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Open Squash

Apr 5th 2024

More Women Than Ever Are Playing Squash

Clair Oblamski Featured Image

Why Open Squash Member Clair Oblamski Loves The Game

Clair Oblamski is a regular squash player in New York City who loves the sport for its year-round urban playability. She also enjoys the community element of playing squash with women at Open Squash—a nonprofit squash center with a mission to make squash for everyone.

Clair didn’t play squash until she went to college, so started relatively late, as an adult. Growing up, she played several sports—she played soccer as a child, she was on the ski team in high school and played tennis. Then she went to Smith College in Massachusetts, and she wanted a winter activity.

“I heard about squash and wandered down to the squash courts one day, and I essentially walked onto the team,” she said.

The team’s coach was very passionate about the sport, and had coached tennis and squash, so he was able to pay attention to helping Clair adjust her tennis grip to hit squash shots. The team was social and included several players like Clair who had not played squash before but had played tennis and other sports. One advantage of being at an all-women’s college was that the coach paid full attention to coaching the women’s team, Clair said, rather than dividing their time between women and men’s teams.

“We were all in a similar learning environment where we were learning the basics and the rules,” she said. “I want to say we were maybe the oddballs in the sports world. A lot of people didn’t know what squash was. There was soccer and basketball. But we were very close on the squash team, and we still stay in contact a lot. We actually have four Smith Graduates who are members of Open Squash at Bryant Park right now.”

This past fall, the Open Squash Bryant Park Smith graduates went to the Howe Cup together, America’s largest squash tournament for women players. More individuals from Smith College were playing in the Howe Cup than any other college, she said.

Clair found her game progressed well and that the pressure of playing in tournaments allowed her to jump up quickly in her skill level. She still hit a “big flat backhand”, she concedes, and there “are still a few videos floating around the internet” showing it. But gradually learned a variety of shots.

“I really liked the drop slice,” she said. “It’s quite similar to a slice in tennis. But I struggled to hit drives on the backhand side.”

Clair became competitive in practice and gradually worked her way up to the second spot in a team of nine. She majored in neuroscience and psychology, although jokes that she almost triple-majored because of the amount of time she spent playing squash and tennis. Smith offers a varsity program where they’ll pay for a student to intern for the summer, and Clair reached out to Street Squash in New York, offering her services. She designed a curriculum for the students and ended up working for two years at Street Squash after she graduated. Clair worked at the City Parks Foundation running a middle school afterschool program, and now she works at PENCIL, an education focused nonprofit in New York City that works wish students on their college and career readiness skills.

It was after graduating that Clair found she continued to progress, playing squash.

“I see something interesting, especially on the women's side of the game,” she said. “You see a lot of players who played as juniors and went to college very competitive drop off playing when they graduate, because they’ve played for a long time. They have difficulty transitioning to adult squash, where I think a lot of players have a different relationship with the game, and maybe a more positive one, where they see it as a way to grow and to practice and to learn something new.”  

Clair, meanwhile, continues to practice her technique and hit drills and conditioned games with the other women at Open Squash.

“We try to set goals and things that we want to work on. I think there's always going to be room for improvement,” she said.

Clair compares the adult women’s game to the men’s in other ways, too. She says women are looking for a more social game than many men, in that they don’t necessarily want to play recorded tournaments for points in the same way that many men do.

“We’re definitely seeing that from some of the stuff Open Squash is putting on where we’ll do workshops where women are coming together and learning, and then having some type of food or drink option afterwards where they can chat and socialize, because that seems to be a really important component to women players,” she said. “I feel like sometimes the men are happy to just show up, play and, you know, battle it out and then maybe head out to have a beer afterwards. But there has to be that social component for the women to make it worth their time to, to show up.”

Sometimes it can also be more intimidating for beginner women players to get on court with a man, Clair said, because the man might be taller or stronger. But it’s a lot easier for women to get on court with other women. Women players are also generous to beginners, she said.

“I would like to see more women participating in squash,” she said. “It feels like in recent years there has been more of a push to figure it out and really try to get women involved, and I love to see that and I’m really appreciative of it.”

Clair has also been participating in the U.S. Squash Women’s Committee as a City Ambassador for New York. Hearing what other cities are doing and exchanging information has been helpful.

If she were to give a message to other women about playing squash, Clair would tell them, “Just give it a shot. I think it can be a little intimidating to see it being played, but I’m sure that you can get on court and find individuals who are also learning the sport and learn it alongside them.”

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Clair!

You can also watch a video version of this interview at our new Boast About It show here!