Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"We got Issues!" or "Is that really a problem?"

Recently there has been talk about how to make racquetball better. Ektelon, one of the major racquetball manufacturers, has come out with a 23” racquet, which is one inch longer than the current racquetball rules allow. And on the IRT Network’s broadcast, John Scott discussed this topic with International Racquetball Tour (IRT) President Jason Mannino.

When people are proposing solutions or changes to anything, one has to step back and ask “What is the problem?” or perhaps “Is there really a problem?”

In creating a longer racquet, Ektelon implies that the current racquet length is inadequate for the game. Twenty two inch racquets are surely not a problem. Also, a longer racquet is not going to help any kid trying to learn the game, as 22” racquets are already awkward for them to use.

Scott suggested different scoring formats could improve the game. Perhaps using best of three games or rally scoring (a point scored by the rally winner regardless of whether that player served or not). Scott seems to think matches are too long.

Mannino, who described himself as a racquetball purist, said the IRT has discussed many things that people have suggested could improve the tour. This year they have included a video appeal using the IRT Network video. It’s interesting addition, although like video review in other sports, it's not always clear how helpful it is.

But it does address a clear issue, which is the difficulty in judging what is happening on the court. Racquetball is notoriously difficult to referee, because the discriminations are difficult, especially so with the speeds IRT players hit and move at. Doing something to try to address that is good.

To The Racquetball Blog staff there are few, if any, problems with racquetball that wouldn’t be solved with a doubling of the number of racquetball players. Twice as many racquetball players would be mean a greater demand for facilities, a greater demand for racquetball products, and greater numbers of elite racquetball players, which would help with the competitiveness of the pro tours.

Is a dominant player a problem?

Some have wondered if having a dominant player is a problem. Both the IRT and the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) currently have dominant players: Kane Waselenchuk and Paola Longoria, respectively. Sometimes a dominant player can have people flock to a sport, which seems to be happening in Mexico, Longoria’s home country, where she is a media phenomenon. Sadly, that’s not happened in either Waselenchuk’s home country of Canada or the USA, where he’s resided for over a decade.

Is dominance a problem? That’s unclear, but sometimes it can be a very positive: think of Roger Federer in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf. But if dominance is a problem, what would the solution be? The simple answer is to have greater competition. That could come by having more players, or by raising the level of the current players. Some have suggested Waselenchuk is teaching people how they should play, though it seems more like he’s schooling them, and they don’t seem to be learning.

In both Waselenchuk and Longoria there is a high level of skill, and considerable talent that’s been effectively used to create that skill. But has a detailed analysis been done of what each of them is doing? On the IRT Network this past weekend, Scott said that to beat Waselenchuk you have to kill more balls. Fine, so do you understand how Waselenchuk hits so many kill shots? He’s clearly doing it better than other players. Is he just doing it more often than other players, or is he doing it differently than others? Where is the evidence to address that question?

With Longoria, she grips the racquet in an unconventional manner. Does that give her an advantage? If so, should other players also use that grip? No one seems to have copied Longoria’s forehand grip style, so it seems people don’t think that’s what’s giving her an advantage, although we haven’t seen any evidence that it’s not.

One thing Longoria is clear on is how she has a support team that helps her perform so well. That is something other racquetball players would do well to copy. Integrated Support Teams, or ISTs, are something that most, if not all, elite athletes in the world have, so Longoria is just another example of that. ISTs exist, because it’s acknowledged that performance is determined by multiple factors - not only what’s done on the field of play, and no one person - traditionally the athlete’s coach - can have all the knowledge the athlete needs to excel.

If Longoria’s competitors do not have ISTs, then that is clearly a problem that needs a solution.

Follow the bouncing ball….

1 comment:

CenterLane said...

Outstanding article! I love when racquetball editorials are published on this blog in addition to the usual updates. My opinion: the 23" racquet is a solution in search of a problem. Most club players play doubles as much as singles (at least in Atlanta where I play.) Certainly no need for longer racquets there. And what specific complaints about the professional game will a 1" longer racquet solve? And why would a leading manufacturer launch a product that is clearly illegal in tournament play? I'd love to see a Q&A interview article with an Ektelon executive explaining their rationale... could it simply be dwindling market share?