Datuk Nicol David


Trust In The Process

Former World No. 1 squash player Datuk Nicol David talks to Reader’s Digest about success, retirement, legends and her proudest achievements

When the world’s elite athletes float up the River Seine on barges during the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympic Games on Friday 26 July, Datuk Nicol David will be cheering them along from the sidelines. For the former World No. 1 squash player, Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Sports Personality, and one of Malaysia’s most successful professional athletes, it will be the first time she has attended the Olympics.

As the Malaysian Olympics national contingent deputy Chef de Mission (CDM), Nicol will be in Paris to perform a very important role for her nation: along with FAM president Datuk Hamidin Amin and badminton and hockey players Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Mirnawan Nawawi, she will be supporting the Malaysian Olympic team athletes – something the four sporting legends have been doing for over a year now as they prepare for the biggest sporting event of the year. And with the bucket load of high-pressure experience that Nicol accumulated during the nine years she reigned as the best female squash player in the world, Malaysia’s Olympic athletes will be in good hands.

“I’m honoured to be involved in the Malaysian delegation going to the Olympic Games,” Nicol David tells Reader’s Digest.

“Right now, we are giving our all in supporting the athletes, giving them positive energy and the encouragement they need to keep them in the right frame of mind when they get to the Games,” says Nicol. But giving support to Malaysia’s elite athletes is just one of the many roles the 40 year old is playing in her hectic life since retiring from squash.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 05: Nicol David (right) of Malaysia competes with Colette Sultana of Malta during the Squash Preliminary round on day one of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Oxenford Studios on April 5, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

In June 2022, Nicol, along with former Colombian squash player Mariana de Reyes, launched the Nicol David Foundation with the mission to help children from low- and middle-income families get a better start in life. Today, the Foundation offers the Little Legends after-school programme, which is open to eight-year-old children and runs for five years. Comprising squash coaching and English tuition two days a week, the goal of the programme is not so much to turn out star athletes, but to empower the youngsters by learning the values that sport has to offer.

When Nicol decided that she had reached her full potential as a world-class squash player, she gave herself two years to go through the emotional process of letting go before retiring from squash at the end of the 2018/2019 Professional Squash Association season. During those final years of playing squash professionally, the feeling of not knowing what to do next caused her a lot of anxiety. However, the idea for a sporting foundation was brewing, and after she retired she started the ground work on what would become the Nicol David Foundation.

Fortunately, Nicol has always been able to trust the people around her. “Having good people – family, friends, my coach – around me gave me the positive reinforcement I needed that I could do other things beside play squash, and that support helped me begin my new journey in life,” says Nicol.

After serious thought, and reflecting on the support and opportunities she herself had enjoyed throughout her childhood, Nicol realised life after squash would be best spent motivating others, in particular, youngsters.

“I wanted to give back to the younger generation – teach them what I’d learnt through my sporting career. I know exactly what worked for me when I was growing up.

“When I was five years old, I was given the greatest opportunity – to play a sport.” Being introduced to squash back then by her father, Desmond, changed Nicol’s life. Growing up playing the sport gave her intimate knowledge of the importance of hard work, dedication and humility. “This is why I believe with all my heart, that providing opportunities to children will change their future, like [it did] mine.

“Sport taught me to be resilient. Anything I take on now I know I can get through because I’ve done it before. I trained hard, I worked hard, and I found ways to get though challenges. I now have the capacity to break through any barriers. I think that’s what sport gives a person.” And it’s this life lesson Nicol is passionate about passing on to others.

Growing up in a loving family that encouraged sport gave Nicol the environment where she felt safe, could have fun, and enjoy time with friends as she trained and competed. This is the kind of environment Nicol is trying to emulate with the Foundation, as well as using sport to give the kids positive reinforcement.

“The values that they’ll learn from sport will translate in so many ways,” she explains. Also offering English tuition in the curriculum will help the kids to pursue dreams of going to university with good English proficiency.

The Foundation takes 50 to 60 eight-year-old children each year from four public schools located near the foundation in Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil district. The foundation has two classrooms and three squash courts, and there are no criteria to join the Little Legends programme – no tests are involved and they don’t need to be athletically fast or a certain body type. The aim of the programme is not to build star athletes but to give children from B40 and M40 families life skills, such as discipline, confidence, resilience, and an understanding of teamwork.

With corporate and government funding subsidising the programme, parents pay a small monthly commitment fee on a sliding scale, which depends on the household income. Currently the Foundation is in its second year with 112 children enrolled, and in the middle of the year will welcome its third cohort of students to the Little Legends programme.

So far, the outcome has been positive for both parents and children alike if the results of a recent survey are anything to go by.

According to parents, around 90 per cent of the children are happier and moreconfident now than before they started Little Legends.

Nicol can also see the difference the programme has made. They are now more assertive and know some English. “Some of them didn’t speak English at all in the beginning, and now they understand and will speak back in English. It’s very fulfilling knowing that they’ve come this far in just a year and a half. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they will have mastered at the end of the programme.”

The retention rate has also been fantastic, with the only children to drop out being those who moved away from the area. “When you keep them engaged, you keep them interested and they just want more,” says Nicol. “These kids feel love and support from the teachers and coaches [Nicol being one], and the kids want to come every day. They want to be there with their friends and play squash.”

Nicol hopes that in giving back to the next generation they can attain their dreams and go on to inspire others in their community.

Another dream of Nicol’s has been to see squash being played at the Olympic Games. This wish will be realised soon – not in Paris but at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. To say she’s excited is an understatement. “It’s amazing – the squash world is going crazy about going to the Olympics for the first time. And I’m excited for our sport to be showcased at the Olympic Games.”

Nicol may have been the world’s No.1 female squash player for nine consecutive years (2006-2015), but her parents think her greatest achievement is being awarded Malaysia’s Most Trusted Sports Personality of the year in the Reader’s Diges

“I’m honoured with this award – it’s not every day you get known as a trusted brand. My mum and dad think it’s one of my highest achievements. When you are genuine, that’s when people can trust you. They are proudest of me for this award.”