Tennis Industry magazine


Rewards for Participation Are Good for Your Business

By Joe Dinoffer

Everyone knows that the acquisition of customers, or players, is much more expensive than retaining them in the first place. As one executive with Club Corporation of America once told me, “You have to sell a ton of French fries for every lost member at a club.”

By now, we’ve all heard the dramatic statistics from the groundbreaking 2002 tennis participation study: More than 70 million Americans have tried or “sampled” tennis, and of those, a whopping 97 percent have no interest in trying tennis again. “Why?” asks Jim Baugh, the president of the Tennis Industry Association. He answers his own question: “Because their initial experience was not positive.”

The Tennis Welcome Center campaign is designed to improve our statistics. But there is also a very simple — and important — ingredient that often is missing in tennis. That ingredient is dramatized in this example that, for me, hit very close to home.

A few months ago my daughter won her first USTA-sanctioned 10-and-under tournament. What did she get for this tremendous accomplishment? Nothing! No trophy, no medal, no prize. That same week, one of her friends came home from a soccer match that her team lost. But she had a small trophy. Why? Because she participated in the league and showed up to play!

I asked a few of my daughter’s friends what they thought about receiving awards. Sarah, who takes dance classes, said that after just a few months, she received her first trophy for a performance. She was only 6 years old. In fact, everyone got a medal or trophy, receiving their awards on stage in front of an audience. Now 10, she still remembers every detail of that first trophy, and each one since. She now has a shelf in her home to display her awards.

“It helps me stay with it,” Sarah says of the importance of receiving awards and recognition. “It makes me think that if I keep doing it, I will get more awards and get better. It is very helpful to make me stick with the program.”

Another friend, 9-year-old Sally, is into ice skating, dance and gymnastics. She says the children in her classes are divided into small groups and that most receive some type of reward or, at the least, regular small prizes and gifts to recognize their efforts. So far, she’s received nearly 10 medals or trophies.

Sally’s younger sister is 4 and has already received a medal for participating in Little Gym, an after-school activity group in Dallas. This is interesting because it’s at a private business, and it is clear that they are doing this to get an edge over their competition, namely the other businesses in the area who are competing for the children’s business.

In ice skating and dance, for example, there is practice leading up to a performance. For children, the performances usually just last a few minutes. In tennis, the children practice leading up to competition, but the competition can last for hours, in hundred-degree weather. What do the tennis-playing children receive as recognition for their efforts? Most of the time, nothing. Frankly, it’s shocking.

No wonder we lose so many children to other activities. If you were 7 years old and your friends who played tennis had no awards, while your friends in soccer, ice skating and gymnastics all had trophies and medals on display, would you stick with tennis? It’s doubtful.

But let’s take this even further. Are participation awards only important for children? Not by a long shot. Adults need that sort of encouragement as well. We actually did this test: Take two novice adult teams that both participated in a league. Give one team participation awards and don’t give anything to the second team. First, watch their faces. Second, track their participation. I guarantee that more players in the group who received participation awards will stay in the game.

What’s the cost? For $2, $3, or $4 per person, your player retention will increase. No doubt about it. It’s a small cost that is easy to build into any program.

My daughter’s friend Sally may just have the last word on receiving awards for participating: “It makes you feel good,” she says, “and it makes you want to keep on going.”

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About the Author

Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional for both the PTR and USPTA. He speaks frequently at national and international tennis teacher workshops as a member of both the HEAD Penn and Reebok National Speaker's Bureaus. He is president of Oncourt Offcourt Inc. and has written 16 books and produced more than 30 instructional videos.



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