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.
SOME NEVER LEARN
Are the players, participants, and tennis enthusiasts seen as a threat by the USTA?
By Rod Heckelman
In the last few years, the USTA has put together a club management program. The hope is to provide clubs with a service that will provide additional insight and expertise that is currently not easy to access. For years there has been limited help for this industry, largely because the industry is unintentionally very fragmented. There are privately owned clubs, corporation-owned clubs, community clubs, and of course membership-owned clubs. On top of that, the method of operation is largely impacted by location. There are metropolitan operations, suburban facilities, and specific non-profit community facilities. In addition, many facilities have seasons and must adjust to the various climates. With all those variables, it is very difficult to provide specific and relevant help, so consequently, most of the advice must be more general which may not be what is needed.
With these hurdles and complications, how does the USTA intend to provide management advice, or more specifically, can they provide productive and relevant advice? Let us not forget the complications with their junior development program. They hired good people and even tried creating central locations to gather these young players. But it’s fair to say, that the money invested did not produce a quality product. Again, not so much the fault of the people they hired, nor their efforts, it was just a case of good intentions coming up against an impossible task. The fact is, gathering and creating top players in this large county is very difficult logistically. It is also a task that is challenged by way too much political influence. The USTA soon found out that working with young players meant interacting with their coaches and their parents. From that came a multitude of complications politically and socially. All this coming from an association that is supposed to be non-profit and essentially apolitical with a strong contingency of volunteers. We also have the unfortunate impact of a few bad apples that join the USTA to promote their personal agendas, and you have a recipe for a struggle to meet the goals of everyone involved.
So, the question must be asked, “Why is the USTA taking on another venture in the tennis industry that is destined to become either limited or ineffective? Is this another lesson yet to be learned? Need to point out here, that there is no one to point to and say they do not have good intentions. Just as with the junior development program, good people made good efforts. But good intentions need to be married to a proper feasibility study and a proper fit between the organization that wants to help, and the industry that may need help. Way too often we see businesses put together a game plan out of enthusiasm or wishful thinking, and then fall flat on their faces. Add to that, people wanting to create work or rationalize their income, and you have a problem that is hard to clean up.
So, let’s return to the question of why the USTA wants to become essentially, a business consultant for the club industry? There are only two possibilities, first, they believe they have a responsibility to take on this task to grow the game. If so, maybe a feasibility study should have been conducted. Per issues mentioned earlier, this could be another impossible task. Second, they hope to take more control of the narrative in the tennis world. That motive has proven in the past to fail…lest we forget the certification for the USPTA.
What they may not recognize, or want to recognize, is that there is a pathway that the USTA could provide that was tried in the past and seemed to be effective.
The former T.I.A, run by Jolyn De Boer, had put together several conventions and gatherings that invited and included anyone from the industry. What she did was very simple and very effective. She reached out to those in the industry that were activity hard at work resolving and working at facilities throughout the country. No better people to provide information than those who have had to deal with the actual issues that impact the day-to-day operation of a club. And even better, most of these people were very experienced. Too often organizations try to fix other companies' problems by hiring suits or “experts” instead of using their greatest resource…those working on the ground floor. Returning to that old TIA format would once again yield two very important developments. First, those people will be able to share problems and solutions that they are both experiencing or have experienced. Second, it is a chance for those people to personally connect and share all this information in an open forum. Not just at the meetings but going forward many years as they are more likely to stay connected after having personal interaction.
Maybe most important, the program cannot, and should not be a voice that solely represents the USTA. Full inclusion would open doorways for so many people, including the vendors, who would love to have a chance to personally interact with this group. That interaction has been missing for several years.
It must be asked, but probably never answered, just like the junior development program, is the exclusion of the general participants of the industry for what appears to be only USTA staff, intentional or just what they believe is the best method of execution? It seems again, maybe a lesson never learned. You can’t stop the process of full inclusion and influence, especially from those who are most impacted. That’s been proven historically on many fronts, remember the impact that tennis or a similar sport had on France.
Those governing France prior to the revolution were intimated by a game, much like tennis, that was played on the streets that attracted an audience of the general population. They were concerned that if these people got together to play this sport, they might also have an opportunity to talk and share their concerns about the government. They could become a threat to the hierarchy and potentially become a dangerous group. It proved to be true. Several centuries later, it appears once again that the players, participants, and tennis enthusiasts may be seen as a threat to the powers that be, rather than embrace and include this general group of tennis enthusiasts and those making a day-to-day living off the sport, we can only hope that lessons have been learned.
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