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Racquetball Reality with John Ellis – Vol. 1 – Shootouts

October 5th, 2010 by Ben

Shootouts – The 21st Century Racquetball Tournament

Times have changed in our world of tournament racquetball. The 70’s and 80’s were a unique time in racquetball as the sport was truly a social gathering of athletic people that wanted to stay in shape by playing this crazy new game of racquetball. Most clubs had bars in house and usually overlooking the courts, which made for some very entertaining viewing of racquetball. But the 90’s ruined all of that when we decided that it was healthy to stay in shape and not drink beer and wine after your workout!! Various forms of workouts such as aerobics, nautilus machines and adding basketball courts became the fad in the health club industry. As we all know, that was the beginning of the decline of “True Racquetball Clubs”.

In the twenty years following the “Jane Fonda Aerobics Era”, racquetball tournament play has dwindled down to a huge tournament being a draw of 200+, far different from the days of every tournament being 200+. The reality is that tournaments can’t be much larger than a couple hundred players when there are only a few handfuls of facilities across the nation that have the court space to host large events. So does this mean the eventual end of racquetball tournament play?

The answer is no way, it’s just the beginning of the “new aged” style of tournament play known as the “Shootout”. The phrase shootout has been around for a long time and this style of tournament play is not really new, but the idea of almost every racquetball event being a shootout style of tournament is new. That’s exactly what’s happening here in the hotbed of racquetball, Northern California. Shootouts have taken over the schedule as I’ll be hosting nearly twenty shootouts in a calendar year at the In-Shape Sport facilities of Nor Cal. Other club chains are doing the same here in the region and the players seem to love it!! Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of true die hard racquetball players that enjoy a full weekend of tournament play, but the overwhelming consensus is that today’s tournament racquetball players would rather spend 3-5 hours of constant play in a pool play or round robin setting and be done for the day or weekend rather than playing a couple of matches a day and spending all weekend in the club. I can’t lie, this makes me a little sad as I grew up with racquetball and weekend events, but I also know that it feels good to be home with my family as early as 7PM on a Saturday night while knowing that the 50-80 players that played that day all had a great tournament experience while appreciating the in and out nature of the play. I may have already hosted my last normal racquetball tournament already as I see no reason not to make every tournament we host at an In-Shape facility “Shootout Style”, even the WPRO Stop we host in May or the eventual IRT Stop we’ll host one of these years. This does not mean the Pro Divisions or even Open Divisions for that matter will play the Shootout Style, but the rest of the tournament will…… Here’s a list of the important factors in hosting a successful shootout:

1) There’s no need for an “Entry Form”, just create a flyer template for shootouts and you can limit the amount of design time needed. I will use my template for each In-Shape Shootout, only changing the background photo and possibly a division or two. The basic design of flyer stays the same. Keep the number of divisions to a minimum. Obviously you want to host the most popular divisions in your area. Generally I’ll host three divisions per day on a three or four court facility. If there are more than four courts, I’ll add a division per every two courts. So if there are five or six courts then I’ll go with four separate divisions.

2) Sanction your shootouts. Even though the price is way to high from the USAR, it’s important to make sure you’re covered with their insurance and the USAR Events site will be very important to your shootout’s success. With the email blasting abilities of the USAR Events site, you’ll not need to mail a flyer out to every player in your state’s association.

3) Set up your Shootout Sign-Up Site thoroughly and quickly. Don’t delay on this portion of the process and make sure you provide all the info a player would need. Take time to type out a good welcome message on your site’s home page.

4) Accept entries online of course, or by email or phone. Don’t charge a fee for paying by phone, that will turn players off. If they no show you then add them to your “No Show List”, forcing them to pay up front if they try to sign up for a future shootout. Keep the sign up price relatively low. I charge $25 per division and only allow a player to play One Division Per Day. This will keep you from having time conflicts as you transfer from one division to another during the day.

5) For the $25 price, try to make the hospitality as good as possible. The nature of shootouts does not require you to go all out on hospitality. Remember, you’re trying to get players in and out in a short amount of time while giving them a lot of play and many different opponents. Full meals are not necessary. Provide fruit, energy bars, sandwiches and anything else that is relatively inexpensive and good “fuel” for the players. Believe me, they’ll need it with this format!! Providing a less expensive shootout shirt is a nice touch as is prizes for 1st Place Winners only. With my In-Shape Shootouts, I provide a different color shirt with each shootout that only has the In-Shape logo on the front/center of the shirt. It’s gotten to be where the players look forward to seeing what color I come up with for each shootout.

6) As I mentioned previously, the format of play will be either pool play or round robin. Here’s the kicker, don’t worry about setting up the match play scoring prior to the shootout beginning. This will allow you to be flexible with your match play scoring to allow that each player gets an opportunity to compete against many different opponents. For example if I’m hosting a Doubles Only Shootout and the A Doubles Division has eight teams then I would set up the draw to be a pool play draw, but with only one pool. This means that each team will play each other one match, but the match in this case will be one game to 11 points. From those results, I’ll set up the play off bracket with all eight teams included. At that point, I’ll make the play off bracket either two out of three games to 11 points, one game to 15 points or one game to 21 points. The play off match scoring will depend on the amount of time left in the 4-5 span you gave yourself per division. You can vary from this method in terms of scoring and how many teams drop into the play off bracket or the size of the pool play draws, but remember, the idea is to give the players a lot of opponents in a shorter amount to time. It’ll be a test of endurance for the eventual finalist but that’s what you want.

7) Lastly and I already mentioned this as well, but only give out prizes for the 1st place finishers. I tend to either do smaller plaques with a fun theme, actual Ektelon product such as a glove or backpack or a complimentary division into another In-Shape Shootout for all winners. Don’t feel bad about the 2nd place finishers not receiving anything, they paid a smaller price, still received good hospitality and ranking points because the event was sanctioned. Ultimately players don’t really care that much about the prize, especially when they have a great shootout experiences.

So I’m probably missing a few items in this overview of a shootout but that’s okay, you can email me at if you want to discuss this idea. I’m fairly good about getting back to emails as long as you can wait a day or two!!

I’ll be watching the USAR Events site to see how many shootouts show up in the rest of our great states and international too for that matter. Be sure to try and get to one of our In-Shape Shootouts, you’ll have plenty to choose from!! Keep em rollin………

John Ellis

- 13 Time Junior National Champion
- 1993 USAR National Singles Champion
- 1991, ’93 & ’03 USAR National Doubles Champion
- 10 Time IRT Tier One Stop Champion
- 1994 IRF World Doubles Champion
- 1995 Pan American Games Singles Champion (Inaugural RB  Event in Pan Am Games)

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