Outside the Glass: David Pearson

Outside The Glass, the world’s oldest squash podcast, is a radio show with a new episode dropping at the beginning of each month. OTG episodes, produced by US Squash, are available many podcast apps like Apple Podcasts, Evercast and SoundCloud. In episode twenty-eight, David Pearson, the world-renowned coach, speaks about his childhood and start in squash.

Outside The Glass
Where did you grow up?

David Pearson:
My youth, from about probably eight months old up until the age of fourteen, I was brought up in Africa. I lived in Mufulira, in the Copper Belt in Zambia. Then I went to boarding school in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. So that was my youth. I went to a private school, Whitestone—in fact, that is where Sean Wilkinson the Princeton coach had gone. I did four years there, on and off. We did thirteen weeks of school and then we’d go back to Zambia for a few weeks, that type of stuff.

We came back with my brother and I, came back to England in 1971. I went into a secondary school. It was pretty rough. I had a South African accent. I got battered, bullied from pillar to post. That was a reason why I left school when I was sixteen. I did two years. It was brutal. Picking on you.

Huge culture shock. In later life, I was so glad I was brought in Africa because it didn’t quite make me totally English. Even now. I am very proud to be English. But you know, I’ve always traveled in my life, a bit like that, always listening to both sides and trying to make a view of things. I’ve been very much like that. I think that has not made me a totally English individual. And then with the squash traveling around the world, seeing many different cultures. Same thing.

OTG: When did you start squash?

DP: I left school when I was sixteen. I wasn’t very bright academically. I went to work for the complaints department at a shoe company.

Basically, I can remember the first day I went in. You know, I am a young sixteen-year-old boy. I walked there. It was when new shoes or older shoes, when they thought were broken and you could make a judgement call on whether you can have a free, new pair or not. Basically, the first day and the boss guy comes up to me. “Oh, here’s a thousand pieces of paper.” We didn’t have computers in those days. He says, “Put them in numerical order.”

They were all jumbled up. I had to go through them. It took me about two hours or something. I can’t remember—it was a long time. And I remember thinking, “Woah, thank God for that.” And then he walked up to me and—you know what I am going to say—he gave me another thousand.

That was my first day of work and I am thinking, “Is this is what work is?” It was basically that type of stuff. This was in Kendall, in the Lake District in England. That’s where I am from. My mom is still alive in Kendall; my father passed away. Then I left that and got a job at the Inland Revenue, which was a little better.

When I was eighteen, they built two squash courts in Kendall. My brother was already an international squash player—played for England. But I loved cricket, hockey, table tennis. I wasn’t interested in squash.

I started playing squash when I was eighteen. I started having coaching with a guy called Clive Francis, who used to coach Philip Kenyon, a name from the past. I improved really quickly. My dad was a great character. He just said one day, he says, “David, I’ve arranged for you to go to Sheffield. Just pack in your job tomorrow.” Like that. Inland Revenue. He says, “We’ve got some friends: Ken Scott and Mary Scott and Malcolm Willstrop says that he’ll coach you, if you want.”

So I thought, “Oh, great” and the next day, I went to hand in my notice. I went to Sheffield, lived with this family and had coaching with Malcolm Willstrop for probably about seven months. Malcolm was going to Cayman Islands and my brother had come back—he was living in Canada, in Winnipeg of all places—but he came back. I went home that summer and was playing him every day. My dad was the manager of the squash club. At first, it would be 9-1, 9-2, 9-1. This was the biggest improvement I ever had in anything in a way. Within five months, I was losing to him 3-2. My first ever English ranking I ever had was nine. From nowhere to nine.