Squashing the stigma

If you combine tennis, badminton, and the ever so popular game of handball all together, you end up with the sport of squash. Just like other sports, it is physically demanding, requires a lot of hand-eye co-ordination and technique, follows a very specific set of rules, and a score is counted to determine a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, just like other sports, there is a problem when it comes to the lower participation rate of females compared to the participation rate of males. 

This is not to say things cannot be done to close the gap between female and male participation rates, which is exactly what Samanthi Sooriyabandara is trying to accomplish by offering female-only squash lessons. 

Sooriyabandara is an accreditation assistant for the school’s civil and environmental engineering department and a former high-level competitive squash player from Sri Lanka. When Sooriyabandara joined the school’s staff in August 2015, she would occasionally walk through PAC to check out the school’s squash scene. 

“I went to see the squash courts on several occasions to see who was playing and maybe play some games myself, but I just couldn’t see any girls playing,” Sooriyabandara said. “It’s dominated by guys playing, which is good, nothing bad about it, but I would love to see more girls playing.”

PAC has many resources to get students involved in squash. There are 10 courts on campus that students can book for free during designated times and PAC offers cheap racket and ball rentals.

PAC does offer squash lessons for anyone of any skill level, but before Sooriyabandara volunteered to be a squash instructor, there were no other female instructors, which may have  deterred women from trying out the sport.

“There are lessons offered, but I do not see too many girls playing…. I felt that maybe they’re not comfortable learning from a male instructor,” Sooriyabandara said. “It’s kind of like going to a women’s only gym. Maybe they’ll feel comfortable while learning the sport from a woman.”

Sooriyabandara’s statement does hold true. There are many women who would be more comfortable to be in a female-only fitness class and/or have a female instructor. This has been made evident by the construction of female-only gyms like Curves. PAC recognized this too and started offering female-only fitness classes and recreational swim times.

Motivated by her love for the sport, Sooriyabandara wanted females on campus to experience squash, and to do so she sought to create a comfortable environment for new female players. She pitched her idea to Adam Steeves, the intramurals and sport clubs manager. Steeves was all for the idea and opened up registration for the Winter 2016 term.

Only four females signed up for the class but that may be due to the lack of awareness about the squash facilities on campus or even the sport itself.  

“I don’t think that there are a lot of girls that know about squash or know that there are a facility at Waterloo. They wouldn’t know that there’s squash courts unless they go into PAC and see the courts and they don’t really hear much about it,” said Marissa Seth, captain of the women’s varsity squash team. “I got lost in PAC for the first two years, and I was on the squash team.”

Sooriyabandara’s class will continue through the term, but unfortunately the deadline to register for the class has passed. Females looking to join this class can register in Spring and Fall terms of this year.


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