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Part ONE  |  Part TWO  |  Part THREE  |  Part FOUR

Liz Irving - Part ONE
"Simply the best coach in the world" - Nicol David

There are people you instantly dislike. And some you feel like family from the first time you meet. Guess which category Liz belongs to in my eyes... Bingo.

So I decided to learn a bit more about Nicol David's coach, and right after the European Teams in Amsterdam, I spent two days with Liz and her team to try to get to know them better.

And after talking long hours with the former world number two, I know my first impression was the correct one. Immensely caring, highly knowledgeable, patient, never overbearing yet assertive, she has all the qualities of the perfect coach.

And the setup she has organised in Amsterdam is truly remarkable. I felt comfortable from the first second I arrived, and I think I'll go and spend a few days there myself soon. SquashCity is like, well, a true family...

An article in four parts: first, Liz talks about her career, and setting up her base in Amsterdam; then in the second part of the article she speaks about Nicol and the work they've been doing together, and Nicol speaks about Liz and explains what "the best coach in the world" brought to her life ...

"All went on to be Former world no 2s

Danielle Drady (2nd left) Rodney Martin, Chris Robertson and me. Pretty strong junior players as a group. The rest could have also possibly gone on to the same level but never pursued a pro career!"


I have a little confession to make. I worked harder on fitness later in my career. I was Australian Junior Champion U15, 17, and 19, itís so long back I canít remember! I was seeded number one for the World Juniors in 1983, and basically,
I didnít really train for squash However I played a lot of tournaments around Queensland, and in other parts of AustraliaÖ

A lot of top coaches Iím sure are frustrated with how sometimes, it can be a bit unbalanced between " knowing how to play squash" and "fitness at all costs"...

Thatís our job - to try and make sure that the player gets the right balance. If itís not enough of one thing, or too much of another, thatís not good enough. To oversee well, to identify the strong points, the weak points, and how to work forward and improve on that.

Jenny & Liz Irving (7) Jenny and Liz in Amsterdam, 2013

I loved squash, I did some squash camps here and there, never had much coaching to be honest, even though my mum was a top player, she used to play me, but she didnít really coach me. Mum was a former World No. 2 in the late 60's and early 70's. She was internationally No.2 to Heather Mckay and a former British Open finalist in 1971. So I just watched the top players, I had them around all the time, so I guess I learned a lot through osmosis.

Thatís how I developed my squash, and when I lost in the world junior semi-finals, 10/8 in the 5th, to Robin Friday-Landborn, and I hadnít lost to her all year, I realised that if I really wanted to take this serious, I had to pick up the game and get fit for my squash.

I was 18, ranked five or six in Australia for the women, and I wanted to be pro. So I trained for three months with Aub Amos, then I went overseas. I still wasnít fit, compared to the real terms of that, but then I gave myself three years to really learn the game at the top end, and get in amongst them .
                        get in the amongst of all.

British open final 1994 against Michelle MartinSo my vision was to learn how to play top squash. That was my priority, and in the process you train, you work hard, but my priority was to play tournaments, get amongst all the top players, and learn, and learn, and learn.

And within three years, I was five in the world, and the players I used to lose to in the beginning, I was beating comfortably. I was now 21 and I made my first British Open final at having just turned 23.


My fitness regime went up and down. It was different in those days. The attitude was ďno pain no gainĒ, and we all over trained all the time. I mean I was fit for squash, but half the time I would get to a tournament and I wasnít firing, I was tired, because I had done too much, too much at the wrong time. It wasnít about sport science , it was a bit of the ďold schoolĒ methods. So a lot of trial and error was going on all the time.


"So I floated along, I was a top player, then when Susan Devoy retired, she said to me that her trainer would like to work with me, when she won her last worlds, and I started to work with him, Vince Powell. He was the first one who taught me about rest and recovery, and also periodising my training program.

Sometimes I remember asking him ďare you sure Iím doing enough,Ē because I was so used to, well, doing too much Ė which becomes non productive in the end. Actually I became the fittest Iíd ever been working with his methods, so I went back up to number two in the world.

I became pretty solid in that position, I came back and won the Leeks Classic - that was the Leeks Classic in Cardiff that became the British Open in 94/95. At the time, it had been the first time I dropped below five, I dropped down to nine, because I had a couple of injury problems, but I started work with Vince in Ď92, came back from recovery, beat everyone and won the tournament.


I trained at the Australian Institute of Sport in the beginning of 1986 ( I think ) for about one year.Ö We trained, I did a lot of work, but I think I was doing too much. I was doing a session when I was 21, I remember, before I hopped on the plane to England, I just did my last session of 400 hundreds, I did 25 sets with a 60 second rest, that was my last session that morning, and then I got on the flight that afternoon to England for the European season. I mean, 25 sets???? And thatís what we did.

I worked with really good people, but Vince was the one who really taught me about ďless is moreĒ.

Photo : Fritz Borchert


Keith Walker, he was a professional in the 50s and 60s. He wasnít an amateur player, he was a very good player, a great coach. He was also in the tennis world, involved in Golf as well. He was just a very good all around coach. He worked with a lot of the Australian Greats including Heather Mckay and Ken Hisco.

Keith used to travel with Hashim Khan Ė I think he organised the Tour of Australia with Hashim, and they became very close friends. Basically, all Keithís methods were learned through Hashim, so he very much learned the Pakistani subtleties in the racquet work and tactical side of squash.

Keith was the first one that really taught me about understanding the tactical side of squash in a very clear and simple way. So he started to work with me, three four times a year, I would go to Sidney for a couple of weeks, and he would take me through all the stuff and he made a tremendous difference to my squash, to my understanding of the game.


The other major influence on my squash came from Egypt - Ahmed Safwat, the gentleman of squash, went to number four in the world, and died of a heart attack at 50. He was actually very influential with the Egyptian girls at the time.

David Morgan, Geoff Hunt, Heather Mckay and Ken HiscoeI worked with Geoff Hunt, I worked very closely with Heather McKay, she was tremendous to work with, Vicky Cardwell, she really helped me a lot with my squash, Mike Johnson, from Reading who used to coach all of us, Rodney, Sarah, Daniel...

I worked with really wonderful coaches.


The reason why I prefer to work with female development is that because thatís where I feel my strength lies. Of course I can work with male development too, but I just feel that my knowledge comes from the womenís game. I know and understand what it takes, what is required to get there, and thatís something you canít learn in paper book, youíve got to experience that.

I like helping the transition from junior to senior. Thatís where I really feel I can help girls. We lose so many girls from the age of 17 because the next step is actually the hardest step. Junior squash is junior squash. Thatís your learning years, learning how to compete but at the end of the day, itís not that important, is it. That next step I feel is the most difficult.

Thatís the part I like, to try and help them in those steps because they are the toughest ones to get through.


Youíve got to realise that ten years ago there were no women developing any programs, it was all male coaches, no women coaches available anywhere. Not to mention, no trust in women coaches. I certainly wasnít encouraged to coach! I had to make that happen myself, I had no help to develop that at all. Amazing! I was the first one to set up a program.

Iím a much better coach now than I was ten years ago, because Iím becoming more of a coach. I was always a player, coming from a real player perspective, which I still do. But Iíve made a transition to become more of a coach, basically.

Andrew Davidson SquashCity manager (L) and Geoff Miller, director


Because when I first came here in March 1999, the Australian who was coaching here in SquashCity was leaving, and offered me the chance to replace him. Yes, Iíve been here all that time!

 I would have never thought I would still be here, but I love the club. If I went and coached somewhere else, I probably wouldnít be that happy, to be honest.

I need a social environment, I donít want to be squash squash squash, a lot of people Iíve got to know here are not squash players, different people from different professions, and thatís nice.

Back to the beginning, he said the job is yours, have a think about it, I wonít offer to anyone else until I hear from you. He was spot on. He thought I would be perfect for the club, he had the right feeling for my personality type to work here. So I took the job and I thought, oh, Iíll come here for a year, that will be fun, and I'll sort of decide what I want to do after that.


Well, I had some injuries, and they were not getting right, so, I just thought I can either stay at home in Brisbane and feel miserable, because I canít train - I had lower back problems, so you canít train, and you canít be at the level you need to be to compete. Or I could come here and coach for a year, have a bit of a break.

Actually, my injuries got a lot better as a result of not pushing myself, then after a year I thought I quite enjoyed it, I donít need to rush home just yet, Iíll stay another year, and then in the meantime, Vanessa Atkinson asked me if I would coach her.

At the time, she was 22, 23 in the world, not going anywhere really with her squash, sort of fluffing around. So I worked with her and I said to her when that happened, do you remember what I said to you three years ago, I said to you you would be top five within three years. And she was top five in the world within three years, literally to the month.

And when I told her that in the beginning, the look on her face, she literally couldnít think that far ahead. So that was an interesting experience, we worked together for about four years.

Nicol came along in 2001. In she came wanting information, wanting to learn, and that sort of took off! So I thought it looks Iím going to be here for a little while, and I took my coaching a bit more seriously, and developed my academy more.....


In SquashCity

Vanessa Atkinson, Liz Irving, Karen Kronemeyer & Annelize Naude,
©2004 Martin Bronstein

©2004 Martin Bronstein

Part ONE  |  Part TWO  |  Part THREE  |  Part FOUR

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