Long term success strategies for young players getting started in squash

Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club

In 2017 Michael Hennings, Head Squash Coach at Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club, set out to increase awareness of, and participation in, squash amongst children attending primary schools near the Club. By creating the opportunity for more children to play, he reckoned he would be able to attract more junior members and, at the same time, encourage their parents to play squash or squash 57 (racketball).

He also wanted to give the teachers a basic understanding of how to coach squash as this would be motivational for them.

The biggest challenge in getting started was to convince the teachers that this would be a positive and well-run initiative. He was able to show that he had thought through every aspect of the programme and that it would be a good experience for the children and add value for the schools. There were other challenges too. For example, it was essential to have coaches who enjoyed teaching beginners and were good with children. There was the usual challenge of funding but here Surrey Squash was able to assist by providing funds for an assistant coach at each session. Michael also wanted to ensure that the programme would be sustainable and not simply a one-off. By repeating the programme every year he has been able to develop an ongoing relationship with the schools and build a pipeline of young players.

The Club Director and the Board have been very supportive of the programme and adult squash members have been heard telling others very proudly what the Club is doing to promote the sport at local schools. And the Club contributes directly by providing equipment and courts free of charge.

The programme typically includes sessions on ball and racket skills, hitting and moving, serving, rallying and match play. The amount of time spent on these varies depending on how long the school signs up for and the ability of the children. Michael leads each session and is the contact point with the school.

Each class is brought to the Club by their teacher with the children already in their PE kit. The sessions are run for an hour by Michael and one assistant coach and one of the teachers helps on court. At the start of the session the class is split into three groups and each group goes onto the court with either Michael, the assistant coach or the school teacher who have been briefed by Michael on what they need to do. The three of them rotate round each court so that each group gets time with both the coaches and the teacher. For the first few weeks the groups are separate but later in the weeks they can be mixed up.

Objectives

The biggest challenge was to reach the target audience of 50+ men and women who did little sport. Other challenges were –

  • During any one school year 250 children across two schools (Years 4 and 6 in one and Year 5 in the other) are introduced to squash and now have an understanding of how to play.
  • As a direct result of these sessions junior membership at the club has increased along with family members.
  • Michael is now running a Squash after school activity club 4 days a week, with each session being over-subscribed.
  • Positive feedback from teachers on how the sessions have helped give them confidence in helping to coach squash
  • 6 participants who hadn’t played squash before the school progamme are now in the Surrey Squad.
  • Increased participation of juniors in the weekly Club squash sessions and holiday clubs.
  • Two new weekly coaching sessions attended by 25 ladies, which were a combination of Mums from the schools and their friends.

Obstacles

Were there any issues/obstacles along the way? Surprisingly not.

Generally, the sessions run to plan although sometimes classes can turn up late which can limit their playing time on court. When this happens the lesson plan has to be amended.

Success factors

  • Having the right number of courts and coaches available to ensure that group sizes are manageable.
  • Building a strong and trusted relationship with the teachers and school by ensuring that the sessions go ahead every week with the same coaches.
  • Planning fun and varied sessions so that the children’s confidence grows as the weeks progress.
  • Having a friendly atmosphere at the Club that the children can experience outside of their school environment. This encourages them to attend other sessions outside of the school programme.
  • A clear understanding of the role of the coach. In Michael’s case this is –
    • To liaise with the school/PE co-ordinator
    • To be responsible for the health and safety of the children on court
    • To plan content for the sessions
    • To source an assistant coach and to make each session fun and enjoyable so that the children want to play more squash.

Summary

In summary, the programme has been both very rewarding and very successful and Michael hopes to continue and expand it. By introducing squash to 250 new children per school year it has increased the number of junior and family members playing at the club as well as general awareness of squash as an activity for both children and adults.

Teachers have commented that they have noticed a big improvement in hand-eye co-ordination and footwork/movement that has benefited the children’s overall sporting ability and confidence. There has been a mix of ability and gender that have wanted to continue playing squash and joining in with the club’s junior programme and the Club has also
experienced an increase in court bookings for families.

Overall, with more juniors and adults playing squash at the Club this increases memberships, court usage and food and beverage revenue which all results in a better future for the Club.

Some quotes from participants:

Harry says:Dear Michael, thank you for teaching us squash and I really like squash.

Allison says:Thank you Michael for SQUASH.

Amira says:Dear Michael, thank you for showing us what squash is. We really enjoyed it.

2017