Tennis Teaching Pros: Tennis Director of the Future
From compensation, to health and well being, to educational opportunities, the CEO of the USPTA helps to define how the tennis teaching profession needs to change.
By John R. Embree
As CEO for the USPTA, I am concerned about the aging of our association (average age is now 48). I am also worried about the wear and tear that our professionals experience in their respective jobs because of the amount of time spent on the court.
Even as tennis professionals mature, there remains this addiction to continue to grind it out. While they may love banging balls, is this really the best path to ensure a long and healthy career? Is there an alternative?
At most clubs today, the business model of a Director of Tennis or Head Professional consists of the following: a base salary that is generally small, forcing the professional to teach lots of hours (in some cases 30 to 50 hours per week) in order to earn the income they desire. They may also receive a percentage of their staff professionals’ lessons, may own or manage the pro shop, likely have the stringing concession and are responsible for programming. Often, they answer to a GM but have to also satisfy the tennis committee or even a board of directors. That is a lot of balls to juggle, which is why most professionals work six days a week or even more.
If a Head Pro or Director is doing all of the above-mentioned tasks, does he/she have the time to: Manage the staff? Interact with the entire membership, not just his/her lesson clientele? Drive revenue for the club? Develop programming that increases activities? Bring in new members? Give back to the community?
More importantly, how is his/her physical well-being going to be after years of toiling away in the trenches? As a result, many professionals come to a crossroads in their careers and have to decide whether they want to keep going down this path or think about a career change: teaching or management? Worse yet, they may wonder if they should leave the industry. Can they keep their jobs if they are not offering any “added value” to their facility? Do they have the skills to transition into management? Can they afford to take a “step back” knowing that it might be better off in the long run? If they did, could they provide for their families?
Changes in Compensation
In order to offer a solid career path that will keep our professionals engaged and in the sport that they love, I believe there has to be a fundamental change in how professionals are compensated, especially once they become Directors of Tennis.
Our best professionals should be paid much higher salaries to offset their usual lesson revenue and be encouraged to minimize their time instructing. More time can therefore be dedicated to running the tennis department, truly mentoring the staff, being more visible with the membership, understanding all aspects of the club and the role that they play, delivering exceptional customer service, and having greater emphasis on programming.
As Peter Burwash often says, “We are in the service business. As tennis professionals, we have an awesome responsibility to serve our clientele to the absolute best of our ability.”
But, if all of your time is spent on court with a limited few and you are not paying attention to the general membership at large, are you doing your club a disservice?
What Do Clubs Want?
In a recent survey, club GMs in Florida were asked:
What are the current strengths that you require in a Sports Director? Director of Tennis?
Answer: Business skills, knowledge of all areas of the club, be able to grow revenue and manage costs (budgeting), manage staff, create programming, outstanding customer service, highly visible with the membership, etc. (It’s interesting that playing ability and teaching ability were not high on the priority list for potential managers.)
What qualities do you seek when hiring a person for each of these positions?
Answer: Proven track record of success, leadership, professionalism, business acumen, outstanding communication skills, follow-up, delegation of duties, highest level of integrity, infectious personality, management skills (both up and down), attention to detail, motivational/enthusiastic, lead by example, hard worker, creativity.
What skill sets would you like to see most improved within the tennis teaching profession?
Answer: Gain a holistic perspective of all club departments, including fitness (in most cases now a larger category than tennis), understand how tennis fits into the strategic plan of the club, become a “team builder,” ability to say “no” and do so politely, able to supervise and motivate subordinates/staff, sense of urgency, run tennis department like a business, understand P+L.
Enhancing Pros’ Appeal
If these are the skill sets needed to pursue upper-management responsibilities in the club environment, it is up to professional tennis teaching organizations to provide them access to education that will enhance their appeal. As Michael Leemhuis, now the COO/GM at Ocean Reef Resort in the Florida Keys, says, “The more arrows that are in your quiver, the more you will distinguish yourself from the pack.”
Thus, we must start to educate teaching professionals on what their careers will look like after age 45 or 50 by providing more training on the business affairs of a club, develop career pathways for young professionals who want to stay in the club industry and want to be compensated for “off-court” skills, and teach how fitness and wellness should be incorporated into their regular regimens, both personally and professionally.
Being a tennis teaching professional is a laudable career choice. Unfortunately, the need to stay on court in order to make a living over the course of many years can really take a physical toll on the body.
I ask club owners and facility managers, restructure how our leading professionals are compensated, and provide them opportunities to get off the court. It is then incumbent on each professional to acquire the knowledge and skills to prove they are worthy of taking on management responsibilities while maintaining their desired lifestyle.
John Embree is the CEO and executive director of the USPTA, a position he has held since January 2013. He has been in a wide variety of tennis industry roles for more than 30 years.
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