If you play squash in the United States, you most likely play in a private club, a college or prep school, a fitness facility or on a converted racquetball court at a YMCA. You likely don't play at a non profit, low cost community squash facility, unless you live near Portland, Maine and belong to Portland Community Squash.

We have a unique business model that combines adult membership, junior programs, and an urban squash program called Rally Portland under one roof. Our goal is to make squash available to everyone and in our community, we are making it happen.

In the Fall of 2013, I saw a handwritten sign at the Portland YMCA squash courts, ‘Volunteers Wanted’. I’d been a private guitar instructor for most of my life, but I had never coached sports or worked with large groups of students. I introduced myself to Barrett Takesian, the new kid at the Y, who was working at an insurance company and making a run at launching junior squash programs on the side.

That week I started helping Barrett run practices two days a week for forty kids on three non-regulation squash courts. Total chaos. We were never sure week to week if any of these kids would be back or not, but they kept showing up. Even though our resources were beyond capacity, and the quality was below what we hoped to provide, the kids loved it. They brought their friends, and soon we had sixty kids showing up - sometimes close to 15 students per court.

The explosion of junior interest paired with a loyal adult base evolved into a community squash mission that would serve adult members, all the local schools, and an urban squash and education leadership team. About six weeks after my first practice, Barrett took a full time job with the urban squash program SquashBusters in Lawrence, Mass., and I was tasked with running practices on the days he couldn’t be there. I was becoming a squash coach, learning on the job, and loving it.

As our program grew, I realized that I needed to start learning more about coaching and teaching the game beyond what I knew as a club player who had taken many private lessons. I had been using SquashSkills as a way to improve my own game, but now I started to use the site to find information I could use as a coach. I came across the “Coach education” videos that Lee Drew had put together, and found those to be especially helpful, showing me how one of the top coaches in the world presents the basics of squash to a new player. For someone new to coaching squash, this was a gold mine of information. Portland Community Squash decided to purchase an annual membership for me, and part of my weekly responsibilities was to learn how to use the site, and search for material that would improve our practices and coaching.

Barrett returned with all he learned from SquashBusters to fundraise and push for a PCS home. In February 2017, PCS had raised $1.5 million and we opened the doors of our new squash complex - a converted synagogue housing 4 international squash courts and Rally Portland's classrooms for academic tutoring. We couldn't be more proud of opening the country's first low-cost community squash facility!

Prior to opening, the SquashSkills team presented us with their new site's functionality allowing a coach to share squash-related videos and session plans with players, including squash testing. We bought a discounted group membership for all of our junior players, including free membership for coaches and volunteers. I spend time on Monday morning creating a session on SquashSkills, and then share it with the group. We are using some of the basic skill tests to assess each player's progress, testing them every few weeks. We also have the kids spending half of each practice working on drills that they need to master to move themselves from novice, through levels 1-4, up to “pro” level. Once they reach the “pro” level, they are free to design their own practice session using SquashSkills. So far, this approach has been really successful. We keep a big chart on the wall with everyone’s level, and they all want to move up. They love competition, and that’s a great motivator.

We are also rolling out SquashSkills to our adult members who are looking to improve their squash game, and will be offering weekly training sessions for our subscribing members. This will give them the opportunity to train with like minded players and discover the benefits of squash specific training that goes beyond weekly match play. Also, we have iPads mounted in the court and fitness areas of our facility where members can log on to their SquashSkills account.

Portland Community Squash would love to hear from you. If you have interest in supporting what we do, or have questions about how we are making all of this happen, please send me an email: Paul French paul@pcsquash.com or visit our website www.pcsquash.com. Lastly, we rely heavily on donations to grow the community model, especially financial contributions to grow our urban squash program which provides squash and academic tutoring to first generation college-seekers.

If you would like to support this mission, please visit this link here. We are a non-profit organization and therefore all donations are tax-deductible. 

Paul French
Portland Community Squash

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