Squash is an ever-evolving modern game

January 01 2017

Professional sport is very competitive marketplace & pro squash is no different. Within this, the role of the coach is better serviced & promoted in line with players & organisations looking to produce better results & that have an ever-increasing significance.

From observations of the modern game, the coach has three key roles: effecting change in performance, supporting players as people & working out ways & plans to help them to achieve their goals.

A good coach will do one or all these three things very effectively, however exceptional coaches will go a step further. They will study the game, be finely tuned as to how the game has evolved & have that important intuition to foresee where the game will be in the future. Knowing where the game will be in the future is crucially important as it allows us to prepare players not only to be ready for it at their peak but also be able to be the ones that shape how it is done & set the tone.

Looking back to the past is often the best place to start to better understand the future. It gives you the trajectory of change & a backdrop of information to better view the present. Like many sports, squash has witnessed changes with every era.

The first notable time stamp to start from is Jonah Barrington, the fore founder of the professional game. Without him we would not be where we are today. It is Jonah we owe the professionalisation of the sport & with that the earliest methods. He was the one to try & test many things & the one that had to be the test dummy to how things are done. One notable method to stand the test of time is ghosting. Jonah was joined by the Australian Geoff Hunt & both became key figure heads in the early history of the professional game.

This initial professional era was followed by a period of Pakistan dominance driven by a generation of exceptionally strong young players. Jahangir Khan led the way to dominate the sport across two eras with an unbeaten run of 555 matches the like that have never been seen before. The other interesting element was that Jahangir Khan’s career also spanned a change of scoring format from the 9-point English scoring hand in hand out format, to playing to 15 point a rally (PAR). A change that forced a tactical shift of playing with & against service to a situation where every point counts. Jahangir Khan brought with him a physical shift from the early beginnings of defining what it meant to be professional to becoming one of sports most physically robust athletes of all time.

Jahangir Khan past the baton onto another Pakistani player Jansher Khan, who in contrast to his piers brutish style brought with him a new direction & executing style, based upon gliding movement & rhythm of hitting that at his best made it look as if he was walking around the court while all else around him were sprinting.

Challengers to the Khan era were a hardworking & professional core of Australian players which continued beyond Jansher’s period of dominance & were joined by an ever increasingly professional group of English players who joined the party off the back of increased levels of funding from UK Sport & Sport England which allowed England Squash to redefine what support teams looked like in the sport. Bringing with it the strengths of the English Institute of Sport & the modern scientific movement in sport, the approach proved highly successful, led initially by Peter Nicol & Cassie Jackman & followed by a ‘golden generation’ including Nick Matthew & Laura Massaro who established themselves as the most successful English players of all time.

Since the peak of English success, the mantel has been taken by Egypt with serval factors resulting in what we now can see as arguably the most dominated era by one nation in the sport. To understand the present, we must understand these factors. In 1999 the Men’s World Championships were held in Cairo & captured the attention of many influential figures in the country. Fuelled by the success of Ahmed Barada who reached the final in front of the pyramids, Barada’s attacking style has since become a characteristic of Egyptian players & has been instrumental in captivating the country that holds the sport close to its heart. This was backed up by also hosting the Men’s World Team Championships that year, where they became the victors in front of a patriotic home crowd.

An attacking style has proved critical to the development of the game following the lowering of the tin height from 17” from 19” & then the adoption on in 2004 of the current 11 PAR scoring system. The shorter scoring format has amplified the speed & intensity of the professional game with the women’s game following suit, rewarding more attack minded & high intensity players.

With success comes interest & the sport can only be described as booming with very large clubs in Cairo & Alexandria being the breeding ground for current & potential future champions. With success comes huge competition within clubs & cities & alongside this are a growing number of key coaches working closely together & sharing ideas & best practice.

The key figures currently are the directors of the large academies led by Omar Elborolossy, Karim Darwish & Ashraf Hanifa who oversee the pathways within the key clubs, supported by coaches who work more closely with the players, such as Haitham Effat who works with an incredible number of players including Raneem El Welily, Nour El Tayeb, Hania El Hammamy, Tarek Momen & Marwan El Shorbagy. Omar Abdel Aziz also works with many players including with Nouran Gohar & Karim Abdel Gawad.

All this led to British Junior Open success never seen before with 103 titles between 1999 & 2017, an incredible statistic when considering the second-best country have been Pakistan with just 12 titles & Malaysia with 11.

Junior success has translated to the senior game & we are currently witnessing 10 players in the top 10 men’s & women’s rankings from Egypt.

There are so many factors but one other aspect which is starting to shape the diversity of the sport is the streaming services available, primarily through PSA SquashTV. The mega rallies & shot of the month are starting to create a great skateboard culture of trying new skills at the top of the game leading to an increased awareness & greater following of professional game.

So, with all this backdrop it leaves us to probe to the future. One thing is for certain is that we will still have 10 years of very strong Egyptian players if not more, that is the legacy of the last 15 years of junior squash. If we look to all the various aspects & adaptations that have been tried by the PSA & we shouldn’t be surprised to see a more diverse sport with players appearing from more countries, with players such as Diego Elias of Peru at the start of this new trend.

We should also not be surprised if the tin is lowered even further. The more attacking game has led to a more excitable watch for the TV audience which should continue to shape the direction of the sport. The continued trailing of best of 3 could also lead to a fast more explosive game, with streaming & the YouTube sound bites leading to a culture of copying & mirroring trick shots & the unfolding of increased skill levels.

To adapt to these anticipated changes, players will need to be more powerful & faster with an emphasis on smooth & agile movement alongside highly skilled & attacking cut-throat finishing. With all this attack needs good defence & skill comes in many forms, variations of height & being able to use the whole court will be a must. Coaches will need to develop open practice to develop this skill as well as utilising the latest sport science to provide physically robust & agile players.

The result will undoubtedly be an even more exciting spectator experience!