International and England Squash Board member talks about Malcolm.
THE RUGBY YEARS
In the early 60s, deep in winter when the
rugby pitches were quagmired with mud, I was enjoying some practise
kicking through the rugby posts much as Jonny Wilkinson might have done.
At the tender age of 9, my concentration was rudely disturbed by a booming
voice from the school staff room.
'Come here now' was all that was said.
At the time this was like being summoned to the court of Saddam Hussein in
a previous era. The teacher so terrified the younger pupils in the school.
I figured that as my last drop goal had sailed through the posts it was
not going to be a lecture about my technique. The only possibility was
that I was to be reprimanded for taking to the pitches when the conditions
were so muddy that the result could only be a big laundry problem.
I immediately went to the staff room to be told that I was to attend a
rugby session for the class year above mine, which was a little confusing
as I was making my way in my own year group playing football. This was big
boys stuff as the year above graduate to rugby. That was the limit of the
conversation. I left thinking that at least I had not had the telling off
that seemed inevitable, because the quality of the telling off from this
particular teacher was reputed to be something not too dissimilar to the
hair dryer method often employed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
I spent the next couple of days in fear of what might happen. The teacher
in question was Malcolm Willstrop. I came to realise that providing one
had a love of sport, some talent, a dedicated enthusiasm, worked hard and
delivered the goods in a match situation, then all was going to be ok.
That much has never changed. Interestingly enough when I attended that
rugby practise the first thing I experienced was the leadership and
commitment emanating from Malcolm. The team that played in the previous
match had missed their tackles and were being taken to task over it and
there followed a fierce tackling practise session, which rather terrified
me as all the other players were twice my size. That was always to remain
the case in rugby terms and was part of the reason why squash had so much
THE SQUASH YEARS
After that initial conversion to rugby under Malcolm's guidance, he was
not about to let go of whatever sports ability I had in me. I was swiftly
introduced to both his other sports, cricket and squash. I had a brief
introduction to the ways of Malcolm at a tender age but was to then lose
that contact. Malcolm went to Durham University where he quickly gathered
the squash club around him and the university went on to be one of the
most successful university teams in history. Out of that team came several
nationally ranked players and those that were not that gifted went on to
achieve more than could reasonably be expected of them.
As I progressed through the junior squash ranks, I received a letter out
of the blue from Malcolm and we were quickly re-united. By this time
Malcolm was a teacher at Greshams School and I was invited to stay. That
visit was to incubate the most interesting part of our squash lives
together. Malcolm finally left Greshams (not without discovering some
outstanding squash talent there including that of Gawain Briars who went
on to be number 4 in the world) to become a full time squash coach at the
Abbeydale Club. Malcolm's loyalty is demonstrated in that there have only
really been 3 clubs for him Abbeydale, Walton Hall and now Pontefract
where he is in squash heaven as far he is concerned.
DEVISING NEW METHODS
My visit to Greshams was around the time when I was threatening to become
a highly ranked player on the National scene. I had spent many hours
wondering what kind of things I should be working on to improve my game
and nobody really seemed to have the answers. Mostly the advice was hit
and miss, sometimes even hit and hope.
It started with me outlining this
to Malcolm and over a period of days and weeks Malcolm would construct
practise sessions around me using all the local talent he could muster
based on what we perceived to be the right way forward for my game. This
meant that we spent many long nights discussing what training to do and
many long days trying to evolve routines and conditioned games that would
provide for it.
I like to think that the methods that Malcolm and I
devised together have now helped many players, not just my own playing
career, and have been uniquely successful. Certainly they bring a level of
fun to squash that can be enjoyed by all at any level of ability.
In terms of my own playing career, Malcolm started me, had a major part in
my development and instilled in me that squash was a labour of love mixing
that with a strong sense of humour - not always to everybody's liking. The
desire to reach the highest level of the sport has always been uppermost
in Malcolm's mind. Sometimes I think that in the ruthless business of
squash I may have frustrated Malcolm's ambition for me despite the fact
that 16 in the world and number 2 in Great Britain, as it was then, is not
too rusty. There is no doubt if one of Malcolm's prodigy's became world
champion then he would die a very happy man - even more so if it was
EXCELLENCE AS STANDARD
Malcolm Willstrop's fierce dedication to the pursuit of excellence in
playing standards and talent identification is intact today. What is
clear is that the methods he uses deliver results. Remarkably this means
playing the sport of squash in the best way as it was intended.
football is the beautiful game, Malcolm Willstrop sees beauty in the way
all sport should be played and coaches accordingly. Winning should never
be sacrificed on the altar of beauty but there is no doubt that all that
is pure and entertaining in squash is safe in the hands of Malcolm
Willstrop. Many stars of the world game over a long period of time have
come under the influence of Malcolm at one time or another.
I will never forget the look of respect and admiration from the Pakistani
coaching staff in the days when that country had a surfeit of world stars
in the guises of Jahangir, Jahan, Alaudin, Zaman, Mohibullah etc. There is
no question that their view valued Malcolm much more highly in coaching
terms than our esteemed governing body of the time.
MALCOLM: AN INSPIRATION
Malcolm is one of squash's greatest assets, a huge personality towering
over all around, but then also respectful of those that deserve respect
and a huge fan of those dedicated enough to impress him. He inspires and
motivates in equal measure - those that are either huge fans of his or
those that are not. What is clear is that time has mellowed him, but not
to the exclusion of the passion and dedication that burns as brightly as
ever for the sport. He can teach squash like no other in my experience and
at all levels.
Choosing 3 words to epitomise Malcolm is nearly impossible, but here goes:
Driven. Loyal. The Best.
Driven by his love of squash and huge work ethic. Totally loyal to those
that are part of his squash world doing everything in his power to support
their ambition - not so cosy for those that are not. In my estimation the
best coach I have come across and consistently so over
several decades. Like him or not Malcolm's contribution to squash
can not be denied.
|Ian Robinson was an England
International, winning 55 caps for his country over several
successful European campaigns, remaining undefeated in the 1997
World Teams, was the Yorkshire County Champion from 1973 to 1981 and
European Individual Grand Prix Champion in 1976.
A level four coach, he has managed several successful league teams
and since 1998 has been manager of the UniS Guildford National
Ian has also been a commentator on many TV and Radio stations,
including BBC Grandstand, and is the author of several books on
There is no doubt if one of
Malcolm's prodigy's became world champion then he would die a very
happy man - even more so if it was James.
MALCOLM'S 'FLASHERS MAC'
I have this image of
Malcolm turning up in Karachi in what was often called his 'flashers mac',
however unnecessary, looking for a squash centre to do some coaching, much
as he did when visiting the Bahamas on another assignment.
No matter how
much kit sponsors throw at him, he never manages to quite look the part of
the world class coach that he is. It is his strength of personality and
deep knowledge and love of the game that shine out.