Craig Salmon talks to squash coaching stalwart John Gibson, who has announced his retirement after 25 years of dedication to the sport
Squash stalwart John Gibson is proud of everything he has accomplished after dedicating much of his life to helping children in the area get more active.
The 71-year-old hung up his racket for the final time last week when he announced his decision to retire from coaching after 25 years of service to the sport.
An all-round sportsman, Gibson has made it his mission over the last quarter-of-a-century to get youngsters involved in sport.
“I took my final coaching session last Saturday at Leyland and it was quite sad in many ways.
“I would have liked to have carried on but I’m 71 now and my wife has been brilliant over the years supporting me and it’s time to spend more time with her.
“We haven’t been away on holiday for about 10 years.
“It’s a chance now to get out and about.
“I have two grandsons – Jacob and Jenson, also who actually play squash for Lancashire.
“We havent had chance to spend enough time with them so it will be nice to be able to do that.”
It was back in 2004 when Gibson set up the renowned Leyland Lions JuniorSquash and Racketball Club at the town’s leisure centre.
In the 14 years since, the club has coached thousands of youngsters, who have benefited from learning to play a sport that they would never have ordinarily tried.
“My main reason for setting up the junior club at Leyland Leisure Centre was to provide opportunities for children in the local communities to come down and have a go at minisquash squash and racketball,” said Gibson, who at the time worked for the sport’s governing body as a regional manager across the North West of England.
“There are not sports that many children play at school, especially at primary school.
“When I first went down to Leyland Leisure Centre, there was nothing there really. South Ribble Borough Council were looking at closing down the two existing squash courts as there were no juniors playing.
“I was told there was a possibility that the squash courts would be removed to make way for other leisure facilities, and that all squash activity in South Ribble would focus on the one in Penwortham.
“I submitted a statement to South Ribble Borough Council and fortunately the courts were retained.
“There were no glass-back courts so the first thing I did was get some sponsorship, knock down some walls and put some glass walls in.
“We have never looked back.”
Supported by various government initiatives, Gibson said: “Over the years various governments have highlighted the need for our nation to get more active.
“Sports, such as squash and racketball have a major role to play in tackling the long-term strategic issues of active lifestyles and general health of the general population.”
As well as hosting the children at the leisure centre, Gibson also went on the road showcasing the benefits of the sport during school visits all across Lancashire.
The minisquash events are hugely popular and continue to be rolled out across the county to this day.
It has enabled him to talent spot and many youngsters who have taken part in his courses have gone on to play for their county, with Bradley Smith last year representing England Under-21s.
“My aim was to implement a programme for juniors via a structured squash development plan, establish and develop links with local schools and organisations,” Gibson said.
“I wanted to provide a structure that would initially spot talent, and then progressively encourage and help develop that talent.
“Bradley Smith is our biggest name who has come through but there’s also Charlie McCrone, who won the English Under-11s Championship in 2016.
“My priority at Leyland has always been minisquash for primary school children as I believe like with any sport, that is where it all starts and any talent can be picked up early and developed.
“I personally feel we need to have more PE sessions on the curriculum in primary schools in the UK.
“Sport helps children who may not be particularly academic achieve and utilise their talents, which provides an outlet for energy as well as boosting conference and self esteem
“ It keeps children fit and healthy, which as we all know is important especially as many children play little sport during their days at primary school.
“They learn some of the basics of life such as discipline, respect, friendship, which I believe will help them before moving up to high school.”
The day-to-day running of Leyland Lions will be headed by coach Dave Scurlock, who joined in 2010 .
“Over the years many youngsters who have been coached by Dave now play for Lancashire juniors,” said Gibson, who will be carrying on his work with the charity Heartbeat.”