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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 professional/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. Rod 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.



By Rod Heckelman

It is upon us.  The demand for new employees, be it tennis pros, managers, maintenance, reception desk, you name it, has required us to begin hiring again.  The good news, it seems that the potential employee pool is finally growing.  But there still is a new challenge.  Employers trying to find the right person to fill specific jobs will be working with a new criterion… post-Covid criteria.  Not so much the result of the hiatus of hiring, but more because of the new demands and changing work environment.  Pre Covid had few issues and few changes; we all were rolling right along.  Post-Covid is a different ball game, and here is why.


Post-Covid has provided a new group of clients.  Many are new to the industry and new to the prospect of how and what a tennis facility can provide.  They may have some tennis experience but being part of a tennis facility or club setting could be new.  


We cannot take for granted, that they will know how any club functions, or in general the protocols of club life.  Will they run over to the next court to retrieve one of their tennis balls in the middle of a point?  Will they walk through tennis courts during play to get to their court? Will they know how to get court time or find others to play with?  Will they know anything about tennis programs or league play?  Will they need much more help in finding competition or just social partners?  For that matter, will they even be comfortable with any social setting, or the reverse, be desperate for new social events?  All of this plays an important role in getting the right type of new employee, one that will understand these issues and know how to properly address them so that both the veteran members and new players can better coexist.

The revival of the industry and the need for new employees will also be challenged by the fact that there has been little training or experience to be had by those potential hires.  Be prepared to have your training manuals up to date and put aside more time for oversight and hands-on training to take place.  Remember, unique to our industry, many of those employees came from being tennis enthusiasts and often active members of a club or facility, and in turn, had some understanding of how the business is run.  We also had many more senior people involved, they have left, and few new younger applicants are available with any experience in customer service that fits into the tennis industry.  In general, this means collectively, much less experienced or veterans are available.


With your training manual up to date, rethink your job descriptions.  It’s safe to say, yesteryear's job descriptions have been replaced with many new demands and requirements.  If we’re having to deal with so many new participants in our industry, we will obviously have to provide full and complete guidance, which will require great interactive skills from any new employee.  This challenge is amplified by the impact of an increase in poor communication skills dues to our new dependence on technology interaction. 


Technology allowed people to work from a distance both physically and emotionally.  It also permitted people to work at a more rapid pace.  We will be looking for employees that can patiently engage the customers at all levels.  Every dialogue will have to be more personal and more all-inclusive.  Providing just information and answers will fall short.  We will need to add direction and purpose while patiently sharing and accepting new feedback we haven’t heard in years.  Anytime there is an avalanche of new and great opportunities, there will always be new and complex revelations.  We’ve all been through a lot, and getting back on course may not be the answer, but finding our new course may be our next challenge at every turn.  

Hiring people who recognize, care, and appreciate this evolution is key to helping create a positive and successful club culture.  To help with this, it will be an advantage to find people who have greater intuitive skills.  The standard responses and answers may not fill in what the new clients are seeking in their search for their new experiences.  Instead of telling people what they need to do, or should do, we will need to find out more about what they want to do.

One of our greatest hurdles will be addressing the consequences of assumptions.  If we assume that we are going to go back to operations pre-covid, we run the risk of not listening enough to the customer, and in turn, not recognizing or adapting to the changes that evolved from the last few struggling years, i.e., the rapid growth of inexperienced new players, lack of organized play, players new to the tennis facilities in general, inventory issues.  Each new tennis participant is a blank canvas, we might be holding the brushes, but they are deciding which colors to use, and more importantly and different from the past, eventually the picture they want to paint.


This all sounds very challenging, but it is also very invigorating and exciting.  We have the classic opportunity for a “do over,” which is what so many of us need these days.  A lot of mistakes or poor judgement took place because of the complexity and nature of what we have recently experienced, sounds like the perfect time to throw out many of our old reliable and traditional methods and start anew.


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