Over the past few years the net gain of racquetball/handball/squash courts in the USA has been par at best. Those of us in the industry are at the whim of venue administrators who often make quick, non-calculated decisions in the name of ‘progress’. Our infrastructure takes a huge hit! Old and tired facilities are being dismantled; and, some vibrant facilities are succumbing to fitness fads which remove courts at some locations. Adding new courts in build-up or renovated venues can be cost prohibitive in many markets, based on high land prices and questionable business practices. For the remaining court venues with energy, profit, and growth potential, we offer applause! Let’s use their strategies to assist our efforts.
Factors affecting success and growth of racquetball and other court sports:
Offering too many categories at events. When the number of tourney categories approaches the number of players, draw integrity becomes an issue and the quality of the event is compromised. The recent US National Singles is an example. Singles, doubles, outdoor events, and multiple skill levels, serve to water it down. It has become more of a Festival versus a National Championship. Attendance was at a new low! When divisions do not fill and one is placed at a higher level which is out of their skill set, the phase-out syndrome begins. This is counter-productive to all.
Racquetball and other court sport populations have aged. Without youth and entry level access, this trend will continue. The female participation requires enhancement. Concomitant with aging are injuries and safety concerns. The speed of the ball remains overkill! The obsolete promotion of ‘Fast and Furious’ did not take off. Those whose playing careers have peaked now have more difficulty tracking the ball and taking the first step to respond to opponents’ shots. A slower ball as in other court disciplines could help keep more people on the courts enjoying the action, moving with greater control, and having a greater upside for performance enhancement. The faster ball will be available for those higher tier athletes when they are ready.
Like it or not, our courts can be shared. Racquetball, handball, squash, paddleball, and racketball, all on the same playing field! The co-operation of these disciplines can reap benefits; for cross-training, diversion, programming opportunities, equipment sales, and membership/pay to play fees. When a court becomes a closet or child-care unit, we are in trouble. Pickleball growth may ultimately wane like racquetball did three decades ago. Yet, it’s efforts and successes must be noted, and many of its constituents should be included in the court sport mix.
Where there are courts, oftentimes large segments of the population are precluded from entry. Colleges and universities, private/semi-private athletic clubs, and military installations, all have courts; yet, are not readily available for many groups. If a venue does not allow youth to participate, how are we going to expand the pie? Can we once again find avenues to build our interscholastic and intramural programs?
Tournament participation is not a gauge for the success of racquetball. Bowling parlayed its success on filling lanes with league play a half century ago. With fewer courts across the board per venue, programming must take on new faces. Successful programmers need to directly interact with the constituents; members and non-members alike. They should be on hand to meet and greet, introduce the games, and move many into the instructional fold. The old time 12-18 court clubs are outmoded. Tournaments are now offered over 1, 2, and 3 court blocks. It is not uncommon for these events to attract up to 60 participants, some opting to play more than one category. Larger events with more courts accessible and more open court time, have seen recent spikes in participation. Such are the US Open, National Masters, and World Seniors. A hybrid of programs needs to be identified and offered, with priorities based on individual and group needs.
…Gearbox comes on board with IRF—-Company now has official ball status with International. Thank you Penn!
…World Championships 2018 location still in limbo—-China out, Colombia or Mexico in. (early August).