Tennis Industry magazine


The Passionate Player: The Tennis Congress Cure

An innovative event for those passionate about tennis is appealing to both players and teaching pros.

By Rod Heckelman

With very little promotion — in fact, with mostly word of mouth — The Tennis Congress has become a premier event for the serious tennis athlete looking to foster and develop his game.

Founder P.J. Simmons came up with the idea because he had always been looking for input from multiple top pros that respected his inner love for the game and his desire to be coached as a serious athlete with high expectations. The whole idea grew from passion for the game, and it’s something the industry should take a close look at.

Picture this: Three days of customized on-court classes supplemented with off-court elective sessions. You get up in the morning and take a lesson from a top pro. Later you may attend a discussion on strategy or tactics, then it’s off to an organized lunch break. In the afternoon, another lesson with a certified pro, followed by a practice session. That evening you join others to talk tennis, enjoy a great meal and interact with the many tennis pros participating. In addition there is entertainment that is an offshoot of the great sport of tennis.

Unlike many adult tennis camps, The Tennis Congress ramps up the experience. The focus is on more complete learning under the guidance of top professionals. At most resorts and adult camps, there is usually a head pro or director and they determine the style of teaching, and in turn, the style of learning. The Tennis Congress provides a bombardment of tennis ideas and approaches that expose participants to most every approach to learning, making this program unique and innovative for both students and teachers.

To better illustrate the success of The Tennis Congress, on the day sign-ups opened earlier this year, 80 percent of the 212 spots were booked. Two days later, there were 50 people on a waiting list. It’s no wonder The Tennis Congress was named Tennis Industry magazine’s “Innovative Tennis Event of the Year” for 2014.

This year’s Tennis Congress will be Oct. 8-11 at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson. The gathering includes more than 70 teaching pros — some of the finest and most well respected in the world. And they are donating their time. How does that happen?

Feisal Hassan, who oversees this department, has that answer: “It’s the unique environment where we, as coaches, are working with players who are hungry to learn and improve. Coaches are inspired by this and love taking part in it.”

The fact is, this might be a great new format for tennis pro conventions. Think about it. Pros’ expenses are paid, they get a chance to see their style and concepts of teaching side-by-side with other top pros, they see the impact and feedback from the students, and they have time to sit and compare notes with colleagues.

Compare that to paying a fee to go to a convention, where you listen and watch other teaching pros present their ideas and you take notes. At the end of the day you may have new information, but little opportunity to try it out or see how it can apply to students. (On top of that, you have a substantial bill for travel and hotel.) All I’m saying is, there may be alternatives we should explore.

The fact that there are no official tennis organizations involved with The Tennis Congress means there are no agendas to complicate things. In fact, The Tennis Congress has been able to round up a tremendous group of sponsors that gladly donate to the event. It’s a unique twist: The event isn’t seeking out sponsors, the sponsor want to become involved because of the program’s success.

As the tennis world struggles to find answers to how to grow the game, maybe The Tennis Congress is teaching us there’s a pretty simple concept we all should embrace: Make tennis your passion.

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager at Mount Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif., and has been on the faculty for The Tennis Congress.



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