Looking to serve
Throughout the country, Tennis Service Representatives are finding out what local tennis leaders need to grow the game.
The auto e-mail reply on Richard Dedor’s instant message summed up his life, and what his tennis job does, perfectly: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Dedor is one of 90 Tennis Service Representatives for the USTA, and he’s all about building relationships and making people feel good about themselves and the sport of tennis.
The TSRs help facilities, Community Tennis Associations, and other tennis organizations discover and identify what they can do to promote and develop the growth of tennis. The USTA’s national coordinator for TSRs, Mark McMahon, says they help facility operators step outside their tornado of activity to see what opportunities might exist to help develop their business. “It’s whatever the facility identifies that they can build upon or improve upon to improve their business,” McMahon says.
TSRs work for their USTA sections. But importantly, McMahon says, the TSRs aren’t pushing just USTA programs, but the brand “tennis.”
“It’s been a very positive aspect, going to areas that the section believes are important,” McMahon says. “It’s a ground-up approach, versus a [national USTA]-down mentality.” According to McMahon, through September 2006, TSRs visited more than 9,000 tennis facilities in the U.S., meeting with over 33,000 teaching pros, facility managers, teachers, NJTL personnel and other local tennis leaders.
I recently spent the day with Dedor, 22, who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and is the TSR for the Iowa District of the USTA Missouri Valley Section. Smartly dressed in khaki pants and a USTA logo shirt, he waved me into his car as we hit the road in central Iowa.
The first stop in Des Moines was with, arguably, Iowa’s biggest tennis guru: Bunny Bruning, a former WTA circuit player. She operates the highly successful Wakonda Club, a private facility in Des Moines. But as a volunteer, Bruning also oversees the action of the Central Iowa Tennis Alliance.
Bruning is very involved in Junior Team Tennis, and she finds the program to be fun, but it is also exhausting and expensive for teams going to nationals, she says, and she has trouble with the format. After-school programs, CTA banquets, USA League tennis, bad umpires, district snafus — she’s seen it all.
We sit down in Bruning’s office, which is packed with notebooks and other resources, and Dedor helps her with some ideas about where her next volunteers might come from. Dedor knows his way around a discussion, having debated in high school and when he ran for mayor of Mason City as an 18-year-old, garnering more than 14 percent of the vote in a 10-man race.
Bruning says she’s happy that the meeting indicates the USTA is concerned about what’s happening at the local level. “I also got some ideas on what volunteers could do as a team concept,” she adds.
Next, we meet up with Gary Scholl and his enthusiastic young assistant, Anthony Perkins, at Aspen Athletic Club in West Des Moines. Like Bruning, Scholl wears a number of hats, including director of tennis at Aspen (Bruning works there, too, in the winter) and USTA Missouri Valley volunteer chair of the Junior Tennis Council. Scholl and Perkins also find time to promote the Greater Des Moines Tennis Association ladder, assist with an urban program at the Willkie House, and help teach kids tennis in rural Osceola, Iowa.
Like the visit with Bruning earlier, Dedor calls this a “fact-finding mission.” His goal is to learn as much as possible about what Scholl is already doing, as well as what he might be able to do to assist Scholl.
Extra time at the Scholl meeting means a very quick stop at Subway to inhale lunch on the way to the Urbandale Parks & Recreation. There, Director Mollie Willhite and intern Mike Boone contemplate what they need to do to make their program grow. Urbandale is surrounded by seven other Des Moines-area communities, so competition for participants can be fierce.
The Urbandale Park & Rec is already successful, with junior lessons taught by high school coaches. But Dedor suggests new things to add to the menu, such as Cardio Tennis and adult social leagues, to complement the instructional program. The parks & rec also runs all the community education programs, and they market directly to many of the school districts, plus have a scholarship program.
After Urbandale, it’s a 40-minute trek to Indianola, home of Simpson College, which has college teams and a healthy intramural program. But Tennis Director Nicole Darling feels the intramural tennis could use some added pizzazz.
Darling has a busy office, adorned with posters, photos, and memorabilia that make it look more like a dorm room. She’s been at the job for six years. The trouble has been folks not showing up for league play, so they end up just having a one-day tournament.
Dedor runs through a few possible options for Darling, including using the World TeamTennis format for their one-day tournament, which will bring the college kids together for co-ed tennis. He also suggests teaming up with the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association and applying for a USTA section grant to help realize some of Darling’s goals for the intramural program.
Heading For Home
As we drive back to Cedar Falls, Dedor says that he’s pleased he made these contacts in person. “Now, it becomes easier to call people,” he says. “‘Hi, it’s me again. How did that go?’ People are real receptive. You’re not selling them anything. It’s tennis.”
Dedor says he plans to communicate frequently with the people in his territory, using e-mails, letters, and phone calls. And he plans to personalize his visits as much as possible. “The real test will be in a year,” he says, “to see what happens in each of these cities.”
Recently, when I sent Dedor a follow-up email, I noticed he had changed the message on his auto reply: “I would rather attempt something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.”
It impressed me that Dedor, and his TSR colleagues, are putting it on the line for tennis, looking to help the sport succeed in all corners of the country. And that is a great thing.
For more on how a Tennis Service Representative may be able to help your facility or club, contact your USTA Section office.
See all articles by Scott Hanover
About the Author
Scott Hanover is the general manager of Clayview Country Club, a swim, tennis, and fitness facility in Kansas City, Mo. As a volunteer, he serves as the national chairperson of the USTA Tennis in the Parks committee.