SPA-tlight: Connie Barnes

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.50.52 AMHow did you get started playing squash?
When I was 11, I had a tennis lesson. The coach told me that I had without question the worst hand-eye coordination she had ever seen. She suggested I never play a racquet sport again in my life. In Australia kids play sports all the time so I happily played cricket, vigoro (ladies cricket), basketball, and football with my two very athletic brothers and gave no more thought to racquet sports. But when I was 18 a friend suggested I have a hit. [I told him what that coach had said], but he was insistent. So I played and I was good. I started playing league competitively and have done so since then.

Who first taught you the game?
No one, I have never really had lessons except from my husband and co-coach Rod Barnes. I clearly remember after playing for 10 years or so when Rod decided he had to teach me how to do a proper forehand swing. A very painful period of my life.

How did you get involved in Squash here?
The day I arrived in the US (supposedly for an 18 month stint while Rod worked at the Australian Embassy), I went to the local club—Bethesda Sport & Health. I told them I was a reasonably handy player and if they liked I could do some coaching. They said they already had a pro (though he had been injured and not working much the last couple of months). I joined, met some of the 30 players or so and, being the consummate organizer, started getting them playing a little more and offering suggestions to novice players. I guess word got back to the GM because one day he came up to me at the club and said, “Well, I guess you’re the squash pro then.” It has been a great ride so far.

Talk about the challenges/positives of being involved with multiple clubs.
I was eventually hired as the Director of Squash for all S&H clubs (at that time six) in 2007. The work I do and the environment I have created for myself is perfect for me. I am a businesswoman at heart, and I need to be able to create, expand, develop and grow. The current goal is to create the very best squash program in the US. I have five part-time coaches that work with me, and working with multiple clubs and coaches offers an enormous amount of flexibility and room for expansion. The downside is that despite having over 1,000 adults and 300 kids in our programs, we are still a little cog in the wheel of S&H’s 24-club, 100,000 member conglomerate. I’d like to change some of the 46 racquetball courts we have to squash but the focus is on the many non squash players, so I wait and prod occasionally hoping to be heard.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.51.00 AMDescribe the squash scene in the DC area?
When I arrived I could not fathom why squash was not being played at public schools—a much better market in my opinion as they could play squash all year round as opposed to the private schools that traditionally played only in winter. My team and I train 11 HS teams and four MS teams and run one of the largest HS leagues in the US with a 35-match competition each winter. We run four junior and three adult tourneys each year and a PSA event. My goal was and is to get kids and adults excited about squash.

Why did you join the SPA program?
I am honored to be part of a world class group of pros. There are some things I do well (like developing junior programs) and this information I like to share. Things I do not do well I feel like I can ask my fellow SPAs. One of the best things about the SPA group is the development of TPAC. It was a great idea of US Squash’s to go to the people at the coalface to get their information and to be willing to act on this.

What do you see as the future of Squash in the U.S.?
The future is bountiful and is limited only by lack of creativity. There is no reason junior programs won’t continue to explode.

Who would you currently consider the ideal teaching pro in the U.S and why?
Rod Barnes—anyone who can teach me how to do a forehand shows enormous humor, perseverance, dedication and diligence.