Richard Pilcher started coaching squash at Felsted School (Essex) in Oct 2014 as a volunteer assistant to the Level 1 coach (semi-retired staff member) Alisdair Thompson. Alisdair had started a club night at the school termed “Friends of Felsted’’ and introduced squash activities and games sessions in the senior school as he started to rejuvenate the squash offering. Alisdair retired in July 2014. Richard, after taking his level one coaches course, took over the delivery and development of squash at the school from that point on and has progressed the sport to a stage where the (2) courts are very busy both in the evening, after school and during the day. He is assisted in this effort by one of the teachers at the school, David Smith, who is a Level 1 coach and current Essex age group player with many years’ playing experience.
Richard’s love of the sport, enthusiasm and passion comes across when he starts to describe the development journey from those formative days in 2014. In the early days there were people (both adults and juniors that expressed an interest in playing but had no established pathway or structure to follow. Clearly in order to get meaningful progression and formally establish the sport in the school as a part of curriculum delivery changes had to be made. Due to his persuasive and encouraging nature it wasn’t long before this happened and the school began to realize how quickly the sport could reach a higher profile in the mainstream sporting environment and a Development Plan was drawn up.
The junior squash development program really started to “take off” in the 12-18 month period from Oct 2015 to 2016. He passed his Level 2 coaches award and in the Sept of that year (2015) Richard started a full program of activities for pupils in the preparatory school as well as the senior school. He is paid by a mixture of the schools, parents and players working 30-35 hours per week. His focus is mainly on squash but he also has involvement with rugby and girls’ cricket.
In the academic year 2015-2016, the school started to play friendly/competitive matches against other schools and the Off The Wall Squash Academy. Pupils also participated in the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS) National Squash Tournament. Pupils also continued to play in the National Schools Competition and other open events. At the end of 2016 season 3 players Abdulla Akbar (U15), Jessica Baxter (U13) and Max Watts (U13) were selected to play for Essex. Abdulla the schools top boy player won the Essex Junior Grand Prix title (U15) and Jessica was runner up (U13 girls). They have now been joined in development squads at U-11 and U-13 level by 5 other players: Ben Bushell, Austin Kershaw, Tom Hart, Olly Hart and George Sweeting.
During the 2016/2017 school year Jessica has won the Girls Intercounty National Team Trophy with Essex in January and the Gent Cup as girls’ national champion at the IAPS tournament in April. She, Max and Abdullah have played in other events for Essex and taken part and been well placed in the County Open & Closed Competitions. George and Jess also lead the Essex Junior Squash Grand Prix standings as at April. Ben Bushell was plate runner up at IAPS in the U-11 category. Players new to the game also took part in the squash section of the Essex Games. A full program of school matches and participation in National Schools Competition continued.
In this Academic Year already the longer-term effects of the program are starting to show and adult participation numbers have grown from 15 in (Dec 2015 to 42 regular players Feb 2017) Junior numbers not surprisingly have also dramatically increased from 20 (Dec 2015 to 66 (Feb 2017) – testament to the great effect and enthusiastic, determined, passionate and well organized coach can make.
His development focus going forward for the short term is to focus on girl and female player participation growth and he will be utilizing the assistance of top girl player Jessica Baxter to act as a positive role model for those girls who in the past have seen squash as a “boys’ only sport”. The more experienced players will also start to focus on competitions above the Grand Prix level.
Richard believes for school’s squash to be successful the following are essentials:
- Key to have a structure and pathways for performance and participation development
- Introduce internal leagues/ladders for all age groups. Provide trophies and awards for winners and most improved players.
- Implementation of Off The Wall Squash Awards to provide players with measurable challenges and rewards for progress.
- Link in with other schools to give competitive opportunities at the right level
- Expose as many to the sport as possible kids/teachers/parents/adults etc.
- Link with the club “Friends of Felsted” – parents who used to play squash encouraged back into the game as their children now play
- Develop a “squash community” including all ages who act as role models for the younger ones
- Include all standards in some form of match play to widen the base and develop depth. This can be internal as well as external.
- A Driver is essential! Their sole focus should be squash.
- Promote the better players and increase their profile. This also helps to emphasize the importance of the sport in and to the school. Use newsletters, Twitter and Facebook.
- Build a link with other development partners (locally and regionally) and play lots of friendly matches! Ie Essex Junior Squash and Off The Wall Squash Academy.
- A flexible attitude is essential in terms of dealing with all the academic demands of the school and non-curricular and curriculum usage
- Support from sports management at school and parents.
- Well maintained, clean and warm courts.
In the future Richard would like to see the school qualify for the main draw of the England Squash Schools National Champs consistently, get more girls playing on a regular basis, and continue to increase the profile of the sport in the school.
Clearly a pretty successful last two to three years! – if anyone would like to speak to Richard about how this has all happened and some of the key points and detail please feel free to contact him via email on email@example.com or via phone on 07803 702 934/01371 822 902.