By Cindy Atoji Keene
Squash is considered one of the world’s most aerobic racquet sports, said Paul Mathieson, head squash pro at Dover Squash and Fitness. In a four-walled indoor court, players rally as they try to score with a small, hollow rubber ball. “It’s a very strategic game that also requires mental tactics – like a physical game of chess,” said Mathieson, who has traveled to every continent playing squash while competing in several world championships. He is now coaching up-and-coming players, from four-year-old beginners to collegiate players, as the Dover club attracts an increasing number of junior players.
Q: Why has squash has exploded in popularity in the state in recent years, particularly among young people?
A: There are more facilities being built, including more courts in private middle schools and high schools. This has increased the number of squash courts in universities, with more varsity programs and club teams. And as more pros like myself come from overseas, the game gets promoted from a local level.
Q: Why is squash such an aerobic racquet sport?
A: The court is quite small and the ball doesn’t bounce much so it requires a lot of energy and effort to get to the ball before the second bounce, as dictated by the rules of the game. Players have to lunge for the ball, which requires flexibility and speed, as well as hand-eye coordination and good concentration and patience.
Q: You’ve played squash around the globe. Are there any differences from country to country?
A: The dimensions of the squash court are identical no matter where you go. But because of different coaching styles and weather conditions, the game does change depending on where you are playing. In Egypt for example, players tend to attack more because it helps to finish off rallies faster – you don’t want to be going on for hours and hours in the heat. In England, it’s colder, so the rally is more prolonged so you try to outlast your opponent. And Australians are strong power hitters.
Q: How do you teach players to think strategically?
A: It takes a year or two just to develop shots and technique, then after that, I try to get kids to focus on strategies. There’s no secret formula, but one important tactic is to hit the ball in such a way that your opponent is forced to move back and forth on the court, tiring them out. There are also ways to take advantage of an opponent’s mentality; if they lose their temper, for example, then you can manipulate that.
Q: How did you start playing squash?
A: My father played in squash leagues, and one day, at age 14, when I went to watch one of his matches, I got on the court myself. I took to it very quickly and from that point on, went to the best squash schools in England, and trained with the most elite coaches and players in the country. There were four squash courts within a two-mile radius of where I lived, so it was very accessible, and I trained all the time.
Q: How many squash racquets do you have?
A: About 60 racquets. I have so much squash equipment, my wife had to throw out some of my squash equipment just to make space.