Athlete-to-Professional

Racquetball Is A Two Way Street

RYDFfebpic1.jpg

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.

RYDF Creating Peer to Peer Player Opportunities

Peer1.jpg

One of the most engaging aspects in racquetball is the connections in commonality the sport fosters. When it comes to playing professionally, that interaction finds a deeper meaning in self worth and making the most of opportunity. This is where it all starts with us at the Reaching Your Dream Foundation (RYDF).

When you look at some of the images from events that we’ve supported, it’s hard to spot any disparities from player to player. They all look as though they have the same opportunities and are experiencing the privilege of traveling, competing and having the means to do it. Our goals to raise funding that at its most basic level, lays down a sustainable way to keep players within this environment. One that offers some of them opportunities they otherwise would not be able to experience because they just don’t have the means to be there.

Some professional players have family or even personal resources so they can afford to travel to events on their own. Yet some players couldn’t even think about traveling as a professional because doing so is out of reach financially.   When these players are together, they each offer their own opportunity to change a group’s dynamic both on the charts and off the courts. It’s a matter of injecting diversity that inspires engagement, learning and sense of completeness.

It starts with the basics. Players with potential have to be alongside their professional peers for anything good to happen. Recognizing this allows for a foundation to take advantage of all the opportunities for professional growth. Taking advantage comes in the form of RYDF formalizing programming and building on all the aspects involved with touring professionally: how players train, how they learn to communicate, how they have fun. These and other things increase their opportunities to learn things other than racquetball while enriching their lives with invaluable life skills. In fact, RYDF players are finding themselves with kids and communities looking to them for something more than “just” racquetball. These players are engaging and exploring the world around them. It’s a profound opportunity to learn how to positively affect others and polish life skills that are forever.

With a solid grounding in confidence there is chance to change the world. This might sound overly dramatic. But we like to think of it as one world at a time.

It's Not Just Top Tier Tournaments

Alex Cardona lines up a backhand shot

Alex Cardona lines up a backhand shot

While some of his close friends on the World Racquetball Tour headed to New Jersey for the International Racquetball Tour’s New Jersey Open, Alex Cardona headed to the West Coast to take help RYDF raise some money by participating in our “Season of Giving” event. Undoubtedly, Alex Cardona would have relished an opportunity to join his friends, but traveling to California provided him an opportunity for unique experience for a professional racquetball player.

Alex, who’s birth name is Alejandro, is a promising young professional racquetball player from Juarez, Mexico. At age 23, he is currently the #1 player on the relatively new WRT. His engagement with the tour over the last 2 plus years, has helped restore his commitment to the sport. His continued participation in our sport is truly meaningful when you take certain things into account. Cardona had a prolific career as a junior. He has 7 World Singles titles and 10 World Doubles titles. Though after such a notable run as a junior, he basically had to give up the sport at the age of 19 because he just didn’t have the resources to move forward as a professional. It wasn’t until age 21, that the opportunity for professional play presented itself again through the WRT. And two years after returning to the game, he has established himself as a formidable professional.

In addition to finding a renewed life in his racquetball career, Cardona is finding an ever increasing value in his experience as a professional. He’s engaging in situations that allows him to affect others in positive ways. Cardona, along with many other young professionals we are working with here at RYDF, is benefiting from the programming we are facilitating, that is working to formalize and expand the learning and giving opportunities for growth that are comprehensively present in the experience of playing professional racquetball.

Bobby Horn and Alex Cardona

Bobby Horn and Alex Cardona

His week in California provided for a diverse immersive experience. Alex was able to connect with other, mainly spanish speaking enthusiasts at City Sports in San Jose, California, were he was engaging players with a racquetball clinic. There were a number of players that had the experience of having a professional give the instruction and provide them with an example of the good racquetball can do, both physically and personally.  He then teamed up with Bobby Horn to take some time helping some youths in Pleasanton, California learn how to keep fit. And during our “Season of Giving” tournament in Concord, California, he was able to help RYDF significantly with our benefit driven event. In all of these days, Cardona was working and learning how to better communicate, facilitate and see himself as a professional. (He also had the fun experience of attending his first ever professional basketball game at Oracle Arena. For someone from Juarez, Mexico, who thought his career was over, found that his experience opened the door to seeing something he will never forget. We know he had a blast.)

Alex Cardona is a gracious young man and a promising young professional racquetball player. We know there is a deep routed value in our sport that transcends just playing the game. We know that engaging players like Alex, where they can make the most difference, can be life changing. We are committed to Alex and players like him, who are understanding more and more that there is more to our sport, than just having fun playing and competing professionally. It’s a life experience, where the season of giving, is always in season.

Please consider partnering up with RYDF to help us continue our commitment to recognizing the value and potential inherent in professional racquetball.

Becoming a Professional Player - Part 1

rojas.jpg

There are two prominent ways to win in amateur racquetball, (1) overpowering your opponent by striking the ball with extreme power throughout the rallies; and (2) by retrieving everything, keeping the ball in play, until your opponent makes a mistake.  Many outstanding junior and collegiate players enter the pro tour with histories of winning with one or both of these qualities. 

To become a successful professional, however, a player has to realize that at the highest level these strategies are faulted.  At the highest level, you will not be able to overpower your opponents.  You will not be able to retrieve your opponent’s shots continuously. 

A prospective professional player has to realize that he/she will need to add major new elements to his/her game.  It will perhaps take some losses to convince our prospective pro that this is the case, but this realization must be made to have the correct mental attitude to move forward.

Becoming a Professional Player - Part 2

SHOTprecision.jpg

Becoming a successful racquetball pro requires the proper mental attitude.  Above all, there needs to be a totalappreciation for the precision involved.  At the highest level, it is a game of inches. An inch or two on the front wall target will separate a successful drive serve from one that comes off the back wall for a set up.  Inches to the right or to the left can make the difference between a successful passing shot and one that is hit at an angle that will bring the ball to where the opponent is located.

A couple of inches can make the difference between a perfect ceiling ball and one that comes off the back wall. Those players that think they can win by just hitting the ball harder or by thinking they can get everything, do not see the importance of the necessary precision.  Sure, power at the proper moment and retrieving are important. To become a successful pro, the importance of shot precision must be must exist in the mind of the player to an extent that he/she is totally self-demanding.

This attitude must be taken to the practice court. I have an expression as coach, “Make it boring (for everyone except your coach).”  That is, “Do not fail to hit a rally ending shot when the opportunity is there.”  The greatest player ever, Kane Waselenchuk, understands this perfectly.  With him, it’s all business, get the match done, and get back to the hotel room. One of our players has said, “But the game is not fun if the rallies are so short.”  To be a successful professional, the attitude must be, “kill or be killed.”

Becoming a Professional Player - Part 3

angles.jpg

In racquetball we can isolate “angle” and “power.”   Both are critical, but our prospective professional must understand that angle is the more important.  A very simple but important exercise is to place an object on the floor, moving it to different places all over the court.  Our player should work hard to gain command of front wall targets by dropping and hitting from many different places on the court, attempting to direct the shot towards the object. 

 

The angles need to be instinctive, and can actually be constructed geometrically.  After the drop and hit practice, move on to direct feeds and feeds off the back wall.  The cross court angles must be mastered.  If a cross court shot is hit too sharply, it comes off the side wall to center court.  If the cross court shot is hit too directly, it will pass through center court.  Both errors offer your opponent a chance to end the rally with a straight in kill or pass shot. 

Poorly executed down the line shots hit the side wall and come to center court, again for set ups.  Another valuable exercise is to place an object on the floor that can represent the position of an opponent.  Our pro can practice hitting shots that are directed away from the opponent.  Of course, here again, “angle” is of critical importance.

Becoming a Professional Player - Part 4

FLAT.jpg

The prospective professional player should check out his/her mechanics from the outset. There are two big questions in racquetball:  How should you hit the ball, and where should you hit it?  This communication has to do with how you should hit the ball, especially when there is a set up during a rally. Let’s contrast two types of racquetball strokes: the pendulum and the flat:

During the pendulum stroke (BH and FH): The back shoulder starts high with the racquet raised and ends up low; The front shoulder starts low and ends high; The waist and hip movements parallel the shoulder rotation; There is a high follow through with the racquet; Body weight transfers nearly 100% to the front foot; The racquet is angled downward like a tear drop on contact; For a straight in shot, the point of contact is halfway between the two legs; The back leg finishes straight up and down; The pendulum stroke is pretty much a golf swing.

In contrast, during the flat stroke (BH and FH): The shoulders, waist, and hips rotate horizontally; The horizontal circles of shoulder, waist, and hip rotations gradually lower during the swing as the legs are bending throughout; Body weight starts with 2/3 on the back leg with 1/3 on front.  During the swing, 1/3 of the back body weight is transferred to the front leg, ending with 2/3 on the front, yet still 1/3 on the back. The racquet is parallel to the floor on contact; For a straight in shot, the FH point of contact is just slightly behind the front foot; For a straight in shot, the BH point of contact is just slightly in front of the front foot; At the end of the stroke, both legs are bent at the knees, the shoulders should be facing the front wall or slightly rotated past this point; and there should be a low flat racquet follow through; The flat stroke is pretty much like a baseball swing where the batter tries to hit a low pitch on the outside corner.

I strongly urge the prospective pro to have one of the well-known coaches, such as Winterton, Davis or John Ellis, check out his/her mechanics early in his/her career.   The problem with the pendulum stroke is that when contact is made even slightly too early, the ball skips.  When the point of contact is made, even slightly too late, that is, on the up-swing, the shot “skies.” Having a swing evaluation can help the player begin to change habits in order to flatten out the stroke.  A caution here: changing habits that have been developed over many years can be difficult and frustrating.  Work hard in practice using video often to evaluate what is happening with your strokes, and don’t give up.

Professional players hit the ball in many different ways, often including elements of both pendulum and flat swings. Consistency in executing rally ending shots off of set ups is an absolute must for success at the professional level.  To build maximum consistency, the professional player is advised to groove and use the flat swing.