A few short weeks ago, I (Tim Baghurst) was kindly invited by Racquetball Canada to stream their national championships. For me, it was a unique opportunity to see some different players, but to also see how the tournament was run differently to the state, national, and international tournaments I have attended over the past several years. After eight days and over thirty matches streamed, I learned a lot. In this short article, I highlight some administrative observations that would be of interest to those organizing and operating tournaments, and I also share some points that may assist those athletes who are looking for small differences that might help them at tournaments and during tournament play.
National championships are lengthy affairs and last several days. The Canadian National Championships include both singles and doubles within one larger tournament. I can see the value in this. Trips such as these are expensive, and to complete both singles and doubles in one event is likely more cost effective for players than two separate events even if it is longer.
The doubles tournament preceded the singles tournament, and most players remained for both. For some, playing doubles before their singles tournament allowed them to acclimatize to the courts and environment. It was perceived as an opportunity to prepare for singles, which they considered more important. However, doubles first can also present problems. In doubles, players typically hit a lot more balls even if they do less running. In addition, and in the unfortunate case for at least one player in the gold division, injuries can occur. The physical toll can affect performances in singles. It would be interesting to evaluate which division players prefer to compete in first, and it is my understanding that Racquetball Canada will be doing a survey of the athletes who were part of this event. Market research is a valuable asset in ensuring the best product is produced.
The tournament desk included a whiteboard on which all upcoming matches and their assigned courts were written. This made it very easy for players to know which court they would be playing on. It also informed fans which court they should be watching.
With any tournament, the provision of food can be problematic. If a tournament director is providing food, it is offered within a certain time frame, and when it is gone, it is gone. This is an issue for those playing during this time. Also, there are those who paid for food through their entry but are not coming to the courts just to eat when their match is hours later. In this tournament, the players were provided lunch at a local restaurant on a special menu with about eight food options over a five hour period (11am to 4pm) . This removed the complications of bringing food into the facility, but also allowed athletes different choices each day depending on their tastes and nutritional needs. A similar process occurs at the IRF Senior World Championships.
In Canadian Racquetball rules, players must win by two clear points. The purpose of this policy is to remove the lucky bounce, so to speak, that determines a match. However, to win a tiebreaker 11-10, for example, the player must still win two rallies. Although there were one or two exciting finishes (e.g., 15-13), winning by two clear points may take away the drama of players winning by a single point. In collegiate tennis, for example, players no longer earn “advantage” and then an additional winning point after deuce. Rather, at 40-40, the next rally wins. This makes those rallies extremely dramatic. Winning by one or two clear points is a debatable issue; perhaps two points is the preference of the athlete and one point the preference of the fan.
Some players arrived the night before the tournament began. For some, this was a long car journey, which can be fatiguing and affect other areas such as hydration and nutrition. However, perhaps even more concerning is that by arriving late, some players did not have an opportunity to practice or hit on the courts prior to the beginning of the tournament. From a performance standpoint, these small issues can be the difference in success or failure. In a single elimination tournament, players must be prepared to perform from the first rally. Racquetball Canada use the Olympic format (Gold, Red, Blue, & White) in some situations, and in others a round robin format is applied. Either way, one loose game or match can affect medal chances.
The tournament provided a warm up and cool down area for players. It was interesting to note that while some players did warm up stretch and subsequently cool down and stretch after their match, others did not. There is plenty of evidence to support the value of these aspects of performance, and those interested in transitioning from an athlete to professional should consider adopting these practices into both their training and competition.
During the tournament, the weather was quite humid, and the courts became slick as a result. In the final of the men’s singles, for example, a 15-minute break occurred before the tiebreaker to allow the court to be dried. There were numerous wet ball calls throughout the week, and some players struggled to handle the situation more than others. These circumstances occur during competition, and players must learn to accept difficult or unexpected situations (e.g., not being able to hit a specific serve because it is consistently being called a wet ball) and adapt accordingly without letting it interfere with their mindset.
Timeouts are an integral part of many sports, and allow the athlete or team an opportunity to regroup or halt the momentum of the opposition. Do they work? More often than not, they do. If they did not, players and coaches in the sports that permit them would not use them so often. In the 60+ games of racquetball I watched, less than 10 of those games included the full use of timeouts by the losing player. Of course, this is not an issue specific to Canadian players, but it was very evident at this tournament. Furthermore, it was interesting to note that players were less likely to take timeouts during doubles matches. Timeouts are a valuable asset and should be used when available and needed.
Attending any tournament provides us all with an opportunity to learn. For those who do run tournaments or have such aspirations, attending another director’s tournament provides opportunities to learn best practices. For coaches and athletes, observing the routines, habits, and methods of other amateurs and professionals provide opportunities to learn and grow. Next time you go to a tournament, try seeing instead of just watching.