Change of Pace
The industry needs to create an environment that will better serve the changing market and culture of today.
Manufacturers, retailers, facility owners, club managers, coaches, and teaching pros — unite! The market has changed, the culture of the industry has changed, and the opportunities and responsibilities of everyone in the tennis industry must come together to accept new marketing strategies and communication skills to grow the sport and to serve its players.
Tennis has always been touted as a “lifetime” sport, but we got a bit too complacent over the years and unaware of a changing market and culture. While we continued running our business with the same programs, lessons, leagues, and attitudes, we lost players — by the millions!
The good news is that we are seeing the light. We have identified the market, made some changes, and the wonderful sport of tennis is once again on the upswing. To ensure that this upswing continues, it’s important to educate ourselves about the players of today and how we can create an environment that will serve them better.
The Newer, ‘Older’ Market
First of all, let’s take a look at the majority of the millions that left tennis. They are the baby-boomers and beyond who loved the sport but found that injuries, ongoing competition, and too many physical demands took the joy out of the game. An hour and a half of singles three times a week, league competition, tournaments, traveling, and drill sessions resulted in bad knees, sore shoulders, stiff joints, and more.
But guess what? They are back! And they would like to bring friends with them.
There are 78 million baby-boomers in America today, and the older adult market is guaranteed to increase exponentially. Whether they have played tennis in the past or not, they are now preparing to live another 20 or 30 years — the third third of their lives — and they need and want a fun, energizing activity to keep them physically healthy and mentally balanced.
Team sports and recreational sports are definitely on the rise for all the baby-boomers who make up nearly one-third of the population today. Tennis is a terrific answer to all their needs, but we have to serve them on their level and on their terms, not ours.
In addition to the obvious physical challenges of an aging body, the outside influences of the world affect our market and business, too. In a world filled with stress, anxiety, fear, and apprehension, participants of today are looking for more than a workout or a physical challenge. They need to experience the joy of movement, a social, recreational experience, and have a sense of belonging along with a sense of accomplishment.
Communication Skills and Marketing Techniques
The communication skills and relationship-building qualities of all of us in the industry must be raised to higher levels. We will have to give participants in this new market what they need by giving them what they want! Understanding the difference and working together as an industry will ensure a win-win situation.
First, let’s start with the equipment manufacturers and retailers. They have given us lighter racquets, better grips, easier, forgiving balls, quality supportive footwear, and comfortable, tasteful apparel. Let’s start communicating that to the market in a positive, productive way.
Retailers could specifically and personally invite the 50-plus potential players in their communities to come into their stores on a specific day of the week to learn about the new equipment and how it’s made, try out a racquet and hit some balls, see and learn about the comfort and high-tech quality of the shoes and apparel of today. The customers on this day could take advantage of special offers in the stores and sign up for special one-day events being offered at the local tennis clubs, and recreational facilities.
The next step is to meet them at the tennis courts and tennis facilities themselves. Tennis clubs could offer one-day special events inviting first-time or players of yesterday to participate in a social, party-like day of tennis. The day should guarantee a successful experience on court by giving these potential new players the opportunity to use the newest equipment designed specifically for them. The day must provide fun, enjoyment, and sociability. They need to make new acquaintances with similar interests, skill levels, schedules, personalities, ages, and genders.
Developing Professional Personalities
Professional greetings from the coaches and pros will gain their confidence and respect. This may take some specific coaching as well. Developing professional personalities and communication skills does not come automatically in all tennis leaders. The coaches and pros must be able to put people together, foster friendships, and create fun environments. This will probably be more effective than moving directly into a drill session or being tested for a skill rating. It’s all about taking the newer, older market through steps 1, 2, and 3, before moving them into step 4.
Deliver the Promise
Delivering the product may determine immediate success. The on-court experience will determine whether they will sign up for future lessons. That on-court time should probably emphasize doubles, and play, which should probably focus on round-robins rather than leagues, and membership, which will provide that sense of belonging and a chance for a happier, healthier, active lifestyle.
What are the service keys that work here?
- Personal invitations and professional greetings at special events.
- A group environment that encourages sociability, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging.
- Leadership that educates, encourages, and teaches with empathy and enthusiasm.
- Hands-on opportunities that offer successful, can-do experiences.
- Specific follow-up events that will keep the potential players moving forward with anticipation and excitement.
- Delivered promises — sociability, fun, activity … success!
- Professional personalities that know how to build relationships, establish trust, and create motivating and inspiring environments.
- Newly designed programs, lessons, and schedules that focus on sociability, immediate success, and relaxed technical demands.
Yes, we’re all in this together. The manufacturers and retailers have given us the newly advanced, more usable equipment for today’s market, but they must communicate to the consumer in a way that the consumer will see it. Tennis clubs and recreational facilities must put on special events to introduce the tennis programs of today that will serve the market of today. The coaches and pros must take on the responsibility of building relationships and trust with a population that will only respond to professional greetings, sincere encouragement, respect, and understanding.
The bottom line is that all the leaders of our industry may need to take on the responsibility of learning professional communication skills to better serve our market of today, and tomorrow. It’s really more of an opportunity for us to make a difference in peoples’ lives and the world.
See all articles by Sandy Coffman
About the Author
Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit, a speaking and consulting firm in Bradenton, Fla. She specializes in customer service, retention, and dynamite programming. With 30 years of experience, Coffman is nationally and internationally acclaimed as a featured presenter at USTA events, IHRSA, Club Industry, Athletic Business, ICAA, and CanFitPro. She's also authored articles and spoken at several universities. Coffman, who guarantees that her sessions are educational, motivational, and inspirational, can be reached at SLCoffman@aol.com or 941-756-6921.