Fitness Forever

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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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!

Robbie Collins pays it forward through Fitness Forever Program

I moved to Stockton from Hawaii in October 2013 to play on the pro tour. Once there, John Ellis asked if I would help out one night a week with a few of the kids in the Fitness Forever / Stockton Juniors Program. I felt it was a good chance to get involved in the local racquetball community.

When I started, we averaged 8-12 kids a night. Over the last few years, the program has steadily grown with more and more kids joining our classes. Today, 30 children per night participate three nights a week, with new attendees continuing to join.

The program brings kids of all ages and backgrounds together. Everyone from beginners to Junior National Champs works hard to learn and improve all parts of their game. Most importantly, racquetball is a positive influence in their lives, giving them a place to stay away from getting involved with drugs and violence, and also staying focused on doing well in school.

Being a coach in the Fitness Forever program through the Reaching Your Dream Foundation has been an invaluable experience for me. I’ve been fortunate to grow as a coach and player under the guidance of some of the best coaches in the sport such as former IRT pro John Ellis, current US Team coach Dave Ellis, and present Junior US Team coach Jody Nance.

While the Reaching Your Dream Foundation directly supports my goals on the pro tour, the Fitness Forever program helps me pay it forward to the next generation of racquetball players. Whether the mission is to be a Junior National Champion or just to improve their backhand, it is a blessing to help these kids reach their goals.

Fitness Forever Program Mentors Youth

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Fitness Forever is a way to get kids, regardless of economic conditions, inside racquetball courts and close to mentors who know both the sport, and the demands of life in their local communities. We understand that the growth of racquetball lies within our youth. Sports can empower young people in a way only a few things in life can.

Racquetball shares many of the same accessibility problems that sports like golf and squash do.  Both of those sports, through programs of their own, have been able to reach out to youth, mostly on the fringe of accessibility. (Golf has TheFirstTee.org and squash has NationalUrbanSquash.org.) Following in a similar mindset, RYDF is beginning to implement its Fitness Forever program, a strategy of community engagement outreach to teach youth and adults the value of healthy living through physical activity.  RYDF’s Fitness Forever program, sponsored by seed funding provided by National Life Group Corporation and supported by RYDF mentor Rocky Carson, is providing resources to the In-Shape and Oakland programs.

Dave and John Ellis

Dave and John Ellis

Dave and John Ellis of Stockton, California, are prime examples of sports mentors operating within an area that is ripe for community enrichment programming through racquetball and other racquet sports. Stockton and Oakland are cities that have serious needs for programs that reach youth through sports. In Stockton, Dave Ellis has been involved in racquetball for the better part of his adult life. He raised his son John to play and compete professionally in the sport.  Dave has also coached countless high profile athletes and is currently the coach of the U.S. adult national team.

The Reaching Your Dream Foundation has partnered with Coach Dave Ellis and John Ellis, through their “Grow Junior Racquetball Program”, sponsored by In-Shape Athletic Clubs in Northern California, beginning with their home town of Stockton.  Together, we are developing a flexible program with a constitution that outlines and implements the tenets of our Forever Fitness program. Dave Ellis, speaking from his years of experience states, “We need to reach across economic lines. We don’t discriminate against anyone and everyone is welcome, but it is especially vital to attract and retain those most underprivileged.”

Participants from local schools, community centers, and neighborhoods learn to understand the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle.  In addition to learning the sport of racquetball, the program addresses the negative impact drug, alcohol and tobacco use can have on our youth’s future, as well as the positive force that academics and competitive sports can provide.  Participants will be involved in mentorships that foster a sense of loyalty to their families and communities.

Fitness Forever, as a program of RYDF, seeks to find and locate places like Stockton in order to place skilled and dedicated mentors in areas in need. Extending a hand to those unlikely to set foot on a court not only improves the lives of those children and their families, but also their communities as a whole.  Access to racquetball facilities will also help grow this great sport.

Racquetball is a young sport, full of promise and potential, but make no mistake, it is at risk, not unlike those at-risk youth. Early adolescence is a wonderful but fragile time. RYDF believes that all young people should be given the opportunity to experience the challenges and benefits of racquetball. The Reaching Your Dream Foundation encourages a wide range of youth and adults to take part in the movement toward fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

In order for RYDF to expand its Fitness Forever program, we encourage all of you to kindly consider offering donations of time and money to help grow this life changing program.  In the end, RYDF acknowledges that the racquetball community is only as good as the potential of its youth. We invite you to join the movement and we sincerely thank you in advance.

Racquetball Is A Two Way Street

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It’s a major goal for us at Reaching Your Dream to find ways to use racquetball to engage the community in ways that grow the sport. Fitness awareness brought together with the encouragement that is facilitated through setting goals on the World Racquetball Tour means that the time our players invest as professionals have real value when it comes to mentorship. While often, these opportunities happen organically while traveling on tour, it is a perfect storm of “nothing but positive” when matched up with programs that are growing and are making a difference using racquetball as a catalyst.

Aaron Embry of San Diego, California has formalized racquetball in a program with a local high school Saint Augustine, a private catholic high school in that town. The “Intercession” has been designed to provide students with ways to build on their college applications and life skills through 120 programs like internships with doctors, lawyers, architects, studying abroad, racquetball, etc. He’s been engaged with the program for 3 years and has seen that program grow in participation.

When the WRT rolled into San Diego’s Sorrento Valley Racquetball and Fitness Center for their second stop of the year, the San Diego Open, it was a perfect opportunity for RYDF players to engage with a well developed program like Embry and his team have been building up.

It’s a learning experience for everyone involved. For young racquetball enthusiasts like the Saintsmen of Saint Augustine, the opportunity to get court time with professional players can lead to the type of experience that can last a lifetime. These young players will hopefully be further encouraged to stick with racquetball as a means to incorporate fitness with confidence as life lessons. For our RYDF players like Alex Cardona, Bobby Horn and Alexi Cocco Hayes, this type of engagement also brings together positive aspects of racquetball that transcend the competition. They learn for programs that are doing the right things to encourage and engage for the sport of racquetball. Our players learn for themselves that they can make a difference in someone’s life when they give back their time in ways that encompass all that is good in racquetball.