Our Serve: USRSA — Past, Present, and Future
Bob Patterson, the new executive director of the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, wants your input.
With 40 years behind us, the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association has certainly come a long way. Back in 1975, we published a small booklet of stringing patterns and tips sent to a handful of members. I’m sure our founders could not have imagined that in the 2016 edition of Stringer’s Digest, we would publish stringing patterns for more than 6,000 racquets, or that we now have a database of nearly 11,000 patterns, more than 500 current racquets and over 1,000 current strings.
The USRSA has evolved and grown a great deal these past four decades. And as the new Executive Director, I’m excited at the opportunities ahead for us — and for our continued partnership with Tennis Industry as our official publication. (In 2005, the USRSA’s Racquet Tech magazine joined forces with Tennis Industry, and we continue to move this industry forward together.)
As the USRSA E.D., I have very big shoes to fill. Our first E.D. was Carol Anderson, followed by Jill Fonte, who led the association for 20 years before handing the reins to Dave Bone. Over the years, there have been many key people who have contributed to our success. Of special note, I should mention the invaluable contributions of former USRSA staffers Don Hightower and Crawford Lindsey.
When Dave asked me last year about assuming the E.D. role, I was elated. As a longtime stringer and Master Racquet Technician, when I started working with Dave and the association four years ago, I told him the USRSA was my “dream job.” What racquet/string geek wouldn’t want to do this for a living?
But I was also apprehensive, because — having worked closely with both Jill and Dave through the years as a member, serving on an advisory committee, and as a Certification Tester — I knew the responsibility was great. I appreciate the confidence Dave has in me by providing this opportunity and his continued guidance along the way.
I’ve worked in this industry since 1988, first, as a home-based stringer, growing that business into a full-service tennis specialty store that I operated for 16 years. During that same time, I also did tournament stringing for my own team as well as for others at Grand Slams and other major professional tournaments. Thrown somewhere in the middle, I also worked as a sales rep for a major tennis brand, so I have experienced our industry from all sides.
As an association and as an industry, we have much to be proud of, but also, we have much that we can build and improve upon. Be assured, we don’t plan to rest in our work to grow this association and elevate the status of racquet stringers and technicians.
We very much want to hear from you. After all, this is your organization. Tell us what we are doing well, what we should be doing more of, what we’re missing, and most importantly, what you expect from your organization.
As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … but I’m very open to new ideas, from both USRSA members and nonmembers. We want to review everything we do, which is something I think every organization should do on regular basis.
Our membership is strong, but like tennis participation overall, we’re gaining new members at pretty much the same rate we’re losing current members as they retire or leave the industry. While some may consider that in this economy, a “flat” growth rate is good, I know we can do better. We clearly want, and need, more people to play tennis every year, and I want more stringers and racquet technicians out there to service them. So we’re going to do everything we can to help grow our membership, and overall tennis participation, too.
While we try to keep our memberships at a reasonable cost, rising expenses are inevitable. As one alternative, we have a web-only membership, which reduces our costs of having to ship out Stringer’s Digests twice a year. We only increase membership prices as a last resort.
Is your membership a good value? We think it is, but we would like to hear from you. Our database of patterns is an invaluable resource to those in the racquet service business, but we also have much more to offer. Our online tools assist our members in selecting and comparing racquets and strings and if you customize racquets, our tools make the job much easier and more accurate. Manufacturers offer special pricing and incentives to our members, and some offer even more to our certified members.
What services or benefits would you like to see included in your membership? Would you be willing to pay for more benefits or would you like to see more options for memberships of different levels and offerings made available?
Our Certified StringerTM and Master Racquet TechnicianTM certifications are held as the highest standards of our industry. Earning certification allows our members to set themselves apart and promote their expertise in the marketplace.
We frequently get feedback from those who take our tests — some say they’re to easy, some say they’re too hard, which makes me think they are just about right. We update the MRT test annually to keep up with new technologies introduced by string and racquet manufacturers and we try to make sure the tests are a relevant measure of those things a competent technician would know to earn the title. If it were easy to become certified, it wouldn’t mean as much, and we wouldn’t want that.
We realize that terms and information change over the years, so we are in the process of updating both tests, but overall they won’t really change that much. We are, however, exploring the possibility of adding additional certifications, and we’d like your input, especially from our certified members. Are there areas of service that should be expanded upon, such as customization, tournament stringing, or something else? Do we need a certification for these? Let us hear your ideas.
This is an area I feel we can improve. Back in the day, the USRSA held workshops at the annual Super Show followed by a day of Certification Testing. But in today’s economy, and with no large, unified trade show, it’s hard to make training in hands-on workshops cost-effective for both the association and for individual stringers who would have to take the time and expense to travel.
But we haven’t given up. We are exploring options of tying in with other industry organizations at their annual events, and perhaps there are other alternatives, too.
Would coming to training workshops be of interest to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts. What topics? How long? What price would be reasonable? We all can and should continue to learn, so training is vital, but we must find viable options for getting it done. Would you be interested in webinars on certain topics? Are there other methods we haven’t considered?
Our website is comprehensive, to say the least. There is a lot of information at RacquetTech.com for tennis enthusiasts, including a search function to find a competent technician in their area. For USRSA members, we have even more information, including the online Stringer’s Digest, tools for comparing string and racquets, tools to aid in customizing racquets, and much more.
Organizing all this info and making it easily accessible can sometimes be challenging, but our goal is to do just that. We have purposefully avoided bombarding you with a lot of ads on the website, especially in the members-only section, and we have tried to divide the information in an intuitive way that makes finding what you need easy. We are constantly making tweaks to the site as members bring things to our attention, so let us know what suggestions you may have.
One of our goals is to add video clips on “how-to” portions of the soon-to-be-updated Racquet Service Techniques guide on the site. We feel this will be a valuable addition, but it is a time-consuming process, so when you see them added in the next few months, give us your feedback.
As I said, the USRSA is your organization! Please chime in. Send me an email on any or all of these topics, or anything else you think I need to hear or consider. I promise I will answer each and every query.
Email me at Bob@RacquetTech.com. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Executive Director, U.S. Racquet Stringers Association
See all articles by Bob Patterson
About the Author
Bob Patterson , the founder of the RacquetMAXX customization service, is a Master Racquet Technician with more than 20 years of experience. He was RSI's Stringer of the Year in 2005. He is Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.
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