It’s interesting that a number of squash enthusiasts and authors around the US targeted a passage in James Willstrop’s recent publication, “Shot and a Ghost…”, took exception to a passage in his book that assesses the abysmal squash scene in the US. One author went so far as to suggest that tournament audiences boo Willstrop whenever they see him play and certainly not buy “Shot and a Ghost”.
I reviewed the book a while back and loved it. I must not have been all that affected by Willstrop’s remarks about US Squash, because even though the truth sometimes hurts, he is saying it like it is.
Keep in mind Willstrop is a top world class squash professional and his remarks are specifically targeted towards why the US can’t produce a consistent stream of professional squash players. Not a bad observation. Supposedly the greatest nation on earth who espouses a thriving squash scene, comparable to an emerging and burgeoning market, has 3-4 full time touring professionals. Is he wrong about squash being elitist, still? I don’t think so. Unless you are deep in pocket forget about acquiring top coaching for your developing junior player. For those of you who might not know, top coaching for juniors runs you 85.00 to 210.00 dollars for 45 minutes. And those of us who have developed juniors know to become really good you need to have your junior on court with a coach 3 times a week. This on top of tournament entry fees (85.00 to 120.00), travel expenses, equipment, I hope you are getting the picture. Elitist means only a select few can afford this. I found a great alternative, I’ve sent my son to England for top coaching at a fraction of the cost and that includes air fare and room and board. I work an extra two jobs to fund my son’s squash aspirations. But not everyone can do that.
And hardball? It is a dead sport, except for doubles and a few older players who cling to it. It died because the parent game is so far superior as were the players. I recently went on court with a doubles player who had a hardball and we knocked the ball around a bit. It was crazy, how did we ever play this game. I started out in hardball years ago and when I played softball for the first time I never looked back. Mark Talbot was a great American Hardball player, but in the scheme of world squash, he was a bit provincial. I watched him play softball as a wild card entry at the TOC years ago, to be honest, it was a bit embarrassing. Not to take away from his hardball achievements which were great, but his achievements on the world squash stage aren’t impressive at all.
I don’t want to go into comparing the British development system with ours, because there really isn’t a comparison. As much as I truly believe the British Empire was one of history’s great evils, they did give us Squash, Gin, and Led Zeppelin. For that alone we can’t fault them for anything. Instead of carrying around this chip on our shoulders, we should make it our mission to make squash a viable professional sports career. Urban squash isn’t going to make squash available to the average middle class youngster who plays baseball, lacrosse or football. The US Squash organization isn’t going to make squash viable for those middle class or working class youngsters. As long as squash is viewed as an avenue to an Ivy League education it will remain within the realm of those who aspire to attend or compete for Ivy League placements – which are elitist institutions.
It’s a difficult situation because you have to make available squash at a grass roots level. I for one love what we do at LA Fitness, there are two international courts, ok, not the best courts, there is not the highest level squash instruction, but certainly instruction to take anyone with skill to the B or low A level – we do it because we want anyone and everyone to play this game, we spend countless hours promoting this game for the love of this game. `This isn’t to pat us on the back, but it is to say, there’s an alternative to the high cost of playing this game which fosters elitism – money fosters elitism. And money is as the saying goes the “root of all evil”.
If I read Willstrop correctly, he didn’t ponder over the US Squash scene all that long; it’s evident what’s wrong. We will come and watch him play at the highest level and marvel at his play, but ask any parent about why their child plays squash and 99.9% of the answers will be to help them get into college. If you say, why not play professionally, the answers will be is there any money in it, or why would anyone want to play professionally – no money? Is there any money in teaching, social work, special education, counseling or any of the grand aspirations beyond the world of big business and economics? Probably not, but read Willstrop’s book, he’s living the dream, he’s doing what he loves to do, which is more than most of us can say. Besides, he’s a really smart guy, probably more articulate than most US College educated young men, who happened to also write te a great book about the life of a professional squash player.