Mashumba Makumba is a squash coach who focuses on developing youth squash in Zimbabwe. Every Saturday morning he coaches the Zimbabwe U16 squash team at Belgravia Sports Club.
Although the national squash team has always been steady, the same cannot be said generally about youth players in Harare. Squash has dwindled among the youth over the past four years in Harare, but now, says Makumba, it is picking up again. “I have noticed over the years that not as many youngsters have been interested, but it’s changing,” said Makumba. He is well-enough equipped to notice the slump, as he has coached youth squash for thirteen years, privately, and at schools like Prince Edward High School, Gateway High School and Peterhouse.
Psychologist Paul Wood explained why he felt the slump occurred: “Kids are not exposed to squash, except if their parents play. It is not a sport that is televised, and it is not even mentioned at junior school level. They don’t know if they like the sport until they actually play it.”
Makumba agrees, and tells how kids hear of a peer representing Mashonaland, or Zimbabwe, and that makes them try the sport because of the hope that they will do as well.
Throughout the slump, Makumba has been working to resurrect the sport through the Zimbabwe Squash Academy Trust, which he started in July 2009. It was created to get more people into the sport and is not limited to youth players as it has senior groupings too. However, Makumba says, “the young players are more likely to get further in the sport than the older players.” For this reason, he is continuing to put his focus on the younger players.
Could these young Zimbabweans compete on an international level? Makumba certainly seems to think so. “Most definitely! Egypt is number one in Africa and number one in the world, and has held that position for many years. The Zimbabwe team always puts up a good fight against them at the All Africa games.” Admire Magwaza is Zimbabwe’s top player and has recently participated in the World Open Championships in Manchester, England. Makumba wasn’t his coach but constantly advised him on how to improve his game. Clearly Zimbabwean players have the potential to play at the very top level of squash.
“I really enjoy playing squash,” says John Matthews, a young squash player in Harare, “but I wouldn’t have started if my friend had not asked me to join him one day.”
Clubs need to keep courts in good shape so that the youth can play.