I recently reviewed the current CLUB BUSINESS Journal, a product of the International Health, Racquet, and Sports Club Association. Years ago this organization was the National Sports Club Association (NSCA). The issue is filled with fitness trends, innovations, personal interest stories, and more! What is conspicuously absent is the printed word about the indoor and outdoor court sports. As a club owner, operator, delegate, and college professor, I attended the annual IHRSA Convention and Trade Show numerous times. On occasion I was fortunate to be selected as a presenter. Stops included Las Vegas, Reno, San Diego, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Francisco. Attendance at one of these gatherings was in the thousands. Attendees came from across the USA and abroad, representing over 1100 private clubs, YMCA’s, JCC’s, and other venues which had indoor courts and consciously held onto the IHRSA brand.
Over the past decade, participation at this annual convention has declined, along with the court sport presence. We would at one time park alongside Tennis, and droves of individuals would make their way towards us to grab the latest in court construction, equipment, and program trends. The National Governing Body (USA Racquetball) would send delegates to erect a booth for networking with others in the industry. The last years of my commitment to IHRSA came with a shared space with Sports Unlimited, one of the long-standing court and other unit construction companies. We began to question why the Sporting Goods Manufacturers and the NGB were no longer attending. We also questioned why the recreation arm of colleges and universities (NIRSA) did not send a representative.
To what do we attribute this drive downward? First and foremost, is the mindset. Rod Serling might say that there is no reason; yet, it happens. “Racquetball has a negative growth; in fact, it is dying.” Repeat these words over and over; and, it becomes real. Private and semi-private clubs still erecting four wall indoor courts seem to be doing so with a motivation for a net-zero-sum. For every court built, at least one is coming down. The PLPOA Club in Pagosa Springs, Colorado recently built two new four wall courts with glass back walls. At the same time, it dismantled the original two courts. The Lea County (Hobbs, New Mexico) government recently completed a multi-discipline sports park which includes two, 4 wall courts with glass back walls. This occurred shortly after the six court facility at the NM Junior College Del Norte Complex was torn down.
Many hard copy letters, emails, and telephone calls have come my way over the past two decades from those who ask for a helping hand in efforts to ‘save the courts.’ My first response is, has the dialogue already begun? When the answer is YES, it is too late to act. The reality is that the decision for change had been made long before the public took notice. All of us who hold a stake in maintaining and upgrading the infrastructure must be proactive—we must insist on having qualified instructors/programmers in place at all locations in order to drive the sports (racquetball, handball, paddleball, squash racquets, pickleball, and racketball). I have also received intermittent referrals from USA Racquetball, seeking a follow-up with concerned and desperate members who fear a generation long passion and lifestyle will succumb to poor decisions by hierarchy.
When I was teaching in the college and university arenas; and, when I was a college student, most colleges and universities mandated each student pass a one credit hour class in Physical Education. This requirement created an avenue for most students to visit the campus recreation/wellness center. This
requirement has all but disappeared. No longer is there a captive audience to learn the lifetime fitness skills. The indoor courts offer no less than three opportunities for learning, enjoyment, and healthy life styles. They are racquetball, handball, and squash racquets courses. Many of these same students will seek additional opportunities through the intramural, interscholastic, and intercollegiate competitive programs. The court sports are ‘Lifetime’ endeavors, even if there are gaps in the process.
It does not take a strong mind to understand that this trend will be difficult to reverse. The few companies that are constructing courts, including LA Fitness, preclude the broad development of the games, because their business plans do not generally allow for youth to access membership. The hundreds of annual candidates we historically have recruited for instructor/coaching/referee certification, now counts in the teens. Much of this activity is outside the USA, primarily in Latin America. Some educational departments recognize video gaming as part of their athletic umbrella. How does this bode for a healthy, vibrant youth population?
Finally, we shall continue to do our best; keeping those who have a history with the games happy. We shall strive to augment income streams through membership and pay to play programs. The editor of the current issue of CBI projects about the future: “That tomorrow is full of opportunities, rich, and assured.” Wouldn’t it be great if the court sports were part of this experience?
Quote for the Month…
‘You can’t get the same results running in place as you can by running from a lion’ MIMITW