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Missing college sports? Get coaches, team, and competition (community will follow)

October 23, 2010 – 8:19 PM

By Sarah Odell

What keeps so many women from playing post-collegiate competitive sports?

In squash, it’s a challenge to get young women to travel to Baltimore or Philadelphia or Boston for a tournament. Getting them to commit to a once a week practice? Finding a woman to play with at the club? Not easy. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel, go to a yoga class, and go home.

Luckily, a very special thing happened to me this fall: I was asked to be the co-captain of the New York women’s Howe Cup team. The Howe Cup is an annual national team tournament, where players join five-woman teams, representing their city. There are four levels of play in singles and a doubles event. It is the premiere women’s squash event of the season.

I’m new to the world of post-collegiate athletics, so I wondered, why don’t we have practices? We did in college, why not now? (The  women’s collegiate championship is also called the Howe Cup)

So we did. And – surprise — the practices have been wildly successful. We have about twenty women gathering each Thursday at the StreetSquash facility in Harlem (including 5-6 young women from StreetSquash) for two hours of intense drilling, instruction and play. And they’re eating it up.

One reason for success is that we have two serious guys (yes, men) who stepped forward to coach the team. We have John Musto, a former Yale no. 1 and the highest ranked male in the 40+ division of US Squash, and David Hughes, who holds masters titles from Canada, and has extensive coaching experience.

They’ve filled a void in the New York Squash community, and I believe, a void in multiple sports communities worldwide—they are competitive players and coaches, and they are giving women the opportunity to be taken seriously as athletes while creating a tight-knit squash community.

Ask John and David about coaching, and they will tell you: If you have a serious player, gender is irrelevant. Competitive players want to win. Give them tools, and success follows.

What I see once a week in Harlem is a group of women—stay-at-home moms, working professionals, teachers—who for two hours are intense athletes. Howe Cup is our Olympics, and John and David are our Herb Brooks and Craig Patrick. (Except Russia will be played by Boston).

Along the way, John, David, and  all of us players have created our own community. John usually brings snacks and drinks, and everyone hangs out after practice. The coaches are the last to leave.

Part of what we loved about playing on our college or national teams, wasn’t necessarily just the competition. I remember long bus rides all over creation, dancing to Lady Gaga in the aisles, congratulating a teammate on besting a personal record or the joy that comes from offering a teammate game-changing advice.

We women need more than just a racquet and ball or a towel and a mat to get a workout that matters. We are running, pulled, busy in our daily lives. This training is about more than technique and sweat. It’s about team. That’s why I come, each week. It’s amazing.

Kelsey Engman (Columbia U. Women's Coach) and David Hughes

Howe Cup Athletes

John Musto and Sarah Odell

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