A veteran tennis coach and youth center executive director says tennis pros need to serve juniors as they do adults.
By Scott Tharp
“71 million Americans have tried or ‘sampled’ tennis and no longer play. Of these people who tried tennis and didn’t continue, only 3 percent have any interest in trying again. Why? The initial experience wasn’t positive.”
— TIA President Jim Baugh
Jim Baugh didn’t quantify the ages of the players surveyed, but judging from our sport’s demographics, I suspect that the number of kids who’ve tried tennis and didn’t continue is fairly significant. The upward spiral of aging tennis players has disturbed me for quite some time. What’s even more disturbing is the fact that the managers, directors, and professionals at many private and public facilities are doing little to reverse this alarming trend. And these are the people that our industry relies upon to be the caretakers of the game.
Consider the impact of a widely accepted club policy that allows juniors the privilege of court time with the caveat that two or more adults may “bump” them. Imagine how discouraging it must be for a couple of kids to be told to vacate a court after only getting to hit the ball around for 10 or 15 minutes. These kids may well have had to take painstaking measures even to get to the club. Moreover, it was probably a parent, most likely an adult club member of equal status to those who just “bumped” their child, who took time out of a busy schedule to drive the children to the facility.
Why do the rules presume that this parent’s time is worth less than the time of those who were given court priority? To me, this situation would certainly qualify as a negative experience. An experience that could negatively impact the way a child would perceive both the game and tennis players.
Many clubs don’t even allow juniors to reserve courts in advance. They are afforded court time only on an “availability” basis. We’re not exactly rolling out the welcome mats for our future players.
Another common practice takes place nearly every afternoon and weekend at nearly every tennis facility. The head tennis pro can usually be found on a prime court giving clinics and private instruction to adult members. Every now and then one or two of the club’s top junior players, or perhaps the child of a VIP member, might merit a spot on his busy lesson schedule. Meanwhile, the club’s less experienced players are relegated to one or two less pristine courts receiving group instruction by a less experienced assistant or staff pro. The head pro rarely even bothers to learn the names of these novice upstarts. Isn’t it ironic that these children are the ones who would stand to gain the most from an experienced teacher? It’s not surprising to discover that many of these children leave the game in less than a year.
These problems have an easy solution. Our juniors must be accorded the same level of service that is given to adults. Meet and greet each junior player with the same enthusiasm that would be given to an adult member. Learn your juniors’ names and more. Take the time to discover their interests, their grade level, their school, etc. Knowing their favorite players will give you a tremendous advantage in steering them toward the purchase of racquets, shoes, and clothing. But most importantly, the time you take to know them will enhance their feelings about our sport.
A good head pro doesn’t have to be present at every junior clinic, but it is important for him to make frequent appearances just to let the kids know that their efforts are valued and that their progress is being noted.
Many of the most successful pros that I know encourage their adult members to hit with their juniors. These same pros make their young members feel welcome by creating special rooms or areas for kids to hang out. Junior social events and round robins should be scheduled with the same frequency as adult events. Common services such as racquet stringing and re-gripping should be given the same detailed attention regardless of who is receiving the service.
We had approximately 450 adult tennis members at my former club, and we had about 150 juniors who played on a regular weekly basis. Over 75 percent of lesson revenue and 65 percent of pro shop sales were generated through this minority group. It makes little sense not to give these young consumers the same quality service that would be given to their elders.
We only get one chance to make a first impression. Let’s do our best to make an effective “first serve,” regardless of to whom it’s directed. By serving our juniors as we would our adults, we all become winners.
See all articles by Scott Tharp
About the Author
Scott Tharp is the executive director of Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education, which as the owner/operator of the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center and National Junior Tennis League of Philadelphia provides tennis instruction to more than 8,500 children at 62 sites throughout greater Philadelphia. He is certified by the USPTA and is a PTR Master Pro, is president of the PTR Foundation, and serves on the USTA's NJTL Committee. He also has developed three accredited continuing education courses for tennis coaches.
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