What's On My Mind
by David Keating
November 2, 2014

Building Squash With League Play

Baseball has Little League, football’s got Pop Warner and junior squash players join . . . Well, nothing yet nationally.

Team play is more accessible to adult players, as many US SQUASH district associations run a wide variety of highly successful adult leagues. However many adult leagues often don’t offer a team option to players who are novices, competition that could lead to a lifetime love of the sport, but this is starting to change.

For teenagers, a growing number of high schools offer squash as a varsity or club sport and participation in the US SQUASH annual high school championships has grown rapidly. The event is now, by far, the largest tournament in the world. Middle school teams are also growing in popularity.

A number of districts and clubs have developed innovative programs to offer novices a way to get regular matches and a taste of team competition while also catering to the higher skilled players.

A mainstay, of course, is club round robin play. But organized team programs give participants a variety of new players to meet and play and build enthusiasm through the competitive and social aspects of team play.

At the Philadelphia area’s Berwyn Squash Club, Dominic Hughes runs the successful “Ivy League,” an innovative way to draw new junior players into the game and develop advanced players. If you go to a junior squash tournament and ask a Philadelphia-area player how he or she got started playing squash, there’s a good chance they will tell you it started in the Berwyn club’s league. The league now regularly has over 70 players most seasons, and that’s just in one Club.

Like basketball, soccer and baseball leagues, the Berwyn junior squash league has teams. Team members wear uniforms to matches emblazoned with their team’s name. Just like a college match, each contest begins with introductions of each player by the team manager, in this case a parent volunteer.

The beauty of squash is that players with vastly different skills can all play on the same team and support and learn from each other. With many ladder positions in the Berwyn’s junior league, there are many competitive matches for these junior players even though the players’ skills vary greatly.

Hughes says the league “enables junior players to learn in a friendly relaxed setting.” He notes that it also provides an opportunity to learn squash etiquette and sportsmanship. Another benefit is that it allows his coaching pros “to watch players in match play so we can help during individual lessons.”

At the beginning of the season, all the kids who want to play go to a series of tryouts where the Club’s pros assess the talent. They then assign the players to teams, with as many as 11 players on each team – 6 in a division 1 team and another 5 in a division 2 team.

Teams play every other week late Sunday afternoons or early evening, when there are few conflicts with other sports or other activities. Teams are also allowed to borrow players from teams if a player is missing that week.

Massachusetts Squash takes another approach with its informal junior league, where novice players get to play round robin matches and no scores or standings are kept. It’s highly popular, with hundreds of juniors vying for spots in the two local leagues – one for players through 8th grade and another for skilled high school players. The league is also a terrific confidence builder for the younger juniors who work their way up through the round robin skill levels and then enter US SQUASH sanctioned tournaments. It’s one of the key reasons Massachusetts Squash juniors are well represented in the lists of the top ranked junior players in the US.


National Capital Squash (NCS) started a novice players’ division in the 2011-2012 season for its league, open to players with skill ratings under 2.5 (about 3.0 under the new US SQUASH) rating system. NCS board member Andrew Mishkin, who runs the division, says “To encourage wide participation, we invited clubs to include juniors; decided not to have a division champion or playoffs; and strongly encouraged captains to use lower ability players in the 2, 3, and 4 ladder positions in their four player line-ups, rather than just putting their top players on the court. Many clubs stocked their teams with juniors who were new to the game. We are now in our third year and sixth season, with seven different club teams and over 60 players.” Many of the players have increased their skill and moved up into higher divisions.

NCS now has six divisions so that all players can find a team that’s right for them. The divisions have attracted many juniors too, some of whom have gone on to become highly ranked players in national competition.

Virginia Squash takes a unique approach to its league. Its teams sport the largest teams in the nation – at each match nine players compete, the same number used by college teams and in many high school leagues.

The league was started fifteen years ago by the Country Club of Virginia (CCV) in Richmond. Originally only CCV members played in the league and the teams had five players per team. Later, other clubs were encouraged to field teams and compete against CCV teams. Teams then expanded to seven players before winding up with nine player ladder currently in use.

In a sense the league operates somewhat like the Berwyn Club junior league. Five clubs in the area field one or several teams and much like a fantasy sports league, captains draft players from their club through nine rounds until they fill their teams. The league has guidelines on the skill levels for each ladder position, to ensure balanced teams.

There are many advantages to this approach. One key benefit is that nearly any club can field at least one team. Other district leagues might need teams to find four or more players in a certain skill level range, and sometimes clubs simply don’t have enough in that range to compete effectively. Under the Virginia league approach, if the team is weak at the top of the ladder (or in some other skill range), it can make up for that at the bottom, or vice versa. With nine ladder positions, there is a place on each team for highly skilled players as well as novices.

The league also strongly encourages players on the ladder to play challenge matches, to ensure accurate ladder positions. This creates more playing opportunities and makes the skill level ratings more accurate.

By having teams with a wide range of skill levels, the lower skilled players get to watch, and learn from, the more skilled teammates. And everyone has a great time.

The league matches are self-scheduled, with one match in a two-week period. However, many teams book courts and invite as many players as possible to play on a single night. Those who can attend that night play their matches, while those whose schedules don’t permit it can fulfill their commitment within the time frame allowed.

Russ Sterling, who has been one of the league administrators for many years, notes that the new US SQUASH club locker website makes it easier than ever to administer the league, as players can enter their match results online using their smartphones.

Matches produce five points for the winner and as many as three for the loser. One point is awarded to each team for simply playing the match. Points are also awarded for each game won, plus a bonus point for winning the match. This incents teams to ensure all matches are played and for players to win as many games as they can, as points are valuable in the standings.

The league had over 220 players on 25 teams, including 12 from CCV, last season. Eight teams qualify for the playoffs for the title. Often as few as five points separate the teams that finish between eighth and twelfth place, so avoiding defaults is important to gaining a playoff spot.

On finals night, the league invites all the players to watch and offers a feast of hors d'oeuvres, building more social activity into the league.

Clearly Virginia Squash has a great model for a league that can be used in small districts or as a supplement to leagues used in major metropolitan areas, where busy players may not be able to play on a particular league night.

US SQUASH has recently made it a priority to support districts and to share best practices as a way to help continue the sport’s growth.

If squash is going to continue to increase its rate of growth, we’ll need to find more ways to get new players a taste of competition in a team environment. Team play provides social benefits and is a great way for squash players have a great deal of fun while learning more about the sport and meeting other potential playing partners.

If you know of other examples of team play or other ways to bring and keep new players into the sport, please write me at keating18-squash@yahoo.com so I can share this information in an article and with districts across the nation.

David Keating is president of National Capital Squash.

Back To Main