Top squash coach Matt McFahn is optimistic for the future of squash in Nigeria after the Nigeria Squash Federation (NSF) laid the groundwork for sustainable growth with a new coach education structure.
Late last year, NSF President Boye Oyerinde arranged for 22 coaches from around Nigeria to gather in Lagos for an intense four-day practical course titled the NSF Level Three.
The course was introduced in order bring Nigerian coaching up to a World Squash Federation standard, and was designed by McFahn with the intention being an equivalent to a WSF Level One course. “We identified a gap in the development of the game of squash in Nigeria. To have world class players, we need world class coaches in a consistent development program which aligns with the World Squash Federation coaching program,” Oyerinde explained.
McFahn, who is an England Squash Level Four coach and worked with Nigerian teams in the 1990s ahead of the British Open and Men’s World Team Championships, as well as helping to design the Norwegian Level One programme, explains that the course was gave a consistent depth of knowledge and skills to Nigeria’s squash coaches.
“I wanted to make sure that the level three really took all of their coaches through every aspect of being a good coach: everything from safety, to warming up, to the grip, to managing the court effectively, to good rapport, communication and then organisation of a court,” the Englishman said.
After four days of intense practical instruction, with a fifth day that concluded with a 30-minute assessed session, 20 of the 22 coaches passed the course to receive official NSF Level Three accreditation.
“After four days, the progress made was amazing. I want them to be really proud of what they’ve done.” McFahn says.
After the completion of the course, McFahn says that Nigeria is well-placed to see self sustaining growth, with squash a popular sport around the country.
“When I returned to Nigeria after so many years away, I was surprised to see just how much squash was going on. There are squash courts and centres dotted all over the place, all over the country. And the quality of play is good.”
McFahn adds that Nigeria’s performance at the 2019 Men’s World Team Championship – in which the team beat Singapore and South Korea in their first appearance since 1999 to finish 21st – was also a cause for optimism, and that Nigeria’s player base was likely of a higher standard than the PSA World Rankings might suggest, due to the fact that Nigerian players tend not to play many tournaments abroad.
In the coming months, NSF is planning to target a self-sustaining culture of improved squash coaching via a two-pronged approach. Later this spring, there are plans for McFahn to run another NSF Level Three Course in addition to a WSF Level Two course. Then, in August, McFahn will provide additional mentoring to the course graduates, who will be taught to run coaching courses of their own, to the same high standard as the WSF qualifications.
“Instead of me delivering it, the trained coaches from last year and this year will be delivering it, so it becomes a more sustainable programme for them and they won’t require outside coaches. We’re trying to deliver some sort of self sustainable structures within Nigeria squash to show that they are able to do it themselves,” McFahn explains.
The growth of squash in Nigeria comes as little surprise to those familiar with the game in Africa. While traditional powerhouse Egypt has long dominated the squash scene, the game is growing around the continent, with programmes in countries such as Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa greatly expanding the game, while squash is set to feature in the African Games for the first time in 20 years.
Reflecting on the success of the NSF programme, Squash Federation of Africa President Lucky Mlilo said: “It’s wonderful to see such passion for squash in Nigeria. Squash is gaining popularity all over Africa and the implementation of world-class coaching programmes is only going to benefit the sport.
“My congratulations and thanks to Boye and the Nigeria Squash Federation. To see so many aspiring coaches in Lagos is heartwarming, and furthers the resolve of myself and my colleagues at the Squash Federation of Africa to do all we can to assist in developing the game for all.”