Tennis Industry magazine

 

Your Serve: Think Outside of the Classroom

Looking to grow youth tennis in your area? Don’t forget about the growing homeschool market.

By Mary Helen Sprecher

Homeschooled children are a market that remains largely untapped by tennis programs at clubs, rec and park facilities, and community centers, as well as by private instructors. It’s an opportunity to bring children into the sport at all levels: preschool, elementary and middle school age, even high school. Additionally, it’s a way to increase court usage during traditionally less-busy times: daytime hours on weekdays. And it’s really only limited by your ability to be creative and persistent, and to do community outreach.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (a division of the U.S. Department of Education‘s Institute of Education Services), the number of children being homeschooled is growing. In 2007, there were about 1.5 million homeschooled kids, up from 1.1 million in 2003 and 850,000 in 1999. This increase has led to more parents who are looking for ways to satisfy physical education requirements, to promote healthy activities, and to allow children to socialize with one another.

Sounds like a custom-made opportunity for tennis, doesn’t it? After all, it’s a lifetime sport that kids can take up at a young age, it’s a wholesome family activity, and it teaches good sportsmanship, personal development and discipline — values endorsed by parents, particularly those who have chosen to homeschool their children for reasons relating to their personal beliefs.

Identifying and reaching homeschooling parents can be difficult, since record-keeping and tracking methods vary from state to state, even from district to district. There is no national association or state organization homeschool parents are required to join, which makes it challenging to market directly to a large group of parents at one time. In addition, there are various homeschooling methods. Some use an organized curriculum, while others rely on parents’ judgment. Many homeschooling curricula do not require P.E. credits at all for younger children.

But individuals who choose to homeschool their kids tend to be strong believers in networking and in sharing resources. P.E. may not be required in younger grades, but parents do seek out recreational opportunities. While some rec centers offer daytime P.E. classes for homeschooled kids, many parents enjoy having students involved in a variety of activities. Racquet clubs, tennis instructors, and community and municipal facilities should look for websites for various homeschool organizations. Often, such sites will have a section where parents can post their needs, such as instruction in specific sports or subjects. Almost all have a "contact us" mechanism, which can be your ticket to getting inside.

In some states, homeschooling parents have set up leagues and teams. Some are able to compete with regular high school teams, and others compete only with other homeschool teams. Football, baseball, cheerleading, tennis, volleyball, soccer and other sports may be offered. Playing on the side of tennis, however, is that high school kids often are required to have P.E. credits, and the fact that competitive sports are popular with that age group. The opportunity to create local tennis teams, or even teen leagues, for homeschoolers, is there, as is the chance to involve children in USTA Junior Team Tennis. Even Cardio Tennis for Kids is a great opportunity, since physical fitness and body image issues tend to manifest themselves as children age.

Ultimately, success in marketing to homeschooling parents is dependent upon establishing a presence and getting the word out. Various CTAs, which have worked with homeschool associations, recommend having the USTA section or district office attend any homeschool association conferences or conventions held in their state. It is essential, they note, that tennis groups put themselves on homeschool organizations’ radar prior to the academic year.

Much will depend on the level of interest from, and cooperation of, the homeschooling groups themselves. In the long-term, however, making contact with such groups will be a process — an investment of time today and in days to come that can pay dividends down the road.

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

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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.

 

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