To Best Serve Your Players, Continue Your Own Growth
By Joe Dinoffer
There’s a principle that states that, just like our bodies go through phases of growth, all organizations, businesses, and individual careers start off in a growth phase and then level off after time, before heading downward to complete the bell curve. According to the theory, the critical time to add new ideas or services, and thus start a new upwards growth cycle, is as soon as or just before this leveling-off phase begins. Without adding this new initiative, decay creeps in, and once that downward pattern emerges, it is extremely difficult to gain positive momentum again. In our business as tennis teachers, coaches, program directors and facility managers, there are at least 125 opportunities each year for you to enhance your career, through regional and national conventions and workshops from various organizations, such as the USTA, PTR, USPTA, NRPA, IHRSA, etc. These are your chances as a tennis professional to continue the upward growth for your career and your business.
When tennis teachers attend conferences, their facilities may or may not pay their way. In any case, they lose lesson income, which is usually the bulk of their paychecks. Therefore, the vast majority of tennis teachers do not attend any continuing education workshops or conferences. What percentage does attend? Barely above 10 percent. And among managers and programming directors, most facilities do not pay their expenses either, so the vast majority of them do not attend.
For the last year or so, it’s been noted that the sport of tennis is a “leaky bucket”“namely that each year millions start playing tennis but about the same number stop playing. Generally, industry leaders point to three main causes for the leaks: competition of other activities, public perception among young people that tennis isn”t cool, and the quality of the delivery system, namely the program organizers and tennis teachers.
Plugging the Leaks
To help plug the first two leaks, the TIA and USTA, in cooperation with the PTR, USPTA and other industry partners, have undertaken a massive marketing campaign for the sport, combined with the Tennis Welcome Center initiative. In addition, the recently announced U.S. Open Series of 10 pro tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open will provide a dose of much-needed prime-time TV to keep tennis front and center for consumers.
Plugging the third leak, though, may be even more of a challenge.
The delivery system (consisting of tennis teachers and program directors) is just one ingredient that determines how tennis succeeds or fails in increasing the popularity of the sport. Some argue, however, that since players sign up for group tennis lessons and camps by the hundreds of thousands, that the methods of teaching do actually impact player retention in a big way.
The other part of the delivery system is the programming. Players of all levels are looking to play with friends and family. Since tennis flourishes most in fun, social, group events, the responsibility of the tennis program director is to constantly organize, adapt, and innovate programming to meet the needs of his or her player audience.
Just one example is Dallas’s monthly “Reebok Night,” in which my 10-year-old daughter recently participated. Sally Schwartz at Canyon Creek Country Club has been running this junior event for years. She simply rotates the kids through singles and doubles for four hours on a Friday night. Reebok supplies her with T-shirts and sneakers that are raffled off at each event. There is a fee, all levels can enter, and Sally tops off attendance at 48 participants. And, there are no winners and losers. She just makes sure that everyone plays, and plays, and plays. She encourages cheering and provides snacks.
Learn to Create Programming
The problem, though, is that most program directors do not create programming like Sally Schwartz. Some, maybe most, may not even realize how to create this type of programming.
We must recognize that, across the board, tennis professionals and programming directors are among the most personable individuals and best communicators in the world. They have to be. And we would probably all agree that being well liked and being a good communicator is an essential quality of any teacher and program director.
However, it should also be recognized that tennis pros can depend on their friendly and outgoing personalities and good communications skills a bit too much. Along with those all-important people skills, creative programming alongside leading-edge group instruction is also a key to long-term success. About 10 years ago, I conducted a survey of 150 adult tennis players, who had all taken group instruction at one time or another. They told me that the three things they disliked the most about their group-lesson experiences were:
- Standing in lines and waiting to be fed a ball before returning to the end of the line.
- Shadow swinging.
- Having instructions shouted to them from across the net.
Unfortunately, in my travels to about 50 clubs each year, I’ve found that most group lessons end up incorporating some or all of these dislikes. The solution, obviously, rests in training and sharing knowledge.
For instance, attending seminars on programming will reveal that there are certain ingredients you want to make sure to include in group lessons, such as:
- Fun and laughter.
- High activity with little down time.
- High success-to-failure ratios.
- Preparation to play the actual game instead of learning only isolated strokes.
- Learning in a minimally verbal but highly visual and kinesthetic environment.
- Learning in a high-retention environment that includes the students cooperatively helping to teach one another.
Alternatives to Attending
Attending organized conventions and workshops is definitely a resource that should not be overlooked. But if that option is prohibitively expensive, here are just a few alternatives that may be more accessible to you and your staff:
- Use the internet: Go to google.com, type in “teaching group tennis lessons” and thousands of websites will pop up, providing resources that you will find helpful.
- Use the resources of the PTR, USPTA, and USTA: Each of these organizations con- duct regional workshops and training in dozens of cities each year, and their liter- ature can help with programming and group instruction.
- Contact the local tennis leadership: Ask district or regional leaders of the USTA, USPTA, and PTR what local resources may be available or at your disposal. For example, several USPTA divisions offer a free lending library of instructional videos as well as audiocassettes from national and regional tennis teacher workshops.
- Observe other lessons: I remember always traveling to watch leaders in the industry and their tennis lessons over the years: Vic Braden, Peter Burwash, Jimmy Evert, Melanie Molitor (Martina Hingis’ mother), Pancho Segura, Dennis Van der Meer, and Welby Van Horn, to name just a few. In your own area, there will be others who have strengths in areas where you have weaknesses. Don”t be shy. Call them and ask if you can stop by and observe. Most won”t hesitate to extend a warm welcome.
Organized workshops and conventions are wonderful opportunities for learning and networking. But remember that there are alternatives. And any continuing education expenses in your business are tax-deductible.
To stay fresh and keep yourself on the upward side of that bell curve, keep learning and improving.
See all articles by Joe Dinoffer
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.