Squash gave me a career and a husband

Donna Lobban is Head Squash Coach at Oriam, Scotland’s high performance sport centre based at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. She was previously Australian national squash champion, ranked world number 13, and Commonwealth Games champion. You can find Donna on Twitter, and follow the Heriot-Watt squash programme here

Squash was in my family, which was how I discovered the sport. I first picked up a racquet when I was six years old, watching my mum play at tournaments and my aunt and uncle owned a squash centre in the small town we grew up in.

As a kid I thought my mum was so good because she was the ladies champion in our town – I realise now she might’ve only had three people to play against, in our small community!

I went through the age groups then realised I could do it professionally as a job when my cousin finished high school then got a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to train full time, and play on the world tour. That became my goal.

I followed my cousin’s steps and became a full-time professional by the time I was 19/20, via the AIS. I played on the World Tour for 17 years, and I based myself in different places around the world including Orlando, and Sheffield. I met my husband Greg, Scotland number 1 squash player and world number 33, at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. I went on to compete against Greg at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealths, when I played mixed doubles with my cousin, which was quite a family affair! I won that match…

Greg had a training base in Edinburgh, so that’s why I ended up calling Edinburgh my home. My husband saw the job as Head Squash Coach at Oriam and encouraged me to apply. I wasn’t looking for a job at the time as I was still playing professionally. I knew the end would come but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The role sounded awesome but I’d never done a job interview before, like lots of athletes I’m not sure I even had a CV.

I went for it and was successful, so I had 6 months where I was trying to play and work – and I enjoyed the job so much I was happy to put all my energy into that and retired from playing in January this year.

I’m loving coaching! I knew I wanted to stay involved in sport and it seemed mad to have all this knowledge and not pass it on. I’m just starting out on my coaching but I have such a wealth of information in my head from all the experiences I’ve had.

It’s exciting to use that to help others. I have to manage different personalities, and understand that not everything that worked for me will work for every player. I’m trying to find different ways to help different people – which makes it fascinating. 

My remit at Heriot-Watt was to work with the existing scholar-athletes and have a successful team targeting BUCS, and also to recruit new students for the future. There was a squash scholarship previously but they didn’t have a coach, so the students have had to adapt to things being a little bit different now there’s someone in charge of them. It was nice to be coming into it with a blank canvas. The squash programme as a whole involved working with sports scientists, psychologists, and coaches; making sure the students are supported on and off the court. We’ve tried to take a wider approach, such as using hydrotherapy for recovery.

I was comfortable with the coaching side, but I’ve had to be creative about how to go about doing the recruiting, which has been fun to learn and takes me out of my comfort zone. What’s helped me is knowing so many people in squash, and being able to talk to other coaches about players they have who want to study. 

I’m also trying to get the community squash up and running here at Oriam, to breathe some life into the community club so the courts stay busy. Equally I’ve never run a community squash centre before so it’s something else I’ve had to learn!

It’s a lot different to being a professional athlete just focussing on training and recovery – I have so much to do. It’s hard not to get ahead of myself. I’m busy, but I love it and it’s so cool to be busy immediately after I retired from playing professionally.