In the early 90’s when I began regularly playing squash my favourite player was Jahangir Khan followed by Australia’s Rodney Martin.
The short grip they both adopted where they essentially choked the racquet definitely pervaded the first handful of years of my playing.
Of course, I had to also admire the sheer dominance and movement of Jansher Khan and Pakistan squash in general.
With these two Khan-legends at the forefront of such a strong squash era, my love of Pakistan squash was cemented.
When I was 11 years old, I even completed a school project comparing & contrasting Pakistan and Australian sport, culture and way of life!
So when the Asian Squash Federation headed by Tony Choi from Hong Kong, along with Tariq Rana from the Punjab Squash Complex and Trevor Smith from Squash Australia, graciously approved my attendance for a Level 2 coaching course in Lahore, Pakistan to run from 27th October to 1st November 2014, I was excited to say the least!
Level 2 Pakistan Squash Coaching Course Legends!
The course was run by Chris Clark and Fahim Gul, two men with extensive experience who worked together harmoniously to conduct an enjoyable and extremely worthwhile six days.
I had worked as a volunteer referee with Chris at the World Masters’ in July earlier in the year where he had been tournament director.
However at the time I didn’t realize he had such deep history as a player, coach, referee, and whatever else you could name as a squash job – basically a resume as long as your arm!
Having already run coaching courses in Australia, Wales, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Kuwait and the Pakistan cities of Islamabad and Lahore, he was instrumental in the development of structures within Malaysian and Hong Kong squash, which still stand today.
Interestingly, both these countries performed extremely well at the recent Asian Junior Squash Championships, as did Pakistan who was coached by none other than Fahim Gul!
Although I didn’t know too much about Fahim before the course, other than he had been national coach of Singapore and Pakistan squash, and a phenomenal player, I had heard nothing but great things.
During the week, however, to see him feeding the ball was another thing – such soft hands, which made it seem like the racquet was connected to his body as one.
It reminded me of watching Ramy Ashour play. This allows Fahim to add slight variation for the player he is feeding.
It doesn’t have to be an elaborate drill, just basic stuff with enough variation to work the player effectively.
The Golden Nugget From My Pakistan Squash Trip
A few days into the course, a couple of the local junior players played a best-of-three match so us coaches could split into two groups and practice giving advice between games.
Although every coach was observing and commenting during the games, each group assigned just one of the coaches to speak to the player between games.
In my group this was Faheem Khan, coach of leading Hong Kong players Max Lee (world #17), Leo Au (world #34), Annie Au (world #11), and some others at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
Watching how Faheem spoke to our player had a lasting impact and will influence me for years to come. He let the player sit down, made sure he had some water, and knelt down in front of him so he was at the same eye level.
He instructed him to take some deep breaths, sip his water, relax and listen.
In a calm voice he then gave the appropriate instructions, without rushing, without getting overly emotional, but still in a firm way where the player was taking everything on board – his attention was transfixed as Faheem was connecting with the young player.
It might seem simple but to see at close hand a Pakistan squash coach with such experience do this so impeccably was priceless.
The Enthusiastic Pakistan Squash Culture
What really grabbed my attention were the overwhelmingly friendly fellow attendee-coaches and players at the Punjab Squash Complex – the enthusiasm for the game was rejuvenated in me in a way I was not expecting and for which I am forever grateful!
And this was just an extension of the friendly nature of all the Pakistan people in general I met during the week who made me feel so welcome.
The Punjab Squash Complex is an old-school centre with one show-court. For the most part, the veterans and more skilled players get to play there. Then there are three other training courts where strong players, both junior and senior, belt it out at a ferocious pace.
The five or six courts out the back are what impressed me the most though. These are concrete courts (walls and floors) that are packed every day with young kids who… just Love… the… game!
It was humbling.
Some of the kids were just starting out and some were already highly skilled.
What I witnessed made me think of what Daniel Coyle describes in his book, The Talent Code, how whatever skill is being developed, if the practitioner is in perfect, top-notch facilities then they are less likely to work as hard because they are already feeling comfortable and ‘arrived’.
These kids at the Punjab Squash Complex work hard but, for them, it is just play – fun – with an eagerness to get good enough to play on the good courts.
The depth of talent in Pakistan squash is undeniable. If structures can be set up across the country, as well as utilizing talents like Fahim Gul together with some fresh new blood, I am sure they can return as a powerhouse in world squash.
Completing The Course And Moving On
On my return to Hong Kong, along with a written assignment, I was required to complete 40 hours of coaching national junior players. Thank you to Tony Choi as well as Dick Leung for allowing me to do so at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
Also thanks to Chris Clark again for allowing me to ‘watch over his shoulder’ as well as participate in the coaching of some of his club players.
Amongst others, the idea of sometimes slowing things down to train a new skill or movement was reinforced for me here, as well as focusing on shot-basics of which even advanced players need reminding.
I’m happy to say I am now a qualified Level 2 squash coach with the Asian Squash Federation!
For more photos, go to my Facebook page: Facebook.com/SquashFitnessTips
A Final Thought
After coaching and playing in Hong Kong for the past few years, I am currently in a transition period so I’m still unsure where I will be set up to settle down in the coming few years, although I’m keen to be part of a club with enthusiastic players that appreciate and value moment-to-moment passion for the game!
I will say this – whether you’re a coach or not, whatever your skill level, wherever you are in the world, I highly encourage you to try to experience different squash cultures, even if it’s just a weekend trip to another city within your own country.
However, traveling to other countries, when possible, will really open your eyes to the fact that squash is a worldwide sport with varying styles, personalities and approaches.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed it will make it into the Olympics in 2020, where it belongs.
Have fun & play your own game!