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Staff Clothing: Is It Worth It?

By Ed Shanaphy, Director of Tennis

Every March, after I have selected my team for the upcoming summer, I send out an email asking new staff for sizes. This year, with three new professionals joining a team of nine, I have a bit more to order.

I usually order two sets of whites for new staff members and senior team members, and a single pair of whites for returning staff. Oh, and my own… I seem to get the dredges of the box! I say to myself, each year, that I won’t allow that to happen, but one short doesn’t fit or the style doesn’t match the top. You know how it goes. Clothing is never perfect.

Team Spirit

But, I do think that staff clothing is important. It creates a sense of belonging to something for your staff members. It creates a team spirit, which each staff member will need to fall back on at some point during the summer. A team spirit, or sense of belonging to a group, will help pull each member and the group as a whole through a summer of hardship.

The summer season at a busy club is a grind. We in the industry actually use that term frequently to describe the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s just 12 weeks, but it seems an eternity without much time off, if a day at all, in reality. Staff can’t socialize with membership while “concierging” those same people, and seasonal professionals may feel isolated in a remote part of New England or Michigan without a friend or family. And at some point, maybe under the heat and humidity of a midday sun each staff member is going to ask him or herself: “Is this worth it?” For only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

As the summer grind goes on through July 4th, be ready for staff to melt, sweat, and falter.

I think the most coveted part of my tennis wardrobe are my old, beat-up caps from previous positions. Those baseball caps from the early 90s when I taught in Greenwich, CT still adorn my closet’s top shelf. They bring back fond memories of summers in the sun and collegiate years when the world seemed enormous and less stressful.

Depending on terms with suppliers, it’s not a bad idea to offer racquets, accessories, and especially shoes, either free or below cost to your staff members. They appreciate the financial help, but even more, they will truly appreciate the thought. I know I appreciated it when I was a Head Pro and Adult Director. I had new “feet” for a week and it felt like I was walking on air. Just 5 or 6 days through a busy summer can really bolster confidence and energy in a professional.

Yes, there is a cost to staff clothing. You can work with your club or facility to share the cost. Many clubs assume the cost in entirety as they too believe it’s an important factor for a member-focused team. Many clubs like the delineation staff clothing creates between member and staff.


Please visit our Patron Page where we have created a spreadsheet and cheat sheet for your staffing uniforms – we do all the budgeting for you so you will know exactly the cost and the commitment before you put in your staff clothing order!


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An Elephant On The Tennis Court

A Personal Perspective from Ed Shanaphy

I have never liked “Tennis Moms”. In the industry we can pick them out a mile away at any tournament. These women usually wear tennis clothes to their child’s tournaments – seemingly ready to walk onto the court in their child’s place and beat to a pulp the young junior on the other side.  They have their 8 year old outfitted with a racquet bag that is bigger than Federer’s and have all those slogans on both their own and their child’s shirts – slogans like “Beat It” or “The Ball is in MY Court!” There was always an elephant on the court when I played as a junior – the Mom staring me down from just outside the fence. Thank God there was a fence, otherwise she might come on court and wallop me.

I grew up playing against kids who had their tennis moms clapping at my mistakes. They coached at each turnover and scowled at any close call I made against their child. Tennis Moms would glare at me if I happened to go for a shot and hit a winner against their “Little Joey” who was always taller than I, as I have always been vertically challenged. I remember some of these moms more vividly than I do their kids with whom I hit long, pushy, points deep into a third set – long before the idea of a third set tie-breaker was born.

They gave their little ones thermoses of gatorade with supplements mixed in. The thermoses were more like massive jugs hanging off a plastic handle that the juniors could barely get their hands around. The weight of the thermos needed two hands so the big racquet bag kept falling off the child’s shoulders as he walked next to me as I carried my single Maxply Fort and paper cup full of water to the battlefield we were assigned to. The Tennis Mom’s car, parked as close to the back fence as possible for viewing and access, was stocked with bananas and anti-cramping powders. The prematch program included dynamic stretching and index cards describing various strategies in hieroglyphics which I thought looked like advanced algebra. Math SATs were not my strongpoint.

It’s our tennis industry’s version of the hit television show Dance Moms. I never liked Tennis Moms. I still don’t like them. But now… I’m a Tennis Dad.

My daughter, age 9, went to play her fourth tournament this past weekend and I had to fight hard from becoming a Tennis Dad. I guess we’ve all gone through it, whether it’s on a baseball diamond, soccer field or football gridiron. But tennis seems to bring the worst of us parents out. Maybe because it’s singles at this age and there are no teammates or team coach to which we can shift blame.

During six round-robin matches, I refrained from making motions toward my daughter and I looked away when she gave me a thumbs up so as to not be accused of coaching. We all know what that can lead to after this year’s US Open. I stopped myself from putting my fist through the glass table each time she hit a ball on the fly that was destined to test the strength of the fence behind her.

My daughter played wonderfully well amid my frustration with her going for too big a first serve. Apples don’t fall far from the tree. And in the minds of all at the tournament she won her first tournament and was looking forward to receiving the trophy. But, alas, she she picked up the third place trophy as the young boy whom she had beaten and knew he had to win against Olivia looked startled as he picked up the first place trophy. Really? What does she have to do to win a tournament at this orange ball level.

For those of you who are not at the cutting edge of 9 year-old competitive tennis, the USTA in their wisdom has come up with a progression for our American youth. Our tiny tots (4 to 7 year olds generally) play with oversized red balls which travel through the air very slowly and bounce low on every surface – on clay they just thud. Then as you move into the the upper echelons of the junior ranks and start playing Level 9 beginner tournaments in Florida (some regions don’t have Level 9 but start at Level 7), tournaments are played on a shortened court with orange balls. These are tennis balls that are less compressed and squishy. They travel slower than the regular ball through the air and bounce so that a junior can keep the ball more easily in their hitting zone – which is around waist height. Even with heavy topspin, the ball stays low so that the junior can create a technically valid swing with a shortened racquet which is just 25 inches compared to a regular 27 inches.

The jury is still out on this progression which moves on to green balls which are just slightly less deflated (Tom Brady would love USTA junior tennis) than the regular yellow balls we all know. Finally, at age 11, one gets to play with normal balls in the month of their birthday. You can either age out of orange and green balls or you can qualify by winning and participating to move up through the progression. Olivia’s not being named the winner cost her three or four trophies in USTA ratings (you collect stars and trophies through the progression) and not even being a finalist, having finished third, hurt her progression efforts.

So after what I thought was a simple miscalculation by the Tournament Director, who is a great motivator and volunteers his time to run this local tournament, I stepped into his office and questioned his mathematics nicely. He said that the “TDM” doesn’t figure winners by cumulative games won through the 7 rounds. “Ed, I just feed the scores in to the computer,” said the Tournament Director. I looked quizically around for an old-fashioned round-robin chart or tournament bracket of some kind. “Oh?” I said. So, if you win you come in third I thought to myself. Tough to relate this to a 9 year old still looking for her first tournament win. Basically, you feed the scores into the computer… and the USTA computer says: Thou Shalt Not Win.

This is when the Tennis Dad in me came out. There’s no handicapping in soccer – you lose. There’s no handicapping in football – you lose. But in USTA Junior Tennis, if you win, you lose. As I drove home trying not to show my emotions and attempted to get my head around the cumulative game calculations (my math SAT lagged far behind my verbal SAT as I mentioned above), I felt for my daughter. Olivia’s feelings were evident: she had been cheated out of a trophy by the USTA and its computer. Upon slamming the car door in the driveway, I had already in my mind formulated an email to my good friend up at USTA Florida’s headquarters in Orlando. I’d be nice. I’m in the industry and I don’t like to burn bridges, even though I am now a Tennis Dad. The line has to be drawn. I’d ask gently if there is a weighting or handicapping of which I was unaware.

Well the short answer is yes, there is a weighting and it put my daughter in third place, which really didn’t help her pathway to progress out of orange ball and up to green ball. She hates orange ball. And this is the rub: Youth progressions are great. But, my argument would be, progressions can’t be right for every junior. Boys and girls mature at different times.

And kids grow at various times. My daughter is 9 (she turns 10 in February) and is not vertically challenged. She’s 5 foot 4 and weighs 108 lbs and uses the same racquet that Serena uses – no junior racquet for her. She looks me in the eye straight ahead when I ask her to clear her plate. Someday in 2020 she’s going to say “no” as she looks down at me. This weekend, she played an 8 year old who came up to her waist. She hits the ball as hard as I can. She practices with a 12 year old who is top 10 in the USA and just returned from Canada where she represented the USA on the court.

But there was a deeper meaning to this weekend’s events. It’s good discipline to go through a progression. It’s a learning experience, not only for my daughter Olivia, but for me, the new Tennis Dad, so I can take my learnings to my job and figure out how to explain handicapping to my daughter. This is a big principle of life to explain to a 9 year old, because as I drove home formulating that email in my mind, I could also foresee future questions. “Dad, why didn’t I get chosen for gifted when Chas was the last boy to make it even between boys and girls but his grades aren’t as good as mine?” Or later on in life…”Dad, why can’t I get into that college and when was affirmative action started?” Or, “Dad, can you explain to me what a quota is?” If you win, you lose. Life isn’t always fair. And if you are the best at something, you still might lose.

Today was easy: “Dad, why didn’t I win when I had the most games?” Tomorrows are going to be more difficult for both of us. But the USTA helped me start this process. I worked hard at my answers this weekend so I could be trusted in the future. I discussed golf handicaps. I told her that playing one more orange ball tournament will help her topspin control. I showed her how her results over the weekend had moved her Universal Tennis Rating in a positive way – something that those colleges in the future will be looking at when she, God willing, hopefully applies. She nodded and took it all in. She agreed to play again at the USTA National Tennis Center in another orange ball tournament. I was happy that I had succeeded as a new, kindler, gentler Tennis Dad. It was then that she walloped me as she walked away to play with her Ipad: “Dad, why didn’t I win the last two tournaments when I came in second and third?” She has a memory like an elephant.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com and has played and taught tennis competitively around the world, but is now, more importantly, a Tennis Dad.

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Off Peak Hours: How To Make Them More Inviting and Attractive

We all know about crunch time. At university it’s the 24 hours before that final exam. In business, it’s making sure that presentation is glistening and vibrant the night before meeting that new business acquisition possibility. In fitness, it’s your personal training hours between 7 and 10am. And in tennis, it’s the crunch on courts from 8am to about 10 or 10.30am on weekdays.

Crunch time is basically the same everywhere – those morning hours where each demographic of member wants to play. The older generation that gets up early might start it off with a 7 or 7.30am doubles game that has been in existence for the past 20 years. Next to arrive are the working parents at 7.30 or 8am who want to get a game and some exercise in before heading to the office for the morning. Young family parents usually arrive around 8.30 after dropping the kids off at camp or school and participate in a clinic or have their game. If you’re going to run out of courts, it’s going to be in these weekday morning hours. How do we motivate members to play at other times?

There are numerous methods in which to push member play to off-peak hours. We will investigate smaller methods and ideas before we look at a bigger, club-wide picture later in the article.

Waive Guest Fees For Off-Peak Play

This is a fantastic, quick way to kill two birds with one stone. Members get irritated seeing non-members playing at peak times. Countless times I’ve had members ask me how many times a certain guest has played in a month or across a summer or year. Invariably, this is asked when the guest is playing at a peak time. When I was Director of Tennis in the Palm Beach county the biggest complaint I received was that the women’s teams played by league rule at 10am. Members would come up and say: “Mr. Pro, half of each court are non-members and we can’t get a court at 10!” This is something to keep in mind in looking at guest fees. Remember that team or leauge play does not add guest fee revenue to the club and members dislike that, especially if at peak times.

That being said, if you waive guest fees after 10.30 or 11am, this certainly pushes non-member play to later hours in the morning, which not only increases off-peak play, but also reduces the number of non-members playing during peak times thereby reducing member complaints.

Discount Private Lessons at Off-Peak Times

I have always been an advocate of early bird lesson discounts. Most teaching professionals advocate early morning hours to get two or three hours in before the “regular” rush. We usually advise offering 15 to 20 percent off lessons taken at 6am or 7am. This also alleviates the private lesson crunch professionals get for lessons at 9 through 11am – hours which are inevitably booked. If a teaching professional can teach non-stop from 6 to 12 noon, he or she already has 6 hours under their belts by the middle of the day.

You can take this even further. If you have a over-subscribed clinic (cardio in many cases at 8am) why not discount a 7am cardio clinic a few dollars and see if you can alleviate some of the pressure by not only adding a second class but one at an off-peak time.

For indoor courts, moving just one clinic or one game 60 minutes later in the morning to 11am or to 2pm before school lets out and junior clinics start is a massive help, not only to court usage, but to defraying heating and lighting costs. Having play throughout the day adds revenue to an indoor facility while defraying costs across more hours of play.

row of empty tennis courts
Having empty courts at an indoor facility is not cost-effective.

On A Bigger Scale – Membership

My fellow director Christophe Delavaut, who is creating one of the leading tennis clubs at The Boulevard in Vero Beach FL, brought up with me the idea of non-team memberships for off-peak hours. Oftentimes, leauge play is at those peak hours and men and women simply join a club to play on a team. However, if you offer non-team packages, you can make these packages for off-peak hours only without leauge play. Or, you can offer league play but open play at only off-peak times. There are many ways you can affect court usage through different membership types.

One of my favorite methods of increasing off-peak usage is by scheduling practices or open play in conjunction with lunch.  If you schedule a team practice for your ladies at 9am, you are fighting for courts at which you and your team of pros would almost certainly have privates. In many cases team practices are mandatory or pre-charged. Why make them at peak times? If you schedule a team practice at 10.30 to finish at 12 noon, you have made an enormous difference to court usage freeing up 2 to 4 courts from 9 to 10.30am. And, the food and beverage director will thank you as many tennis team members will invariably filter over to lunch at that time of day following practice.

Be A “Club” Team Player

You can make your general manager even happier by combining incentives across club departments or working schedules with the Directors of Golf and Fitness.

For example, why not offer a discount on the club lunch menu for all court reservations made between 11 and 12.30 on weekdays? In this way, you incentivize members to play at an off-peak time while at the same time pushing them toward using another club department. If you have facilities such as a pool or lake, why not offer free guest passes for non-member tennis play after 11am so that the guest can use the pool or lake after their tennis game, again usually adding to the food and beverage department’s revenue.

You can work with the Director of Golf as well. Usually practice facilities, which can vary between a driving range, putting green or chipping areas, are not prone to such crunch times as a limited number of tennis courts. Why not offer a weekly dual clinic – golf from 9.15 to 10.15am with tennis following from 10.30 to 11.30am? Or create a TRX/Cardio Tennis Clinicio to start in a TRX studio at 10am for 45 minutes and moves to the tennis courts at 10.45 for cardio tennis? Using two club facilities in one clinic also cross-polinates club department usage.

Here at BeyondTheBaselines.com we have many other ideas as to how to build play and member usage during off-peak times. The above is just a smattering of incentives and programming possibilities to enhance your member experience and create more play on the courts and usage of the club as a whole throughout the day.

 

Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA and President of BeyondTheBaselines.com. Ed has been a finalist in the Ernst & Young’s Entreprenuer of the Year for Europe.