Universiti Malaya – Wales

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Delving deeper into the mind of the most successful female squash player of all time.

Datuk Nicol Ann David’s remarkable achievements and contributions to the global squash arena have been an inspiration to people across the globe. In 2019, the queen of squash announced her retirement to the world, which can’t have been an easy decision. Rarely do we see such domination in a sport – and never have we seen it before in the game of squash.  We wanted to dig into the mind of this global champion to discover what kept her motivated through her 9 years as world number one, and what would keep her motivated, post retirement after such an illustrious career as an athlete.

Nicole started playing at the tender age of five, introduced to the sport by her father, himself a former state athlete and footballer. She would play with her older sisters, hoping to one day become as good as they were. Once she started surpassing them, she knew she could do more for herself. 

“When I saw I had potential and room to keep reinventing myself, I just kept on going to see how I could reach my full potential.”

I just got hooked on the sport from a young age, and got better and better at it. The moment I became World Junior Champion at 15, I knew I wanted to play professionally and become the world’s best. I’m very driven by competition and want to keep winning, so when I saw I had potential and room to keep reinventing myself, I just kept on going to see how I could reach my full potential.”

From then on she never looked back, and gave her all to the game. Nicole trains twice a day, 6 days a week. Nicole tells us it’s not easy and of course there are days she doesn’t feel like training – but you don’t become a world champion by making excuses. Beginning in August 2006, David was the world’s number one for a record-breaking 108 consecutive months. Nicole puts her unprecedented spell of domination down to her discipline. 

“Training can be so intense, so sometimes it takes a toll mentally and physically. But I don’t use that as an excuse as I know that any day I skip my training session, I reduce the chances of staying on track to achieving my planned goals to make it. Then all the training would have been wasted. So I prefer to stick to it and follow the plan set in my training programmes.”

“I had the discipline to continuously work harder and harder to keep up the dominance. Nothing is going to happen without hard work.” When asked whether she ever has any nagging doubts or low self-esteem, Nicole shares; “I never give in to any doubts that might have the power to take over me. I work hard to turn negative moments into positive ones. It’s about making a point to give ourselves positive reinforcements and the acknowledgement of what we’re doing well, to raise our self-esteem to build ourselves.”

It’s tough to take at first but the best learning experiences I’ve had come from my failures.

The 36 year old eight time world champion has also won five British Open titles, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, five Asian Games gold medals and three World Games gold medals.  Looking back over her 20 year career, unsurprisingly for an athlete as decorated as she is, she says she has no regrets. With so much success, inevitably a champion will at some point encounter failure. On getting through the dark times, Nicole added; “Failure is part of growing and learning. If we don’t figure out what happened when we fail, then we continue to repeat it, without learning from our mistakes. It’s tough to take at first but the best learning experiences I’ve had come from my failures. I find solutions to overcome the problems, so I won’t repeat the same mistake next time.”

After such a glittering career, David hopes to be able to give back to the sport that has given her so much. 

“I would like to think that I have gained many experiences that have taught me so much about life. Through giving motivational talks, I hope it can benefit someone to take away some key things that resonate with them. Any part that helps a person to grow and build their own steps for themselves, is a bonus.

“I would also like to give back to the sport in Malaysia by perhaps working with the Ministry of Sports, and also setting up my foundation to empower girls through sport and help instill the values that sport has to offer.”

So what advice does the record breaking woman who was world number one for 108 consecutive months, give to IUMW students about to step out into the world and embark on their careers? “Always give yourself a chance and try. Who knows what may come your way by opening your mind to opportunities. The possibilities are endless as long as you work hard for it and make things happen for yourself.”

Sound advice from someone who definitely has the proven expertise to know exactly what it takes to succeed.