Tennis Industry magazine

 

Short Division

With permanent lines and courts for the QuickStart Tennis format, facilities will bring more kids into the game, and bring in more revenue, too.

By Mary Helen Sprecher

With permanent lines and courts for the QuickStart Tennis format, facilities will bring more kids into the game, and bring in more revenue, too.

QST court

The QuickStart Tennis format, with its shorter courts, softer balls and smaller racquets, entered the market in early 2008, designed to make tennis more user-friendly for kids. And like Little League baseball, its purpose is to teach the fundamentals without ever losing the fun.

And QuickStart is catching on. Private clubs and camps, as well as parks and recreation facilities, are embracing the idea of using smaller courts (see box on facing page for dimensions) to teach children to play tennis. While the QST format ultimately is aimed at the 10-and-under set — in an attempt to both increase overall tennis participation and to create future American tennis champions — QuickStart is having an even more immediate benefit. It’s making money for those who implement it.

“‘Catching on’ is an understatement,” says Jim Reffkin, director of tennis at Randolph Tennis Center in Tucson. “We are doing fantastic with QST.” Reffkin, whose facility was actually ahead of the curve, put in its own shorter courts two years ago. When the USTA introduced QuickStart, Randolph got on board. Of the facility’s 25 courts, 10 are now permanently lined with QST dimensions.

“This is right over the existing championship 10 courts that we use for a variety of national championships we host every year,” says Reffkin. “Yes, the courts have extra lines and are used for both QST and regular match play.”

In 2008, Reffkin’s facility collaborated with the Tucson Community Tennis Program, its own summer NJTL program and its ongoing junior clinics — and they saw QST explode in popularity.

“We’ve reached over a thousand children with QST,” he says. “We have at least 15 events every year now, and we foresee these same kids participating in Junior Team Tennis, which for the last 10 years has gotten very little participation in Southern Arizona. In other words, we are developing infrastructure with a broad base of young children that we will retain for future ongoing USTA programming: Junior Team Tennis, High School Tennis, College Campus Tennis and adult league tennis.”

Permanent QST Courts

According to Virgil Christian, director of community tennis development at the USTA, there are already nearly 200 permanent QST courts (standalone and lined), with an additional 516 courts in various stages of development. And theoretically, he says, that can translate into new income for the facilities that use the format. As an example, a facility lined for the QST format has the potential to bring in four times the current programming because one 78-foot court is made into four 36-foot courts.

This is particularly relevant in the current economic climate, where rather than dropping their tennis facility memberships, families are using them for all they’re worth.

“Decisions made are for the long-term benefit,” notes Christian. “It’s proven that participation for teens and young adults declines in soccer, baseball, football or other top youth sports after kids enter their teen years. Parks are in the business to ‘efficiently maintain and operate park facilities, to provide recreational programs for the enjoyment and health of all our citizens, and seek partnerships to maximize recreational opportunities for our community.’ All of that can be accomplished with help from the USTA.

“Clubs are in the business to make money — the QST format helps capture more players [which translates into more money immediately] at a younger age with successful results to keep them interested in tennis [which translates into more money over a lifetime]. Scaled-down courts and equipment is a proven method used by other sports and other countries for years, so the risk is minimal.”

Overcoming Resistance

While the benefits may be many, there may be a few obstacles to overcome — from those who have not seen the program in action and who fear losing playing facilities. Mary Thompson, executive director of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Tennis Association, says when her organization decided to renovate a three-court complex at Spellerberg Park to create eight short courts (photo on facing page) and leave one regulation court, there were complaints — at least initially.

“There has been total support from our tennis community — once they understood what it was about,” says Thompson. “At first, they cried that they were losing courts. We explained that those courts were not overly used, were in a great location for this project, and that the future of tennis would be better met with this new layout and teaching format. We had almost 1,000 participants in our summer lesson program, with maybe 50 or so at Spellerberg. We fully anticipate a much larger participation count in ‘09.”

Success breeds success. When other children hear that their friends are having a good time learning a new sport that was easy to take up, they start asking their parents if they, too, can participate. And parents, who can immediately see their children’s progress, are more apt to encourage them to continue.

“The parents of the young players really like the new format as they see how much fun the players are actually having,” says J. Scott Laakso, recreation and tennis supervisor for Roswell (Ga.) Recreation, Parks, Historic and Cultural Affairs Department. “The players progress at a fairly rapid rate to where they can play a match in only two short weeks of practice.”

Adding QST Lines

While the enthusiasm to grow the game is there, not everyone is eager to jump right in. The good news is that implementing QST doesn’t have to mean dramatic and irreversible physical changes to a facility — and (perhaps the bigger point) it can be accomplished without a huge investment.

Depending upon the type of facility, and upon the enrollment desired, a client may simply decide to have one or more courts lined for QST play. Laakso says the lines for Roswell’s QST courts are simply painted in light blue onto pre-existing courts, but that “the players love them. The permanent lines give the program more significance than rollout lines or masking tape. The players feel more important with their own courts painted right onto the regular court surface.”

And after all, say builders, having courts that are lined for both QST and regular play allows kids to graduate to playing on a standard court, without switching to a new facility, when their skills develop.

“We quoted a two-court resurfacing job that included striping courts for QuickStart in addition to regulation play,” says Steve Wright of Trans Texas Tennis Inc. in Houston. “The project will probably be done this summer. One court was a 60-foot court. The other court has four 36-foot courts perpendicular to the net.”

The one thing QST isn’t, however, is a hands-free formula. This is not, say the experts, a scenario for “if you build it, they will come.” According to Reffkin, managers have to bring their best game as well (see box below) and put it into action in order to maximize the return.

One of the most attractive aspects of QST for new players is the ability to master the strokes while controlling the ball. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that according to Christian, senior markets have also begun to show an interest in the 60-foot courts.

Not a surprise at all, says Reffkin, who discovered that bonus when Randolph initiated short-court programming several years back. “Beginner and advanced beginner adults love it,” he says. “Using the same format, we also have at least one adult QST event a month. Our basic five-hour, one hour per week, beginner adult clinics stress match play. Oftentimes, as early as in the second lesson, (adults) are playing matches and entering their first QuickStart adult tournament.”

QST may well be the springboard to producing future champions. But for now, it’s a way to bring tennis to places like the school gymnasium, playground, parking lot and even the workplace.

“We have done it temporarily inside our plant for a tennis day event we did for our 40 staff associates,” says Randy Futty of Lee Tennis Products in Charlottesville, Va. “It was fun as hell and not just for kids. Or maybe better said, fun for kids of all ages.”

And it can bring the generations together. “I did see several random players using the small courts when I would drive by,” says Thompson, “usually an adult and child. I guess it isn’t too hard to figure out.”

For more information on the QuickStart Tennis format — including court specifications — visit partners.quickstarttennis.com.


Benefits Times Three

Implementing QST has a three-way boost:


Courts Sized to the Kids

In regulation tennis, the space within the playing lines is 36 feet wide and 78 feet long, with an overall court area that is 60 feet wide and 120 feet long.

In the QuickStart Tennis format, the courts are 18 feet wide and 36 feet long for ages 5 to 8. Ages 9 and 10 use 60-foot-long courts.

Adult nets are 42 inches at the post and 36-inches at the center strap.

In QuickStart, for kids 8 and under, the net is 18 feet long and 2-feet, 9-inches high. Older kids use a regulation net if they are playing on a court with an existing net, and a net that is 3 feet in height otherwise.


Not for the Passive

QST isn’t just about shorter courts; it’s about taking a dynamic approach to bringing in new players and ramping up enthusiasm and prestige.

According to Jim Reffkin, managers must:

See all articles by

About the Author

Mary Helen Sprecher  is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.

 

SportMaster

TI magazine search

TI magazine categories


TI magazine archives


 
 

Movable Type Development by PRO IT Service