Building the Best: Athlete Development at the Specter Center

[Above: The 2018 US Squash Academy]

By Richard Weber

The Arlen Specter US Squash Center, scheduled to open in Philadelphia in fall of 2020, will welcome into the squash community players who otherwise would not have access to the sport. The programs run at the Specter Center will serve the four core elements of US Squash’s mission—access, community, excellence and sportsmanship.

In pursuit of achieving competitive excellence at the highest levels, the Specter Center will serve as the central platform for all of US Squash’s high performance and athlete development programs. Players on the continuum from promising junior talents to touring professionals will leverage the Specter Center’s best-in-class coaching, technology and training facilities to reach their athletic potential.

The facility will utilize existing US Squash and worldwide player development programs as well as successful high-performance models in other sports. Current programs that provide the connective tissue for U.S. athlete development, including regional and national junior squad training, the US Squash Academy and the Elite Athlete Program (EAP), will be enhanced by operating out of the Specter Center. The Specter Center will act as an incubator for Team USA to achieve its vision of “Always on the Podium” by bringing the best the U.S. has to offer under one roof, united with the tools and services that players need to succeed.

Key to this effort is the Specter Center’s Coaching Excellence Center, a dedicated space within the 70,000+ square foot facility that will provide collaboration between athletes and coaches as well as cutting-edge sports training technology. Named for Ganek Family US Squash Head National Coach Paul Assaiante, the Coaching & Excellence Center will provide coaches with extraordinary tools to help aspiring athletes.

“The Coaching Excellence Center will be designed in consultation with our exceptional team of coaches and athletes to be sure it meets any needs they can envision,” Assaiante said. “The center will provide a setting where national team players can build lasting relationships with both coaches and fellow athletes and become the best they can be.”

Ganek Family US Squash Head National Coach Paul Assaiante (center)

The Specter Center’s multi-functional space and integrated technology will create the environment necessary for Team USA to be world-beaters. Advanced training tools such as 4-D screens, real-time video review and movement capture technology will help players and coaches analyze technique, movement and efficiency, and evaluate tactics. Consistent fitness testing and tracking will allow the athletes to monitor progress over time and build personalized action plans for improvement.

“The Arlen Specter US Squash Center will allow our national coaches to work closely with our developing juniors while giving a competitive edge to our national team players,” said Ned Edwards, executive director of the Specter Center. “It will be a true national center where we will be training athletes to be the best squash players in the world.”

The Coaching Excellence Center will also have a role in coaching development, creating a pipeline of well-trained teaching professionals to meet the expanding needs of the squash community. It will leverage the deep talent and experience of coaches from across the country and around the world with coach-in-residency programs.

The task of coordinating the efforts of the players and national coaching staff will fall to Rich Wade, US Squash senior director of national teams. He views the Specter Center as being uniquely positioned to take the already ascendant Team USA squash programs to the next level. “Our Team USA athletes and coaches have shown great levels of dedication putting in the work necessary to stand on the podium with the likes of perennial champions Egypt and England,” Wade said. “The Specter Center will accelerate this progress by giving our national team players and coaches a home to work together under optimal conditions.”

Todd Harrity

The program Wade envisions is comprised of many factors, most important of which is the creation of an environment where athletes can have consistent access to the best coaches, state-of-the-art sport science, and the resources necessary to sustain training programs. The goal for the Specter Center is to eliminate, wherever possible, the barriers that prevent athletes from waking up each day simply focused on how to improve and excel.

For the past three years, the US Squash Academy has consisted of a two-week summer program with the objective of bringing together Team USA’s best junior, college and professional athletes. The synergies created by this concept will be expanded year-round at the Specter Center. Beyond hosting an expanded US Squash Academy, the facility will play host to national team training for juniors at all age levels, creating an aspirational climate as they work alongside some of the world’s best. College-age athletes will be able to use the resources of the center to further their skills in the off-season as they work toward prospective careers on the PSA World Tour. Athletes not in residence in Philadelphia will come to the center for shorter periods of specialized training, similar to models used by purpose-built national centers in other sports and U.S. Olympic Committee training sites.

By bringing US Squash elite development programs under one roof, the Specter Center will nurture the culture of respect and camaraderie that US Squash diligently cultivates in Team USA. It will build on the success of athletes taking pride in competing for something bigger than themselves when representing the U.S. in recently successful programs such as regional and national squads, the British Junior Open Team USA trip and the Battle of the Border. The Specter Center will be a source of positivity that transmits to each coach and player who walks through the doors.

One player who epitomizes this passion is four-time National Singles champion Amanda Sobhy. “I see the Specter Center as helping to transition our Elite Athlete Program from simply funding athletes to aiding their development every step of the way,” Sobhy said. “My ultimate goal is to become world champion, and I believe that the deep level of support provided by the Specter Center will help me achieve my goal.”

Amanda Sobhy

Equally excited about what the Specter Center will mean to the future of squash in this country is U.S. men’s No. 1 Todd Harrity. A native of Philadelphia, Harrity sees the center as helping players navigate the transition from college to the professional ranks. “Moving from college to the pros is challenging,” Harrity said. “In college, everything is prescribed and carefully planned for the athlete. When you move on after graduation, you must manage much more of your career on your own. I see the Specter Center as uniquely positioned to provide a teaching environment along with just enough structure to help with this change from one level to the next.”

Key to Specter Center’s success will be the work done in collaboration with Drexel University’s state-of-the-art Division I facilities and visionary approach to high performance programming. Drexel’s athletic department is a leading innovator in training methods and sports science, and its knowledge base will enhance performance-focused programs, including strength and conditioning, sports medicine, sport psychology and nutrition.

“Our partnership with US Squash and the Specter Center underscores Drexel University’s ongoing commitment to the sport of squash and the Philadelphia community,” said Eric Zillmer, Drexel athletic director. “This facility will bring some of the world’s best athletes to our campus, and we look forward to it.”

US Squash’s mission is to lead the sport’s growth and development by increasing access and awareness, supporting meaningful lifelong engagement and encouraging sportsmanship while achieving competitive excellence at the highest levels. The Specter Center will animate US Squash’s efforts against this mission, and its athlete development programs and the Coaching Excellence Center will help Team USA reach its full potential.

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