SPA-tlight: Mike Callaway

Mike Callaway, Director of Squash at The Club@800, Rye Brook, NY

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 2.37.35 PMHow did you get involved with squash?
Before I played squash I was a gymnast but I stopped at the age of 12 due to training 30 hours per week and school work—it was impossible to keep going. My school in England had squash courts and a center opened just after I took up the sport and offered group lessons.

Who was your first teacher?
My first real teacher was Richard Millman, who was based at Wotton Court in Warwickshire where a lot of good players came from. I remember watching junior national squads being run there with Jonah Barrington. As I developed as a squash player, I went to different coaches to learn different aspects of the game, but I enjoyed traveling down to Essex to work with Paul Wright who was the current England National Coach. Later I worked with David Pearson through my work as a Regional Performance Coach.

Do you play other sports?
Finding time to play other sports when you have a young family and own your own business is tough on time, but my son Harrison now plays squash and has also taken up golf, so I get to play with him which is very rewarding. I purchased a road bike last year with the plan of joining Bryan Patterson and CitySquash on their ride across America but, again, time did not allow—but I would love to do that ride some day.

Do you still compete?
I have not competed since I was 37 when I played US Nationals, reaching the semifinals, but I hope to play at the World Masters in Birmingham next year as it is at my first club as a professional (Edgbaston Priory) and also the University of Birmingham where I went to college.

What do you see as the keys to growing squash in the U.S., both on the junior and professional levels?
The junior scene has really changed in the 12 years that I have been based in the States. When I arrived, squash was a seasonal sport. Now it’s played all year round with more players coming from the public school systems, especially due to the efforts of urban squash programs. I think the limiting factor, currently, for juniors is lack of courts, especially if the sport is to grow to a larger national population. At my club we coach public and private schools from Elementary to High School level.

We have great tournaments in this country and they are well set up for the public— just look at the U.S. Open in Philadelphia— but we need to attract more people to these events. Streaming of these events via the internet makes the sport more accessible for many at minimum cost. A lot of pros are based here, and it would be great to see a professional league like the ones in Europe. Watching high level squash always inspires me to higher standards. We stream the live matches on a screen at the club for our members to see, and it’s a great advertisement for our gym members who currently don’t play squash.

Scholastic (team/school) squash is gaining in popularity, especially in your region. What do you see as the biggest benefits of the team game?
Many of the private schools in the area have their own courts and have hired top level coaches to work with their teams, such as Suzie Pierrepont at Greenwich Academy and Raj Nanda and Gina Stoker at Hackley. Playing squash every day at school gives a player a great opportunity to improve, when they have the right competition around them and a structured program to develop around. Playing squash at college is a fantastic experience in this country and one that players remember all their lives, and school squash helps them prepare for this experience.

Your Convent of the Sacred heart squad have dominated the U.S. Middle school Championships, to what do you owe that success?
Luck and being in the right place at the right time. Convent of the Sacred Heart has been very fortunate to have some great players over the last few seasons and the introduction of the Middle School Championships is a great way to build the sport. As we have no courts of our own, and only two courts at Club @ 800, the top six middle school players train with our varsity program before school at Brunswick, and tougher competition definitely brings the girls on. We have also had great support from the Head of the school, and Middle school, the athletic director and my assistant Shahid Khan, to go that extra mile for the program. The school has now purchased land and plans to build courts soon.

Among the other’s in the U.S., whom do you look to as the ideal teaching pro?
I love to work with Mike Way, the current coach at Harvard. He keeps things simple and simple things work well under pressure. Paul Assaiante is the greatest manager I know; his book was a fantastic insight into “coach” and the Trinity set up.

Who is your favorite PSA/ WISPA pro to watch?
Being from England I have a lot of respect for Nick Matthew knowing all the hard work that he has put in to becoming World No. 1. Ramy [Ashour] is fantastic to watch, especially when he and Nick are on the top of their games. On the women’s side, Nicol David is just so strong on the volley, taking the ball early—I admire her a lot.

What’s your favorite shot?
My favorite shot has to be a volley drop, the combination of taking the ball early and short to work your opponent and then push them to the back again with a deep volley gives me a lot of satisfaction. As the game has changed I also use a lot more angles off the volley now.