Last week I returned from the US Open in Philadelphia – buzzing.
Why you may ask?
There are multiple reasons, all of which are swimming around in the cement mixer of my mind.
Here they are – poured out as a stream of consciousness:
Wow! Learning to referee is just like learning to play – you have to learn systems consciously – attempt to implement them while learning them – and do multiple repetitions to get to the point where the structure is automatic and the decision making is considered. All while people are depending on you.
Wow! What an amazing variety of constituencies showed up at this event and tried to work together to produce a success – Players, organizers, sponsors, coaches, spectators, press, caterers, techies, public address, masters of ceremonies, security, hospitality, governing bodies, manufacturers.
Wow! How many of those constituents came with their own agendas?
Wow! How many little niggles do people complain about? I wonder if anyone keeps a list? I wonder how many people try to help?
Wow! How many of those groups are aware of or care about the agendas of the other groups?
Wow! Squash is a fantastic sport.
Wow! There are some amazing players!
Wow! These referees are working 14 hour days for no pay and no-one seems to care. I wonder if anyone even thinks about it when they aren’t at a tournament?
Wow! Some of the players are really selfish! I heard about two tournaments that have lost sponsors but players seemed more focused on getting rid of referees that they don’t like even if it embarrasses the host and than the fact that they had upset someone that had put money into the sport.
Wow! A lot of the people involved are really selfish. Come to that – I am pretty selfish. How can we get together and protect and grow the sport?
Wow! Squash is a small and precious family. How can we make it work when so many of us think we know what is best for the sport? How can we see the game from everyone’s perspectives? Why have we got so many disparate groups?
Wow! I can’t believe the number of people that just took a week’s vacation to come and spend it in Philly at the US Open – what a cool vacation!
Wow! I wonder if we could organize a festival of Squash where everyone got together – players, sponsors, manufacturers, promoters, governing bodies, referees, host institutions, clubs, coaches, referees, urban programs, schools, colleges and in fact anyone with any agenda in Squash – and spend a week together at some great club that has both sports and social facilities, talking, learning, playing, hanging out and eating? Could that be a way forward for our sport? Wouldn’t that be fun – and responsible at the same time? Hmmmm…………..
One of the awesome but little appreciated bonuses of an event like the US Open is the extra curricular discussions that take place around the event. Late night in the pub, coffee time beside the glass court, between matches while waiting for the next game, in the taxi or van on the way to the courts -or over breakfast.
But these discussions are in some respect at least as important as the event itself. For it is in these discussions that those of us that care share our thoughts and learn from others. In that symbiosis challenges can be met – a problem shared is a problem halved.
It would be even better if the various groups – players, organizers, referees, coaches, spectators – discusses their ideas together. But of course, in the main people hang out with people from their own groups – so there isn’t as much cross pollination of ideas between groups as their could be.
While there are notable attempts to facilitate these ideas – the annual governing body assembly and annual conferences are excellent examples in several countries – in my experience these are never long enough to get a lot done.
At the US Open, less than 50 people showed up each day to the US Squash assembly – and yet when those few people did meet there was some wonderful work done. But ‘hurriedly squeezed in’ is not the maxim that I would hope for in the careful planning and development of our sport.
Funding is always a problem and I do think all organizations from WSF down need to find ways of increasing their research, development and planning budgets. If there are any wealthy Angels out there – earmarking a gift specifically for research developing and planning would really help us…
But I also note the number of incredibly talented volunteers who are passionate about this sport. Anyone who was at the work shop session at the US assembly would have had to notice two things in particular:
1. The obviously high caliber of the volunteers that cared enough to show up to the assembly.
2. That there were very, very few professional players, coaches and club owners present- the people who stand to gain the most from developing the sport.
To me this speaks volumes. We are so fortunate to be able to call on the extraordinary people who are willing to give their time to the benefit of the game of Squash. And we need to find a way to get those who make their livings from the sport to come together and contribute.
This is why I believe that an International Festival of Squash would be the perfect forum.
Working breakfasts, morning work shops given by expers, working lunches, afternoon forums for all the interest groups to talk, informal snack break, evening competition, dinner together and a social end to the day for general mingling.
Now if the WSF, the National Governing bodies of a given hemisphere, the players associations, players, promoters, manufactures, coaches, referees, media and enthusiasts from all spheres met together for a week – in a great club where everyone could break out into groups but could also all come together – tell me that that isn’t a great way to spend a week – both for the participants and for the sport.
Of course we could all just carry on with what we individually and separately believe to be important, butting heads when we do get together and arguing that we know what is important.
Or we could just dismiss the idea as impractical.
Or something amazing could happen.
What would your personal cement mixer pour out after a week like that?
How many personal ‘Wow!’ moments do you think that might provide?
Just a thought…….