by Josh Taylor
Professional sport is very competitive marketplace, and pro squash is no different. Within this, the role of the coach is better serviced and promoted in line with players and organisations looking to produce better results and that have an ever-increasing significance.
From my observations of the modern game, I see three key roles of the coach: effecting change in performance, supporting our players as people, and working out ways and plans to help them to achieve their goals.
A good coach will do one or all these three things very effectively, however exceptional coaches will go a step further. They will study the game, be finely tuned as to how the games has evolved and have that important intuition to foresee where the game will be in the future. Knowing where the game will be in the future is a crucially important as it allows us to gear our players not only to be ready for it at their peak but also be able to be the ones that shape how it is done and set the tone.
Looking back to the past is often the best place to start to better understand the future. It gives you the trajectory of change and a backdrop of information to better view the present. Like many sports we have witness changes of eras in the game.
The first notable time stamp to start from is Jonah Barrington, the fore founder of the professional game. Without him we would not be where we are today. It is Jonah we owe the professionalisation of the sport and with that the earliest methods. He was the one to try and test many things and the one that had to be the test dummy to how things are done. One notable method to stand the test of time is ghosting. Jonah was joined by the Australian Geoff Hunt and both became key figure heads in the early history of the professional game.
This initial professional era was followed by a period of Pakistan dominance driven by a generation of exceptionally strong young players. Jahangir Khan led the way to dominate the sport across two eras with an unbeaten run of 555 matches the like that have never been seen before. The other interesting element was that Jahangir’s career also spanned a change of scoring format from the 9-point English scoring hand in hand out format, to playing to 15 point a rally (PAR). A change that forced a tactical shift of playing with and against service to a situation where every point counts. Jahangir brought with him a physical shift from the early beginnings of defining what it meant to be professional to becoming one of sports most physically robust athletes of all time.
Jahangir passed the baton onto another Pakistani player in Jansher Khan who in contrast to his peer’s brutish style brought with him a new direction and executing style, based upon gliding movement and rhythm of hitting that simply at his best made look to be walking around the court while all else around him were sprinting.
Challengers to the Khan era were a hard working and professional core of Australian players which continued beyond Jansher’s period of dominance and were joined by an ever increasingly professional group of English players who joined the party off the back of increased levels of funding from UK Sport and Sport England which allowed England Squash to redefine what the support teams looked like in the sport. Bringing with it the strengths of the English Institute of Sport and the modern scientific movement in sport, the approach proved highly successful, led initially by Peter Nicol and Cassie Jackman and followed by a ‘golden generation’ including Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro who established themselves as the most successful English players of all time.
Since the peak of English success, the mantel has been taken by Egypt with serval factors resulting in what we now can see as arguably the most dominated era by one nation in the sport. To understand the present, we must understand these factors. In 1999 the Men’s World Championships were held in Cairo and captured the attention of many influential figures in the country. Fuelled by the success of Ahmed Barada who reached the final in front of the pyramids, Barada’s attacking style has since become a characteristic of Egyptian players and has been instrumental in captivating the country that holds the sport close to its heart. This was backed up by also hosting the Men’s World Team Championships that year, where they became the victors in front of a patriotic home crowd.
An attacking style has proved critical to the development of the game following the lowering of the tin height from 17” from 19” and then the adoption on in 2004 of the current 11 PAR scoring system. The shorter scoring format has amplified the speed and intensity of the professional game with the women’s game following suit, rewarding more attack minded and high intensity players.
With success comes interest and the sport can only be described as booming with very large clubs in Cairo and Alexandria being the breeding ground for current and potentially future champions. With success comes huge competition within clubs and cities and alongside this are a growing number of key coaches working closely together and sharing ideas and best practice.
The key figures currently are the directors of the large academies led by Omar Elborolossy, Karim Darwish Ashraf Hanifa who oversee the pathways within the key clubs, supported by coaches who work more closely with the players, such as Haitham Effat who works with an incredible number of players including Raneem El Welily, Nour El Tayeb, Hania El Hammamy, Tarek Momen and Marwan El Shorbagy, and Omar Abdel Aziz who works with Nouran Gohar and Karim Abdel Gawad.
All this led to British Junior Open success never seen before with 103 titles between 1999 and 2017, an incredible statistic when considering the second-best country have been Pakistan with just 12 titles and Malaysia with 11. Junior success has translated to the senior game and we are currently witnessing 10 players in the top 10 men’s and women’s rankings from Egypt.
There are so many factors but one other I think is starting to shape the diversity of the sport is the streaming services available, primarily through PSA SquashTV. The mega rallies and shot of the month are starting to create a great skateboard culture of trying new skills at the top of the game leading to an increased awareness and greater following of professional game.
So, with all this backdrop it leaves me to probe to the future. One thing is for certain we still have 10 years of very strong Egyptian players if not more, that is the legacy of the last 15 years of junior squash. I think if we look to all the various aspects and adaptations that have been tried by the PSA and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a more diverse sport with players appearing from more countries, with players such as Diego Elias of Peru at the start of this new trend.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if the tin was lower even further. The more attacking game has led to a more excitable watch for the TV audience and I think we will continue to head in that direction. The continued trailing of best of 3 could also lead to a fast more explosive game, with streaming and the YouTube sound bites leading to a culture of copying and mirroring trick shots and the unfolding of increased skill levels.
To adapt to these anticipated changes, players will need to be more powerful and faster with an emphasis on smooth and agile movement alongside highly skilled and attacking cut-throat finishing. With all this attack needs good defence and skill comes in many forms, variations of height and being able to use the whole court will be a must. Coaches will need to develop open practice to develop this skill as well as utilising the latest sport science to provide physically robust and agile players.
If you ask me, the result will be an even more exciting spectator experience!
Josh Taylor is England Squash National Performance Coach & UNSQUASHABLE Coaching Ambassador.
Josh Taylor uses the UNSQUASHABLE Y-TEC PRO racket which is available exclusively fromwww.unsquashable.com
INSPIRED BY JAHANGIR KHAN
USED BY JOSH TAYLOR
MADE TO WIN