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Photo by Christina Anne Costello on Unsplash

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 Advocacy

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If the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 taught us one thing, it's that the lack of advocacy resulted in tennis being lumped in with gyms and team sports. Only when research studies surfaced demonstrating that tennis is actually one of the safest sports on the planet did state and local health departments slowly open up our sport for limited play. It is my opinion that a strong and focused advocacy effort would have possibly prevented tennis facilities from being shut down. I don't want to point a finger at whoever dropped the advocacy ball in the past decades. But focusing now on advocacy may help tennis in two ways:

1. Fortify our sport against potential future pandemics with similar shutdowns of economy and society.

2. Finally fight off a decade-old onslaught of soccer moms, baseball dads, and pickleball Ambassadors beating a path to the meetings of planning commissions and city councils to make sure their sports are being favored.

This month we are learning from Scott Mitchell about growing tennis and all his insights are very valuable in our quest for better tennis advocacy.

Feel free to email us with your thoughts, suggestions, advocacy ideas, and projects. We'd be happy to post those in our next issue.

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SOLUTIONS FOR GROWTH

By Scott Mitchell

I tend to measure the health of our sport on how many are playing multiple times, not just how many players are playing.  I think this better defines how healthy a sport or activity is by how engaged and active players are. 

 

To better understand my point, I’ll use the example of how many facilities and coaches measure success in their junior programs.  So to me, a junior program with 30 kids playing 3 times per week and engaging in socials and match play/tournaments is a much healthier program than one that has 60 kids that play one time per week.  This doesn’t even take into account the revenue add-ons from the 30 kids that come to buy shoes, strings, jackets, play tournaments, come to the social events, bring their siblings and their parents.  Adults and kids that are engaged and feel a sense of belonging to an activity or group are loyal and raving fans of what you are doing and more often than not, support the facility in a variety of ways.

Tennis Industry Magazine had an article that stated prior to 2020, “Core tennis players are a key to the number of play occasions, and on average, core players are hitting the courts 38.7 times per year, which is down from 40.2 times per year in 2017,”  Since 2009, play occasions in the U.S. have decreased by nearly 22 percent — and avid player play occasions have fallen by 106 million, a decline of 31.4 percent.  In 2020, the Tennis Industry Association reported that a total of 17.84 million people play tennis in the United States. Of those, 9.67 million people are classed as Core Tennis Players and play tennis more than 10 times a year.  We need to get more people deeply engaged in our sport as the above information shows only 11% of our core group are playing between 10-39 times PER YEAR.

 

I love that we have almost 18 million people playing this amazing sport of tennis. My concern is as stated above, how many are truly engaged, loyal, and raving fans of our sport.  From a business standpoint, these numbers above are concerning as we have our core group of players only playing somewhere between 10-39 times per year. So out of 365 days per year, they are playing on average, at most, 39 times per year, or 11% of the time.  Last year saw a 22%  increase in the number of players in the U.S. but in most areas of the country,  tennis was the only activity that many were able to play due to pandemic restrictions.  .

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Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

I want to see the growth be sustained and not continue the prior 2020 trend.  More people playing more often should be one of our big goals.

Now the good news is that we have many sections, coaches, and industry leaders around the U.S. doing a fantastic job of looking for solutions.  One of those sections is USTA Florida and the amazing team on the Parks and Recreation committee.  They are seeking solutions to the challenges we see in tennis but I don’t believe this should fall only on the USTA. I believe all of us involved should be part of the solution.  To grow, we need to adapt our thinking and begin to find solutions that connect players to our sport.  Tennis isn’t dead, however, there are so many other activities to compete with and we need to do a better job of understanding our customers and future customers.   

 

We need to find solutions to some of these questions

  • What are our current and future customers looking for in an activity?

  • How do we get them playing, and playing more often?

  • What can we do as an industry to turn that 11% into 20%, 30%, or 60%?

  • How do we get new players to the game?

  • How do we get more teaching professionals coaching and teaching?

 

There are so many other questions that we need to find a solution for and again, I don’t claim to have all the answers but I certainly want to be part of the team looking for the solutions.

My good friend Danny Da Costa, who is the CEO of Osten & Victor Alberta Tennis Centre in Canada, said “the biggest threat to tennis is the growth of pickleball.  We can not lose tennis courts to other sports (especially at the municipal level), without more courts we can not grow the game.  The growth of tennis begins at the grassroots level.  We need a mass participation strategy that attracts new players.”  

 

As you know, I am a supporter of all racquet sports.  I am firm in my belief that they can complement each other and support programs in all areas.  What we can not have though is a replacement for other sports.  We can’t remove tennis, or in this case, tennis courts so that we can build another sport, ie. pickleball.  We need to find a way that they can support each other and not replace one for the other.

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SOLUTIONS-

  • Marketing efforts that are robust, bold, exciting, year-round, and focused on NEW players

  • Marketing around the benefits from a health and wellness standpoint for adults

  • Facilities/Coaches -Understand what your future customer is looking for ie. Hang out with like-minded people, exercise, socialize, meet new people, and do activities with family.  Typically, they are not yet interested in the best league team, best junior coaches. Engage them correctly, long-term and they will eventually want the best of those.

  • Hire pros that fit into your culture and share your vision of growth, from the grassroots

  • Connect new players to your club quickly with others that are like-minded and connected already.

  • Participation strategies focused on getting more playing our sport and playing more often 

  • Programs designed to play the game and not stroke production only, this is not the case in many programs today.  Players tend to want to learn to play the game first, then seek help to hit particular strokes better.

  • Develop family programs

  • Develop programs where other racquet sports compliment tennis

  • Develop a Tennis Wellness Program

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Photo by Julian Schieman on Unsplash

When I mention a tennis wellness program and marketing of how beneficial tennis is to our health, there is plenty of research that I believe we should be sharing from the mountain tops.  In recent research by Dr. Jack Groppel *  it showed-

  • People that play tennis 3+ hours per week reduce the risks of early mortality by 50%.

  • Sports lower your risk of death, with racquet sports leading the way-

    • racquet sports 47%, swimming 28%, aerobics 27%.

  • Facilities that have incorporated fitness and wellness elements have shown to be more successful with today’s changing consumers.

  • Tennis players scored higher in vigor, optimism, self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety, and tension than other athletes. 

  • Tennis outperformed golf, inline skating, and most other sports in developing positive personality characteristics. 

  • Participation in racquet sports decreases early mortality from heart disease by 56%! 

 

Are we sharing this with adults of all ages, especially those 50 years of age and older?  We should and I hope we do going forward. 

 

We now have some great talking points to share with our adults but I also hope we realize and share the key life skills that tennis provides our youth.  Frank Giampaolo, Maximising Tennis Potential has listed 10 life skills that greatly benefit the development of our youth-

  • Work ethic

  • Resiliency

  • Goal setting

  • Sticking to commitments

  • Dedication

  • Persistence

  • Focus

  • Sportsmanship

  • Discipline

  • Problem-solving 

 

We have a huge opportunity right now to begin to grow our sport again.  We need to focus on how other activities at our clubs can come alongside and help support tennis.  Then build programs around all those activities.  Health and wellness benefits need to be shared and programs built around that fact as well, to bring in additional fitness-minded people, not just tennis players.  Then our focus is to retain as many new and current players as possible with new and exciting programs.  We need to find out how we get more players playing more often.  That is one of the keys to success in my opinion.  Not only how many are playing but how many are really engaged, dedicated, loyal fans of tennis.  It is all of our roles and it is now time to find solutions. I have offered a few, but only a few as there are others that you might have.  I look forward to the next set of communication that will begin the process of offering solutions.  

 

 

*Information provided by a presentation from Dr. Jack Groppel, including information from- Dr. Jack Groppel research; Dr. Paffenbarger- Harvard University, Dr. Finn- Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Jim Gavin

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