Rugby -playing parents are free to roam and rumble down the touchlines, shouting abuse at referees and opposition alike. Cricket-playing parents have zen-like ruminations, deck-chaired on the side of the field as their off-spring, bounce and hook their opponents into submission. Swimming parents scream encouragement to deaf ears and bobbing heads as they clutch and caress their stop-watches in the stands . Judo-fighting parents, I am told, are apparently banned from attending sessions where their little Bruce Lee’s are graded.
The Squash-playing parent has a sadder fate. Mom and Dad are sentenced to time in a cell, which, if they are lucky, has some space to move and a glass window through which they can at least see their off-spring. The unlucky ones, will be cattle-prodded into a narrow little area from which they can look down and see their children, gladiator-like, fight for survival in a concrete and wooden pit.
Yours , dear Squash Parent, is a sentence of silence. Advising or shouting encouragement or abuse is frowned upon. The referee, who, often, at school level, is ignorant and reticent, is in punching, ear-shot. Your child’s opponent’s parents, unknowingly, or maybe knowingly, whisper horrible comments, and sit with their backs rubbing against your twitching knees. The opposition coach, stands to the side, snidely spewing ambiguous and illegal coaching advice . You can feel every ebb of emotion, hear every frustrated scream, see every plaintiff call for help, smell the sweat and you are in almost touching contact. But like a parent visiting a child in prison, you can do nothing. Squash is a cruel game for a parent.
Broadly speaking, there are 2 groups of parents.
The Player Group:
These are ex, or current players, whose children have been brought up at squash courts, chomping on chips, and nipping on and off court, when their folks take a break. For these folk, the sentence is sometimes not as harsh, as they at least, can understand and hopefully empathise as they understand the nuances of the game. Conversely, they probably feel their child’s frustrations more intimately as they are aware of the rules and the tactics that should be used.
The Non-Player Group:
These folk come from a foreign land. They may have played other sports and had hoped that their children would follow suit . But somehow, some devious teacher, coach or maybe another teenage addict has enticed their child into this den, with promises of unbridled enjoyment, wild euphoria and satisfaction via the release of happy endorphins locked in gawky bodies. The child , gradually, and unbeknown to the parents, has become a squash addict. And they are now ‘forced” into these cells to an enforced silent encouragement. They must learn the “prison rules”, the ethos and ethics of squash without appreciating the exhilaration of the sweat, competition and camaraderie of that boxed cell.
Apart from your “Cell Time”, know that you have also been sentenced to Community Service where you will be expected to spend time mentoring and consoling, be called on at odd hours to drop off and collect and you may at times become doctor, nurse, physio and psychologist. And to round off your sentencing, there is a fairly steep on-going fine that will need to cover the odd broken racquet, balls, squash shoes, and club membership fees. If your child becomes seriously addicted, and moves into the mainline stuff , playing provincially, or nationally, the travel costs will stretch your wallet. The above punishments are however part and parcel of any parent’s involvement in any sport, and here, squash is relatively cheap in terms of maintenance. But it does not attract the sponsors that some of the other sports attract, so travelling and touring do become expensive.
Through tough times, come good times and clouds often have many silver linings. While your sentence is tough, you can console yourselves in the knowledge that your involvement in your child as a squash player is a life-long gift. Unlike most schoolboy rugby players and cricketers, your child will probably continue playing squash for many years to come. Through it, he will gain many friends – good people who embrace the ethics of competitive sportsmanship. Should he travel the world, he will find courts as squash is a truly global game . Whatever field of business or study your children lean towards, the should always be able to find an hour where they can cast off the worries of the world. Come rain, wind, and snow, squash courts will welcome them, anytime of day without chunking too much out of their hard-earned salaries. Squash knows no age boundaries and your child , by playing leagues will be exposed to adults which will not only add to his skills but also grow maturity
So, as you offer this gift of life, some words of advice. Parenting is never easy, and one child’s poison can be another child’s chocolate.
If you can get your hands on Richard Millman’s “Raising Young Smiley Squash Kids”, do so. In fact for any sporting parent it is filled with gems of advice on raising balanced children who play sport for the right reasons – for the love of the game, and not purely the winning and the recognition. (Pssst – I have a copy if anyone wants to borrow it.)
Support – but try not to interfere. Confidence and self-belief are probably the 2 most precious gifts you can offer your child. But never must a child’s self-worth be dependent on his squash results or his form
Encourage – losses are bitter pills to swallow, and nobody goes onto a court to lose. And one often learns more from losses than one does from winning.
Try to exude a sense of calm and confidence in your child through your own behaviour
Encourage your child to play for the love of the game. The recognition that comes from gaining provincial selection or winning a tournament should be by-products. The more they play, the more fun they have, the better they will become and the more they will take out of the sport.
Use Squash as a microcosm of life, where your children must make their own decisions, achieve their own focus, instil their own disciplines. Encourage them to set goals, plan and practise on their own. Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer are all famous examples of teenage prodigies who were almost lost to tennis because of temper tantrums. These may happen, must never be condoned, but how you handle them with your child will lead to more self- awareness and maturity.
Parents – Please stand for your sentencing. The Court finds you guilty of allowing your child to be introduced to the game of squash. You are sentenced to Life where you will support, encourage, mentor and lead, despite trauma, tears, trials, tribulations, tours and triumphs. You have been sentenced. Go forth and enjoy your sentence, knowing that there is much joy in giving, and that Squash will grow your child into a better person.