String Outlook 2017: Educational Initiative
Getting players to restring more frequently — with the right strings for their games — is a matter of making sure they know the facts.
At the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, we speak frequently with everyone from players to racquet stringers to technicians to manufacturers. And among all of them, one message is clear: We need to do a better job at getting recreational players to use the best string set-up for their skill level, style of play, and particular needs.
The main problem, it seems, is that too many recreational players have embraced polyester strings — for all the wrong reasons.
Tennis Industry’s 2015 Stringer of the Year, Julian Li, summed it up in our “Wish List” story for the November/December issue: “My wish is that the tennis industry and string manufacturers develop and promote more high-quality multifilament strings. Polyester strings are not made for the general public. What you end up with is a string that creates tennis elbow and other muscle and joint damage.”
This trend doesn’t help people play more tennis — it helps them get out of the game altogether.
Many agree with Julian’s assessment. In fact, even many string manufacturers agree that while poly strings are beneficial for top players, they are usually not the best choice for recreational players. (See “The Evolution of Poly Strings” in the May 2015 issue of Tennis Industry for more.)
In general, recreational players do not generate enough racquet-head speed with their swings to get the most important benefit of poly strings, which is its ability to create spin. Poly strings do this because of their stiffness and their ability to create “snap-back,” which refers to the string’s ability to bend and then snap back to its original shape. But most of us cannot swing the racquet fast enough — while still hitting our target — to get the strings to bend in the first place. If they don’t bend, they can’t snap back.
Teaching Consumers the Facts
So why are so many recreational players using poly strings and enamored by the concept? The answer is, primarily, a lack of education — consumers don’t know all the reasons that a poly string is keeping them from playing better. And whose fault is that? We can all share in the responsibility.
For manufacturers, it is easiest to promote the strings that their pro players are using and endorsing.
For retailers, stringers and technicians, it is easier to just give customers what they are asking for than to spend time explaining what string may be better for them.
Add to this TV commentators, who often talk about how great poly strings are and how much they have changed the game. Yet they conveniently leave out important facts about the differences between how pros and recreational players play the game. (For instance, the pros change to a freshly strung racquet every nine games because poly strings go dead so fast.)
In talking with technicians about what they hear from clients, we find that most like the fact that poly strings are so “durable” and “never move” in the string bed. This is another indication of a lack of education. Poly strings are only durable if your definition of durable is that they don’t break. Most recreational players do not break strings before they are well beyond their useful life, if ever — they don’t swing hard enough, or have to face shots powerful enough to snap a poly.
Finding the Right Alternatives
How can we educate recreational players on the pros and cons of strings? It starts with each of us informing our customers and urging them to try alternatives that would be better for their games and their health.
By no means should we abandon poly strings, however. They remain a great product, but we have a responsibility to educate players on how they should be used to get the best benefit, provided their games are suited to poly in the first place. Parameters should include lowering the tension, combining the poly with a softer string in a hybrid set-up and restringing frequently.
Manufacturers can also help by promoting their non-poly strings. At the USRSA, we are hoping to get manufacturers behind a campaign to educate tennis providers and players about the importance of the racquet — the frame and the string — to their performance and enjoyment of the game. Together with the Tennis Industry Association, we hope to develop a campaign that urges recreational players to seek out qualified technicians to get the best advice for all their equipment needs.
Industry research shows that racquet and string sales have been sliding for the last few years. People are still playing tennis, but they are not buying new equipment as frequently as they should, nor are they restringing their racquets as often as they should. Educating retailers, providers and pros is a key to reversing this trend.
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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