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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.

HEAD Gravity Tennis Racquet


Five Obvious Advantages to Attending Tennis Conventions

By Rod Heckelman

After a short hiatus, conventions in our industry are back. Once again, many dedicated organizers are doing their best to get good attendance, but for a number of reasons, the greatest being the apprehension of being exposed to a pandemic, it’s a tough task to get the crowds to return.  Make no mistake about it, they try their best to put together a great program by bringing in some heavy hitters as speakers, locating fun destinations, and for the most part, keeping the cost down. The hope is putting together a package that provides great educational lectures, an introduction to any new trends, and basically an opportunity for members to hone their skills.  But let’s be honest, the numbers are down, and though there is a majority of participants looking for these venues to provide the aforementioned, the fact is, there is also a contingency that comes every year to these events, that are looking to have a good time. Maybe it’s time to focus on this group, because their apprehension or lack of interest may be more malleable and in turn, more easily persuaded to make the journey. 


Photo by Emma Angel on Unsplash

This is the group that attends these events to see their old friends and be able to take a break from their jobs while appearing to still be working on improving their skills. They know that when they return to work, they can pretty much say what they want to say about their experience, leaving a good impression on their clients or their superiors.  It’s a win/win for them, they get time off and get some credit all in a few days at a convention.

Another group that could also be easily persuaded to attend are those looking to make contacts or sell products.

Even though there is usually a vendor’s day, it also wouldn’t hurt to provide a venue to this group by hosting a special night or party so they could do their thing.  No expenses for any booth or license to sell, just an opportunity to meet and greet other possible buyers. The fact is, there are already many merchandisers attending for this sole purpose, just go with it and provide them a true gateway to the potential customers.

Neuro Tennis

The conventions are also an opportunity for our past heroes to take the stage. Placed in the venue as keynote speakers, they provide a fun revue of the past and a chance to tell their story or their message. Again, let’s be honest, these people have had wonderful experiences and accomplishments, but the truth is, once you’ve heard their story a few times, after a while, it loses its punch. Their message is like an ink stamp, slowly fades with each use. But in respect, we still go to these talks, and even though we’ve heard them many times before, because it’s just nice to be in that moment where everyone is reminiscing of days gone by.  No better way to do that than in the company of legends.

Lastly, bring back the tournaments.  They are both a great way to attract the younger members and also bring members together.  When the national title was on the line during the convention, it made a difference in attracting a whole group of members that were still in love with playing the game.  It also helped stimulate more analysis…what better time to talk about the strategy of the game or the tactics that best work, while in the heat of the battle.

So, with these observations, fair or not, maybe a little blunt honestly would be a great new approach to increase attendance. This article is not about being cynical, but a real good look at a new marketing approach.  How about featuring the obvious when promoting these events, such as featuring these five great advantages to attending?

  1. This is your chance to take time off and make it look like you’re still working, some are even lucky to have these trips paid for by their employer.

  2. Meet old friends and get a chance to tell them how successful you’ve been, true or not. Think about it, it’s a do-over, take the opportunity to reinvent yourself and your image.

  3. Indulge, however you see that happening, remember you don’t have to go to work the next day.

  4. If you have a service, a new product, looking for a new job, first show interest in what the person(s) you’re interacting with is saying, and then sell the hell out of what you’ve got going or want to get going.

  5. Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of anything that is free, collect every give-away, you can always use them as gifts when you get back home.


Photo by David Nicolai on Unsplash

When most people look back on their careers, they will most likely remember the good times they had, which will include these gatherings.  Sure, they will be learning and enlightenment to be had, but in those years of retirement and recollection, it will be the fun interaction people had with others and the many stories they heard that they can tell time and time again.


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