From Munlochy to Princeton University: Squash star Alan Clyne hopes coaching role in USA will help Scotland playing days continue
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Although retiring from the Professional Squash Association Tour last year, Alan Clyne still hopes to represent Scotland going forward – and he intends to use his coaching role in the USA to help him stay sharp.
The 36-year-old former World Doubles Champion announced he would be stepping away from the PSA Tour in October after taking up a coaching role at Princeton University.
It has been something of an adjustment, as American collegiate sports are considerably different from anything British universities participate in.
Clyne had competed in America many a time, so had witnessed what that was like from the outside. So far, he is enjoying the process of being a part of the machine too.
“I was already doing a bit of coaching, so when I was looking at what kind of job I would want when I stopped playing this was perfect for me,” Clyne explained.
“The system over here is very different to Scotland and the UK. They make such a big deal about their college teams, and it really being a team, in tournaments.
“Most of my fun times playing squash were playing for Scotland, so to be able to bring that team ethos into a coaching role was perfect, it went pretty seamlessly.
“It has been a lot of fun. There’s definitely a lot to learn, as there are a lot of different rules and things that work differently. I had an idea, but probably not fully, of what it would be like.
“I definitely think it’s a lot more professional than I thought it would be. They take training very seriously. I’ve been trying to implement a lot of the stuff I did as a pro to the stuff they’ve been doing already.
“They’re looking at their data and recovery, it’s a lot. I try and do very similar sessions with them to what I was doing, but they can’t do the same volume because they have studies to keep on top of as well.
“The strength of squash over here is great. Last year two top-20 players in the world were in the individual college finals, and that could have been the final of a top PSA event.”
It may not be immediately intuitive to associate an individual sport like squash with a team culture, but as far as Clyne is concerned that is the best part.
Desire to be the best often fuels a competitive partisanship in the USA too, which adds an element of passion from the sidelines to the Munlochy native’s new role.
That makes it all the more important for players to keep a cool head, and Clyne feels that is where he steps in – with his experience of playing all around the world for two decades giving him plenty of knowledge to pass on to players making their way in the sport.
“Individual sports as a team sport – like golf in the Ryder Cup, or tennis in the Davis Cup – are so much fun to me,” he said.
“You have the individual aspect to it, because you’re the only one playing and it’s all on you to win that match, but you also have the support from a team.
“You get such a good atmosphere, and at these college matches the atmosphere is unbelievable. You have people who are properly supporting one side or the other, but when you’re playing professional matches around the world it’s generally pretty neutral.
“The beauty of sport, I think, is when you have people rooting for one side or the other. I had that a bit when I played for Scotland, and it definitely spurs you on when you’ve for the support of your team behind you, cheering you on.
“With Scotland family and friends came to watch. That’s where you want to be rather than somewhere like Peru with three people watching after travelling halfway around the world and you have to win to pay for your hotel.
“Obviously we don’t travel that much here, but in our team we have players from around the world. It’s a multi-cultural team who have travelled all over too, but I like to think I’ve got a lot of experience and knowledge to pass on.
“I know that I’ve played on all different kinds of courts, in different conditions and temperatures, so when we play these matches in different schools they all have very different courts.
“Sometimes you feel like they’ve cranked up the heating because it suits them on their court, so mentally you’ve got to try and adjust. Some players might feel like they’ve been taken out of their comfort zone, and that’s when I can pass on the experience I have to try and be happy in that environment and embrace it.”
While most of Clyne’s focus has been on helping the next generation of talent reach their potential, he hopes his own playing days are not over yet.
Although retiring from the PSA Tour, the 10-time Scottish champion still aims to represent his country – although balancing coaching with his own training has been one of the challenges he is still trying to overcome.
The Scotland set-up, where for years Clyne played with the likes of Greg Lobban and Rory Stewart, is a tight-knit group so even from America Clyne has been keeping tabs on how the others have been getting on.
Seeing their successes can be somewhat bittersweet at times, but that only makes him all the more determined to line-up alongside them again soon.
“We have guys who are top eight in the country here, so they’re always asking me for games to try and beat me – I definitely want to keep my training up to not let that happen!” Clyne added.
“I said that when I retired, I still wanted to try and play for Scotland. We’ve got Europeans coming up at the end of April, so now that the college season is basically over I’ll have a little bit more time in my own day to train.
“I’ve kept myself fit, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of off-court stuff and I’ve been coaching, but I’ll have more time to play the players in the professional set-up based in Philadelphia.
“I still love it. You probably take it for granted when you’re playing every day. I’m trying to do as much as possible to get myself in shape to represent Scotland again.
“The beauty of the Scotland team is that we’re very close. We are all good friends, keeping in touch and supporting each other. I haven’t seen them in a while, but we’re all very good friends and a proper team. Hopefully I’ll get to play with them again.
“My wife also plays in PSA Tour events, and she was in Philadelphia the other week so I went to watch – there’s definitely a part of you that misses it.
“I think if I had retired and then tried to figure out what to do next, I would have just wanted to play squash. I wouldn’t say I miss it every day because I’ve been engrossed in this job, but there are definitely times you realise it was a good life travelling around playing a sport that you love.”