06 December 2023

SportsAid's One-to-Watch Award shortlist: Jonah Bryant

World-leading squash talent Jonah Bryant is a long way from his hometown following a recent move to Solihull but insists the journey will all be worth it for his professional career. The 18-year-old from Shoreham-by-Sea claimed an European U19 individual and team title in April, which marked the beginning of a breakthrough year, competing on the professional squash circuit.

Jonah Bryant

It is an exciting period for the sport following the announcement of its proposed inclusion at the LA 2028 Olympic Games and Jonah is spurred on by being shortlisted in the top 10 for SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award. The annual Award, launched in 2006, recognises Britain’s brightest young sporting prospects and has previously been won by Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold.

The top 10 athletes have been selected from around 1,000 rising stars, supported by SportsAid, across more than 60 different sports in 2023.

“The support from SportsAid has helped a lot over the past year so I’m happy to be selected to potentially get that award,” he said. 

“I finished college at 18 and I've just moved up to Solihull so I can train with my coaches who are based here so I've not really got anything to fall back on. 

“It's a bit of a gamble trying to turn professional at 18 but, at the same time, I knew that I wouldn't be able to study and play squash full-time. 

“I put all my eggs in one basket, but I've just got to work hard. 

“I’ve loved every minute of it so far, so I’ve just got to keep going with it.” 

Jonah, who received his SportsAid support from the Backing The Best programme this year, is following in the footsteps of his father who devoted a lot of his younger life to squash but never quite had the opportunity to play full-time. 

While the teenager insists it is not the sole motivation, his father’s biggest regret of not taking his career to the next level certainly sits at the back of his mind as he aims to make it in the professional world. 

“My dad used to spend a lot of time playing squash, moving out to Belgium when he was 19 to take up a coaching job.

“He never thought he’d be good enough even though he would’ve liked to have played professional squash and that is one of his biggest regrets. 

“It’s not the main reason at all that I play to this level but it’s something that makes me think, ‘I’ve got to go for it, you only get one shot’. 

“You can do a lot of things later on in life but if you want to be a professional squash player you’ve got from the age of 16 to 35 so those are the years to do it.” 

While he quickly shot up the ranks as a British Junior Open champion at 13, Jonah fell out of love with the sport following some rocky performance years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made him realise how much he missed squash which has culminated in his rise to the top of his junior category, claiming silver in the British Junior Open at U19 level at the beginning this year and entering the Junior World Championships in Melbourne seeded number one. 

“There were definitely periods where I fell out of love with it,” he said. 

“I always enjoyed playing squash, but it was the competing where I had a couple of rocky years where I wasn't enjoying it as much. 

“It’s like a whole process that you’ve just got to get through and try and pick out what you did wrong. 

“The recent British Junior Open was good to remind myself that I'm still one of the top contenders for it, so I think I surprised myself a bit.” 

In October, the IOC made proposals for a record 36 sports to feature at the 2028 Olympic Games in LA, one of those sports being squash. 
Five years may seem a long time to most, but it will be a crucially important period for Jonah, who reckons his skills have the potential to one day book him an Olympic spot. 

“Tactically, I'm very aware on court,” he added. “I can read where the people are tired, nervous, anxious, and normally I'm quite good at capitalising on it. 

“The Olympics itself is obviously amazing and to potentially be able to compete in the Olympics would be great and the impact it would have on the sport as well.” 

SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is powered by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. The winner of this year’s Award will be revealed in December with each of the top 10 receiving cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements.    

Photo Credit – with thanks to England Squash