Episode 33 is an interview with over 35’s masters squash world champion Lauren Briggs. We talk about her time as an elite player, and how transitioning to the master’s circuit gave her hope that her career as a squash player could continue.
It’s an honest and thoughtful interview about struggles, successes and finding renewed meaning in a sport you love.
Lauren Briggs is a professional squash player who represents England. She currently holds all the major Over 35’s master’s titles, having won the Worlds Championship in August 2018. As an elite player, Briggs reached a career-high world ranking of World No. 18 in December 2008. She has twelve International tour titles accredited to her name, winning tournaments in America, Finland, France, Holland, Malaysia, Switzerland, England, Scotland and Wales.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 1.11.18 – Ep 33. Lauren Briggs – From elite player to masters athlete
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
T: Welcome to a Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
Today I am chatting to Lauren Briggs. Lauren currently holds all the major over 35’s Master squash titles, having won the World Master’s Squash Championship this past August. Many athletes stop playing their sport after their professional career ends so I was particularly interested in exploring why she’s kept playing. It’s an honest and thoughtful interview about her time as an elite player, the struggles, the successes and how one can find renewed meaning in a sport you love.
Let’s first find out why squash?
L: I actually started off with tennis. So I used to play tennis and squash at the same time on a Saturday down at my local squash club and I didn’t actually get on with my tennis coach so I moved over to squash. My parents used to play squash. My sister played squash. So it ended up becoming just a family game that we all used to play together. It was great.
T: How many years have you been playing squash for?
L: [laughter] So you’re giving away my age – 30.
L: 30 – 3 zero 30 years.
T: Has squash evolved at all whilst you’ve been playing in those 30 years?
L: Oh absolutely especially the racquets have evolved, a lot of you know, the clothing, but also the dynamics of the game have evolved. There is huge sort of surge of Egyptian players at the moment which started when I was on the circuit and they just play such a fast game, an attacking game, which is really exciting, it’s exhilarating and it’s making a lot of the players from other countries change the way they are playing because they have to sort of counter, you know counteract what the Egyptians are doing as well. So now it’s, you know, it’s such a fun game to play, such a fun game to watch and we are really, really seeing sort of a lot of female athletes really excelling in sort of their speed, their fitness, their stamina and I would say it’s more dynamic than when I was playing, but I was definitely seeing that journey, you know, watching the shift in the game whilst I was on the circuit.
T: Let’s talk about your time as an elite player. According to all the Googling I’ve been doing it says you have 12 international tour titles accredited to you.
L: I do.
T: Winning tournaments in America, Finland, France, Holland, Malaysia, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Wales. Did you achieve what you wanted to as an elite squash player?
L: I didn’t no. I don’t know if a lot of athletes would set out and say I’m happy, I reached No 18 in the World, but I don’t know how many athletes would set out and say that’s where they just wanted to get to. I would imagine a lot would either want to get in the top 5, definitely top 1 or 2 slots in the World and because I didn’t achieve that I do feel that I didn’t achieve my sole aim to become the best player in the World. I did become the best player I could be at that time I believe, but that’s not what I set out to do.
So in some ways I feel like I didn’t achieve everything. I achieved a lot, but it wasn’t the icing on the cake. When I retired it wasn’t a happy retirement.
T: How did you deal with those feelings?
L: I buried them for quite a while and then after I retired, for about a year or two after I retired I would have frequent outbursts and you know, really upset and sad about things, but I’ve learned to, I’ve learned to reflect on it and say well I was very lucky to have the opportunities that I had. Not very many people have the opportunities to play a game that they love for their career and I’ve just got to be happy where I got to and say that’s where it was. I didn’t get any further wasn’t that I, perhaps wasn’t good enough, it just didn’t happen for me and for now that’s how I deal with it.
T: Let’s talk I want to look at the flip side of that a little bit because no 18 in the World isn’t bad.
L: No it’s not.
T: What enabled you to get those sort of rankings?
L: I was like a dog with a bone. I always felt that I had more to give and I always feel like I have more to give in a lot of situations and an interesting life in general. I always want to achieve more and more and I felt that when I was playing it was a sport that I absolutely adored and there is no better feeling for me than coming off and having an incredible game, an incredible match, even if you’ve lost and you’ve played the best that you can play.
It was just that feeling of enjoyment and so wanting to go back and do it again and I love training myself to the absolute death. I enjoy it immensely, it’s a bit insane and some people can’t understand why I want to do what I do to myself physically in the gym or on the court, but it was that, trying to better myself and that’s why I kept going back and I kept wanting to do more, achieve more and then when you see your ranking starting to improve you kind of think, you start to think that well maybe actually I can, I will get this, I will get top 16, I will get top 12, I will get top 10 and you want to keep pushing those boundaries and just explore really how far you can go in this sport that you love and that’s why I kept, I just kept at it because I thought, I always thought there was more than I was achieving. I always thought I was capable of more than I was achieving.
T: If you sort of look back and if you could, you know one of those stupid questions, if you could do it all over again are there choices that you would make differently? That you think would have enabled you to get higher up?
L: Absolutely. I stayed with a certain coach for a set amount of time and it was probably a little bit too long and I think that my game, at the time, needed to be a little bit more dynamic and it wasn’t and the only way I was going to get that I think, was by changing coaches, but I retained, I stayed because one specific coach I think stopped me a little bit in my development at a very crucial stage. So that’s something I think I would have changed. I’m not saying it would have made me the best player in the World, but I think it might have given me a lot more opportunity to explore my game and become a different player to the player that I was and who knows where you go from there if you are a different player and you achieve different things.
So yeah I think that would be one of my big things that I would have changed, to have changed my coach a little bit earlier and then possibly not taken on work as well. So, as a squash player at the ranking that I was at, it wasn’t sustainable to not work so I took on a job that obviously working at the same time as trying to be a professional athlete is very detrimental to your career as a professional athlete.
T: And also probably your career as not a professional athlete.
L: Yes exactly. So I wasn’t really doing either career very well actually, but I was able to sustain sort of staying on the circuit for that amount of period so… but that is something I think those two things that I would possibly have changed.
T: A lot of elite athletes after they retire they never want anything to do with the sport ever again, but you’re not one of those? You’re one of those who has continued and is still playing in was it the Master’s British National Championship? Was that your most recent win?
L: I won the World’s actually two months ago.
T: How fantastic.
L: Yeah, so I won the World’s in America which was my first World’s title and absolutely when I was playing full time, when I was on the circuit, I never ever wanted to play Master’s squash and I used to look at Master’s squash and say I don’t think my body would be able to cope. Once I’ve retired I think that’s it and there was definitely a period when I did retire that I didn’t even want to look at a squash court let alone think of competing again.
T: How long did that last for?
L: It probably lasted for around three or four months.
L: So it wasn’t that long. Three or four months.
T: So you took a holiday for three months!
L: I know, but it was very much that I didn’t go on court for a good month after I retired. I think it’s just like I said, it’s the buzz of playing that kept me going back and it was, the reason I started to play Master’s squash was one of my captains for a team that I played for, he actually suggested it to me and I hadn’t really thought about it and he said just, he said why don’t you think about doing the Master’s? You’ll be really good at it and I thought well I’m not really into Master’s squash, but I thought I’d give it a go.
T: Not into it because?
L: I just didn’t feel it was my path. I thought, I played on the circuit, I’d retired, I don’t need to play any more squash. I don’t want to play, I didn’t want to play competitive squash, but then when I started training and I actually entered one of the tournaments I realised that my training became more meaningful because I had something to train for. So suddenly this thing that I wasn’t that interested in, suddenly became this beacon and it actually gave me hope that my career, not that I wasn’t professional anymore, but my career as a squash player could continue and it was something that I went to the tournament, I caught up with a lot of my friends and met a lot of new people, a lot of competitors and with the Master’s it’s over 35’s and in squash you have it up to over 80 and it is incredibly inspiring to go to an event and see an over 80 year old playing squash as if they’re 30. It’s incredible and that’s something that kept me going back and then I kept entering and I did well and I was doing well in all my tournaments and I think that was also something that kept me going back because I wanted to then keep improving, keep winning these tournaments because it was then the bug so then I had the bug.
So the World’s just recently it was the one title that I hadn’t won so now I have all of the Britishes, the Europeans and the World’s so…
T: How does that feel?
L: It feels incredible. It does feel incredible because it was something that was missing for me. I’d entered the World’s two years ago in my first World tournament and I was runner up and it really hurt and it was something that made me go back. I had to go and do it again and I had to try and have another go to try and get that title.
T: Something to prove?
L: Absolutely. So absolutely delighted.
T: What’s the difference between, or is it an assumption, is there a difference in how you play squash and how you approach squash now versus when you were in that elite circuit? Or is it the same?
L: I would like to think that, it definitely can’t be the same because you don’t have the same amount of time to train and to prepare for the events, but everybody else is in the same boat which is the fantastic thing. Everybody works and then everybody also plays, but I feel that I do as much as my body will allow. So it’s aging, it’s definitely aging, the joints hurt and you just have to deal with that as you go on. Some days you have plans to do an incredibly hard session and you wake up and your body says I’m sorry not today Lauren.
T: A bit more recovery time.
L: Yes [laughing] so then you just, you then just take that into account.
T: Do you see yourself as that 80 year old on court inspiring others?
L: I say no now because I know how my body feels now, but you never know. You never know. I think maybe if I have two knee replacements, hip replacements with my new shoulder already it will be great. I do hope to play as long as I can play and that’s something that I will plan to do and so it’s such a fantastic environment the Master’s circuit and everybody supports, it’s a very supportive environment.
T: A squash player just starting out and wants to be at the top of their game any advice or tips that you would give them on their journey?
L: The one thing I would say is love it and enjoy it and you absolutely have to love it and enjoy it and you have to be the player that you want to be and if you’re working with somebody that doesn’t help you perform to your best or you’re working with a coach that doesn’t fill you with happiness and doesn’t fill you with excitement when you’re going to a session then change. So that would be my…..
T: Stay with the love!
L: You’ve got to love what you’re doing and you’ve got to love who you’re working with because then you blossom.
T: In your opinion what’s the point of sport?
L: A good question. I think the point of sport, I think it’s, there’s too many points. I really think, I think sport it helps you meet people, you get a sense of community, you get obviously endorphins you know with the physical attributes from it, the enjoyment, the team work, the achievements and that’s not necessarily being an elite athlete, that’s any sports person, any sport that you play and if you’re a player that goes and plays tennis down the park there’s an enjoyment there and if it gives you an enjoyment it’s fantastic. Sport is just, in my opinion, unrivalled, absolutely unrivalled. I would be lost without sport and fitness. I would be absolutely lost.
T: Maybe you will be that 80 year old on court.
L: Probably [laughing]. I say no, but I probably will.
T: This podcast is all about performance, it’s about different people’s views on success. What’s success for you?
L: Success for me as cliché as it sounds is being happy and being content on your journey and I think we constantly strive to better ourselves. We constantly strive to improve ourselves and rarely do we actually sit back and say look at what I’ve done and take a moment just to enjoy what you’ve achieved in those small moments and I think success comes from just enjoying and achieving, or the enjoyment of what you’ve achieved rather than keep trying to achieve.
T: So I’m going to ask the, possibly the obvious next question. Are you successful? The million dollar question.
L: That’s a million dollar question. Am I successful? I am successful.
T: That’s a very cool [unclear 17:02.2].
L: I am, I’m very happy with where I’m at at the moment and I can say I’ve achieved most recently what I’ve wanted to achieve and I’m enjoying life so I am successful.
T: I’m just going to end up with a few quick fire questions. What did you eat for breakfast?
L: I had a cheese sandwich.
T: Cheese sandwich?
L: It was brunch.
T: Favourite piece of kit?
L: Kit? Racquet, squash racquet.
T: Sporting hero?
L: Kelly Holmes.
L: Because she’s always fought against injury and she’s had a lot of strife in her life. She’s quite open to being public about her mental health struggles and she inspires me to every, every single day.
T: Useless piece of advice that you’ve either given to somebody else or somebody has given to you.
L: [laughing] that’s a very, very good question. Useless piece of advice. My Dad most recently, I’d just had shoulder surgery so maybe it’s not advice, but it was he went away on holiday and he bought a present for me and it came through in the post and it was a remote control hoover and so his most useless piece of advice was hoover the floor. So indeed so that was the most useless thing…
T: Have you used it?
L: I have. I actually walk around behind it so I completely defy the point of it so I walk around and yes I do. I have used it.
T: Such a useless piece of advice. Is that entertainment as well?
L: It is.
T: Greatest passion outside of sport?
L: Or wine. [laughing]
T: Best performance enhancer? Cheese and Wine?
L: Cheese and wine I was going to say something else, but I think I prefer that. Best performance enhancer? A good cup of coffee.
T: Well it’s been great talking to you today Lauren thank you very much.
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