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Jeanne Blasberg, chair of US Squash, on growing the women’s game, courting the post-college crowd, and amping up your game as you age (seriously)

May 4, 2009 – 1:16 PM

By Sarah Odell

US Squash board chair Jeanne Blasberg

US Squash board chair Jeanne Blasberg

Jeanne Blasberg is Board Chair, of U.S. Squash and plays at state and national levels. Recently, she has been kind enough to teach my friend Ashley and I the game of doubles squash, which is all together different from singles. Ashley and I just competed at the inaugural U25 National Doubles Championship in Greenwich, CT. Here’s what Blasberg, 43, has to say about growing women’s squash, playing alongside her children – and (ala Tiger Woods) revamping her strokes.

FGN: My impression is that US Squash is trying to retain female players post-college. What is US Squash doing to keep and attract women?

Blasberg: Yes, increasing women’s participation and membership is one of our strategic priorities.  Right now women are a small percentage of our membership (15% of about 11,000) whereas at the college level, about 35-40% of the players are female. According to industry estimates there are 300,000 squash players in the U.S. We have a strategic goal to increase U.S. Squash membership to 20,000 by 2012.

Our goal is to keep women playing. Formats like the adult Howe Cup are successful because people like being part of a team and they like the social aspect.  We need to emulate that feel in other events. Many women play for the “fun” rather than the competition after it is no longer required in school or as a junior.  So we need events and formats that take the pressure off.  We also need to be sensitive to price and time commitment for tournaments.

At the same time, we are trying to build out the under 23, under 25 events as a bridge after college.  US Squash is thinking about free/low cost membership for early 20-somethings. We’re also trying to get health club owners to build squash courts because private clubs are too expensive for young adults.  Having a cheaper, public club option is important.

FGN: As a non-collegiate athlete who is very involved in highly competitive squash, what do you get out of the experience?

Blasberg: I was a college field hockey (2 –year team captain) and lax player. I also ran track and played on the squash team my senior year so I wouldn’t say I was not a college athlete! In fact, I got 10 varsity letters at Smith. I started playing squash my junior year when I met my future husband who was a squash player at Amherst.  I am a competitive person and need a healthy outlet for that.  Sharing a sport with my husband, friends, and children is an amazing way to spend time together.

FGN: Do you play squash with any of your children?

Blasberg: Yes, all three play and it is a real joy to be on court with them.  My 13-year -old son and I made it to the semi’s of the state parent-child tournament. I am proud to say I was the only Mom in the parent-child!  My 15-year-old plays at Exeter and is getting quite serious.  We plan to play and drill a lot this summer.  It is very special for a mother to have sports to share with her boys. My 11-year-old daughter has the talent to be quite good.  I am proud to be competing and having my kids watch me.  They gain a certain respect for women and women athletes — and for me! They know I work hard in order to play at a high level.  I can also be a good example of fair play, when to play a let or give a point, how to win and lose gracefully.

FGN: Would you encourage collegiate squash players to continue playing after college?

Blasberg: Yes!! Play after college.  If you stay fit, squash is a sport you can improve at so much in your thirties and forties.  I made the breakthrough from being a “B” player to an “A” player when I was in my late 30’s (after giving birth to three children).  The game is very mental and wisdom and experience add so much.  In fact as I get older, I love to enter tournaments where I will be playing people who are half my age (it provides a great incentive to win).  Don’t give up squash after college because you haven’t come anywhere near hitting your peak.

FGN: What do you love about competing?

Blasberg: When I walk onto a court, I can be anywhere in the world and the dimensions of the court are a constant for me, very grounding. (You will feel that in Israel this summer.  You will be thrown into a totally new environment, yet the game and the court are the same and very calming in that way). Playing requires a presence that I strive for in other practices such as yoga or playing the piano – this presence is so calming and peaceful.

FGN: How is your game these days?

Blasberg: I have been working very hard at the technical components of my game. Since I didn’t learn as a child, I didn’t have the greatest foundation in squash.  I counted more on my fitness and strength to help me rise through the rankings.  Now at the age of 43, I have taken two lessons a week for over a year to just to focus on redoing my strokes (I figured if Tiger Woods had the courage to take his swing apart, I could probably risk it too).  Fitness won’t take me any higher because at this point it has to all be about technique and shot selection.  So you see, it is one game, but it keeps changing and presenting new challenges.

FGN: We had SO much fun at the U25 Doubles. We need more tournaments.

Blasberg: Glad the doubles weekend was fun! You should definitely keep it up. I have been playing dubs only four years and I feel like I made a huge jump in my doubles game this year.

FGN: Thank you.

Blasberg: Good luck.

Sarah Odell is a junior at Wellesley College who will represent the U.S. this July in Squash at the Maccabi Games in Israel.

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