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.
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.
CAN THE TENNIS PRO SHORTAGE BE FIXED?
By Gary Horvath
Fixing the Tennis Pro Shortage – It is Not that Simple!
The current U.S. economy faces headwinds of inflation, supply chain disruptions, eleven million job openings, and an unemployment rate of 3.6%. On top of that, there has been a shortage of tennis professionals dating back to 2019.
For the past three years, the USPTA and PTR have worked with the USTA to develop a certification program that will impact the tennis job market and address this shortage. This project is headed for an extended tiebreaker and a long third set!
The premise sounds simple, supply equals demand. In a perfect situation, the number of certified professionals and coaches (supply) should meet the needs of the tennis participants (demand); however, it is difficult to manage the factors that comprise the supply and demand variables.
Supply and demand (2010 to 2019)
The tale of supply and demand in the 2010s is ugly!
The Tennis Industry Association Sports Marketing Survey (TIA SMS) reported that market share decreased, and tennis participation declined from 18.72 million to 17.68 million between 2010 and 2019.
In addition, the playing frequency declined by almost 22%, from 494 million to 386 million playing occasions. As a result, there was a reduction in court usage for players and professional court time.
Yet, there was an alleged shortage of tennis professionals.
To everyone's surprise, TIA SMS tennis participation increased by about five million players in 2020 and 2021 to about twenty-four million; however, there is no evidence the supply of tennis professionals increased significantly during this period (The estimated domestic membership of the USPTA and PTR is 15,000 to 16,000).
The supply and demand have not been in sync.
Where are the Five Million Newcomers to the Sport?
Presumably, the recent newcomers are still playing. There are three theories about what has happened to the five million players who started playing the sport during the pandemic.
#1. A portion of the facilities had excess capacity or open court time. The new players filled all or part of those open courts.
The players and facilities benefitted in these situations.
#2. The TIA SMS study states that about eighty percent of tennis participants play at non-commercial facilities, which are less likely to have programmed activities.
The retention rate of these players will decline more quickly than at commercial facilities.
#3. Finally, some new players will play at facilities that previously operated at their optimum capacity. The new players will push the facility's operating capacity past its optimum level.
It will be difficult for these facilities to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction.
Supply and Demand Factors
The previous sections showed that the relationship between supply and demand worked in funny ways. The change in players did not always translate into a corresponding change in the number of teaching professionals. That is why it is difficult to determine how many new tennis professionals are needed to eliminate the shortage.
The reason for that will be more evident in the following two sections. The first section looks at factors that affect tennis participation (demand). The discussion in the second section focuses on factors that impact the number of tennis professionals (supply). Something as simple as a mismatch of job skills, compensation package, excess capacity, or facility location can derail the process of matching supply and demand.
Each of these discussions lists a set of factors, realizing a comprehensive list would be much longer.
Many factors determine demand (tennis participation). Examples of those factors are listed below.
Demographics – Demographics describe the players and explain the reasons for changes in the tennis population. For example, baby boomers are aging, millennials are moving to the suburbs, and the race and ethnicity mix is changing.
Competition – People engage in competitive sports and activities that prevent them from playing tennis. For example, the COVID-19 lockdown policies caused players to flock to sports like tennis, golf, biking, and pickleball. Exiting the pandemic, some tennis players are taking to the pickleball courts.
Geographic location – The geographic location identifies areas with high and low concentrations of players. For example, over twenty percent of U.S. tennis players live on the West Coast.
Facility type – The number of players and playing occasions varies by facility type. About one in five players play at private or commercial clubs, facilities that are likely to have teaching professionals. Approximately one in three playing occasions occur at private or commercial clubs, facilities likely to have teaching professionals.
Tennis Infrastructure – The tennis industry is decentralized and, at times, dysfunctional. Many organizations and facilities work independently to generate revenue from the industry. A healthy infrastructure includes facilities and organizations that work together, promote TENNIS, and understand the supply and demand relationship.
Many factors determine the supply of tennis professionals. A few examples of those factors are listed below.
Job skills and types of jobs – Tennis-related jobs require general skills such as knowledge about the learning process, sports psychology, physiology, soft skills, and business skills (sales, marketing, finance, accounting, and economics). On-court and playing skills are often mandatory for positions that require playing or instruction. Specific skills may be necessary for specialized tennis positions such as junior coach, racquet stringing, or league coordinator. Positions at facilities often include director, head pro, assistant pro, league director, pro shop manager, shop assistant, tennis concierge, junior coach, league coach, coach of other racquet sports, tennis maintenance, and racquet stringing. There are often job mismatches between skills and job requirements.
Certification – Instructor certification should require a person to know how to teach the unique aspects of tennis. Certificate programs may be available for business and leadership, racquet stringing, youth and recreation coaching, or high school coaching. In addition to the primary certifying bodies, some businesses offer their own certification.
Education - Certification with a credible industry association should be the first step in a lifelong learning process for tennis professionals. The integrity of the USTA, USPTA, and PTR is contingent on their ability to deliver a prestigious education and lifelong learning program.
Employment – The tennis industry has many business and compensation models. As a result, career paths are often limited, and a small percentage of the jobs offer full-time work with above-average compensation. A common concern within the industry is long work hours during peak seasons.
The goal of the tennis associations (USTA, USPTA, and PTR) should be to attract and retain players. At the same time, they should strive to recruit and educate the best and the brightest tennis professionals to provide instruction and activities for tennis participants.
The supply and demand factors identify a pathway to strengthen tennis participation (demand) and the size of the potential labor force (supply). The list of ways to move forward could go on ad infinitum. For the time being, the following items are a good place to start!
Infrastructure (Demand) - Strengthen the local tennis infrastructure to include stakeholders for all tennis providers (parks, schools, and college programs) in more meaningful ways. Stakeholders should focus on working together to sell TENNIS rather than creating silos. It will be easier for the tennis industry to attract and retain players if it has a better understanding of its customer base. In addition, the industry must attract, educate, and retain teaching professionals.
Knowledge and Information (Demand) – The annual participation report (TIA SMS) should be available to all industry members at no charge. In addition, members should have access to regional information, such as data associated with supply and demand. All tennis businesses should be armed with information to compete against other sports and activities for market share.
Respect for the Teaching Profession (Supply) – Teaching professionals formed the USPTA to create respect for the profession and protect and promote their interests. That continues to be a relevant mission. Focus on it! It has been necessary for many industries (construction, manufacturing, IT, aircraft maintenance, healthcare, and education) to address the challenge of labor shortages. The tennis industry can learn from their efforts.
Education for the Teaching Profession (Supply) – Over the past forty years, the teaching associations have expanded their educational offerings from conferences and short courses to mandatory continuing education requirements. A more rigorous and intentional commitment to education will advance the sport and profession.
In the past three years, the USPTA, USTA, and PTR demonstrated they are not capable of fixing the current shortage of tennis professionals with their certification and education programs. If they look closely, they will see they have an opportunity to learn about the needs of the tennis population (demand) and how to strengthen the tennis profession (supply) with a world-class education program.
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