Meet Bolivian Coach Felipe Mercado

Bolivia is the world’s hotbed of racquetball.  At the recent IRT/LPRT Grand Slam in Cochabamba, hundreds and hundreds of fans showed up for matches, many of whom were not players and bought tickets to watch. It was an incredible event. One of the players/coaches who has been at the forefront of making racquetball the sport it is in Bolivia is Felipe Mercado.  We asked Felipe to share a little information about himself and his incredible passion for racquetball.  In Felipe’s words: 

I was born in Tarija City in 1982, and I started playing racquetball when I was 6 years old. Every night my family met with friends and their families to play at a local club. Being just a little kid, I was only able to play when the adults were resting between games. Even so, I enjoyed trying to hit the ball inside the court or even outside; I sometimes broke flowerpots, glasses, or anything that crossed my shots.  Those were the happiest days of my childhood. I played racquetball and every sport that crossed my path: soccer, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, tennis, and fronton (Bolivian outdoor racquetball).

I started to compete when I was nine. I finished second in the U10 division in nationals before moving to Cochabamba City. When I moved, I continued playing a lot of other sports into my early twenties. However, things changed for me in 2001, when a Pan American Championships was held in Cochabamba. I went and watched the matches and could feel the excitement of the game. I literally watched every match, including many, many great players such as Kane Waselenchuk, Javier Moreno, Rocky Carson, Jack Huczek, Laura Fenton, Cheryl Gudinas, and Rhonda Rajsich. My experience is a great example of how seeing quality racquetball live and in person can change a life.

After that, and thanks to Coach Gonzalo Amaya who ran the team at Univalle College, I started to play again and practiced every day with friends. A few years later,   I qualified for my first National Adult Team. I played doubles with Santiago Canedo in the Racquetball World Championships in Anyang, Korea. I qualified for the national team on a couple more occasions, but I could not represent my country because there was no financial support. I could not afford to pay for tickets and all the expenses involved. Since then, I have represented Bolivia in both 2007 and 2013, and am proud and honored to have earned medals for my country.

Around 2010 I started as a racquetball instructor in a small city called Tiquipaya near Cochabamba. Shortly after, I was hired for two years as an assistant instructor in a private club in Cochabamba, and we eventually formed a Rollout Team with some players, their parents, and Manuel Flores, another coach. Through this program, we developed young players such as Mario Mercado, Cristian Mina, Masiel Rivera, Diego Crespo, Ernesto Ruiz, Micaela Molina, Romina Rivero, Valeria Centellas, and Diego García. Some of these players you may not know (yet), but combined they have won many, many local, national, and international titles.

Felipe with some of the juniors he coaches in Bolivia.

Felipe with some of the juniors he coaches in Bolivia.

I was part of the National Coaching Staff in Bolivia in 2014 and in 2017. I also spent time working as a National Team Coach in Ecuador, and I learned a lot from that experience. Spending time at practice session and coaching the team through tough tournaments taught me a lot. It was an amazing experience to coach great players from Ecuador such as Fernando Rios, Paz Muñoz, Juan Flores, and many others.

Currently, I have the enormous pleasure and responsibility to be part of the National Coaching Staff of Bolivia again. I am working to represent Bolivia in major events such as the Pan Am Games in Lima this summer. I also continue to work with junior students in my Academy in Cochabamba with my fellow coach and assistant Gary Rosas. Together, we instruct and coach almost 60 players ranging from 5 to 16 years old. We receive the help of each player’s parents and families, and we are building a good basis of new players. We are excited about the future of racquetball in Bolivia.

In addition, for the past couple of years I have partnered with Coach Brayan García to instruct and coach Valeria Centellas and Diego García (Brayan’s younger brother). We enjoy our time on and off the court and we make a strong team. Diego is 18 years old and Valeria is 17, and both are current Junior World Champions in their age divisions. Both have recently received the help of the Reaching Your Dream Foundation, which has provided them with proper housing or a room in a hotel to attend recent professional tournaments. That help was very important to us because they do not receive much help from other sources in Bolivia.

Felipe with Coach Brayan García (middle), Valeria Centellas and Diego García (Brayan’s younger brother).

Felipe with Coach Brayan García (middle), Valeria Centellas and Diego García (Brayan’s younger brother).

RYDF Responds to Restrung

A recent article by Restrung Magazine made some poignant statements about the state of professional racquetball. Specifically, it referenced the emergence of talented Central American, South American, and Mexican male athletes who have enormous potential, yet apparently lack the killer instinct to overcome two now veteran players, Rocky Carson and Kane Waselenchuk. It also generalized that some of the current North American players appear entitled and enjoy their status as professionals without having earned major titles or achieved high rankings. In this article, they were described as being in a “bubble of mediocrity”.

For the past several years, RYDF has had a vested interest in all three professional tours (World Racquetball Tour, IRT, and Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour; LPRT). The apparent closure of the WRT is lamentable, as it provided many opportunities for young, mostly Mexican and Latin American players, to play professional racquetball without having to rely on a rather antiquated IRT system that promoted the top 8 players to the detriment of younger players in need of support and development. Happily, it should be stated that the IRT has made significant strides in this area of late, and more prize money lower in the draw has helped those trying to make it as professionals. Perhaps the increasing number of IRT players is due in part to the support of RYDF. We actively supported many WRT players, who have improved to become very competitive on the IRT.

More than four years ago, the Reaching Your Dream Foundation was created with a vision of growing racquetball through the infusion of young, elite male and female racquetball players who were aspiring to make a career from professional racquetball. RYDF’s financial commitment to the WRT, especially early on, helped in some ways to grow and develop a new generation of racquetball players. The LPRT also benefited from an influx of new players, especially from Mexico and countries further south, who struggled with the financial burdens of lengthy trips to the United States. Over the past year in particular it has been exciting to see several players emerge from the WRT to establish themselves on the IRT.

One important note; while it might be assumed that many countries support their professional racquetball players more than the United States (whose players do get a small stipend for attending international events) and Canada (whose top players receive salaries), this is simply not true. Yes, some countries do support some racquetball players, but usually it is only reserved for the very top players and the support is rarely much. Many countries provide no support for their athletes at all beyond covering their costs to attend international events. The notion that players from countries other than the United States and Canada have it far better financially is a misnomer. It is not true barring one or two exceptions.

Perhaps the most critical part of Restrung Magazine’s article was the call-out of USA players. Ramirez stated he was “a little tired of seeing certain US players wallow in mediocre play and self-disappointment that always gives way to ‘whatever’ attitudes”. RYDF supports many players, both within and external to the US, but such statements remind us that it is important our financial support leads to continued improvement of players and the sport. We continue to be committed to supporting talented athletes from any country who have clear intentions to become professionals on and off the court. It is a responsibility to our donors to support those athletes willing to make the effort to improve themselves, and simultaneously recognize if and when athletes do not have this as their primary focus. 

Moving forward, and with the apparent closure of the WRT, RYDF will continue to work closely with the IRT and LPRT to help infuse new hungry, elite men and women players into both tours. In addition, we will continue with our mission of providing educational training that encourages professionalism within the sport and encourages athletes to develop their brand, to build their own careers and succeed financially. While some may consider Ramirez’s article harsh, RYDF sees this as a stark reminder that sports are competitive by nature, and RYDF will focus on support of athletic careers versus athletic lifestyles. 

Fundraiser for RYDF a Huge Success

On Tuesday February 26th, 5-time World Champion Rocky Carson hosted a Pro-Am Fundraiser for the Reaching Your Dream Foundation at the club where he plays and teaches.  Rocky recruited several of the local area pro players (e.g., Luiz Avila, Brandon Davis, Scott Davis, Greg Solis, and Josh Tucker) and club players and was able to raise $10,000 for RYDF!  We’d like to thank Rocky, the pros, and the donors who gave their time and money to support the Reaching Your Dream Foundation.  We’d especially like to thank the owners and management of ClubSport Aliso Viejo. If any of those who read this want to consider doing the same thing for RYDF, please contact Mike Lippitt at 510.504.2494 and we will help you set it up. Thanks!

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A Fitness Forever Update from Prime Time Athletic Club, Burlingame, CA

Having started our program late last spring, it has been almost 10 months since we were first mentored by Dave and John Ellis in the re-start of our Junior Racquetball at Prime Time Athletic Club in Burlingame, California. Ranging in the ages of 6-15, our students meet every Tuesday from 5:30pm - 6:45 pm. We have had moderate growth. We began with 5 junior players, and we now average 11-12 players weekly.
 
Our participants attend regularly, and are showing signs of improving while having fun. Parents are grateful for the ongoing program, and the Club’s managers are pleased to see kids on the courts playing racquetball. We offer our program at no cost to the Club’s paying members, and we rely on volunteer instructors and donations. It feels good to contribute back to the sport that has given us so much, while at the same time know that we are growing the game. Whether these young players eventually become tournament tough, or not, they are learning new physical skills such as coordination, balance, and footwork. They also learn other important life skills such as teamwork, confidence, and social skills. Our program is a “win” all the way around. My special thanks go to John and Dave Ellis and to the Reaching Your Dream Foundation for all your support.
 
Respectfully,
 
Dave George
Coach & Racquetball Director

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Periodization: How to Time Your Weight Training for Racquetball

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Racquetball is a complex sport that involves multifaceted movement patterns and muscular involvement. Analyzing the unique demands of the sport and the needs of the athlete provides strength and conditioning specialists with the requirements needed to optimize performance and prevent injury. Unfortunately, there is almost no research about racquetball and what research we have is extremely dated. So, when trying to program for racquetball, how do you do it?  We recently published an article on this very topic.

Racquetball is characterized by short intermittent bursts of intense multidirectional activity such as changes in direction, twisting, stretching, hitting, and lunging in response to an opponent’s shot. Proficient agility, quickness, and neuromuscular control are essential for optimizing acceleration, explosiveness, and reactiveness. Dynamic balance and the ability to control one’s center of gravity are imperative for quick lateral and angular movements displayed on the court. Such multifaceted movement patterns and muscular involvement necessitate integrative training programs that focus on increasing strength and power while also improving balance and coordination. One of the challenges of the sport is that it requires whole body training and uses both aerobic and anaerobic systems. A racquetball player needs to be explosive but at times must also compete for long periods.

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 As the sport of racquetball continues to evolve and push physiological boundaries, there is a tremendous need for tailored strength and conditioning programs that address its various sport-specific demands. Trying to summarize an entire training program within a couple of pages is not possible, and we recommend reading the entire article when it is officially published (abstract here) or contacting one of us for a copy. However, one area we want to emphasize briefly is the need for periodized strength and conditioning training for the sport. Simply lifting some heavy weights or doing some plyometrics here and there may help, but it is going to work effectively. Conversely, focusing on being able to move for a long time without developing explosiveness will not suffice either.

Customizing programs specifically tailored to each team and athlete takes time and intentionality, and periodization provides the tools necessary to do so. In essence, periodization means the athlete trains and prepares for specific time points within a season so that he or she is at the best possible physical condition when it really matters.

 Since periodization is often contingent upon the competition season of the athlete, manipulating and adjusting critical variables (especially volume and intensity) allows training to elicit specific adaptations (i.e., increased muscle mass, strength, power) at varying time points throughout a season. For example, linear periodization involves a gradual progression of high volume, low intensity to low volume, high intensity throughout a training season. This approach aims to produce peak performance for a specific competition period or planned event. In contrast, programming for sporadic competition/tournament dates, where "peaking" and "maintenance" periods do not fit perfectly within a planned cycle requires a more frequent manipulation of intensity and training volume.

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The means by which training volume and intensity are altered during a periodized program impact the magnitude of neuromuscular adaptation achieved through training. When executed well, periodization optimizes the principle of overload, thereby providing the continuation of progress as well as avoidance of plateaus and/or overtraining. In other words, if periodization is done right, the athlete continues to improve throughout a season and avoids injury and overtraining. However, following such a plan means there will be times when the athlete is not at their best. The key is to perform when it really matters.

How this is accomplished is why we wrote the article in the first place, and again, cannot be explained in a few words. However, we encourage coaches and athletes to begin considering when and how they train and prepare off the court, so their best performances on the court are maximized when it matters most.

Chantel Anthony CSCS

Timothy Baghurst PhD