The squash program at the Middle School expanded this year to give up-and-coming athletes more opportunities to learn and play. For years, Grade 6-8 students have played on a very successful and active rec team, but coaches wanted to provide them with greater preparation for the competitive league at the Senior School.
“It’s hard to have really competitive kids at the Senior School level if you don’t funnel them in the right way,” says squash coach Chris Hanebury. “For the last few years we’ve had so many kids playing recreationally at the Middle School; some were really keen and wanted to play in tournaments, so we decided this year was the right time to select some of our top prospects and start giving them more competitive training and getting them into more tournaments, so hopefully that’ll help as they move forward in the sport.”
Among the dozen Middle Schoolers playing are Grade 6 student Alex B. and Grade 8 student Gosha I. Alex has played the sport off and on with her dad since she was 5, and last school year (as a 10-year-old Junior School student) she trained and competed with the competitive Senior School team, and performed exceptionally well at provincial and national competitions. Gosha first played squash in Grade 6 and played on the recreational team last year, meaning he is now getting his first taste of playing the sport more competitively.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “It’s entertaining, you get to spend a lot of time with your teammates, and you really get to bond. And I like having the opportunities to play in more tournaments.”
Both athletes say they enjoy squash because it’s played solo – the victories and the losses fall entirely on your shoulders; and playing the sport competitively allows them to experience both sides of that.
“It’s fun to go to tournaments and get crushed. Once you meet all these different people, it’s like ‘Whoa, I’ve still got so much room to improve. I need to practice more!'” Alex says, adding that a loss at this level isn’t discouraging, it’s motivating.
“You always see the people who are better than you and sometimes you play them. It can either motivate you to get as good as them, or it could just bring you down,” Gosha says. “It’s just how you want to think about it.”
The pair say they love the mental side of squash. Alex says it’s “more mental than physical, in a way” because as tired as you can get physically (which certainly happens), you need to always be thinking about the game.
“I think that most kids enjoy that about the game. You get on there and you can always have fun just hitting a ball.” Chris adds. “But it can also be a physical game of chess – a lot of people like the thinking behind it and I know a lot of these Middle School students are really starting to get that.”
Alex and fellow Grade 6 squash player Christian Y. will join members of the Senior School team next week (Nov. 13-15) at the Alberta Jesters Junior Open Squash Championships in Edmonton. There, SMUS athletes will compete against students from across Canada.
As coach Chris says, the future of the squash program at SMUS certainly looks bright. And with students really gravitating towards the new competitive team, it is “definitely going to pave the way for the future of the competitive program, from Middle School all the way to Senior School.”
(photos by Darin Steinkey)