“If you don’t have a person managing or running this [i.e. keeping courts busy], you won’t be successful. Someone has to drive it. You can’t have a fitness class with no instructor. You need a leader.” -- Brian Ancheta
“It’s a process that starts with the first free lesson. Then comes a clinic, or more private or group lessons. I supply the equipment, show them how to reserve a court, and help them make connections with other players of similar skill levels." -- Wanda Collins
Let’s take a step back for a moment. What is “programming”? Well, it’s the action or process of scheduling something. Great! It’s offering and organizing something that delivers fun, fitness, competition, a sense of family and belonging. By providing this special place, this special sport, members will stay members...courts will be used more frequently...and happy club owners and managers wouldn’t think of disturbing this very special club subculture, because:
Member Retention + New Members = Profitability
Creating programs (plural) -- that’s where it gets down into the weeds. There’s a lot more involved than scheduling, and in this article, we bring examples of two individuals, Brian Ancheta and Wanda Collins, who share their many years of experience.
Dear USA Racquetball Reader...
First, it makes sense to catch you up if you haven’t had the chance to read the April 1st Club Insider article entitled USING COURTS AND COURT SPORTS PROGRAMMING AS A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE. If you have already read the Club Insider article, please proceed directly to Part II of this piece!
The Club Insider article shares concepts like:
Objectives for Win-Win Court Usage
- Courts are playable and profitable
- Use courts and court sport programs as a competitive strategy
- Maximize courts’ square footage for flexibility and versatility (outside the box thinking)
Make no mistake, whatever their actual job titles and responsibilities are at their respective clubs, successful Court Programming Coordinators are also social directors, organizers, club ambassadors, and business team members. They may be instructors, club pros, and athletes as well. Brian and Wanda possess every one of these attributes of a Court Programming Coordinator.
Assistant Manager/Racquetball Director/Coach (33 years, full-time)
President of Oregon Racquetball Association
Racquetball player for 30 years
Cascade Athletic Club, Gresham, Oregon
Opened in 1977
Nine courts, down from 11 in past years
Brian with winning doubles team Kelsey Klinger (L) and Annie RobertsWANDA COLLINS
Racquetball and Court Sports Pro (38 years, part-time)
Racquetball player for 45 years
Bellingham Athletic Club, Bellingham, Washington
Opened in 1976
Six courts, one utilized as a kids’ club but intact for play
Wanda (L) with perennial doubles partner Terry Rogers
Wanda and Brian agree that having someone dedicated to managing court utilization (aka programming) is essential. Ideally this is an employee who is accountable for results. To leave this to chance means a missed opportunity to use courts to create a “third place” culture* at your club, i.e., a place beyond home and work that feels like Cheers (everybody knows your name). That’s a future article!
* Celebrating the Third Place - Inspiring Stories about the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Communities, by Ray Oldenburg
Whether your CPC turns out to be a volunteer or a paid employee, what attributes make a great CPC? Someone who is engaging, likeable, fun, and personable. Someone who cares about the club and its members!
NEW MEMBERS -- Use court sports to help them get comfortable with their “third place.”
Everyone gets a free lesson when they join the club -- don’t just offer it, book it! Take the lead to potentially change someone’s life and retain that member potentially far longer than the typical fitness member.
Both Brian and Wanda provide equipment (racquet, eye protection) to get new players started. Wanda says, “The club pays me to teach that hour; about 25-30% will see the fun and fitness aspects and want to continue.” Brian describes a process that begins with that first free lesson and often progresses to additional lessons, leagues, club shootouts, and perhaps on to bigger tournaments. Helping a player make connections with other players of their skill level begins to build another level of community at the club.
MEMBERSHIP REVENUE BUILT THROUGH COURT PROGRAMMING
Brian and Wanda agree that Junior and High School leagues, team competitions, lessons, and clinics help create that “third place” for kids but often bring in parents and families as new members.
Readers, now you’re caught up on the article in the April 2021 issue of Club Insider. Press on...
Brian Ancheta and Wanda Collins share additional perspectives, techniques, and ideas to enhance racquetball programming and club profitability.
A Dedicated Court Programming Coordinator
Someone (the right someone*) must be dedicated to managing court utilization/programming. This bears repeating: *Someone who is engaging, likeable, fun, and personable. Someone who cares about the club and its members!
Brian: In the late 80s, early 90s, and before, so many people were playing racquetball, every club had to have a racquetball director. We said, “How are we going to manage all of these players?” The sport thrived. Years passed, numbers decreased, and clubs eliminated coordinator positions. The club owners and managers who have continued to hire directors are the ones who are staying afloat.”
Wanda: A club owner needs to pay someone to program, in essence, to guide people. The coordinator makes friends, hangs out for an hour during a league, helps new players get to know what’s happening. Effective coordinators create a social community in the club. They are friends who become family.
- A CPC plans, organizes, and manages. He/she may play also, but not on the job!
- I have also inherited handball groups who are now buddies of mine as well.
- If I’m in the hallway and a new-member tour comes through, I introduce myself and tell them what I do.
- I bring people together with similar skill levels, encouraging them to exchange contact info.
What is your and your club’s philosophy on court utilization? How many sports compete on your courts? For what other purposes can courts be used while leaving them intact for court sports?
Brian: Hopefully owners and club managers are looking for ways to utilize the space. A ping pong table can be rolled in, for example. At my club, two courts are set up for Wallyball. The net holes in the wall are not a big deal. Dodgeball is another idea to help keep courts busy.
Wanda: One of our courts is utilized as a kids play area, but it remains intact for tournaments.
More About New Members
How do you nurture new members into becoming racquetball players?
Brian: All new members get a free racquetball lesson with me when they join the club, or they can book a private lesson or sign up for a free group clinic. I host one free clinic a month, in the evenings. You sign up on the board and bring nothing but yourself.
If they’re interested, they can sign up for more lessons, private or group. A racquet is included in the cost of group lessons. When you they have their own equipment, they get hooked and want to continue to play!
Do they still love it? They’re ready for an organized league where they can play people at their own level. For example, I schedule a league on Tuesday at 7 pm, generally for 6-8 people. I charge a small fee $20 for the league, and there’s a pizza party and awards at the end.
They say, “Hey, I love leagues, I love playing with these people.” I recommend a club shootout or in-club tournament at their skill level. Next, of course, will be USAR sanctioned tournaments.
The plan is to guide them from beginner level to playing in a sanctioned event. Some will want to continue with private lessons, and that brings additional revenue for the club along with a continuously improving player.
Wanda: I work closely with our Membership Services Department. New members automatically receive a flyer, and they are walked to the front desk and assisted with signing up for the free beginner clinic. I build a close relationship with the front desk staff. They are so helpful in signing up new members for beginner clinics.
I supply equipment, and I show them how to reserve a court. I bring people of similar skill levels together. I’m a matchmaker!
The club pays me to teach that hour, and I generally get 25-30% to keep playing. Leagues follow.
Junior and High School Programs
It’s a matter of creative scheduling!
Brian: If you can get into junior high schools and elementary schools, you’re on your way.
Our Juniors meet and practice on Sundays.
High School racquetball is my passion. There are five teams that practice from five different high schools, with a range of 5-20 players on the team.
“Aged-out” juniors help with instruction. Annie Roberts is a great instructor. She is a natural at working with young players.
Wanda: I set up junior lessons like swimming lessons: twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. Lessons run from 3-5 pm before adult members get off of work. Once a week isn’t enough -- they have to get better to continue to enjoy playing!
There are three levels -- Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. Lessons are 45 minutes. The fee for one month (8 lessons) is generally $50, depending upon the membership type.
Membership Revenue Built Through Court Programming (Part II)
Junior and high school leagues can bring in parents/families as well. This brings revenue for the club and at the same time builds a way for families to be racquetball players together or to pursue their own fitness activities at the same time elsewhere in the club.
A Word of Encouragement
Wanda: We are offering a class for people out of shape for racquetball: working with a personal trainer at the club, doing drills and strength training with them, starting slow!
The pandemic took us to a low point, and clubs have to go back to the basics. It’s not like people are clamoring to return -- we have to make them like it again, bring them back to their “third place.” Habits have been broken. Hold clinics to get interest back, offer lessons, build league numbers. Don’t look at the situation as a failure, tackle it as starting fresh!
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND AN INVITATION
A big thank you goes to Wanda and Brian for sharing their experiences and techniques for developing players, growing the sport, and saving courts. If you have any questions for them, write to Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Wanda at email@example.com. They would love to hear your ideas as well!
Please visit https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Racquetball/Programs/Future-of-Racquetball/Court-Programming for court programming resources and materials.
Club owners, connect with us! What creative ways do you use to leave courts intact for court sports and at the same time build additional revenue? Send us your success stories and your perspectives! Contact any member of the Future of Racquetball Team via email with questions or comments.
Future of Racquetball Team Members
Mike Grisz, Virginia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Larry Haemmerle, Colorado (email@example.com)
Cheryl Kirk, Illinois (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Laura Pesek, Indiana (email@example.com)