Surbhi Misra might have retired as a professional squash player at the age of 21 back in 2011, but she still plays a pivotal role in elevating Indian sports to the next stage in her new role as the vice-president of the Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI).
Misra herself began her squash journey in the rich squash culture laden city of Jaipur. Being an asthmatic child, she was advised to play sports and remain active. The sounds coming from the squash courts at the Ashok Club in Jaipur left young Misra intrigued. When she did pick up the squash racket for the first time, there was no turning back.
Over the years, her passion became her profession. She would go on to become a four-time junior national champion, win bronze at the World Juniors Team Championship in 2009 (where she became the first Indian to win a medal at the tournament) and taste gold at the 2006 South Asian Games.
But an even bigger role was yet to come.
Misra has noticed a huge difference between Indian squash of the present and Indian squash from the time she was climbing up the national ranks as a young prodigy.
She stated, “The participation from different places has grown. When I was playing, most players would either be from Delhi, Bombay and Chennai.”
Due to the efforts of SRFI and HCL, Indian squash is on an upward trajectory, she emphasised.
“I think HCL and its Squash Podium Program is going to be the biggest game changer in the coming years for Indian squash in terms of doing some grassroot level work and bringing in international coaches, who we work with closely for different and various camps.”
With the ever-so frequent squash tournaments conducted with the help of HCL, more and more buzz is created around the sport of squash and slowly but surely the attitude towards the sport has taken a positive turn.
The arrival of international players and international coaches such as Chris Ryder and Christopher Walker has helped elevate the squash training programme in the country.
The number of squash tournaments in India was the biggest change in the eyes of Misra. The introduction of HCL has been an absolute game changer in this regard.
“Every three weeks, there’s a tournament somewhere in India. HCL’s monetary support and coverage has helped Indian squash to gain mileage.”
Misra started her journey as a squash coach for junior boys and girls soon after her retirement from professional squash in 2011. Being a player-turned coach, Misra’s illustrious playing career has helped her become a better coach.
“It has actually been easy to get into the understanding, because as a player you know what you go through. During the times when you’re playing a match when you’re too down, you know what you’d like to hear and what you will not like to hear from a coach.”
The training camps organised by HCL has helped coaches like Misra to develop a bond with the squash youth of India while simultaneously laying out disciplined routines for the players to follow.
But Misra re-emphasized that she tries to ensure that squash doesn’t become a pressure on the players. One should be able to love the sport, only then will they work hard, she said.
She stated, “If you’re going to just make them work hard because you want laurels or the parents want laurels then it won’t work out. You have to have them love the game, that’s when they go to that extent of working that hard. It kills your body to work as hard as to be an international squash player…”
Being appointed as the new Vice President of the Squash Rackets Federation of India, Misra’s current mission is to bridge the gap between players and the federation.
“If we create a structured program, we’ll be able to bring in more players from the cities. And if we are able to enhance the coaching facilities and coaching infrastructure of these places, we will be able to grow the sport,” she stated.
Her belief is that squash cannot be limited to being a club sport and needs to become a public sport.
Surbhi Misra is determined to not let the Indian squash players of today face the same barriers she faced as an up and coming squash player. That’s why she is determined on an infrastructure push in her home state of Rajasthan so that public squash courts are accessible to all and not just sport club members.
When asked about her inspiration to create the Surbhi Misra Foundation in Rajasthan, which has revamped the squash culture in Rajasthan over the last 7-8 years, Misra revealed it was a conversation with Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje which planted the seed.
Raje promised Misra in 2014 that if she brought back a medal at the next tournament, she would give Misra whatever she wanted. Both parties kept their promises and soon enough, the Rajasthan Squash Academy found a home at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, which now has five squash courts and one all-glass court nearing completion. Almost 200 kids play squash at the academy. The idea is to have similar public squash courts at every district.
“I saw that there were a lot of kids playing but we were restricted in a club with three courts and when the members came in, you could only train for certain hours. If you want to produce national champions, you cannot do it in a three-hour coaching session.”
Not having enough players to compete with, Misra had to shift out of Rajasthan at a young age to train in Chennai. She realised that most women would drop out of the sport at this stage without opportunities closer home. Because she wanted no other girl from Rajasthan to face the same hardship she did, she came up with the academy.
“In the last seven to eight years, we’ve produced national champions and identified a lot of youth talent that has gone and played for India and brought medals for the nation.”
“When we add squash courts in all the seven, eight major districts in Rajasthan, we will get players from all strata of life in squash. We also have a lot of underprivileged kids playing at our academy,” she said.
Surbhi Misra: https://thebridge.in/preview/story-25549