Lauren hosting a ladies & girls squash festival
So we thought we’d do a quick interview with one of our coaches and Director of Coaching at Off The Wall Squash, Lauren Selby. She’s a hugely experienced coach, ex-professional player and huge ambassador for getting more girls and women into the sport. Lauren has recently been nominated for the Active Essex Coach of the Year Award. We’re incredibly proud of her and hope parents and players out there can be inspired by her words.
How and when did you start playing squash?
I started playing squash when I was about 7 or 8. My Dad was a passionate squash player, always at Bishops Stortford Squash Club. My brothers and I used to go with him and we jumped on any spare court to have a knock around. We then started going along to junior coaching on a Saturday, it developed from there.
Did you feel pressured to play by your parents?
Never. I am very lucky to have such supportive parents. Neither have ever forced me to go on a squash court, they have always let me take ownership of my squash. They supported me through the wins, the losses, the highs, the lows. Throughout my junior career they drove my brothers and I all over the country playing tournaments. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it back then but now I certainly do and can’t thank them enough.
It’s a well known fact that there’s a huge drop out of girls playing sport generally, not just squash, around the age of 14-15 when boys and studies start to play a bigger part in their lives. How do you think we get over this as a sport?
Lauren playing netball with her Old Brentwoods teammates
This is a problem which I can fully relate to. When I was around 14/15 years old I had a meltdown and decided to call it quits. I had a really bad loss at a major tournament and went to pieces. I was sick of going away every weekend whilst my friends were at home having fun. Little did I realise that many of my friends wished they could travel around the country playing sport to a high level. The grass is always greener right? I didn’t start playing again until I was about 18, 4 years out of the game is a long time in terms of squash development. I often question whether it was a big mistake or not. If I had carried on would I have achieved more success in my professional career because I wasn’t playing catch up? If I had carried on would I have ended up losing heart later on down the line? Questions I will never know the answers to but also, I now realise, a waste of time to ponder on.
I am very aware and very concerned about the drop out of girls playing sport. I read some evidence the other day which suggested the drop out rate for girls starts at 7 years old. This is seriously worrying, and a trend which needs to change. Sport should be linked with friendships. I think girls are more likely to carry on playing sport if they have made friends or part of a team. I would be interested to see the drop off rate for sports like hockey and netball. I played both these sports throughout my teens because I loved playing with my friends, these are still my closest friends now.
Lauren in action as the newly appointed East Region Coach
Squash is more difficult because friends are also competitors. Having said that I made some wonderful friends on the WSA (Women’s Squash Association) world tour despite those people being my rivals. I think we have to build communities around sport, try not to leave girls feeling isolated and encourage the social aspect within a sporting environment.
Why did you choose to continue to play squash as your career?
I went to university at Loughborough and this is where I really got back into my squash. I didn’t think I would play professionally, I thought it was past my reach because of my teenage blip. When I graduated I considered my options and felt a bit unsure about where my career would go. Everyone kept saying I would make a good PE teacher but I wasn’t keen, I felt like I hadn’t tested myself enough with my squash. The amount of times I heard ‘such a waste of talent’. My Dad suggested I give it a go, he believed I could do well. For me his words were the most important, he is extremely knowledgeable about the game but he is also a realist.
I started training and playing tournaments around the World. I am delighted with my decision, I met some incredible people, visited places many people would only ever dream about, I played in front of big crowds, I became a healthy individual and had a bit of success along the way.
Lauren in action on tour
What support networks are there for girls and young women to continue the sport as a profession? Do you think improvements can be made?
For me there wasn’t much support, but I was very fortunate to a have supportive family. The first few years on the tour were hard, the financial costs are huge and I received no support from anyone apart from my family and friends. You travel around the world to new places, often on your own. I soon became travel smart and very street wise.
Schools and Universities have a part to play in this transition. If I had said to my teachers in my careers talks that I wanted to be a professional squash player I think they might’ve steered me elsewhere. I felt the focus was all about people going to university. Another pupil at my school decided to play squash professionally straight after school and he has been in the World’s top 10 for years with Commonwealth Games medals to his name.
There needs to be more encouragement for girls to become coaches, leaders, teachers, and professional sportswomen. These professions need to be given more importance by schools and universities. Girls also need positive role models, they need to meet and speak to women who have succeeded in these careers.
Do you think there are enough female role models in the sport to encourage girls, and motivate them to see what they could also achieve?
Lauren on tour with the WSA girls
It’s almost like I knew the next question! I think there are plenty of female role models in squash. The women and girls on the world circuit are the ultimate professionals. They are fit,strong, healthy, disciplined, approachable and fair. They are the type of women the next generation need to be inspired by. Unfortunately these female role models do not get enough media exposure so are only role models to the few rather than the masses. I want young girls to realise you can have a balance. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up and putting on make-up but there’s also nothing wrong with getting sweaty and being competitive.
If you had to leave one piece of advice for the young aspiring squash players of today, what would it be?
Make as many mistakes as possible but learn from each one.
We hope you enjoyed the interview with Lauren and found her insight into the sport interesting. If you have any questions you’d like to ask her in relation to this, feel free to contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org.