From the New York Times
By JOHN OTIS
To understand how Kane Waselenchuk became the dominant player in the history of racquetball, one must embrace the teachings of the Bulgarian psychotherapist Georgi Lozanov.
At least, Waselenchuk’s coach thinks so.
No one else seems able to explain how Waselenchuk does it. How he won 137 consecutive matches, demolishing the record of 54 set by Marty Hogan during the 1976-77 season. How he won an unprecedented seven US Open Racquetball Championships. How he has held the sport’s No. 1 ranking since March 2009. Or, simply, how he hits shots that seem to defy physics.
“He developed a way of teaching called Suggestopedia,” Jim Winterton, the coach, said about Lozanov. “In layman’s terms, it says that everybody has the capacity to be a genius, but the traditional education system screws us up. Children play using all their senses and learn all they know before school, and once they get there, it slows dramatically.”
This theory can help explain Waselenchuk’s racquetball prowess, Winterton says, when one considers how Waselenchuk, 30, was groomed at a young age. “There were three things I knew when I first came into this world,” Waselenchuk said. “My mom, my dad and racquetball.”
He grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, where his father first took him to the court when he was 2. The racket was so heavy that Waselenchuk hit his first balls with a makeshift substitute: an empty plastic soda bottle.
In the years afterward, that court became his sanctuary, and his skills were honed in do-it-yourself fashion. Waselenchuk said he was given pointers by his father, but he never had a formal coach until he turned professional — which meant he never had anyone enforcing the idea that there were right and wrong ways to play; never had anyone to impose regimented habits on him, or constrain his creativity.
“Because he taught himself for so long, he got used to inventing brand-new shots, and he still is inventing shots,” Winterton said. “As a traditional coach, I never would have thought of a lot of the things that Kane has. He’s changed my way of thinking.”
Whether he is playing offense or defense, Waselenchuk’s judgment of the court’s geometry would make even Euclid wonder, How did he find that angle? Opponents and fans are left stupefied.
“It’s definitely a risk-reward thing,” Waselenchuk said of the apparent sixth sense he uses to make his jaw-dropping shots. “I’ve been wrong before. Not too many times, though. To be successful in anything, you have to take a certain risk. I’ll let everyone else be the judge of how great the risk is.”
Waselenchuk’s skill has elevated pro racquetball, his peers say, because the younger players who aspire to match him know they must improve.
“He’s doing very unconventional things, and I think many of us are stuck a decade before,” said Charlie Pratt, who is No. 8 in the International Racquetball Tour rankings. “We were all taught this very traditional way of playing. So when Kane brought these different game styles to us, it kind of throws us all off. But we’re all finding ways to compete with him and in turn, that’s making all of us and the sport better.”
Pratt, 25, is also a referee for some tournament matches, which has allowed him to study Waselenchuk from a different perspective through the court’s glass walls.
“I don’t watch anybody else when I’m trying to practice,” Pratt said. “He’s got it all. Older players, who aren’t looking at him as a role model so much as a competitor are asking, ‘What can I do to beat this guy?’ But I’m saying, ‘What can I do to be like this guy?’ ”
Fran Davis coaches Rocky Carson, the longtime No. 2-ranked player behind Waselenchuk. Carson was declared the winner of the New York City Pro-Am final last month on Long Island — the match that ended Waselenchuk’s winning streak. A back injury forced Waselenchuk to forfeit the match.
“People put Kane on a pedestal,” Davis said. “But Rocky and others have got to believe that they are on the same planet and plane as Kane.”
Waselenchuk approached Winterton about coaching him 11 years ago when he became aware of the possible pitfalls of success. He did not want to become complacent.
“I know how this will sound, but Kane knew he was going to beat everybody and be No. 1,” Winterton said. “He needed someone to see flaws in his game when everyone was telling him how great he was.”
Since forfeiting that match last month, Waselenchuk has been undergoing physical therapy for the sprained muscle in his back and missed a tournament in Salt Lake City. Winterton said he hoped Waselenchuk would return Feb. 24 for a tournament in San Diego.
“I don’t think my legacy will be determined by how many matches I’ve won in a row,” Waselenchuk said. “In football, you can be the No. 1 team, go to the Super Bowlundefeated and still lose. For me, racquetball greatness is measured by year-end No. 1 titles.”