If a child, adult or family wants to play tennis, there is usually a
court in a nearby park. If they hanker for a game of badminton, they can
buy a pop-up outdoor set. Table tennis looks fun – so just fix a net to
the dinner table. What is the equivalent grassroots entry point for
answer, sadly, is that there isn’t one. Squash, by and large, is just
not accessible in bite-size form in the same way as other racket sports.
This lack of a highly visible, easy initial ‘pathway’ into the game is
one of many reasons why participation is in rapid decline.
has, of course, only exacerbated the crisis. Squash, hardly the most
Covid-friendly of leisure pursuits, has been hit hard. Reduced incomes,
the rise in mental health issues and worsening levels of physical
inactivity will make people even more disinclined to consider (or renew)
a squash club membership.
It is for
all these reasons that many people of influence within squash have
started talking about outdoor courts. The theory is that open-air
courts, placed in prominent locations with a high footfall, will make
the game visible and accessible. Indoor squash courts are, by
definition, hidden inside buildings, many of them members-only clubs or
universities. We want to turn average members of the public into squash
players, but they need to see it to be it!
this, the PSA Foundation has put together an outdoor court committee.
Members include Carlos Schonenberg from Squash Para Todos, whose four
open-air concrete courts serve underprivileged local children in El
Salvador, and Robert Gibraltar and Jeffrey Anschlowar from True Squash
in New York, who have built a stunning outdoor steel court on the site
of a welding firm.
committee are starting pilot projects, including two outdoor courts in
Chicago and a potential project in the UK, to test whether the concept
works and investigate best practice.
Squash Player also understands that there are early plans in
place for a permanent outdoor court in a prominent Birmingham location
as part of the legacy programme for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
are happening. The important point to stress for existing squash players
is this: outdoor community squash will not look like squash as we know
it. The luxuries of a sprung floor, precise dimensions, a perfectly true
bounce and even a back door aren’t important to someone encountering
squash for the first time (they have nothing to compare it to, after
squash facility needs to be designed for the local community, not for
the current playing population,” says Jordan Jefferies, PSA Foundation
Executive. “Where necessary, we need to adapt the rules, adjust court
line positions or change the type of ball used.
the only racket sport to have not yet taken the game to the outdoors at
community level. We need to bring squash to the communities, make it
accessible, inclusive and in full view for anyone to have a go.”
Melior Sports have designed two low-budget outdoor courts and have held
talks with several interested parties about potential projects. Founder
Nick Thompson said: “Somewhere squash has gone wrong is that every
single court has to be precisely contoured and finished to a
championship-standard. It’s not actually good for squash.
court in a public park bears little resemblance to Centre Court at
Wimbledon. High-spec squash courts would actually be unsuitable for many
outdoor projects. Outdoor squash is simply an outlet for people to
experience the thrill, fitness and social benefits of a rebound sport,
and whet their appetite to do it again.”
is a lesson the founders of Public Squash have learned through
experience. The pioneering outdoor all-glass court they built for a
six-figure sum in New York’s Hamilton Fish Park in 2015 has been a great
success, with people often queueing to play and spectators sitting on
deckchairs to watch in summer.
given their time again, they admit they may have opted for a less
high-calibre product. The court is currently out of use due to a smashed
panel and damaged floor.
much tried to build an indoor court outside,” says co-founder Ryan Wall.
“We needed to make something that was a little bit more durable. We’re
currently exploring other options to build a cheaper court. Even the
best players can go on a slightly crappier court and still have a good
co-founder Alex Wessner adds: “People thought it was great because the
court looked so beautiful – but how can you democratise a sport when the
court is $200,000?
about having fun – that aspect is what makes it successful or not.
No-one cares about the cracks in the tennis or basketball court; they
just play whenever they can find some time. They just want to be out
there playing and taking in oxygen – it's good for the mind, the soul,
relaxing after work and being out there in the community. Playing squash
outside is the best!”
Not far away, in Manhattan, James Green, executive director of the
Squash Center, has studied Public Squash’s experience. He has raised
funds for two self-designed outdoor courts costing just a projected
$70,000 fully installed. They plan to convert one of the city’s 2,000
outdoor handball courts to build them.
Center’s mission is to make the sport more accessible. Outdoor courts
are one [of many] ways to make this happen,” says Green.
a level 4 coach and head of performance and community at Edgbaston
Priory Club in Birmingham, England, is also fully on board with the
courts should be strategically placed within close proximity to existing
clubs,” he states. “The courts could be run in partnership with the
council and local clubs, where the professional coaching team can
deliver a comprehensive schools and community programme. The remainder
of the time they could be available to the general public.
“The aim is
that over time people who are trying squash outside will want to
progress to trying squash inside, using clubs that are close by.”
highlights one obvious sticking point. “Initial funding will be a
challenge,” he admits. “This is a relatively unproven concept and so it
will take a joined-up approach from multiple trusted bodies to have a
serious bid to make it happen.”
governing bodies and clubs so cash-strapped post-Covid, Jefferies
suggests that grant or match funding from trusts, corporate social
responsibility (CSR) schemes and government initiatives are more likely
sources of support.
cannot be an outdoor squash court for the sake of an outdoor squash
court,” he warns. “You need to ask yourself what challenges local
communities are facing now and be clear how this is aiding the
resources to fund outdoor squash may come from may not yet be clear, but
the concept is being widely embraced. “Outdoor squash will give people
of all ages the opportunity to try a sport that has been hidden from
view,” says Harris.
see these courts, we want them to be inquisitive, to be wowed and
motivated to try something new, to pick up a racket and ball, and go and
have fun. Only by increasing its visibility can the sport of squash
begin to regenerate.”