Who better to speak to about North East squash then Northern coach Richard Vitty? He is a key figure in Northerns fantastic setup, and his good work is recognised throughout the region.
I was able to catch up with him to hear his thoughts on the challenges that squash faces, and how best we can keep juniors interested in our game.
What is the secret to the success of junior academies such as Northern and Jesmond?
That’s a massive question, and it’s a massive answer. There’s so much detail that goes into it.
We started looking into our junior section 20 years ago, that’s when I started coaching, and we’re still developing it now 20 years later.
First and foremost, there has to be a will. There has to be that “driving force” and that usually means 2 or 3 people who want to make a difference. That’s certainly what happened at our club and it happened at Jesmond. Tynemouth as well, Ray Rycroft coaches at Tynemouth and I think he makes a difference there.
There are some smaller clubs with good little pockets of Juniors such as Boldon, Hexham and Alnwick and again you can look at it and find one or two people as “driving forces” behind that.
Do you think that a lack of Freeview coverage is affecting the number of juniors playing Squash?
Personally, I don’t think it makes any difference at all. I really don’t. I speak to people from Badminton and Tennis on a fairly regular basis and they’re struggling just as much as we are to get kids involved and tennis is on TV all the time.
It’s not about the sport it’s about the product you supply. What they see at top level, there’s no relation to what they’re going to do when they go into their local club, whatever sport they play. If you put Nick Matthew against Mohammed ElShorbagy on and say “that’s what Squash is”, they’re never going to see that, they’re never going to be that and they’re never going to get anywhere near that for 10/15 years. They can’t empathise with it at all because it’s too far removed from what their going to see when they go into their local club. The key isn’t to show them what’s not possible, it’s to show them what IS.
We do a lot of work with local schools, in the sports halls, and a lot of the stuff we do is very simple hand eye co-ordination, and a little bit of racket work. We do it in a simple way that’s as much fun as possible and that’s what bring them back to the club. It’s the fact that they’ve enjoyed running around, getting a bit of exercise and hitting a ball with a bat, on a very simple level. That way they can grow into the sport.
What we’ve found over the last 20 years is that the basic product that we give them when they come in is very simple, and the growth that we’ve had is creating the steps above that. We give the simple stuff when they come in but then we structure it so that they can move forward into slightly better groups, do different things, start competitions, play on different nights, try more advanced drills, play for teams, right up to the point where at 16 they can take their own coaching qualifications. That’s how its developed and grown.
Is there a place for a professional event in the North-East?
Yes. There’s usually two, one at our club which is held just before Christmas, and it’s a PSA event, but it’s the lowest level PSA event. Its a $1000 event, about £500, that’s the amount of prize money that’s involved. One of our ex-juniors, who’s now a top player at the club, Cai Younger, is the tournament organiser. It’s been running for about 4/5 years.
Then there’s a bigger event, that’s held in Jesmond at around easter, and that’s a $5000 event. That’s a big one that attracts players inside the top 100 in the world. Ours has a lot of world ranked players but they tend to be more in the 200-300’s.
Both competitions have a top 16 PSA event but beneath that they have graded events and there’s usually 2/3 16 entry draws, all in ability order.
Is it out of the question for us to see a North-East player on the PSA in the next few years?
Definitely not, there’s a good chance there will be somebody. The best two players we’ve had come through our juniors, from Newcastle, over the last few years are a lad called Michael Mattimore, who’s now away at university, he played for England at u13’s and he’s always been hovering at around the top 10 at every age group since.
It depends on the mentality, he’s away at uni now, which is a big step in his life and he’s got to motivate himself. He hasn’t got coaches up here pushing him, he’s got to be self motivated. He’s gone to Birmingham which has a really coach and structure as I understand, so he should have all the pieces in place to be able to take it further. But it has to come from him, when he finishes uni at 21 does he want the security of a job or is he really up for spending some time trying to be the be the best squash player he can be. It’s a tough, tough life, there’s not much money in it and it’s a very competitive market place. It just depends how much he wants it, he’s certainly got enough skills, it’s whether or not he has the desire.
The next one will be young Max Forster. Max is 15 and he’s phenomenally strong mentally, and he has enough game. He’s top 5 in the country and has been top 5 in every age group and he could come through.