The header image is taken from this tweet by Lauren Selby who is “Director of Coaching at the Off The Wall Squash Academy in Colchester” and as you can see oversees a huge junior programme. The whole team at Off The Wall Squash do an incredible job of promoting squash in schools and clubs.
But are juniors really needed for a sport to be successful?
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to be involved in the SRA/Dunlop Squash Roadshow in the 1990s. Initially as just one of the day coaches to eventually running the whole event. The roadshow visited about 30 clubs and leisure centres a year for about 5 years. It introduced squash to thousands of juniors. Some of the most successful days had nearly 500 children arrive throughout the morning split into different age groups.
I mention this because not only because I was and am a firm believer in the idea of children being the future of squash, I actually worked very hard to help that come to fruition. I didn’t just “talk the talk“, I “walked the walk“, as we say in England. But recently I have come to doubt that approach, or at least want to question it.
Padel – A Recent Success Story
Padel is NOT new. It was invented in 1969, yes, that’s right 1969, but it has recently become HUGE! I’ve never played padel, although even my town in Spain has a newish 9-court facility and once I have healed from my hip operation I do plan to have a go. Very quickly, let me explain why I think Padel has become popular. I could be wrong and feel free to correct me.
Firstly, it’s easier to learn than squash. The part of the padel racket that hits the ball is bigger than a squash racket, the ball is significantly bigger than a squash ball. The padel racket is shorter than a squash racket meaning you make contact with the ball closer to your body – this is important! Imagine a squash racket twice as long as the current rackets, much much harder would it be to hit the ball? To summarise: it’s easier to to learn to hit the ball than squash.
Next, it can be played indoors or outdoors and has been since its inception. Squash is only just coming around to the idea of outdoor courts. Because the ball is bigger it can be easier to see for spectators. it looks spectacular – very athletic and skilful. Seriously, go checkout some videos on YouTube, it is crazy how they hit the ball!
Lastly, and don’t discount these points; there are no lets and strokes to worry about and no “red, blue, yellow, double yellow” balls to understand. The point about Lets and aStrokes is interesting because it is always a cause for doubt for new players and on the pro tour causes some many arguments. Being a direct racket sport, players are across the net from each other, not fighting each other for the same space. They may be different balls for padel, but I haven’t heard about that. It’s almost as if somebody decided to create the perfect racket sport from scratch and developed Padel!
But What About Children?!
Enough about the advantages of padel. It sounds like I am trying to convince everybody to play it instead of squash, and I am not. The point I am trying to make, is that it is mostly adults that I see and hear about playing padel. Adults pay money to use the courts and BOY! it is not cheap. At least where I live. It’s around 30 euros an hour to hire a court, which of course is split between 4 people, so maybe it’s not that expensive.
Padel has grown so popular NOT because of some junior base that grew up playing and continued to play, but because it makes financial sense for clubs to open. Sure, juniors probably play, but just like they did in squash in the 1970s/80s/90s and 00s only at the off-peak times. Padel has shown us and me that sport does NOT need juniors to survive or thrive. It needs paying adults. Adults who can learn to hit the ball quickly, grasp the simple rules early and have fun playing from the moment they first hit the ball.
Dumbing Down racket Sports?
To “Dumb Down” means to make something as simple as possible to make it easier to understand. Has padel found the perfect combination of squash and tennis attributes, packaged it into a visually appealing sport and make it “chic” enough that the rich and famous all want to play it? has squash become a niche sport that didn’t take advantage of its popularity when it should have and has become the less popular sibling?
I’m certainly not the first person to ask these questions and I won’t be the last. Is squash hard to learn? No, but compared to padel it does seem harder. Is quash less fun than padel? I highly doubt it, but I won’t deny that being able to to play outdoors is a huge benefit, even if most of the courts I know are indoors still. Has squash hurt itself but not addressing the multiple balls situation? Yes, definitely. We have shot ourselves in the foot with this. Has squash got itself a reputation of having confusing rules regarding lets and strokes? Hell, yes, and we only have ourselves to blame.
So Many Question, So Few Real Answers!
Well, there are answers, but whether they are the ones to keep our sport alive, I don’t know. What I do know now is that juniors are not needed to keep a sport alive. Paying adults are. They are the ones that keep courts and clubs open. yes, adults used to be children and if they have already played a sport it makes it easy to get them to keep playing, but if all the clubs have closed by then, it makes no sense.
We need action for adults NOW!
Squash needs more courts. Squash needs outdoor courts. Squash needs juniors. But what squash needs now is paying adults. Maybe we need to “Dumb Down” squash a bit and promote it in a different way? What do you think? How would you dumb down squash. I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear yours first.