A September to remember!

At least four virtual conferences happened online. There may have been more but we are probably not on their mailing lists yet. However, most of the four featured this month were quite spectacularly good!  

Between The White Lines (BTWL)

USTA Middle States Tennis Conf.

USPTA World Conference 2020

Tennis Industry Forum 2020

Many days we couldn't even decide what to dial in and chose to watch it later. Nice feature. Hope you'll like our little roundup.

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Virtual Tennis Conferences in September

A Smörgåsbord of Learning

Compiled by Rich Neher

Between The White Lines (BTWL)
September 24-26, 2020
Website

UK-based BTWL founder Mark Jeffry may just be the most ambitious leader tennis has right now. The founder and equity strategist of Big Point Play Training says, "Tennis is slowly dying. Recruitment and retention are poor." Mark is not convinced to turn this situation around can or should be done with the governing bodies of tennis. "Let private enterprise work together. Make tennis great again. Build tennis... postcode by postcode." (Zip code by zip code in the U.S.)

After sowing the seed for BTWL in June he had not even four months to invite speakers and set the conference up with the help of Event Management Consultant Emma Collins. As Head of Operations, Emma was instrumental in organizing and running the conference with 48 speakers and 48 sessions plus 3 Q+A sessions. All sessions were free. Payable options for future replay and other sponsor considerations were provided.

Mark, a tennis player since the age of four, has been around the LTAs and USTAs, ITFs, ATPs, and WTAs for decades. So he had early on decided to invite representatives from NGBs but not to let them speak. Like the good disruptor that I am, I have to agree with that decision, remembering the old adage "if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got." So if we didn't want to hear the same old strategies and initiatives that never worked, keeping NGBs away seemed a good idea.

Emma Collins said this about working with Mark: "Amazing! His energy, passion, and enthusiasm are contagious! He is very talented at seeking out opportunities and seeing things that most people don’t see. Almost all of our speakers were speaking on subjects never spoken on before, not their bread and butter or coaching. Mark was able to see what they didn’t even know they knew and turn it into an amazing presentation."

Mark set out to seek ideas for solving the following problems from the BTWL conference:

1. Fragmentation of the global private enterprise sector globally.

2. Lack of innovation.

3. Lack of social impact.

He says, "We both know that unless tennis is made more affordable, accessible, and fun… our sport could very well go the way of the dinosaurs."

"If you are an innovator, a disruptor, tennispreneur, down in the trenches with very little acknowledgment, come join us. We are change agents. This is the beginning of a 365 days a year club for private enterprise."

Some of the 48 presenters delivered memorable content and inspirational messages. Familiar faces like Bill Patton, Dave Fish, Sarah Stone, and Scott Mitchell alternated with new experts like Andy Fitzell, Sarah Borwell, Dave Mullins, and Sam Jollah ("Let's not be Black and White, let's all be tennis players!"). And so many more speakers, it was breathtaking. Did you know, according to Dave Mullins, ITA Managing Director, Assistant College Football Coache are making a salary of up to $2 million a year?

The most memorable presentation for me came from an "old guy" I had never heard of, African American coach and tennis historian Art Carrington.

Bring players from behind the walls

out in front of everyone

I found out later that much has been written about Art, the current President of the New England Tennis Association. He says, "When I grew up, I thought tennis is a Black man's sport. All I could see in my neighborhood were Black people playing tennis. We didn't see any White people." Only later did he learn that tennis was indeed played by more White players and was actually called the "White Sport."

And why was Art so memorable to me? Because his presentation was inspirational and spoke to my heart. It took a man with 51 years of coaching experience to say the things nobody says, especially no one at the USTA where the word "inspirational" is just not in their DNA. 

"We need to bring players out from behind the walls (private clubs) and in front of everyone," says Art. We need to get back to those tennis communities where people see that tennis and fun is going on. We need enthusiastic, inspirational leaders in the public." Art thinks it can be done. The Black community can be energized. "Tell the kids that tennis is a Black man's sport."

Art Carrington considers himself a "tennis companion" and he uses creative methods to teach the sport and its movements as can be seen in the below video.

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"Tennis is a fighting sport. It needs dance moves, martial arts moves." How does Art stay fit and teach those moves to his students? He simulates tennis moves to music. Forehands and backhands without balls and racquets.

And the basis to his moves? The figure 8. Simular to Jack Broudy's methodology, Art is a firm believer in using figure 8 flow to achieve smooth and fluent tennis moves.

Below are screenshots of Art's videos on his Instagram page @carrington_tennis. I think Mark Jeffry has an opportunity to be a bigger change agent listening to coaches like Art Carrington. And I also think the USTA executives would be wise if they listened to coaches like Art, on the ground, in the game, with more experience than most people at Lake Nona.

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All in all, excellent virtual conference, despite some snafus that can be expected and chalked up to growing pains. Well done, Mark!

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USTA Middle States "The Tennis Conference"
September 8-25, 2020
Website

Big kudos to the USTA Middle States section and their Net Generation Community Development Coordinator Evan Schreiner who expertly lead us though 11 days of presentations by 43 speakers. I take it it's his first virtual conference and have to give him and the staff involved a huge shoutout.

Continuing education credits from both USPTA and PTR were available for certain sessions.

"A 2020 View into the Future of Tennis"

Although I wasn't able to watch many of the sessions, I came away with the feeling of having received real good value. And not only because all sessions were free!

All speakers were interesting, no doubt. Two of the ones I watched were worth a special mention in my opinion. Johnny Parkes and Rafael Rivera.

Johnny Parkes, USTA Senior Manager Player ID and Development until September, is someone whose presentation makes more sense than many other tennis coaches. When you look at his resume on LinkedIn you know this man has stories to tell. His presentation "Are tennis coaches physical educators?" starts with the premise that school systems are often failing our children when it comes to providing much needed physical education. (Jim Baugh, I think you're up to something here.) That's why his practical demonstration aims to show tennis coaches how they can spearhead athletic development efforts utilizing small periods of time in their program to help develop competent, confident tennis athletes. I think he should go around the country and teach this like Michele did with Cardio Tennis!

Meanwhile, Johnny Parkes has left the USTA and went to IMG. Good luck to him!

Rafael Rivera was Manager of Guest Experience at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. His LinkedIn profile says, "Partnered with the Disney Institute to create a service framework which became a blueprint for our service culture that began to cascade into other sections within the organization." I think his presentation "Bringing the Disney Magic to the Tennis Courts" was extremely interesting. 

Rafa counted his journey in customer service starting from the Walt Disney World Company to working with our top professionals in the US Open. This includes tips on identifying customers, utilizing various communication methods, overcoming barriers when engaging customers, and using techniques to defuse and resolve customer complaints.

Much of this can be directly applied to tennis facilities and their customer service strategy. Nice. For this and all the other speaker replays go to this link. It's worth it! We are planning to feature Rafael Rivera's slide deck in our November issue.

USPTA World Conference WC20

September 21-23, 2020
Website

You'd expect excellence from an organization with resources like the USPTA. But I must admit, I didn't expect it to go that well since no one is really experienced in such a virtual event. Right? Kudos to the organizers that made it happen. The 19 speakers were outstanding, the presentations were interesting, John Embree was his usual "exciting" self during the awards presentation. I'm happy that Kathy Woods was inducted into the Hall of Fame. She deserves it and it was overdue. (See our interview with Kathy this month)

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I particularly liked Mats Wilander's presentation about Adult Programming, Events, and Facility Management and Mark McMahon talking about taking control of your career with the help of the new USPTA DirectorSearch. I hope we'll be able to report about this new feature soon.

A total number of 1,045 registrations for WC0 is not bad considering what's going on in our country right now. Not sure if the 22 exhibitors were happy but then again, I guess the USPTA didn't charge the usual rate for a booth.

I like the 2021 plan to come to Las Vegas again on September 19-24 next year. I enjoyed that last year.

Tennis Industry Forum

September 15, 2020

Website

Looking at the TIA Forum speakers I couldn't help wondering. All previously mentioned virtual summits were exemplary in their diversity of presenters. But the Tennis Industry Forum was exactly how Black Americans see tennis: A bunch of white guys (plus Martin Blackman trying to convince the audience how incredibly excited he is.) I'm not buying it, though. And there was Craig Morris once again flaunting Net Generation and throwing buzzwords at us like Key Targets, Vision, People Business. Yikes. Just not very believable.

 

We were once again presented with lofty goals and questionable data, in my opinion. But, see for yourself. The video is below. Tell me if you're able to stay awake watching it.

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While I generally applaud the efforts of USPTA, USTA Middle States, and BTWL to inspire me and teach me things I didn't know, the TIA Tennis Forum was somewhat disappointing. I left uninspired and here is a summary of why:

1. Data

For years Sports Marketing Surveys (Keith Storey) is trying to sell us data counting 17+ million tennis players and I'm really not sure if they believe their own data. They survey 18,000 people for all sports and divide those small numbers into age and gender groups. Hu? You are seriously telling me you're getting accurate numbers for every sport that way? I cannot believe the USTA is paying for this baloney.

Let's assume the overall numbers are right, just for the fun of it. Now they're telling us their survey found 4.79 million players who came back to the sport or who took it up for the first time. They have defined the total number of lost players between 2018 and 2019 as the sum of the normal attrition and the newly found players. There were 4.95 million lost players, so there is a churn rate of 27%. This makes the industry look like a bunch of amateurs. It is in no way what's happening in the trenches on the courts. Also, they claim this is national data but I tell you right now it's not what's happening in Southern California.

 

That confirms what I've been saying for years: I cannot trust ANY of these figures. Besides, what are the demographics of those first-time players and returners? 

They say 1/4 of the people play 1-3 times a year. Although they are 25% of the tennis population, they are probably only 1% of the tennis economy. If they leave, it has little impact on the tennis economy. In addition, about 1/5 of the people play 4-9 times a year. They may account for 5% of the tennis economy. The occasional and casual groups of people are important to the industry only if they are converted to regular players. So, my question is, what is the industry doing to convert these to regular players? The Forum didn't address this.

Now, let's look at hard data that can be proven with industry sales. An industry expert who looked at the charts provided, told me, "The data Keith presented for 2020 seemed to tell a different story than the data TIA/SMS presented in the unclear monthly reports. He does not seem to understand the industry and what drives growth.

For example, he stated the sale of <$50 racquets were up 13% or 130,000 units in H1. It would be interesting to know what drove that growth and whether the growth stole from the second half of the year (Not shown on his chart).  

 

More importantly, Storey chose not to address the fact that the sale of >$50 racquets dropped by approximately 100,000 units. Most likely, that means the value of the decrease in $>50 racquets will be greater than the increase in $<$50 racquets. He did not tell the correct story.

Storey presented a chart that indicated racquet sales had recovered. Either his chart is mislabeled, or his arithmetic is wrong to come to that conclusion."

2. Patrick Gilbraith

I was a little disappointed by Galbraith’s lecture about Diversity & Inclusion. You may or may not disagree with me but I think the USTA pandered to players and allowed them to cram the BLM movement down the few spectators' and the TV audience's throats. 

Based on viewership data, it appears sports fans are not enamored with pro sports owners and teams who pander to the athletes. Pro sports are a form of entertainment and many people who care about societal issues do not care what Lebron James or Naomi Osaka think about societal issues.

Patrick Galbraith sent a message that the USTA was more concerned about being politically correct than doing what is best for the sport and best for players and coaches at all levels. Did his rhetoric and actions of the USTA send a message the USTA does not have a path for creating fairness and opportunities for all players?

3. The Plan

Where's the enthusiasm? Did this plan excite anyone? Not me. It was presented more like a eulogy than an exciting announcement.

A friend gave me his impression: "The plan appears to be a mix of new ideas and old programs." I think some of the numbers in the plan do not make sense.

The goal is to have 30,000 pros and instructors by 2023. In the presentation, they indicated there are currently 15,000 pros. My sources tell me there will likely be a decrease in pros in 2020 and 2021. Is the only way to get to 30,000 by including high school coaches, parks and recreation coaches, and college coaches? I'd love to see how they want to get to 30,000.

The plan stated that participation would increase from 17.68 million in 2019 to 23 million in 2025. That is an increase of 5.3 million players or growth at an annualized rate of 6.8% per year. The U.S. population has increased at an annualized rate of 0.7% a year for the past decade.

Overall, quite a disappointment for me. Remember what I've been saying all year about the excitement we need to create in order to get many more people playing tennis? Where is the excitement, Mr. Dowse? I'm not seeing it. And without excitement, you can kiss that 23 million goal good-bye.!

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