Samantha Cornett is a professional squash player who represented Canada. She reached a career-high world ranking of World No. 23 in May 2018. Having retired in 2019 and started university, we caught up with Samantha to talk about her career and life post-squash.
Zushan Hashmi: How did you get involved in squash?
Samantha Cornett: I got involved when I was very small because my parents played. My sister and I messed around with racquets and balloons and sprinted around the small squash and curling club while the two of them hit.
What convinced you to continue playing the game?
When my family moved from a small town to Ottawa, my sister and I got help from some great coaches. Our first coach, Vihar, instilled a love of the game, good habits, and the basics in us.
Then, when we started working with Heather [Wallace], we got great coaching and I got exposed to so many excellent players, since she had recently been a top pro herself, and she was the national women’s coach.
I knew from a young age that I was interested in being a professional player. I love sports and I love squash most of all.
As one of the most efficient games in the world, what was involved in maintaining your fitness and skill while you played regularly?
Fitness, I worked hard on, because I wouldn’t say I was a skilled type of player. I think I finally wrapped my head around some of the finer racquet skills I was capable of in the last couple of years of my career.
Fitness-wise, I did 2-3 weight sessions a week, one to two anaerobic sessions a week, and 1-2 speed and plyo sessions per week.
Then 10 on-court sessions a week, at the peak of it all. As I got older I did less on-court sessions.
What was it like to win gold in the Team event at the 2011 Pan Ams?
Team gold in 2011 was very cool. It was a special moment as us 3 players are very close friends. It was also a bit chaotic since we were all getting the random doping testing in the midst of the ceremony. Nothing’s perfect, but that is a fabulous memory!
Would you say this was a highlight of your career?
This was a very special moment in my career. I had some wins and some match experience that I hadn’t had before that. I was proud of myself and my team for our hard work to get there. This was definitely a highlight of my career.
What is the squash circuit like in Canada?
In Canada, we have lots of very good squash clubs. Canada hosts anywhere from 3 to 5 women’s PSAs and I’d guess around 10-15 men’s PSAs every year.
Is the sport growing there?
I’d say it’s pretty consistent here, and my guess is that as it gains popularity and recognition in the colleges in the US, we will see it grow here too.
There is a perception that squash is an elite sport that is waining in popularity, what do you say to that?
Personally I don’t think it’s waning in popularity. I think it’s consistent, and that the coverage of PSAtv and the new TV channels are bringing the game to more viewers. I watched a match of the Windy City Open Platinum event at a bar in Toronto!
I look forward to PSA and WSF continuing that momentum when COVID-19 is behind us.
What has been the biggest challenge for squash in terms of popularity and support of the game?
I think one of the biggest challenges for squash right now is that the game is being played on very valuable square footage. So I have seen a lot of courts removed to be filled with things that fit more people and make more money.
I hope dedicated squash players and fans of the game everywhere actively support our squash clubs and open new courts wherever we can!
There is no spin class or circuit program that can replace the workout, the camaraderie, and the community that a squash program creates.
You recently retired from the game, why did you make this decision?
I recently retired for a lot of reasons. Deaths and births in my family made me realize I wasn’t enjoying the life on the road as much, being so far away from my loved ones.
You miss a lot when you’re on tour and at this age, it really started to hit me, and I re-evaluated my priorities. Along with those feelings came less drive to train and less passion when I was competing.
All of this hit me at the same time, and when I wasn’t upset or interested in improving after a few matches, I knew it was time for a change.
It is never an easy transition for athletes after retiring from their game of choice, what has life been like for you post-squash?
So far, post-squash has been great. I am very, very grateful that I made good use of the time that I got injured back in 2015/2016, and I did some career counselling through Canada’s GamePlan program (a program to help with the athlete retirement transition).
I did an interview and a job shadow at LinkedIn and worked on my resume. At the time I didn’t think that I had anything to put on my resume, so it was a really good exercise for me to see what my strengths are beyond squash. After that time, I became interested and invested in my life outside squash, which was aided by PSA’s Squash University program.
I volunteered in a field I thought I might be interested in to see if I’d like it. I spoke to a university program counsellor to explore fields and programs I might be interested in. So essentially, I am lucky that I had set the mental and practical groundwork to be prepared for this transition.
It was a scary thought that I might not play squash again at the time of that injury, however, on the second go-around, I was less scared when I was faced with retirement.
I am now really enjoying school and my work placement. Year 1 complete, Dean’s honour list. I’m happy to be working really hard at something new.
How do you manage your mental and physical health now that you aren’t on the court?
Up until this lockdown, I’ve been on the court a couple of times a week, coaching. It’s the perfect job to complement my study schedule, and it gives me the squash fix and income that I need. Now that we have finished our semester online and I’m not coaching, I’m going to have to get creative.
I think it’s a good time to learn something new, so let me get back to you on what that will be for me. Most likely improving on my limited Spanish! I’m also trying to be active at the very least once a day during this time.
My best tools for my mental health are keeping in touch with family and friends, and writing, journal style, and my partner and I have been trying some mini-meditations during this quiet time.
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Saqib Tanveer assisted in the curation of this article. You can follow him on LinkedIn.