Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association prior to its merger with USPTA, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff. 

Tennis Club Business

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.

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THE GREAT RESET - CERTIFICATION AND CONTINUING EDUCATION

By Gary Horvath

The Great Reset –What Problem Will it Solve?

It is in the best interest of the tennis industry to rethink the Great Reset, the poorly conceived makeover of the certification process for tennis professionals.

 

A review of the history, purpose, value, and business model of the USPTA and PTR raises the following questions.

  • How will it improve the attraction and retention of new teaching professionals?

  • How will it help future members become successful?

  • Should it have been put in place before the influx of five million players in 2000 and 2001?

  • What was the real reason for the Great Reset?

  • Are the elected members of the USPTA and PTR considering a Great Reset of their paid staff?

History – Professionals Want Their Interests Protected and Promoted

On Sept. 23, 1927, a small group of tennis professionals gathered in an upper-story room of the Spalding building in New York City. Their mission was to bridge the gap between the amateur ranks and a respectable career as a tennis professional. They felt there was a need for some organization to protect and promote their interests and assist them in obtaining a proper and recognized status in the tennis world.

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It wasn’t until 1969 that the USPTA administered its first written examination. In 1976, Dennis Van Der Meer formed the USPTR with a different business model and criteria.

 

Nothing has changed since 1927. In 2022, certified professionals should be recognized, respected, protected, and promoted for their knowledge, experience, and significant contributions to the industry.

Protect and Promote the Interests of Tennis Professionals

At the September 1927 meeting, a group of tennis professionals met to establish the Professional Lawn Tennis Association of the United States. A summary of the meeting follows:

“For some time, there has been a very strong feeling among lawn tennis professionals that there is a need for some organization to protect and promote their interests, and assist them in obtaining a proper and recognized status in the tennis world. An initiation fee of $10 will be charged to all new members. Dues are to be $5 annually. An executive committee has been elected, and a constitution adopted. It is the desire of this executive committee to have all tennis professionals of accepted standards become members of this Association." (USPTA website, May 2022).

Purpose of Certification and Education – Verification of Ability and Willingness to Learn

The primary purpose of a tennis certification is to verify that a person can perform a job at a certain level. The education process capitalizes on the willingness of certified members to learn.

 

The foundation of a certifying body is its broad-based, evolving body of knowledge (BOK). It provides content for conferences, education programs, certification, training, policy, management, marketing, IT, and strategic programs. Industry experts can adapt the BOK as the sport changes or areas of specialization arise, such as college, high school, and parks coaches.

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Verification and Willingness to Learn

The Indeed Editorial Board published its definition of the certification process on its website in October 2021.

"Certifications are designated credentials earned by an individual to verify their legitimacy and competence to perform a job. Your certification is typically displayed as a document stating that as a professional, you have been trained, are educated, and prepared to meet a specific set of criteria for your role. This statement is awarded only after you've passed the proper assessments administered by a recognized third-party credentialing institution."

Certification and Education – Making the Industry Stronger

Approximately 15,000 USPTA and PTR members create brand awareness for U.S. tennis. They serve the tennis population of about twenty million frequent and infrequent players.

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Over the years, the thought leaders in the sport have been certified professionals. They have played an important role in the success of service providers, manufacturers, and other allied organizations. They have encouraged and supported programs at parks and recreation facilities, K-12 schools, colleges, and other facilities. It is easy for certified tennis professionals to transition to other tennis-related jobs because of their expertise in the industry.

Because of their knowledge, USPTA and PTR members make the sport easy to learn and enjoyable for players to play. 

They have learned from industry-specific research and innovation from leaders such as: Jim Loehr, Jack Groppel, Vic Braden, Marc Kovacs, Nicole LaVoi, John Yandell, and Craig O'Shaughnessy. They have also effectively managed changes brought about by Title IX, Safe Play, and social changes.

Over the years, the organizations have hosted conferences, webinars, and mandatory continuing education programs. They have utilized the expertise from within the industry to develop mentorship programs, specialty courses, short courses, and other certificate programs (high school, parks and recreation, and wheelchair tennis).

 

In addition, the teaching organizations have adapted the certification process to accommodate potential members by having greater test availability and online options. Frequently, local testers remain in contact with applicants after the test, building camaraderie within the organization.

 

Most importantly, the certification process opens doors to ongoing learning opportunities for tennis professionals throughout their careers.

Business Model – Profitable, Efficient, Convenient

Like many non-profit organizations, the USPTA and PTR generate a significant portion of their revenue from membership dues, certifications, continuing education programs, and conferences. Their business model requires that the skills verification is timely and convenient for the organization and applicant.

 

The business models must also be able to adapt to fluctuations in the business cycle. To that point, USPTA President John Embree indicated in a 2019 speech that the tennis industry lacked a sufficient number of quality teaching professionals. It is fair to ask if these and other well-intended comments about membership turnover might have created the perception that the certification organizations were not doing their job.

 

Every year, industries such as construction, manufacturing, and health care deal with a mismatch in the supply and demand of employees. In some cases, attraction and retention plans in these industries have successfully attracted and retained women and minorities to work in their industries. The tennis industry could learn from the success of other industries.

 

The TIA and SMS have reported that in 2000 and 2001, the tennis population increased by five million players. It is safe to say the teaching organizations did not collectively address the 2019 situation. With the implementation of the Great Reset, they have dug themselves into a deeper hole.

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Tennis leaders should be asking the following questions:

  • What plans do USPTA and PTR have to address the mismatch in “normal” supply and demand fluctuations?

  • How will the USPTA and PTR address the fluctuation in supply and demand caused by the influx from COVID-19 policy?

  • How much of the member churn is caused by certification-related requirements (Safe-Play, CE points)?

  • What are the USPTA and PTR doing to make the occupations in the tennis industry more attractive?

  • The list of questions goes on ad infinitum.

Shortage of Pros Since 2019

In a speech to the USPTA Executive Committee at the 2019 World Conference, John Embree stated, “It is no secret that the average age of our members and tennis-teaching professionals, in general, is 50 years old. Nor is it a secret that we have a shortage of qualified tennis-teaching professionals that can deliver tennis in such a way that will keep people engaged and make tennis the "sport of their lifetime." We get calls all the time from club managers who cannot find teaching professionals with the skillset to fill the role of director of tennis. We also hear from directors that have difficulty securing the services of staff professionals that are eager to learn, show good customer service, and want to make teaching tennis their profession."

Moving Forward – Should USTA Take Over Certification?

Rumors abound, allegations are numerous, name-calling has taken place, and bloodshed has occurred in the board rooms. In some cases, the damage has been irreparable. All parties (USTA, UPSTA, and PTR) have demonstrated a lack of leadership and vision.

 

As the national governing body (NGB) for the sport, the USTA should be honest with the certification associations about the role of the USTA in the certification and education.

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Over the past three decades, USTA staff members have claimed they are not interested in certification. On numerous occasions, the actions of the USTA indicate they want control of all aspects of the sport, including certification.

As the NGB for tennis, the USTA has the budget and clout to do what it feels is necessary to promote and develop the growth of tennis (USTA mission). Over the past decade, the operations of the USPTA and PTR have suffered because of mission creep. Maybe the time has come for the USTA to finally take responsibility for all aspects of accreditation, certification, and the education of tennis professionals.

 

While that is a possibility, a more viable alternative would be for the USTA, USPTA, and PTR to respect the expertise of the teaching professionals. The USTA has the resources to provide assistance through financial vehicles, such as grants and sponsorships, to support the USPTA, PTR, and the professionals and coaches in the industry. 

 

In the future, the industry will benefit if they renew their commitment to the basics of certification and education for the tennis industry.

  • Protect and promote the interests of the teaching professionals.

  • Maintain a respected status for teaching professionals.

  • Attract, certify, educate, and retain teaching professionals.

  • Develop plans for dealing with labor surpluses and shortages.

 

It is time to move on from the Great Reset. Enough said.

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