that matter.


Having courts, a program and a strong coaching staff at your school is an amazing resource I wish I had when I was a kid. Schools with programs are a terrific breeding grounds for growing our game and I wish more Canadian schools would step up to the plate and support their sporting programs and realize that investing in a squash program can benefit the school in numerous ways. It makes me wonder how the U.S. middle and high school system got to the level it's currently at...it must be the CSA.


Even at the university level Canada cannot compare to the states whatsoever. Western is the only school that competes in the CSA. I went to Western for this reason and when I was there I only played 1 home match in 4 years and we drove 2 minivans to each of our other matches. Normally I was one of the drives and we would drive for 6-12 hours and sometimes have a match that evening, sleep and then play 1 or 2 more before heading back. One weekend I remember driving to Cornell (6 hours), playing against Yale, driving to Toronto after the match to play 3 Ontario University Association (OUA) matches on the Saturday. I recall another time sleeping on the floor of a frat house at Cornell on the way to team finals because we were on a tight budget. Oh and did I mention that we didn't even have courts on campus and our coach was unpaid? I don't know how much things have changed at Western since I graduated, but that was what it was like just over a decade ago.


In the U.S. most of the school competing in the CSA have top notch facilities and world class coaches. They travel on team buses, have athletic trainers and even their equipment and uniforms are high end. Obviously most (if not all) of the U.S. schools have much larger endowment funds than Canadian schools, but I don't believe this is an excuse for having such a underwhelming school program here.


Do Canadian schools just need more money to have proper squash programs? If so is this something that Squash Canada or the provincial squash associations can assist with? Is it too late for Canada to learn from the U.S. system and try and mimic it on a smaller scale? As a coach, squash lover and someone who wants to see Canadian juniors flourish I sure hope we can figure this out.

I know a lot of squash clubs struggle to pay their bills. Squash courts take up a lot of space and the courts are generally only ever used at lunch and in the evenings. Schools however have the space, own their land and can make use of the courts all throughout the day. Let's hope in a decade from now we'll be able to look back and see more school squash programs not only in Canada, but all over the world.

It may sound like I was compiling today, but I really am thankful for all of the opportunities that Canada has presented to me. I'm just passionate about squash and I wish we as a country could do more to support the game at the junior and collegiate level and I believe the way forward is through school squash.

Did you know that Serious Squash has a new instructional film? It's a combination of 4 episodes of Squash Shots, 3 of which are on back corner solo drills and the final one is an episode of my 10 favourite core exercises. It's a 20 minute film that you can stream for just $5 at SeriousSquashShop.com

Enjoy the finals of the Windy City Open tonight! Who's your money on? I'll take Farag in 5 and Raneem in 4.


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