Dear Junior Squash Parents: (dated 11/21/17)
Thank you again for your support of our programs, and your involvement in squash. This weekend at the Frank Millet JCT our Director of Junior Development, Harry Smith, and I hosted a few “Junior Squash Symposiums” for parents. These sessions are part of our efforts to continually improve your family’s experience in squash.
We have done these symposiums at several tournaments this season across a range of levels (Gold, Silver, etc.), and will continue them throughout the year. I wanted to share with you some of what we heard and discussed:
- JUNIOR STRUCTURE – Each group brought up “rumors” US Squash is considering reducing all draw sizes to 16 players across all levels of play (Gold, Silver, Bronze, JCT). Concerns were expressed on several fronts, including the perception of this potentially limiting opportunities for players to make it into the top 16 nationally, potentially isolating the top players, and further reducing “access”. There were also concerns about the potential to reduce engagement of younger players, potentially losing them to other sports if they are prevented from competing at the national level.
- We did confirm that this is something being discussed by our Junior Squash Advisory Panel (JSAP), made up of Directors with children who play junior squash, we are in the very early stages of analyzing data and seeking input. Our rationale for looking into this shift include the desire to address issues such as missed school time, and the expense to travel nationally to tournaments. Sixteen player draws may allow tournaments to take place in two days rather than three, reducing the number of missed school days, and may increase the number of facilities and cities able to host, reducing travel costs. This kind of change would make scheduling tournaments simpler, and would coincide with adapting the points structure and the number of tournaments by level as appropriate.
- PROCESS NOTE – Regarding JSAP, we explained that this group formally meets every few months to identify areas to improve, consider solutions and ultimately make recommendations to the Board. Part of this process also includes surveying the junior squash community in the January/February timeframe to get input from all families, with decisions on new policies announced in March/April taking effect in the fall. We are also considering the formation of Regional JSAPs with the understanding that there is significant variation in needs from regional to region across the country.
- REFEREEING – Parents expressed support, even appreciation, for the unique part of junior squash in which players who just finished competing then immediately work together to referee their peers. No other sport requires this, and we believe this is a strength. That said, we are all concerned about kids feeling anxious about refereeing, and being put in very challenging situations.
- We believe that almost all players at the JCT level are among the best referees we have. We also understand that the younger kids (U11, U13 especially), and at Silver and Bronze competitions, need more support and mentoring. That said, it appears clear from our view, and to put it “out there” so we can all talk about it directly, the most challenging and corrupting part of the refereeing experience is not making the calls on the court, it is enduring the reaction of parents and coaches to the calls made by the referees.
- Simply put, too much pressure and attention about every call is put on the referees by the parents and coaches. If the parents and coaches move on, the kids do too. As we all know, in squash, the fair outcome of the match is inevitably in the hands of the players themselves. We encourage parents and coaches to take the opportunity to model for your children how we all should act in the moment – by showing respect for others, by taking personal responsibility, and by using defeat as a chance to reflect, learn and develop.
- SCHEDULING – Parents wondered why the younger age divisions play early in the morning.
- This is based on the fact that if the younger players had a later start, their second or third matches would be played inappropriately late in the evening.
- ON-SITE MANAGEMENT – People felt the JCTs run smoothly, though clarity on roles regarding Officials, Tournament Staff and Match Supervisors was suggested, noting that in some cases, while several “US Squash” personnel may be observing, how and when they are to insert themselves into a situation needing attention was unclear.
- As we continue to develop our field teams supporting events regionally, we will focus on providing this clarity to people working at events, as well as to all of you. One of our main limitations now is finding the best people to support our events, though we are making progress on this each season.
- COMMUNICATION – While US Squash’s efforts to communicate were commended, it was also expressed that a significant amount of important information is still shared mostly by word of mouth.
- This is something we will continue to focus on improving, and we recognize that the easier the on-ramp is to participation in squash, the better for everyone. We’re also exploring other ways to help parents move up the “learning curve” and your suggestions are very welcome! This is not a challenge unique to squash.
- TECHNOLOGY – Parents were appreciative regarding the positive impact of small changes that US Squash has made to make lives of parents easier – small examples include the dynamic ‘projected cut list’ and the ability to sign multiple players up for an event in one transaction. Clarification on what information is broadly available to view regarding competitive history, and what information is considered private was requested, and some expressed concern regarding hidden profiles.
- We continue to invest in technology to improve your experience in squash. The current option to “hide records” is merely a short term stopgap measure. In order to create a level playing field, all competitive history information will be visible to members who are logged in once we transition to our new web platform in the next few months. Individuals will still be able to hide personal information such as phone numbers, and emails, and addresses, birthdates, etc. will remain private.
- REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT – The Regional Squads and the season-end Regional Team Championships are valued experiences, especially for non-Northeast players. The team experience was very welcome.
- As our elite junior development offerings continue to expand, these are programs we are taking a closer look at in order to meet this ongoing need.
- OPPORTUNITY/ACCESS – Parents of players at nearly every level expressed the desire for more opportunities for their kids to play in fun, non-competitive, casual environments. Team-based activities was also encouraged, again, especially among non-Northeast families who have fewer team/school opportunities to play. In addition, parents appear to really care about the broader issue of access to squash, and how limited it really is in the U.S. While “access” and limited access mean different things to everyone, the challenges in accessing squash seemed generally felt to be directly linked to the quality of their own children’s experiences in squash, especially girls, and in areas where squash is less popular, and was seen as important to the health of the sport overall.
- US Squash will begin to engage teaching pros and coaches to explore how to provide more playing opportunities, and to create “scaffolding” between beginners who are plentiful, and higher level players.
- We will also continue exploring how US Squash can drive broader access to squash generally, with a particular focus on public middle and high school squash, to increase the number of players overall, creating more meaningful playing opportunities at the regional level, while also ensuring that the sport continues to broaden its reach socio-economically. As urban squash players graduate from high school and college, opportunities for these players to continue to remain part of the squash community becomes more essential, and this will only be accomplished by increasing access overall.
- (MIS)PERCEPTION OF US SQUASH FINANCES – In considering resources, people appeared surprised that the entry fees do not fully cover costs, and that US Squash actually loses money on events. Some also did not realize US Squash is a 501c3 nonprofit.
- Our annual revenues are approximately $5 million. We earn about $2.5 million on events including the U.S. Open. The balance of our revenue sources include approximately $500K in accreditation, $1 million in membership, $300-400K in sponsorship, merchandising, management fees and distributions from our endowment. Roughly $800K is raised annually in contributions to balance the budget each year.
- For expenses, beyond events in which we spend about the same as what we earn on direct event-related expenses, our costs include $1.9 million in payroll and $700K in shared costs such as rent, insurance, technology, and other services. In the end, because the squash market is relatively small, any investments we make to elevate our programs and services or drive growth must come from the squash community itself.
- Here is a link to our recently published Annual Report which covers the 2016-2017 season.
Lastly, along the lines of our long term investments, I want to highlight our commitment to maintaining a positive and sportsmanlike environment for junior squash and we really appreciate all of your support in these efforts. There were varied perspectives on the roles parents, coaches, and US Squash should play in this, and what expectations we should have of each other, and we look forward to continuing our discussion, and making more progress in this area.
Best wishes to your family for the Thanksgiving holiday. We are thankful for your involvement and support for squash. We at US Squash all feel fortunate to have such a great sport and community in our lives.