This past summer, Bates College senior and College Squash Association (CSA) Player Advisory Committee member Graham Bonnell spent a month in The Netherlands taking squash lessons and immersing himself in the local culture and sites. He kept a blog of his experiences, which included regular lessons, local travel around the country, and participation in his first PSA competition. The CSA caught up with Bonnell at the end of the fall semester to learn more about his trip and how it has impacted his final year of college squash.
CSA: How did you decide to make this trip to The Netherlands last summer?
Graham Bonnell: There were many factors in my decision to make my trip to The Netherlands. I had learned about squash in The Hague during the previous summer, when my father, sister, and I met up with my mother who was in the middle of her two-year service as a member of the Peace Corps in Ukraine. While in The Hague, I randomly took a lesson with a coach and quickly realized how much more accessible high-level coaching was in The Netherlands than in the United States. Throughout my career as a squash player, I have been extremely disappointed by how financially inaccessible the sport is in the United States. I determined that it would actually be cheaper to pay for a flight to The Netherlands, housing, food, and a month’s worth of squash lessons than to pay for similar coaching in the United States.
CSA: What were your goals for the trip?
GB: My goals were to significantly improve as a squash player, to play in my first PSA tournament, and to enjoy the international niche community of squash.
CSA: Why did you choose The Netherlands? Could you have done this program elsewhere?
GB: The Hague is a storied location for many acclaimed squash players, including the likes of Cameron Pilley, Paul Coll, Laurens Jan Anjema, and hundreds of elite PSA players for training, league matches, or tournaments. The Netherlands’ central location is a great place for PSA players, as they can conveniently travel to other countries in Europe for league matches and tournaments. The beautiful thing about squash, however, is that it is in so many different countries around the world. I am certain that other CSA players could dedicate their own month of squash in other locations, especially Spain, the Czech Republic, Egypt, and the UK.
CSA: What did you like most about your location during the trip? What did you like least?
GB: There is a lot to love about The Netherlands and The Hague specifically. If I had to choose one thing I liked the most, it would probably be the way people biked everywhere. The Dutch infrastructure for bicycle transportation is incredible, and I would love to see it emulated across cities in the United States. My daily bike commute was beautiful; I passed canals, grassy parks, and cityscapes all in a twenty-minute ride. It’s tough to think of a negative about living in The Hague, but I do know it can be hard to find an affordable rental.
CSA: What landmarks would you recommend that other visitors visit when they are where you were?
GB: I would definitely recommend biking up and down The Hague’s beaches and exploring the sand dunes. Also, my favorite place to grab a bite to eat or a coffee is at Bagels and Beans, which is a chain throughout The Netherlands.
CSA: What other favorites can you recall from your trip? Food? Drink? Mode of transportation? Daytrip?
GB: I didn’t touch on this in my blog, but towards the end of my month in The Netherlands, I took a day and a half trip to Paris, France. It was very easy to take a train from Rotterdam to Paris, and I was able to stay in a hostel in Paris for quite cheap. One of the great things about the Netherlands is its central location, so such weekend adventures were quite doable. I really liked visiting the Van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.
CSA: What did you learn about yourself through this squash training program? Do you feel like your game improved?
GB: I feel as though my game greatly improved from training in The Netherlands for a month. Before the training program, I hadn’t received a formal lesson for my squash technique since when I was first learning to play the sport. I learned a lot about the technique of my forehand swing and realized that the way I played squash was massively inefficient. Of course, there’s only so much progress that can be made in one month, but I definitely improved.
CSA: What was your PSA competition experience like?
GB: Playing a satellite PSA tournament was a great experience. I’m still a bit salty that I lost my first-round match, but the true highlight of the tournament was meeting players from all over, including Turkey, the Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, Belgium, and Spain. My competitors’ style of play was different from what I was used to playing in the CSA. To make a gross simplification, the European players extended rallies longer and played the ball straight more.
CSA: What impact has your college squash career had on your college experience?
GB: My college squash career has had a large impact on my college experience. Excelling in squash has been a large goal of mine each year at Bates College. I’ve made lifelong friendships with my teammates who are from all over the world, and I’ve gained a lot of respect for CSA players throughout the league. The squash team at Bates has been an incredibly consistent source of happiness and personal progress throughout my college years.
CSA: What are your goals for your final season and final semester at Bates?
GB: For my final season of squash, I want my team to win some big matches. The NESCAC and the CSA are more competitive than ever this year, and I know that the squash teams at Bates can do some damage. Despite the ever-present thoughts of life after college, I want to remain in the present as much as possible and enjoy my final semester as a playing member of the College Squash Association.
CSA: Do you anticipate playing squash after graduation?
GB: At some point, my body will need a break from squash, but I definitely plan on continuing to play after graduation. I think more CSA players should consider playing professional squash after college (shoutout to all the players who are currently doing both!).