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. 

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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.

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IT'S TIME TO REVIVE OUR CONVENTIONS

Let’s hope that the “New Normal” doesn’t exclude our very important
and vital industry conventions. 

By Rod Heckelman

Remember when the USPTA and PTR would host these wonderful conventions that included a very large representation of the retail industry?

New products and new equipment were there for everyone to see and try.  The Tennis Industry Association also hosted a yearly convention that provided a great opportunity for so many in the industry to share ideas. This sharing of ideas, along with a venue for constructive dialogues about how our industry is run, was maybe the most helpful process ever instituted.  You could blame the Pandemic for the disappearance of these events, but other associations, including the PGA and IHRSA, have brought back their conventions, and they are once again well attended.  Also, the USPTA and PTR have made a strong effort to bring back conventions. 

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They may have some kinks to work out, such as finding the best speakers or creating a venue for the exchange of ideas, but they are trying and recognize the importance of these meetings for their members.  So what’s keeping some of the leading organizations in the tennis industry from reigniting these events?

 

There is no question that today’s tennis industry is challenged by many new factors, including lack of employees, lack of products, lack of funds, and of course, still some concerns about health safety for gatherings.  But in the past, the industry just adjusted and morphed in a direction that would prosper.  Once that direction was discovered and implemented, progress was made, and we all marched forward.  The fact is, we evolved and marched forward because of our ability to share and communicate our common causes.  To get back on track, we need to address these three issues. 

  1. Are the powers that be in our industry willing to help sponsor these conventions?

  2. Will there be greater collaboration between all factions of tennis? 

  3. Maybe most important, will all the members of those different factions of the tennis industry have a say in where tennis is going and what policies should be instituted?

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Currently, most associations are trying to control the dialogue and the message. This does not usually lend to an open conversation or exchange of ideas. We all know this is not healthy for the growth of our sport, but what is not mentioned is why this is taking place. It’s obvious…if you can limit the interaction of those who are most impacted, you can also limit the voice and input of those unhappy with the policies that are in place. So, the answer to the first point is that the prospect of an open forum for any tennis enthusiast, or anyone working at the ground level in the sport, is not likely to happen anytime soon and may have to develop from the ground up.

As to the second question.  Getting the world of tennis to collaborate has by design been difficult at best.  Almost everywhere you turn there is another organization trying to create a new agenda or a new method of providing a service…the goal is obvious, finding another way to make income off the sport.  But what seems to have always been the missing link, is the lack of having a single group that is truly non-profit, no agenda, with only one unselfish goal except for linking the community of tennis. No censoring, no controlling, only providing and allowing everyone to speak their peace.  

Such a venue has always seemed to intimidate many of the larger organizations that see any upstart organization as a threat.  If you don’t think so, look at the UTR.  Innovation and growth are naturally thwarted.  This especially impacts the younger people who come into the sport seeking a career.  There is nothing more threatening to a business than only having an aging workforce.

Another group that suffers from this inability to gather the troops, is the retail companies.  With their market being global, getting specifics about any country or region is a challenge.  It wasn’t that long ago that when the USPTA and PTR had their World Convention, they would also host a venue for all retailers.  There were hundreds of companies that displayed their goods and were able to reach out to the community of tennis teachers.  IHRSA had the same show, and in their case gathered over 25,000 visitors.  That world has temporarily disappeared, but there needs to be an acceptance of these events by everyone in the industry, especially the large governing bodies.

As to that third concern, we need less lecturing and more listening.  Companies like Google, Salesforce, and Intuit are great examples of large organizations putting in place methods for their entire staff, no matter what position or pay, to have a say and have input.  Everyone is important, not just those at the top.  To prove that point, ask anyone who ran Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, or the CEO of Oracle and they will come up with that name…ask the same about Google, Salesforce, or Intuit and the answer is not likely to be had.  The emphasis is on the company and the goals of the company as a whole, not the agenda of a few in power.

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Another element needed to help create a greater variety of input is a better method of collecting data.  How many recreational players are there?  By nature, difficult to count, seems only competitive venues can yield a number.  What and where is tennis growing or not, and why?  That “Why” is very important, but never seems to be addressed with any collection of data.   

 

The demand will be there as we ramp up our industry.  New products and new sporting venues will require this demand to be met.  More important, conventions will focus more on having a venue where those in the industry can share their opinions, experiences, and skills.  No more meetings where the communication is one-way, like lectures we’ve heard time and time again, or talks coming from those that have been well-known for basically being… well-known.  The fact is, if you want to attract a younger audience, you need new voices and new ideas that fit in today’s “Normal,” world.  The only barrier will be how this is perceived…the way things are today, the “New Normal.” seems to be an excuse and not the message of needing a new direction.

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