Developing a World Squash Champion: A Cultural Approach

December 8, 2008

Shona Kerr and I were sitting outside the four-glass-walled court in the stifling Cairo heat watching an on-court presentation by one of the Egyptian coaches on “Deception”.  We were in Egypt to give our own presentation, Optimal Coaching of Female Athletes,   at the 2003 World Squash Federation Coaching Conference, being held in conjunction with the 2003 World Junior Women’s Squash Championships.

The Egyptian coach (and I apologize for not remembering his name), generously and very cordially invited England’s Chris Walker to come out and present with him on an impromptu basis.  The Egyptian explained that he would divide his presentation into three parts, front, mid, and back-court; and that he would start with the topic of “deception in the back-court”.  Chris Walker immediately blurted out “There is no deception in the back-court”.  Shona and I looked at each other in amazement (her because she had been trained from an early age by Pakistan’s Hiddy Jahan, whose use of wrist for power and deception was legendary), and herein lies the reason for Egypt’s recent dominance of the world squash scene, in particular their recent win over England at the 2008 Women’s World Squash Championships.

kaw

Historically, over the last 30-40 years, the squash world has been divided in two:  the grinding, attritional, fitness based tactical style of the English and Australians; versus the skillful, touch-oriented play of the Pakistanis and Egyptians.  Obviously there have been exceptions – Australia’s Martin brothers (and Chris Dittmar) both made excellent use of deception and shot-making, and both Jahangir and Jansher had legendary fitness (as well as Egypt’s Gamal Awad).  What a squash culture values, is what squash coaches end up teaching and coaching to their players.  On the women’s side, Nicol David the current world #1, has been highly influenced by the Australian volleying, attritional style of play through her Australian coach, Liz Irving.  (Canada’s Jonathon Power is another story for another day).

Egyptian Women's Team

2008 Champions of the World: Egyptian Women's Team

Egypt

2003 World junior Champions: Egypt

Returning to 2003, all four spots at the semi-finals of the Jr. Women’s World’s were filled with young Egyptian women.  Five years later Egypt is the holder of the Women’s World Team Championship, highlighting the relatively longterm nature of development in squash – things do not happen overnight.

How is it possible that that a “poor” third world country like Egypt can overcome a great financial squash power like Great Britain, and is it possible for others to do the same?  What are the key factors involved in this “Cultural” World Championship?  Read the rest of this entry »