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. 

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As CEO, Premier Tennis Consulting Scott is providing innovative and profitable solutions for clubs/facilities and professional tourneys. 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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Tennis is dead. Or is it?

by Scott Mitchell

Obituary

We are sad to announce the recent passing of our beloved sport, Tennis. After more than 137 years of giving joy, laughter, exercise, and competition to so many here in the United States, Tennis slowly passed away during the night from a slow decline in its health.

So, is Tennis Dead? 

I certainly do not believe so, but there are countless clubs and professionals that seem to have moved tennis to the back burner, or worse, lost interest altogether.  I will always be a huge supporter of all racquet sports, and better yet, court sports for players and members.  These sports all complement each other and should be thought of very strategically. If you have tennis players, they will love the fast pace of pickleball or Padel.  If you have pickleball or Padel players they will also love and support tennis, POP tennis, and others court sports.  For these all to be successful and grow your utilization, membership, and revenue it will be up to the professionals and manager to know how to program them correctly.  

 

We have certainly seen fewer tennis players playing our sport over the past 10+ years but I am not sure it is due to the sport being unattractive or dead.  It might be in decline in the U.S., but it is still one of the top 5 most-watched sports worldwide. There are some contributing factors for the decline or stagnation in the U.S. for sure.  Is it because there is less exposure through pro tournaments in the U.S.?  Is there too much focus on other major sports in the U.S.?  Is it because our school systems have moved away from offering Physical Education classes in many cities which means less of a chance kids see the sport in school if they run tennis at all? Are we seeing fewer programs at Parks and Recreation facilities which is where much of the tennis boom years ago was happening or a loss of recreational programs with more of the emphasis on high-performance programs, or is it something completely different? I do know that we are starting to see a shortage of tennis-teaching professionals in our industry as well.  Is there a correlation between fewer people playing to fewer tennis-teaching professionals? At this point, I do not have the answer. I do know that we need all of us advocating for our game and for those to play and to teach. We also need more that are interested in adapting or changing things up a bit to attract new players and teachers.

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My article last month spoke to how we can grow the game which I believe is from the beginner level.  If we grow the base, we will get more adults and youth playing our sport.  If we get more playing our sport and falling in love with the competition, then we get more competitive players and at some point… more champions.  When it comes to both players and future tennis-teaching professionals, we need to share what drives us to play and teach this great sport. We need a concerted effort by everyone in our racquet/court sports industry to market what we love, and what benefits come from playing all these sports.  We certainly need to all do a better job of advocating for tennis as this seems to be in major decline for years. 

 

It is extremely rare to see any sort of marketing behind this great sport.  Pickleball has the same type of buzz around it as tennis did in the 1970s and 1980s.  Tennis also had certain support at that time with more programs at Park and Rec facilities, more American players in the spotlight, more professional tournaments in the U.S., and quite a few young, energized tennis professionals eager to share their excitement about this growing sport. Are we ready to become innovators and adjust our way of doing business or will we continue as we have for almost 150 years?

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Photo by Valentin Balan on Unsplash

Is Tennis Teaching Dead? 

My next question, is the tennis-teaching profession dead? The average age of those teaching professionals is in the mid to late ’50s if not older. What can we do as managers, directors, teachers, and coaches to get the word out about how amazing our industry is?  Are future teachers and managers in our industry not interested in being on court?  Do they realize that there are additional career options such as working with the USTA sections/divisions/national, USPTA, PTR, a local CTA, manufacturing, tournaments, and management just to name a few?

 

Have those of us that are currently in the industry failing to share our passion with those that potentially could join us following high school, college, or a playing career? Do those that could be the future of our game know that there are countless options to having a very successful career in the tennis/racquets industry on and/or off the court?  We need to better advocate for our amazing sport and not only enjoy it ourselves but share that enjoyment with future professionals as well.

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Those that are in manager or leadership positions, when was the last time you asked your staff, your team members what their career goals were?  Do you know what really drives them and where their interests are?  In many cases, they do not really know yet, but maybe they can shed a bit of light on their current mindset.  As was my case over 30 years ago, I got involved in many aspects at my first location and learned from everyone.  And that has continued throughout my career.  That involvement, the learning of different aspects of the facility, the business, the industry, led me to understand where I wanted my career to go. 

 

I think too many times we focus only on the teaching side and do not really share all that is possible in our industry. Yes, we need coaches, and tennis teaching professionals but maybe to attract them we need them to know there is more than ONLY teaching long hours.  If we begin to build a pipeline of those that go from on-court, to learning more about the business side of the facility, to getting involved in the racquet industry, to managing their own facilities we can turn around our shortage.  Very few of us will be working 60-80 hours on court well into our 50’s,60’s and beyond.  We started with long hours on court but had a path for our careers, either shared with us by a mentor or someone that took us under their wing and offered guidance.  Both the USPTA and the PTR have done a great job with their mentorship programs, but it should be on all of us to offer this.

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Photo by Frankie Lopez on Unsplash

Let us spend some time understanding why our industry is stagnant and, in some cases, declining. Do we know why?  Once we do, do we have solutions ready so we can quickly adapt?  We have such an amazing sport, all racquet sports, but we have some big questions to answer in the coming days, weeks, and months.  Will the tennis industry become the Blockbuster movie business that had the opportunity to adapt from DVDs at the time but did not?  Or will we be the Amazon of our industry and adjust, adapt, and thrive? 

 

I certainly hope we do the latter, but it will take all of us.

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