Rod Heckelman's career 

started in 1966 when he began his five-year role as a teacher at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Carmel Valley, California Later he opened as the resident pro for Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch on Camelback in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1976 he took over as head pro/tennis director at the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in



Larkspur, California, and added the title and responsibilities of general manager in 1982. In 2010 he was awarded “Manager of the Year” for the USPTA NorCal Division and the “Manager of the Year” at the USPTA World Conference.

He has written several books including, “Down Your Alley” in 1993, “Playing Into the Sunset” in 2013 and most recently, “250 Ways to Play Tennis.” He also produced the “Facility Manager’s Manual” and the “Business Handbook for Tennis Pros,” which is distributed by the TIA.

2020 Racquet & Paddle Sports Show - Takeaway from Orlando

By Rod Heckelman


There was an amazing group of speakers and a great list of topics.  This venue may be the last bastion available to those in the tennis business.  For all intent and purpose, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else willing to work to create an event like this.  An event that will provide those in the industry an opportunity to share their ideas.  This could explain why at the end of the conference, the cry for unity and sharing ideas seemed to be the most important and relevant take-away.


There was a unique gathering at the end of the conference, and although not well attended by the paying attendees of the conference on that Friday morning, there was a wonderful group of experts ranging from the I.T.F to the U.S.T.A. that provided great insight as to the future of the game.  Unfortunately, the concern by many was still prevalent. Could these great ideas come to fruition?  Could the many different groups in the tennis industry unite and work together for the common goal of growing the game?

A primary example was the presentation made by those behind the new rating system UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) and the current NTRP rating that the USTA uses.  Each group provided new enhanced programming and possibilities, but again, which will be used at the club level?  Since the pros, colleges, and juniors are now favoring the UTR system, why would any other organization still be using the NTRP system?  This may end up being the best example and challenge of whether we can unite towards a common goal or remain splintered. 


Certification of teaching pros is another example of large organizations with great influence moving in different directions.  The USPTA has already got on board with the USTA to create this new standard for their members.  The PTR is still working towards a solution and trying to find a way to follow that transition and still keep their identity.  Some feel that this is an overreach by the USTA, while others feel, especially those in the education industry for tennis, that creating a better learning and accredited pathway is very important to raise the standards of instruction.  This area will again be another contested split that will need to work its way through to a common agreement and solution.


We saw a few new companies with software that were both innovative and creative.  Bleachr One, the winner of the Innovation Contest, has created an App that helps any tennis enthusiast navigate through the tennis world in real-time.  Its format is more logical and easier to use, allowing tennis lovers to stay in touch with every aspect of the game. 


Virtual Tennis has also just reached our sport.  E-gaming is big, and virtual tennis will piggy-back that trend to both enhance the interest in the game and recruit new players, especially the young ones.  The future of the sport, and with that the growth of the game, is dependent on these innovative ideas.


So, at the end of the day, although there was much concern about whether the tennis industry could codify to be able to move forward, it could be said that the recognition of this problem is at least a constructive step forward.  Again, the good news is that the talent and ambition of those speaking at the conference, all have a number of great ideas and most definitely the skills to make it happen.  Their challenge will be finding and working with others to share the task of implementation.  No more working in “silos,” no more focus on just their agendas and goals, no more unconstructive complaining, and maybe most importantly, no more focus on “my way or no way.”   Time to find an answer to how we can take this alphabet soup of organizations and work as a team.  Maybe most important, time for the USTA to take on outside ideas and people and embrace the concept that everyone should be included for us to grow the game.  Being included means supporting, crediting and sharing responsibilities…not being in total control.