From coached to coach – university squash champion’s inspiring story
By James Smith
10th May 2023 | Squash
A head coach at a local university has shared the inspiring story of how he has helped lead the squash team to sporting success.
When Steve Townsend arrived at the University of Warwick in 1991 as a first year undergraduate management student, little did he know he'd still be there sharing his passion for squash some 32 years later.
Throughout his time as a student at Warwick, Steve represented the University in the men's 1st team. He played for and captained England Universities and was named sportsman of the year in 1997.
Now, he's turned his attention to coaching and making Warwick the go to institution for aspiring young squash professionals. The team's rise to the premier divisions of university sport, and a fourth-place finish in the 2022/23 BUCS rankings alongside universities including Nottingham, Birmingham and Loughborough would seem to suggest he's being successful.
The university's squash team, alongside 62 other sports clubs, is currently in the spotlight as part of the 'Team Warwick' initiative, designed to enrich the student experience through sports in an inclusive, friendly environment.
Steve said: "Towards the end of my time as a student, I started coaching the team, before pursuing a coaching career following graduation.
"I'd done this, along with coaching sessions for different levels of staff and student on an ad hoc basis until 2018, when the university decided to invest in sport and a full-time role coaching and developing the squash teams became available.
"Fortunately, I was successful, and now we're going from strength to strength. I've now been here for over three decades and haven't looked back – I love being a part of Team Warwick."
Team Warwick also aims to encourage more students to get involved with sport, no matter their ability, and to assist elite level athletes – as Steve was – by giving them access to state-of-the-art facilities.
Launched in April 2019, and home of Warwick Squash, the sports and wellness hub at the University of Warwick is a modern and spacious environment where staff, students and the wider public can exercise and socialise. As well as six glass backed squash courts, the hub includes a 230-station gym, four fitness spaces, a 25m swimming pool with 12 lanes, a 15m climbing wall and much more.
The Team Warwick Performance programme is designed to support elite level athletes with maintaining a sporting career alongside academic study through provisions such as bespoke strength and conditioning, nutrition, workshops and financial awards towards training, equipment and competition expenses.
Steve's squash team is a core part of Team Warwick, and Steve has seen how world class upcoming athletes can succeed in academia at the University of Warwick alongside commitments to sport, such as England captain and world number eight Sarah-Jane Perry, who enrolled to study engineering at Warwick from 2008 and last year won a bronze and silver medal in squash at the Commonwealth Games.
Reflecting on his journey so far, Steve said: "I absolutely loved my time playing squash for the University and am delighted to be part of the journey of the players coming through now.
"During my time coaching full-time here at the Hub, we've really put a lot of time and investment into racquet sports. More often than not, in big sports centres, squash courts are hidden out of sight but here they have pride of place right by the entrance, which has really helped elevate interest.
"Our teams are full of junior internationals, and students now come here not just for a Warwick degree, but to pursue a dual career – sporting and academic.
"The rise in the stature and results of our teams is largely due to the birth of the Team Warwick Performance programme, which provides our high performing players competing for their county or country with an opportunity to obtain individual scholarships, helping them maintain elite level sporting careers alongside academic study.
"It's incredibly rewarding to be able to support students to excel at something they love. For me, sport was always a great outlet and a break from the stress of studying. It's wonderful to know I'm helping others find that balance, which can be tricky to maintain in the hustle and bustle of university life.
"It really is an honour to be able to work with these players at this wonderful facility. Squash is a fantastic sport and I'd strongly encourage everyone to give it a go!"
To find out more about racquet sports and membership at the Sports and Wellness Hub, visit: warwick.ac.uk/squash