Head Coach John Roberts went from playing squash at a club in a neighborhood in Northern Ireland to making history at Yale University. Roberts won the deciding match to end Trinity College’s nearly four-year winning streak. Initially introduced to squash by his father, Roberts started playing in his hometown in Northern Ireland at the age of 10.
Roberts said, “He would take us to his squash club and I got pretty addicted from a young age. And. we were fortunate enough that actually we lived very close to the club and our school, so it was the perfect environment to be able to play at a regular basis at a young age. It’s almost quite similar here, where access to courts is only a five minute walk away. I think it definitely helps to improve your game in that way.”
Roberts grew up in an environment where squash was not an option for school sports, so he had to find time after school to pursue squash.
Roberts said, “We don’t have the same school or college system as exists in the U.S., so we had to play outside of school. The two main sports in school were cricket and rugby, squash was definitely not a part of that, so we had to play outside which was fun.”
After finishing four years of high school in Ireland, Roberts took a gap year to play squash professionally in Europe and travel before being admitted to Yale University in the United States.
“I did it pretty much on my own, I played in a lot of the tournaments around Europe whilst I was applying to college. Once I was fortunate enough to get accepted, I went away to Australia and Southeast Asia to continue playing there and do other traveling as well at the same time, just so I could get a little more out of my gap year experience.”
After representing Ireland at the European Junior Squash Championships, Roberts attended Yale University to play squash and was a strong asset to the team for four years.
Roberts said, “We were fortunate enough to have a pretty strong team over the four years there which coincide of the perhaps a couple of weaker college teams. We managed to reach the final of two national championships and won two Ivy Leagues, which is probably our strongest achievement there. We also managed to get one win against Trinity, which was a long time coming, so that was a pretty cool moment as well to be a part of.”
After a successful squash career at Yale University, Roberts wasn’t prepared to give up squash and began coaching. While coaching, he joined the professional doubles tour to continue playing.
“I was looking for jobs in my Senior year, and wasn’t quite ready to not be involved with squash anymore, and I’ve always coached and really enjoyed still learning the game, but also passing it on to younger players as well,” said Roberts.
“After I finished college, I started working at a club in Boston where I would still compete on the pro doubles tour, and a lot of players very much do it. It’s a bit of a combination of both coaching and playing at the same time, which satisfies the competitive edge that’s still very evident after college.”
According to Xander Schwartz ’19, Roberts, affectionately known as “J.R.” within the Andover Squash program, has taught the players how to work as a team even though they have individual matches and helped them improve their techniques.
Schwartz said, “I’d say the emphasis on technical ability has made a big difference. J.R.’s played at such a high level and he’s really able to translate to helping the team. Secondly, although squash is a individual sport, J.R. has helped us realize that the sum of the parts can be more than the whole. Less so in the heat of matches and more so in practice and helping each other get better so that we can maximize our abilities during the matches.”
According to Captain Alex Bernhard ’19, Roberts has also implemented his professional experience in practice.
“He played at Yale for four years when they were very successful, so he has a lot of firsthand experience with really intense training, which I think he has been able to integrate as much as he can into a highschool program. And that’s been really cool to learn from him.”
Many of the players admire his composure, which is something the team needs to work on according to Bernhard.
Bernhard said, “He is very calm. Nothing really seems to rattle him or shake him which is something that our team really needs to work on, so it’s nice to have a really good example of that to look to.”
This year, Roberts is enjoying every aspect of coaching and is looking forward to further helping out each of his players.
Roberts said, “Working with a pretty incredible group of kids that are always super respectful, and work so hard in turn, makes my job a lot easier. And it’s pretty cool to be involved with these kids at this time in their life which is obviously, a pretty critical career for them and it can’t be easy, so it’s pretty cool to be around them.”
Editor’s Note: Alex Bernhard is an Eighth Page Editor for The Phillipian.