By Kevin Klipstein, CEO of US Squash
Boorish behavior, including excessive celebrations, taunting and histrionics directed towards opponents, fans and officials, is pervasive in today’s sporting landscape. Television has long celebrated the “look at me” attitude of professional athletes, so much so it has now trickled down to every level, from collegiate to scholastic to youth sports. One needs only to watch an hour of Sports Center to see that the quote often attributed the legendary college basketball coach John Wooden that, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it” is right on point, but not in the positive way the “Wizard of Westwood” had imagined.
Squash players know that Coach Wooden’s sentiment is especially true in our sport. Competing in squash also builds character, and encourages integrity, fairness and respect – lifetime values of athletics and principles of good sportsmanship. With the rules requiring a delicate give and take, and players pushed physically and mentally to the limit, in close quarters, the difference between winning and losing a squash match is ultimately in the hands of the players themselves, something completely unique to squash.
This all places a premium on knowing the rules and the ability to apply them fairly every time you play. For adults, anyone who plays league understands the negative impact that an opponent’s limited knowledge of the rules has on the enjoyment of the competition. And it doesn’t take much time at a junior squash tournament these days to notice that while many play and behave in an exemplary fashion, examples of regular circumvention of the rules, and flat-out inappropriate behavior on court are not hard to spot. With the incredible growth we’ve seen in junior squash over the last decade, and the literal internationalization of the game, with coaches and professionals from more countries than ever in the US, maintaining a shared understanding of the rules and their appropriate application has increasingly become a challenge.
Reflecting this, in a survey conducted this spring to better assess the current needs in the community, the program area with the lowest satisfaction rating among junior parents & players was “refereeing support training and infrastructure” (this was even lower than “rankings”!). The top three programs or services these same respondents would be willing to pay for were: certified referees provided for all National Championship matches, refereeing support at accredited (sanctioned) tournaments, and refereeing clinics taught at local clubs.
This fall, the US Squash Board of Directors reviewed high level plans for an initiative which will, among other things, provide introductory referee clinics taught in clubs nationally, enhance the online referee exam and provide additional online educational officiating resources, as well as a Junior Leadership Mentoring program. A task force will develop the program details over the next several months and rollout will begin next season. The goals of the program include developing better educated, more highly trained, confident players and referees. With better knowledge and awareness of the rules, as well as proper sportsmanship and the code of conduct, a continued positive experience of the sport for everyone involved should result.
US Squash has the responsibility to provide the tools for the community to educate itself. Ultimately, however, each of us has the responsibility to know the rules and apply them fairly. Of all the remarkable achievements attained by John Wooden in his 65 year career in basketball, including 10 National Championships and an 88 game winning streak, the one that is most revealing, especially in this day and age, is that in all that time, he was only called for two technical fouls, and one of them was wrongly assessed when a fan behind his bench shouted a profanity! While seemingly unfathomable in today’s culture, Wooden was able to adhere to another of his favorite quotes, one that should be well heeded by players and coaches, “Discipline yourself and others won’t need to”.