Squash Para Todos have developed a new and innovative way of introducing squash to the communities of El Salvador. The PSA Foundation partners are transforming inner city disused spaces into squash courts!
The Squash Para Todos project seeks to grant the opportunity for the communities of San Salvador to experience squash for free. They’re encouraging kids to go play squash the same way you might go for a kick-about in football, or use the local public tennis or basketball courts.
Squash Para Todos will be engaging with these facilities, leading sessions on the courts to introduce new juniors to the sport. They intend to also expand on the number of courts over the next few years, with a focus on engaging with more junior schools and the next generation of players.
The video below is of one of the courts that has been built behind the cafeteria of a local junior school. It’s only half a court, but for the younger age groups, it is more than enough for an enjoyable introduction to the sport.
Squash Para Todos is a relatively new programme now working with the PSA Foundation.
The Foundation sends large donations of squash equipment, provides online coaching resources, exposure to the professional tour and support around promotion and networking with other key squash organisations.
Carlos Schonenberg is the founder and director of the program, and has 30 years experience as both a squash player and coach prior to the start of this campaign.
“Squash Para Todos has been a life long project. I first learned of the Urban Squash Programs in the US in the early 2000’s. I fell in love with the idea of being able to serve others through my passion, the game of squash. I then made it my goal to one day run a similar program in El Salvador,” Schonenberg explained.
“In 2014 I ended up working for one of this Urban Squash Programs, Access Youth Academy, in San Diego, California. But my destiny had already chosen me, and that’s why I decided to return to El Salvador and start our own program. That’s how Squash Para Todos was born.”
The program currently serves around 65 students from the public school system and from or near high risk communities.
The nation has gang issues, with students dropping out of school and joining these groups. One of the main goals of the Squash Para Todos program is to engage students in different activities that will keep them away from those risks, as well as helping them learn new skills.
“Our weekly program includes, squash practice (social and high performance), physical training, general Academic support, English Club, Photo & Video Club, Music (scholar), Sports psychology, mentoring and more,” the program’s founder added.
With the success of the program in El Salvador, Squash Para Todos has now branched out to Guatemala, and there are plans in place to also be up and running in Paraguay by the end of the year. The hope is that the network of programs would then allow cultural exchanges activities between the different locations.
Despite the obvious challenges that would be expected for a program like this, Schonenberg admits that he had help from “one of the best squash venues in Latin America”, and that got things going in the right direction.
“We have been blessed in different ways. A long life relation with the owners of the club opened up this one in a life time opportunity, and we get to use the venues for a very marginal amount,” the Salvadorian admitted.
“Equipment in general has been the same. Since day one we have received donations of used and new equipment from New Caledonia, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and through the PSA Foundation more recently.
“Our main challenge will always be financial. Expansion and long term sustainability depends fully on donations that unfortunately are not coming as needed.”
So the program has been a success so far, but what about the future? Well, the Squash Para Todos has several plans in place, with the ‘Growing Backwards’ concept being the major idea, one that favours the entire program.
Schonenberg believes that the game of squash can be learned, played and taught in many different ways, and that it does not necessarily have to be done on the usual dimensions of a squash court.
The Salvadorian thinks that for the sport to grow in different parts of the world, and to expand and gain popularity, different and innovative ways of coaching the sport have to be used.
“I based my idea of adapting and revitalising under-utilised spaces at public schools and public parks, so the game of squash can be practiced at different levels. This idea doesn’t plan to replace the regular courts, it will only open opportunity for new possible players to grab their first racket, know the sport exists,” he explained.
The first two courts are being built in line for the new school year beginning in January, and the program will aim to serve children between first and sixth grade.
“These mini squash centres will serve as breeding grounds for future scholars that will then get a chance to train and develop at the official squash centre and benefit from all the program curriculum,” Schonenberg added.
“Besides building this centres, we are also installing programs that will be led by our current students that graduate high school. This will serve as a part time job opportunity that will allow them the time needed to continue their superior academic growth, besides the fact that they are now serving back!”
By the end of 2020, the program is aiming to have two or three centres, but the ambition is for that number to rise to at least eight over the next three years.
Alongside the Growing Backwards campaign, regular coaching sessions will continue to take place at the squash venue, with 6th to 12th graders training anywhere from three to six times a week, as well as taking part in all other academic and physical activities.
The program has seen students go on to fight for positions in national teams, with three of the four girls from the U19 team having graduated from the Squash Para Todos, while five of the ten boys contending for the junior team are also graduates of the program.