Joanne Williams Honoured With Squash New Zealand Life Membership28 Apr 2023
Since the 1980’s Joanne Williams has had a profound impact on the way squash has been played in New Zealand.
Williams began her squash journey in Christchurch. Her father was the great Les Milne, New Zealand’s first ever junior champion and one of the stalwarts of squash in New Zealand.
“I loved sport and played all sorts of sports growing up. I was never pushed into squash but sort of came to it naturally through Dad,” said Williams.
“He was a wonderful coach, he really encouraged me and was a really big influence on me.”
Williams quickly rose to national status where she wore the fern for New Zealand from 1980-90 with her ranking rising to as high as No. 6 in the world.
“That was a great era with very good coaches including my dad, Dardir El-Bakary and Doug Lawrie.
“There was a culture of great enthusiasm and energy, and I think it was this energy and the high standard of local players including Susan Devoy, Ross Norman and Stuart Davenport and others that made the game so attractive to me.”
She was training partners with Dame Susan and says she benefitted a huge amount from having the World No. 1 on her doorstep.
“Susan was the carrot really, it was huge to have one of the best ever squash players there to constantly train with and strive for. She helped my game a huge amount and we had some good battles, that’s for sure!”
A standout memory from Williams playing career is a three-test series between New Zealand and Australia where she played alongside Devoy and Donna Newton.
“We were playing in Australia and the Aussies were really good at squash at the time. We’d never beaten them in a series before and we lost the first test convincingly but we won the next two to take the series.
“It was a great celebration that night, it was a really amazing achievement for us.”
After retiring Williams stayed away from the squash courts for around eight years, before her daughter dragged her back to the game.
“My teenage daughter started playing squash on a Friday night and so I started going down and yelling advice and before I knew it, I became involved with junior coaching.
“I loved the whole process of the juniors and trying to get the best out of them. Watching them develop was really rewarding and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to help all the individuals, which is interesting with a bunch of teenagers!”
It’s estimated Williams has put thousands of hours into coaching, with her skills developing many top players, including World No. 4 Joelle King, who describes her as "an amazing pillar in our squash community."
“Another highlight would be watching Joelle develop,” said Williams.
“She first had a bit of coaching from me when she was about 12 so it’s been fantastic to watch her success over the years.”
Most of the time that Williams has given over the past twenty odd years have been as a volunteer, demonstrating her commitment and dedication to the sport and its athletes.
Williams was inducted into the Squash Hall of Fame in 2013 and her passion for the sport continues to inspire many young players.
Squash NZ is proud to recognize Williams' significant contribution to the sport with a life membership, a well-deserved honour for an athlete and coach who has made a positive impact on many young athletes lives.