THIS YEAR’S Wild Card Challenge in the St. James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic features two extremely talented English players, Tom Ford and Joe Lee, who have returned to action after extended absences caused by injuries.

Here, Tom reveals the physical and mental challenges that he had to deal with as he came to terms with chronic fatigue and injuries.


Interview by ALAN THATCHER

1: Tom, it’s good to see you back in action and playing well after your break from the game. Please tell us about the issues that forced you to step back from the PSA World Tour.

Thanks Alan. I guess there are many reasons why I took a break from the game, but the thing that really forced me to stop is Chronic Fatigue, which I am still recovering from.

2: What kind of process did you go through, physically and mentally, as you were forced to assess your future?

Many! But I guess ultimately it was the process of trying to get to the root causes of what lead me to burning out and addressing them. These were physical, mental and emotional.

3: Were there any setbacks? And, if there were, how did you overcome them?

Of course. And there still are, as I continue to build myself back to full health. I have overcome them by learning to ask for help and get support where needed.

4: What kind of help and support did you receive?

Seeing an osteopath and acupuncturist regularly helped and still helps tremendously with my energy levels. Seeing a Sports + Clinical Psychologist helped me to piece together the psychological work I had done by myself. And my parents + close friends for their love and understanding throughout, particularly when I felt I wasn’t making any progress.

5: How did you keep busy during that time?

Well being busy wasn’t really the protocol for recovery in my case. However, it did offer space for me to explore areas of my life that I was concerned I might miss out on had I just continued playing PSA full time. I briefly went to University, started a podcast, volunteered, and began coaching too.

6: I’ve seen some articles by you dealing with mental health issues and the mental side of the game. Please tell us more.

For a long time now I’ve been interested in how our psychology impacts our life and craft. I guess I had always looked at that from more of a performance perspective, but going through this has brought me closer to my own mental health as a raw, imperfect human. This is such a vitally important thing to be aware of within ourselves and the more we can normalize these conversations the better.

7: Players very rarely discuss the stress of competing on the PSA Tour, especially those difficult early years when you are battling for ranking points with very little revenue coming in to cover all your costs. It all adds to the pressure to perform and deliver results.

I was fortunate from that perspective to be getting funding from England Squash when I joined PSA the first time, but I can definitely empathize with this more now as I’m not funded. A big part of my decision making regarding a tournament will depend on how financially viable it is.

8: How much do you enjoy coaching and working with different players?

I really enjoy coaching. As a player I find I can get quite insular and so focused on my own process, that I find it really healthy and rewarding to get out of my own head and help someone to make improvements in their own game / life.

9: I think one of the last times I saw you play, you beat Joel Makin in the final of the Kent Open in 2016. I remember osteopath Nick Griffith helping your back on a daily basis to keep you mobile.

Yes, that was a very memorable tournament for me. Not only for the players that I beat to win the tournament, but also the fact that I had a very painful bruised rib where I was really struggling to hit the ball in the first round. Fortunately, I got treatment from Nick after every match and it was pretty much better by the end. We still keep in touch!

10: You must be impressed by the work Joel has put in to climb up the rankings since then.

It’s very impressive to see what Joel has achieved in the years since we last played. Clearly our paths went in very different directions, but to see where he is and what he’s doing provides a lot of inspiration for what may be possible for me.

11: The last time you were on the glass court at Canary Wharf you played Peter Nicol in an exhibition match. What do you think of the quality of the draw this year? Who do you fancy for the title?

I mean you’ve got 13 of the top 16 players in the world, including all of the top 4! That is a dream for any organizer. I think everyone is so close now, it’s down to who is as close to their best on the day.