Meet this young squash champ from Bacchus Marsh Grammar

Accompanying her father to the squash courts every Saturday, Joanne Joseph began playing squash for fun initially. She started with the basics of hitting a balloon with a racquet and ended up playing her first tournament in 2017. Since then Joanne, 12, has been going for regular training and has been participating in local, state and national events across Australia. She has represented Victoria in the Australian Junior Championships in 2018 and 2019. She is also the U13 gold medal winner in the team. Recently, Joanne got accepted into the National Squad to play for Australia, adding a prestigious feather to her cap. She will play in the Under 13 girls division and represent Australia in the Trans Tasman series against New Zealand. The Trans-Tasman Test Series is an annual competition between the best Junior Squash players Australian and New Zealand have to offer. Joanne’s father Anil says, “It is a matter of great honour for us parents and also for the Indian community as a whole to have one of their own represent the country at the highest level.” A Bacchus Marsh Grammar Student currently in Grade 7 with full academic scholarship from Grade 7 to Grade 12, Joanne has also adjudged the Dux of the year – Grade 6. She speaks about her game and more.

You are selected to be a part of the national team. How’s the preparation?
I must train at least five days a week and take part in tournaments. I am also part of the Victoria State Junior Performance program which involves intense workshops once a fortnight.

What does a squash player need to focus on?
A squash player needs to focus on fitness, athleticism, speed, hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes and strength the most. It’s essential that you have the required skills for the game but to be able to perform at the highest level your endurance becomes very important. To play the game effectively, a squash player needs to be able to move around the court with ease without getting overly tired too quickly. The mental skills play a very important part too as it’s not only about hitting the ball, but anticipating where you need to be on the court to make the next hit. As there is a lot of sudden and jerky sideways movement involved in the game, it’s important to be fit and strong to avoid injuries.

How do you see yourself achieving bigger targets?
One of my biggest targets was to be part of the National team. Now that I have achieved it, I need to make sure that my training and gameplay is always among the best in the country in my age group. My next target is to win the Under 19 Australian Junior Championships and also be part of the U17 and U19 Junior National team representing Australia in the Junior World Championships. These can only be achieved by putting in the hard work, being realistic of my shortcomings and working hard to overcome that.

How much time do you dedicate to squash every day?
I train four days a week for two hours each and have tournaments on the weekend. On an average I am on the squash court roughly 16 hours a week which includes physical training.

For most Indian children, there is a lot of emphasis on studies? How do you balance both?
Studies are more important to me than squash at any point of time. My parents were very clear that they will allow me to pursue squash at this level so long as my grades at school do not fall below the 80 per cent mark. It took some time for me to balance squash and studies but I did very well in my studies at school in Year 5 and 6. My ambition is to pursue future studies in one of the Ivy colleges at the university level. The Ivy colleges provide scholarship to the top squash players in the country provided they have good grades to back it up.

The one sportsperson you idolise?
I am a big fan of Heather McKay, a retired Australian squash player, who is considered by many to be the greatest female player in the history of the game, and possibly also, Australia’s greatest-ever sportswoman. She was also a top-level player of other sports, including field hockey and racquetball. McKay won her first British Open (considered to be the effective world championship of the sport at the time) in 1962. She then won it again every year for the next 15 consecutive years, losing only two games at the championship during that time. When she retired in 1981 at the age of 40, McKay had gone nearly 20 years undefeated.
I have met her personally and she is the most wonderful person and a great supporter of Junior squash.
(As told to G’day India)