On the second weekend of 2023, eleven elite rackets players and one elite rackets coach descended on the city of Philadelphia, and more specifically the Racquet Club of Philadelphia, for NARA’s first installment of its Elite Rackets Training Weekend.
In attendance were players representing six of the seven American rackets programs. Chas Woodward (RCC), Joe Maiorana (DRC), Jamie Shea (DRC), Rodney Morgan (MRC), Stuart Bailey (MRC), Tanner Austin (T&R), Ben Hudson (T&R), John Beam (NYR&T), Kyle Martino (NYR&T), Pete Dickenson (RCOP), Henry Smith (RCOP). Our fearless leader for the weekend was none other than former World Champion and all around GOAT – James Stout.
While meaningfully outnumbered, Sensei Stout exhibited a tight grip over the promising young rackets players and organized a training weekend which hinged on many things – most of which was complete dedication to training and discipline above all else.
Players arrived in Philadelphia on Friday, January 13th. We were warmly welcomed by Rob Whitehouse and team to the RCOP and shown what is considered by many to be the best rackets court in North America. Sensei Stout encouraged us to play amongst ourselves in a casual fashion – unbeknownst at the time, but he was filming our play, taking detailed notes and devising his robust training itinerary.
The goal of the weekend was to identify the collective weaknesses in our games and tailor the training as such.
Sensei Stout employed a ‘break them down’ to ‘build them up’ training strategy. On Saturday morning, it became clear that his primary focus was to belittle the egos on court and push some to the brink of collapse – much like breaking a young colt. Notably, squash prodigy Kyle Martino was a tough pony to reign in. Rumors swirled that he and Sensei Stout have a history on the squash court, however our dear leader didn’t blink and young Martino eventually bowed his head.
Most of Saturday’s training focused on serve and return – evidently a key component to playing rackets at an elite level. James coached each of us on how we can improve these key aspects and ultimately allowed us to face off against the world’s greatest player. On a slightly awkward note, young John Beam displayed a masterful serve, acing our Sensei several times in a row. This turned out to be the subject of the evening, which we discussed at length over margaritas and burritos at Philadelphia staple – El Vez.
Bright and early on Sunday, the elite crew broke down film with coach Stout. We were shown a highlight reel of dangerous rackets that our leader had collected over the years. We were tested in real time on how we would handle such play if we were the referee. After our film session, we returned to the court to enjoy some 1 on 1 feedback from our sensei. Popular areas for improvement were serve, return of serve and general tips to suck less. Sunday’s session finished with singles matches which were all extremely close games.
The feedback from the weekend was positive across the board (it should be noted that we did not survey Stout for his feedback). All players had a great time in Philadelphia, we were all graciously welcomed by the RCOP and staff and some great rackets was played. A huge thank you to NARA, James and RCOP for hosting a tremendous event.
Self Announced MVP of weekend