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Merthyr Squash Club: how the be active wales fund has helped more budding Squash stars pick up the racket

The Club that sparked the dreams of Commonwealth Games Hero, Joel Makin has big plans for future recruits.

Merthyr Squash Club is hopeful that local boy Joel Makin’s silver medal success in the Commonwealth Games will inspire the next generation of budding Squash stars.

Joel’s success has come at a time when Squash is bouncing back from a difficult period. Whilst most sports were impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Squash came to an almost complete standstill. 

Leisure Centres in Wales were transformed into mass vaccination and pop-up medical facilities, leaving Squash players waiting significantly longer to get back in the game.

Merthyr Squash Club’s chairman David Cope spent lockdown reflecting on what squash, and sport in general, meant to him. Armed with those reflections, and a renewed vigour for the game, he came up with a plan of action to implement his new vision for Squash.

David set about securing a National Lottery supported ‘Be Active Wales Fund’ grant so that he could train a new group of coaches to better deliver Squash sessions and improve participation levels amongst women and young people.

David also decided to make Squash more friendly for newcomers; using Be Active Wales funding to refresh the equipment at the club to include different colour and sized rackets and balls so that people of all abilities can take part. 

These changes have already resulted in a dramatic improvement in the club’s retention rates, as David explained: 

“When I first started coaching, we’d use the same colour ball and it’d be difficult to hit. Many children would get bored after a few lessons. Some would persevere, but most would drop out. 

Now, our retention is excellent. I would say, once a child has come for 5 or 6 weeks the retention rate is over 95% which was unheard of when I first started coaching.”

 

Joel Makin lunges to hit Squash ball during Commonwealth Games doubles tournament
Joel Makin lunges to hit ball during the Wales v England Squash Doubles match, Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022

 

David’s drive, together with Merthyr Squash Club’s positive collaborations with Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, Active Merthyr, Squash Wales and Sport Wales saw the club dominate Squash Wales’ 2022 Awards. Dave was named Coach of the Year while Merthyr was Club of the Year.

Roy Gingell, from Squash Wales, said:

“After 18 months of lockdowns, Dave was relentless in his pursuit to get Squash back up and running. He was engaging with people on social media, encouraging them to come along – even going around the local community knocking on doors to encourage people to get involved.

What he’s done in Merthyr should be a blueprint for other Squash clubs in Wales, it’s a case study for best practice. This is exactly what we want to achieve coming out of the pandemic.” 

Just as with other sports, the Commonwealth Games shone a really positive spotlight on Squash. The all-glass court was a spectacle for fans and created a new-found appreciation for the physical demands of the sport. 

Commenting on Joel Makin’s silver medal winning performance, Roy Gingell added: 

"Joel is a beast, physically. His all-round movement, lunging and retrieval – it’s incredible seeing the sport played at the highest level. It’s the complete workout both mentally and physically.

However, beginners don’t have to use the same ball or rackets, we can adjust the specification of equipment to allow people to play. But that doesn’t change the quality of game – squash really can be played from the cradle to the grave.”

If, like David, you are passionate about improving your club’s facilities and encouraging more people to participate in your sport, contact the investments team at Sport Wales, or visit our funding and support page to learn more.

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