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Squash history: origins, popularity and the future

Racket sports have been popular around the world for centuries - from the 16th century to be precise. Since then, man has had the thrill, pleasure, and joy of striking a small ball with a racket, either directly to his opponent or indirectly through a wall, as one does in a game of squash. 


The sport of squash has been played for many years and has experienced a tremendous growth in popularity. Though it is well-established, its beginnings were a little humbler than the sport it is today. Let’s find out where it all began for this amazing sport. 

The origins of squash

Like the majority of other sports that came into existence before proper records did, the real history and origins of squash are a little mysterious. Before the game received formal recognition, it had its origins in a London prison. As the story goes, the prisoners would exercise by hitting a ball against the wall using rackets, thus inventing the game of rackets. 


How this game would end up in a prestigious English school called Harrow is still a mystery, but it did. In 1820, the students at the school fell so in love with rackets that it became a regular sport at the school. The new game was so popular that the school built special courts specifically for the game. 


The first courts that Harrow constructed were quite dangerous because of their proximity to water pipes, buttresses, and gutters. Thankfully, the school constructed new courts outside of the campus, thus making the game safe to play again. 


The first squash balls, as we know them, were made from a natural rubber until one day, students discovered that a deflated, ‘squashed’, flat racketetball returned faster and was more responsive than a regular ball. The students had unknowingly created squash - a game that would captivate the world.


Squash was officially invented in 1830 and was distinct from rackets. The sport soon spread to other schools and became an international sport that thousands of people took seriously. 

Level of popularity and statistics around participation rates globally and in the UK 

In 2020, around 260 000 people took part in the sport of squash in the UK, which was reduced from a figure of 425 000 people just four years earlier in 2016. But even though the numbers appear to be decreasing, according to KWFinder, a keyword analysis tool, squash was searched 33 600 times on average every month in the UK, which equates to more than 400 000 searches every year. 


Google Trends data also reveals that the demand for the sport in the UK has been declining steadily since 2004 in terms of search volumes. This suggests that the popularity of the sport is declining as well, which could be the result of several different factors, like a lack of TV coverage and a decreased number of courts. The COVID-19 pandemic would have also limited squash participation, as participants would have had limited access to squash courts, invariably available within leisure centres and gyms


Squash is most viewed online through the likes of YouTube channels like SquashTV, which is a channel that has 143 000 subscribers and 123 million total video views. With that being said, this number is a worldwide audience, and the search term ‘Squash TV’ is searched only 960 times a month on average in the UK and 3 100 times a month when looking at the global market. 

How many people are playing squash in the UK?

Analysing the search terms related to squash on average each month in the UK, we learn that ‘Squash courts near me’ was searched 4 300 times on average each month, ‘squash racket’ was searched 3 700 times, ‘squash balls’ was searched 2 200 times, ‘squash shoes’ was searched 1 300 times, and ‘how to play squash’ was searched just 400 times. 


The search term ‘squash courts near me’ is searched 4 300 times every month in the UK suggesting the number of active players who are seeking for a new court to play on. The number of actual players is likely far higher than this number since regular players will already know of the courts near them. 


The other three search terms indicate the interest of a regular player in upgrading or replacing their current equipment. Of these terms, ‘squash racket’ is the most commonly searched, emphasizing the number of active players and those looking to improve their game. 

Forecasts of the future of squash participation

Contrary to belief, squash as a sport is growing in popularity around the world, and an increasing number of players are competing in PSA (Professional Squash Association) tournaments from hundreds of countries. Squash is played in 130 counties on nearly 48 000 courts. 


From 2014 to 2019, the market for squash rackets has steadily increased, and original squash racquets have gradually been phased out. Development toward shorter handles and larger heads are becoming more mainstream, while increased strength and weight reduction have also become important to both end-users and market players. 


North America, led by the United States, will have a big role to play in the future growth prospects of the industry, and according to the World Squash Federation, about 20 million people participate in the sport globally. 

Opportunities and threats for the sport of squash

Today, squash is not just a popular sport but is quickly evolving to be one of the most popular forms of exercise, thanks to its great aerobic and anaerobic boosting high-intensity playstyle. The game of squash is not going to fade away anytime soon, and it will maintain popularity in the future. 


Building off breakout racket sports, such as padel and pickleball will be important for the game of squash. Understanding the drivers and motivations emanating from these sports and then applying the innovation of marketing and advertising principles will be important when bringing squash back into the modern era. 


However, it is important to encourage the playing of this sport from an early age, starting from primary school, as student interest in participating in racquet sports seems to be steadily declining. If we can get young people excited to play squash, we can guarantee the future of the sport.

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