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Christen Zawatsky: I Love Working for a Female Director but I Don’t Like To Coach Ladies Club Teams

female tennis professional

The fourth segment in our series: “Women in Tennis”

Avoiding the “type casting” of the female pro as “you’ve got the 10 and unders,” Christen Zawatsky has made her role a universal one. One of the leading junior development directors in all New England, Christen joins us at the BeyondTheBaselines.com podcast to discuss her many years at The Kingsbury Club outside Boston, Massachusetts where she is a revered coach for both adults and juniors.

Coaching from red ball through to high performance juniors and adults, Christen has no desire to coach the ladies teams but loves being a female in our industry. She has made her mark by proving herself either by serving that ace down the T to the adults or backing up her teaching methods consistently to her juniors, parents, and adult students.

Christen Zawatsky, Director of Junior Tennis

From Arizona to Kalamazoo, from Boston to Oklahoma, Christen travels with her juniors to zonals and nationals and sees herself as a role model for all her students. Christen has supervised the fantastic progressions and advancements of many of her juniors. But she has also witnessed the toughest part of her job far too many times: Parents ruining a flourishing junior’s career.

Christen is creating and building a program of over 200 juniors around solid progressions and fitness. Shifting her high performance pathway to a program built around athleticism, she trains many students who haven’t played a second sport. As an Orange Theory fitness coach, Christen is combining her two loves and is creating a dynamic program in New England at Kingsbury.

Women Students and the Female Teaching Professional

Women don’t always accept women instructors, states Christen, but women students are not Christen’s favorite either. For the most part, she removed herself from most of the ladies practices and clinics. ” I just couldn’t deal with all the drama. Maybe it’s because the ladies wanted to share with a female pro, but with all the chatter Christen found herself asking: Are we still playing tennis here? “There are more battles with the women. With the men it’s easy – If they know you’re better than them, that’s all they need to know.”

With that said, Christen believes that women directors understand the membership better than male professionals and “concierge” the membership more effectively. Organizationally and in terms of management, Christen sees her female director and other female pros more understanding of members’ needs.

And in terms of women entering the industry? Christen says to all those females thinking of perhaps trying their hand as an instructor to give it a shot and think back to how you started as a young girl player. Christen finds it extremely rewarding with such moments as opening the mail one day and receiving a hand-made card from one of her young students during a Pandemic. “I love it when I see one of my youngest girls asking to take a photo with me and she’s a ‘mini me'” decked out in her junior LuLu Lemon outfit. “Be that role model you always dreamed of having as a coach when you were a young girl.”

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Federer’s Tweet Did Just What The Doctor Ordered

practice wall

by Ed Shanaphy, USPTA Director of Tennis

A group of us were pondered last week on a zoom call which was clearly monitored through the zoom security issue due to the nature and importance of the call. The question that had been posed: “Why has it been so long since an American man has won a Grand Slam.” The women have had Serena for years competing at the top. Although born in Russia, Sofia Kenin has adopted the USA as we have adopted her. Over the years, we’ve had Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams. But the men? Nothing since Andy Roddick lifted the US Open in 2003 – 17 years ago this summer.

In the group chatting on zoom was a renowned former Ivy League head tennis coach. And he said four words: “Bring Back The Wall. Well, guess what? Roger Federer did just that this week.

I’m not always the biggest Roger Federer fan, but this video, which has gone viral, done with Roger’s usual aplomb, has brought some humor and class to tennis during a pandemic. But it’s also brought back a tool that we often overlook. “Choose your hat wisely.” He threw out a challenge and the world of tennis and beyond has taken him up on it.

Fed’s twitter roll is now full of his fans – and fans of the game – doing the challenge in all kinds of hats. From Mexican sombreros to Irish caps, from sun hats to winter wool hats, people are finding a wall and volleying against a wall – any wall. From Rennae Stubbs to Lindsey Vonn, from Brad Gilbert to celebrities from the world of music, Roger’s fans and the fans of the game have taken him up on his #tennisathome challenge.

And that’s the beauty of the wall. As the college coach wisely said in the zoom call, “You can find a wall anywhere and you can do it by yourself.” In this day and age, that’s a recipe for greatness.

The Wall Is One Of Our Best Tools

The practice wall has always been around. With a line either curved to simulate a net, or a straight line marking 3 feet straight across, it’s been usually at the back of a club or facility, often with cracks in its facade and weeds growing at its base. Most practice walls remain largely forgotten and neglected. But in these times of self-quarantine and self-isolation, the wall has come back to the top of the charts. And now, Federer with his challenge, has made any wall a practice tool.

As a kid, I used the wall a lot. I grew up on clay courts, and the wall was on Court Six. It faced the back of the court, behind the baseline, on the South side. On the other side of the wall was a paved portion over grass in the shade. I used to like to test my skill on the hard surface in the Spring before high school practice started and then as the summer season started, I would spend more time on the clay side.

When I interviewed for a new summer position in 2016 and visited the club, I was struck by the size of the practice wall. I had never seen a bigger wall. Pavement on both sides, it rose above the clubhouse at the back to 18 feet in height. I thought it was an eyesore.

But the wall is a central meeting point for the juniors. Thanks to my predecessor who believed in the importance of practice on the wall, the juniors congregate and hit among each other on the wall, both before and after their scheduled clinic times. A morning ritual is a few of the juniors come down as the sun rises and the court maintenance folks are out preparing the clay for the day’s play. The juniors jump on the wall waiting for the grooming to finish.

This past week, with social distancing a part of our lives, I had several questions as to if members could use the wall. No one asked when the courts were being resurfaced – but because members are self-isolating – “Is the wall open?”

The Wall Can Free Up A Valuable Court

With court usage at its peak at 8am on weekdays – during our Tiny Tots and Little Little Tennis junior clinics – we often take the 2 to 6 year-olds onto the wall area to free up another court. We set up targets and obstacle courses focusing on the wall and using the wall to roll balls against or stop back swings for volleys. The wall also is a contained space, so ball pickup is that much quicker – a big factor to keeping both juniors and parents happy. And now with Roger showing off his skills at the wall, perhaps it will be more acceptable to the high-schoolers to drill on it during their clinic times.

The wall is really a two-fold drill sergeant. It allows the player to groove a swing, or in Roger’s challenge, groove a volley. But to hit against a wall, a player has to master control so that the bounce off the wall is manageable and playable. Time with the ball on the strings. The wall requires a player to create more time with the ball in contact with the strings which, in turn, creates the control needed to manage the shot so that the return off the wall is playable.

With all the pros and celebrities answering Roger’s challenge, the wall has become just what one college coach was hoping for – a training tool which had really been missing in the arsenal of American tennis at the grass roots level.

Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, Massachusetts, which has an enormous wall at the back of the clubhouse. It’s green just like Roger’s wall.

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Female Pros: Women Teaching Professionals Make More Than Men

Christine Murphy Foltz hitting a forehand on a tennis court

The first posting in our series “The Female Pro” of articles and podcasts focusing on women in the tennis and country club industry. In coming weeks and months we will be featuring female professionals on our BeyondTheBaselines.com Podcast along with articles investigating female teaching professionals and their participation in and affect on our industry.

Women do make more than men… teaching tennis. The USTA announced recently that they are pushing, in conjunction with the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA), for more women to enter the industry as teaching professionals. Although this is a lofty goal, what it does speak of is the short supply of women professionals. With such a short supply, demand is high. So is the take home pay of most female professionals in comparison to male counterparts at the same teaching level.

It’s been mentioned by women, whom we believed would be great instructors and ambassadors for the sport, that in large part they feel teaching tennis is a male-dominated profession. They may be right. Only 23 percent of teaching instructors and members of the United States Professional Association are women across the nation, according to the USPTA. This statistic really speaks to the law of supply and demand: such a low number creates a high demand for women professionals.

As a management consulting firm, we found interesting the announcement from USTA Florida which quotes Vice President of the USPTA National Board Trish Faulkner. Faulkner wants to add to the number of female pros and believes that it should be a focus of the USTA and USPTA. At this time, with such a demand for female teaching professionals, adding to the numbers of female pros could actually financially injure the current female pros in the industry. Adding additional female pros might lessen the current demand for female professionals as these organizations hope to expand the numbers of female teaching pros.

We have seen this at clubs and facilities in a broader way. Simply adding additional teaching pros “waters-down” the demand for lessons across the pool of pros at that club. Adding female pros to the industry might “water-down” the demand for a female teacher. We believe there is a lot of room in the industry but current female pros might see a drop in their income due to more supply over the coming years.

That being said, there is more work than there are female professionals. Clubs and facilities, both seasonal and year-round, continually search for female instructors to bolster staffs and cater to their membership and clients who prefer female instructors. One of the first questions we receive as a search consultant is: “Do you know any women professionals who might be a good fit for this job description?”

Changing The Norm

“I am seeing a great trend in the last few years where many of our certified young women USPTA members have gone after and secured high-level tennis positions,” said Faulkner, who notes USPTA membership is only 23% female. “There is still a perception that many high-level tennis jobs go to insiders or friends of directors, but we have educated general managers and other directors to check credentials and certification and look for the best person for the position.”

USPTA Certification is becoming more encompassing with 1500 hours of apprenticeship to include 1200 hours of experimental teaching and 300 hours of online course work and mentoring. These changes, making it certainly more of a process to become a certified professional, might affect the numbers of those entering the professional ranks. It could also affect the ratio of newly certified pros between male and female.

Female Sensibilities

When we act as a management consultant for clubs or as a search consultant for facilities, we here at BeyondTheBaselines.com always discuss the possibility of having one or two female teaching pros on staff, if not to serve as the Director of Tennis. There are several reasons why a woman professional on staff or running the program makes very good sense.

We all know that women are more sensible than men, don’t we? Well this may or may not be true, but there is definitely a sense among female students that a womanly understanding of the game while teaching a woman’s clinic can make all the difference. And why shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t female instructors better understand the women’s doubles game? Shouldn’t a woman instructor better understand the obstacles facing women players? We tend to believe that would be the case. The fact is that many students tell us that female instructors, in general, are better understanding the intricacies of women’s doubles and the strategies facing a woman’s double pair than their male counterparts.

We have found there are several reasons why female professionals, along with the fact that supply is low and demand is high, are paid more than their male counterparts. Over the next several weeks in our Series “The Female Pro” we will investigate some of the motivating factors leading to a higher pay scale and why female instructors often find themselves with more hours on-court than their male colleagues.

Jennifer Gelhaus, who beyondthebaselines.com announced as the new Director of Tennis at East Chop Tennis Club, Martha’s Vineyard, MA, changed careers and has instructed at some of the most elite clubs in the nation following a career in research technology.

Empirically, we have found that female professionals over the same period make on average 18% more in take-home pay than their male counterparts at similar positions. This data, collected through clubs for which we have consulted, provides us with some interesting numbers. Across the same level of position, women instructors tend to be on approximately the same hourly rate. For example, a female head professional average hourly rate has been in the region of $44 per hour taking total take home, on-court pay divided by time spent on court. Their male counterparts are slightly higher at just above $46 per hour. However, female professionals are on the court more. They are booked for privates up to 15% more than their male counterparts, both at the same facility and then if extrapolated over total number of hours taught across our data. Therefore, in our studies, female professionals total on-court revenues are higher than their male colleagues.

Clubs and facilities have understood these numbers, whether consciously or unknowingly. In general, employers have rewarded female professionals with a higher salary or stipend as the facility finds it has a greater revenue stream from retained percentages in connection with female instructors. We found, that facilities tend to reimburse female professionals slightly higher in relation to the revenues retained by the facility being higher.

Harking back to the short supply of female instructors, female pros can also garner a higher salary. Founder of Cardio Tennis Michele Krause explains through her comments to USTA Florida that the fixed hourly rate of compensation is an old model and should be updated. We agree and believe that female professionals coming into the industry have the opportunity to flip that model on its head. With such a dearth of female instructors, women who teach tennis can ask for more in terms of compensation and packages. And, in fact, we have seen this across the board. And clubs and Directors of Tennis should think outside the box in terms of incentives and compensation to retain not only excellent female professionals, but all professionals. The era of a flat, hourly rate on court should be long gone.

Fixed employee costs to a club or facility are higher where women professionals are concerned. Women professionals cost on average 8% more than their male counterparts at the same position across our research. This cost includes not only on-court retained percentages and salary costs, but paid time off, maternity leave, and other benefits in kind, such as housing costs. Because there are so few female instructors, female professionals are able to negotiate with their employers with better leverage. This leverage results in contracts that are more beneficial to the female employee than the contracts of their male counterparts. With paternity leave becoming more prevalent, these ratios might change.

In conclusion, women instructors on the court at present are enjoying an era in which they can reap more due to the lack of female teaching pros in the industry. As the industry matures perhaps this situation will change, but as Trish Faulkner notes, she only expects 1 in 4 members of the USPTA to be women in three years.

In May, we will breakdown the five reasons having a female professional on staff is essential for any best-in-class program at any club or facility.

Please see the USTA Florida article concerning women in the teaching ranks here.

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Continuing Education For Your Fitness and Tennis Professional Staff

The gym and tennis court can be a microcosm of life. Issues that we see in life are dealt with by making firm decisions. To be your personal best in the gym, one must be disciplined and make a clear decision to “stay the course” and improve. Same holds true on the tennis court. And same holds true for the professionals in the gym and on the court.

As a professional in the gym or on the court, these environments can become claustrophobic and lonely. A professional can find themselves almost hermit-like at a club or facility. The fitness center or tennis court fencing can be a cave where a professional hides every day from the real world… the horizon… and expansion through education.

Slowly, clubs and facilities are moving toward the idea of offering continuing education funds within departmental budgets. This has been a long time coming. Most contracts throughout the tennis and fitness industry do not cover the costs for employees or contractors to further education in their respective fields. Sometimes, the Director of Tennis or Fitness does have a line item in the budget for departmental continuing education, but far too often does this line item go back year after year used only for the Director or even completely untouched as budgetary constraints get tighter and tighter.

But continuing education really should be a requirement, if only to expose your facility’s professionals to new ideas, programming, and possible new hires.

In terms of fitness, we have found that Sara Kooperman is a leader in continuing education. Back when we were just starting Beyond The Baselines, a local personal trainer mentioned that SCWfit.com was a great source for fitness education. We looked and we liked. We’ve recommended their personal trainer certification for those new to the industry along with their Mania, a conference that tours the nation with fitness industry experts sharing their knowledge and experience, and sometimes selling the newest fad.

TRX TrainingTRX was just such a fad about a dozen years ago when it first arrived on the scene at SCW’s Mania… but now it’s a household and gym staple. We’ve worked closely with TRX (https://www.trxtraining.com) to enrich the country club fitness industry with their suspension training. TRX offers its own certification and education programming as well, rich in programming ideas.

Michele Krause, creator and owner of Cardio Tennis (http://www.cardiotennis.com), brought TRX on to the Cardio Tennis scene years ago and we have recommended that TRX be a part of this cross pollination at several clubs. It brings the fitness center to the tennis court and we’ve seen tennis players hit the gym for the first time after such a class on the court. We’ve added a fitness pro to tennis clinics across many clubs and found that this cross-fertilization is a fantastic way to boost club revenues. Michele is a leading proponent of continuing education and tours the globe providing teaching and instructional experience in tennis and fitness.

Tennis has so much in the way of further education for its professionals. From the United States Professional Tennis Association (https://uspta.com) and the Professional Tennis Registry (https://www.ptrtennis.org) through to the USTA, there are thousands of ways to gain credits while expanding a professional’s links within the industry. Just a simple “Drill Share” session on a court at one of the annual conferences can lead to a major change for a club’s membership on the courts the next summer.

For decades, industry professionals have been on both sides of the continuing education argument. Some say that the cost to them personally to belong to the National Academy of Sports Medicine or other such certifying association and to carry their insurance and to attend continuing education events is just too much for them to bear. We’ve heard it on the tennis side too: The cost of the USPTA or PTR (which provides liability insurance with its yearly dues) and then the cost of the conference just adds up to too much. Recently, the USPTA, like many of the fitness organizations, has added a continuing education requirement in order to retain professional certification from them. The moans from professionals across the industry were heard, but after the initial storm, it appears that the requirement has been met by the vast majority of their professionals. And there are strong reasons to maintain this requirement.

Jason Gilbert, who is USTA Florida’s Director of Competitive Tennis, also works with the USPTA on furthering the education of those professionals new to the industry with the Under 30 Initiative and liaises closely with the USPTA. He cites the number of young pros who leave the industry too soon and believes, rightly, that the lack of support and education after certification is a leading cause. The pros are hollowed out and lonely teaching hour after hour “caged” on a court and don’t find the support or education needed to “stay the course.”

As a community, it is our belief at Beyond The Baselines to help educate boards and committees so that they believe that continuing education of their professionals should not only be a requirement, but a favorable development for their staff at every level in the gym and on the court. If that education helps to expand programming and participation at the club or facility, it’s a valuable and inexpensive method of adding both member satisfaction and club revenue.

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Exempt versus Non-Exempt Tennis Professionals – The FLSA On The Courts

Our leisure industry, and golf and tennis particulary, is lumped dangerously in with every other industry and falls under federal legislation just like any other business in the USA.

Just as there are rules governing the independent contractor and whether the IRS will see an independent contractor as a club employee and fall under the tax umbrella, so are there also stipulations governing exempt vs non-exempt employees. These regulations only come into effect if your tennis professional is an employee of the club. Oftentimes, clubs and home owner associations make the error in creating an independent contractor position to avoid these pitfalls within the employment legislation.

To try and make complicated legislation simple for the purpose of this article, an exempt employee is not due overtime pay. A non-exempt employee is due overtime pay when over 40 hours in one week or holiday pay comes into effect. The legislation falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the act itself defines an exempt employee as such:

  1. The employee must be guaranteed a salary that equates to no less than $455
    per week.
  2.  The employee’s primary duty must consist of managing the business or a
    customarily recognized department; and
  3. The employee must customarily and regularly direct the work of two or more
    other employees;
  4. The employee must have authority to hire or fire employees, or the employee’s
    recommendations as to hiring, firing, or promotion of employees must be
    given particular weight.

As you can see these points can be hazy given the position of a Director of Tennis, Head Tennis Professional or an Assistant Tennis Pro. An IRS fact sheet that can help any understanding of any exemption is located here: IRS Exempt Employee Fact Sheet

Almost on an annual basis, we hear of cases where tennis professionals have sued the club at which they work under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Each case is an employee by employee investigation as each case has its own characteristics and merits its own investigation.

Some of the points that have been raised previously by disgruntled tennis employees are as follows:

  • Time that is spent with members or players before and after lessons count toward hourly pay. These hours are often claimed by employees and have stood up in court as the employee is working with members on club property and providing a “concierge” service.
  • Less than 50% of time is spent managing other employees and programming. Most of the time of a head pro or assistant pro is spent on the court and therefore it is impossible for that employee to spend over 50% on managerial duties. In fact, any exempt employee must manage and be responsible for the hiring and firing of at least two full-time employees.
  • A club has docked the assistant pro for missing an afternoon. This is an immediate hint to any examiner that the employee is in fact non-exempt. Docking pay is looked badly on by examiners and should not be part of an exempt employees package.

Examples abound. And there are many ways in which a club can get itself caught in the web of legislation and defending itself during a state payroll or IRS audit. An exempt employee is one who has several classifications and because of those administrative and professional classifications, can fall foul of the federal law. Tennis and golf professionals along with fitness trainers, and even caddies, often fall within the cracks of this legislation, both at the federal and state levels and clubs end up paying overtime in back pay in court.

Before any club or human resources department draws up a contract, the club and its governing bodies should fully understand the FLSA legislation and the background in the case law.

 

 

 

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Independent Contractor or Employee: What’s Best For My Club, Facility or HOA?

W2 or 1099?

This question rears its ugly head every time there is a change at the head of the tennis, and sometimes golf, programming. As the country club industry in the USA contracts and clubs look to minimize costs, more and more often Directors of Tennis and, indeed, assistant professionals, are independent contractors and not employees. But, this savings in costs can come with a heavy loss in control over the tennis staff. This must be weighed by any Board or Committee before deciding whether to have your tennis staff as independent contractors.

Don’t Fall Foul Of The IRS!

It’s simpler in legal terms, and for the IRS,  if the Director and his staff are indeed all employees of the club. For the club’s owners, whether a member-owned, equity club or a business operation for profit, this action brings the entire department under the umbrella insurance policy covering the club’s facilities and brings the tennis staff under the worker’s compensation policy as well, which is indeed an important benefit to any worker. Clubs in recent years are preferring this easy method of controlling, insuring and employing their Directors of Tennis.

When tennis staff are employees, it’s easier for the club to track and record remuneration and compensation. Billing and revenues go through the Club – often, when the Director is an independent contractor, he or she bills the members directly for all revenues and leaves the Club without the knowledge of what the position may be worth financially. This is a tough situation when it comes time to hire a new Director. In many instances clubs are left without information, usage numbers and financial profit and/or loss reports.

When housing is involved, especially at seasonal clubs, technically housing paid for and provided by the club is a benefit in kind and is taxable. If an independent contractor is in the housing provided by the club, this becomes a liability if the independent contractor  doesn’t claim the housing as a benefit and it is found out later that this housing was indeed provided. It is quite easy to deduct this taxable benefit if the professional is an employee.

Basically, as an employee, the Director of Tennis and his staff are far more under the control of the country club or facility hiring them. Whether on the clock (and that is another issue we will look at in the coming articles) or salaried, the Director and his staff must be on duty a certain number of hours and have to answer to an employment contract and usually an Employee Handbook. As an employee, the Director can be told when to take time off, how to teach, and when it might be needed to attend departmental head meetings and management conferences.

Independent Contractors

The classification of independent contractors is in and of itself a bit tricky. There is a 20-point test that the IRS will put any club through to prove that their tennis staff are indeed contractors, and not employees of the club. In many cases, we would say in the majority of cases, clubs have mis-classified their independent contractors who are essentially employees.

There is a three-question simple test:

  1. Behavorial Control – Who keeps the schedule of the independent contractor? If the schedule is kept by the Club, then they are exerting control over the worker and that worker is an employee and not allowing the contractor to pursue work elsewhere. The Club cannot at any time tell the independent contractor when or how to work. Does the Club in any way tell the independent contracted professional how to teach or who to teach at certain times? And does the Club dictate what tools to use or provide tools (baskets, balls, etc). If any of the above questions are “yes” then you are most likely falling foul of the independent contractor classification. Remember, the view of the IRS is that the member taking a lesson or clinic from an independent contractor is a client of the contractor, not of the Club or the Director (if an assistant professional is teaching the lesson or clinic).
  2. Financial Control – Does the independent contractor stand to lose money in the teaching at the Club? This would mean that your tennis professional could lose money as an independent contractor through un-reimbursed expenses. In most cases, especially with assistant professionals, this is not the case. In most cases as well, the independent contracted tennis professional will have several facilities at which they are teaching and therefore the reliance on one facility or Club would often point to mis-classification.
  3. Business Relationship between The Parties – The IRS will often look at whether the work being offered is “indefinite” or by “project” and will also look at if there are benefits usually reserved for employment status: housing, along with employee food offerings, can run a Club afoul on classification.

Perhaps where clubs misunderstand the difference between independent contractors and employees in a tennis shop is the so-called “lesson” book. By law, an independent contractor is required to keep his/her own schedule. A club cannot dictate when or how long an independent contractor must be on-site or teach, or even discuss how to teach. In reality, the IRS would say that a club tennis shop cannot book a lesson for a member with an independent contractor – that member is a customer of the independent contractor and must book directly with the professional under this classification and pay the independent contractor directly to avoid any wrongdoing. When faced with this issue, there are many ways clubs may give incentives to the independent contractor to make the club and its members a priority, but again,  it is easy to fall on the wrong side of the tax law and classification.

So the Club must weigh the loss of control as noted above with the savings gained by not having costs associated with employees: tax, 401k, food and housing benefits, worker’s compensation and other costs. The decision should not be taken lightly but can easily be changed if needed by revising contracts and employment status and housing leases.

At Beyond the Baselines we work within the club structure to help management and member-filled committees which would be best for their facility – employee vs independent contractor. Often it is the environment and the ethos of the club that will make the decision for us, but sometimes the decision is more about financial and time controls. What will your club offer? A W2 or 1099

Coming next week:
Exempt versus non-exempt tennis professionals.

Coming in October:
How to create incentives for independent contractors. 

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What is a Director of Tennis

Not more than a few years ago, the department head at a country club was the Head Tennis Professional. Terminology gives us a hint as to what has happened in the country club industry over the past two to three decades.

The Head Tennis Professional is a position, as guessed by its title, usually focused on teaching and on-court instruction. In the past, this position was the Department Head at the club management level. In today’s modern country club employment tree, Head Tennis Professionals exist usually in a role just under the Department Head.

These days, most clubs now have an extra layer of management within the tennis department – The Director of Tennis now serves as the Department Head. With the cost of club membership rising and the actual number of country club memberships declining over the past two decades, the need to service the elite memberships with a concierge level of service is more and more expected in line with higher membership costs  Many clubs, which offer the growing sports of paddle tennis and pickleball along with the traditional racquet sport of squash, may indeed have a Director of Racquets above the Directors of Tennis, Squash and Paddle.

The Director of Tennis is a largely undefined role as we move into the next quarter of a century. What we are seeing as the industry changes is that the Director picks up the pieces across the department. Whereas the Head Tennis Pro was really just a glorified head instructor, the Director wears several different hats, all of which require training and competence in not only tennis, but tennis and social programming, marketing via email, email, texting and website, along with knowledge in insurance liability and payroll processing and employment law.

Perhaps the most notable statistic in any Director’s job description is that almost 100 percent of the job descriptions for Directors limit the amount of time the Director should be spending on court. This limitation in effect leaves time for the Director to be the “in-house” concierge, administrator and cross-marketer that is necessitated at any club, no matter size or location. The focus in hiring a good Director of Tennis should not only be on his or her tennis playing and teaching skills, but those skills the candidate possesses in relations to running a business – as the racquets department in any club is now seen more and more as a separate business within the club as a whole, with cross marketing between the various businesses (food and beverage, golf, and spa) as an integral ingredient to a successful club operation.

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The Retention Equation

business handshake

Tips For Retaining A Director of Tennis or Head Tennis Professional

Retaining a Director of Tennis, as the economy improves, is one of the hardest tasks facing a country club. A great Director may be approached by a panoply of other clubs as he or she makes a name for his or herself in the industry, and keeping that Director happy at your club is a salient responsibility.

The most important initial factor into the retention equation is that the Director’s qualities and strengths within the industry fit the requirements with your position, the club, and the environment in which the role exists. This is why it is important to have a very strong job description which is related to the past issues and the future goals for the club.

Usually, the opportunity of hiring a new Director of Tennis or Head Tennis Professional is a chance to reflect on how the previous holder of the position could have improved the department and program from the members’ perspective. A survey of the membership is a wise choice to encompass not only the membership in the idea of hiring a new pro, but also garnering ideas and viewpoints of the program that a smaller committee of members may not see or even be aware of.

Secondly, the pay must be commensurate with the level of job and the level of the applicant. Pay for a Director can be handled in many ways, between salary and on-court revenue along with merchandise and stringing sales. There appears no stead-fast or formulaic basis for compensation across our industry. That being said, a search committee needs to have reference materials and comparisons to other local, area and regional country clubs to ensure that their compensation is in the appropriate neighborhood in terms of pay scale. Both committees and candidates for any position should check what the local and regional compensation levels are as well as on-court fees at competitive institutions.

In today’s stressful world, the work environment is very important to any tennis professional. From the ethos of the club and its members through to how Human Resources reacts to employment issues, the workplace needs to be a happy and enjoyable location to help retain good professionals. Employment benefits, especially to the younger professional starting out and the older professional who might be facing some health issues, are increasingly more in demand across our industry.

The relationships at the country club are extremely important to the professional in regard to job satisfaction. The relationship between the other department heads at a club along with the bond between the General Manager and, at larger clubs, the Assistant General Manager and Accounting are crucial. The bond between management and the tennis department is crucial as it helps solidify the tennis professionals base within the club structure and cash flow for the bottom line.

Finally, the support of the tennis committee or the board is integral. Often, a new hire is not supported by the entirety of the committee. Several reasons, we have seen from our work, can provide a splinter group within a committee: the letting-go of the previous tennis professional; the way in which the search was conducted to find a new pro; the decision on the new hire might not have been unanimous; the lead candidate turned down the job offer. All of these and more need to be hammered out – and often it takes a mediation from a third party to help all committee members understand the need for solidarity.