Doubles at the Shore

Posted on: April 12th, 2015 by Charlie No Comments



The Belmont Athletic Club, located in Belmont Shores in Long Beach, CA, made history this weekend with an action packed, pro doubles only tournament. There were no other divisions, just pro doubles. It is the first of its kind, at least to my knowledge.

We have seen doubles become more popular over the last year or so. The US Open added a pro doubles event with prize money on both men’s and women’s. It was something we had never really seen before. We were used to singles, where players would do everything they could to be the individual winner, now they are part of a team, supporting a fellow pro player through the ups and downs of a doubles match.

The tournament was run by a few people: Brian Pineda, Marc Bosscher, and Leanna Burmood (although I’m sure there are many behind the scenes). The idea came from Brian Pineda. He recently joined the Belmont Athletic Club after being at LA Fitness for a number of years. The Belmont had a good program, but Brian helped it become great. One of the best racquetball programs in the United States, perhaps the world. Their league nights are packed to full capacity, and it is always followed by socializing at Murphy’s Pub, which is not only attached to the club, it offers a perfect view of the main court. In fact, if you were not a sponsor of the tournament or a member of the Belmont, Murphy’s Pub is where you belong.

The IRTnetwork was there in full swing, broadcasting a total of 10 matches. John Scott, the owner and operator of the IRTnetwork, was set up in the bar, which was a first for him and the network. They have about six tv’s in Murphy’s pub, and five of them were streaming the matches. So no matter where you were in Murphy’s, you could see the matches. It was like Buffalo Wild Wings for a UFC fight, except it was racquetball. You could order food, drink, and watch the best players in the world on the big screens. Then after the match, you could meet the players, who would almost always come upstairs to Murphy’s after the match. Win or lose, they would get a standing applause, and usually a cold refreshment.

The pro draw featured 14 teams. There were six international players. 11 of the top 13 IRT professionals were there, as well as a handful of players who play mostly WRT events. The hometown favorites were Scott Davis and Tom Durham, who both play the league at the Belmont Athletic Club. No one really knew how they would perform against the worlds best. They were seeded 12th out of 14. Their first match was against the #5 seeds, Marco Rojas and Jose Diaz, who are both in the top 13 on the IRT. Predictions had Marco and Jose advancing in two games, and it was looking that way as they had game point, 14-11, until Scott and Tom mounted a comeback to win 15-14. The second game went by fast as the #5 seeds turned it up a notch. Predictions remained the same as most people were saying “It was a good run by the locals, but it isn’t meant to be.”  The tiebreaker started out with Jose and Marco up 5-0. But a few shots here and a few shots there put Scott and Tom back in the match, and before you knew it, they had the lead. The crowd was starting to get very loud at this point. Not only do Scott and Tom play at that club on the regular, but they are good guys and friends to almost everyone there. Long story short, Scott and Tom went on an 11-1 run to claim the upset and move into the quarterfinals. It was pure excitement.

Scott and Tom continued their high level play the next evening against myself and Jansen Allen. Very similar to their first match, they stole game one from us 15-14. We beat them the second and forced a tiebreaker. Before I knew it they were up 7-1, so we took a timeout and discussed some strategy. Both Jansen and I were trying to stay positive, that’s all you can do at that point. But we knew that Scott was playing out of his mind. Seriously, I have never seen him play at such a high level, especially indoor. We tried to keep the ball away from him, and it started to work. Their lead was now 7-4, then 8-7. But after a few killshots and a crack ace serve, the local boys had match point 10-7. The crowd was standing, screaming and banging on the glass. We sided them out and scored two more to get to 9-10, then they sided us out, forcing the crowd back to their feet. Jansen killed a forehand off the serve, and we won the next point after a good rally. Back in the box at 9-10 we scored two points off smart passing shots to win 11-10. What a match. It was one of those matches where no one deserved to lose. We felt like we got away with one. Scott and Tom are class acts, and not once showed signs of frustration or defeat. A true acknowledgement of their character.

Another interesting story was Jason Mannino and John Scott teaming up for charity. Fans could make a pledge at a minimum of $1 per point they scored. Some pledged up to $10. They scored a total of 13 points in their first round, and although I am not sure the exact number, they raised a few hundred dollars for the Rapha House Charity.

The semifinals featured the top four seeds in the draw. Rocky Carson and Alvaro Beltran won in a crazy 11-9 tiebreaker over myself and Jansen. Jose Rojas and Daniel De La Rosa had the second upset of the tournament, defeating Kane Waselenchuk and Ben Croft in the tiebreaker 11-7. Jose and Daniel were down 14-11 in the first game but scored 4 unanswered points to win. The second game was all Kane and Ben, and the tiebreaker seemed the same until Jose caught fire. He rolled a few backhand splats, and with the help of Daniels retrieving ability and a few skips by Ben and Kane, the underdogs closed it out at much surprise to everyone.

The finals, on paper, was highly anticipated. All four players are great, and if they were playing singles it would be hard to choose a winner. It would come down to who could execute, as it usually does. There was little drama for a change, as more matches than not in the tournament went to tiebreaker. Rocky and Alvaro would prove to be the better players that day, as they won 15-4, 15-6 to claim the first ever Long Beach Open Championship.

In addition to this being a unique event, it was run and organized to near perfection. Brian Pineda, a part-time touring player, has seen hundreds of pro events in his life. You could tell that his focus was attention to detail. My guess is that he made a list of everything he likes and dislikes at pro tournaments, and made sure everything fell into place. There were chairs for the players, bottles of water near our bags, warm-up balls, towels, the courts were mopped before every round, and every player was introduced individually to a loud round of applause. Since there was just one division, teams could warm up on two separate courts while the match was coming to a close. This allowed for little down time between matches. I just want to give my personal thank you to Brian and his crew who helped, because it was run flawlessly. You could tell that this was a vision of Brian’s, and he made it a reality. He could control most of the things on his list, but he had no control over how the matches went down, and he was beyond happy with the excitement of the matches.

In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who made this event possible, especially the sponsors. The event had $25,000 in prize money, which is more than 90% of the pro tournaments I have been to. It was extremely exciting, and the location couldn’t be better. Belmont Shore is a great place. Three blocks from the beach and surrounded by top notch restaurants and bars. I have been to Belmont many times and I can honestly say it is one of my favorite places in California. I truly hope this tournament continues year after year.

National Doubles 2015

Posted on: February 11th, 2015 by Charlie No Comments

Tempe, AZ. Home of Arizona State University Sun Devils, 100 degree heat all year, and the greatest doubles tournament in the world. Each year, a few hundred racquetball enthusiasts gather at the ASU rec center with one goal in mind: teamwork, a word not often associated with racquetball. This tournament has created hall-of-famers, USA Team members, world champions, gold medals. Dreams are made every year at this tournament.

Some of the best teams to appear over the past decade: Rocky/Jack, Ben/Mitch, Ben/Rocky, Aimee/Janel.

The stadium court is packed to watch four unbelievably talented people swing, bump and dive their way through the controlled, yet, chaotic speed that will leave you in awe of ones reaction time. Doubles is a game where strategy is everything, talent is nothing, and momentum must be respected. Once in a while, an individual will prove their worth by catching fire and almost silencing the other players on the court.

Dynamics. Every player is different. Instead of two styles, you have four. Four personalities, four body types, four minds. How do these two people match up as a team? More importantly, how do they match up against their opponents?

Tune in and see. The tournament will be streamed live on irtnetwork.com.

Thanks for stopping by!

Offseason Workouts

Posted on: July 24th, 2012 by Charlie No Comments

 

A quick list of workouts to try this offseason:

Sprints
Squats
Dead lifts
Lunges
Push Ups
Pullups
Planks
Jump Rope
Yoga
Footwork ladder
Running

These workouts are designed to hit multiple muscle groups. They are athlete specific workouts which will make you stronger, faster, and more agile.

 

100 Meter Sprints

There is nothing more natural than running. Sprinting is part of our nature. What I like about sprints is discovering what type of speed I have. Try to notice where your fast points and your slow points are. Is it the start? The finish? The middle? Evaluate your sprints and work on your weaknesses. Your goal is to become strong all the way through. It helps to be fast in any sport. Stretch and warm-up well before and after your sprints.

 

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Squats

Squats are great for overall body strength. It works your lower and mid body, putting stress on the quads, butt and lower back. Start with light weight and work your way up. If you are new to them, go very light and work on your form. Build your strength gradually by doing high repetition workouts. 12 is a good number to shoot for. It is also a good idea to have a “spotter”, or someone who can watch to make sure your form is correct.

 

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Deadlifts

Similar to squats, deadlifts work the legs and back. The most important thing is to keep good form by keeping your back straight and chin up. Lift with your legs, not your back. Start light, and if you cannot keep good form, go lighter. Shoot for 8 repetitions, and find a spotter if it makes you more comfortable.

 

 

 

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Lunges

Lunges are used often in racquetball and essential for your game. A proper lunge is when your legs form a 90 degree angle without touching your back knee to the ground. Make sure your front shin is straight up and down and that your back is straight. This helps your balance when hitting a low shot. Try 20 lunges each side. Extra weight is not necessary. If you work on good form and balance it will be a much better workout. Do them slow and remember to breathe.

 

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Pushups

Pushups are not easy, but they are the easiest workout to do. As long as you have a floor, you can do pushups. Pushups are also something you can do almost every day. Try doing 5 sets of up to 20 pushups. You will notice that you improve quickly. They work the chest, triceps, shoulders and core.

 

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Pullups

Another easy workout to accomplish. All you need is a bar. Works forearms, biceps, shoulders, lats and back. They are also easy to do every day as a routine. Try doing five sets of up to ten pullups. Go all the way down until you are hanging, then all the way up so your chin is over the bar. Stay in control and don’t get off balance by swinging or kicking.

 

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Planks

Another easy workout, all you need is the floor. Hold yourself in a pushup position for at least 20 seconds. Try up to a minute. It helps to do it in front of a mirror to make sure your posture is good. It may seem easy at first, but after 20 seconds you will start to feel it working a lot of muscles. You can also do side planks, which is a bit more advanced, targeting one side of your body. Side planks should be done in less time then regular planks because of the difficulty. Side planks put more stress on the shoulder, so make sure you’re ok to do it. If not, no worries, keep working on the regular planks.

 

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Jumprope

I have mentioned jumprope a couple times before. It is a workout used in training by many athletes and many sports. It helps agility by strengthening your ability to stay balanced and on your toes. Try doing one minute straight and work your way up to ten minutes. Mix it up by doing one foot at a time or other combinations.

 

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Yoga

A new one to me. I have been doing yoga for about six months and I love it. What I have noticed most is:
*Flexibility: Everyone has problem areas as far as flexibility. Yoga helps balance your body out. It is painful at times, but it’s a good pain.
*Core strength: Yoga targets your core in order to strengthen your back. I have woken up very sore from yoga many times, almost always in the core area.
*Feel younger: Because yoga helps loosen you up, it really brings you back a few years. Back pain is something most of us have, whatever the cause might be. In my experience, when I do yoga often, I am more energized and feel better, which helps a lot when training. That is probably the biggest difference I have noticed. It truly makes you feel younger.

 

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Footwork ladder

Another workout I have mentioned a few times is the agility ladder. If you have not tried it yet, or are serious about improving your agility, you need to get a ladder. Similar to jump rope, it targets the muscles that are used for staying balanced and on your toes. If you get a ladder, I recommend youtubing some videos on agility ladder training. There is some good stuff on there.

 

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Running

Another easy workout to do. Also one that you should work up to. Start slow if you are new to running. Jog for a mile and work your way up to three miles. The goal is to be able to run competitively for about 20 minutes. Once you are able to do that you can start pushing yourself to exhaustion. The same goes for running as the other workouts, keep good form. Back straight, chin up, don’t drag your feet and stay focused. I like to listen to music, think about racquetball and time myself when I run. I helps me stay focused and push the pace.

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 Happy improvement, everyone!

Charlie Pratt

How to be a Referee on the IRT

Posted on: May 14th, 2012 by Charlie 3 Comments

The job

The International Racquetball Tour designates one person to be the Official referee for the Tour. This person has almost always been a professional player and is allowed to participate in the pro draw. Once he loses, he must referee the remaining professional matches. In recent years, the official referee is given a hotel room, a paycheck that reflects how many matches he officiated, and entry into the tournament.

How I acquired the job

In my college years I would officiate early round matches at local professional tournaments to make some extra money. The commissioner of the IRT at the time would ask me to referee, and since I felt confident in my ability and enjoyed watching the matches, I would accept almost every time, gaining experience along the way. A couple years down the road I heard news of the IRT referee retiring. I applied for the job and was hired a few months later at the beginning of the 2009 season.

Interview with Jason Thoerner

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jason Thoerner, the former IRT referee before me. Jason was the IRT Official for seven years, and a full-time professional player for almost a decade.

What it takes to be a referee in the pros

1) Fast Calls

Your calls must be fast and straight to the point. Use as little words as possible to make your call clear. Things like “Stop! Avoidable!”, or “Two bounces!” are the best way to make calls. A fast and simple call tells the players that you are not wasting time deciding what call to make. If you hesitate, the players will pounce on the opportunity. They will question your ability to make calls. Make the calls fast, and even if it is the wrong call, they player will respect it.

Jason Thoerner: “Making fast calls ensures that the players are not wasting extra energy. If you make slow calls, it basically leads to arguing. You don’t want the players thinking that you’re second-guessing yourself.” 

2) Little Explanation

If someone asks why you made that call, you can either choose to explain it or dismiss it. By explaining it, you are offering closure to the players. By dismissing it, you are keeping the game moving. Every situation is different and it is up to you to decide what is best for the match. The important thing is that the least amount of time is wasted in the process of making or explaining a call. There is no right or wrong, do what you have to do to keep the match moving along. Do not continue the discussion once you have explained your call. End your explanation with “Point”, or “side-out” to close the matter. Like a judge hitting his or her gavel when they have made a ruling. It is not only up to the referee to make the right calls, but he or she must be assertive as well.

Jason Thoerner: “You want to keep it as concise as possible because a) it doesn’t give them a play on words, and b) you don’t want to add to the length of the match. Plus, if a player is on a role, you can’t let the other player take eccessive time to cool off and regroup. I mean, half the time that’s what the arguing it all about.”

3) Respectful

As a referee it is important not to become enemies with the players. At times, the referee can seem like your arch nemesis instead of your opponent. In this case, attitude plays a large role. If you as a referee act out negatively in response to a player arguing a call, you are increasing the tension of the match, which is the opposite of what a referee should do. A referee should always do their best to defuse the situation. The best way to do this is to make your call but be respectful if the player states his or her case. I find myself explaining a lot of hinders, whether it is an avoidable or not. I have found that the easiest way to keep the match moving is saying something like “Your feet were not set in time for it to be an avoidable, but it was close.” This explains your call but also acknowledges the players argument. You can go both ways when you are questioned as a referee. As a player, what attitude would you like from your referee?

Jason Thoerner: “It shows the players that you’re not biased or on anyone’s side and its just your job. It calms the situation down. If you are disrespectful, and you know this very well, the players will be disrespectful back.

4) Cool-Headed

Perhaps the most important thing for a referee is to be in a good mental state. I have been told that the reason I am a good referee is because I am naturally a laid-back person. This is probably true, but it is not the case for everyone. Some people handle adversity as someone challenging their character. In this case, the tension of the match is bound to be high. Even if you are not as laid-back as I am, which is probably a good thing at times, try to understand that as the referee it is your job to take some heat every once in a while. Do not take it personally. Just be aware of where you stand. You are in the hot-seat, so be cool.

Jason Thoerner: “You’re in the heat of the moment just as much as the players are. The calmer you stay, the calmer the players will be. Now there were times where I had to draw the line and say enough is enough, but that’s all part of keeping the match running smoothly.

5) Well Rested

If there is one thing that determines if I have a good day of refereeing or a bad day, it is sleep. Just like anything in life, you always perform better when you are well rested. When I am lacking sleep, my eyes are slower, I am more irritable, more impatient, and do an overall worse job. When I am well rested, I can see the ball better, my thoughts are more clear, I am more comfortable, and my job becomes easier. I always make an effort to get a good night of sleep on Friday and Saturday night, which isn’t always easy with friends who want to stay out late. It is especially important because Friday is when I compete and usually referee 2-5 matches, depending on if I win or lose. Fridays are almost always a tiring day, so catching up on sleep is a must in order to perform at my best in the hot-seat.

Jason Thoerner: “The only time it was tough was when we didn’t have anyone else around to do any matches, and I had to play the round of sixteens early on friday, then ref four matches that night. Like the US Open, there’s a lot on the line and you’ve got to concentrate for 8-12 hours, and with everything going on around you, it was just… insane. No one else will know what that is like.”

6) Avoidable Hinders vs Regular Hinders

Hinders are created for the safety of the players. An avoidable hinder, or penalty hinder, in it’s simplest form, is a hinder which takes away a clear offensive opportunity. As a good referee, it is important to know the difference between a regular hinder and an avoidable. When you call an avoidable, it is mostly to protect the safety of the players. For example, if a player is ready to smash a forehand and the opponent is dangerously close, the avoidable is called to protect the player, but also to send a message to the both players that they will not get away with being that close. If there is one thing that I notice in other referees, it is that they do not call enough avoidable hinders. Most people think that being consistent is the key, but really you are asking for trouble. The less avoidables you call, the more the players will swing away, or crowd, because they know you will not call it.

Important things to look for when calling hinders:

-How much space did the person have to swing?
-Was there a clear shot to the front wall, both down-the-line and cross-court?
-Did the player have their feet set?

Remember, avoidable hinders are about safety, we must call them. Here is what I do:

I analize the three points above. Once I have done so, I make my decision based on numbers. Most of the time, it is 90/10 in favor of one or the other. Those are easy to make. But on occassion the call will be a close one. The decision should be based on 50/50. Whatever side you are leaning toward should be the call you make. If it is 51/49 in favor of the avoidable, call avoidable. Do not be afraid, and like I said before, be respectful, tell them it was close, and that it was for their own safety. If the call is 51/49 in favor of a hinder, call the hinder. Majority rules in the case of hinders.

7) Make-up calls

The dreaded make-up call can be seen and heard a mile away. A make-up call, for those who are unaware, is the act of making a call in favor of a player based on a questionable call earlier in the match. For example, if a make a questionable call against player A, a few rallies later I might feel inclined to make it up to him by calling a questionable call against his opponent. We have all been guilty of making them and recieving them. The important thing is that you are aware that make-up calls exist. Do your best to start each rallie with a clean slate. Forget everything that has already happened and take it one point at a time.

8 ) Screens

The rule of the screen is that the ball must pass the server at least 18 inches from his or her body or else it is a screen. However, at least in the pros, sometimes a player does not want a screen. Sometimes the serve turns out to be a set-up, and they choose to take the shot. In this case, you must watch for the recievers reaction. If the ball travels by the server and the reciever makes no signal (hand in the air or hesitation) and proceeds to shoot the ball, then play on. If a signal emerges, make the call. It is imprtant to recognize when a player is truly screened or when they want to take the set-up. If they clearly take the shot and miss, often they will question is it is a screen. Tell them that you as the referee did not see any signs from him or her and that you didn’t want to take away an offensive opportunity. It would be a shame to call a screen that the player didn’t want, especially if they roll it out. If the ball is outside the allowed 18 inches, then there is no call to make. Often times players will tell me that it is my call to make, but I say neh, it is a mutual call and you have to pay close attention and judge the situation.

9) Technicals

There are a few instances where technicals are automatic. The two that I can think of are swearing and hitting the ball out of the court. Other than that, most things deserve a warning, and if the player makes the mistake of repeating his or her actions, a technical is given. Technicals are not good for the game. Necessary, but not beneficial. I try to avoid giving technicals, but sometimes I have to. I learned early that a good eraser is always important when refereeing a pro match.

10) The Crowd

Every once in a while, there are crowd members who take the role of hecklers. I can handle most heckling, but sometimes it can be negative and frustrating. Not once in my career have I acted out on a crowd member, it would be unprofessional. But sometimes if the crowd member is too bothersome, I have asked them to tone it down, and only once have I kicked someone out. For the most part, the crowd understands that bad calls happen. But every once in a while you find someone who thinks they should be refereeing. I wish I could hand them the card sometimes, but instead, I try to shake it off.

Note to all crowd members: If there is one thing I can ask of you, it is to refrain from talking to me while I am officiating. This goes out to the people who ask me “why did you make that call?”, you will never get a response from me. If you find yourself being ignored by me while I am refereeing, don’t take too much offense. It is my job and I take it seriously, just like any other job.

Jason Thoerner: “People don’t understand that you’re not just calling x’s and o’s. You’re dealing with coaches, the crowd, take the US Open for example. You’re refereeing in front of a thousand people, and if you let them see that you’re cracking then it just goes overboard.” 

11) What needs to improve

People often tell me that the IRT needs line judges. It is believed that professional racquetball is simply too dificult to referee alone. It is not the referees fault, racquetball is a fast paced game where it is impossible to see everything by yourself. At the US Open, the IRT provides two line judges for the pro matches on the show court. The line judges have the responsibility of calling anything they see that I don’t. This is not the traditional way of line judging. Normally, it is up to the referee to make the calls and the players have a chance to appeal to the line judges. But at the US Open, the three officials call anything they see right away. I am glad we are able to have line judges in such an important event. It looks professional, hardly any calls are missed, and it takes a lot of pressure off of me. Unfortunately, the IRT does not have the budget to hire line judges for other pro tournaments. We wish we did, but we make do just fine without them. The best possible solution  near flawless officiating is technology.

Take tennis for example. About a decade ago, professional tennis introduced a technology called “Shot Spot”. Shot Spot is a computer system that tracks the exact location of the tennis ball. In most major tennis matches, it is not uncommon to see a handful of appeals to the Shot Spot. Sure enough, about half the time the calls are wrong. But the technology saves the fairness of the game. This would be the ultimate system to ensure that most calls are no longer questionable. Imagine being able to see exactly where a drive serve landed, or seeing if the ball bounced twice, or if it skipped. It is possible, but expensive. Soon enough, I hope.

On that note:

My next blog subject will be “The Future of Racquetball: Where Are We Headed?”

I encourage everyone to leave a comment, question, opinion, etc. about “The Future of Racquetball” and I will do my best to let your voices be heard. Thanks!

Special thanks to Jason Thoerner for taking the time to reach the fans! It was a pleasure to learn from the one person in the world who knows more about my job than I do.

Jason Thoerner: “Anytime! Thanks for taking over so I could get the heck out of there!”

Train your brain – The mental game

Posted on: April 11th, 2012 by Charlie 1 Comment

What are athletes thinking in the heat of competition? What goes through an athletes head before a game winning shot? Wouldn’t we all like to know what Kane is thinking before a match or during training? What was Ben Croft thinking on the brink of his first tour win? In a way, we will never know. Perhaps the mystery is more intriguing. Here is my take on the mental game:

This subject is broad, challenging, interesting, and vital to our games. We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s 90% mental, 10% physical”. But what does that really mean? Is our brain so powerful that we are able to win or lose based solely on our ability to focus? Is my physical training not that important? After all, it is only 10%, right? Perhaps I should focus my efforts on the 90%, where it really matters. In reality, it is not exactly 90% mental, 10% physical. The physical training is just as important as the mental game. In fact, they go hand in hand. Your brain needs to be trained just like the rest of your body.

Much of our training is mental instead of physical. Every shot you hit, every sit-up, and every speed drill you do is strengthening the signal from your brain to your muscles. The more you practice, the more efficient these signals become, resulting in your brain using less energy to tell your body what to do. Each jump you take on a jump rope is telling your calf muscles to contract and pop yourself back up. The more we do this, the more efficient the signal becomes. We become better at things because of repetition, just like walking, eating and breathing. These activities take very little thought because of how much we do them. The same thing goes for sports. The more you practice something, the less you have to think about it, allowing you to stay calm in crunch time. One of the greatest coaches of all time once told me that the person who trains the hardest will always be victorious in a close match. The reason for this is that your body reacts to the severity of the moment. In a close tie-breaker, the body reverts to what it has been taught. As a result, the player who is more prepared is also more relaxed, doesn’t over-think, and executes the right shots. The player is comfortable because they have practiced  and pushed themselves to the point of mental exhaustion over and over again. This is the relationship between hard work and the mental game.

My least favorite drill to do is speed drills, which is why they are probably the best thing to do. The reason I dislike them is because I am only given 10 seconds in between sprints to help simulate a racquetball match. 10 seconds is not a lot of time when you are running full speed, try it sometime. This is where the mental training comes in. What is going through your head when you have 10 seconds in between rally’s? Is it positive? Does it change? Are you thinking at all?

Here is what I do: I focus on breathing, relaxing, and recovering. I take deep breaths in through my nose, out through my mouth, being one my body and recovering one breath at a time. I can feel the oxygen spreading throughout my arms and legs. I focus on getting rid of whatever pains I might have. My thoughts are simple and positive. “Breath, recover, etc”. Block out the bad, fill yourself with positivity. It has taught me to find my center as soon as possible. I have noticed that my recovery time has shortened and mentally I am ready for the next drill much sooner.

Practice these 10 seconds. Master them and be mentally strong. This time-frame is something we all share as racquetball players. Find your way of recovery. This is mental training.

For me, the mental game has been a learning process. I recently discovered that my weakest asset in competitive racquetball was my mental toughness. I wasn’t putting any effort into it, or at least didn’t stress the importance of it until recently. Once I became aware of how vital the mental game is, I realized that it was what separated me from many top players on tour. I decided to be more attentive to the my mental game as well as others. Here are a few tools that I have learned to use:

1) The Break Down
2) Visualization
3) Quiet Time
4) Positivity
5) Mental Warfare

1) When you think of all the mental collapses you have had, what comes
to mind? When did they take place? Before, during, or at the end of the match? For me, it is either the beginning or the end. The beginning is usually do to my lack of training. If I have not trained well enough I lose confidence before the match. On the other end, I find myself losing in tie-breakers because I am tired, mentally and physically. That is another result of me not training to my full potential. A good training technique to avoid this mental breakdown is to physically exhaust yourself before working on your shots. Do speed drills, core training, weights, or whatever you like to do for training. Then, practice all your shots. In doing so, you are forcing your brain to focus what little energy it has on each swing you take. This is not physical training, this is mental training. You are breaking yourself down to build yourself back up. Stay strong through the drills. Hit the ball hard, low to the ground, bend your knees, and make game-winning shots. I think you’ll find yourself feeling more comfortable in all stages of a match.

2) Practice visualizing yourself hitting shots. You can do this before the match, before bed, or any time you want. Close your eyes and picture yourself in the court hitting great shot after great shot. Feel it in your body when you do it. Forehands, backhands, serves, everything. Visualize the win. Visualize yourself hitting the winning shot. Strive for that moment.

3) Before I play I like to find a quiet place away from everyone else. This gets me back in my own head, more introverted. I am not the type of player that can socialize before a match. I need my space to unwind and mentally prepare. I like to listen to music to block out everything around me. I take deep breaths to help me relax. Many of us tend to stop breathing when we are nervous or anxious. It is ok to breathe, in fact, it is necessary. Remember to keep good positive posture. Allow yourself to fully sink into the zone of competition. Be mentally prepared before you even step on the court. Go over your gameplan and just relax. No wasted energy, just slipping into your own thoughts. It is the calm before the storm.

4) Stay Positive! It is no secret, positivity goes a long way. A simple way to stay positive in any setting is to repeat something simple like the word “Yes!”, or a phrase like “Get this point!”. This not only keeps the mind and body positive, it allows you to simplify your thoughts and stay calm in pressure situations. Try it for yourself. Find your positive word or phrase and repeat it in your head when you play. See what it can do for your game.

5) Practice the art of mental warfare. It wasn’t until I discovered the importance the mental game that I realized that my opponents had a mental game as well. In a game of momentum swings it is important to have control of your head, but equally as important to have control of your opponents head. Even the simplest comment to your opponent can break their concentration and end a momentum swing. Some like to call this “trash talking”, but it doesn’t have to be mean, or insulting. In fact, it can be nice. Even cracking a joke is a simple way to get your opponent smiling and a little too relaxed.

To me, there are two types of mental players in racquetball:

First, we have the player who plays better when irritated. This type of player needs that certain spark to fire them up. They like a fast pace match and get bored when it slows down. As an opponent to one of these players, it is your job to keep that spark buried and control the pace. Slow down the ralley’s. Do not allow the player to get in a rhythm. Try to be emotionless. Try to be their friend. Tell them “Good shot!”, or “Sorry!” after a hinder. We call this technique “Killing with kindness”.

Second, you have player who plays better when they are relaxed. They like to play their match with a controlled pace and no controversy at all. They like to keep their cool and get a friendly victory. As an opponent to one of these players, it is your job to make them as uncomfortable as possible. Be vocal, intense, and arrogant. Control the tempo of the match. Push the pace and get them frustrated. Be a pest, dive for everything and crowd on every shot. Remember, this player wants an easy win, so make it tough. Show them that you came to play today.

I am the first type of player. I play better when the pace is fast and the atmosphere is intense. The battle for me, and everyone else, is playing my own game. An example of this was the 2011 US Open. I played Alvaro Beltran in the round of 16. He won the first two games 11-5 and 11-0. It was not looking good. I felt off balance and out of rhythm. He was completely controlling the pace. Every serve, every shot, and every rally was played his way. In between the second and third game I came to the conclusion that I needed to play my game. I stepped up my power, I started yelling and I started diving for everything. Alvaro was looking to finish one more game and go home with an easy win, I could feel it. It couldn’t have worked out better as my change in attitude led me to win the next three games 11-3, 11-1, 11-5. I was shocked, to say the least. It was probably my biggest win to date, and I knew that it was nothing I did physically, it was all mental. I won because I countered my opponents style with one of my own. What is the lesson here? Control the pace and play your game.

What type of mental player are you? Discover it, learn it, master it.
The brain is a powerful thing.

Bonus material

As the referee for the tour I have been fortunate to officiate over 200 matches in my three years on the job (some may argue how fortunate I really am, but that is beside the point). I have clocked in almost 500 hours worth of officiating, that’s about three weeks. Through this experience I have noticed many things about the game. Unfortunately, these things do not involve the physical part of the game. When I am officiating, I am not watching for tendencies in players, I simply can’t. I am looking for two bounces, avoidable hinders, skips, etc. So if you were to ask me the tendencies of certain players, I would not be able to tell you any better than the other pro’s. The other thing I do besides make calls is control the flow of the match. What I mean by controlling the flow is that I need to control the time between ralley’s, timeouts and games, but I also need to keep the players calm and focused if possible. Let’s face it, bad calls happen, and what I’ve really learned over the years is how a match can change on a dime do to a questionable call. In my 500 hours of referee experience, I have seen meltdowns, incredible comebacks, injuries, fatigue, frustration, and everything in between. These moments do not stem from something a player is doing physically, it is something they are doing mentally. I have seen matches where the better player lost because of a mental
breakdown. I think we have all been there, I know I have. As a bonus, I often find myself taking criticism from the players, usually out of frustration. If a player is frustrated with the way the match is going, they direct their problems my way. This is like a front row seat inside the mental game of a player. It is a chance for players to express their frustrations, and I am all ears.

This is a teaser for my next blog: “Officiating on the IRT”

10 Travel Tips from a Top 10 Racquetball Pro

Posted on: January 23rd, 2012 by Charlie 1 Comment

On the road

If there is one thing I don’t look forward to when going to a tournament, it is the travel. At times, I feel like my profession is not racquetball, but traveling. Airplanes, rental cars, hotels, new
places, new people. It all sounds glamorous, and it can be, but it can also be exhausting, frustrating, expensive and unhealthy if you do not take the right steps.

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Crunch Time

Posted on: January 2nd, 2012 by Charlie 3 Comments

The “second half” of the season starts in three days in Canoga Park, CA. It has been seven weeks since our last Tier 1 Prostop and I am very excited to play. In the time off I have mostly been working on my conditioning and overall strength, but now it is time to sharpen my skills before competition. “The training is done, that part of the break is over”, says my trainer. (more…)

Little Known Sports to Aid Your Game

Posted on: December 15th, 2011 by Charlie 4 Comments
It is not uncommon for athletes to participate in multiple sports. Some people are involved in a few sports, some a lot, and some have done it all. Sports are mostly seasonal, so if you are a competitive person it is likely that you will compete year round playing a few different sports. Take a high-schooler who does football in the fall, basketball in the winter and track in the spring. Ask him what type of cross-training he does, he will mention all three sports. Football makes him powerful, basketball helps with his vertical jump, and track makes him faster. The sports work with each other to make him a more well rounded athlete.

What your training is missing

Posted on: November 21st, 2011 by Charlie 15 Comments

 “What type of training do you do?” is a question I hear pretty often from anyone trying to improve. I remember being in that position a couple of years ago, wondering what the right workouts were and picking peoples brains. Is it weight lifting? Cardio? Running? Court time? I tried it all, but the one thing that I didn’t try turned out to be the one thing that I needed.  (more…)

The Warm-Up

Posted on: November 15th, 2011 by Charlie 7 Comments


Activate the body and prevent injury before you step onto the court
Everybody has a different way of warming up. Some players like to get to the club early, run, bike, stretch, hit, and really loosen up. Others like to show up 10 minutes before a game, put their shoes on, hit the ball a few times, then use the first game as their warm-up. I can’t say that I haven’t been a in both of these situations, and I think most avid players will say the same thing. I strongly recommend that you get a good warm-up in before you play, I think everyone will tell you the same. (more…)