What can we learn from junior competition?


Having spent an enjoyable and inspiring few days at the British junior championships I find myself asking again: What are the objectives of junior squash? Words like learning and development come to mind. But all too often the focus on winning, rankings and teams can cloud a more progressive and effective vision of player development.

Of course winning is important, we all need to feel progress and aim for success but the journey through junior squash, which includes so many highs and lows, brings numerous experiences which can be discussed, understood and learned from.

For the young boys and girls competing across the country and some across the world, this journey can be extremely traumatic at times and being able to help them understand each experience clearly and know the way forward helps build more independent, secure and successful players.

Showing support, encouragement, love and empathy are necessary to make juniors feel secure and for me its empathy which is the most important. If we can understand and share the journey with them, even feel the emotions they are having in our own bodies then making the best decisions of what to do and say becomes easier and more accurate. It’s very easy to forget what is actually being experienced on the court especially when juniors may not be showing all of their true emotions during the match or even that they don’t even know what they are feeling. Its actually likely their heads are spinning inside trying to make sense of an onslaught of challenges which can result in mental shut down; we must remember this and empathize not criticize to help release them into a clearer state, then offer the advice.

So we need to be supportive to bring security, but at the same time be honest, otherwise all members of the team can fail to be accountable to the situation. It’s perfectly ok to fail providing the best has been given on that occasion and all parties have been honest. The saying is so accurate: ‘the truth will set you free’. When juniors are ready to be honest and accepting about their squash it will be incredibly liberating and empowering for them, the same goes for parents and coaches. Excuses are contagious and create a blame culture. All members of the team must be comfortable to discuss and understand all the parts of the journey in an open and proactive way. Its about getting to the heart of what can be pulled out from the competitive experience, what went right, what went wrong and then finding solutions needs to be worked through towards a progressive outcome where all parties agree and believe in the way forward. Then anything is possible.

In summary, every experience during competitive junior squash can provide an opportunity to learn for everyone involved and we must all remember that this is where the magic can happen not on the winner’s podium, that is the reward for a successful process. It’s a team effort and we must give equally, be true to our actions and always learn together. Then our juniors will emerge not just better squash players but more rounded and capable human beings.

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