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It's a Numbers Game

Published: 14 Jan 2006 - 16:49 by raystrach

Updated: 24 Sep 2008 - 09:13

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There has been a lot of discussion in the Forum in recent times about Squash participation, promotion and administration. For what it is worth, I would like to tell of my experiences in the "business" side of Squash over the past few years. The three experiences below have shaped my belief on how Squash should move forward. (I will keep it brief)

My involvement in Squash business started in 1993 shortly after moving to a regional city a couple hours north of Brisbane, Capital of the State of Queensland. I was doing some coaching in Gympie , as I had done from time to time in Brisbane, but a my old coach, Rita Paulos (yes, THAT Rita Paulos) was making contact with various people throughout regional Queensland in an effort to revitalise Squash.

1. Regional Development Officer Central Queensland (an area a little smaller than Poland)

  • Junior numbers had been declining over previous few years. I was asked to look into this to use what could be done.
  • I consulted widely visiting many small towns  and regional centres (about 25 squash facilities)
  • The previous junior system was totally focussed on the very best
  • The kids and parents involved had to be totally committed to Squash. Distances covered and money spent by families was excessive

The committee agreed to make the changes I recommended.

  • The region was broken up into "circuits" where venues were not more than about 2 hours drive away
  • Instead of just one regional event being held each month, up to 4 or 5 smaller events were held attracting all standards of player (all players were graded)
  • these monthly events were graded, not age group events
  • one divisional (north/south) event and one regional championship were held during  the year (these events were age group events)

This had the following effect:

  • More Squash venues wanted to get involved - more people to drive recruitment and more courts to play on
  • More beginners were coming into the system
  • The costs to parents were dramatically decreased
  • Locals were able to use this to increase the local profile
  • tournament entry numbers increased by over 50% over the previous year in a climate where it had been decreasing over a number of years
  • The kids got better matches
  • The enthusiasm of the kids with the system was palpable

Main lessons I leaned:

  1. Some Squash were very successful and had got it right - I had to learn from them
  2. Most venue operators had to be instructed on how to recruit and develop - I had to spread the expertise
  3. This was the first time I started to think about "systemising" Squash management

2. Junior Development Gympie (regional centre - 30,000 people)
Gympie had some junior development but of the 35 kids playing, many were moving out of juniors and away from Gympie - numbers were about to drop with few to replace them. I had realised by this stage that beginners coming into the system had to be catered for

  • I set up a beginners program which had elements of coaching, competition and officiating
  • the previous junior competition continued with some modification
  • Started a junior "social" program where kids competed but at a very basic level
  • Started a junior coaching program for the better kids
  • All these occurred on different afternoons so that kids/parents had choices
  • Started a schools/promo program

This had the following result:

  • Numbers rose from 25 to about 50 within the first 12 months
  • within another 6 months, numbers had further increased to about 65 - 70
  • when I left the program at that time, numbers were maintained for a while but started to slowly decrease

More things that I learned:

  1. Getting people to play Squash is not rocket science but does require consistent hard work
  2. Many people involved in Squash are overworked
  3. Organisational structures need to be driven and adequately funded

3. Squash Centre Manager
After leaving my position with Squash Australia (a period not mentioned here, but one I will write about at a later time) I knew what had to be done. I had to develop my ideas to create my Sports system. I leased the Squash component of a multi sports centre and hired two young people to manage the centre.

Although my choice of centre was proved in hindsight to be poor, we achieved considerable success whilst there. Apart from doing considerable work on the club itself (painting, repairs, modifications etc) we searched for the best ways to implement the ideas that I had developed. The results:

  • Apart from occasional social participation, there were about 85 regular Squash participants of which less than 5 were between the ages of 18 and 30.
  • When we left just under two years later, we had over 200 regular participants of which over 50 were between 18 and 30
  •  We were recruiting about 2 new players per week
  • We did not advertise but had a very specific way of recruiting
  • Although many of our clients/members told us they had never received better service at a Squash club I still consider that we needed to increase our professionalism by at least 30%
  • The club had a "buzz" about it that I had not experienced for many years - we had developed many "enthusiastic" Squash players
  • I had gone about 90% of the way to developing my system

The things I learnt:

  1. If you can create the right environment, once momentum starts, i does not need much to keep it going (but you have to stick to the basic principles)
  2. Service sells
  3. You need to target your market with products that they want - you need to move with the times

You might be interested that I am just about to start the final trial of my system Check out my system here
All this leads me to one basic conclusion. Squash could be a huge sport if we adopt the correct strategies. The ones that most people use now either don't work at all or are of limited value.

Sport is now a service industry - it is no longer sport.

The sooner we all realise this the better.

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From rippa rit - 11 Mar 2006 - 21:59   -   Updated: 11 Mar 2006 - 22:01

Well, I see where the teen Egyptian Mosaad, who won his maiden title this week is being coached by Anthony Hill, (ex Victorian and Aust Junior Champion, AIS recipient) and I am sure that coaching is not happening in Oz.
Another one bites the dust.

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From rippa rit - 24 Jan 2006 - 06:42

Viper - since retiring Liz has lived in Amsterdam (is t he resident coach at a club) as there is no chance of making a living as a squash coach in Australia.
That speaks for itself.
Viper our players generally grow like weeds, sprouting up here and there.

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From Viper - 23 Jan 2006 - 22:03

Shows clearly how Australian squash is going to be swamped by other countries from here on in.

Wonder what Liz thinks of the state of squash here ?

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From rippa rit - 23 Jan 2006 - 21:58

Hi - I was just on MSN talking to Liz Irving who has been coaching Nicole David ( Malaysia).  She mentioned that in Penang there are 200 full time kids with a waiting list of 100 ranging in ages 5 - 16 years in training squads.

I suppose throughout Australia we would have easily had those numbers spread across the country with various coaches - but a lot of those coaches would have been working unofficially at clubs, hoping to come up with a kid to make the state rankings and therefore get recognition.

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From Viper - 23 Jan 2006 - 21:54

Yes, people now have grown up with high expectations in all forms of life, even their humble local clubs, hence if their high service demands are not met they are unlikely to respond.

This as you have rightly pointed out means sophisticated service delivery, something the average squash center has little conception of.

Golf clubs are in a steep decline here in Australia.

Basketball is a poor sport from the outset and was never going last in Australia.

Tennis is I think the most similar to squash and too is faltering big time.

Skiing is not growing but at least they have come out of the dark ages and are now delivering slick service generally as well they have reinvented the sport and it is now cool to ski again which means they have the youth pushing the dying wood up from below.

Something squash badly needs.

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From raystrach - 23 Jan 2006 - 21:32

I am not sure what it is like in Europe, Asia and Americas but the "traditional" sports across Australia are all in decline. these traditional sports include tennis, rugby (both forms),  lawn bowls, cricket and basketball.

the fact is, not many young people want to play competition as it used to be. sports administrators need to be much smarter in the way they recruit players.

sports are still living in the 1960s and 1970s.

most young people play modified sports these days as it suits them better.

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From Viper - 21 Jan 2006 - 06:46

The whole cycle of squash being huge in the 80's then going into a steep decline of which we have not seen bottom out yet, is quite incredible on its own.

It would make a very interesting study.

As Ray said the triggers probably mirror a change in life styles on a bigger scale.

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From raystrach - 20 Jan 2006 - 23:09

hi viper

unfortunately, sport in general has this weird attitude that they are doing you a favour by opening. (i would like to get feedback from those in America,  Europe and Asia). there are exceptions of course.

Man of those in the sports and gym industries get into the cost cutting death spiral as I call it. it goes something like this...
  • not enough customers to make the business profitable
  • cut costs to increase returns (often cutting staff or service - cleaners and the like)
  • managers work longer hours, losing enthusiasm and patience, getting grumpier
  • customers/members are put off by this and start dropping out more which leads to less returns
  • the cycle continues
I would be very interested in what other members think, especially from countries other than australia. is this trend common in america, europe and asia.

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From Viper - 16 Jan 2006 - 09:04

"Sport is now a service industry - it is no longer sport"


Very true but not a new concept, clever sports, clever clubs have always offered good service and understood service was the foundation for any success, this holds true for any business and has done for a hundred years.


To have to enlighten any business or in this case Squash to the fact, is to my mind ridiculous, if venue managers/peak bodies need to be told this in 2006 then it is time to turn the lights out right now !


Good service is a “given” if any manager is not grasping that simple fact then they deserve to fail.


OK then lets assume good service is understood and offered what are the main reasons squash is in a hole ?


Profile :


The sport does not expose itself enough, new players, young players will not appear as if by magic.


Role models:


Where are the champions ? Buried in obscure Squash web sites and tiny bylines on a good day.


These world beaters need to be at schools and at the local squash clubs doing clinics, are they ? Is it a condition of their funding, it should be, maybe it is, is it ?


Look at AFL players, they are always doing this type of thing.


( have to go out I will add to this later)


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From raystrach - 15 Jan 2006 - 22:52

hi aprice

I agree with you about the concentration on the very best. Not knowing the exact situation in the UK and Europe (although I have a reasonable idea on how it works) it i hard to say what needs to be done, but most things revolve around money.

Clubs like unis usually have some form of funding which helps keep the place running so they don't have to worry so much about the participation side of things. Unfortunately, this is a very short sighted attitude as the more competitors there are the better the standard is. Competition creates excellence.

Having very little natural ability myself, I got to a reasonable standard by practising more than anyone else and training hard. I started to beat the people who though they were better than me - then they stated to take notice.

Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to do that. we have to provide the right sort of opportunities for anyone who wants to give it a go. every one is different

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From aprice1985 - 14 Jan 2006 - 20:58

I think this is very interesting as a squash player of 20 who has only taken the sport up in the last few years.  I found very little there for new beginner players, okay i was late starting but there was just limited competition or coaching organised.  I learnt my squash from a chemistry teacher at school who had at one time played for Ulster which is good but there were no qualified coaches available for me. 

Now at university there are more coaches available but it is noticable that our uni club which is meant to bring out "new" talent focuses only on those who are good at squash thus putting beginner members off and preventing people like myself with some experience but not the best from improving as fast as they could.  None of this will encourage people to take this up as a sport. 

One thing i would note about the pro circuit is many of the best players like Jon Power, Peter Nicol and James Willstrop all had fathers who coached the sport, is this indicating that this is the only way currently to get the top spots?

I do feel that more has to be done to get people playing squash at any level, beginner or expert and at the moment it is not appealing to people due to failing facilities, lack of coaches and lack of coverage.

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