Scott Mitchell

Scott has been an Executive Director of Tennis with 30 years’ experience at private clubs, public facilities, and resorts.

Scott is considered an industry leader in first-class facility management, junior and adult coaching, and program design and implementation. 

As CEO, Premier Tennis Consulting providing innovative and profitable solutions for clubs/facilities and professional tournaments. He has been involved in some of the largest and most prestigious facilities in the U.S. and many of the worlds’ leading professional tennis tournaments. 

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He is married to Ashley a former Florida State University player and ACC doubles champion and they have 3 children, Brady-11 and girl/boy twins, Brooklyn and Cason, 8 years.

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What has happened to tennis?
Paradigm shift needed for future growth!

 

The list of “what has happened to tennis” is quite lengthy to some.  I do realize there are many reasons, but I believe tennis professionals, me included lay claim to some of that decline.  I genuinely believe we have a HUGE opportunity in the coming months to grow our game!  As you read my article, please keep in mind that most people that walk in our doors for the first time, adult or junior, do not walk in with the thought of soon joining a league team or to play tournaments.  They walked in to meet new people, build relationships, and be in an environment that feels comfortable, and tennis is the avenue that they have chosen.

To grow, we just might need a paradigm shift though in what our OVERALL PURPOSE is for our industry. That shift needs to be in three basic areas; 1) focus on growing our base (beginners) juniors and adults 2) adapting how we are coaching kids and adults 3) understanding what motivates adults and kids to be part of any activity.

Our industry spends a lot of our time focused on producing the next best junior players or best adult league teams in the city, instead of grassroots tennis.  In many ways, producing great juniors or championship adult league teams is how we as pros gain acceptance in our industry.  We need a concerted effort by all of us to grow the base, to produce people that love our game, with less focus on how good they become.  By doing this, we will also produce the great juniors and adults, but we will have more playing tennis for the reasons THEY are interested in.  If not, the trend will continue to grow, and new players will not flock to tennis but will continue to flock to other activities.

I realize there are a lot of reasons why tennis has been in a decline for many years. I also know that there are areas that we, as tennis professionals and coaches simply need a shift in our focus. If we set our PURPOSE to grow our base of beginner adults and juniors with quality programs, new pathways with the understanding of what brought them to your facility in the first place, then we would also be growing all avenues at our clubs.  This would also bring in the top-ranked juniors and adult league teams. Our PURPOSE of growing the game should include people that just want to connect and be around like-minded people like them.  People want to join a club, program, or get on the court with a pro so that they can build a relationship and become socially engaged. They also want to play the game with family and friends as quickly as possible. We need to quickly adapt, especially now, as there are countless reasons why people will begin looking at tennis as a viable option to get involved.  BUT, in most cases the reason will not be to become the next great junior, get on a winning adult league team, or only learn the technical aspects.

This shift will mean we will need to strategically focus as facilities on how we are to attract new players to our game.  It is not going to be by dangling the carrot of playing on city championship teams or being taught by a coach that has produced great junior players.  It also means that we will, in most cases, attract and teach players differently than we have done for many years.  For instance, as I travel around the country there are countless programs that are primarily technical focused with extraordinarily little intent on playing the game.  It is in our DNA to make sure our players' strokes look great so that they can then use them in play.  Unfortunately, this is not what brought the players to you in the first place.  As a kid myself, I did not start playing basketball because I wanted to learn to dribble and shoot.  I wanted to just play the sport because it looked like so much fun. Coaches then helped me with the technical side to get better at playing.

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In many areas of the country, tennis courts are being converted into pickleball, or facilities are just simply not allocating resources as they once did to keep courts or programs in great shape. Club managers are converting more and more courts into other amenities or taking them out altogether. They may even see tennis as less of a value to membership.  I believe firmly that there is a need for pickleball and other amenities, but have we asked ourselves why we are replacing tennis to do that?  Are we asking the questions that will turn tennis around and help us grow?  This falls on all our shoulders.  We cannot be the facilities that simply say, let's replace our tennis courts with pickleball because tennis is not growing and pickleball is.  We also cannot be the facilities that bury our heads in the sand and continue running tennis programs, clinics, and lessons the same as we have always done.  Our clients speak volumes when they "fire us" and head off to play pickleball, other activities, or quit altogether.  Do we know why they left?  What is our solution to turn it around and grow and retain members?  It is time to ask the difficult questions of our industry and then search for solutions.  We typically complain but do not offer solutions to move the needle.

If we can shift our focus to understanding why people are leaving our game or are not joining our game, and then strategically implement elements that will change that pattern, we can grow the game.  We can still focus on producing great players and league teams, but in addition adapt our coaching style and programs to align with why people walked in our door in the first place.  Which also means we must embrace using the tools (equipment, red, orange, green balls) to help adults and youth learn and play our game in a much different way.  It is after all, one of the reasons adults are saying they are leaning towards pickleball.  “It was easier to learn and play quickly with the smaller court, bigger ball and small racquet” I have been told countless times.

I know this may be a tough mindset or culture to change, but as a teaching professional myself, we must begin to think differently to make the tough changes.  When it comes to teaching kids, we do not have enough coaches in the United States that really understand what motivates kids and how they tick.  Coaches need to take the time to learn about youth development and what motivates kids to play a sport.  The same comes with growing your beginner adults as we simply have not studied the data that shows why they are not flocking to tennis but are to other amenities.   We have a huge opportunity to grow our game right now.

The list of "what happened to tennis" could go on, but these are just some of what I believe our new focus needs to be. What I ask is that we as an industry have a paradigm shift in the way we teach kids and adults. I ask that we understand why tennis players are flocking to pickleball and other activities.  Simply ask your players next time you are around the courts.  I have quite often asked when I visit facilities, and each time, I have remarkably similar conversations.  If we continue to ONLY focus on producing great players, continue to teach as we have always done, and not spend the time to understand what motivates adult and youth to play, we will continue to see a decline.   If we have more of our industry really focused on the 95% of players, instead of the 5% of the great players, we will get more players back enjoying our game for the reasons THEY are interested in.  Which, we will in turn have more of a base of players that stick with our game that will eventually produce the next best adult and junior players.  So, we can have the best of both worlds.

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