Squash Success

February 23, 2011

Wendy Lawrence coaches squash team members

This season, both GW men’s and women’s squash teams have broke into the national top 20 ranking—which makes sense, since both teams now have the same coach.

When she took over the women’s squash team in August, Wendy Lawrence became the third woman in the country to coach both a men’s and women’s squash team at a university. Ms. Lawrence has coached the men’s team for the last three years, making her the only woman at GW to coach a men’s team.

Although she’s now juggling more responsibility than in seasons past, Ms. Lawrence says the program’s success this season—a 15-7 record for the men and 13-7 record for the women— has made the ride a bit smoother.

“Both teams have had winning seasons so far and have moved up in the rankings so they are both happy teams,” says Ms. Lawrence. “They’re going into the last month of their season very optimistic so it’s made them great partners—and it’s made my life a lot easier!”

But coaching both teams is no small feat. Every day, Ms. Lawrence oversees two practices for a total of four hours a day. When she’s not coaching, Ms. Lawrence is recruiting players for both teams. And team travel now means larger group dinners, bigger buses and more hotel rooms— not to mention coaching all the matches, back to back.

“I’m now coaching two teams all weekend long,” she says. “My amount of time coaching during matches has doubled, and coaching a match can be pretty stressful, so the weekends have become longer for me.”

Fortunately, Ms. Lawrence has support from her new assistant coach Jake Gross, a former squash player of Ms. Lawrence’s when she taught high school squash at The Potomac School in McLean, Va. With Mr. Gross on hand, Ms. Lawrence says she has been able to tackle the different issues within each team.

“At The Potomac School, I had coached both the men’s and women’s teams, so I knew going into it this season that the issues working with men’s and women’s teams are different—the personalities, conflicts and dynamics are challenging in their own ways,” she says.

“With male players, their issues tend to be more about competition—who is higher ranked, who can run the stairs faster,” she says. “With women, there can be personal issues that offer different coaching challenges. Women also tend to be a lot more open to advice and coaching, while men are a little more conceited about their abilities and level of play.”

But Ms. Lawrence tailors her coaching style depending on the player, an approach she says has helped her successfully manage both teams this season.

“I only have 90 seconds between games to talk to players, so I have to know how each of them learn best, whether it’s using support or criticism,” she says. “I don’t respond to them differently because they are male or female, but because they are individuals.”

At 17th and 15th in the country, the men’s and women’s teams are finishing up their regular season of play before heading to nationals in late February. Once a team breaks into the top 20, it can be difficult to keep moving up, but Ms. Lawrence says both teams have a shot to climb even higher by season’s end. The men’s team has especially benefitted from the play of sophomore Islam El-Fiky, who is ranked 27th in the country for squash.

“The season has been great so far and I’ve loved coaching both teams,” says Ms. Lawrence. “It’s been a lot of work but Jake has been a great addition to the staff and my recruiting for next season has been going well, so I think next year the teams will be even stronger.”

For Ms. Lawrence, who was a nationally ranked squash player herself, the real reward of coaching is seeing a player evolve both on and off the court.

“The part I enjoy the most is seeing the players grow over the years they are here,” she says. “Over the years you see them evolve into adults. The job involves more than just helping improve racquet skills—I help them with academic and personal issues as well. So I find that makes every day a different challenge.”

Ms. Lawrence has enjoyed the program’s evolution as well. Since she arrived at GW in 2007, Ms. Lawrence says the program is now one of the strongest in GW Athletics and has received increasing support from the university.

“When I first started, we had approximately 25 to 30 fans at games and now we have hundreds,” she says. “The community’s support makes our players feel really great, and it’s a great asset to the school to have a ranked and winning program. Squash is catching on at GW!”