Parrilla Claims First IRT Title

Andree Parrilla has been a force to be reckoned with for many years. A finalist as a 17-year-old at the 2014 Pan Am Championships, we have seen this young man mature from a successful junior career into a very competitive contender in the senior ranks. And then, just a few short weeks ago, he claimed his first IRT pro stop title in Chicago. We caught up with him briefly to discuss his experience.

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What was it like to win your first IRT stop?

It felt pretty good. I was waiting for that from when I first starting playing the tour. It was really tough, and for many tournaments, I lost in the first or second round without winning any money. So I’m really happy to have won my first IRT title.

Were you nervous?

Yes, I was really nervous when I made the final because I knew what an opportunity it was for me. I knew I might never get another chance. I hope I will have one, but I was really nervous. I knew I was playing Bobby (Horn) and I know him very well.

You finished 3rd in the Mexican Nationals which qualified you to play in the Pan Am Championships. What is it like playing for your country?

It is one of the best things to happen to me, to play for my country. I feel a little more pressure but I like that. It’s a great honor for me.

RYDF helps players, but some might not understand how they help you. Can you explain that a little?

Yeah, when I first started playing the tour, they started helping me financially. They helped to pay for hotels and the things that you have to pay for at a tournament. When they started helping me, it was a great help to me, because I couldn’t afford to go. For example, they have helped with my hotel, which has enabled me to start making a little money.

I think that it’s really important for younger players like me, who are just starting our adult careers, that people who like racquetball do donate. The sport is not very big, and the racquetball family is not really big yet. But we want to grow the sport. We want to grow as players. We want the tours and the IRF (International Racquetball Federation) to grow also. By donating and helping us to go to all the tournaments, it not only helps us but also helps the sport. 

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With that win over another RYDF supported player, David “Bobby” Horn, Parrilla becomes only the fourth Mexican (Beltran, De La Rosa, Landa) to claim an IRT title. Look out for this young and entertaining player as he continues to represent Mexico at international and professional events.

RYDF: Four Years and Counting!

In the fall of 2013, a handful of racquetball enthusiasts from the San Francisco Bay Area created a nonprofit to help grow racquetball by supporting young players who wished to enter and remain in professional racquetball. After quickly being granted a tax-exempt status, RYDF began actively working towards its goals.

RYDF remains firmly grounded in our mission of supporting young athletes from North, Central, and South America. We help provide the resources these promising athletes need to achieve success both on and off the court and to develop successful professional careers and personal lives. RYDF is pleased to highlight our successes over the last four years:

  • RYDF has raised and distributed near $235,000 thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors.
  • RYDF directly supported over 70 young men and 50 young women with their dream of playing at the professional level. Over a dozen RYDF-supported players have played with their national team in international competition.
  • RYDF provided shared housing at over 90 professional tour stops for the IRT, LPRT, and WRT. Housing provides these young athletes the opportunity to cut costs, and it also eases the stress and burden of arranging housing at tournament locations. Our athletes tell us this helps their focus and performance.
  • RYDF allocated 70% of its resources to directly support its players and youth through its three programs:
  1. Fitness Forever (Dream It),
  2. Dream Team (Reach It) and
  3. Athlete to Professional (Live It).

RYDF achieved these goals because of the support of so many of you. Our programs significantly helped young athletes in their striving to achieve success as professional racquetball athletes. Additionally, the 2017 launch of our Fitness Forever program promotes and provides fitness activity to youth with their families, while helping to “Save Our Courts” across the United States.

 Fitness Forever is one of several RYDF initiatives.

Fitness Forever is one of several RYDF initiatives.

Future Plans

As RYDF heads into its fifth year, we are passionately driving these projects:

Dream Team

Currently, the Dream Team includes young men and women who have applied for and been approved as an RYDF-supported player. RYDF athletes receive housing at tour stops and a variety of other support to help them become more professional both on and off the court, including the setting of standards and expectations of our supported players.

Fitness Forever

This innovative program engages families and youth in locations where access to physical fitness and healthy lifestyles are limited by economic conditions. Through the support of fitness club organizations, such as In-Shape in Northern California, who provide families and youth three visits to experience a program that values family and friendship. 

Developed as a joint effort between the Reaching Your Dream Foundation and Dave and John Ellis, it started at the Stockton In-Shape club. Dave and John have expanded the program to nine additional Bay Area clubs. Most importantly, RYDF and the Ellis’ are working to export the model to other interested communities both inside and outside of California through a proposed partnership with USA Racquetball (USAR). 

Besides providing programing that addresses fitness needs of many families in underserved communities, the Fitness Forever program, through its volunteers, are helping to “Save Our Courts”. This program has shown so much success that for 2018, RYDF’s Board of Directors voted to double the funding and plan to prioritize this exciting and beneficial program.

Athlete to Professional

The Dream Team is comprised of young players who lacked the financial resources to attend professional tournaments, where they could get the experience needed to become competitive at the professional level. After four years of RYDF support, along with great dedication and training on their own and with coaches, many of these players have demonstrated incredible success, on and off the court.

RYDF provides players with personal life coaching sessions (thank you Mike Manoske, RYDF board member) and training on the mental and physical aspects of preparation and playing professional racquetball (thank you, Rocky Carson and Tim Baghurst). We provide and entertain articles on these topics as part of our monthly newsletter, delivering on our goal to help these players build a career within and beyond racquetball.

 RYDF supported Mauro Rojas and Hollie Scott both returned from the Junior World Championships with medals.

RYDF supported Mauro Rojas and Hollie Scott both returned from the Junior World Championships with medals.

Learning and Growing

Reaching Your Dream Foundation continues to listen and grow. We understand the financial challenges many racquetball athletes face and racquetball in general. We are pleased with our successes at helping professionals develop themselves on and off the court. We recognize that many, maybe even most, will at some point move on, but still make professional racquetball a supplement to their overall career. We’re confident that focusing on success on and off the court helps these players make the choices that work for them and their families.    

We are very excited with the growth and participation of our Fitness Forever program, serving youth and their families with fitness opportunities and training. Thanks to Dave and John Ellis, and all volunteers helping with this!

We strive to better the sport of racquetball and its players and cannot do this without the support of like-minded individuals. We thank the many of you who have donated your time and money supporting our mission and those we serve. If you have ideas to help RYDF continue growing and improving its services, please contact us! We love hearing from you.

 Gerardo Franco won the 2017 WRT Sportsmanship Award and also won the 2017 Junior World Championships in doubles with another RYDF supported player Lalo Portillo.

Gerardo Franco won the 2017 WRT Sportsmanship Award and also won the 2017 Junior World Championships in doubles with another RYDF supported player Lalo Portillo.

Lalo Portillo: Building a Brand

In December, we published what some might consider a controversial article featuring Markie Rojas. Within this article, we highlighted the financial struggle many players on racquetball tour experience: relying on prize money from tournament successes is not a sustainable financial model. Our article was not written to criticize tours, players, or tournament directors. Rather, a goal of RYDF is to actively help those in racquetball overcome challenges just like this. We see ourselves as part of the solution. However, sometimes to offer solutions, problems must be identified.

So how does a player not only financially survive as a professional but profit from it? Some do, such as Rocky Carson and Paola Longoria, and one young RYDF supported player is in the early stages of attempting to replicate their success. We caught up with Mexican Lalo Portillo to learn more about what he is doing to make his racquetball career a success on and off the court.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Lalo Portillo and I am from Mexico. I am 18 years old and I am currently living in Seattle because I am in an Intensive Program to learn English. One day I would like to be a pilot and to do that I need to speak fluent English. I have been at the school for one semester and I will finish my second semester in March. I have one sister in Mexico who is in her last year in high school. My dad is a civil engineer and my mom stays at home and takes care of the family.

 

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What about racquetball? When did you start and how successful have you been?

I began playing racquetball when I was six years old. I used to live in Querétaro where I did gymnastics, but my family moved to San Luis Potosi and gymnastics was too expensive there. Instead, my dad would bring me to the racquetball courts because my parents were members of the club and it was free for me.

The first tournament I won was the Mexican junior nationals at age seven. It was a multibounce event, which qualified me for the junior world championships, which I also won. I have won many junior national titles in Mexico as well as world titles. In 2017, I won the 18s doubles title at the World Juniors but lost to Mauro Rojas in the final of the 18s singles.

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What are your racquetball goals?

I want to be the best racquetball player in the world one day. That is one of my goals. But another goal I have is to be the youngest player to ever win the US Open.

You have been much more visible on social media recently. Why are you doing that?

Well, there are two reasons. The first is to help grow racquetball and share the sport with other people who may not know too much about it. I want more people to know what it is and maybe it encourages them to want to play it also. If I can, I want to use social media to present racquetball to those who do not know what it is. The other purpose is to help build my image and brand to help me get more sponsors.

 

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Can you explain what you mean by building your brand?

Yes. I want to be a professional racquetball player, but I know that at the moment there is not a lot of money in the sport. If you win first place in a tournament you can make some money, but that is very hard to do. But many players in other sports make a lot of money from sponsors, and sometimes they make more money from sponsors than their prize money. They do not even have to be the best player, but if they are very popular, the sponsor wants to work with them. I think it is important to try to be like that.

Paola Longoria is a very good example of what you can do to make money from sponsors that are not normally part of racquetball. Her popularity in Mexico helps her to make money and makes racquetball more popular. Of course, it helps that she is successful on the court!

I am not just doing this to get sponsors so that I have more money. Well, I do want more sponsors to have more money, but I need more money in order to travel to more pro stops. If I can play more and better players, I can learn more quickly and gain more experience. Sponsors can help me go to tournaments, which helps me improve my racquetball skills, which helps me earn more prize money by getting better results in tournaments.

How did this start and what specific things are you doing to build your image?

I have been working with GOAT Sports Performance for the last few months. We are developing a plan to grow my image and develop a sponsorship plan. One of the videos that I watched that GOAT Sports made was an interview with Gearbox Sports owner Rafael Filippini. He talked about how to promote yourself as an athlete and gave examples of players who understood they were their own business. Since watching the video, I have been talking with Rafael and getting his advice so that I can learn from the best.

I have also started creating instructional videos about racquetball and have a playlist of videos I have made so far. I am slowly making short videos to help those who might be interested in learning more about racquetball skills and technique.

 The last thing I am doing is to create video logs about my racquetball and life experiences. I want to be able to share with people my experiences studying in America, traveling to tournaments, and what it is like to be a professional racquetball player. I am really excited about this and I want to show people my experiences and adventures playing racquetball. I am hoping to travel a lot this year, which will give me lots of great material!

What are your plans for the near future?

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I am still a junior player in Mexico, but I want to try and qualify for China if possible. The competition is very hard in Mexico but I want to get the experience. I will also compete in the junior national championships in Mexico, but I hope to be able to compete in many pro stops this year. I am grateful to RYDF for helping me over the past several months to travel to some of these tournaments. Without their help, I could not have gained so much experience.

Summary

Developing a social media presence that might attract sponsors is a long-term project, and cannot be accomplished through short-term efforts. It requires consistent work to develop a brand and image that is attractive to potential sponsors. As an 18 year old, Lalo is a young professional that understands the value of social media. Within this interview, he has shown how he has learned from others, such as Rafael Filippini, and has begun making specific efforts to grow his visibility.

While unfortunate, the current reality of professional racquetball is that athletes must find sources beyond prize money to support their careers. This is a difficult task, and requires substantial work. However, should Lalo succeed in securing sponsors and building a larger social media presence over the next several years, it is important to recognize the longevity of this effort, which began in 2018.

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Understanding Anxiety and Nerves

by

Dr. Tim Baghurst

www.goatsports.pro

 Ice skating requires perfect timing in a very visible environment.

Ice skating requires perfect timing in a very visible environment.

If you’ve been watching the Winter Olympics, you’ve seen some of the finest athletes on the planet compete for the greatest prize in their sport. Some athletes have risen to the occasion, doing their very best when it mattered most. Yet some have not, and we have seen many, many catastrophic failures on ice and snow.

Why is this? An athlete trains for years for this very moment, and when it comes, they fall short. They train countless hours to become physically perfect but break down mentally in the big moment.

A great example of this came during the ice dancing. American duo of Hubbell and Donohue were in third place after the short program, and a good performance in the long program could put them in the history books.

But, as reporter Christine Brennan states, “… they started off a bit raggedly on their twizzles, one of the staples of any ice dance program, and doubt suddenly crept in. ‘I think we both had a little bit of a moment mentally,’ Hubbell said. ‘We knew everybody was skating very strong in the event, and we knew that it was going to be very close.’”

Another lapse in concentration and another mistake soon found the Americans completely out of the medal picture. Simple routines done thousands of times in practice became complicated.  Suddenly the pair could not keep it together, and found themselves going home without a medal.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety can be easily confused with fear and stress. Fear is the presence of a specific, observable danger. Something tangible, such as a tree falling toward you, is a danger and can cause fear. Stress is caused by the perception that you do not have the resources to cope with the situation.

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Anxiety is the perception of a threat to a person’s essential value. It may be a physical (injury), psychological (shame), or interpersonal (loss of respect) threat.   A sports example is a coach who tells an athlete to play a new position immediately before an event. If the athlete doesn’t think they can play that position, they are likely to become stressed.

In most sporting situations, there is no need to be fearful. Stress can and does occur, but it’s anxiety which is most common. More specifically, athletes experience anxiety or get nervous when they place expectations upon themselves that would otherwise not exist. Examples include:

·         “What if I lose?”

·         “What if I win?”

·         “I’ll let so many people down if I don’t play well.”

·         “This match is more important to me.”

·         “Coach said it’s on me to win this.”

Anxiety is a very complex topic; not something that can be explained or trained in a short article. However, recognize that some athletes are more likely to get nervous than others. It is part of their personality.

Also understand that nerves can be both mentally and physically harmful. An athlete who is nervous will most likely be thinking negatively, which impacts their performance through feelings of self-doubt and fear of failure, but they will also experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, nausea, and sweating. All these lead to negative outcomes and cause the athlete to experience mental and physical fatigue.

When Does Anxiety Occur?

Oftentimes, the assumption is that athletes are most nervous in the big moments. Yes, in many situations that is true, but not because the environment is suddenly different, but rather because the athlete perceives the environment or situation to be different. It is psychological.

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However, nerves may occur more in situations where the pressure is perceived to be greatest. In a big match, where I am a significant underdog, I may experience no nerves, because I do not feel pressured to win. It is not expected of me. Rather, I may experience more nervousness in a situation where I know it will be close.

Here is a good example: get a ball and a bucket and attempt to throw the ball into the bucket from three feet, nine feet, and fifteen feet (if you can create a pressure environment such as in front of an audience then even better). In which situation did you feel the most pressure? My guess is at nine feet. Why? Well, three feet was simple and at fifteen feet you knew it would be very difficult and there would be no judgement if you missed. But at nine feet, making the shot is possible. The same applies to sporting situations. You may have an easy match, and an impossible match, but that one in the middle might be the one which creates the anxiety.

Controlling Anxiety

Nerves are very individual specific, and there is no secret sauce that fixes nerves. Unfortunately, many coaches tell their athletes to “just relax” but are not relaxed themselves and have never taught their athletes how to relax. Meditation, breathing techniques, and physical techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation are all valuable tools in controlling anxiety, but they take time and training to master.

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Athletes who recognize they are nervous are taking the first step in addressing it. One recommendation for the short term is to interpret nervousness with excitement. Excitement is not a bad thing and can help performance. Unfortunately, too many athletes see anxiety as a negative and therefore focus on negative thinking. Instead, athletes should try seeing nerves as a positive tool. Why the excitement? Usually because the opportunity exists for success.

Summary

Nerves are common within sports and racquetball is no exception. They typically stem from the athlete placing too much pressure on themselves in specific situations where they perceive a lot is at stake. Coaches may also contribute to this situation. Unfortunately, nerves can cause physical and mental side effects, and as a result, performances decline. Recognizing when an athlete gets nervous is the first step in providing treatment, which can come in both physical and mental forms. 

About RYDF

Please support the mission of RYDF in assisting young athletes from around the world with needed resources to achieve success both on and off the court, and to develop successful careers in sports and life. RYDF accomplishes this through three related programs:

Dream It – Fitness Forever Program

Empowers communities by providing opportunities for youth & families to experience fun, friendship, and lifetime health and fitness through participation in racquet sports. 

Reach It – The Dream Team

Provides emerging professional racquet sport athletes with financial support, mentoring, and career development opportunities to achieve success on the court and in their life.

Live It – Athlete to Professional

Uses experts across disciplines to provide knowledge, skills, tools, and practices to improve performance, build a successful career on and off the court, and give back to the community.

Promoting Junior Racquetball Through a “Fitness Forever” Program

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About two years ago, the Reaching Your Dream Foundation created a program that promotes healthy opportunities for youth, particularly through racquetball.  It was branded “Fitness Forever” and was formally introduced to the Stockton California area by USA Racquetball Team Coach, Dave Ellis, along with others including his well-known son and ex-professional player John Ellis.  Now the program is more fully developed and growing as described below, including a discussion of a partnership with the USAR.  For more information on the program, please visit https://www.reachingyourdreamfoundation.org/fitness-forever.

About RYDF - Please support the mission of RYDF in assisting young athletes from around the world with needed resources to achieve success both on and off the court, and to develop successful careers in sports and life. RYDF accomplishes this through three related programs:

Dream It – Fitness Forever Program - Empowers communities by providing opportunities for youth & families to experience fun, friendship, and lifetime health and fitness through participation in racquet sports.  

Reach It – The Dream Team - Provides emerging professional racquet sport athletes with financial support, mentoring, and career development opportunities to achieve success on the court and in their life. 

Live It – Athlete to Professional - Uses experts across disciplines to provide knowledge, skills, tools, and practices to improve performance, build a successful career on and off the court, and give back to the community.


There is a revival of junior racquetball happening in Northern California. The Stockton Junior Program, led by Jody Nance, John Ellis, and USA Head Coach Dave Ellis has flourished, with regular attendance in the 40’s on a weekly basis. Emerging from this success, with the help of the Reaching Your Dream Foundation, John and Dave have been working to establish junior programs in other areas throughout the Northern California region. In addition to Stockton, programs have been established in Fairfield, Modesto, Lodi, Antioch, Fresno, Merced, and Livermore. Other locations under development include Shingle Springs, Alameda, and Santa Rosa.

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Now more than ever, the racquetball industry is facing a critical issue as many racquetball courts are being converted for a variety of other uses.

 

This phenomenon is worrisome to lifelong dedicated players. In protest to the developing crisis, Dave explains that, “If we are going to preserve racquetball for future generations, we all need to work together to SOC (save our courts).” Furthermore, John and Dave suggest that, “Successful junior programs will bring memberships and publicity for clubs in general.” Therefore, this current article reveals what it takes to have an ongoing junior program because sound junior programs are essential to the resurgence of our sport.


Phase I – The Presentation

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John and Dave use a two-phase approach when presenting racquetball to a facility manager or someone with the authority to endorse (or reject) a racquetball program. Phase I is directed, not at juniors themselves, but toward adult players and parents within a club facility. The ideas of Phase I are incorporated into a 45-slide presentation. The presentation includes:

1.      Reasons for having a junior program;

2.      Benefits of a junior program;

3.      Components of a successful junior program.

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At the end of Phase I, all in attendance are encouraged to return after a two-week period with as many potential junior players as possible. The purpose of Phase I is not to motivate juniors but rather adults at the club in hopes to establish an ongoing junior program. Programs from other sports have many adult volunteers who work with juniors. Little League Baseball, Pop Warner Football, and Catholic Youth Basketball are well known examples. Therefore, the goal of Phase I is to follow a similar model by encouraging adults interested in racquetball to help promote the sport to youth.


Phase II – The Demonstration

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Two weeks after the Phase I presentation, John, Dave, and some volunteer juniors will return to the club to present Phase II, an on-court demonstration of a junior class. During this 60-90 minute period, different types of junior activities will be presented. Examples will include activities that range from those for beginners (some as young as 6 years old), to advanced drills and strategies for experienced junior players. A lengthy catalogue of activities is given to the “Team” of adults in attendance.

This growth cannot be attained without adult volunteers, and Dave and John believe it is the personal connections they make that help convince people to volunteer their time and energy. Although materials and content for programming is important, the volunteer ultimately drives the success or failure of a program.

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The word, “Team,” is used with a purpose. The key to a successful program that endures is the creation of a TEAM of volunteer staff members. This team should include:

  • Two or three individuals that will serve as leaders or “Point People.” One or more of these individuals will prepare a plan or agenda for each of the classes;
  • Individual instructors that are prepared to work with a group of 5 – 7 junior players. Not every instructor will be able to attend every class; therefore, it is recommended that individuals are available to fill-in when others cannot;
  • Individuals who will take attendance, check out loaner equipment, distribute post-practice snacks, relate to parents, and provide assistance for young juniors who need special attention. In the Stockton Program two people handle these tasks;
  • An individual that will create group email lists which will be used to communicate information to the juniors and their families;
  • An individual that will take care of ensuring that parents/guardians sign consent forms for liability and pictures.

Phase I Outline

1.      Reasons to have a Junior Racquetball Program

·         Racquetball friendships often last for a lifetime;

·         Friendships will be made with other juniors from all over the World;

·         As an individual sport, friendships will be made with players of different backgrounds;

·         Our sport encourages fitness among our youth;

·         It is important that we all join in the fight against obesity.

·         When there are junior players that love the game, parents will tend to join the club.

2.      Benefits for Instructors and Parents Who Have a Junior Program

·         If you teach racquetball, your game will improve. “You never really learn something until you teach it;”

·         The positive feedback with the smiles, laughter, and remarks made by the juniors is priceless;

·         The inner satisfaction that you are making a positive contribution to the welfare of children;

·         New friends will be made among parents and volunteer staff members;

·         Knowing that you will be helping to SOC – will be satisfying.

3.      Elements of a Successful Program

·         Support from club staff;

·         Support from corporate;

·         An employee that will regularly reserve courts at the designated times;

·         Equipment to loan (e.g., racquets, eye guards);

·         Keeping records of attendance and other data;

·         Being able to find participants (i.e., relatives such as children, grandchildren, club members children and their friends, neighbors, etc.);

·         Free trial period for juniors that are not club members;

·         Creative instructors who prepare and are willing to pass on the sport that we love;

·         Instructors that have passed the “Safe Sport” test at http://www.teamusa.org/usa-racquetball/instructors/safesport;

·         Instructors that have the three P’s: Preparation, Patience, and Positivity;

·         At the end of Phase 1, eight racquets, six eye guards, and two dozen balls are left to the leaders.

If you are interested in starting a successful junior program at your club, please email John Ellis (ellistyle@comcast.net) or Dave Ellis (DAVEELLIS665@comcast.net). There would be no charge to have John and Dave consult with you and your club to work with you to establish a successful junior program.   

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Jody Nance = Junior Racquetball

Over the past 20 years, the city of Stockton has had a very successful run of producing Junior National and World Racquetball Champions. This is in large part due to the players emerging from In-Shape West Lane, many of which began playing when they were six and now compete professionally. The one constant in this picture is Coach Josephine (Jody) Nance. Jody has led the West Lane Junior Program since the 1990s, often on her own, and to this day continues to introduce and develop new young talent for the sport.

 Jody gives some instruction on swing technique to some young players.

Jody gives some instruction on swing technique to some young players.

Jody began her athletic pursuit at a young age as a track and field and cross-country athlete. Known for her “barefoot” running style, she excelled in the AAU programs in the Central Coast of California, which eventually landed her a scholarship at Boise State University. While at Boise, Jody would spend some “down time” in the summer playing tennis with friends, which ultimately transitioned into racquetball, a relatively new sport at the time. Some of the Boise State football players challenged Jody to a game, which she gladly accepted, and even though it was a little wild and crazy on the court with three offensive linemen, she fell in love with the sport. When her athletic eligibility ran out, she joined the local YMCA, began playing racquetball regularly, and never stopped!

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A few years later, Jody found herself in Stockton attending Physical Therapy school. A time-consuming vocation with expensive training made even a gym membership an imprudent expense. With this in mind, Jody approached West Lane’s General Manager, Rob Farrens, and asked what she could do for a membership trade-off to allow her to continue playing racquetball. At the time, Jody was a strong Women’s Open level player, and Rob mentioned the idea of having her create and manage a new Junior Racquetball Program. Jody happily accepted, having already acquired a little experience coaching track and field. As Jody likes to say, “The rest is history!”


Naturally, the first few years of this new program did not bring about National Champion players; it took time. Participants were, for the most part, children of a few of West Lane’s handball families. The Rojas, Diaz, and Aldana Families all had boys that ranged from 3-11 years of age. During this time, Jody’s initial goals were to develop her players’ total games, including mechanics, drilling, shot selection strategies, and cardio training. Thanks to past successes of John Ellis at the Junior Championships, Jody was acquainted with the National and World tournaments. Although perhaps lofty goals at the time, she set competing in these events as goals for the group. Needless to say, the payoff has been great.

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Sharing with us some of her most special memories from her experiences coaching various junior players, Jody recalled that, “Jose Rojas has so many, but his victory over David Ortega of Mexico in the Boy’s 18’s in Cochabamba, Bolivia, while he was playing both 16 & Under and 18 & Under, was a special one. David had beaten Jose when they were 12, and it was goal for Jose to get him back. This was particularly special because David had been undefeated at Junior Worlds for 10 years, and it was his final tournament. I have never been so proud of “Josie”, as we like to call him. He plugged away point after point, digging deep, never doubting his resolve, and his determination and mental toughness were on full display.”

“Markie Rojas gave me a phone call seven days before the Junior Worlds, his last one at that, in Fullerton, CA. He had sprained his ankle at his high school basketball tryouts, and when I got to his house, I saw one of the worst sprains I had ever seen. To Markie’s credit, he faithfully came to therapy three times a day until the tournament began, and then was incredibly consistent about treatment and taping, determined to press through the pain. Watching him win match after match to another World Junior Championship, we knew he would be known for having the heart of a lion!”

“Jose Diaz was an amazing boy! He could make you laugh, growl, and clap. My best memory of Jose is from when he was in 8 & Under. We were at the Junior Nationals in Florida, and he had made it to the Finals. He woke up so nervous that he did not want to play. The first game he was down 10-0, and we had already taken a timeout, but took another. My elaborate coaching strategy at this time was telling him to smile! He said, “What?” I said, “Smile, hit the ball, and then smile again.” Jose returned to the court, still timid, but starting hitting the ball then looking at me and smiling. He got his confidence back and went on to win and become National Champion for the first time.”

“With all three of these boys, I feel so much pride in their accomplishments, not only in racquetball, but in life as well. They all have college degrees and meaningful lives, and I am blessed to have been a part of their lives.”

The feeling is mutual, as the Rojas, Diaz, and Aldana Families all credit Jody for helping raise these fine young men. Jody’s work continues, and is evidenced by a new group of talented players appearing on the World and professional stage including, but not limited to, Daniel, Jesse, Antonio and David Rojas, Ricky Diaz, and new families of Stockton Junior Racquetball with the Galvan’s, Rivera’s, Canchola’s, Ellis’s, and LaRue’s.


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Jody began serving as the Assistant Head Coach on the USA Junior National Team in 2014. When asked about her most enjoyable moments as the Assistant Coach of Team USA, she responded that it was very difficult to decide. “I love racquetball and watching these young athletes pursue their dreams. Every year, watching the growth in their games, confidence, and personalities is very special. I enjoy seeing these kids develop into great people. However, the moments and memories made when off the court with the athletes and coaches, laughing and spending precious time together, are invaluable. I now have new people in my life, athletes and my fellow coach Jen Meyer, which have touched my soul. Friendships have been made here that will last a lifetime. How lucky am I? I would like to thank RYDF for assisting so many of these athletes. They are making it possible for so many to go to events that are helping shape their lives and careers. Also, thanks to John, Dave, and Pat Ellis, and all our West Lane volunteers for their energy, experience, and commitment to the 209!”

Jody’s life in racquetball is not limited to her coaching. She has and continues to be highly competitive. She has enjoyed great partnerships with Elaine Dexter, Marko Perez, Ninja Nomura, and last but not least, Josie Rojas himself. She has captured multiple National Doubles titles in Mixed and Women’s Divisions, and she has had too many local Northern California wins to count! Her frontcourt skills and ability to anticipate opponents are some of the best tactics ever seen on court.

Jody is a one-of-a-kind person with the kindest heart of anyone you can find. Her passion is to help others enjoy whatever they are doing. She has empowered so many young athletes in her 20+ years of coaching racquetball, and you can believe she will be around for years and years to come. We are lucky to have such an outstanding person involved in our Fitness Forever Program. Go Jody!

Reality Bites: The End of a Racquetball Dream

In 2017, the Rojas brothers of Markie and Jose quit playing professionally. There was no major announcement; they just stopped entering tournaments. Markie began a teaching career, and we caught up with him to try to understand why the #7 player on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) would quit the sport.

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Although Markie had already seen some success on the pro tour during his formative and then college years, he wanted to play professionally fulltime and make it a career. However, after the end of one season, “I knew on April 15th 2017 (tax day in the United States) I couldn’t do it anymore. From 2013-2017, my ranking got higher but my pay got lower. This past season was a lot of soul searching, but I knew even as early as September 2016 that I needed to find a new career path.”

We asked Markie to be a little more specific so that we could all understand the revenue and costs from playing on the tour. He played nine IRF Tier 1 events during the 2016-2017 season. He was contracted to play ten, but there were only nine that year. Here is what he sent us.

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 “That $350 a month is what I had to live on during the 2016-2017 season as the number seven on tour,” said Markie. “How can I realistically pay living expenses such as rent, car, gas, food, insurance, club membership, and so on with this kind of income? I cannot, I could not, and now I teach. Now, even on a meager salary of a teacher, I see my monthly income and, to me anyway, I am rich! I wonder why I played racquetball.”

Such thinking is hard to accept, but without external sponsors for players (and potentially for tours who can pass on some of that income to players), or funding from governments or sports federations as some countries have, living as a professional is almost impossible. With these numbers, Markie was below the poverty line in the United States, and he was eligible for food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).   

What Needs to Change

We asked Markie about personal sponsors. Why had he not secured individual sponsors rather than rely solely on prize money? “It’s a comment I’ve heard many times before,” he responded. “But until you’ve tried it, it’s hard to explain. Have you asked businesses to support an athlete in a sport few people know about and even less know is a professional sport? Why would a major company want to support me or a sport when we have no national or TV coverage? Even though I did pretty well on tour, and even won the US Open pro doubles with my brother, it doesn’t mean so much in a small sport.”

So what needs to change we asked him? “Tournament Directors also struggle to raise sponsors because they can’t identify a clear return on investment,” said Markie. “Current sponsors are those who love the sport, and we appreciate them so much, because they keep the sport alive, but they are not external sponsors independent of the sport. What happens when they cannot continue “donating” their funds as sponsors?”

“For me, the atmosphere of the sport and tournaments needs to change to attract new sponsors and keep players like myself in the sport. Why is basketball attractive? They have music, they have a younger generation playing, and it all relates to them. You must find a way to get out of the health club. A lot of players and fans like to drink beer, but we cannot have a beer sponsor. We need to attract a newer generation. I like a little what World Racquetball Tour (WRT) does in this respect, but I think they could go further. As a player, I do not want to change the speed of the sport, but as a viewer, we probably need to. Will changing the rules hurt or help us? I do not know what it would be like with slower balls or smaller racquets, but that does not mean we cannot experiment.”

Reality Bites

 Markie and Jose Rojas after winning the 2016 US Open Pro Doubles.

Markie and Jose Rojas after winning the 2016 US Open Pro Doubles.

No one likes the idea that professional players are leaving the sport because their financial struggles. However, as Markie’s story has shown, “making” it on tour is likely limited to the top two or three professionals, or those that receive funding from an external agency or government. Although players may be able to secure personal sponsors, the lack of nationwide visibility and a clear return on investment means that only friends and associates are likely to invest in a professional player’s career. Consequently, many players on tour work part time in some capacity to fund their careers. 

Tour leaders and those invested in the sport must work toward finding external revenue sources that can in turn support those seeking to make racquetball a career. It has been done in the past, and with the increased opportunities to expose the sport through social media and electronic formats, it can be done again. Although RYDF is proud to have supported 40 athletes through the provision of hotel rooms during the 2016-2017, such efforts will not overcome the clear financial challenges of competing as a professional on the tour.