Utilising off-peak courts and encouraging women to join the club

Woking Squash Rackets Club

In November 2017, Sukhy Bains and Jackie Thorogood started a 6-week free racketball programme for women beginners to come along to at Woking Squash Club. Six ladies attended, they really enjoyed it so we decided to run another one and a few more ladies joined in on the fun; a year later we had grown our female membership from 5 to 35 women members.

The whole initiative started with the combination of the committee wanting to utilise the off-peak courts and Sukhy and Jackie wanting to encourage more women to join the club as there were only 5 women members out of a total over 200 members.

The challenge was how to encourage women to come along to the club and give squash a go. Nothing like this had been ventured before. We pondered on how should we go about setting something up? What would female players want? How should we market it? What would they be willing to pay? Would we be able to muster up enough interest? There were many questions, so to begin with, we decided to just keep things fun and easy.

We thought it would be easier for complete beginners to have a go at racketball. We advertised at the club and in the local community.

When new players arrived, we welcomed them and we were keen to find out what they might want to get from the sessions. We tried to be as flexible as possible and tried to make everyone feel very welcome and to have fun.

These sessions then became a regular two hour Friday morning Ladies session where the club was only open for women wanting to learn racketball. The sessions incorporated fitness training, skills development and some fun games. Having the club be open to just women
for those two hours helped tremendously to build confidence for some of the absolute beginners.

Woking Squash club women on squash court
Woking Squash club women on squash court

The ladies progressed really well and are now playing in the club ladies racketball leagues and some play in the main mixed league. We also have internal team matches with the Red, Blue and Green teams playing each other and once a month, we have a 2 hour ladies club night eve which is always fun and inclusive. The group has developed way beyond what we first imagined with some of the women now playing in Surrey tournaments!

It’s wonderful to see the women socialise, support and encourage each other. Every now and again we’ll have a social event where we might play mixed doubles with male members at the club or we might have a lunch where everyone brings a dish. Whatever we do, it always ends up being fun and enjoyable.

Sukhy and Jackie get together regularly to plan up and coming sessions and events to ensure the group continue improving and having fun. Their recent Level 2 squash coaching helped in getting new ideas to keep the sessions fresh and varied. They work well together as a team offering each other support, encouragement and flexibility.

Woking Squash club women in club
Woking Squash club women in club
Woking Squash club members above courts

The whole initiative would not have been possible without the support from the Committee and it has been great to have support from other members and coaches at the club. Surbiton and Ebbisham ran Surrey tournaments and included a Beginners Level which made it possible for the girls to enter the tournaments and England Squash offered a grant on International Women’s Day this year which was also helpful.
What we learnt was that keeping it flexible, organised, inclusive and fun was key to keep the group interested and motivated.

Flexible: Having minimal levels of commitment so women could drop in and out of sessions when they wanted, missing a week or two wasn’t an issue. It was important to have lots of different events that suited each player’s needs, things like leagues, team matches, club night, Fri morning sessions.

Woking Squash Christmas event
Woking Squash club women on squash court

Organised:

Sukhy or Jackie were always there to run any event or session. Regular Friday sessions were pre-planned and often included a warm up, fitness training, practice drills and organised games. Having regular sessions so that participants could form habits and plan the sessions around their busy lives was key.

Inclusive:

We always made sure new participants were welcomed warmly, shown around the facility and introduced to other players. The group are great at making any new players to feel included. We would also get feedback asking the group what they wanted more of or less of and co-designing with them ideas and events; it was important that everyone felt involved and part of a group. Our WhatsApp group proves to be a good way to stay connected and communicate.

Woking Squash club women on squash court

Fun:

Making the sessions fun and not just about skill development and ensuring the participants knew it’s not about being perfect all the time. We want to ensure participants are getting a good workout from the session and there is plenty of variety to keep group interested and to suit every level. We love celebrating success of all sizes and pointing out what each individual is doing well and how they are getting better; the group are also good at doing that with each other.

It has been hugely rewarding to work with such a wonderful group of people and many friendships have been made along the way. I asked the group what their experiences were and was overwhelmed with all the responses we got.

Louise Ruddle says:I have not been playing long, but racket ball is a sport I wished I’d discovered a long time ago..I love playing and the group of ladies are all fun to play with.

Rebecca Hughes says:The sessions are an enjoyable way to learn a new sport, or brush up on existing skills. They are fun, friendly and inclusive, catering for all levels and providing a great balance between fitness, coaching and playing, both for fun and competitively.

Sarah Robinson says:The range of training, league matches, social games and events that are organised means there really is something for everyone to enjoy.

Gilly Sadler says:As a relatively new member both Sukhy and Jackie have been extremely encouraging, motivational and enthusiastic. There is a brilliant friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Shannon says:It’s great to finally be able to hit a ball and it generally goes in the right direction… joking aside… it’s been great to meet so many lovely ladies, get some fitness and learn a new skill in the process.

Lou says:Very trepidatious when I first came along but need not have worried. With enthusiasm & humour I got the same right back. Love it!

Peta says: “As a relatively new member I’ve found the group really welcoming and encouraging. The coaching is excellent. The chance to play other ladies of varying abilities on club nights and through the leagues is great. Sukhy and Jackie put a lot of effort into organising all of this and clearly it works. It’s fun!

Su says:I would say that the club is very inclusive, no matter your age or ability.

Jacky says:I concur with everything everyone has said so eloquently about how great Sukhy and Jackie are so I would like to add that it is also the lovely ladies who are members. Without sounding drooling – everyone is there to have fun, improve their game and look out for each other. I feel like I’ve found a great new bunch of friends.

Mandy says:I feel very lucky to be part of such a great group of caring and fun ladies. Sukhy and Jackie keep us focussed during the coached sessions, and their positive attitudes and warm encouragement keep me motivated and inspired.

Carina says:The huge team spirit that has been built up by Sukhy and Jackie extends far beyond the court. Thank you!

Jen says:Sukhy and Jackie have been nothing but encouraging for all ability levels, its fun and enjoyable and they work really hard to keep it fresh!

Alex says:I have found everyone to be very encouraging and friendly – and Sukhy and Jackie help with fitness levels as well as focusing on specific areas of improvement for each player. There is a perfect mix of training / leagues / social. Thanks Sukhy and Jackie.

Susi says:Great bunch of ladies all levels of ability. Really good coaching and I’ve made a lot of friends.

Vicky says:As a newbie to the game and the area, the friendship was awesome and the coaching so motivational. A lot of laughter and a group you really wanted to be a part of.

Hannah says:Such fun for all levels!! Very friendly too!

Leigh says:Also the ladies league with the handicap, photo sessions, names of teams and a dedicated area on the notice board give the ladies a sense of identity in a fairly male arena.

Dinny says:I joined quite early on and found the group especially warm and inviting. Sukhy and Jackie do a brilliant job coaching the group. Successfully balancing different levels and finding the perfect balance of developing skills and embedding in match play. I would also completely recommend the club to friends looking to try a new sport. Not just a great place to learn or improve but a very sociable club to be part of.

Leigh says:I came at the beginning and found the seasons to be structured and always with a different theme. The warm ups all related to a particular skill and the individual feedback was always friendly and encouraging. The team events were great fun and ladies nights’ I always looked forward to. Jackie and Sukhy work well together and both bring different experiences to the court. I would recommend this set up to a local club wanting to get ladies involved.

Loretta says:I joined the ladies racketball Friday sessions as I wanted to start playing squash. As a tennis player, I was looking for something that would challenge me more from a cardio perspective, and thought that squash would give me that. From my first Friday at the club, I instantly knew that racketball was what I was looking for, and loved the way Sukhy and Jacky were so welcoming and encouraging of all participants at all levels of ability. Thanks Sukhy and Jacky!

Woking Squash Rackets Club

November 2017