Create opportunities to interact and “social spaces” and you’ll encourage people to play more tennis and hang around your facility.
Does your tennis facility have a social life? In other words, do players enjoy one another’s company in addition to a good game? Do they rest between sets or matches with a bottle of water or an energy drink? Do they spend time relaxing and socializing after their match? Or do they simply show up, play, and leave?
With new player initiatives in place, it’s more important now than ever before to play up the social side of tennis. Otherwise, what’s to stop newly-minted players from going back to the gym, or for a long, solitary run? Tennis is not only a great sport, it’s a social game. Business arrangements have been made, friendships have formed and romantic partnerships have started over the net.
Trouble is, that’s not taught by instructors. So who gets to teach it? Pros, facility managers and others, who can help appoint and arrange facilities, and then provide programming to attract and enhance the social aspect of the game.
“Golf has done so much to play up on the ‘19th hole’ idea that it’s almost an automatic that the game itself is just the beginning of the socializing. We need to better capitalize on that in tennis,” says Tom Magner of DecoTurf in Andover, Mass.
To create a good space for socializing, make your courts the focal point. Players are already interested in the game, and being able to watch others on the court will keep them around and engaged. With that in mind, say facility design and construction professionals, strive to create a “family room” vibe, or perhaps more accurately, a “rec room” — with your tennis courts (rather than the TV) providing the entertainment.
Make it comfortable
Comfortable seating is a must. (Note: comfortable seating means just that. It doesn’t mean sitting on the grass, on the court surface or on narrow benches). For outdoor facilities, shaded shelters should be provided, or alternatively, tables with umbrellas that can be put up or down according to spectators’ wishes.
If seating and social areas are located between courts, they should be positioned at the net line. Indoor facilities should have a deck or viewing windows that overlook the courts so that spectators can watch matches in progress without having to enter the playing area.
“You need social space adjacent to the courts but out of the way of play, so watchers feel comfortable and not in the way,” says John Welborn of Lee Tennis Court Products of Charlottesville, Va. “Tables, grills, and social areas with space to lounge and keep drawboards and allow people to gather is the key to taking the group past the players-only event.”
Water coolers or fountains, and machines that dispense beverages and snacks, also will keep users happy and increase the area’s appeal. Rest rooms or changing booths add to player and spectator comfort and keep people around.
Robert Hellerson of Century Sports in Lakewood, N.J., says facility managers can invite player interaction with attractive landscaping, and by providing extra amenities. “Near the court, include such conveniences as scorekeepers, water coolers, court trash cans, outdoor clocks, and court valets to hold players’ keys, towels and beverages,” he adds. “And don’t forget to have a weather-protected posting area for player information.”
A bulletin board where upcoming events can be advertised will create interest and generate opportunities for players to meet. Post notices of lessons, leagues, upcoming tournaments and so forth. Allow players who are looking for partners to put up their information as well.
The goal, according to Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group, LLC in Fair Haven, N.J., is “to extend the amount of time a participant spends at the facility before and after playing.”
According to Levitsky, various aspects of tennis facilities will enhance the social life of the game. A stadium or exhibition court, he notes, encourages gathering as a group for a particularly exciting match. And a clubhouse “is an important part of any tennis facility. It could be a modest structure that only includes a toilet and a room where the facility manager stores equipment, or it could be an elaborate facility that also includes offices, locker rooms, lobby, a pro shop, food service, etc.”
One of the added benefits of creating social spaces that allow for good views of play in progress and for meeting others, say industry professionals, is that it gets non-players interested in tennis. If the game looks fun and the pro’s office is close enough, only a few short steps can turn a non-player into an enthusiastic beginner.
Set the Social Scene …
- Create conversation areas near the courts with benches, chairs and tables.
- Amenities such as mini-lockers with removable keys allow players to relax and spend more time together, knowing their wallets, keys or cell phones are secure.
- Have plenty of hooks for jackets, athletic bags, etc. so that items are not piled on chairs or tables, which discourages others from sitting down.
- Scatter around magazines or newspapers for players who are waiting for a court, or who have finished playing.
- Furniture doesn’t have to be fancy, according to Rob Werner of Sportsline Inc. of Villanova, Pa. Werner sends a report from his colleague, Anthony DeCecco of Tennis Addiction Tennis Club: “We put in an old sofa and an old chair and now we can’t get people to leave.”
… Then Add Programming
- Create events that bring players together and encourage interaction: Round-robins, mixed doubles, play the pros, Cardio Tennis, etc.
- Schedule these events monthly or weekly, and add onto them, making them into pot-luck dinners or dessert nights.
- Don’t forget youth activities; schedule fun kids’ programming — including QuickStart Tennis and Junior Team Tennis — or special teen nights.
- Periodically have demo events. Invite vendors to bring in new models of shoes, racquets, etc. so that members can get together and test them out.
- Invite a local sports medicine or nutrition professional to give a talk to members; hold a casual reception afterward.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
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.