Written by Hannah Dunleavy


Good Sports: Laura Massaro

Sport England campaign This Girl Can aims to encourage more women to take up sport. But which one’s for you? Standard Issue is talking to different sportswomen to learn what she loves about hers. This week Hannah Dunleavy talks to Europe’s No 1 squash player Laura Massaro.

Laura in action.

Laura Massaro, 31, is ranked No 3 in the world. She lives with her husband in Preston and trains out of David Lloyd Leisure in Chorley.

Did you come from a sporty family?
My parents both played squash and my Dad was into watching sport on TV, so it seemed pretty normal for me to be into sport. Because I played squash outside of school I had lot of confidence in PE lessons and I played every sport for the teams at school: netball, hockey, rounders, cross country. It was really good fun. I also swam for a club until I was about 13 or 14, but the early mornings put me off.

So why did you pick squash to concentrate on?
I started winning things. My Dad and I set about trying to become the best in the North West and when I achieved that, we tried for the best in the North and then the best in the country. And that meant a lot of time for him, travelling at the weekends.

What’s the best thing about the sport?
I get to do my hobby for my job and travel round the world. This week I’m in New York, playing in Grand Central Station, which is such an iconic location. Thousands of commuters watch you as the day goes on – it’s a unique experience. So it’s great to say you can do that for a living. From a training point of view, I love the fact that squash gives me a different day every day, there’s so many different elements to the game. I get to go to the gym, I do speed sessions, endurance sessions. No two days are the same.

Squash is particularly hard work isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s been voted one of the world’s hardest sports. And Forbes Magazine called it the healthiest sport. There aren’t many sports where you burn 750 calories an hour, for every hour you play. It’s up there with rowing and cross-country skiing. So, for somebody who doesn’t want to get on a rower and go in one direction or hasn’t got any snow, there’s nothing like it. You should get fit to play squash, not play squash to get fit.

What advice would you give a woman who wants to start playing squash?
Try to do a little bit of fitness work first and build it up slowly. Have a look on www.thebighit.net, which is a programme by England Squash & Racketball, where you can log on and find your nearest courts and coach. You can find squads with players at the same level and with the same goals, so you’re not thrown in at the deep end. Your can find a class where you know you can just turn up and be part of it.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Winning the World Title in 2014. Becoming the world champion in any sport is amazing. The fact that we’ve got [Malaysia’s] Nicol David, who’s been world No 1 for eight years or so, means there aren’t many other people who are winning world titles – in fact, there are only two and one of them was me. The other highlight was winning the British Open, which they call the Wimbledon of Squash. No other British woman has held both of those trophies, so I created a bit of history there, which is something I’m really proud of.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?
We always grew up with a family motto of you get out of life what you put in. It’s helped me when I haven’t wanted to go and train, especially when I was younger and there were other distractions. If you want to achieve the big things, you’ve got to get off your backside and do it, so that motto was really important, especially early on in my career.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Growing up, watching squash we had so many top-class players. Cassie Jackman won the World Open and was World No 1, when I was a junior. And I thought if could get anywhere near what she was like, that would be amazing. More recently, through my 20s, I’ve been watching a lot of tennis and I really admire Serena Williams and what she’s done. These really strong powerful women who have achieved so much in their sport are an inspiration to a lot of people, I think.

When you’re not playing and training, what else do you like to do?
Have time at home with friends and family. Because we are away so much, it’s nice to get some downtime, get into a routine and chill out, cook some nice food at home and watch some movies. Nothing crazy, because we’re training a lot. When we’re abroad, after the tournament’s done, we try to get to a really nice restaurant, it’s something to look forward to.

If you’re burning 700 calories an hour, you probably have to eat quite a lot, eh?
Yeah, my appetite’s pretty big. Obviously, as I’ve got better at the sport, not every session is killing that many calories, but during match play, yes, I’m always really surprised when I look at the heart-rate watch at the end.

What can’t you live without?
My friends and family and their support. My husband travels a lot with me and gives up a lot of his free time. I think I’d be a complete nutter if I didn’t have him to keep me sane. Because we’re not earning the millions that tennis players are, it’s rare to be able to travel with anyone, so he comes with me as much as he can. And not that the squash girls aren’t great, but it’s nice to have time just husband and wife. You can go out after a match, whether you’ve won or lost, and have a nice evening, and that makes a huge difference when you’re away.

Which song could be used to soundtrack your life so far?

At the moment, I’m completely addicted to the Frozen song Let It Go. Ask me in a couple of weeks and it might be completely different. We had our World Team montage DVD done and we had that as the soundtrack and it was great. And I listen to it in my warm up. For me, it strikes a bit of a chord, I can be quite structured and those lyrics “just let it go” is what I need to be told before I step on court.

Is there anything you’d like to say to any women thinking about talking up sport?

Even if it feels daunting to start with, sport is a great way to release tension, sleep better, be able eat more of what you want. Try not to worry what people think of you – everyone is in the gym with their own insecurities. Whenever I see anyone in the gym I’ve not seen before, I think fair play for getting stuck in. I love it when I see people working hard and doing their own thing. It’s really satisfying when you set yourself some goals and you hit them.

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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.