This week Bill Carne was able to congratulate squash player Chris Barker on deservedly winning a Welsh ‘Coach of the Year’ award and enjoyed a chat with an old friend in Chris from many years ago . . .

Chris Barker has been involved in squash for a long time after forced retirement from injury in rugby with Milford Haven and as well as being a very good player in his own right he has also devoted a great deal of time to coaching youngsters - and his efforts were recognised a few weeks ago as he was the deserved recipient of the Squash Wales 'Squash Coach of the Year' award.

And winning this prestigious award was certainly no pushover because after being notified that he was short-listed he was invited to attend the National Centre of Excellence at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

There he had to spend 20 minutes coaching ten young players in front of some of the judges and then had 20 minutes in an interview session.

“To say it was a bit nerve-wracking was something of an understatement,” admitted Chris, “but I must have done OK because within days I was invited by Mike Workman, the director of Squash Wales, to attend their annual dinner at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff.

“It was there that I was announced as the winner of the ‘Adult Male Coaches’ award’ and it was a double honour on the night because I was also presented with a framed certificate for being included in the Welsh senior squad for 2017.”

It was fitting reward for Chris’s dedication to the game and his remarkable fitness levels as a 66 year old whose latest venture was to take some aspiring young players for an extra training session at the David Lloyd Centre in Swansea East, the former Glamorgan tennis and squash centre, as a further stimulus for their development.

“It was a great day and just what they need to focus their efforts,” Chris told us.

He is rightly proud of the fact that he has already had over 200 youngsters pass through his hands and loved this summer's 'Sports Taster Day' at The Dome in the grounds of tasker Milward School where squash was one of over 20 different sports showing what is on offer in their area - with Chris utilising the mobile rebound wall net that allowed many youngsters to have a squash racquet in their hands for the first time.

"It was a brilliant afternoon and now I also help Sport Pembrokeshire, who organised that event, working alongside Wyndham Williams in lunchtime sessions at Greenhill School, Tenby, Bush School, Pembroke and Milford Haven Comprehensive School, where we sometimes have upwards of 20 future players turning up.

"In addition, I also have 18 very promising young players at my training sessions at Pembroke Leisure Centre on Mondays, with under 11s there from 3.30 to 4.30pm, plus the over 11s for an hour afterwards - and we have the whole lot together on Wednesdays from 3.30 to 5.30pm.

"We are aware that squash has lost a number of participants over recent years and are trying to redress that balance despite the loss of several courts around the county - and with Peter Crook to the forefront things are beginning to be on an upward trend again."

Chris started out in squash almost four decades ago after he had just recovered from a broken leg sustained against Haverfordwest and readily admits that on his return to action as a pacy winger never felt the same so he needed to look for a new sport.

"I had always been a keen trainer so when Martin Price suggested I try my hand at squash in Neyland Athletic Club I was happy to give it a try - but to be honest I was hopeless, could hardly hit the ball and just ran around like a headless chicken.

"But my fitness levels were good and I gradually felt confident to play in the local league for the Amoco Refinery team, where I worked.

"To say I was pretty average was an understatement," admitted Chris, " but then I went for coaching with Haydn Davies, a top former player, Scottish national coach and Glamorgan Cricket Club wicket-keeper for years that my game really took off as he taught me so much in terms of skills but also other things like tactics and good diet."

Chris has been competing ever since and is currently playing for the Bush Squash Club, Pembroke, in the Pembrokeshire League alongside the likes of Peter Davies, Mike Shaw and Kim Davies against ten other clubs from our area.

He also competes for The Meads, Milford Haven team which travels 'up the line' in the South Wales League, Division One (West) and enjoys the company of Gareth Warlow, Mike Carew, Martin Rudd and Kieran John, who is a very talented teenager.

One of the highlights of Chris's long involvement came about four years as he was selected to represent Wales over 60s in the Home Internationals in Northern Scotland, where he played as part of a five-man Welsh squad that competed against the host country, England and Ireland.

“There were some memorable moments which I will always treasure,” admitted Chris.

WSRB Development Officer Pete Crook Committed “I have always found Chris willing to give up his own time to help promote our sport at club, schools and community sports days where we showcase squash and without the likes of Chris I would certainly find it difficult to fulfil some of these commitments with 200+ children partaking.

“Chris has certainly shown all who have the pleasure of working alongside him he is a valuable asset to his club and a fantastic ambassador for both club and more importantly our sport.

The parents of and children Chris coaches speak highly of him he is a fantastic mentor and role model to all those who are lucky enough to have him as their coach. This award is well deserved”

We could pay  Chris Barker no higher tribute but would like to join Peter in congratulating him on his award, which shows that his tremendous commitment to coaching is appreciated by all who come into his sphere of influence!