Monday, May 21, 2012

Please Don't Tell Me How Thriving New York Area Squash Is...

Having just heard that New York Sports at Columbus Circle in Manhattan is closing its two international courts to convert them to studios -- anyone who continues to foster the illusion squash is thriving in New York, I would likely want to throttle you. Having just seen this weekend nearly 30% of the Hyder Cup 3.5 draw coming from the club I coach at, a draw under 18 (which in years past was twice sometimes three times that size), I can only state the New York Squash scene is in trouble. The future of this game is not in the hordes of juniors and junior development is in the adults who have played for their lifetime and who pass along the game to younger players or to eager new players of any age.

Of course if the venues keep shrinking, where will adults play? Will the remaining clubs build new courts, expand? Doubtful. I played for years at Columbus Circle, and can remember vividly when they finally converted the narrow courts into international courts. I taught my son to play there when he was 10 years old, it was one of the best places on earth. Having been out in the suburbs for quite a while, I was preparing to start playing in the city, which I missed and was so looking forward to going back to Columbus Circle. This is a huge disappointment.

The people who coach juniors at exorbitant lesson rates are not the future of squash in this City or for that matter anywhere else. They are cashing in on a disturbing trend. They are catering to a very elite group who can afford those high prices. Those who cannot afford it have to rely on playing experienced players who will teach them the game. I am writing this because I am mostly scared that this game will eventually die out and become nothing more than a game you play at the junior level, maybe it helps you in your college application, but then beyond that how many will play well into their adult lives. And if the future of squash is and remains that elite few who can afford 100 to 200 dollars a lesson, then this game will never grow and sustain itself.

You can throw whatever membership numbers you want out there, it simply gives an illusion of a thriving squash community, which there isn't. When parents finally catch on that squash for college isn't really a viable route, that only the best junior players (who happened to be coached by the most expensive coaches) really only make the squash teams in college, the remaining ones, to me have been sold a bag of goods. For those who end up playing and loving this game and fit it into busy schedules whether at college or when they are embarking on careers -- they are the future of squash, they are the ones who will sustain and encourage juniors to develop and play their whole lives, they are the ones who will bring new courts to the City.

..And with that they will again bring a great diversity to the game, they will come from all walks of life and play at clubs where you never know who will be on court with you: a welder, a doctor, a stock broker, a student, even a poet. I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do have lots of questions and when I hear of another court converted over to a studio I start looking for answers as to why?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

McManus and the PST are Good for Squash

I have nothing against the "bullies" of squash, US squash and PSA, well certainly nothing against the PSA whatsoever. But I am a sucker for the underdog. The PST is the underdog and they are being bullied by their larger, long standing counterparts, US Squash and PSA. I know about the lawsuits and the legal challenges, but what is really behind it. Both CEO's Kilipstein and Gough seem to not like the new kid on the block, he's not one of them, he didn't come up through the usual squash ranks, he has a vision, he's a bit of a maverick, he's definitely a marketing guy and knows what he's doing to promote the sport, Joe McManus, what exactly is he doing to threaten the "bullies". He must be different, that always pisses the "bullies" off and he must be "smaller" or seemingly so for them to just go after him.

I don't like the PST's no-let rule, I love the PSA, I don't really care much about US Squash, and I find McManus annoying at times because he tinkers with tradition. But the PST is most importantly great for squash in the US. Why? McManus has promoted professional squash at the grass roots level in the US, and I applaud anyone who can tackle an issue as vacuous as professional squash in the US, as in US born players having the opportunity to play professionally and compete professionally. The fact that US born squash players who would never ever have the opportunity to play some great players can compete against them is inspiring. McManus has brought this to US Squash. I have a son who plays on the PST, has been injured for most of the season, but the benefits of him playing in the PST against solid competition versus travelling and costs to PSA satellite tournaments, or playing in the US squash leagues, where at best you are lucky if team players even show up, and all the jostling and politics involved to play the best players, is immeasurable.

I like Joe McManus, he is the guy who doesn't back down from the "bullies" and in fact he goes right at them. He can't take them on head on, so he jabs at them, uses his intelligence to get under their skin. I like his behavior which says, he has just as much right to be on the "block" as the "bullies" do. He is good for US squash, no question about it, he isn't the answer to what ails US Squash, but he certainly isn't doing any harm. And what does it matter if Nick Mathew picks up some extra money and a trip to New York to play in a PST event; is that bad for squash? I don't think so, it is good for squash.

Whether David Palmer and other players are part owner or have stakes in the PST, who cares? If they help make the PST what it is and eventually even more, that is good for squash. And whether or not McManus is a "cry baby", or annoying, simply ask yourself, is he good for squash, especially US squash? I have no doubts he is; if he showed up on the squash scenes with two heads and was good for squash, who cares about his two heads -- actually, McManus would probably glib "two heads are better than one".