Robert Bachman, the president of the Philippine Squash Academy (PSA) urges us to search on Google the words “healthiest sport.” We did and, given who we are talking to, are not surprised by the result. Engaging in the sport—which, according to Bachman can burn 1,200 calories per hour, if you play it right—can have more than enough health benefits to deserve further recognition. But why is it not popular in the Philippines? The problem, Bachman tells us, is access.
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Bachman says there is a big and long-running misconception about squash: that it is only for the elite. That couldn’t be more wrong, he says with a passion. It only had that reputation because the 35 squash courts in the Philippines—one in Cebu, and the rest are in Metro Manila—are all inside private clubs.
PSA, the governing body for the sport in the country, is about to change all that. And rightfully so because, as Bachman points out, squash is a great sport for Filipinos. “There is no height requirement. All you need is stamina, endurance, speed”—all of which could be developed with proper tools and training.
Open to all
But first, a public court is needed. With the help of sponsors and the local government units, the first-ever squash court that would be open to the public is being built at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila. These are slated for completion in October or November 2019. The courts are primarily for the Southeast Asian Games (SEA), which the Philippines will host from November 30 to December 11, 2019. It will also become the home of the PSA.
The goal, after the SEA Games, is to put at least one public squash court in every major city in the country.
Bachman says he hopes to emulate the initiatives of the Egyptians, who now conquer majority of the list of the top 10 squash players in the world. In one of the games, the Egyptians set up an all-glass squash court in the middle of the city. The backdrop were the pyramids. Since the courts are portable, it’s easy to imagine having them in one of our resorts, or parks.
“If that happens, the sport will definitely take off,” Bachman says.
While the public squash courts are still being built, anyone who wants to learn the sport now must go through someone who is a member of one of the private clubs. Then, the PSA will hook up that person with one of their coaches, all of whom undergo coaching seminars. (Recently, the coaches were sent to the World Squash Coaching seminar in Singapore.)
The essentials that one has to bring to play include a squash racket, which can go from PHP4,000 to PHP8,000; a ball, which is around PHP150; gum sole or indoor court shoes; and protective eyewear. Bachman says it’s generally cheaper than other racket sports: “Rackets are a one-time expense. How often do you throw them away? The balls last you for two to three months. And you’re using the same apparel.”
There are a few stores, too, in malls that sell squash gear and accessories. For more specific needs, one can approach the PSA, and they can talk to the exclusive distributors.
Bachman warns, though, that beginners must be fully aware of their fitness level because squash can be tough to play at first. “There’s lots of cardio, absolutely,” he says. “Then you must go through a lot of agility exercises.” Think of it like tennis, but it is played inside an enclosed court. The players also stand adjacent to each other. The one who serves must let the ball hit the front wall, above the service line, and the ball must go to the opponent’s side. The opponent then receives the ball, and must hit it toward a certain area of the front wall. As the rally continues, players must always get the ball back to hitting the front wall, but they can direct it to the side walls first. In other words, all the walls are utilized, and the ball can come from many directions. The players, too, move around the entire court.
When the skills develop, the movements become more precise and efficient, but there will be a lot of strategizing and thinking. “The brains, that’s the most important,” Bachman says.
The squash scene in the Philippines has come a long way since it first entered into a few people’s consciousness in the 1970s. Back then, another administration—not the PSA—was handling everything related to Philippine squash.
When the PSA—which has been in existence since 2013—got recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee, the World Squash Federation, the Asian Squash Federation, and the Southeast Asian Squash Federation, things started to change. That was around four years ago.
The allowances of the athletes, for one, increased from around PHP 3,000 to around PHP 24,000, depending on his or her achievements. They also get free meals, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The programs also got more intense: the athletes now have access to nutritionists, and strength and conditioning coaches.
Best of all, the sport has been providing the athletes an opportunity for a career path. When they play at the Professional Squash Association World Tour, and go up the ranking, there’s always a cash prize equivalent. But the way to get there is as grueling as the days in training. All athletes are full-time squash players. The young ones, of course, train after school.
To go up the ranking, they need to play in as many tournaments as the World Tour organizes. Usually, there are around 10 to 15 tournaments in a month, all over the world. Each tournament has a different level, and different cash prizes, which can go from PHP 5,000 to US$ 1 million. “You have to keep playing and build your ranking to get the better tournaments, where you can get more points,” Bachman says.
He adds that before the PSA started leading the pack, the athletes only played in one or two international tournaments in a year; now, they compete in at least 26. In the team, there are four men and two women in the senior division. There are four boys in the junior division, where the girls team is still in its development stage. Our country’s top player, 32-year-old Robert Garcia, used to be ranked somewhere within the top 500 range. Now, after two years, he is ranked somewhere around the mid 240s.
Another challenge that the PSA faces are the training grounds. See, most of the athletes are not members of the private clubs. In fact, most of the athletes do not come from affluent backgrounds. They learned the sport because their fathers or relatives are or were squash coaches. Thus, Bachman says, they can only train six players at a time, and only during weekends, or on days when there are no club members playing. “It’s very difficult,” Bachman says.
Years ago, the oldest boat club in the Philippines, the Manila Boat Club, was a training ground for the squash players because they were more “accommodating.”
This is why the public courts would greatly benefit the players—and even the entire team. But amidst the challenges, the players have soldiered on. In July, Garcia won a silver medal at the third leg of the Singapore Squash Circuit. Another player in the team, 25-year-old Myca Aribado, won the gold medal for the women’s division in the same tournament. Twelve-year-old Christopher Buraga, whom Bachman says is a "one to watch for," also ended in fifth out of 65 players at the Penang Junior Squash Open.
As for the squash scene in the world, organizations and supporters are trying to get the sport included in the Olympics. They are still hoping that it gets short-listed for the 2024 Olympics, but their ultimate goal is to have it in the 2028 games.
Bachman prays that the Filipinos will soon get to know—and maybe love—this classic sport, which started in the 1800s in London. “In the next five years, I wish it becomes the second most popular sport in the country," he says hopefully. "Basketball will always be the first. I’ll give them that already.”
For more information, visit the Philippine Squash Academy on Facebook.