One of the UK's top coaches, with 'top-tenners'
Lee Beachill and James Willstrop in his stable
... compere of the upcoming English Open where he is looking forward to -
finally - introduce betting into squash. It's 'Malcolm Willstrop week'
THE ECCENTRIC GENIUS
Dont even think about
describing him as James father.
He would give you one of his looks that make you feel youre back in the
Yes, Mr Willstrop Senior is a tall man, with a real presence, who wears a
severe look; but which hides a heart full of compassion and generosity.
Im happier than I look, he often says
He is witty, cheeky, possesses a natural authority that I personally find
extremely attractive, and whatever you want to know about squash, he
I was lucky enough to meet the master several times, along with some of
his players and friends.
from August 2004
Malcolm in 3 words
|THE EARLY YEARS
As a squash player, what was your level?
I was a player at a reasonable standard then, not international, but I was
When did you start coaching?
In 1960, I started coaching squash in St Peters, York, one of the oldest
schools in the world, founded in 627. It also has a strong squash
tradition. One of its headmasters was the Great-Britain Captain in the
30s, and the first ever public school squash match in this country was
between St Peters and Haileybury near London in 1926. There is actually a
photo of the event in the Ealing Squash Club in London.
Tell me a bit about your youth then.
My parents were not wealthy, and I went to public school on a scholarship.
So after 7 years in St Peters York, it was quite difficult to think that
I was going to go to university for three years, then two years National
service, so five years not earning anything when my parents had no means
of supporting me.
Were you a good student?
I was a high flyer academically, I even went to Cambridge for an interview
when I was only 16, and they rejected me, and I didnt like that much. So
I said to the headmaster that I was not going to university, that I was
going to do my National Service, and then try for journalism and various
other things. After my service, I went into horse racing for a couple of
But you went back to St Peters York, didnt you?
Well, the headmaster invited me back to teach. And I thought that I would
be silly to refuse, and that Id better go, get qualified, and get a
degree. And thats what I did from 1965 to 1969. In 1965, I went to Durham
University to study English and French and to get a teaching
Were you involved in squash as well?
Yes, I actually ran the squash section there, and was pretty successful at
it. There was a lot of squash going on at that time, some internationals
came out of the team as well. During that period, I captained English
Universities. It was a very productive time. I was older than the others
students, I was 26, 27. I was running university set-up and I was heavily
involved in the England University set-up. By the time I left down there,
we had a very good squash team.
Did you enjoy your university years?
Well, I went to University obviously later, because of the 5 year gap. I
find that quite good in a way, because by that time I was married, more
responsible, I knew what I had to achieve. I got to know the staff at
University, because I was older, and that was very helpful later when I
went back to teaching. So, I was very glad I went to University later in
retrospect, even if it was a bit restrictive financially.
So you really started coaching after University.
What did you teach then?
To start with, English and French. As far as sport is concerned, I was
coaching squash, but other sports as well, rugby and cricket. Quickly, I
got interested in only high standards. Not exclusively, I coached all
sorts of people, but if people could reach those high standards in any
sports, I wanted them to get there, and I was producing rugby players and
cricketers the same way at that stage.
So you gave up teaching to turn professional
Once I started teaching sports, I realised I didnt want to do anything
else really. I was a reasonable teacher in the classroom, but as soon as I
got on the sport scene, I realised that I could produce high class
sportsmen and teams as well. So, being sensible, I realised that the best
thing that you can do, is to do what you do best. You get to be happy, and
get a lot of fulfilment out of coaching.
The first ever inter-school squash match was
played at Queen's Club between Haileybury College and St Peter's on
January 5th 1926.
St Peter's Squash History
As a squash coach, have you been influenced by anybody in particular?
In terms of squash, I learnt not a lot from any individual coaching
person, but a great deal from other influences in other sports. I have
been lucky to meet some high powered ones.
In 1970, after my degree, I started teaching in 1970 in a school called
Greshams, in Norfolk. Its a very high class public school. That was a
very productive era for me in every sporting sense, squash in particular.
I was also teaching cricket and rugby, and I produced a lot of high class
rugby players, some of them played for England, and I was involved with
top class rugby coaches, and they influenced me more developing coaching
ideals and ideas. John Dawes, captain of the British Lions, coached at the
school on more than one occasion, and to watch him work was like watching
a supreme man.
So, rugby, and then?
Ive learnt a lot from racehorse trainers, I know one racehorse trainer
well, Henrietta Knight, and to watch people like that in action, you can
learn a great deal. She is a fascinating woman, Ive spent time in her
company and you know, preparing horses is very similar in many ways to
Its quite the same, you are getting ready for a
particular occasion, not overworking them, gradually bring them to peaks,
very similar. The only thing is that the horse cant tell you if its
wrong, or ill, whereas a player can.
Malcolm at Jonjo O'Neill's stable with Jim McGrath of Channel 4 racing
What are the qualities required to be a good coach?
It is a long list! You need some sort of technical expertise, every coach,
any teacher needs that, in every sport, in any discipline. High in the
list of anything would be enthusiasm, and getting kids or people to enjoy
I mean, if you cant do that, dont be in teaching, if you cant
enthuse, if you cant go yeaaah! Great shot! or laugh or cry with them,
whatever it is, then you are in the wrong game. So I would put enthusiasm
and the ability to communicate so people enjoy what they are doing, as the
hallmark of a good teacher. I have got plenty of enthusiasm, and I think
you need it, without a doubt.
You also have to understand a certain level of technical expertise, which
obviously vary. Some people are better at it than others. And you develop
your own technical way. My players, most people can recognise. But, within
that, Ive learnt to let their own personalities flourish.
Lee and James
are different characters and yet, they are completely different people.
And that shows on the court. Im happy with that because that means I have
given them set techniques, given them a secure way to play and that I have
allowed them to be themselves. I havent imposed anything on them.
Did you change your coaching over the years?
When I first started coaching, I suspect I was guilty of being too
impositional, but I quickly learnt that that was no good. I think thats
something in my favour, my players have my look, but they are different,
and its their personalities that you are watching. What they have in
common, its a way they hit the ball, they hit the ball with a rhythm and
a relaxation. I think its a success, to let them be who they are.
Are there some common points between coaching different sports?
Coaching rules apply to all games, whether its disciplines and standards
apply to rugby, cricket, its all the same. There is a certain level where
its all the same.
Then you need to apply the particular thing, but the
overall things, the important ones are identical. I was lucky in those
contacts, and then I developed my own coaching techniques, practices.
The first time I met Malcolm was the first time I played squash.
He brought me up not just as a
squash player, he brought me up as a person, and Im very grateful
Did you invent your own exercises?
Yes, most of them. Well, at the time, I was one of the early coaches in
the country, and I had to think about things that were appropriate, that
would help, situations, practicality, the dealing with numbers. So you
develop a system. Funny thing, when I went to Portugal recently with
James, they are doing practices that I invented at Greshams, and thats
good, they have spread that far. People will never know that, they will
never remember it, they wont even know that you started it.
What is your method?
To start with, I hardly ever work with individuals; even with Lee and
James. There are a few exceptions, but on a daily basis, they work with
other players. Those players can be good standard kids between 15 and 20,
or even younger. Twice before the British Open, Lee worked with a 14 year
old, because it happened that he was there that day, and had a great
practise with him. Lee and James dont have any problem practising with
anybody. They dont feel theyve got to practise with someone of the same
standard, because its never how Ive worked. So they have been brought up
They are never short of practice partners then?
Yes, they have a host of people they can practice with. They are not
looking for someone to practice because Ive got probably 30 or 40 players
good enough to practice with them, and they dont think they are beneath
them, they accept them as training partners. They are both very good at
that. They would never turn their nose up to anybody. If I say to Lee go
and work with a 10 year old, thats the way we do things here, and thats
why there is no jealousy between players, no tension.
How do you deal with players that dont fit?
If they dont fit, generally I wouldnt have them there, I would get rid
of them. And people know how I work, its probably quite well known how I
work. For instance, if they want individual one to one, there is no point
coming to me because they wont get that. I havent the time, I've never
worked like that.
Photo of the Day:
at Walton Hall
Coming up on Day TWO:
Malcolm talks about his players, past, present and future, and Lee
James Willstrop talk about Malcolm.
from August 2004