A former squash world champion shared her knowledge with Eastern Southland development squad players this week.
Sarah Fitz-Gerald, based in Melbourne, was roped into coaching the young players, after paying a visit in her new role as co-owner of the CourtTech Oceania franchise.
As a five time former world champion and professional player she had plenty of knowledge to bestow on children aged between 9 and 15.
Her first task was to “sneakily spy” on the Gore Town and Country Club talent and get an idea about how they played.
“Basically, though, it will be more about being on court with them having a bit of fun and they get to hit a ball with a world champion which is a bit of a novelty for them,” Fitz-Gerald said.
It was her first trip to this part of the world.
She was looking forward to seeing how the children down south would stack up in comparison to the north.
As someone who had played at a high level she hoped to give them tips and tricks to help improve their gameplay.
Along with her five world championships Fitz-Gerald was also a Commonwealth Games gold medalist.
Fitz-Gerald played on the tour from 1987 through to 2002.
She came across many New Zealand players in her time including Dame Susan Devoy, Leilani Rorani nee Joyce and Carol Owens.
“I did play Susan – I cannot recall how much older Susan is than me but she was world champion when I first really laid eyes on her.
“Before she retired, the closest I got to her was I lost to her in five and that was in Christchurch, I believe.
“I also played Lani and we had some great battles. In one of her last big championships, in Melbourne in 2001, I played against her.”
Fitz-Gerald said she knew Carol Owens well, as the Kiwi player was born and raised in Melbourne.
“We actually grew up together. My Mum was her coach as well, so I have known Carol since we were kids,” she said.
Fitz-Gerald said she had stayed involved in squash since her retirement, from being on the Squash Australia and World Squash Federation boards to being a patron for a junior girls’ programme.
“I have done almost all aspects of squash, from coaching to the mentoring to now building courts and working in associations. I’ve even cleaned them and painted them.”
Now past her full-time court playing days, she and husband Cameron Dalley are agents for Court Tech, a German company which builds and renovates squash courts.
On her visit to Gore, she assessed the town’s squash courts for refurbishment.
“I was contacted just under a year ago about fixing one of the courts here and basically it came together just recently,” Fitz-Gerald said.
“We are going to fix court three and hopefully bring the front wall up to scratch and it will look good once it’s all done.”
Eastern Southland development side coach Garth Cleland believed as a five-times world champion, Fitz-Gerald’s coaching would benefit Gore’s young players “hugely”.
“Some of the tips she will be able to pass on will be fantastic,” Cleland said.
“Between me and Bodean Cowley, I think she will be a wee bit above our level,” he said.
The coaching session was a bonus after the club’s long-awaited court repairs were done.
“We built an extra court on and the front wall was not up to standard, so Sarah and her husband are able to fix the the court. I approached her when we were sorting the repairs in an email to see if she was willing to coach the kids and it was not a problem.”