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From serious injury to a new career: Liz Mackenzie on her coaching journey

In part two of the new ‘Get to Know’ series, former World No.1 and Chair of the Coaching Commission Sarah Fitz-Gerald speaks to South Africa’s Liz Mackenzie, who reflects on more than 30 years of squash coaching.

Q: Great to chat with you today Liz. Could you start by telling me about where and who you coach?
I’m based in Pretoria, South Africa, and do the majority of my coaching on the TuksSquash junior program.

The squad includes a number of top South African juniors – Helena Coetzee (World University Championships 2022), Awande Malinga (World Juniors 2022) and Ashton Weir (World Juniors 2022).

The stable also includes a number of national top 10 ranked juniors. I’m very proud of the fact that all these players started in our program at the age of 10-11 as beginners and have followed the pathway on to the national scene.

And how did your own squash journey begin?
In the mid 70’s our Phys Ed [Physical Education] teacher introduced the u14 tennis team to squash. The bug bit immediately and squash became my primary sport (with tennis in the background). It was quicker and faster than tennis and I loved playing from that very first day.

In my final year of school, I had decided to become a Phys Ed teacher and completed the Level 1 coaching course. This coaching course earned me pocket money while I was a student and paid my way across the world after completing my studies.

What inspired you to become a coach?
The coaching started while I was at school and I loved the process. After completing my degree, I spent two years travelling and ended up coaching and playing in Israel, Switzerland and the USA.

A car accident (a head on collision with a tractor) put an end to my playing days and, once I had recovered, coaching became the best option. I have loved coaching (and still love every moment of coaching) for over 30 years.

Describe a good memorable coaching moment?
Every moment is a good moment, wins and hard-fought losses.

Taking a player from the beginner levels all the way into the national team is a journey that cannot be compared to any other achievement.

How about a difficult coaching moment?
The way forward once a player has been injured. Having dealt with a serious injury after my car accident and not played competitively again after that, I “feel’ for the players and am very protective of them while they are going through a rehab program.

Tough decisions need to be made and the athlete doesn’t always agree as they just want to get back on court as quickly as possible.

Do you have further plans for your coaching career?
Having hit 60, I am in the final phase of my coaching career and want to spend time on coaching and training as many coaches as possible and, especially after the pandemic, build a strong base of young players.

What’s your number one tip for aspiring squash coaches?
Work hard, prepare, look and learn from everyone, try new ideas and be innovative.

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