While men might outnumber women on squash courts around the world, the game is attracting a growing number of female players at the Club.
With a swing of his racket, coach Rico Cheung launches the small rubber ball at the front wall of Squash Court 1.
The Club pro is breaking down one of squash’s fundamental shots for his two students.
It’s the first time on a court for Member Leah Jones.
“When you walk past these courts, it’s a little intimidating,” she says. “You see these guys and you’re like, ‘How am I ever going to get in there and play?’ So this is really great to learn the basics, like how to move and how to hit the ball.”
Jones’ partner at this Wednesday edition of the Club’s semimonthly Ladies’ Squash Clinic is Maylen Hathaway. After attending a previous session, she is now hooked.
“I play tennis, but it’s hard to find a court and it’s outside,” Hathaway says. “Squash is right here. It’s very convenient and it’s a good workout. It’s a lot of sweat and it really activates your brain.”
Boasting three squash courts, including one equipped with a high-tech InteractiveSquash system, the Club has built a reputation for being a hub of squash in Japan. And the Squash Committee has fostered a vibrant community through regular social nights and clinics, a multitiered league and tournaments, including the annual TAC Premier Classic, which draws Japan’s top pros.
But when it comes to players, only 16 of the 134 Members on the Club’s squash mailing list are women. It’s a gender imbalance reflected across the globe. According to World Squash Federation (WSF) figures, women account for just 28 percent of players worldwide.
“Gender equity is an important feature running WSF’s strategy, which feeds into our plans for more female coaches, more female referees and gender balance on our WSF commission and task groups,” World Squash Federation President Zena Wooldridge tells INTOUCH.
It’s a path the Club is also pursuing. Participants in the first free Ladies’ Squash Clinic in February now organize games on three mornings a week that attract regulars like Liv Johansson.
After playing squash for the first time two years ago, Johansson left a note at the courts calling for squash partners.
“Everyone was super welcoming, and it is a community because it goes beyond squash. It’s about fun,” says Johansson, a keen runner who appreciates the fitness challenge of squash.
Lifelong player Betsy Rogers also values the community’s supportiveness.
“You don’t have to be good. You just have to get out there and play. Everyone is out there to support you and to help teach you the game,” she says.
tIntroduced to squash at 10 years old by her dad, Rogers recommends it as a fun activity for families.
“I just like the speed, the sweat and the decision-making” she says. “You’re always having to think and react to the angles. You can play a lot of games fast and you can improve quickly with practice.”
Former All-American Sonia Totten Mayer, who competed in squash at Colby College in Maine, is enjoying the game again after a 20-year break.
“We have an open, friendly and engaging community, and everyone is so welcoming, no matter their level,” she says.
Despite her hiatus from the sport, Totten Mayer is showing no signs of rustiness. She recently won the Club’s handicap plate competition, beating a number of male players along the way. While she wishes more women played, she is appreciative of the camaraderie among players, regardless of gender.
“You just meet so many great and interesting people playing squash. Sometimes they say, ‘Let’s play a game and then visit Court 4,’ which is Traders’ Bar,” she says. “Hey, why not? We deserve it after such an intense workout!”
Ladies’ Squash Clinic
May 10 (9:30–11:30am) & May 26 (6–8pm)
Words: Andrew Chin
Top Image of Betsy Rogers and Sonia Totten Mayer: Kayo Yamawaki