Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association, charter member of PPTR, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff.
His experience as a tennis pro has covered the entire spectrum from grassroots to college tennis. In addition, Gary Horvath has conducted extensive business and economic research that has largely supported the state of Colorado's economic development efforts.
HELP WANTED IN THE TENNIS INDUSTRY
By Gary Horvath
During all but two of the months between December 2021 to March 2023, the United States unemployment rate was less than 4.0%. A low unemployment rate is usually a good sign; however, when it is too low (below 4.5%), the economy will not operate efficiently. The inefficiencies occur because businesses may not have enough workers to meet customer demand. They may have workers who provide subpar service because they are not qualified, or existing workers may have to work overtime.
Most sectors of the economy have been affected by the lack of qualified workers. The tennis industry has suffered from a shortage of tennis professionals. This point was driven home by Mickey Maule and Bryan White in a recent video with Laura Bowen of USTA Florida.
In 2019 John Embree told the leaders of the USPTA there was a shortage of tennis professionals. At the time, the industry was in the final year of a decade-long decline. Between 2020 and 2022, tennis participation reportedly jumped from 17.7 million to 23.6 million.
The gains occurred because of COVID-19-related lockdown policies that allowed people to remain active during the pandemic by participating in outdoor activities such as tennis, golf, biking, and hiking. The industry leaders did not engineer this rapid increase in participation. As a result, they did not have a system in place to meet the increased demand for tennis professionals.
Tennis Professionals and Other Occupations
At first glance, it seems there would be great appeal to being a tennis professional or coach. While that might be the case, the industry has dropped the ball by not appreciating and adequately selling the merits of the profession.
Table I uses employment data, classified by Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Codes, to show the breakdown of workers by occupation. This table shows the top-level occupation categories. A more detailed table is on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website at https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm.
There were about 158.3 million employees in the U.S. in 2022, of which about 68 million workers have management and professional occupations, and 30 million fill sales positions. There are two subcategories within the Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media category (27) - Athletes and Sports Competitors; and Coaches and Scouts.
There are about 297,000 workers classified in the Coaches and Scouts category. It includes coaches from all sports. This category accounts for about 0.2% of all occupations.
Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 individuals are certified teaching professionals or coaches with the ITA, PTR, or USPTA. Tennis professionals account for about 0.01% (15,000/158.3 million) of all occupations. By comparison, 43% of workers are in managerial occupations, and about 19% are in sales occupations.
Tennis professionals are a specialized occupation and a precious commodity. From a workforce perspective, the USTA, ITA, PTR, and USPTA must develop elite attraction, education, and retention programs to attract the most talented men and women teaching professionals and coaches.
Watch Zee Ball, Bend Zee Knees, $50 Please, Thank You!
During the decade of the 2010s, tennis participation declined. Industry leaders were complacent. They lacked focus. They maintained the status quo. In 2020, they received a wake-up call. Almost overnight, several million players appeared on their doorstep, and there were not enough tennis professionals to serve them.
Competition with other industries - The extensive list of occupations in Table I shows the tennis industry faces stiff competition in attracting qualified workers. This effort should not be a contest between the USTA, ITA, PTR, and USPTA; instead, the teaching organizations must compete against other industries for the best and the brightest.
Organization core purpose - The certification organizations must focus on their core purpose. They must attract, educate, and retain professionals who will become leaders in the industry and their communities. They must demonstrate they understand and appreciate the role of tennis professionals in the industry. In addition, they must add value to their members’ professions when they become certified.
Career pathway - The industry organizations must promote the career pathway for tennis professionals, realizing there are many types of coaching positions and there are many dead ends in each market segment. The USTA, ITA, PTR, and USPTA should focus on membership retention for their certified coaches as a way of strengthening the career pathway and bringing stability to the industry.
Work with employers - Teaching organizations should create more opportunities to work with employers (clubs, colleges, parks facilities, etc.) to help professionals in those market segments maintain a better work-life balance and realize growth in their professions.
Learn from other industries – The teaching organizations can learn from industries that have successfully attracted talent for critical occupations. Specifically, they can learn from construction, manufacturing, IT, software, higher education, and healthcare.
Work with ITA - The certification organizations must work more closely with the ITA to recruit prospective professionals from college tennis programs. There are 7,400 men players in 700 DI, DII, and DIII programs and about 850 women’s programs with 8,400 players. Approximately 3,500 graduate each year.
Back in the day, there was a saying that the first step in becoming a tennis professional was to say, “Watch zee ball, bend zee knees, $50 please, thank you!" The profession has taken great strides since “back in the day.” More work is necessary to attract teaching professionals who will advance the industry.
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