Leadership

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.

A Little About the RYDF Board

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The Reaching Your Dream Foundation is a collective of people who want to see the sport of racquetball thrive with new energy and growth. When we formed over a year ago, we knew it was important to engage racquetball with the guidance of a board that understood the need for open inclusion at the professional level.

Initially, our group of board members was defined by several criteria. The first and foremost trait was passion for how the sport of racquetball can help develop the personal and professional growth of young, elite men and women athletes. And more importantly, promising players who do not have the resources to reach their racquetball dream.  Furthermore, board members had to be open to branding and identifying the foundation with sports in general through our Fitness Forever messaging and programming.

The incorporation of RYDF was formally granted by the State of California on April 1, 2014.  We incorporated with seven board members including three officers: a president, a secretary and a treasurer.  Our initial board members included two physicians, an accountant, a pharmacist, and three other members. As we grew, we knew we also needed a broad base of business and professional experience. There was also an understanding that race and gender diversity was key to understanding and our board is very reflective of this type of thinking.

At the end of May 2014 we held our first annual meeting where we added two more members.  At our second annual meeting in June 2015, we added another two members, including Jose Diaz, a well-known IRT player. At our meetings, we try to incorporate professional marketing training and communication workshops as often as opportunities allow.

When we established our board’s bylaws, we set the limit of board of directors to 15 members.  We currently are at 11.  We plan to slowly expand to the maximum number based on finding people who not only share our collective passion but also add particular value towards guiding RYDF to sustainability.

Recently, one of our board members, John Dalisky was asked to begin a dialogue with Eric Muller, the President of the International Racquetball Tour (IRT).  During our first year of activity our main focus was on the younger players of the World Racquetball Tour (WRT), although we did sponsor rooms for players who also participated in IRT events. The advent of our new agreement with Rocky Carson, who is the current IRT #2 ranked professional, will provide a more comprehensive relationship with the IRT. We believe Rocky will make a powerful spokesperson for the Reaching Your Dream Foundation and help guide our younger players towards positive growth and opportunity.

Our group is dedicated to being agile in our growth. We are committed to engaging racquetball with progressive ideas and support. As dedicated as our group is, we can’t do it alone. We will critically need support from you, the racquetball community. If you believe that professional racquetball can enrich the lives of young professionals in truly positive ways, stand with us. Consider a tax-deductible donation to the Reaching Your Dream Foundation. Help pave a foundation of growth in racquetball, while more importantly, building on the future of young professional racquetball players.

What to do when the passion is there and the money is not?

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There probably are not too many things more painful in life than having the talent and desire to be the best, but due to lack of money not being able to pursue one’s dream to see how good they can really be.

Mike Ladge

Mike Ladge

In a sport like racquetball where sponsorship is often confused with charity, one must be a little creative in order to obtain the necessary funds to help a player survive as he or she tries to compete at the professional level. Although I have been around racquetball for 37 years and have been advising professional athletes about their money, endorsement and marketing deals for many years, racquetball is an entirely different sport that unfortunately doesn’t command a lot of money for endorsements, as viewership is very small and we have a very small market.

I recently came back from Canada to watch the 2014 World Championships and as exciting as it was to see some incredible competition from players from all over the world, the majority of the audience is made up from the participants in the tournament. Right now, much of the growth in racquetball is coming from south of the border, and no one has taken more advantage of this than Paola Longoria.

Paola is an exception to the rule and is arguably one of the most successful professional racquetball players of this generation, both on and off the court. Not withstanding her 3 year streak of being undefeated and number one on the LPRT, she has a considerable following on social media with followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sponsors love this. She has some incredible sponsorship and is a celebrity in her country. Would she have this success if she didn’t become number one in the world? I’m sure she would have some success, but being a multi-year world champion can only help.

So what do you do if you are not Paola and want to make it to tournaments to see how good you can really be? It is a little bit of a catch 22: you could work hard and let your success on the court lead to financial help or do a lot of outside work by having a website, and let keeping up with social media help pave the way. Although the primary focus should be on the court, one needs to spend some time in the other areas to help make this happen. Some of the best athletes in the world do not always get the best endorsements and vice versa.

Here are a couple of basics:

Get a web site. Even if it is just a simple one with some pictures and contact information, that is fine. When people google you, you have to exist. If you don’t have a picture and profile on the LPRT or IRT website, get one up. It took me too long in life to realize that perception is reality.

Use Facebook. I am not an expert in social media, but somehow racquetball players have embraced Facebook more than other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. It is a great way to stay in touch with the racquetball community and let them know what you are up to. Never post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandmother seeing!

More on a personal level:

1)   It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.

You would be surprised how many people do not get this one right, and it is hard to teach. Spend time teaching people on the court and teaching them how to drill, how to hold a racquet, etc. Even hitting with people can pay off. You would be surprised that when you are nice to people, some of them may actually go out of their way to help you financially and in other areas that can help you outside of racquetball. Most importantly, be nice to kids. Help someone’s kid and that parent will love you. That is priceless.

2)   Let people know you have a dream.

Don’t assume people know what you are trying to accomplish. If your dream is to go pro or be the best in the world, let them know and tell them the challenges that exist. At this point in time, racquetball is a passion sport and it is very difficult to make a lot of money, so being able to get help making it to tournaments and covering expenses is a big thing. You never know if the person you’re talking to may have an interest in helping you. People become sponsors in sports and are often into race horses, car racing, sailing or even boxing, knowing they will never get any return on their money, why not racquetball if they have a passion for it? Unless they own a racquet or apparel company, it is hard to make money back as a sponsor.

3)   Ask and you shall receive

If you are at the club and have (hopefully) been nice to people, you may meet people who have their own businesses and will be able to not only sponsor you, but also may be able to take it as an advertising deduction. It can be a local restaurant, a car repair shop, whatever. Put their name on your shirt, on your website, publicly thank them for their generosity. You don’t have to hit home runs. I saw success when we held a small fundraiser/exhibition and had 25 people donate $100 each. That is more money than most pro racquetball players will ever get from a racquet sponsor.

4)   Help those that help you

Go out of your way to help people that help you. There is some upside to being a sponsor besides feeling good though. For example, one sponsor, Ross, owns Super Collision, an auto body and repair shop in West Los Angeles. He helped sponsor a player for a few thousand dollars last year. Not only do I take my own cars to him for everything, but I also let everyone at the club know that he helped sponsor and make sure they go to him (he does great work too). I have probably referred 10 people to him in the last year alone. Make sure you take care of the people that take care of you. He has made that money back several times over but you have to make the effort. No one is going to see his name on the back of a player’s shirt and say, “If I am in LA, I think I’m going to bring my car there.” That will never happen, so you have to make it happen for your sponsors, coaches, trainers, chiropractors, etc. by letting people know how good they are.

5)   Thank you notes (a lost art)

When someone gives you a gift, and I don’t care how small, send him or her a personal thank you note. Not an email or a text, but a hand written note. They won’t forget this and if you need more help down the road, they may be more open to help again. A thank you goes a long way.

There are a lot of different ways you can go and find what is comfortable for you but I have found this works for me. There is no right or wrong way, but do what you feel comfortable with. No one wants to be pushy, so do your best to be pully.