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Mar 19th 2024

Squash Philosophy with Victor Crouin

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Going deep on the sport’s ups and downs with the World #11

Current world number 11 Victor Crouin has developed a reputation for being open and reflective about his performance on the professional tour. His Instagram feed, particularly after tough losses, is a font of self-examination and open reflection about the highs and lows of the newest Olympic Sport. He took time out recently to sit with us and talk about his current outlook on the game.

Based in Toulon in the Southeast of France, when we talk, Crouin is about to fly to Australia to compete in a Bronze event in Sydney on the Professional Squash Association World Tour, where he’s seeded to win. Recently, he’s reached the later stages of several Platinum tournaments featuring the highest ranked players in the world, notably reaching the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions in New York City, beating current World Number Two Paul Coll in three games, and eventually losing out to World Number One, Ali Farag, who went on to take the title. Somewhat predictably, Coll came back hard against Crouin in a follow-up tournament in Chicago, taking their match in just 38 minutes. Crouin is now hoping that his travel to Sydney might reward him with a title.

Born in Marseille and competing on the European tour before attending Harvard where he trained under legendary squash coach, Mike Way, Crouin now plays against the very best in the world. It’s a rare privilege that comes with its share of ups and downs. For example, was he shocked that Paul Coll came back so hard when they played recently in Chicago?

“I wasn’t up for the battle in Chicago,” he said. “For many reasons but the biggest one was the mental side. I was a bit paralyzed, slow in decision-making and slow in my movements. There was a storm going on in my head and I wasn’t able to make the mind-body connections to be able to perform. I knew he’d come back very strong and I didn’t manage to put things in perspective. When you’re playing the best players, even if you’re playing at 100% it might be tough to beat them in the first place. But if you’re not playing at 100%, you’ve got no chance.”

Crouin’s dad is still his coach. From the age of 12, he insisted on Victor having a Facebook page to keep people updated on his progress. He started writing reviews of his matches and tournaments to try to learn from the events. It also helped Crouin stay accountable to himself. He built a base of interested followers and was inspired by the level of journalism he saw on the tennis tour. So many reporters following the game means players must open up about the highs and lows of the game.

“I feel like we missed that in the squash community. And I found that if I shared these reflections publicly then I would have to make good on my commitments,” he said. “Sometimes it can be a bit performative when you share thoughts about your matches, publicly. But I found that personally it was good to be vulnerable and open about everything.”

Crouin enjoys reading all about squash. He listens to squash podcasts and loves reading British professional, Nathan Lake’s, newsletter about his game.

“He’s pretty open about his game and how he’s feeling. He writes very well and with a great sense of humor,” he said.

Crouin also cites Ali Farag and Mohammed El Shorbagy as two players who are very open about their study of the game during interviews. As players at the top of the sport, Crouin feels a responsibility to lead by example.

“When I was young, I used to watch Squash TV late at night with my dad. I was so fascinated by watching Gregory Gaultier in the finals. He put me into so many highs and lows. I remember him losing 3-2, and it was 2 a.m., and it’s tough to go to sleep after that. Now I’m in the same position where I’m playing those events, and I know the people watching back home. My dad is going to be watching. And so, it’s important for me to compete until the last point, give respect to myself, to the referee, and to everyone around the sport.”

Lately, Crouin has also realized that squash is “part of the entertainment industry.” People come to watch matches to be entertained and have a good time. Training is the hard part of the game, then you have competition where you can shine.

“When we’re young, winning and losing can feel very serious. It can feel like the end of the world if you’re losing a game,” he said. “But as we grow, we realize that it’s important to be able to bounce back after a loss. And you have to go through a lot of losses before you win. It’s about trying to focus on the journey, and that’s what I’m trying to share with the younger generation. It’s not all about winning and losing.”

Crouin reflects on the mental health aspects of playing squash, too. If one is too focused on winning and losing, then it could, in theory, be a very lonely place if one reached number one in the world and wasn’t happy.

“Sometimes, actually, some athletes are depressed because they win and then they’re expecting to be happy and they’re not,” Crouin said. “It’s so important to try to be happy on the journey and during the process.”

Recently, Farag, who is a senior adviser at Open Squash, has talked publicly about mental health, saying there is no shame in consulting a professional for help, just as one might in any other aspect of the game.
“And that’s pretty big coming from an Egyptian player,” Crouin said. “If you say it in New York, it’s different.”

Crouin, meanwhile, cites the inspiration of French judo champion Teddy Riner who was open about including a psychologist on his team.

“That was a big deal because like Egypt, France is also pretty conservative, and having a psychologist in the sports industry was kind of taboo as well. When I was in boarding school in Aix-en-Provence, an hour away from my family in Marseille, we had to see a psychologist once a year as part of our medical visit. I loved that. I always loved going to see him and go through the season, talk about what was going on at home and school. Just being able to have those conversations was really relieving and freeing.”

Crouin also talks about the importance of supportive relationships and friends, as well as being open and reflective, when it comes to maintaining a sense of balance. 

So, how will he make sure that next time he steps on the squash court, he will be ready to compete?

“The frustrating thing is, there are always going to be matches where the psychological challenges will surface,” he said. “It’s just the way it is. You might have some bad days, but it’s about how you respond to them. When you go through life, you’re filling a filing cabinet with experiences, and the more experiences you go through, the more you can say, ‘at least this happened in the past, and there’s no shame in it happening again.”

Mental health is like hitting a straight volley drop from the back court in squash, Crouin said.

“80% of the time it works, but 20% of the time you might hit the tin. That’s the same approach you need for the mental work. The goal is to increase the consistency, you want it to work 85% or 90% of the time, and the champions are able to be a bit more consistent.”

The volley straight drop from the back court is also a very challenging shot, he admits.

Perhaps the biggest learning experience Crouin can recall is twice in a row, during his teens, losing matches 3-2 having been up at match ball, 2-0 down, in adult tournaments.

“I lost the final in Toulouse-Blagnac when I was 16 having been up 2-0 and at match ball, then I came back and played the final at the same club, and I lost the final the same way. And that’s an experience that you put in your filing cabinet. So, you’ve had that experience. It’s your worst nightmare. But it’s everyone’s worst nightmare. And so now when you’re playing Paul Coll or Tarek Momen, when you’re playing in the third game and you’re up two-zero, you’ve got to smile and say, ‘I know it’s a possibility.’”

Maintaining focus despite fear and stress are major learnings. But to respond with humor?

“As I say, it’s something that I’ve tried to learn, to take things a bit less seriously,” he said. “If you really try to reflect on the words you’re saying and the journey you’re taking as you learn about the game, then you must understand that there is also joy in it. As well as all those other emotions.”

As an ambassador for Open Squash, a nonprofit squash center in New York with a mission of bringing squash to everyone, Crouin is also delighted to be coaching juniors at upcoming summer camps.

“I’m fortunate to have Open Squash’s support, and I also resonate with the mission,” he said. “I didn’t grow up in the most privileged household and my journey into the sport was thanks to the support of many people and organizations. It’s a privilege to be able to coach kids at Open Squash from all different backgrounds and to share some of my passion for the sport with them. I love to see their excitement and give them a bit of insight." 

Hopefully, of course, that includes sharing his reflective sense of humor.

Thanks for sharing your story and outlook with us, Victor!