Ahmad Excelling on the Squash Court
A sport that’s unfamiliar to many has become both a lifestyle and a successful endeavor for Guilford resident Rayan Ahmad. Rayan, a 10-year-old who’s in 5th grade at Baldwin Middle School, has been playing squash for several years now. While he was inexperienced and knew little about sport when he started, Rayan has gone on to see tremendous success with his racquet by becoming the 6th-ranked squash player for his age range in the national rankings.
Rayan recently participated in his final squash competition for the 11-U boys’ division when he competed in the 2022 Frank Millet Junior Championships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Allston, Massachusetts. As he was preparing for the tournament, Rayan felt excited for the chance to further solidify himself as one of the nation’s best in his last match at the 11-U level.
“I really want to end on a bang. I’ve come a long way since the beginning, and this is just my last tournament,” says Rayan. “My ranking is pretty good, so it’s kind of hard to move up. I just want to have fun.”
Squash is a racquet sport that can be played with either two or four players at a time. The objective is to hit a small, rubber ball against a wall, within bounds, for longer than your opponent to gain points. Scoring is done through a point-per-rally system and most often totals to 11 or 15.
Competitive squash is broken down into different divisions and levels. Rayan recently concluded his time playing in the 11-U boys’ division. In terms of ranking, players need to perform well in order to rank themselves higher through the Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Junior Championship Tour (JCT) levels. Rayan currently plays at the JCT level. In order to gain points and boost your ranking, players must continually place high in various tournaments held throughout the country.
Rayan started playing squash at age 7 thanks to some motivation from his father Tariq. Rayan found enjoyment in the sport early on and, once he got more serious about it, he began working harder to improve.
“I wasn’t necessarily the most athletic. I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest. That held me back a little bit,” Rayan says of his early days in the sport. “My coaches didn’t think I would be able to go this far and compete in this high of a level. When I started getting more serious, I did conditioning with them. It was brutal.”
Nick Wilkinson coached Rayan during the past two summers. As someone who’s played squash in college, Wilkinson can relate to Rayan due to their mutual passion for the sport. Wilkinson says that Rayan displays maturity on the squash court while displaying ability in the game that goes beyond his years.
“He’s a really passionate kid. He’s very curious and always wants to know how he can improve and what more he can do,” says Wilkinson. “He’s always trying to figure how he can learn something new and improve his game. He just loves the game and tries to play as much as possible.”
Rayan has a surplus of fond memories and inspirational stories from his experiences in tournament play. Some of his most memorable moments have come from posting upsets in tournaments at the Gold and JCT levels. At a JCT tournament, Rayan pulled off an upset in a late-round match to improve his tournament finish to 7th place—two spots higher than he was projected to finish. In one of his first Gold tournaments, Rayan earned a win versus Ryan Lingashi, who is currently the nation’s 9th-ranked player in Rayan’s division.
Rayan’s motivation to work his way up the ranks stems from his own determination. Rayan experienced his fair share of difficult matches at the beginning of his career. However, Rayan learned many lessons from any tough outcomes and has become a more confident player as a result.
“You lose more than you win, and that’s hard. If you play enough, it teaches you,” Rayan says. “Losing motivates you to win. Next time you play that person, you want to win.”
Rayan’s main goal outside of dominating his opponents is to grow the popularity of squash. Most of Rayan’s friends don’t even know that squash is a sport, but he’s hoping that his accomplishments will help get the word out and encourage others to give it a try.
Rayan has formed friendships with players from all around the country throughout his squash career. One of Rayan’s favorite things to do at any tournament is hop on a court during a match’s 90-second water break to get in some reps before his match begins. Rayan and his friends call it a “court riding.” The moments that Rayan gets to spend with fellow squash players who’ve become his friends are a big reason why he enjoys going to tournaments and competing so frequently.
“It’s really exciting because, when you go to squash tournaments, you have this circle of friends from all around the country. You go to tournaments and the kids that are at your level, you’re all friends with them, and sometimes you have to play them,” says Rayan. “Seeing my friends at tournaments is a big reason why I enjoy the tournaments a lot. They’re all really nice.”
Rayan’s favorite aspect of playing squash is the quick-thinking approach that comes into play. In a fast-paced game like squash, players have to methodically think out their swings, ball placement, and body placement. Rayan loves strategizing and finding creative and innovative ways to bring his squash game to the next level.
Rayan’s father often tells him about the important life skills that can be learned from playing squash. While grasping the intricacies of the sport, Rayan has also learned a great deal about things like communication, maturity, and determination.
The most encouraging signs that come from Rayan’s squash competitions are when he sees his progress in the sport. Rayan wants all of his hard work and training to pay dividends when he’s competing at tournaments. Rayan has come a long way from where he started, and now he’s making his family, his town, and himself proud by excelling in a sport that he loves.
“I’m really happy. I’ve worked a long time, and I think it’s just paying off,” Rayan says. “Going to tournaments and seeing how my training is [the most rewarding part of playing]. I’ve always enjoyed squash. It’s just really fun to play.”