Discovering a Passion for Squash: Edi Stepanek’s Journey from Football to Squash Stardom
Starting his sports journey at a young age of 7 or 8, Edi Stepanek, who was born in Vienna, played football at different stages of his life, including his childhood, teenage years, student life, and junior years. However, he did not come across squash until he turned 19.
During my time in Sweden, I had the opportunity to play squash for the first time with a Swedish friend, and it was an incredible experience. However, I didn’t know much about the sport. After returning to Austria and suffering a significant football injury, squash started gaining popularity in the country. While recovering in Vienna, I came across the first squash court in Austria and met a mentor, Hans Wolf Selden, a three-time champion in the sport. With his guidance, I quickly became captivated by squash, dedicating the first three months to learning and improving my skills. Eventually, I decided to end my football career and fully embrace this newfound passion for squash.
Although it’s rare to conclude a 14-year football career, my mentor, Hans Wolf Selden, played an instrumental role in helping me continue my journey in England and Scotland. As a result, my squash game gained popularity, and I participated in the first three national championships in Austria. Remarkably, during the fourth national championship, I managed to defeat both my mentor and fellow training partners. This milestone marked the beginning of my career, as I pursued studies in computer science and sports.
A Journey Through Squash: From Champion Player to Coach and Mentor
Since 1975, I have been deeply involved in the world of squash and fitness, transitioning from a player to a coach. Over the course of seven or eight years, I became a national team player and Austrian champion, winning four Austrian championship finals and participating in three European tours. To become a squash coach, I traveled to England—the only place at the time offering squash coaching courses—which included a training course and three seminars. Today, this would be equivalent to a level two or three in the European squash federation.
I spent six or seven years as the Austrian national team coach and mentored younger coaches in the country, becoming an integral part of the squash scene. The 1980s saw a significant boom in squash’s popularity, with squash centers in Vienna housing up to 20 courts. The demand was so high that courts were booked from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. I was fortunate to have the support of a great businessman, Mr. Kurt Felsinger.
Kurt Felsinger played a significant role in my professional sports career, allowing me to both coach and play squash at a high level. This opportunity lasted until I turned 45, after which I spent several years working as a manager and coach in various European countries. Eventually, I returned to Austria when I was 55.
Marcel Weigl, a well-known figure in the squash community, once invited me to join him for a game of squash. Over the years, I had the opportunity to train numerous top players in Austria’s squash scene. However, when I turned 70, I made the decision to step back from coaching and focus on management roles within the sport for my remaining years.
Over the past 50 years, squash has experienced significant growth and development throughout the world. The sport’s major boom began in Europe, with England leading the way as a pioneer. Around 1977 or 1978, the squash boom gained momentum, resulting in a remarkable increase in the number of courts across countries like Germany, Sweden, and Austria.
The Evolution of Squash: From Wooden Rackets to Glass Courts and Beyond
I had the fortunate experience of playing squash during its developmental period. Back then, players used wooden rackets and the balls were quite fast, making technique a crucial aspect of the game. The sport took a significant leap forward, entering a new dimension, thanks to the innovations of a man who is still considered a Messiah in the world of squash.
Jonah Barrington, a prominent figure in the world of squash, claimed six victories at the British Open in 1976. At that time, the British Open was the premier global tournament in the sport. Barrington played a significant role in introducing squash to athletes and revolutionizing the game. Prior to his era, players used wooden rackets, and the 64-square-meter court size was not yet a standard. Recognizing the importance of speed in squash, Barrington focused on developing his agility and quickness, contributing greatly to his success.
In the 70s and 80s, squash experienced significant development, largely due to the involvement of Pakistani athletes. With their introduction to the sport, the athletic aspect of squash flourished, forming the foundation of the modern game we know today. During the era of wooden rackets, players would hit only around 7 or 8 balls per minute. However, by 2022, the pace of the game has dramatically increased to an impressive 30 balls per minute, showcasing the evolution of squash over the years.
The evolution of squash saw significant advancements in racket and ball technology, allowing athletes to take center stage and improve the game. During the 80s, the era of legendary players like Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, and Peter Nicol, the first glass courts were constructed in Germany, marking another milestone in the sport’s progress.
In Germany, the construction of glass courts in city centers led to significant advancements in the sport. As a result, mobile glass courts were introduced, which helped in bringing the game out of the hidden cellar vaults and into more public spaces. These glass courts were even installed in unique locations such as on top of pyramids or along streets, making the sport more accessible and visually appealing to a wider audience.
The establishment of the Professional Squash Association marked a significant milestone in the development of squash as a professional sport. Players came together to create a standardized series, which has since been showcased through a recognizable label. This development led to the construction of facilities designed to allow spectators to sit on all four sides, providing a better understanding of the true speed and excitement of squash that television broadcasts struggle to capture.
The Elusive Quest for Squash’s Olympic Inclusion: A History of Challenges and Changing Priorities
Every passionate squash player has likely wondered why squash isn’t an Olympic sport. This is a valid question, especially for those who love the game and can’t understand why it hasn’t achieved Olympic status. It’s important to note that squash is governed by a global organization, the World Squash Federation, which further adds to the confusion surrounding its absence from the Olympics.
The association responsible for organizing the Olympic Committee for the International Olympic Games faced challenges in incorporating squash as an event. In 2005, the World Squash Federation organized the World Squash Sport Olympics for the first time, aiming to include it in the 2012 games. However, due to unknown reasons and potential organization issues, squash was not successfully added to the International Olympic Committee’s roster during that period.
Despite not knowing the exact number of squash players worldwide, squash was still considered an important sport. There were even continents where it wasn’t widely played or where national associations hadn’t yet been established. Squash players can argue that this was a factor in the sport’s challenges back in 2005.
In 2009, a new approach was taken for recording sports, where new sports could only be recorded when old ones were removed. During this time, softball and several other sports were taken out of the catalog, making room for the addition of sports like squash and karate.
A request for a vote was initiated to determine the most popular sport among the participants. The results showcased wrestling as the top choice with 49 votes, followed by another sport that received 24 votes. Squash came in third place with 22 votes, and since only the first sport was considered, wrestling was ultimately declared as the winner.
Squash players may not have fully comprehended the situation, but it was indeed like that. The third opportunity arose in 2013, targeting the 2020 games, which took place in London. Considering the popularity of squash in London, one might think that the sport would have a strong chance of being included in the 2020 Olympic games, given that the city is a hotbed for squash enthusiasts.
A vote for including squash in the Olympics was held once more, but squash didn’t make it into the vote. The significance of London not being part of the vote was enormous. With squash failing to become an Olympic sport, the next strategy was to aim for it to be an additional sport. This would allow each event organizer to decide if they wanted to include a popular, pre-sport in their program.
Despite the surprising decision, breakdance and skateboarding were ultimately included in the Olympic Games, deviating from Pierre de Coubertin’s original vision. Traditionally, the Olympics focused on core athletic activities such as running, jumping, throwing, and swimming. The inclusion of sports like skateboarding and breakdance, however, has left many puzzled and questioning the direction of the Games.
Reviving Squash’s Popularity Among Youth and Pursuing Olympic Inclusion
The World Squash Federation has tried four times to include squash in the Olympics, but it hasn’t been successful. We may not know the exact reasons for these failures, but we can look forward to the 2032 Olympics, which will be held in Australia. As Australia is considered one of the mother countries of squash, it’s crucial to explore ways to finally make squash a part of the Olympic Games there.
In recent years, the development of squash and other sports has faced challenges, particularly in attracting young people. The current state of this sport’s professionalism, marketing, and public perception are all in good shape, but there is a need to examine the steps necessary to regain its previous appeal to younger generations.
On the other hand, examining the situation in Vienna reveals a strong contrast in the squash scene. Unlike other cities, Vienna struggles with a lack of young people participating in the sport. While other sports cities face similar challenges, the issue is more pronounced in squash compared to other sports.
Asking ourselves if there are individuals who visit and aim to work with young people is essential. One significant reason for the lack of young people might be that nobody takes the initiative to dedicate their time on days like Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. By being present at the court and acting as a “rat catcher,” they could engage with the young people and encourage their participation.
While the concern for developing the next generation of rat catchers is not limited to Austria or Vienna, it’s also a problem faced by countries like Germany and others. If these young individuals are not nurtured and supported, there will be a decline in their numbers, which could lead to a broader issue.
Despite the popularity of squash in Great Britain, the sport faces a significant challenge in attracting young players. To ensure its growth and potential inclusion in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) events, it is crucial to engage the youth and build a strong foundation of support. With a growing interest from young people, the IOC will find it increasingly difficult to overlook squash as a legitimate contender for future Olympic games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to include breakdance in the Olympics because they noticed the popularity of breakdance and skateboarding among young people on TV and in the media. This decision highlights the importance of adapting to the interests of younger generations in order to keep the Olympics relevant. In contrast, squash faces a fundamental challenge in attracting young participants, as the sport is primarily taught within sports cities, which may be less accessible to those interested in learning the game.
In large cities like Vienna, the sporting culture thrives due to the availability of various facilities. One such example is a glass-curtain squash facility, which provides a comfortable environment for players. In Vienna, there’s a prominent squash facility that was previously known as Club Danube. Despite the name change to Padeldome, the squash facility still exists and serves as a central hub for the sport, showcasing its importance in the city.
Addressing the Challenges of Youth Sports Participation and Collaboration in Austria
In countries with better infrastructure for sports, it becomes easier for young people to participate and get involved. However, in Austria, a unique problem exists where there is a lack of unity and collaboration among organizations. Instead, each group operates independently, which hinders the development of a cohesive strategy for promoting sports and fostering talent among the youth.
When considering the concept of starting a soup kitchen for young people in Vienna, it’s important to emphasize collaboration rather than having a single, centralized location. The key is to work collectively to address the issue and not let territorial concerns hinder open communication. By creating a joint project, everyone can contribute to tackling the problem together and make a meaningful impact in the community.
If there are approximately 7 squash centers in Vienna, it’s essential to ensure that each youth center has a scheduled youth training session. Successfully doing this is a significant accomplishment. However, if the youth don’t know where to attend these sessions, it creates a challenge that needs to be addressed.
Together with a well-defined concept for the future and the necessary facilities, we can address the issue of becoming more visible to the outside world. Increased visibility is a significant step towards success. To tackle this problem, there are two primary approaches. One example is expanding our reach beyond Austria to other locations.
In countries with large populations, such as France, Italy, Spain, and England, sports facilities for young people like golf courses, tennis courts, and squash centers are actively promoted up until the age of 18. This encourages youth participation in various sports and fosters a healthy and active lifestyle.
A unique feature in some countries is that individuals under the age of 18 are not required to pay membership fees for clubs or associations. Instead, the club or association receives a subsidy from the state for each young member. This financial support encourages youth participation and eases the burden on families. However, it’s important to note that not all countries, such as Austria, offer this benefit.
Understanding Costs and Engagement Strategies in Austrian Sports Centers
The alternative approach to consider, particularly when examining other nations or sports in Austria, is to provide opportunities for young individuals. However, it’s important to note that offering such programs may incur costs for the sports center.
A significant difference between football and squash is the cost associated with each sport. While football is relatively inexpensive, squash requires paying for court time and coaching fees since it operates as a business. Parents should be aware that if their child wants to play squash, it will have financial implications. For example, if parents are informed that squash costs lets say €300 per year and child, and the child enjoys the sport, they can better understand and manage the expenses.
The approach of not knowing who pays for a service at a sports center can be confusing. It’s important to explain to parents that there are costs involved in providing the services offered at the center. This transparency can help them understand the value of the services provided.
From my 35-40 years of coaching experience, I’ve learned that there are two main approaches to keeping players engaged in the squash court. The key is to extinguish the metaphorical fire within them. If you can successfully quench this fire, they will remain in the squash court and continue playing. However, if you fail to do so, it becomes increasingly difficult to retain their interest and commitment.
We must encourage individuals both on and off the squash court to actively discuss and promote the sport. Demonstrating enthusiasm and passion for squash can inspire others and help them develop a love for the game. Additionally, it is crucial to seek out and train individuals who can effectively teach squash techniques. By cultivating skilled instructors, we can create an environment that fosters the growth of talented squash players.