BYU racquetball a well-oiled machine

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Coach Paul Snyder can’t remember a time in the past 20 years when the BYU racquetball team didn’t place in the top five teams at nationals.

The coed team and women’s team have combined to take 13 national championships since 1995. To say BYU racquetball carries a tradition of excellence would be an understatement, and Snyder instills that tradition in his athletes.

“Most of our goals center around nationals,” Snyder said. “We try to be top three every year, and we have been top five ever since I’ve been playing. I don’t think we’ve ever fallen below number five.”

Samantha Williams
BYU racquetball player Sarah Wynn in action Nov. 21. (Samantha Williams)

Being one of the best racquetball teams in the country is a daunting task in and of itself, but Snyder does that consistently; and he does it with several players who are brand new to the sport. Racquetball is an extramural sport, so Snyder doesn’t have the resources many other campus sports have. He finds potential players on campus, sometimes choosing them based only on raw athletic ability.

“We are a developmental program,” he said. “Since we can’t offer scholarships, a lot of times we’ll go look at different classes that are going on and ask some of the better players in the classes to come try out.”

Snyder has developed a tried-and-true training program that turns athletes with little or no racquetball experience into part of a nationally ranked team. “We’ll just take athletes how they are, that have experience at other sports or whatever else,” he said. “We can teach them and train them, and you know, for a year or two it’s hard. But if we have them for four years, we can turn them into good players.”

The team practices for two hours three days a week. Snyder said they spend the first 30–45 minutes conditioning; then they run racquetball drills and end with match play.

How does he transform his racquetball newbies into racquetball machines? Snyder is all about using the students’ time efficiently, and he focuses practice time on conditioning. He said BYU’s team is likely the best in shape in the nation.

“We run them hard, we work them hard, and it shows,” he said. “You have to practice correctly. … You need to make sure that you’re doing it the right way, not developing bad habits, stuff like that. If we can sort those out during the first semester, we can usually help them improve in leaps and bounds during the next one. They always end up very competitive by the time we go to nationals.”

Snyder himself started playing racquetball as a kid growing up in Arizona. “My neighbor had a court growing up, so I played from a very early age. That was something we did after FHE every Monday night; we’d go out together, and we’d play ball,” he said. “When we were teenagers, my brothers and I started beating up on the older gentlemen — our parents — so they put us in touch with some local pros and teachers … and that’s how I got my start.”

He played for BYU while he was a student, helping to win a national championship along the way. After a few years back in Arizona, he returned to BYU and took the coaching position in 2007.

At the November Contenders Tournament in Orem Nov. 19–22, Snyder moved between the upper-level windows of different courts offering his players encouragement and tips. He was quietly confident; he knows that he knows what he’s doing. And really, with his team’s year-to-year record, it makes sense that he would.