SPA-tlight: Mark Allen

Mark Allen, Director of squash at Boar’s Head Sports Club, Coach of UVA squash teams

 What is your first squash memory?
Growing up in Colchester, Essex, in England, my first memory of squash is playing with my dad at the local leisure center with a wooden racquet, dead ball and concrete floors. It’s really a wonder that I kept going!

You played for a number of years on the PSA Tour and have been ranked among the top fifty in the world, what is the best piece of advice a coach has given you?
The best advice I have been given was to go to university. It was a difficult decision at the time. I had just beaten a couple of top-twenty players and jumped into the top fifty as a consequence, but I had already postponed my enrollment at Nottingham University for three years, and they were about to withdraw their offer and bursary. My coach at the time, unselfishly, told me to go to university—I did, and it was the right decision.

You have coached for almost twenty years in countries across the world, what brought you to Charlottesville, Virginia?
I have always enjoyed working in the United States, but I moved to South Africa eight years ago to be with my wife, who is from Cape Town. I loved South Africa, but I had been looking for the right opportunity to come back to the States permanently. When the position in Charlottesville came along, it was a great fit for both personal and professional reasons.

You coach University of Virginia’s men’s and women’s squash teams, currently both club teams. Do you have plans for growing the squash program?
Yes, everyone involved has the highest aspirations for the program. I am sure we will make the move to a varsity program in the not too distant future and, when we do, it will be a smooth transition—we already operate the program under varsity-type conditions and the players have made that level of commitment.

The Boar’s Head Sports Club is located in the Mid-Atlantic, one of the quickest-developing regions of US Squash. Talk about the growth of the sport in your area?
It’s a work in progress; it’s a challenge to tread the line between the desire to introduce the game to as many people as possible, while also operating in a private members club. The people backing this program at Boar’s Head Sports Club and Friends of Virginia Squash are all in it for the long haul— myself included.

The McArthur Squash Center opened this past fall to rave reviews. How does this facility compare to others you have worked and played at?
I have been to bigger facilities, but I haven’t been to a better one. I love the natural light, space, and openness of the building—it’s rare in a squash facility. Everyone here appreciates what an amazing gift the facility is to UVA and the local community from the donor, Jaffray Woodriff.

Boar’s Head is hosting the 2014 U.S. SL Green, Women’s and Masters Squash Championships. What does it mean to you and Boar’s Head to host this prestigious event?
It’s a huge honor, and not something we expected in our first year of opening. That being said, the staff at Boar’s Head are experts at event management. The facility was built to accommodate large events, and they have been hosting huge LTA events, weddings, banquets and conferences for years.