The Slippery Slope

Why does squash have trouble retaining women in the game? The answer is simple: people. People=leagues=retention.

I recently got an email from someone I haven’t met. I mentioned I couldn’t attend a dinner because of a squash committment and this is the verbatim, unsolicited response:

(I still have an old squash racquet sitting in my basement. I used to play at the downtown Y when I lived in Trolley Square. I took up squash as the courts were less crowded then the racquetball courts. Then I started doing a lot of travel for work and it got too hard to schedule my weekly league match so I dropped out and once I no longer did a league I slowly stopped playing as the league was where I met the people to play with. Then I had kids…..)


Ten days ago the fifth annual Stanley W. Pearson, Jr. Hardball Invitational came off in grand style in Philadelphia. This throwback, throw-it-back event, run by the ebullient Pearson clan, has done a ton to not only perpetuate hardball singles in the early post-switch era, but also it brings back the look of the eighties and early nineties. A lot of old tournament tee-shirts were in force (I proudly donned my 1984 Philly Districts shirt, forest green ribbing). In the finals, Eric Pearson faced off against Rich Repetto. Eric won in five (last year he won in four against Rich). Both players used Head SX2 racquets the entire tournament. This helps slow the match down a bit—using today’s racquets makes the ball fly too fast in the smaller court—and it helps remind everyone just how sweet those old racquets were. There is talk of someone re-issuing smaller head racquets like the SX2 again. 


Getting a worldwide handicap or rating system is hard. The U.S. golf handicap was created in 1911 but even today there are different systems in Great Britain and Ireland, in South Africa and in Australia. Tennis in America has had a rating system since 1979. In September 2000 the International Tennis Federation launched a worldwide  system, the international tennis number, but it hasn’t been accepted everywhere yet.

Even in real tennis, a sport with about five thousand participants in just four countries, it took a centuries for a mathematical system to be adopted (in 1984) and then more struggle before a global, computerized one only was implemented in 2001. Even then there were pockets of resistance.

In squash, it is a mess. Last month I helped host and play in a match in Philadelphia against a team from England. Without a global ratings system, we were left to figure out who to match them up against in a way that is shockingly primitive in the twenty-first century. The extent of our information from the tour captain was: 

Number 1 has played for England at U17 level (national standard) but just returned from Afghanistan though, so won’t be at the top of his game; Number 2-6 are good club level standard (UK County standard); Number 7-8 are average club level standard; Number 9-11 are below average club level standard.

We had trouble translating that and fielded a team that was too strong. 

A decade ago, the U.S. adopted its ratings system.



Hmm, ratings, grading, rankings, classifications, classements. From that you will anticipate that I am going to say that there are an array of systems.


Australia, for example, have a pennant competition with a ranking system called Matrix, New Zealand have gradings, the French and others have classement where they rank hundreds or thousands. I have dim memories of place where depending upon how high you play in a club team and in which division you are categorised. And then there is the various half points in USA.


Meanwhile personally I am part of a ranking system where I boast a position of three……in my home!


I have no knowledge of what, if anything, WSF has done historically in this area to encourage uniformity, but I think it would be a fruitless exercise as so much depends upon the local circumstances and systems that evolve to cater for them. For example, I used to run graded events in England and struggled to get entries, whereas they are very popular in NZ.


We also have to bear in mind that lower than county / state / regional level the value of these listings can be irrelevant for most players. If they play in their club league / ladder they know where they feature, and in all probability never play beyond their own club. Their league number is their ranking.


Of course, in an ideal world, for squash to somehow evolve a uniform system like golf’s rankings would be great, but there is no clamour and it would be problematic.


For now there are more important matters front and centre. No, not the minor matter of the Olympic bid but my tilt at second spot in my home!


Hope all goes well with you.