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Tennis for Adult Beginners
We all know how tough it can be for adults to get into our sport and stay in it. The most frightening number I remember from my time on the USTA Tennislink Team is 75%+ meaning more than 75% of adults getting into the sport of tennis get out of it again within a year. This number is even scarier when you consider that there is a good chance many of those adults who picked up the sport in 2020 may decide on other fitness avenues like gyms once those become widely available again.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be polling everyone from regular tennis pro to club owner and organization staffer to give us their ideas and initiatives so we can share them with our readers. Watch for a survey email later on in June.
We're also thinking about a way to measure the effectiveness of certain beginner programs and award prizes to the most successful initiatives.
If you have highly successful adult beginner programs that are so good you want to share them with our readers, please let us know.
We'll begin this new section in our editorial lineup with Scott Mitchell's thoughts on some "rules" we better change if we want to keep those new players in the game.
Scott has been an Executive Director of Tennis with 30 years’ experience at private clubs, public facilities, and resorts.
Scott is considered an industry leader in first-class facility management, junior and adult coaching, and program design and implementation.
As CEO, Premier Tennis Consulting Scott is providing innovative and profitable solutions for clubs/facilities and professional tourneys. He has been involved in some of the largest and most prestigious facilities in the U.S. and many of the worlds’ leading professional tennis tournaments.
Tennis for Adult Beginners
Changing the way we attract new adult players to the game
By Scott Mitchell
As you can imagine being in the tennis industry for over 30 years, at a variety of different types of facilities from resorts, public, and private, there is a lot that I have seen or tried when it comes to adult programs and growing our game. My philosophy has changed over the course of my career. I originally thought that everyone that I came across loved the game of tennis as much as I did. That would make it easy to get people involved in the game or come and join the sport that I loved. It was almost a philosophy of “build it and they will come.” Well, in some cases this happened but in other cases, it just didn’t.
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In my opinion, we need to adapt to how we are marketing our sport and whom we are trying to attract. It doesn’t mean we don’t continue serving all those tennis-loving customers. It does mean that to attract new players to our game we need to think as they do, offer what and how they desire and look at things a bit differently than we have. New players to our game are not YET looking for league teams, tournaments, and the best coach. They simply aren’t and we need to stop ONLY marketing to those that do want these things. What are those that don’t currently play tennis or have never played looking for in a new activity? It might be hard to tell now with all of the growth we had in 2020.
I know these statements might be a bit of a head-scratcher to many, maybe even most. My concern is that we have seen amazing numbers of growth in 2020. If we keep teaching and coaching, and marketing our sport as we have before 2020, I believe we just might see these numbers go back to levels prior to 2020. Why? We have to remember during the pandemic, in almost every city, county, and state tennis did not have any competition as it was in many cases the only activity allowed. So, we have taken advantage of it. I only want growth to continue and to see communities and facilities thrive in the future. My worry is that we will continue to do things as we have always done.
What I found, and the experiences that happened to me throughout my career proved to be quite different than what I originally thought. There are always going to be those that will try just about any activity. There is another segment, a relatively large segment that would try new activities, but they have a different reason for trying them.
Years ago, I began trying to figure out exactly what my future clients or customers were looking for rather than programs that I hoped, or I “believed” they wanted. It doesn’t mean what I believed was wrong, in many cases I was right. I spent time asking questions of what they enjoyed, what activities they liked most, who else did these activities with them, and when they tried these activities what they enjoyed so much that they returned. As tennis professionals, we can design any program because that is our expertise. What we need to be careful of is designing things that we “believe” others will like simply because they should love tennis as much as we do.
We also need to take a close look at how we have taught our sport for so many years. In the U.S. most beginner programs are primarily focused on teaching the technique. Many years ago, I used to have this mindset as well. I thought if I gave them great strokes they could use and understand that when they started playing, they would enjoy it because they learned all the fundamentals first. That may have worked early in my career but these days my beginner programs are learning to serve, rally, and score OR tactically based. I support that with the technical base so that as they learn to play the game, I teach them how (technique) to do things better.
To run programs of this nature means you need to adapt to how you have set up your beginner programs. Look at the equipment you have that might make it easier to learn. Hint- pickleball is thriving because it is much easier to learn than tennis. Why? Smaller court, bigger ball, smaller racquet. Hmmm, we have those too. So look at using the red, orange, green, and then yellow ball during your program. Even adjust the court size to make the learning environment easier for the players. They will learn much more quickly and be playing the sport right from the start instead of learning the strokes and then maybe getting to rally at the end of the class.
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It doesn’t mean that every facility shouldn’t have USTA or local leagues and tournaments, they all should. We simply need to focus on putting together the adult program pathways that will lead all players to the pot of gold. Loving the game, wanting to be a little competitive, and playing for a lifetime. Our universal story as facilities and coaches should be that we positively impact the lives of those in our communities through the programs we offer at our facilities. We don’t ONLY work with advanced adult or junior players, we work with all levels, all ages, and we build relationships and connect communities. If I were going to a planning commission in my city, I would tell them just that. There are so many benefits for playing our sport that we never market. One of the biggest benefits of an adult over 50 playing our sport 3 times per week is that it reduces mortality by almost 50%. What healthcare provider, wellness center, USTA section/district, or city doesn’t want a healthier city?
We need to understand what our community needs are and what will bring the new players to the game. The fact is that new, future players to our game are not looking to join a league team or take lessons from the best professional in town. Not yet anyway. They are looking for new outlets where they can hang out with like-minded people, meet new friends, reconnect with current friends, and do something fun and healthy with friends and family. They stay and become engaged in your facility because they get connected to the facility, staff, and other customers.
If we begin to make tennis fun again, social again, and the cool place to hang out we will see this growth continue. If we go back to our ways of only looking for people that want to get good, or great at tennis then we will see the decline begin again. We have seen years of decline in our sport, and we can either listen, learn, and then adapt, or we can continue to see our sport decline in a variety of areas. This decline, especially throughout our country, will be seen in our parks and at our clubs. Let’s get people to love our sport and share with others how much fun it can be for the entire family. To grow our game, we are going to need to attract new beginner players that have never walked through our doors.
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