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Squash needs a change, and fast!

Squash is known for its speed of play, but the sport itself needs to act fast before its inclusion in the LA28 Olympics if it’s to reach the audience it needs and deserves.

I’ve played squash for over 30 years now, and coached for over 20 years, played club, county and national level squash all around the UK and Europe as well as working for Squash Wales as a club development officer, schools squash leader, press officer, event organiser and coach to thousands of juniors.

Underpinning all of my on and off court squash activities is a love and passion for the sport, I love coaching, playing, watching and seeing the game somewhat grow year on year, but with this passion comes a fear that the sport is missing a trick and failing to attract new players and viewers of the sport.

Squash is a great product, but our packaging is garbage!

If squash was a product on a shelf in a supermarket, we are out of reach, out of sight and surrounded by better packaged products that are appealing to the market of people wanting to play or watch a sport.

Yes, we could as a sport spend millions more on marketing, prize money and events but what I think is the key to our growth and better packaging to appeal to more people is to change the scoring system of our sport.

This may sound radical, but as a sport we have done this in the past, we have moved from ‘British’ scoring to PAR, point a rally (or American scoring) and played up to 15 points then moved to playing to only 11 points and, in most events, we play best of five games.

Most major sports are always looking to improve their game for the players but also for the fans, look at F1 with qualifying and changing it from one long session to a battle in Q1, Q2 and Q3 or with cricket and the Hundred and Twenty – Twenty cricket.

Now whether it be arrogance or naivety, as squash players we seem to expect anyone and everyone to know what the scoring system of squash is.

When someone is flicking through the sports channels and lands on TNT Sports and it’s showing the semi-finals of the World Championships, they will see the score at two all (2-2), or four all (4 – 4) or 8 – 4 and be clueless as to where we are in the match. In some sports like cricket, it gives you the runs needed, or snooker it tells you how many frames are needed to win the match, squash needs the same on its broadcast too.

Why does squash need to change? As I said at the top, I’m coming at this from a place of love, but squash is boring to watch in the whole. Most events at the high end of the rankings have matches which can last up to and above 90 minutes, that I am ok with, but it’s when we play 8 – 12 points of a game and it takes over 10 minutes to do so. Players are finding each other out and hitting most shots in every point to the back of the court, for the squash purist this may be enthralling to watch but we must cater for an audience wider than just the passionate few who love the sport.

According to some figures we have a worldwide player base of over 6 million people, some say up to 20 million people play squash around the world, do a quick google search and you'll see various figures thrown around. But as for people watching squash at the highest level on the PSA, we have less than 50,000 watching the pro tour. If you compare us to our cousins in tennis and badminton, SquashTV has just over 210,000 subscribers on Youtube, whereas BWF TV has over 3 million subscribers and TennisTV has over 1.5 million.

How we change the scoring and improve our packaging, it’s simple, we go to first to 5 points and first to 5 games. You’re never more than 4 points away from an opponent which will get rid of a player throwing the last few points of a game when he or she is 7 - 2 down (something I hate seeing) Every point means something from the word go and with sudden death at 4 points each in every game we could get to the point in a match at four all in games and four all in points making it a winner takes all rally! Imagine that point to decide a match or even an entire event! Excited yet?

Now this may sound like matches will be over in minutes, but a winner would still have to win at least 25 points to win a match (currently at least 33 points) and the overall match times when playing it myself are the difference of 5 – 10 minutes compared to playing PAR to 11 best of 5 games.

I think a change as simple but as radical as this could change how the game is viewed, the excitement of every point would draw a crowd in and keep an audience captivated from the moment they start watching; the scoring could then be easily displayed on a broadcast and allow us to cater for an audience that knows nothing about the sport.

When squash reaches LA28 it needs to be worth watching and I think a new scoring system as well as some other improvements across the board will make it easier and better to watch and understand.

When speaking to some current and former professional players and coaches it was intersting to hear their feedback.

Current PSA Mens World No.12 and French No.1 Victor Crouin said "It's an interesting idea! Always worth trying something new. I like the urgency of having to be focused for 5 points, then a break, then you have to that five times. It's something worth discussing in more in depth, and it's worth trying for sure!"

Former PSA Mens World No.4, SquashTV Commentator and one half of PJ and JB, Paul Johnson said "Something needs to change within the game to help its appeal and a new scoring system could certainly help. I like the sound of the concept and it could create more pivotal and intense moments within the games.  One sided matches will be over quicker so we can get the next match onto court sooner and well contested matches will continue to deliver a healthy match duration too."

If you like the sound of the scoring system, 5 x 5 or whatever you want to call it, give it a go next time you’re on court in a friendly down the club and see how intense it is from the first rally.

As for a new scoring sytem taking off for the PSA, it needs an event to try out the new scoring system to see how it is different and if it works better for a viewer. Fancy hosting an event with this scoring system? Let's talk.


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