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ConnectedCoaches member Lauren Selby was recently named Participation Driver of the Year at the Polar Squash Workforce Awards. But her work with elite level players – particularly junior girls - is remarkable too. She tells me how she’s instilled a love of squash in so many young females at her academy in Essex.
Lauren Selby was always destined for a career in squash. Daughter of renowned coach Paul and brother of former British National champion Daryl, she was virtually born with a racket and little black ball in her hand.
Having retired from the WSA Tour three years ago, she has made an astonishing success of her coaching career, propelling numerous girls into lofty positions in the national junior rankings.
Lucy Turmel, Alice Green and Emma Bartley are reigning U17, U15 and U11 national champions respectively. All attend the Off The Wall Squash Academy in Colchester, where Lauren is Director of Coaching. She’s also head of the Essex junior girls’ programme and is an East of England coach.
But what’s most notable is how Lauren combines elite-level coaching with the hard yards of drumming up grass-roots participation. She introduces 1500 children each year to squash via a fun, accessible version of the game using large rebound nets erected in school halls.
It’s this crucial work at the bottom end of the spectrum that earned Lauren the Participation Driver of the Year prize at the Polar Squash Workforce Awards in March 2016. She was nominated in the Elite Coach of the Year category too.
“Trying to get schools to give squash a go has been a bit of a battle,” she says. “They’ve either not heard of it or can’t fathom how it would work.” The breakthrough came at Ardleigh St Mary’s School in Colchester where head teacher Donna Parker embraced the programme and spread the word.
“The impact of getting on board with that one primary school has been phenomenal,” says Lauren. “We’ve taken kids from there into our academy and some of them now playing county squash.
“Delivering primary school sessions to 30 kids at a time, day in, day out, in addition to my academy and county coaching, is very hard work. But to see them enjoying it, keeping fit and making friends; that’s so important. If a handful go on to become national champions, it’s just a bonus.”
From coaching girls at both elite and beginners levels, Lauren has much wisdom to impart on the difficulty in engaging young females in squash, and sport in general.
“On a daily basis I have to counsel girls and women about being self-conscious and having confidence in themselves. I’ve rarely met a female who storms into any sporting environment without any particular aptitude or skill and just says, ‘Right, let’s give this a go!’
“Guys have intrinsic confidence and certainly won’t care what people think if they get hot and sweaty. Women and girls are the polar opposite. They’re petrified about what people think of them, worried about what they look like and fret about whether they’ll be any good at it.
“You have to slowly build up their confidence and start them at a level where they feel they can do it and it’s not embarrassing for them. I know so many girls who perform well in training, and I ask them why they don’t do that in matches. Their answer is always, ‘I don’t like people watching me.’
“That sensitivity is so difficult to conquer. You have to continually and very subtly feed their ego. They need positive feedback more than boys. Don’t make it unrealistic, just keep encouraging them. I often relate it back to me and say that I used to hate being watched, but that I conquered it and ended up as a player on the Tour. I think that really helps them.”
Self-consciousness and lack of confidence doesn’t just act as a barrier to women and girls playing sport. It can inhibit them from becoming coaches too.
“I was lucky that my brother is a well-known squash player and that I played professionally,” says Lauren. “Many other women are automatically asked about their credentials or whether they’re good enough. Men don’t get that scepticism, even if they weren’t at a decent playing standard.”
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If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy Lauren's 'How squash helps my ladies overcome their insecurities' blog in the Inclusive Coaching group.
Reach is sports coach UK’s campaign to get more women into coaching - and support them once they’ve started. In support of the campaign ConnectedCoaches have written features on a number of members including:
To find out more about the campaign visit the Reach website or follow their Twitter account @Reachcoaches.
Thanks to Squash Player for allowing us to post this article on ConnectedCoaches. For more information on them please visit www.squashplayer.co.uk.
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