Facility Manager's Manual: When We All Win
Teaching pros must look at the bigger picture and work for the success of the facility.
Nothing is more satisfying for teaching pros than to receive public accolades for their achievements. Getting the credit for successful results — for instance, if a student wins a tournament — is a wonderful moment. For a teaching pro, these successes will stimulate demand for their teaching and can create a winning attitude throughout the facility.
A club manager enjoys these times, too, but when it comes to a quality club teaching pro, having students who win tourneys is only one part of the picture. A manager hopes to have a pro who emphasizes the big picture. That means the pro needs to develop programs that lead not only to his or her success, but also to the success of the facility.
Teaching pros, when looking for a job, often will highlight their playing careers and the quality of their teaching. True, they are both important. But they are not likely in themselves to generate more business or income for the club.
What many teaching pros fail to realize is that becoming more popular may not translate to becoming a more successful club pro. The key words here are “club pro.” Certain teaching pros have learned that their stability and longevity really are based upon the success of the club they are working for.
There are several characteristics a club pro can excel in that will have a positive impact on the facility.
If a club pro is running a good program, he will attract new players to the game, resulting in more members for the club. Too often, you see teaching pros work toward creating a greater number of loyal students. But not enough time is spent turning those students into club members.
When a student becomes bonded with the pro, the student should in turn become attached to the club. This shouldn’t happen just because of the student’s relationship with the pro, but rather because having a membership in the club enhances the impact of the lessons. For instance, a complete package for a student should include practice times and partners, an association with competitive programs, and access to meeting others to enjoy the sport.
This way, the student improves through the increased playing opportunities he has by being a club member; the pro has students who continually take lessons and the pro himself sells memberships; and the club grows by having more members. This is where everyone wins.
Ask this question of a former player: Why did you quit playing or leave the club?
The answer in most cases is, “I couldn’t find others to play with,” or “I couldn’t find enough competition,” or “I just got bored and couldn’t find the time.”
Aren’t these areas supposed to be the responsibility of the club pro?
Member retention lies squarely on the shoulders of the teaching pro. Again, too many club pros see maintaining a full teaching schedule as a priority over anything else. These are the pros who last two or three years and then find themselves short on support from both the members and management.
Should the pro be compensated for the efforts made to create a full package for the members? If a club can, it will, but often the pro must make the first move. If the pro takes the time to create quality programs, good management will recognize this and appropriately reward the pro. Short of that, the members may create the support needed and force the management to reward the teaching pro.
If a pro starts off at a club expecting to be paid first and perform second, that will often create a barrier between the management and that pro, especially if the teaching pro has no track record at any prior jobs of performing in this fashion. Giving without getting may be difficult at first, but it is usually rewarding in the long run. Also, though, when it comes to creating and running programs, teaching pros need to remember that unless the manager has a good understanding of the game, they may not recognize the benefits of programming.
Putting together a tournament, running a team tennis night, or having a social tennis event may cost money. A pro needs to show through examples that the money spent is worthwhile in order to attract new members and keep current members. It can be a difficult sell for a club pro to charge the club money for his services and add more expenses on the hopes of creating member satisfaction and retention.
Keeping It Fun
Another attribute of good club pros is the ability to have fun with the membership. More than just playing tennis with members, good pros take the time to talk with them about their games, watch their matches, and offer free advice when appropriate.
If the club has social events, the pro will make sure he’s seen at those events. Taking the time to “schmooze” with members is rewarding and makes the time spent at the club more enjoyable. This also becomes valuable when the pro needs to promote an event or program. Getting members to attend an activity will require more than just newsletters and fliers; sometimes personal contact by the teaching pro is needed to help persuade a member to take part.
This relationship can also foster some valuable responsibilities. When issues arise or there are arguments among members, a teaching pro who has interacted with the members can use his familiarity to handle these issues more diplomatically, taking pressure off management. Take on enough of these situations, and members will likely come to the pro first to vent their frustration, instead of management or other staff. Reach this level and you have truly become a quality club pro.
For a facility to be as successful as possible, the teaching pro needs to do more than simply teach tennis. Creating and retaining members is crucial. But effective pros also should have a willingness to voluntarily help when needed, for instance with maintenance issues around the facility, like picking up trash when they see it, or even pointing out other issues that have yet to be noticed by others. Or, since the teaching pro is in constant touch with players, bringing to management’s attention a situation that could turn into a problem down the road, such as a member who may seem disgruntled or treated unfairly.
The teaching pro is a valuable part of the club and can be a primary reason for the facility to move in a positive direction. And that’s when you’ll have created an environment where everyone wins.
See all articles by Rod Heckelman
About the Author
Rod Heckelman is the general manager and tennis pro at the Mount Tam Racquet Club in Marin County, Calif., where he has been for the last 31 years. His career in the industry started in 1967 at the famed John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. In 1970, when Gardiner opened his resort on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., Heckelman, at age 20, became one of the youngest head pros in the country. He created the “Facility Manager’s Manual” based on his years of experience in the tennis business.