Tennis Industry magazine

 

Customer Service: Changing Times

As your players and customers age, make sure you’re still serving them in ways that keep them on the courts.

By Chris Lewis

“Age is just a number.”

You’ve most likely heard this many times, and it seems to apply to the sport of tennis now more than ever, as players of all skill levels play, compete and enjoy the game into their 70s, 80s and even 90s.

Nonetheless, certain aspects of the aging process — loss of strength along with diminished eyesight and reflexes — should not be ignored, neither by the players themselves nor the facilities and retailers that serve them.

To improve customer service for older clientele, clubs and retailers should keep the following points in mind, particularly in regards to fitting racquets properly, offering the correct weights and widths of tennis shoes, and ensuring that their facilities have proper lighting.

Racquets and String

Although some aspects of racquets and strings may be more applicable to certain age groups, Bob Patterson, executive director of the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, advises tennis clubs and retailers to not label or categorize based on age alone. Rather, they should focus on each individual’s playing ability, swing type, injury history, and playing frequency — and then match their customers’ frames and string set-ups accordingly.

Just as beginners’ racquet needs change as they become more proficient, older players’ needs also fluctuate, as they may eventually lose some strength and experience eyesight and reflex issues. Players should constantly evaluate their equipment and alter it when necessary to ensure they can achieve maximum performance.

In particular, senior players may benefit from softer string set-ups, including lower tension, softer string itself or a combination. Softer string beds are more forgiving on off-center hits, propel balls deeper and transmit less shock on impact. Older players benefit from having frame characteristics that match their unique needs.

“Regardless of age, players can optimize their on-court performance by having frames with correct weights, swing weights, head-size flexes and lengths,” Patterson says.

Once players have correct racquets, based on their health, skill level and level of endurance, they should have their racquets re-evaluated every two to three years, preferably by a certified Master Racquet Technician or Professional Racquet Advisor.

“These individuals have passed an exhaustive examination process to prove their knowledge and skills,” Patterson adds. “As experts on the industry’s latest technologies, they can successfully fit players with proper racquets on a consistent basis.”

Lightweight, Comfortable Shoes

In addition to properly fitted racquets, lightweight tennis shoes are a necessity for older players. Dr. David Sharnoff, a podiatrist in Shelton, Conn., recommends that men’s size 9 shoes weigh 14 ounces, while women’s size 7 shoes weigh in at 12 ounces.

“Although some brands of shoes don’t provide different widths, older players must keep the width of their shoes in mind and account for foot ‘pathology’” — any deviation from normal conditions, stresses Dr. Sharnoff. “After all, without the correct width of shoes, bunions, hammer toes, heel spurs, metatarsalgia and plantar fasciitis, among other issues, may result.”

To ensure that players purchase shoes with correct weights and widths, Dr. Sharnoff advises that prior to purchase, players try on shoes at the end of the day, as feet will typically swell 5 to 10 percent by that point in time. Furthermore, feet are not status quo, so players should have their feet measured every year.

“If older players purchase shoes that are lightweight, have properly fitted widths, and are designed with potential negative foot issues in mind, they will have more agility and comfort longer than they may anticipate,” Dr. Sharnoff adds. “And, consequently, they will notice a difference in their on-court performance.”

Higher Illumination Levels

Clubs and retailers must also ensure their facilities are designed and constructed to meet the needs of the aging tennis population. David LaSota, founder of The Tennis Design Studio, believes adequate tennis court lighting is extremely important to older players.

In recent years, many tennis facilities have been converting their court lighting from metal halide to LED lighting to reduce energy costs. However, one primary issue has arisen as a result: LED lighting, if not properly designed and installed, may not provide the average maintained horizontal illumination levels and uniformity rates that older players may need.

“Most LED lighting systems typically cannot simply be swapped out fixture for fixture with metal halide and perform to the standards required for older players,” LaSota says.

The publication Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual, published by the American Sports Builders Association and the U.S. Tennis Association, recommends facilities that cater to recreational tennis competition maintain average horizontal illumination levels within the Primary Playing Area at 50 foot-candles, along with a maximum uniformity rate of 2.0. LaSota often recommends even higher average horizontal illumination levels of 75 foot-candles for facilities with older players.

By paying attention to what older player want and need, you can keep them playing, upgrading their equipment and enjoying the game longer.

 

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