The Rise of the Women’s Game

It was brought to my attention that the reason why there was no picture of last year’s Female Champion on the banners of the British Nationals was because the “people only come to watch the men anyway!”


The Rise of the Women’s Game – or “people only come to watch the men …”

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 02 18.28It was brought to my attention last week that the reason why there was no picture of last year’s Female Champion on the banners  of the British National Squash Championships, was because the “people only come to watch the men anyway!”

Now not to get too personal about the details and those concerned, I just thought it was such an odd thing to say. It got me thinking a little deeper and to be fair I can remember a time not too long ago where the competitive aspects of the female game were not most appealing. It seemed to be a formality on many occasions that one or two players would dominate events and really end up with the others struggling to put up any sort of fight.

Well in my opinion things have changed lots.  As someone who has watched the game from very close quarters in the past 10 years, I would like to share my views why I think people are now just as entertained by WSA players as the PSA bunch.

ScreenHunter_05 Mar. 02 18.37[highlight]On average I believe all the girls playing in the top 30 are fitter than ever before.[/highlight] Body shapes have changed to be more muscular with lower body fat percentages. We have seen this in many sports, particularly athletics and tennis.

During the 1980s Martina Navratilova pushed on the fitness and conditioning levels in tennis (by investigating Basketball athletes) and it is fair to say Nicol David has possibly had a similar impact in squash. The girls chasing Nicol’s standard have certainly had to reassess their own standards of conditioning and many have adapted accordingly. The top 5 or 6 players, who are as equally inspiring role models as Miss David, then set a standard for others to reach if they want to compete.  Consequently, the whole perception of what it is to look like a “top player” changes and of course this raises standards of training and expectations.

[highlight]It follows that more balls get picked up and rallies get harder to win[/highlight]. It follows that matches get faster and more explosive and it follows that skill levels have to rise. It also follows that mental toughness is pushed in areas of patience, risk taking, discipline and tolerance of lactic acid. Tournaments get harder to win because matches are tough from the first round. I have noticed the level of qualifying matches increase dramatically even in just the past two years. Those who have failed to keep up with the pace change and conditioning expectations are finding this to be true.

ScreenHunter_06 Mar. 02 18.39[highlight]The rise of the Egyptian female players has certainly moved the sport into an exciting direction.[/highlight] They are prepared to play with an attacking style and what seems like a “who dares wins” approach. This makes for new thinking about how women can play and also makes a great contrast to some of the more patient /disciplined approaches to the sport.

Omneya Abdel Kawy, Raneem El Weleily, Nour El Sherbini and others have forced players to think about different ways of playing, as have Alison Waters, Jenny Duncalf, Laura Massaro and Madeline Perry. Rachael and Natalie Grinham play their unique brand, Kasey Brown hers too. Low Wee Wern poses another type of problem and Annie Au produces a style of incredible accuracy. Joelle King is incredibly strong and powerful hitter, as is Camille Serme who plays a classic and effective French style.  So the Diversity at the top of the WSA tour is fantastic and this is causing some amazing matches.

I noticed this most at the recent World Open in the Cayman Islands. The tournament was brilliant and exciting from the first round of Qualifiers to the Final. I was not alone in recognising even higher levels of athleticism, skills and all round fighting spirit. I didn’t see one match played in bad taste or one match where a player failed to commit all they had.

SH_431Madeline Perry and Nour Sherbini’s match highlighted the range of age, proving that preparation and squash ability will be the key factor, not when you were born.  Some of the rallies I watched out there were simply not happening a few years ago in such a range of matches. I am not saying players of past eras were not individually better in some cases but I just feel that the depth and diversity is creating great contrast from much earlier on in the tournaments. In simple terms, there are more players who can beat each other on any given day and this makes everything exciting.

I think [highlight]Coaching has improved too.[/highlight] As a lecturer of Sports Coaching who enjoys research theory and practical application of it , I have noticed so much excellent coaching practice at WSA tournaments. Players have strong relationships with their support networks and it is this trust, faith and analysis that drives the process on. I really enjoy the way each coach has their own blend of wisdom and experience and in turn how this creates unique players. All coaching systems and philosophies are true but partial. No one is completely wrong or right and I notice coaches are willing to show flexibility in their methods as they see the game evolving. Sharing of ideas whilst retaining some key beliefs and values has certainly produced more wisdom and the players are benefiting. So are the crowds.

SH_432On the first morning of the London Olympic Games Athletics, the stadium filled to see Jessica Ennis begin her bid for Gold in the Heptathlon. Ennis was the so called “poster girl” of the Olympics and she did not disappoint in her performance. The public don’t discern when it comes to excellence.

The WSA tour has many poster girls and let us not forget that glamour and fashion plays a huge part in marketing and audience attraction for both genders. However, this would all count for nothing if the sporting product was not up to standard. Well we cannot say this when it comes to the Women’s Professional Squash tour.  All the players are a credit to their profession and they are pushing boundaries by the month. Incidentally, The PSA tour is doing the same.

As it turned out, the Women’s competition at the British National Championships was well worth coming to watch (especially the final) and personally I do think Alison Waters deserves her place on next year’s banner.

Author: Danny Massaro

Lecturer for 15 years in Sports Coaching and Performance, currently Work at University of Central Lancashire (past 7 years) delivering mainly to Post Graduate Students in Sports Coaching and Performance Psychology, Married to Laura Massaro. Danny's full profile

10 thoughts on “The Rise of the Women’s Game”

  1. Agree with virtually all you say here.

    I think that more joint events are the way forward at least for the premier events, just as in tennis. In 2008 and 2011 The World Opens/Championships were held at the same time in the same venue and I find it sad that it is not the case more often and especially not this year in Manchester.

    Even the World Series at Queens would have been better IMHO if it had two men and two womens matches in each sessionin the first three days

    1. While I agree with Danny that the competition has increased, I sometimes feel that the Women’s game is least appealing when directly contrasted with the pace of a modern men’s game.
      On a more positive note, I think the WSA is moving in the right direction and is an important aspect to the success of the sport.

  2. I think Danny is spot on with this, the women’s game has become much more watchable over the last few years. in fact the women, in most cases, have a very good basic technique and I often use them as examples in my coaching. I think they are a great advert for the game and It would be a real boost squash in general if more people stuck around to watch.

  3. I really enjoy watching the women play as its easier to relate to. I cant hit all the nicks and killer shots so I learn more from them. Does help I went to school with Jenny. Go team Duncalf!

  4. I really enjoy watching the women play as its easier to relate to. I cant hit all the nicks and killer shots the men play so I learn more from them. Does help I went to school with Jenny. Go team Duncalf!

  5. I ditto Peter as the men’s game, although exciting, powerful and fast, it makes my pupils feel that it would be impossible for them to perform those skills. The ladies on the other hand, are a little slower but technically sound in all areas of development and with the presence of some good and exciting rallies. The ladies should get more support as their games are exciting to watch.

  6. The women’s final at the Nationals demonstrated that what Danny says is more than true! The final was a quality match with the result in doubt right until the winning point. It was a credit to the women’s game and proved once again that it is extremely entertaining and just as watchable as the men’s equivilent.

  7. Spot on. We are in the midst of the career of the greatest female squash player of all time in Nicol David with a host of extremely determined opponents out to depose her. Let the public enjoy this.

    Why shouldn’t there be more joint events held concurrently?

  8. Good Comments about women’s pro squash. I feel that whilst the Women’s game has progressed significantly through improved levels of fitness, contrasting playing styles and a lean towards more aggressive attacking squash, parity with the men’s game can only be achieved if the tin lowers to 17 inches. This would continue to drive up levels of athleticism and offer an improved spectacle especially on glass court arenas.

  9. I agree with Danny. Whilst I enjoy watching the Mens game for the pace and excitement, I actually prefer the Womens game, as I can see what the players are actually doing – both on and off the ball!

    The PSA and WSA should be combining calendars for their Major Events – World Open etc. As a regular spectator at the British Nationals, I feel that having both Mens and Womens matches adds to the atmosphere and also allows the next generation of potential ‘Laura’s’, ‘Jenny’s’ and ‘Alison’s’ to view and meet their idols

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