Save me from the nothing I’ve become
Now that I know what I’m without
You can’t just leave me
Breathe into me and make me real
Bring me to life
– Evanescence, Bring Me To Life
We gotta walk and talk and fight
Not once, not twice, but ten times more
– Dropkick Murphys, Ten Times More
This was asked recently on Facebook:
What are some things that we can do, as avid racquetball players, to grow the sport in our local areas?
As with many statements, there are a lot of things to unpack in this question. We’ll tackle the answers from a few different perspectives.
Immediate Local Impact
Local Player, A level or below, recreational
The biggest group of players in the game, are the recreational (non-tournament) players. Over 90% by some anecdotal accounts brought up here previously. There are two areas where this group can make the most impact.
1) At the local facility level.
a) Start a challenge court time. Play as many different players as you can arrange to break up the clique mentality that makes the game lose 4 doubles players when one gets injured or moves away for work. When players always have a contact or three that can join their regular scheduled games, they can keep those games going on longer.
b) Join a league (or ask the facility to start a league to bring in extra money and then join it when they do).
c) Run a league. You don’t have to have a lot of skill on the court to do this, just be comfortable talking to existing gym goers and players about the benefits of playing in the league (short term = new opponents, long term = more money traceable to racquetball so that the facility keeps the courts).
d) Make a reservation. The accountants that counsel corporations that own fitness facilities need data on which to base their recommendation to keep or drop courts. Empty court reservations are indictments against the game. Make a reservation and play!
e) Get the correct membership. If your facility has different memberships for racquetball court reservations and usage, be sure that this is the one that you have and that you aren’t simply getting by on a lower tier membership. (Again, think about the accountants that aren’t in the facility.)
f) If the facility is open to having a members-only tournament, run a shootout, then a series of shootouts. Keep them quick, inexpensive for the players and money-makers for the facility without requiring the facility to spend extra money on prep or cleanup.
2) At the player level, there are easy target groups and more challenging groups.
a) Previous players are the easiest targets.
*) Invite all of the players you lost to pickleball/2020 to rejoin. This should be a personal call, or an in-person discussion if at all possible. Remind your opponents of the joys of the game, the exercise, the competition, the growth opportunities, etc.
**) If you played while in college, reach out to those college players that you knew, that may not have played since then, and invite them to come back to the game. This can start out with something as simple as a question in an alumni discussion group. Kindling for a fire just takes a spark!
—-I’ll advocate here to using Facebook to broadcast your own matches. Lots of your Facebook ‘friends’ may not be aware that you are playing racquetball or that you have played in the past. Exposure is key! I have written a few articles about how to be most successful with these types of videos, here: https://broadcastracquetball.com/diy
b) New players.
*) Coworkers that used to play tennis, or squash, or badminton, or ones that you meet playing pickleball when you need a change of pace. I don’t advocate the extreme proselytization characteristic of Crossfit or Veganism, but a healthy discussion with someone with a similar racquet sports background can lead the way to an invitation and a new opponent.
**) Others of your acquaintance that are looking for athletic pursuits that haven’t specifically played racquet sports competitively. These will potentially be a bit more challenging to get onto a court, particularly if they know someone that has gotten hit or if they have a fear of getting hit.
Tournament Player, A level or above
The options to grow the sport for the non-tournament player apply to the tournament and open level player as well, but enjoying the game with those new players may be more of a challenge. When you reach this point, it is time to consider something a bit more.
1) Join the USAR Instructors Program. Once you have completed the training provided, reach out to local facilities and colleges about providing classes and personal instruction. This doesn’t need to be a full-time task, a few hours once or twice a week can make a huge difference in whether or not players stick with the game. Make an effort to be part of your local college’s continuing education program, as discussed here: https://jt-rb.com/make-an-impact-for-racquetball-this-fall/.
3) If you are part of a group of like-minded players, you could even look into duplicating the high school racquetball programs that have been successful at Vetta Sports in St. Louis or the Oregon high school program. I don’t think this would be successful if pursued by a single individual, you need a group to make this really work immediately and long-term.
4) If you have a military background and still work or workout with the active military, consider doing all you can to provide exposure to the troops. There are a huge number of military courts and the long-term opportunity to influence the future of the game is definitely here!
More General / State Level Impact
1) Get involved in running and promoting tournaments. This can be with anything from check-in desk help to assigning courts to finding sponsors. The more players that are motivated and involved, the better the experience for the attendees. The better time the attendees have, the more likely they are to continue playing recreationally and in other tournaments. This is one of the better ways to invest limited time.
2) Join a city/state/regional board. Most US states have a non-profit board that helps run events and assist with local training, recruiting, communicating, etc. The effectiveness of these boards varies widely as well. If you have the skill to help and a little more time to invest than just at tournaments, this can be a good fit.
3) Join a national board. The USAR Racquetball Committees are always in need of motivated individuals to take action in their specific area of focus, like collegiate racquetball, high school racquetball, junior racquetball, membership, national events, referee certification, rules, scholarships, national teams, outdoor racquetball, and women’s racquetball. Start here, then go on to become a board member if you feel led to do so.
There are a number of ways for a player to financially support the game.
1) Join a league.
2) Play in a shootout or sanctioned tournament.
3) Join the national association, USA Racquetball.
3) Become a certified referee.
4) Become a certified instructor.
There are more ways to donate money and equipment to the sport than I could list, but here are a few:
1) Sponsor a meal at a tournament, or the drinks, or the snacks, or the event t-shirt.
2) Sponsor the prize money for a tournament or pay the facility fee if the event is run by someone other than the owner of the facility.
3) Sponsor a junior division at a tournament, or the first division of all junior players at an event if they also enter the junior division.
4) Donate your racquets / goggles / bags in good condition from prior model years to a juniors class.
5) Donate directly to your state organization if they have an annual scholarship, or to the national organization specifically to cover the scholarships they give out.
6) Donate to cover the travel expenses of the adult or junior national teams to an international event.
And then more!
So, I have undoubtedly missed a dozen simple actions that people can take to maintain and grow the sport of racquetball in their local area. Let me know about those things on Facebook or Reddit in the discussion threads linked there or via email.