DUBAI // Few sports can match the calorie-burning potential of squash, and coaches in Dubai are making it more accessible to children to help defeat the nation’s obesity problem.
Coaches are being brought in by Dubai’s Elite Squash to lead lessons in schools and encourage more young people to take up the sport.
As well as coaching clinics, Neil Young has started a squash programme with the Dubai British School, enrolling coaches from South Africa and Britain, including a former world ranked player.
“Not many kids know about squash here in Dubai but they love it when they start playing,” said Mr Young.
“Children as young as 3 can play. We get them to use balloons or tennis balls at first. It is very good for their motor skills and development.
“We are targeting ages 6 to 14 as it is the most popular age group. Teachers love it and we can help with their PE lessons free of charge.”
Head coach Dikana Mthombeni helped to introduce squash to inner city areas of Johannesburg to encourage children to stay away from crime.
He was involved with the Egoli squash programme in South Africa, engaging children from disadvantaged communities through squash, fitness, tutoring, community service and mentoring.
Coaches are using portable inflatable squash courts in Dubai.
Beginners can use bigger racquets and balls.
When the sport gets them moving, it is fun to play and improves hand-eye coordination, the coaches said.
Regular clinics are taking place at seven venues around Dubai, using courts at Fitness First gyms in The Lakes, The Meadows, Arabian Ranches, Town Centre, Downtown and also at the Aviation Club and the Al Areesh Club in Festival City.
Half an hour of squash played at high intensity can burn about 500 calories, compared to about 350 calories when running for the same time, or 300 calories while swimming for half an hour.
Rhodri Phillips, director at Dubai British Schools centre of excellence, said squash had been a popular addition to the school curriculum.
“I asked Neil to deliver practical sessions to primary and secondary school pupils. They loved the inflatable set-up in the sports hall,” he said.
“From that, we’ve forged a link with potential squash players here to take up further coaching.
“It has been fantastic, as we haven’t got our own squash courts the children can use.
“Squash develops a solid skill set for children and improves their confidence and self-esteem. It can be played all year round, as it is indoors, so it is perfect for Dubai.”
The PSA World Series Finals were held in May, with Downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa as the backdrop.
It is returning next year to Dubai Opera.
Youssef Abdulla, 22, a Briton with family in the UAE who was ranked 132 in the world before retiring from full-time squash to attend university, has started coaching in Dubai.
“I’m studying finance at Middlesex University, so I was keen to keep involved with squash,” he said.
“It isn’t as popular here as in the UK, and there aren’t as many courts, but the inflatable court is a great way to attract children to the sport.”