For Stewart Boswell, who was appointed as Squash Australia’s National Coach in spring 2020, the last two years have proven uniquely challenging.
With all the disruptions to the international squash calendar over the last two years, Boswell is yet to take his international team into competitive action, though the former World No.4 is optimistic for 2022.
In a Q&A with WSF media, the former US Open runner-up shares his coaching experience and provides insight into the challenges facing top coaches.
Q: After almost two years as head coach of the national team, how has the coaching experience been under the continuous restrictions?
“It’s definitely been a different start to the one I expected. We have been lucky in some ways that restrictions here didn’t stop us getting access to courts for the greater part, but it has been tough in terms of players getting to compete in tournaments internationally.
“A lot of the time I would have been encouraging players to get overseas and get amongst it but it has just been such a difficult time up to now with what to suggest and of course with our borders being closed it has been very tough in this respect.”
Q: What events are you looking forward to this year?
“For us the Commonwealth Games is a huge target and that is mid-2022 and from our national team’s point of view that is a big focus and of course doubles will be a big part of that.
“Apart from that I am just looking forward to see regular events on and of course the state borders back open and a consistent run of tournaments for the players. Especially here, we have had a couple of events but there just hasn’t been the run of events to give them the purpose, motivation and structure that competing regularly does.”
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a coach?
“It didn’t come until much later in my career. When I was younger and playing well, even when I needed a bit of money, I did everything but coach as I just wanted to focus on playing.
“So it wasn’t until I was in the twilight of my playing career and I was looking at my options that it appealed.
“Coaching is obviously not quite like still playing but I very much still wanted to be involved in squash and started to enjoy working with younger players. It’s not every day I come back and say to myself: ‘Wow that really worked!’ but you just need that one session or one day where you feel like you really made a difference.
“In that way I guess it is like playing, when you have a few losses but you get that one victory and that really motivates you that you are on the right track.”
Q: How have you found the transition from an elite player to coach?
“When you are a player, you are only worrying about yourself and what your own thoughts are so it is a pretty simple process. When I was a player when I lost, I had an idea of what I needed to work on whether it was right or wrong and I went away and put the hours in to fix that.
“But when you are a coach, everyone is a bit different and players don’t always see things the way you do and sometimes you need to go away and think about things differently and spend time reflecting on that process.
“So, I definitely found that harder than I thought it would be. I definitely spend a lot more time thinking on things as a coach than I expected to.”
Q: What is your coaching philosophy?
“To be honest I don’t really have one! For me it’s about me finding a way to help the person I’m working with but then the player has to be the one driving it and the one who puts the work in. I see my role as helping to fill the gaps in along the way.
“For a player to have success they have to be the one to develop that understanding for themselves as once they are in a match, they are out there doing it and a coach can only do so much in terms of imparting knowledge from the side-lines. So whatever you have done with them they have to be able to understand that.”
Q: Who are your coaching role models?
“Geoff Hunt and Rodney Martin were the main influences on my playing career and a lot of my coaching is based on the way I was taught by them and that has worked well for me.
“Like anything I am still learning as I go along. Now, how I coach compared to what I did 10 years back when I started is probably a bit different and as well as learning from experience you pick up things from other coaches, people doing things slightly differently.
“So you are always trying to learn from other coaches and also from the way players are playing and how the game is evolving.”
Q: What advice would you give to those just beginning their coaching journey?
“I think getting good advice from someone who has been there and done it before and being able to spend time around a coach working with a group or individuals, well that will definitely be an advantage.
“I was coached by Geoff Hunt as a player but then I was able to work with him when I first got into coaching and it is different dynamic to the player coach relationship but the opportunity to experience both was really helpful to me.”
Q: How has coaching changed since you were a player?
“I think there is just a lot more information out there now. When I first started playing there was no internet out there for a start and being able to video and provide instant feedback is a big plus.
“To be able to take out your phone, film training and then provide playback in slow motion is tremendous and certainly not possible in my day when you could maybe just occasionally get footage of your matches to watch back.
“So, I guess players themselves have a little more access to different information now but that can also be a disadvantage to some players as too much information can be confusing so sometimes you need to be able to help them decipher what is of value.”
Q: What challenges currently face Australian Squash?
“I think our biggest focus has to be on numbers and numbers of juniors playing. For us to get players back in the top end of the rankings we need to grow our numbers and especially with the juniors we need a bigger base.
“We need more of these juniors playing with the intent that squash will be their career and that is a big challenge. Then we also need to help those players get to where they can, either through coaching or competition internationally against other juniors and then onto the PSA World Tour.
“So, it’s very important that we are able to help encourage them to take the right path.
“I know any national role comes with pros and cons but for me it’s been a pretty positive experience so far. Working with Jenny Duncalf, who is now in a full-time role with Squash Australia, and Lachlan Johnston, who is now our High-Performance Director, has also been really enjoyable.
“So, if anything the surprises have all been good!”