Your Serve: The Value of Collaboration
A longtime teaching pro says that when tennis providers find ways to work together, everyone benefits.
By Kevin Theos
Discussions concerning collaboration, or lack thereof, among large tennis associations is an ongoing feature of the industry. A less frequent topic of discussion, yet one that potentially has more relevance to individuals who work in tennis, concerns the value of collaboration among local tennis providers. Regardless of what the large associations do, an increase in cooperation on the local level is so important, that alone, it can increase tennis participation dramatically.
Teaching pros often lament the fact that it is challenging, or in many cases outright impossible, to get pros to work together. Indeed, as I began thinking about writing this, I asked colleagues from around the country for solid examples of local pros collaborating — long-term and with results that are recognition-worthy, or at least positive. The feedback I received was not encouraging. I heard story after story of failed attempts or no attempts at all to collaborate. Nevertheless, pros who take a fresh look at the possibilities for collaboration have the chance to greatly enrich themselves, their students, and the tennis community.
Perhaps the most common reason pros don’t work together more often is they are busy. Lessons, leagues, tournaments, pro shop operations and everything else that goes into being a tennis teaching professional makes it easy to get into a routine. When one is trying to manage all the needs of one’s own facility, it is understandable that reaching out to other pros might be low on one’s priority list.
However, collaboration does not have to be time-consuming, and pros who feel too busy to reach out to other teaching professionals would do well to ask themselves a few questions. Would their sanctioned and charity tournaments have more participants if one or more other pros in the area would directly (i.e., face to face and over the phone) encourage their students to participate in the pro’s events? Would the pro’s top juniors become better players if the pro were to facilitate and encourage match play against top juniors from other local facilities? Are there other possibilities of potential collaboration particular to one’s local tennis market? For most pros the answers to these questions would be an unequivocal “yes.”
A second reason pros don’t collaborate is they are unhappy with other pros they believe have tried to “steal” students, usually accomplished juniors. To be sure, pros who actively attempt to woo juniors from their coaches are easy to dislike, and it is understandable how pros would not want to work with these individuals. Nevertheless, the fact that there are pros who attempt to poach talented junior players is not a reason to reject all collaboration; there is still the possibility of working with other peers.
Even when pros attempt collaboration, sometimes nothing comes of it because of how they approach the issue. When exploring cooperation it can be unproductive to try and get everyone in an area to work together because there may be too many antagonistic relationships. It could be better for a single pro to think of a single other pro that he or she could work with in promoting each other’s events and having their juniors play one another. In turn, these two pros could eventually identify a third pro who could join them, and so on.
One advantage of starting small is that it may be easier to tell which pros actually follow through in supporting other pros, which could be more difficult to do if one starts with a large group.
Collaboration can help pros in many ways. It can facilitate participation in pros’ events, which can increase revenue. It can improve the skill level of players through facilitated match play, which can elevate the pros’ status for having many highly skilled players. And simply through building relationships, collaboration can help pros in unforeseen ways.
However, whether or not a pro will commit to collaboration has nothing to do with money or status and everything to do openness to possibilities and attitude. Many teaching pros love their work and see their profession as more than “just a job.” Ultimately, it is out of love for what they do and how they impact lives, as well as a simple desire to improve tennis in the community, that pros reach out to others to work together.
Collectively pros have the ability to vastly increase the number of tennis players, but it all begins with a single call from one pro to another about working together.
Kevin Theos is the USTA Southern Tennis Service Rep for Alabama. He is a USPTA pro with more than 20 years teaching experience and is the former executive director of the Birmingham Area Tennis Association.
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About the Author
Kevin Theos is the USTA Southern Tennis Service Representative for Alabama. He serves on the USPTA Southern Division executive committee and is the former executive director of the Birmingham Area Tennis Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.