Trinity squash, against the wall?

Will Trinity students embrace the opportunity to facilitate a renaissance in Irish squash? Mark Kelly is hopeful.

sport1Can squash improve College’s standing as an innovative and creative force, a catalyst for economic, social, creative and intellectual growth and regeneration, both nationally and internationally? In this article I will answer this question with a resounding yes. However, despite an extremely colourful and successful year, with a recent win over UCD at intervarsities, squash at Trinity faces an uncertain future. Plans are afoot to build a new School of Business co-located with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub on the technology side of the campus along Pearse Street. In and of itself, this is wonderful news for College but it does mean demolition of the Luce Building is due to commence in September (when Trinity’s Strategic Plan 2014-19 will also be launched), leaving Trinity squash without a home.

Whilst researching and writing this piece I have spent a lot of time being distracted by two squash events, both streamed live to my laptop. One is the 11th Canary Wharf Squash Classic in London which sees the world’s greatest male players battle it out ( and the other is the Five Nations U13/15 Junior Championships ( being hosted by two Dublin-based clubs – Mount Pleasant ( and Leinster Sports Complex ( I am currently in awe of an Ireland v France clash where both 12 year old contenders are playing mesmerizing squash.

Top-level, televised squash is now played on glass courts, with a white ball against a dark background. And the rules have changed to make the games shorter. It is perfect for TV, but developments in relation to realising the full potential of squash TV are, all things considered, I think it is fair to say, relatively nascent. If in doubt about the entertainment value of televised squash, I urge you to watch the Commonwealth Games in July ( or right now on YouTube, particularly if produced by

Squash is certainly fighting a public relations battle but one way of winning it, as far as I can make out, is through mini-squash (MS). MS is the progressive introduction of fitness and generic squash skills to young people. It is approved by Irish Squash and a number of national governing bodies throughout the world. Overall, MS is designed to be delivered in schools, clubs and leisure centres to meet key fitness and educational aims.

In my considered opinion, a professional focus on grassroots development, defining optimal strategies that enable effective participation as volunteers, can mean only one thing: the exponential and inexorable growth of squash. With this in mind, the values that sustain volunteerism (free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity) seek to engender a desire to contribute to the common good without expectation of material reward.

Squash is played in some 185 countries, on nearly 50,000 courts, by over 10 million people and unmistakably therefore, is a truly international phenomenon. Although only one of the reasons I love the game, such cosmopolitanism is very high up on my list. Interestingly, Dublin University Squash Rackets Club (DUSRC) 2013-14 Committee consists of no less than six nationals, and that’s not including the Captain’s Vietnamese extraction. The club therefore benefits from a truly diverse international character. Squash players are generally warm-spirited people. If my experience is anything to go by, wherever you go in the world for a game of squash, all you need do is say you are visiting and a warm welcome will be given.  Squash is a convenient game. Only two players are required and the participants benefit from an intense, weather-proof work out in a short time – ideal therefore in between lectures or during lunchtime. Anyone who plays and enjoys squash struggles to understand why more people aren’t participating.

Squash is getting stronger. It is developing as a sport, largely as a result of social media campaigns and online sites, particularly those embracing squash as a tool for promoting healthier lifestyles and goals in general such as fitness work, mental training, skills development and nutrition (see as an outstanding example of one such online tool).

Irish universities are never going to emulate their American cousins by getting involved in high-visibility, semi-professional, mass audience competition, not that they would want to if given the choice. But they most certainly can be instrumental in resurrecting squash as a participatory sport in Dublin and Ireland’s four provinces. DUSRC already works with a local school to introduce pupils to squash, through an initiative which also encourages students to obtain basic coaching qualifications and experience. The current and former Captains, as well as other DUSRC Committee members, are qualified coaches, registered with Irish Squash.

As expressed by Paul Assaiante of Trinity College (Connecticut), the most successful coach in American college sports history (U.S. Olympic Coach of the Year 2012), coaching is not only concerned with skills development: it is about pride and instinct, control and anger-management, talent and mentoring. It is ultimately about leadership. These are the sorts of universal challenges that every parent and coach faces up to, daily. The current President of the World Squash Federation Jahangir Khan (Jahangir means ‘conqueror of the world’ in Urdu) became world amateur champion by the time he was fifteen,  world Open champion at seventeen and the British Open champion at eighteen. No male squash player has ever dominated so completely.

How did Khan become world champion? In Winning Squash (1985), he explains ‘The first lesson is hearing from others what can be achieved…[and] the next thing you need after discipline and determination, is ambition’. He emphasizes the need for good coaching in order to address the desires of children genuinely interested in squash: ‘Motivation may come from inside, but sometimes it may need a good coach to sustain it’. Khan appreciates that everyone has a natural style of their own: ‘If you are small or light or not very powerful it is still possible to be an outstanding squash player’. The importance of fitness and skill combined with the quirkiness and peculiarity of each individual’s game, makes squash a magically magnetic spectacle.  As Khan explains: ‘It takes many, varied and subtle things to become advanced player. It requires your developing a style, a way of playing that suits your character, abilities and strengths’.

College is in a very privileged position with the recent election of Michelle Tanner (Trinity’s Head of Sport and Recreation) as President of ENAS – the European Network of Academic Sports Service ( – the first Irish appointment to such a vital and prestigious role. The Network aims to foster the development of ‘sport for all’ in higher education. Since 2001 ENAS is an official non-governmental organization with its own constitution. Its aims include the development of communication between academic sport services and the exchange of ideas and experiences of different countries in the field of recreation, health, culture and physical education.

Trinity’s Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast, has recently highlighted the importance of sport to student development, explaining that employers specifically seek graduates who have ‘held leadership positions in clubs or societies and have taken part in a team sport. We know that active involvement in any club or society engages students in myriad life-skills including: management, communications, event organisation, fund-raising, travel, volunteering, community values and leadership’.

Given the amount of untapped potential within European collegiate squash, what a wonderful opportunity this could be for College. As Honorary Treasurer and Secretary of Student Sport Ireland ( it is clear Tanner, a former international volleyball player with the Irish senior team, exudes passion and energy. During a recent conversation, she lamented the loss of Trinity’s squash facilities and in particular the extent to which participation will be affected by the cutbacks. On the positive side, she also enthused about the potential presence of courts at the Trinity Technology and Enterprise campus (T-TEC) on Pearse Street, which is situated alongside a diverse array of creative multinationals and start-up companies.

I have recently spoken with Eoin Ryan, Resident Squash Coach at Sutton LTC ( Ryan has been coaching squash for over 25 years and was named Irish Squash Coach of the Year 2013. He currently coaches over 120 junior players and his programmes have brought juniors from beginner to a national and international stage. Many of his players have competed and won at top European and International level. Two of his juniors are about to take up scholarships at Harvard and Drexel universities in the U.S. Drexel Squash Club has strong ties through volunteer work with Squash Smarts, a Philadelphia Youth Enrichment Program, which combines the sport of squash with academic tutoring and mentoring of under-served urban youth, in order to develop self-esteem and discipline through academic, athletic and personal achievement. Similar programs throughout America and across the world are supported by the National Urban Squash and Education Association (

Although Sutton LTC has recently received permission to build two new squash courts, supply is not meeting demand; there is a waiting list of 40 children owing to the shortage of facilities. Ryan whole-heartedly endorses Trinity as an ideal central location for developing a squash centre of excellence in order to facilitate the growth and development of squash in Ireland. During our conversation, he also stressed the fundamental need for all who are interested in the sport to be included and catered for. In less than a year, for example, over 200 lady members over 50 years of age have joined Sutton LTC.

Elvy Da Costa has been Trinity’s Head Coach for over twenty years. He has coached, guided and mentored the full range of players from beginners through to world ranked international competitors. How best to describe him? Humility and patience immediately spring to mind. When asked about what he considers his role to consist of? ‘It is to support the student endeavour’. Stressing that some years there is more for him to do than others, he has been bowled over by the success of Trinity squash in recent years. In particular, the sense of team work amongst Committee members and their commitment to coaching City Quay National School children, he considers to be as strong a measure of the club’s success as anything else.

Rob Ta, DUSRC’s Captain, has recently enlightened me that Da Costa has helped to supervise and coach intellectually disabled students at Trinity in collaboration with the Department of Sport and the National Institute of Intellectual Disability ( at Trinity. And it is in relation to such initiatives that Da Costa is most evidently passionate: ‘I cannot overstate what I have seen the participant coaches/assistants and players get from and develop, through these activities’.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Vice Provost for Global Relations has stated that College is well on its way to becoming a university of ‘global consequence’: ‘All those associated with Trinity, students and staff, past and present, home and abroad, will have a role in our Global Relations Strategy. Success will depend on the energy, goodwill and outward-looking attitude of colleagues throughout the University’.

Trinity could be missing out on a huge opportunity to host a sports event on the world stage. I cannot think of a better way to highlight Trinity College, University of Dublin as a global brand than via a live streaming of a yearly squash tournament held on the Front Square. I would be hard pushed to think of a more exciting example of student-led social entrepreneurship. Back in 2012, an article in Trinity News ran with the headline ‘Pfizer set to stun with investment in Science Gallery’. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht at the time commented ‘The Science Gallery is fast becoming a leader in demonstrating how a major cultural institution can harness both state and private sector philanthropic support’. Students of Trinity can aim just as high in seeking sponsorship and support for their chosen sport. This would unreservedly justify the 15% of staff and 10% of students who stated in a recent Identity Initiative survey (brainchild of Trinity’s communications and marketing team) that Trinity should aim to ‘be itself’, in addition to, or perhaps instead of being, more like Oxbridge!

The sport-in-a–room love affair I have touched upon in this article never ceases to amaze me. Like all good feelings, mine are deeply personal, connected to something much bigger than myself. Who would have imagined that a game with such social prestige (I would like to think as much now for its egalitarianism as its corporate elitism) was born in a debtors’ prison? Squash is the child of ‘rackets’, a game which originated from Fleet, an infamous jail in London. In 1601, the poet, satirist, lawyer, politician and priest (Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London from 1621-31) John Donne, was imprisoned in Fleet along with the priest who married him and the man who witnessed the match until it was proven that his secret wedding to Anne Donne, née Moore (with whom he had twelve children), was legal and valid.

Donne may not have picked up a racket during his stay at Fleet (rackets didn’t catch on until the early 19th century) but his recusant spirit, his belief in the value of scepticism balanced with an abiding faith in human beings, has undoubtedly inspired many in sport. The values of courage, creativity, respect, determination, inspiration, excellence not to mention reinvention, amongst many others, are the driving force of the sporting spirit but let’s not forget they are also metaphors for life. Trinity’s, Dublin’s and Ireland’s squash communities, I firmly believe, are fully capable of bringing about a renaissance, the nature of which I have alluded to in this article. Together, they represent a deep reservoir of quality, talent and experience. Donne’s work inspires a healthy appetite for life and its pleasures. It is therefore appropriate that the last word should go to him: ‘No man is an island, Entire of itself…’.