Exclusive by RJ Mitchell
Stewart Boswell has revealed that he plans to go back to the future and use the core values passed onto him by Aussie squash icon Geoff Hunt in his new role as National Coach for Squash Australia, to help return his nation to its previous status as a true squash heavyweight.
Boswell, a former World No.4, benefitted from Hunt’s master tutelage at the Australian Institute of Sport in Brisbane back in the mid-late 90s as he prepared to launch onto the PSA World Tour while the immortal Heather McKay and former World Champion Rodney Martin also helped mould Boswell into a true world force.
Yet only two months after taking up post following his departure from the Inspire Academy in Qatar, the 41 year-old found his plans put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a suspension of all squash activity and saw the globe put on lockdown.
Now with Antipodean neighbours New Zealand announced as COVID-free last week and Australia opening up state by state, Boswell has looked forward with optimism at the job ahead and is confident that the talent is there down under to help fill the void left by the retirements of Cameron Pilley and Ryan Cuskelly, which mean that squash Wallabies are currently extinct in the rarefied environs of the men’s top 100 on the PSA World Rankings.
“I took up the National Coach position in January and within two months we were in lockdown, so I guess my timing was perfect!” joked Stewart before adding: “But seriously at the time you are thinking how the World Junior Championships in July, which were scheduled for the Gold Coast, might be effected but then events have unfolded as they have and we have suffered a global pandemic and been forced into lockdown all over the world, but the good news is that we are starting to reopen and move forward.”
The New Squash Australia head coach continued: “I guess coming home to be National Coach was something that when I look back at the start of my own career back at the AIS in Brisbane in ’95, I had such a good grounding under Geoff Hunt, Rodney Martin and Heather McKay and the values they taught me have always stood me in good stead.
“They were the key in getting me through those difficult years from 17 to 21, as you near the end of your junior career and look to transition into the seniors and these guys just provided such a great environment.
Stewart Boswell takes to the court during the 2006 British Open
“You know a lot of people will tell you it is all about the player and what is in them, but I believe that if the coaching environment is correct, if the support and values are there then that will have a hugely positive impact on any aspiring squash player.
“I learned so much from Geoff, Rod and Heather and these are values that I’ve taken with me through my career and will be drawing on them in my new role.”
Leaving aside the brutal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boswell, who was part of an all-conquering Australia team who won the WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship in 2001, is bullish about the prospects of making his home nation a global squash force again.
He said: “Obviously, Cameron Pilley and Ryan Cuskelly have retired in the last year or so and we are now without an Australian in the top 100 and that is something we want to fix.
“But I believe we have the talent coming through, and if we provide them with the right environment and the correct values then we can get Australians back in the PSA Rankings.
“It will be about taking small steps looking to bed our players in the top 100 and then the top 50 and take it from there, but I have seen enough already from the players I have been working with, without naming anyone and putting pressure on them, to believe we can achieve that.
“What is important however is that while we are getting things right at the National Centre on the Gold Coast that we also support the state programmes. Australia is a huge country, the size of Europe, so it’s vital that we get behind our state programmes and provide them with the pathway up to national level.
“We have had a number of players coming back to Australia and supporting us and Jenny Duncalf, the former World No.2 lady from England, is also doing a great job working with our performance pathway, so there is a lot of knowledge there that we are drawing from.
“Clearly the COVID-19 pandemic has put everything on hold, but Australia is opening for business in a state-by-state process and we are starting to get people back on court and looking forward.
“I am not going to make any predictions but from what I’ve seen already in the two months before we were forced to shut up, I am positive about the future for Australian squash and determined to do everything I can to make sure that future is exciting for our game here.”
Looking back at a playing career that saw him make a U.S. Open final, claim four Australian Open titles and a Commonwealth Games singles bronze medal as well as become a key part of a golden world champion Aussie men’s team, it’s clear Boswell has few regrets.
He said: “I’d like to think I put my best foot forward and gave it everything I had, of course you have regrets but then every player has them, there is always that match or that tournament that still sometimes rankles and you say if only.
“But I was happy to have reached No.4 in the world and made a final at the U.S. Open, although probably playing in the Australian team that won the World Team Championship in 2001 and even when we came third a couple of times and beat teams who were fancied above us, was massive.
“These team performances were built on the values that we were brought up with and taught at the AIS by the likes of Geoff [Hunt], Rod [Martin] and Heather [McKay] and they gave all of the players in those teams the solid foundations they needed to build their careers and bring success for the Australian game and going forward all of that will be at the centre of what we are doing as we build.
“I had been working at the Aspire Academy in Qatar under Geoff Hunt initially for a couple of years which was fantastic and then took on the position of head coach over the next few years and had thought that perhaps the opportunity as national coach for my home country may have passed me by. But then the opportunity came up last July to move home and take up the new role with Squash Australia and it was just something I couldn’t pass up on.
“Really it is the coaching job I have always dreamed off and I am delighted to embrace it.”