Tennis Industry magazine

 

Facility Managers: Building the Bridge Between Tennis and Fitness

By Rod Heckelman

In the last several decades, almost any tennis club that could has added a fitness program to their agenda. The extent of that addition depends on the space and the interest of their members. The space that is available is likely to be a fixed number, but the interest of the members, and for that matter, the interest of perspective members, is in many cases an unknown. An over-investment and expansion into the fitness world can end up being costly and a loss of quality space. Under-invest and you can frustrate both the staff and the members.

Feasibility studies to find out whether a fitness program will work at your facility can be difficult to accurately analyze. This is due to the fact that the fitness industry is so comprehensive and seems to be in a constant state of flux. If you poll current members, the response can be deceptive. What might seem appealing one month to members may not be by the time you’ve put your program into place.

Fitness programs require constant change and updates to keep participants motivated. This is the main reason that statistically the attrition rate of fitness members is much higher than that of tennis members. Although there are those who are loyal to some programs, quite frequently they are looking for the flavor of the month. A new class or a new teacher in a new setting can be very attractive. Build a tennis court and there will be few changes needed in the future to accommodate the tennis player; build a fitness room or develop a program and you will need to constantly update your equipment and always be on the lookout for new instructors or classes to meet the evolving demands of the fitness member.

There has been a strong effort on the part of the tennis industry to embrace the fitness world, and for good reason. First, the demand is there. The country, if not the world, is looking for more ways to improve the health of everyone, address obesity, save money on health care and create a more enjoyable physical experience on the court. Cardio Tennis started this handshake and continues to move in the direction of a complete hug and embrace.

In many areas of the country, it is Cardio Tennis that brings the many levels of tennis onto a single court to function in unanimity. It is Cardio Tennis that addresses the need for some tennis players to get a more rounded and full workout when participating on the court.

We have become more and more an industry of doubles play, partly due to court availability, partly to aging and partly to league play. As much fun as doubles can be, it can lack in providing a complete workout. Two or three sessions of Cardio Tennis a week can make up for that, but there are still some unanswered questions about why more tennis players have not migrated to fitness. In fact, the latest trend seems to be that with many clubs that have added fitness packages to their facilities, they’re seeing a surge in their new fitness members playing tennis. They are looking for a sport that their whole family can enjoy and that will also provide a more social venue to enjoy with their friends.

The Fitness Connection

To better understand the implications of bridging these two worlds, the answer may come from those who have made that connection. Charlie Hoeveler, ranked No. 1 in the world in several age groups, is a longtime top senior player who has a reputation for being one of the most fit players in senior tennis for the last 35 years. “Fitness has always been a passion for me, as is tennis,” he says. “I knew that my success on the court was largely due to my fitness, my ability to run all day long if needed. That has always been enough stimulus for me to keep myself one step faster and one minute more enduring than my competition.”

J. C. Tucker, another longtime senior tennis enthusiast, reflects on the subject in a different way: “For me it is a preference, not an evaluation. I know that adding some fitness to my program would be beneficial, but given the time I have to invest, I prefer to be on the court playing.”

Jeff Greenwald, an internationally recognized sports psychology consultant, ranked No. 1 in the world in the 40s and later in the 45s. “For me, it is a combination of having the time and putting the mileage on my body,” Greenwald says. “I strongly believe in supplementing a good tennis program with a fitness program.”

These are top players in the game, but what about the average club or recreational player? Dennis Park, an avid USTA league player at the 3.5 level, has discovered that, “Cross-training is helping me stay longer on the court and handle long matches. I started with Cardio Tennis and now do a number of intense fitness classes at my club as well as circuit training.”

Barbara Musser, a new player to the game, added, “I only play doubles and love the game and the strategy involved. I added Cardio Tennis to give me a complete workout and to meet other people.”

As you can see, each individual has his or her own reasons for combining or not combining the two worlds, but there is one common theme: Everyone recognizes that adding fitness is beneficial. Because of this recognition, there will always be a window of opportunity to blend the two worlds. So, how do we do this?

Blending Tennis & Fitness

Let’s start with the venue. If you hope to create crossover, you need to first create a venue that is interesting, inviting and challenging. Fitness players get on the tennis court and find themselves spending most of their time picking up balls. This is where Cardio Tennis hits a home run. The level, or for that matter, the quality of play is not that impacting. You’re not playing against someone; you’re just trying to accomplish the task of hitting and running.

For tennis players, if you want them to enjoy a new fitness experience, it has to be just that — an experience. It can’t be just about the workout. They need to see and experience the benefits that can be transferred into their tennis game. Can they run and hit 50 balls in a row? Can they move and cover drop shots and lobs? Can they add strength and power to their strokes? These, and more, are the key elements that a tennis player needs to feel and experience when taking on fitness programs.

You then need to create an available opportunity for the customer. Make sure you have plenty of promotion and publicity about any new program. Schedule the programs so they do not compete with other established events. As an example, if you want to start a new fitness program to attract tennis players, don’t schedule these events when players are likely to be involved with leagues or other tennis events. In fact, don’t schedule these programs before or behind these events. Tennis players see their time on the court as sacred and usually well planned ahead of time.

Remove all the barriers. Remember that if you are trying to transition from a longtime tennis club to adding fitness to the agenda, you may run into some traditional barriers. Try to have the leaders of your tennis community, especially your tennis staff, help lead the way. There is also an issue with an accomplished tennis player and their image. On the tennis court they may be king of that level, but in the fitness world they may feel they lose that status.

It is important to find activities that experienced tennis players can succeed at in the fitness world. It would surprise many to see how often top-rated tennis players are compromised by a fitness challenge. As a result they simply avoid the exposure to these fitness programs. Tennis players in particular have a great deal of pride in their level of play. You need to take that out of the equation if you hope to bring them into another world where they may feel inadequate. Find a level of entry for them where they can be successful. Maybe it is yoga, Pilates or even working with some of the cardio equipment.

Lastly, make it a party. If you have ever analyzed the social nature of a facility, you will notice that many of the social events center on the tennis community. Tennis players historically enjoy the social aspects the game provides. Fitness programs are largely attended by people who are there for the class and then are gone. Tennis players come to play and then afterwards interact with both their teammates and opponents.

If you can organize a fitness event that is followed by a social event, you may see more tennis players migrate over. Zumba, one of the fastest growing fitness programs in the country, has had great success by having special dance nights. Participants come and enjoy the lively dancing atmosphere and then afterwards party with the instructors and other participants. The tennis world should learn from that and develop more activities to follow their tennis/fitness classes.

Although Cardio Tennis is the main piece to this bridge that we are developing between tennis and fitness, it is also the welcoming center to many more opportunities such as TRX, Crossfit programs, yoga and many more fitness classes that could be a great fit for tennis players. The fact is, tennis should be the perfect partner for a fitness program; we just need to recognize that it may take a little more time for many of the longtime tennis players to accept the benefits of cross training and come to realize that both industries can benefit from one another.


This story will appear as an addition to the “Facility Manager’s Manual,” by industry expert Rod Heckelman, general manager of Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Marin County, Calif. Tennis Industry Association members at the Associate level and above can download the complete “Facility Manager’s Manual” at TennisIndustry.org. To find out more, visit the website.

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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.

 

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