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The Club Manager

A complete reference source for club managers, as a single document to make it easier for you to print, save and digest.

Success Stories
Nottingham Squash Club

Thame Racquets Fitness Centre

Dulwich Squash Club

Chichester Lawn Tennis & Squash Club

 

SQUASH – WHAT’S THE SCORE?

Trends in the leisure market and how they are affecting squash

Squash may never again hit the heights it achieved in the eighties. Since 1983/84, when there were over three million squash players in the UK (7% of the adult population), participation has fallen to one and a quarter million – a mere 2.7% (Source 1998 TGI from British Market Research Bureau International). Those players who have remained loyal to the game aren’t getting any younger, while there are now more leisure activities than ever competing for the attention of children. On the whole, consumers prefer to pay a single fee to join a multi-purpose leisure club and use a gym, swimming pool and squash and tennis courts than join separate clubs.

The result affects us all, particularly the squash clubs. Traditional clubs are closing or being subsumed by fitness and leisure chains while many of those that remain are struggling for survival. Ted Wallbutton, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the World Squash Federation and former Marketing Manager of the English SRA, believes that the recent 'stagnation' of squash in the UK is a natural response to the massive growth of the sport in the late ‘70s. "Squash underwent such a boom in that period that too many squash courts were built, so the reduction in courts has been part of a natural retrenchment," explains Wallbutton. John Treharne, Chairman of the SRA and Managing Director of Dragons Health Clubs, attributes the present situation to the attitude prevalent in many squash clubs in the ’80s. "When the good times were rolling clubs were very elitist and didn't fully invest in more facilities," he says. "The members’ clubs in particular were often only concerned with how good at squash a person was rather than encouraging more people to play the game."

Although some clubs are reducing their court numbers, there are still some 150 new courts being built in the UK every year. But there is more to it than the number of squash courts. One barometer of the popularity of squash is ball sales. Dunlop is the dominant force in the marketplace and Paul Walters, Dunlop's International Racketsports Marketing Manager, confirms that ball sales have remained fairly static in recent years. Squash camps and courses too seem to be enjoying something of a revival: The number of juniors enrolling on Bryan Patterson’s Universal Squash Camps is up by 50% compared with 1995/96 despite increased competition from other new courses.

Like most other businesses in the ’90s squash is being forced to do some streamlining, adopt a more business like mentality at all levels and consider itself as a competitor for an increasingly targeted leisure market.

How can this be achieved? Below we examine different aspects of the squash scene and look at the initiatives taken by some clubs to reverse its decline.

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CLUBS – WINNERS AND LOSERS

Adapting to a new leisure environment

The different types of club are reacting in different ways:

The health and fitness clubs are integrating squash into their overall package.

"In our multi-purpose clubs now we are finding people taking up squash because it is part of the package they have paid for and it adds an element of competitiveness that gym work doesn't," says John Treharne, Managing Director of Dragons. "We have on average four courts in a club and the pros are very busy. We have leagues and competitions but we can also target groups like housewives by providing crèches, which many squash clubs don't. In the new breed of multi-gyms we try to find an extra edge over the competition and squash or tennis courts is often that edge, so the game is developing again but in a different way." David Lloyd Leisure have a similar philosophy: of their 28 clubs (six more are due to come on stream this year) most have at least two squash courts, as well as tennis and badminton. Likewise Pinnacle Clubs, seven of whose ten centres have at least four squash courts.

A significant factor in the equation is that the drop-out rate for gym members is 60%, whereas squash players tend to be far more loyal.

The proprietary clubs are under pressure to make squash profitable. In many cases this means diversifying and taking out courts in order to provide gyms and other facilities (see Success Story 2).

Traditional member-owned clubs, which rely on volunteers to carry out marketing and organise activities, must decide whether they will benefit from taking on professional management. The costs are high, but the rewards can be significant, as Dulwich Squash Club discovered (see Success Story 3).

The question facing leisure centres, where squash courts may only be used at peak times, is whether to put money and effort into trying to attract players at other times or to convert courts for other uses. Beckenham Leisure Centre recently agreed to run a pilot course aimed at getting ladies who were attending gym sessions during day onto their squash courts. In the first week seven turned up. By week four there were 25 women taking part – some playing squash, some racquetball – and by the time the course came to an end, many were offering to pay to continue.

Useful Contacts:

English Sports Council:
Sports Information Line 0171 273 1500 (2–4pm)
‘Running Sport’ programme 0345 585136
Publications 0990 210255
Sport England Lottery Line 0345 649649
Scottish Sports Council 0131 317 7200
Sports Council for Wales 01222 300500
Sports Council for Northern Ireland 01232 381222
Foundation for Sport and the Arts 0151 524 0235
Sportsmatch (Department of National Heritage and the Institute of Sports Sponsorship) 0171 233 7747
English SRA 0181 746 1616
Irish Squash 01 450 1564
Scottish Squash 0131 317 7343
Squash Wales 01222 704096

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Success Story 1 – Nottingham Squash Club

Nottingham Squash Club is owned and managed by its 800 members. It has eight courts and a small gym. Two years ago Nottingham suffered its first serious decline in membership. Its response was to spend £1,000 on a leaflet drop. Some 30,000 homes were selected after a demographic study and the effect was almost instantaneous. Within the first month 80 new members had joined and in the past year the total has risen to 250.

The club’s location close to the city centre and its excellent reputation for squash were Nottingham’s principal selling points, but another significant attraction was the introduction of a monthly payment option; 30% of full members now take advantage of this scheme. The membership fee also includes court usage and lighting, so there is no pressure on members to play frequently. Additional revenue is raised from the bar, which is staffed by members (bar profits alone last year amounted to some £30,000). Cost savings are made by not employing reception staff and by managers answering the phones during the day.

Nottingham is in the process of making an application for a Lottery grant. If this is successful, two more courts will be built and the gym area extended, but the application process has been complex. Lottery funding normally covers up to 65% of a project but competition is fierce and successful applicants must meet strict criteria.

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SELLING SQUASH

Tapping the market for new players

"It is patently untrue to say that you can't get people to play squash; it just requires the right approach," asserts Tony Lorimer, Manager of Dulwich Squash Club in South London. "Squash is a perfect activity through which to meet a variety of people in a social environment. It is a competitive sport which combines skill and fitness. The development of lightweight graphite rackets has liberated squash by allowing all to compete on equal terms."

The ‘right approach’ must encompass marketing and advertising as well as club organisation. Telesales campaigns can be successful in attracting potential members to the club, but the way they are dealt with and followed up is crucial, as is monitoring the activity of new members. "To persuade novice and existing players to join an unfamiliar club requires a welcoming attitude easiest achieved within the context of a Club Night," says Lorimer. "This should be held weekly and organised either by a volunteer (perhaps rewarded with free membership) or professionally including coaching. A suitably 'dead' night should be easy to find."

A designated individual should be identified in promotional information to present a human face and a point of contact for new members. Non-members should be welcomed on payment of a guest fee. Allowing people to attend without obligation reduces the pressure on them – a relaxed customer is more likely to buy.

The standard on these nights should be deliberately mixed to reassure new players that, once they are ready to enter the club leagues, they will encounter players of a similar standard. Once they join, it is a simple matter to allocate them a league position based on the results of games played at the Club Night.

It is essential also to cultivate good relations with the local press; it’s surprising how much free publicity can be obtained. Reputation is also very important. The Racquets Centre in Thame have worked hard to develop a good reputation. "When we first took over we cut prices to make ourselves attractive," explains Manager Sue Downhill, "but people want quality and will pay for it."

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Success Story 2 – Thame Racquets Fitness Centre

Three years ago the Racquets Fitness Centre in Thame, Oxfordshire, was taken over by new management. It had four squash courts, a gym/dance studio, a bar and dining area. The Centre started as a pure squash club but ten years ago the fifth court was converted into a gymnasium.

Last year it made a profit. According to Manager Sue Downhill, it was a result of "hard work, and then more hard work! We set about making the club more user-friendly, a more sociable, pleasant environment by improving facilities and then we gradually increased prices. If people enjoy coming to the club and feel valued, they will tell their friends. Word of mouth is so important."

The addition of a gym was felt to be crucial in attracting new members and recently the club further developed this idea with the addition of a weights room and a specialist cardiovascular room. "It was what the members wanted," explains Downhill, "so we felt that we had to supply it."

The key to the club’s success is retention of members. It now has 1,150 members, of which 450 are regular squash players. "Squash players become hooked and naturally renew their membership, so the key for us was to get the gym members to renew. The best way to do this was to get them involved in squash because squash is a social activity and gym isn't," explains Downhill.

Thame’s Squash and Activities Manager, Simon Martin, stresses the importance of having people responsible for separate tasks. "We work hard individually," says Martin, "but we are all part of a team. We all have to treat every single member as if they are the most important person. It’s customer service that counts."

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Key Points – Marketing

Dave Courteen, Chairman of the Fitness Industry Association, says:

  1. Know your niche; highlight and profile a section of the market.
  2. Remember people have a choice of clubs so personal attention is vital. Everyone wants to feel important.
  3. Leaflet drops raise awareness and interest. Quality and presentation is crucial – it is often the first impression of the club.
  4. Offer incentives such as easy payment plans and direct debit; free coaching; days when members can bring guests.
  5. Network with local businesses; offer corporate memberships.
  6. Use your local media. Run competitions on the radio or in the press, weekly articles on fitness.
  7. Pump the referrals
  8. Emphasise exclusivity.
  9. Be zany; capture people’s imagination.
  10. And then some – offer more than people expect.

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Your Club and the Internet

The Internet is an important and inexpensive new medium for promoting and managing your club. Instead of sending out costly newsletters, the club can keep members informed via a web-site. This also involves the members in actively searching for information. Leagues, fixtures and news can be e-mailed to members.

"If a club is actively seeking members the Internet is an excellent promotional tool," explains Steve Cubbins, Internet expert and Manager of the Squash Player Internet site. "In fact a page in our Club Directory is an absolute must for any club. Simply ‘download’ the form, fill it in and send it back. None of the hassle and expense of registering, designing and updating your own site; we’ll do it all for you – free! You can even customise your page with pictures etc. at a very low cost." The Squash Player site is at www.squashplayer.co.uk .

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RUNNING SQUASH

Giving members what they want

"Those of us involved in the organisation of squash can learn a great deal from the approach of the fitness industry," maintains Lorimer. "They know that to attract and retain their customers’ interest and commitment they must deliver what customers want – and continue to deliver it!"

Sue Downhill concurs: "Thame has developed a personal touch to all dealings with members. The internal leagues are all computerised but the participants receive their own personalised league table and fixture list through the post. In doing this we feel we are making the Centre an important part of each member’s social life."

Phil Songhurst of Nottingham Squash Club emphasises the importance of the quality of the facilities and the need to keep things as simple as possible for members, whether it is convenient monthly payment schedules or simple booking procedures.

At Lee-on-the-Solent Squash Club in Hampshire they recently introduced a Gold Card scheme whereby members pay more but everything is included (squash, tennis, gym and snooker). Lee has enjoyed a squash revival in the past 12 months and are now wishing they had not converted one of their seven courts into a gym three years ago.

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Key Points – Management

  • Segregate tasks.
  • Appoint a dedicated sales and membership manager.
  • Involve members in all decisions and listen to their requests.
  • Use the personal touch.
  • Keep procedures simple and convenient.
  • Ensure quality of facilities and equipment is always as expected; slipping standards equals slipping membership.

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Success Story 3 – Dulwich Squash Club

Dulwich Squash Club in South London was opened in 1936 with two courts. A new clubhouse was built in 1972 and Dulwich now has four squash and eleven tennis courts as well as croquet and bowls lawns. A declining membership during the ’80s was artificially boosted in 1991 when nearby Dulwich Hamlet closed but the overall decline continued to a low point of 150 members in 1995.

Tony Lorimer joined the club in 1991 as a player and started organising activities such as fun nights. He became part-time manager in 1995 and has since built the membership to 216. Dulwich now has 20 leagues, a Pyramid Ladder and fun team squash.

"A Squash Open Day at Dulwich on the 7th March this year produced a record 16 new members," says Lorimer, who now runs three club sessions a week at different clubs, as well as a Pyramid Squash League for a local authority centre.

(And in case you’re wondering what a Pyramid Ladder is, see below.)

"I would be happy to share my ideas with other clubs," says Lorimer, who can be contacted at Dulwich Squash Club on 0171 274 1242. "What has worked for us could help you find the new members you need!"

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CREATING A BUZZ

Activities for all abilities

Activities not only offer opportunities for players to enjoy their squash and to meet others of a similar standard, but also allow the club to identify those members most at risk of dropping out.

League Squash

All squash clubs have a league structure of some kind but frequently the 'no-show' percentage is high. As the Racquets Centre in Thame has found, there are measures the club can take to increase participation. For example, all their league players are required to phone the two opponents below them, ensuring that everyone is committed in effort and time and feels involved. "Prevents prima donnas," says Simon Martin, Thame’s Squash Manager.

A corporate league has also been started at Thame in the summer when court usage normally drops off. This has proved successful and has widened the potential membership of the club. Importantly on these occasions the emphasis is on creating a good social atmosphere so that players are inclined to spend time (and money) in the bar afterwards.

Pyramid Squash

Pyramid squash combines the competitive element of a ladder or league with the added benefit of encouraging friendly games amongst players on the same level of the pyramid. Instead of only being able to challenge one or two people above you as on a conventional ladder, you may have a dozen people or more to contact.

Fun Team Squash

Fun teams are composed of mixed abilities from club champion to beginner. An ‘American handicap’ system is used (PAR scoring is used and better players start with minus score) and every point counts, so even beginners can contribute to the team score. Teams have silly names (and even sillier T-shirts) to emphasise the fun element.

Club Nights

Club nights should be targeted at different groups. At Thame, for example, Monday is Improvers' Night. The important thing is to tailor the programmes to members’ wishes. Enthusiastic members will start their own groups. Thame has about ten 'coffee morning girls' who play squash on a Thursday as well as getting together socially.

Racketball

Racketball is another activity that makes use of the squash court and, because the ball is bigger and bouncier than a squash ball, it is easier for less athletic and older people to play. If approached in the right way it can also act as a feeder into squash.

Tim Guppy has experienced this at Club Kingswood in Essex and Club Woodham on the east coast. When the clubs diversified in 1986 to accommodate gyms as well as squash courts, new members were predominantly interested in fitness so they came to racketball with no pre-conceived ideas. In fact many now use it as a part of their fitness routine – classes one day, gym another and racketball another.

"The great thing about racketball is that it is easy to play," says Guppy. "Where squash is a male dominated sport we have found that women enjoy racketball because it is less vigorous. We have also found that, as people develop better racket skills, they are keen to try squash, so definitely racketball can benefit squash."

Certainly racketball shouldn’t be regarded as a poor relation to squash. Treat it as something special, part of a membership ‘upgrade’. Make it attractive (free introductory sessions, free or hire rackets, emphasis on a good workout); make it easy (partner-finding service, flexible leagues); create variety (clinics, tournaments, ‘try squash’ sessions); and make it ‘visible’ (videos, charity competitions, posters, PA announcements).

Alternative Courts

Although the conventional white plaster squash court still predominates, there are various other options designed to make squash more appealing to the newcomer and consequently more viable for centres to have installed.

Half of Armourcoat’s new courts, for example, have coloured walls. German company ASB offer a Rainbow Court which, apart from adding colour and vibrancy to the game, also provides target areas for players and so aids coaching. ASB’s Game Court has movable walls that allow three conventional squash courts to be converted into two doubles courts or one larger space for activities such as aerobics. Edmonton Leisure Centre had the UK’s first Game Court installed in 1991 and now couldn’t manage without it.

If your club is considering new courts, it is worthwhile investigating all the alternatives available.

Doubles – Twice the Fun?

It’s not necessary to invest in movable walls to get people playing doubles squash. The Racquets Centre in Thame have found doubles a useful way of keeping the older generation playing. As elderly squash players become less keen to expose their increasingly frail joints to the pressures of the singles game, they are more than happy to double up and continue to exercise while participating in an active sport.

"The benefit of this from our point of view is that instead of losing members, we are getting the courts used and attracting four people at a time for lunch or a drink afterwards," says Sue Downhill.

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Success Story 4 – Chichester Lawn Tennis & Squash Club

This Sussex club started in the early ’60s as a tennis club, adding two and later three more squash courts.

The squash membership declined in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the club decided to upgrade its facilities and put in a gymnasium, also adding a restaurant, bar, steam room and sauna. "We changed our pricing system too," recalls Manager Peter Genever. "Until then squash and tennis had been separate, but now a single fee included both sports as well as use of all the other facilities. Court fees were abolished so that for little more than £4 per week members could play as often as they liked."

Another innovation was free membership for members’ children under 12. "There’s a period between 9 and 12 when kids do everything and don’t know what they really want to do," says Genever, "so we don’t start charging them until they’re 12." Then there’s a low fee for 12–18 year-olds and a medium fee for the 19–25s as well as a reduction for students regardless of age.

The club now has 700 members, of whom 100 or so play in teams. "But unlike many clubs we make sure team matches take place on Saturdays and Sundays as far as possible," explains Genever. "The majority of ordinary members get fed up if they can’t get a court in the evening because of matches. It’s a matter of achieving a balance between serious and recreational players."

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New Balls

Eighty-five per cent of the balls Dunlop sell are yellow dot balls, which are not suitable for many players and especially beginners. "This can't be good for the development of the sport, as many people are playing with the wrong ball and the difficulty of the yellow dot ball will put many beginners off," explains Dunlop’s Paul Walters. "To develop the game we need to attract a new group of players and that is why we are launching our New Ball Programme in June this year." The current blue/red/white dot balls will be replaced by two larger, bouncier, brightly coloured balls aimed at attracting newcomers to the sport.

All you ever wanted to know about Squash Balls

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The Pros of a Pro

A good professional can make a big difference to a club. He or she can not only provide a vital service to members but also create an enthusiastic atmosphere.

David Campion is the professional at Queens Sports Club in Halifax and significantly sees his role as much more than being available for coaching. "I think that for a pro to have a great effect on a club he needs to create a bit of a buzz," explains Campion. "The pro also needs to generate excitement by organising exhibitions and tournaments."

In the bar after matches is a good time to approach members about taking lessons. "The professional must avoid being ‘pushy’ and coaching should whenever possible be run on a casual, ‘drop-in’ basis; people will learn more if they want to be there," says Lorimer.

"You have to make it fun," says Dave Clarke, Head Coach at Edgbaston Priory, who runs everything from Junior Skills Programmes to fun handicap tournaments where kids play in flippers!

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Key Points – Activities

  • Be imaginative when it comes to organising leagues, ladders, tournaments and team competitions.
  • Emphasise the fun element.
  • Consider racquetball as a way-in to squash.
  • Investigate different court options.
  • Give doubles a try, especially with older members.
  • Exploit the new balls to attract new players.
  • Make the most of your pro or coach.

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Are you Running a Club... or a Facility?

by Bruce Brunning

Bruce Brunning is a director of Brunning & Price and a member of the SRA Executive Committee. He gives his view of what makes a club special.

The trouble with the modern health club concept is that it often misuses the word ‘club’. Many are not clubs at all but merely locations where one can exercise, and they can be pretty boring places, full of fanatics but seldom catering for any human need other than fitness – not even good health in the broader sense.

Clubs, in the traditional sense, are about relaxation and meeting people; they are a gathering of like minded people, the hub of your social life. In fact the catalyst – be it squash, tennis, fencing or whatever – matters not.

As managers or owners we must never lose track of this concept of the club as opposed to a mere facility. The fitness we provide is essentially a by-product of fun and competition between people.

Your members almost always debrief after their exercise with a beer or a coffee. They are most likely good friends; indeed it was possibly your club that made them so in the first place. Are they going to chat about how the treadmill really got to them today, how it slipped in another hill just as you were at your weakest – "the little bugger, caught me off balance. Still, next time I’ll have it grovelling in the back corner..." Hardly. For this you need an opponent, another human being.

Of course the real commercial plus of clubs as opposed to facilities is, to use the health club jargon, a ‘low churn rate’. Once a member loses interest in the gym (which most do sooner or later) they’re off. Not so if their social life revolves around a club. They may move down the membership ladder from Peak to Off Peak to Social – but they don’t go. Come to think of it, how many health clubs even bother with social membership – "Social, what’s that? This is a health club." How can you call yourself a club if people can’t be members just for the pleasure of it?

Here are ten ways to ensure that you are a club and not a facility. But don’t expect an instant response. Remember: overnight success takes around 13 to 15 years.

  • Ensure that you, and all the people you employ, are naturally committed to making others happy. This is the core principle of clubs.
  • Ensure that your club provides a good mix of facilities, but don’t be afraid to fly the flag for squash or to call yourself a Squash Club.
  • Have a great bar and club lounge – and have it run by ‘food and beverage’ people, not squash players or gym employees. Don’t be afraid of allowing your membership to indulge in the bad things of life. It’s probably why they joined you in the first place anyway.
  • Have well run leagues and teams. Pay someone to do it for you so that you can crack the whip. Competition is essential to any good squash club.
  • Always have a reasonably priced social membership – to allow ex-players to remain a part of the club.
  • Spend money on your courts with regularity. There is nothing more off-putting, particularly to female players, than a dingy, beaten up court. Paint the walls and change all the light bulbs every spring, as well as cleaning the courts from top to bottom.
  • Try coloured courts. They’re fresh, fun, bright and, if the floors are appropriately marked, one of the best coaching aids possible. It also clearly demonstrates your commitment to the future of squash.
  • Never import players into your club teams, and insist that all team players participate in the club’s internal leagues. No exceptions. Your teams will then be integral to the club, everyone will know the players and will want to support them. You may not be the best in the county in the short term but, given time, you will get very near the top. The real bonus is that you’ll have a respected club team.
  • Have lots of organised internal competitions – doubles, juniors, handicapped, etc. Run them over one weekend or at most seven days. And always have a Finals Night with entertainment, food and drink. Let your hair down and let your members do the same!
  • Show an interest in the national and international squash scene. Support your governing body and let your members know, through your noticeboards and your own knowledge, that we Brits are world leaders. Be proud – it’ll rub off!

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Clubs need club nights

by Matthew McFahn

SRA National Development Manager Matthew McFahn recalls his experience at Brentwood Leisure Centre and reveals the secrets of a successful Club Night.

The brief from Brentwood Leisure Centre was to increase court usage at weekends. Their four courts were fairly well used during the week with a number of more or less active leagues, but pretty quiet at the weekend.

We started by promoting a Saturday morning beginners’ course and a Sunday evening Club Night. We did both at once because the two activities interact.

The Club Night was in effect subsidised by the courses. It was a two hour session on a drop-in basis and we charged a very low fee (with a further discount for league players). The centre put up promotional posters and placed an ad in the local paper.

The first week we had 16 people on the course and 16 at the Club Night. Four years later the Nights are still running, with around 40 participants.

The key to a successful Club Night is rapid turnover. That means short matches (one game, PAR scoring), so that everyone plays (and meets) as many people as possible and waiting time between matches is minimised. Change the formula from week to week; a knock-out competition one week (with play-offs for the losers), a round robin the next. It’s essential that you, the coach, participate; it’ll be the highlight of someone’s week to take a few points off the pro. And if you can’t make it for any reason, make sure your replacement knows the formula and sticks to it.

Invite your course students to join in the Club Night, but don’t pressurise them. Let them come and watch, and only join in if they feel comfortable. We found that just over half did so. The important thing is to keep the atmosphere relaxed and make sure there’s a bar open afterwards.

The social aspect is crucial. Two people who came to Club Nights at Brentwood ended up getting married!

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All-day Racketball

by Zena Wooldridge

Zena Wooldridge is Sport & Recreation Manager at Birmingham University and Club Captain of Stourbridge Squash Club, where racketball is big business.

Stourbridge Lawn Tennis & Squash Club is a prime example of the contribution that racketball can make to the financial and social success of a traditional private members’ club.

Stourbridge has just over 1,000 members, more or less evenly split between tennis, squash and racketball. The racketball section has five ladies’ teams competing in the West Midlands Racketball League, with up to 150 ladies competing in daytime leagues and in the annual championships. But racketball at Stourbridge is far from being confined to ladies and weekdays. All those macho squash players who pooh-poohed racketball in the early days have become exponents of the game themselves. There are also loads of youngsters, an increasing number of retired squash players and tennis players too.

So where did it all start and what is the key to the success of racketball at Stourbridge?

Racketball was introduced to Stourbridge in 1981. The club had just completed an expensive extension when the recession hit. Two long-standing members, Malcolm and Liz Bate, introduced to racketball by friends, decided to bring the game to Stourbridge in an effort to offset the decline in use of the club’s new squash courts. A door-to-door leaflet drop inviting local ‘housewives’ to an introductory morning attracted an astounding response. And the rest is history.

There is no doubt that racketball was the major factor in the financial stability of the Stourbridge club over two decades of economic recession. But other clubs and sports centres have tried racketball, with limited success. Why? Because they have missed out at least one of the essential ingredients:

l Build on a solid social platform. The social network is the main source of new members – and racketball members can teach the squash and tennis sections a thing or two about looking after new members.

l Have a racketball committee which organises introductory courses, tournaments and social events. The ladies can also run their own crèche.

l Keep fees for daytime (weekday) membership low with no court fees. This will still generate a significant amount of revenue for very little outlay, supplemented by takings from the gallons of coffee, tea and soft drinks bought over the bar from 9:30am. Those clubs and sports centres that try to introduce racketball without a lounge and bar will inevitably struggle.

There has been a slight drop-off in daytime racketball over the last couple of years as more women return to work. But there are still thousands of women out there for whom racketball could be an ideal source of exercise and of a new social network, whilst contributing to the financial and social success of your squash club.

Squash and racketball are ideal partners. Marketed in the right way they are wholly complementary. Try out the formula in your club. Get it right and you can’t lose.

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10 steps to tournament success

by Andrew Shelley

Andrew Shelley has spent many years organising tournaments, from local to World Championship level. He lists some of the main points to consider.

Whether you’re organising the World Open or putting on a local junior tournament, the fundamentals are the same, even though some flexibility is required according to the particular requirements of each event. Here’s a checklist of things to remember:

1. Set the Style

Ask yourself the following questions: What type of event is it? What is the ‘theme’? What standard of player do you want to attract? Will you have different categories or age groups?

2. Make a Date

What is the best timing for the event – during the holidays, over a weekend, daytime or evenings? Check with your national association and county secretary that there isn’t anything else on at the same time in the same area, then register your dates with them.

3. In the Club

Prepare an accommodation list for participants (perhaps members will be willing to put them up), set up an ‘event desk’ (which could be at reception or in a separate room). Make sure that you have access to phones and other office machinery such as a word processor and photocopier.

When it comes to catering you’ll need to think of:

  •  the times players will want to eat;
  •  the type of food they will need (i.e. high in carbohydrate) and any special dietary requirements competitors or officials may have;
  •  a simple system for officials and press to get free meals (e.g. vouchers);
  •  whether you’ll need to apply for a bar extension;
  •  ensuring there’s a continuous flow of coffee to keep the organiser awake!

Don’t forget the social side and, particularly if it’s a junior tournament, involve the whole family.

Is there a first aid room, a physio, a medical officer? Will a stringing service be available?

And what about the spectators – have you considered them? Will you be charging admission? If so, what about club members?

Oh, and don’t forget to book the courts!

4. Money Matters

Set a budget and fix the entry fees. Get quotes from suppliers (e.g. caterers). Draw up sponsorship proposals (see page v). Will you need extra insurance for the event? Most important, list all the likely costs and make sure that income reaches the same level.

5. Team Building

Decide on your team ‘structure’ and find plenty of helpers (better to have lots of people each doing a small job than a few trying to do everything). Get your referees and markers and decide how they will be accommodated, fed, clothed, badged and paid. If possible involve the competitors themselves in refereeing and marking.

6. The Right Stuff

Check the courts well in advance and arrange any necessary repairs. Do all the lights work and will the heating be on? Make sure you have enough squash balls, markers’ pads and other stationery.

7. Up for the Cup

Recover trophies from previous winners and/or order new ones and sort out the prize money. Don’t forget about the Plate tournament. Get hold of other prizes and mementoes (sportswear, equipment, vouchers, etc. – NOT cheap plastic trophies) so that no one goes home empty-handed.

8. Quick on the Draw

You’ll need to decide whether to have one large draw or divide it into two or more categories, e.g. by age or ability. The latter arrangement makes things easier when it comes to allowing for rest periods between matches. (It also means there are more winners.)

Ensure that that every player gets at least two matches by running a Plate event. Distribute byes so that no one has to wait too long for a match and, if possible, arrange matches so that people are not playing people they know or play regularly.

Decide how you are going to produce the seedings and compile the draw sheets (plus some enlargements for display) along with other competitor information.

9. Spread the Word

Put up posters, send press releases, invite the press, arrange a photographer and delegate someone to write regular reports during the tournament. Think carefully about announcements and presentations. Who will make them? Will there be an opportunity for a rehearsal? Will you need a mike? Will it work?

10. Keep Smiling!

Make sure you get enough help to allow you to enjoy the event and want to do it again. And remember why you’re doing it: for the participants, for the club, for squash.

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The Key to Finding Sponsors

by Howard Harding

Howard Harding is PR consultant to the SRA, WSF, WISPA and PSA. He gives some tips on how to go about obtaining sponsorship.

Whether you’re running a local tournament or putting a team into the National League, the chances are that you’re going to need sponsorship to help cover the costs. But is it really a sponsor you’re looking for, or is it just their money you’re after? If it’s the latter, and you haven’t considered what you might be able to offer your ‘sponsor’ in return for that money, what you’re really hoping for is patronage.

Unfortunately there aren’t too many companies around today that are willing simply to give their money away, nowever worthy the cause, without seeing some return.

So the first thing you need to do if you want someone to invest in your event or team (and it doesn’t matter whether it’s £100 or £100,000) is to work out a range of benefits you can offer in return.

The most significant of these will probably be publicity.

You could offer title sponsorship – The Anycompany Squash Classic or Team – so that the company’s name appears every time the event or team is mentioned – on posters, entry forms, press releases, tickets, etc. The new title may seem a little strange and unwieldy to start with, but once you’ve lived with it for a while it’ll roll off the tongue with surprising ease, perhaps even becoming an indelible part of squashspeak!

Remember the tin – and then bear in mind that the number of people who might see the sponsor’s name on it will be limited to the players and the spectators. Offer your sponsor this prime space of course, but suggest also that you produce a poster which can be displayed in other clubs (as well as libraries, sports shops, etc.) in the area in order to extend awareness of the sponsorship to a much wider audience.

Hospitality is another key benefit that sponsorship can provide; offer your sponsor a reasonable number of tickets to each session or match and, if possible, a private room where the sponsor can entertain clients and customers.

A further way in which you can help sponsors promote themselves to their squash-playing clients is to organise a simple tournament (perhaps during the last day of an event) for them. The occasion would undoubtedly provide an excellent environment for both enjoyment and business.

Sponsors may well be able to use events to sell their products (which could be anyting from insurance policies to sports goods). The audience at the event may be just the target group they are after, so offer them the opportunity to set up a stand in an appropriate area.

Perhaps the names and addresses of your competitors would interest the sponsor (though here you have to keep on the right side of the Data Protection Act), or maybe the opportunity to include publicity material in the next mailing to your club members would be of interest.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of benefits that can be offered to a sponsor, simply an indication of some areas that can be considered. All sponsorships are different and all sponsors have different requirements. The key thing is to identify the aspects of your package that interest each potential sponsor the most and emphasise the benefits in this area.

At the end of the day you must offer sponsors something their competitors will be envious of. And remember, above all, that it must be a two-way relationship; it’s not just a matter of ‘take the money and run’.

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Coaching Means Business

by Peter Brown

Peter Brown is squash professional at the Wolverhampton Tennis & Squash Club and a former SRA Area Coach. He assesses the business aspects of coaching.

1. Advertising

When you start coaching or join a new club, you’ll want to advertise yourself, not only at the club itself, but in the local paper and maybe on local radio. You could make a simple poster and send it to local libraries and schools and other clubs which don’t have their own coach. You might want to have your car signwritten.

But don’t overestimate the value of advertising. When I joined Wolverhampton, I sent a letter to each of the 1,000 members promoting my service. Two responded. By far your best advertising medium is word of mouth. Always remember that you’re only as good as your last lesson, so you must give 100% every time.

Sign people up for series of lessons. Most of my day is now pre-booked by the same regular people, so I only have a few slots I need to fill.

2. Charging

Your charges will obviously depend on your qualifications and experience and on whether you’re paid a retainer by the club, but in any case you should beware of undercharging – it will imply that you’re not very good! You might also think it’s a good idea to offer discounts at off-peak times. I once offered a discount during school holidays, but I found that people started ‘bartering’ with me at other times, so I no longer do so.

You should build into your fees an allowance for overheads and travelling expenses and for court fees if necessary. If you’re earning more than £51,000 a year, you’ll need to register for VAT and that will mean increasing your rates by 17.5%. And, of course, as a self-employed person you’ll need to allow for income tax and national insurance contributions as well as a contribution to a personal pension and insurance against sickness, accidents and injuries.

Of course, the most important thing is to give value for money. No one will complain about paying £20 or £25 an hour if they start winning against people they’ve never beaten before.

3. Organisation

Being organised is not simply a matter of turning up on time for lessons and keeping records of pupils’ progress. It’s about managing your time. There are five programmes you should have:

  • an annual programme
  • a weekly programme
  • a weekend programme
  • a daily programme
  • a holiday programme

At the beginning of each year schedule your courses, with prices for each. Make sure you allow yourself time off during the day; you shouldn’t work more than three hours at a stretch without at least a change of scene. If you work seven days a week, give yourself a week off every six weeks. You need time to be with your family and to pursue your hobbies as well as to further your own playing career.

4. Variety

Try to vary your day as much as possible with group lessons and fitness training sessions at various levels. Non-stop individual coaching will eventually drive you nuts. About 30% of my time is taken up with group coaching, where a different approach is required. People who join group sessions are usually more interested in meeting people and having fun than in becoming great squash players.

Try to get involved in area coaching or coach training. Maybe aim for a tennis or badminton coaching qualification to give you flexibility and variety. Organise mix-in nights, junior mornings, tournaments and social events for the club. Put on exhibition matches and clinics.

Make sure also that you’re a member of all the club’s committees and have regular meetings with management. Let them know how many new members you’ve brought in and they’ll be happy.

Learn to string rackets and set up some sort of retailing scheme. Offer fitness testing or video analysis. Always remember, variety is the spice of life.

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Juniors – taking fun seriously

An active junior section is essential to the future of any squash club. But how do you get it started and how do you keep it going? Duncan Carey (Squash Development Manager & Coach at Alleynes local authority centre), Dave Clarke (Head of Squash at Edgbaston Priory club), Mary Scott-Miller (junior development manager at Tunbridge Wells club), Bernie Morris (junior programme manager at the Xaverian Club in Merseyside) and Mike Platel (Tunbridge Wells Borough Sports Development Officer) share their thoughts and experience.

"There’s no secret to it really," says Dave Clarke, who started at Edgbaston in August 1998 with just four regular junior players on a Saturday morning and now has more than 50 youngsters every week. He began by offering two free ‘taster’ courses to members with children (these can also be offered to non-members if club rules allow), who were then signed up for a six-week course (with the first lesson free). The first course was mixed age/ability, but subsequent courses were split into juniors (i.e. the youngest children), intermediate and advanced groups. Later an after-school session was added to the Saturday mornings.

"It’s important to have the right people," says Dave. " They must be able to relate to kids and not put them under too much pressure initially. The emphasis should be on fun, fun and more fun." At Edgbaston they have crazy handicap tournaments in which the kids play with frying pans or with rackets with only four strings, or wearing flippers, etc. and there are prizes all round.

But the serious side is not neglected. "It’s important also to work through the Skills Awards (children like to be awarded certificates as evidence of achievement), but not until the kids have got to know each other and built their confidence. Variety is the key; you must avoid predictable patterns.

"And there’s also the social side; each course should end with some sort of party – a barbecue in the summer, a Christmas do, an Easter egg competition."

"You have to take a long-term view: these kids will get into the teams and join the club once they start work. They are your loyal members of the future."

At Alleynes (which is a ‘dual use facility’ – i.e. used by pupils during school time) it was decided about three years ago to establish a quality junior programme in order to halt the decline in squash activity. The plan was similar to Edgbaston’s. Duncan Carey took Top Squash into local primary schools, then offered free ‘taster’ courses for 7 to 11 year-olds in the club itself, later splitting the children into beginners, improvers and advanced and developing an after-school junior club with swimming and table tennis as well as squash, and social activities like visits to nearby Alton Towers.

The scheme attracted 50 juniors, which allowed Duncan to revive the Staffordshire junior squash league and to enter teams in the junior inter-county championships for the first time in years.

"It must be good value, good fun and have a good social side," says Duncan. "Everyone is treated the same, whether they just want to play for fun or want to take the game to the highest level. We treat fun very seriously. It’s a slow process, but essential for the club and for the game in general."

Bernie Morris started a junior section in 1994 at the Xaverian Club – an Old Boys’ club offering a variety of sports.

"I realised that it was essential to develop a coaching ‘base’, to develop coaches and helpers internally." Bernie obtained a coaching qualification himself and arranged a coaching course in Liverpool so that others wanting to do the same didn’t have too far to travel. To get them interested he introduced a ‘foster scheme’, whereby adult squash players are encouraged to play against the top juniors to bring them on. "It’s all about persuading people to do things," says Bernie. "The more coaches you have, the less each has to do and the easier the whole thing is to run."

Having got enough coaches, Bernie undertook a series of roadshows, taking junior rackets and foam balls into school halls and offering two months’ free membership and a free coaching session. He studied old court booking sheets to choose the best times for junior sessions (and in doing so discovered that some players don’t book but habitually use the quiet times to play).

He started with a Saturday morning session from 10.20 to 13.00, then set up a lunchtime club and after-school clubs three times a week. Once again the emphasis was on fun, particularly among the younger kids. Now the Saturday sessions run from 9.40 to 11.40 and from 13.00 to 15.00 and there are between 90 and 100 regular juniors. Last season four of the six Merseyside junior squad came from the Xaverian Club.

Down in Tunbridge Wells Mary Scott-Miller started a Tops programme about two years ago and managed to obtain ‘Sportsmatch’ money from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, as it is now known, and a grant from the local borough council to help pay for coaching as well as equipment including a ball machine. The funding was provided on a ‘matching’ basis – i.e. the club purchased a certain amount of equipment and the council paid for the same amount again. Additional SRA money helped to get the scheme going (e.g. by helping to train coaches) but within two years they had created a sustainable structure of coaches, helpers and parents. Tunbridge Wells now has seven juniors in club leagues and one girl in the Kent girls’ squad.

Of course, not all local authorities offer funding for junior development, but it’s worth finding out what schemes are available and whom to approach. You should also find out what the council’s priorities are and try to align your proposal with them.

"It’s no good just going in asking for money," says Mike Platel. "You must have a plan: you must know what you want to do and how much it will cost. You must identify the need for what you are proposing and what the benefits of the scheme will be. Normally it needs to be an initiative that will widen access to squash in particular and sport in general (for example, to children in deprived or rural areas)."

Councils don’t regard themselves as ‘funding’ things, but as ‘enabling’ them – helping to make things happen, and they will put in just enough to make the difference between things happening and not happening.

"The scheme also needs to be sustainable over a long period and you will need to show that you’ve obtained, or at least looked for, money elsewhere (e.g. Sportsmatch funding or sponsorship).

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