Thirty years might seem like a lifetime doing the same thing, but not for Liz Mackenzie, who’s been passionate about squash since she began coaching.
Mackenzie certainly has no plans to call it quits in the future and reckons that helping youngsters to master life skills while hitting and chasing after squash balls is one of the most rewarding jobs around.
Mackenzie’s passion was justly rewarded at this year’s annual Squash South Africa awards function, where she was the first recipient of the Biddy Castle award for coach of the year.
‘This is a huge honour. What makes it more special is that it was Biddy Castle who got me interested in taking up coaching. I attended one of her courses while I was at Pretoria Girls High School,’ Mackenzie commented.
Mackenzie used to be a pretty good player in her days. In 1981, she was ranked as the top female player at Tuks and later tried competing internationally, but due to the political situation at the time, it was near impossible.
Her playing days effectively ended after she was involved in a head-on collision with a tractor just outside Tzaneen, Limpopo that left her with severe neck injuries.
Yet, Mackenzie could not walk away from squash. It was then she started coaching, a decision she’s never regretted.
When asked what she considers as the highlights of her coaching career, Mackenzie jokingly refers to herself as a ‘trailblazer’ due to the role she played in creating an international awareness for squash.
‘In 1984, I coached at a kibbutz in Israel. There was no official squash court, so one of the barns was converted to be a court. I couldn’t speak Hebrew. I only knew two words, one of which was shalom. To complicate matters, the Israelis did not understand English. However, the language barrier was not going to stop us. I demonstrated what they needed to know. When they mastered something, I praised them using the only other Hebrew word I knew which was “good”. The better they got, the more repetitive my use of the word “good” became.’
‘I also coached in Minnesota, USA. At the time, the Americans just started to have an interest in squash. The problem was not having any proper squash courts, so I coached on racquetball courts,’ said Mackenzie.
Mackenzie’s highlight was coaching Tuks’ first Protea player, Wian Lourens in 2008. Since then, eight Tuks players have gone on to represent South Africa. She is also quite proud that there currently more than 100 Tuks players who were ranked among the top 10 in South Africa.
Mackenzie admits that there’s a thrill when one of her players wins a major tournament, but for her, it’s never just going to be about beating your opponent on the court. ‘As a coach, you get to change people’s lives, and that is the real reward about my job.’
She prefers not to answer the question of how long she intends to keep on coaching. ‘There are so many milestones I still want to achieve. I truly don’t know when I’m going to stop coaching. Every time a new youngster steps on to the court for the first time, I see their sense of expectation and get motivated all over again,’ commented Mackenzie.
Photo: Mackenzie in coaching action, by Reg Caldecott