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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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Randy Walker: Marketing The Mardy Fish Foundation

We were happy to catch up with Randy Walker at The Boulevard Tennis Club in Vero Beach, FL. Randy, owner and President of New Chapter Media, is not only a tennis publisher, but also an avid player, marketer and tournament director. Randy directs the annual tournament for the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation. Part of the USTA Pro Circuit, this tournament serves as the biggest fundraising opportunity for Mardy’s foundation. Randy discusses with us how he markets and communicates to the many demographics along the Treasure Coast of Florida for the biggest fundraiser for Mardy’s foundation.

Marketing Secrets From One Of The Best!

Randy realizes that each player has a story and that’s the first tantalizing or teasing piece of the marketing strategy for his tournament. He has a sound marketing strategy and he shares it with us: “Make your tournament like a mini US Open!”

Randy just released the book Juan Martin del Potro: The Gentle Giant this year at the Delray Beach ATP event, and he continues to serve as Communications Director for the Invesco Series. It’s one of our favorite tournament series in which we have the opportunity to watch some of the best ever: Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and John McEnroe.

You can always reach Randy on Twitter @tennispublisher and please visit his publishing firm’s website at www.newchaptermedia.com

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Communication, Communication, Communication

Baileys Beach Club Chit

From Phone Books to Contacts and Club Chits. Communication Is Vital.

Baileys Beach Club Chit
Bailey’s Beach Newport Club Chit

We’ve asked each and every club and home owner association with which we have worked what would be their number one criterion for a new Director of Tennis or Fitness. It wasn’t that they were once ranked top 500 on the ATP Tour or that they competed at Crossfit Nationals. It was simply: communication, communication, communication.

Not to sound like a real estate agent emphasizing location, but it’s so true. In this day and age where we spend more time looking at our phones than speaking to other humans, it’s essential that we communicate through each medium presented to us. This holds true in the world of tennis and fitness.

 

Tradition versus Modernity

As I continue to work in the industry after a career in marketing and advertising, I realize that the speed of communication changes really from generation to generation. In my grandparents’ day, we had to wait for the Telegram, the fastest mode of communication. Then along came my parents’ generation and the telephone. I can still vividly see the cream colored, wall-mounted, long spiral-cabled phone in my childhood home in the early 70s. And we used to call the exchanges by letters rather numbers – my grandmother lived in Scarsdale, NY so it was SC3 (723 in today’s world). I grew up in South Salem, SO3 (763) and so on. Along came my adulthood and email where we had our Blackberrys logged into our our AOL (remember how it was capitalized?) account. But today, it’s text or IM (we need instant in everything from our coffee to messaging). So quick that my daughter calls it snapchat – oh, that’s the application? Oh, ok.

Phone Book White Pages

So as a boy, I flipped through what was known as the White Pages. I don’t think my daughter, who turns 11 in a few weeks, has ever heard that expression. “Dad, were there yellow pages?” Yes there were for commercial phone listings and pink pages for government and official listings. Now we just have “Contacts” in the grasp of our hands. How clutch is that? No pun intended!

One of my board members asks at the annual budget meeting about the cost and need of the yearly “Club Handbook”. It’s a private club tradition. A printed, bound club handbook with each member’s address, phone, email, place of work and the club’s by-laws written in the early decades of the past century. Every club has one. Years ago, one of the clubs where I served as Head Pro disbanded this and put it all on the protected member-only accessed website. What a great idea. Print it out at home if you’d like, or just type in and search for the member. My grandmother would opt for the printout, my daughter for the search bar.

Long gone are the days where the pro would call a home and leave a message to play in a doubles game hoping to hear back by the end of the day. Now, by sharing a text database with membership, members themselves put out a text say to 8 players and get a court of 4 back in a matter of minutes. Long gone are the Men’s and Ladies Days – they just exist in a different world: textual rather than virtual. In fact, Duxbury Yacht Club simply disbanded their formal Men’s and Ladies’ Days and left it to the members to text each other and updated the “sub” list with a text database update! No more bulletin board substitute lists that never get read because by the time you are the club it’s too late to get a substitute.

We stress the importance of the front desk having a fully up-to-date text database on either Google Voice or some other platform in order to communicate with each and every member instantly. No worrying if the member received the voicemail – it’s a text! Breaking down that database by level of player, whether they participate in clinics, or if they have children to whom you can market junior events – this is all helpful. Does it matter if they take clinics? Sure, how are you going to fill that last minute spot in the 9am clinic? With a text banged out to 27 members who love that clinic at 8.34am that same morning! You can do this for Pilates and Yoga classes too, although those members might be doing deep-breathing exercises before they type in their now 6-digit security code on their iPhone.

You can post on Twitter and on Instagram openings in clinics, or new programming ideas and events. Maybe a few people will stop their scrolling to see what their best-friend did last night, look and sign up. On Twitter, you can actually link usually right to your signup software. Tougher to do on Instagram. But Facebook allows direct links too.  Many private, elite, member-owned clubs frown on social media. I say, just control your viewership. Easy to do on most social media platforms. By the way, those old, printed club handbooks have a lot of information lying around people’s homes who may no longer be members if we are talking about viewership and confidential information.

The strength of your database is the foundation to your customer and member service. A weak database most likely means poor service. A wonderfully clean and efficient database means better billing, more on-court sales, filled yoga classes, and simply put, better member service. If you’re still using paper chits and not printing member receipts from a POS system, your behind the times in member services.

Don’t Forget To Dot your I’s and Cross Your T’s: Formal Writing

Strunk and White

My copy of Strunk and White is never far from my desk. I know, those two names show my age. I just looked – first published in 1959. But, like a classic book, there is still the opportunity for formal writing. A thank you email or, even, a posted letter to thank a member for attending a special event or the summer’s signature event, like a member-guest is always welcomed. Or, a thank you for a gratuity card receipt from an employee or a thank you for a contribution to the staff Christmas fund. A welcome letter at the beginning of the season or a new year is always suggested. And how often does your Director reach out with a letter, either emailed or posted, to all the new members feeling a bit “out-in-the-cold” after the rosé of the initial cocktail party fades? These touches bring members to your facility and growth to club revenues.

However you communicate, keep it professional, informative, to the point and often. Only two times has someone told me I email too often. Countless are the times I’ve heard: “If I had only known…”

 

Ed Shanaphy once wrote for a well-known magazine with offices in Murray Hill on 35th Street in Manhattan at which he learned that criteria is the plural to criterion.  He now muses on the country club industry while consulting for clubs and home-owner associations. His copy of The Elements of Style is so well-thumbed and brittle, MOMA is considering putting it in a glass case.

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Just Great Courts

by Ed Shanaphy

Time and time again I have been asked: “Ed, how do you get your courts so good.” My usual answer to a member is simple: “Hard work.”

I started maintaining clay courts in 1985 at the tender age of 14. I rode my 10-speed, with those ram-horned handles, to the local country club in the early morning mists of New York State and started preparing the courts as the sun rose above the tree line. Since those days, even with vandals at times digging holes or animals ripping at the wind screens, I have never looked back in terms of maintenance. I enjoy the beauty of a perfectly swept court with a firm base and a clay court topping that allows a perfect slide for the player. There is something therapeutic about making courts great.

But so much has been modernized not only in equipment but also in thinking as to how best to keep clay courts at their prime. Since that day in 1985 I have made my fair share of mistakes, but this has helped me personally to improve courts at all my facilities. There are some tricks in the trade besides than just spending an inordinate amount time working on the court surface. Below, I outline three of the biggest factors that have helped me.

Secret Number One: From Brooms to Mats – Sweeping Has Changed!

From a big broom to an Aussie mat. I am so surprised that so many clubs do not use the Aussie broom or mat when appropriate. With the advent of Hydro courts – courts that are watered from below the surface – there is definitely a method to sweeping.

What the Aussie mat doesn’t let you get away with is raised lines. There are two ways to use the Aussie mat – one if you use the teeth “up” which gives you a more striped and granular sweep. But the other way, with the teeth “down” gives you an even, beautiful spread of the granules on the top of the base. However, if your lines are raised at all, the plastic mat will catch and pull up the line further. This is a test of “how good” your lines are and if you are catching the Aussie mat with the teeth down it’s time to roll.

I do find the Aussie Mat doesn’t dry out the courts as much. A broom raises the granules and separates the granules from the base. The Aussie Mat simply rearranges the granules and does not fluff them up. The closer your granules are to the base, the longer they will remain damp and not dusty. So, if your courts are clumpy and watered from below the surface, look at using a full broom. If they are drying out too quickly, look at the Aussie mat.

Secret Number Two: Roll More Then You Think You Have To!

We all get lazy as the summer takes a toll or the long, bleak winter in Florida or Texas seems never-ending as the ladies teams move through a season that is longer than the NBA Basketball season. But you need to roll – especially immediately after it rains. Members and players will want to be on the courts as soon as they dry, but educating them as to the importance of rolling, flattening and firming the courts is part of the job.

I can’t recommend more the metal brush/broom that really scarifies the rain-matted clay and dries out the court faster so one can roll within an hour or so of the rain stopping. Once rolled, use the Aussie mat and line and they are good to go within a couple of hours.

3. Water Water Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink! Don’t Water Too Long!

Don’t Flood Your Courts. Flooding the courts, if you have overground sprinkler heads, creating lakes is not a good thing. Even if the courts are sandy at midday, you need not flood the courts at night or during your 12 Noon watering. Flooding courts leads to the top dressing moving as the water pools and moves. If continually flooding, even the base can move. Let the water just start to get that matted look on the clay and shut it off during the day. At night, I water the courts three times for about 4 to 8 minutes each time. Let water percolate through and then hit the water again about an hour or two later. I water at 10pm, 2am, and then, depending on how early I have play, 3 or 4am. I like to have the courts drying from the matted look at those wettest spots just as we are about to go on so they stay damp during the heavy morning play.

Dead Material?

My last tip isn’t so much a tip as it is a question. I hear a lot about “dead material” when discussing the top dressing and Har-Tru courts. Is there such a thing as dead material?
I note that a busy club gets a build up of material at the net – hence my featured image for this article which shows no buildup of material on my courts. I take this material and use it to a degree to replace missing material at the baselines where footwork grinds the court. I started doing this after I cared for grass courts. Grass courts basically take a beating at the baseline and it’s easy to see this wear and tear. It’s not as evident with clay courts, but it still happens. The clay gets pushed to the side, the back and toward the net – and finally to the net with the brushing and lining also pushing material toward the net. I take the material from the net, spread it over the baseline area and then sweep and Aussie broom it and it looks beautiful. If it’s dead material, it’s light and gets caught up in the sweeping and grooming. What’s left is great stuff!

Have a look at my video here too: Ed’s Sweeping Video on how to maintain and adhere to the correct protocols based on your courts and what they are telling you!

If you have any questions, I love talking courts – always have since my days riding that 10-Speed bike to my first job. Just email me at beyondthebaselines@gmail.com with any questions!

Ed Shanaphy

Ed is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA, He relaxes on the roller and gets his cardio dragging courts every day.

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A Community Cup – Enriching The Community and Marketing To New Members

Tennis has changed. From the lawns of Wimbledon in the early 1900s and prior to the “Open” Era, through to the advent of the “Open” to the present day, tennis, as with many other sports, has been brought into the 21st Century with professionals representing the sport at the highest levels. It wasn’t always like this. The “grass roots” – no pun intended – still remain in many areas, both nationally and internationally. By grass roots, we mean the country club tennis programs where member participation is strong and those members follow the US Open and other ATP events.  They love Federer… Nadal… they talk about the semi-finals and how Halep came through. But largely, these club programs have not much to do with tennis as a professional sport, or even tennis for the masses.

The professionals-to-be come more from the middle class and attend academies such as IMG, Saddlebrook, Rick Macci and others. The process of gaining and improving a UTR ranking is a full-time job and is not a part of the country club experience. So, we need to realize there is a divide between competitive and professional tennis and the country club.

At the country club level, pressures are being put on staff and programming for member use.  A constant re-evaluation of member services and club usage is required. Behind all this is the need for clubs to consistently find new and active members. It’s all well and good to have a large and diverse membership, but members who are not actively supporting the club are not profitable to the club, nor do they really add to the sustainability of the club. Dues alone are just not enough to sustain a club facility. The members have to be active or the club will struggle.

The Legacy Error – Costing Country Clubs Financially

A few decades ago, clubs, which had always thrived on tradition and legacy, in general made legacies extremely inviting. Due to a national trend, country club membership began to wane. The accepting of children of long-time family members at a reduced “legacy” initiation rate or at lower annual dues in reality has come back to haunt club coffers in the 21st Century. A large percentage of dues-paying members came in at a lower rate, and much like Social Security, the funds are now running low, making it hard to maintain the club finances.

Because of these issues, the drive for new memberships to maintain member-service levels and the facility is crucial and constant.

One of the best ways of attracting new members is by “showing off “the club or facility, but how can we do this? How can we bring potential, active members in large numbers to the club and let them see the club without looking like we are “selling” the club, to both the perspective members and the current members who might not be all that supportive of new memberships and change?

A Community or Charity Cup

Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, Florida might be the best example of such an idea creating an environment for new membership applications, while creating an atmosphere of giving to the less privileged in the community. The Charity Cup, as Kevin Given and Steve Mulvey called it back almost 19 years ago, has grown into a club-wide tournament which garners close to $800,000 per year in charitable giving. We hear members across the country bemoan that they can’t get a member-guest tournament to last more than an extended morning. Imagine a three-day tennis tournament just like those old Member-Guest days, a two-day golf tournament, charity fast walk and run, a “cook-a-thon” from the best local chefs, a duplicate bridge competition, a Saturday night gala at the main clubhouse…. the list goes on, expanded greatly from the first year in which it was just a small golf tournament.

Charity_Cup_Logo_1_(2C) (2)

What really gives The Charity Cup its austere feeling is that the diverse charities selected by the Quail Valley Charities Committee are all represented in so many ways on tournament days. From throngs of volunteers from each of the numerous children’s and local charities earmarked for funding, to the notice boards laced with supporters and charitable organizations alike, The Charity Cup is an inclusive event. The week-long celebration of giving literally puts Quail Valley on the cover of every “culture” insert and at the top of many web-page blogs, if not the front page of Vero Beach Magazine and all the local papers.

Quail Valley also realizes the importance of non-member play over the weekend. A majority of the golf and tennis pairings have at least one non-member playing and the tournament is viewed as the Member-Guest to play in the area. Pairings of non-members are also allowed so it is truly an Open tournament, simply using the club facility – opening the club to the public is attractive to non members.

What better way is there to “show off” a club to perspective members? The club, and its members, not only giving back financially to the community, but also producing the services at a greatly reduced cost. It proves that the club possesses the breadth and knowledge to host such an imposing, community-wide event. Reaching out to the community adds a wonderful perspective to both members and non-members alike.

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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.

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Open, Honest and Timely Communication For New Hires

new job ahead roadsign

new job ahead roadsign
Timely communication for new hires is imperative.

Just recently an esteemed colleague of mine has had to choose between two seasonal jobs. At this time of year, this is a regular occurence for us professionals who service club members in the Northern part of the USA and then head South to warmer climes for the winter months. We follow the sun – and we follow our members.

My colleague has been calling me daily, frustrated that he hasn’t received anything in writing from either club involved. This, unfortunately, is far too often the case. With this particular example, one of the Directors of Tennis is of the age when nothing had to be written and a handshake was all that was needed to agree to an 8-month placement. The opposing Director of Tennis is brand new in the position, and is hesitant to push for more information with a General Manager who is revered by her membership at one of the more elite clubs in America. He lacks any real information in regard to the new club.

I cringe when I hear some of the stories behind new placements and hires and the lack of information or formality.

I looked back at my original offer to work away from my home when I had a few opportunities ahead of me almost a decade ago. The Director who made the offer of the job I took is a businessman – he owns three companies in fact and his email to me was succint and to the point and I have edited the initial letter to show themes of the offer:

Stipend for a 10 week Period
         Who pays the salary. What duties are required as part of the stipend.
         Base hour rate per hour
                  Noted average hours of 40-50 hours a week and how busy it is for those 10 weeks
                  Noted Bonus is based on a percentage of gross clinic revenue when it is paid and what the average has been over the past three to five years.
Clinics names, hours guaranteed of clinics, and if able to add clinics
Housing type, cost to the professional, and if cable/internet is covered.
General outline of the summer
                  Clinics vs lessons by week and how many members expected to take lessons/clinics.

But what was most interesting in the letter for this particular job, which I ended up taking and loving for many years, was that the Director discussed how he treated past employees fairly and honorably, and as he checked my references, he offered references as an employee. He mentioned the costs that the club sustained on my behalf and broke down why the Club clawed back some of those costs from my on-court revenues.

Timely communication is important too. Once you, as a Director, have decided upon a candidate, getting these details to your candidate after you’ve offered the job initially or with the initial offer, is an integral part of hiring. Offers need to be made in full with as much information as soon as possible to the candidate.

So, in summary, open, honest, and timely communication with a possible new hire is just simply irreplaceable and honorable. We should all take note that whether our new fitness or tennis instructor is an employee or a 1099 independent contractor, they are putting their livelihoods in our hands as Directors for at least a few months, if not for a few years or more. Something to keep in mind as you work toward a new hire.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com and has been a Director of Tennis for over 10 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Retaining Your 1099 Independent Contractors

I’m always asked how I retain such good professionals over several years, especially when they are independent contractors. It’s not easy – keeping 1099 workers at your facility is a tough task. But it’s possible and as the saying goes: paying your instructors handsomely for hours on the tennis court or gym floor speaks volumes.

So, with independent contractors (and you can do this with employees too) I create an inventive program for each professional, based on their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a pinpoint method of keeping staff happy and therefore keeping them coming back year after year. A returning staff ensures continuity with the membership as well as a better return on investment. If your professionals are strong and come back year after year, their lesson books get more and more filled as they are trusted by the membership and loyal to the club or facility.

Incentivization Programs

Incentivize them to “hang” around. We all know that independent contractors set their own schedules and are not on “the clock”. They can come and go as they desire. But I like to have them hanging around, especially if they have three or four years under their belts and the membership trusts them. I create an incentive to keep them around. Commissions on racquet and clothing sales. If you have a busy shop, they can help and earn a bit while even off the court. Why not pass on a 3% commission on all racquet and clothing sales and build that into your pricing at the beginning of the year. They have a sliding scale based on the number of racquets they string – the more they string, the higher the rate goes, say, every 5 to 10 racquets.

Use Tournament Fees To Cover Lost Teaching Hours

Round robins and mixers, along with tournaments, are a great way for new pros and contractors to meet members, assess levels of play or fitness, and become part of the fabric of the club. Too often, independent contractors see tournaments or mixers as a barrier to their success: They take up too much court time away from teaching and they just take up a weekend where members who are playing in a tournament could be taking a lesson or two. That could be how your independent professional sees it. But tournament fees (also known at some clubs as prize fees) should be aimed at serving those losses due to lack of court time. The industry standard is that the Director takes 40% of tournament fees/prize fees. Those fees should be distributed, in part, to contractors who are running say the other side of the round robin, or can even be offered as a replacement for lost revenue due to a lack of courts. Either way, I would rather have the professional be on club property and helping to run a tournament or supporting the program than at another club and finding work elsewhere.

When negotiating your own Director’s contract, look at how you could work with yearly prize fees. I find these easier to administer. A prize fee is fixed for a whole year – say $100 per member household – and that allows all family members to sign up for each and every tournament. The more the household plays, the more this cost is dissipated in their minds across each tournament. This is a vital additional income and if the Director takes a 40% cut leaving 60% for the club and prizes, it can prove very lucrative and easy to pass on to cover lost revenues for your pros. I always advocate a yearly fee rather than a nickel and dime approach where the club charges per tournament. I feel this dissuades members from playing, thinking that each time there is an additional cost to play.

To take this further, why not add an incentive to your pros in growing club championship or member-guest draws? If you budget this into your tournament prize fee revenue, you can offer your pros additional income per member they sign up or if, say, the draw reaches 32 or 64. Communicate your goals and reward the work. I have, in the past, given bonuses to pros who have brought a guest to the club and in time that guest has joined as a member – set that up in your initial contract with your club as Director. Most clubs that I know want new members!

Private Instruction Sliding Scale

I’ve always cringed when a Director told me that my hourly rate will be, say, $45 per hour on court across all clinics and lessons. That is such a door-closer for me to a new job. It’s just not interesting to most instructors.

Let’s say, for arguments sake and ease of math, that an hour private lesson with one of your contractors is charged out to the member at $100. Industry standard is that 10% of that fee is either a commission, if an employee on court, or a court rental fee if an independent contractor. Remember, that independent contractors cannot receive a percentage deducted from their full rate by federal law and continue safely as an independent contractor. So, after the commission or court rental, the $90 then goes back to the Director. Usually, depending on your instructor’s experience, the cut between Director and instructor hovers around 50%. So, say, the instructor receives $45 per hour and the Director received $45 for that one lesson. Now, let’s look at how to incentivize your instructor. Say you go out at $110 for a semi-private, two-person lesson. Now a 50-50 cut would be $50/$50. Both Director and instructor make more if you incentivize your instructor. If your instructor does a three and me, which would go out at $120, that would be $108 back to the shop and a $54/$54 split. All too often, Directors take all the additional revenues, leaving the instructor at the original $45/hour cut. But, if you offered more for three and me lessons, you’ll have more members taking lessons as it costs a single member only $40 compared to $100 and yet they are still receiving personal instruction. More participation on court means happier members, an energized program, and more hours for your pros on court.

There are other ways of incentivizing your 1099 workers with “Playing In With The Pros” special rates and discounts. But starting with the private lessons and adding revenue and passing those additional revenues is an enormous and positive factor affecting your contracted professionals.

Bonus Structure For Clinic and Tournament Programming

Adult and junior clinic programming is by far the most profitable part of any tennis and fitness departments. With classes, revenues are higher with costs of instructions being lower. Again, you can energize your instructors through creating a bonus, or “profit-sharing” structure within your programming.

If your instructor is out there getting additional people on court, give that instructor a share of the profit. They will be on the phone drumming up business. You can either have a “fee” per person added to the clinic through the phone or email or text marketing completed by the instructor, or you can have a simple formula where each additional court or group of spin bikes is a set fee to the lead instructor of that clinic. For established clubs, this is harder as classes are usually already known, but for a new Director, this is a great help to get members out on the courts with one-to-one personal marketing.

Conclusions

To summarize the above, think outside the box. Within a tennis or fitness department -and whether it be employees or independent contractors – there are so many ways to enrich your staff’s tie at work and to allow them to feel to be a part of a club or facility and membership. The world is your oyster and each year you can try different approaches within your fee and payroll structure.

By Ed Shanaphy, USPTA Director of Tennis and President of Beyond The Baselines, a consultancy aimed at assisting boards and committees to bringing “Best-In-Class” programming to their clubs and facilities.

 

 

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Should I Have an “End of Season” Tennis Shop Sale?

by Ed Shanaphy

For those of us in tennis or fitness who “own” our merchandise shop and do all the buying and selling within our own company, August is a perplexing month where we are always left asking: Should I have a sale before I close up shop?

Tennis RetailEvery year, starting in May, I hear it from a summer member: “I’ll wait until August when you put everything at half price.” It’s part of the seasonal gossip at any club: When is the shop sale starting?

Running a retail operation at any time is a tough job. Stores come and stores go in malls, on high streets, and online. But, year after year, Directors of Tennis and Fitness are expected to have a wonderful shop, offering all that every member could possibly need or desire, and then in four months if at a seasonal club, break down the shop, close the club and go into hibernation for 8 months. All while maintaining cash flow and, hopefully, showing a profit.

Well, it’s mid August and I am debating whether I should have a sale or not. Almost every other pro I know says: “By all means get rid of your inventory and start afresh next year.” I say: “Not so fast!”

There are several factors that any retail operation has to look at when conducting any sale, and having worked in the entertainment, marketing and distribution worlds, I’m well aquainted with carrying inventory. I pulled out the 1998 financials from my entertainment company this week to look at how I handled inventory and retail twenty years ago. Inventory was $1.7 million in a warehouse at a fulfilment center. What did I do twenty years ago that might affect how I look at a “Sale” at my tennis shop in 2018?

In trying to summarize I find myself thinking of four distinct questions.

  1. What Is My Reason For Having A Sale?
  2. What’s Is My Inventory Level Compared To Years Past?
  3. Can I Incentivize Usage or Traffic With A Sale?
  4. What’s My Cash Flow and Profitability?

Am I having a sale just because it’s August? Do my members expect a sale? Perhaps. And sometimes, I would think, that understanding and acceding to member expectations is a good thing. However, to have a sale every year, would mean that many members might wait until the sale to make their purchases – purchases you would have made more profit on had they made them earlier in the summer. But if I have a sale every year, members do expect it and will wait.

We are lucky in some respects, as retail operators in a tennis or fitness facility, that we don’t have to carry overheads like utilities and therefore can really look at the profit margin per item as a true profit margin. Or can we? Have you added in the payroll cost of your front desk staff if they are on your payroll, selling merchandise? How about freight? Have you added that cost to your bottom line in your books and singled it out against retail sales? Are you depreciating the costs of fixed items like racks and hangers and Point of Sale software if you require that?

I also like to look at my inventory levels versus the previous year. In a growing environment, it’s natural in a positive and growing business cycle to have a larger inventory. I need to look at what I carried the last year on my financials while also looking at freeing some space in storage and in the shop with older items going on sale. If you have monogrammed or embrodiered inventory, I find it’s not worth giving a big discount as one has to consider that the shop is really the only point of sale for such personalized goods. Also, sneakers and trainers don’t really change in fashion year to year and can be held over 8 months and look new the following Spring.

What I did in marketing was use a discount or sale to bring traffic to my website or phone ordering lines and mailbox so I could get a second mailing or insert back to the customer with their sale order. Perhaps creating traffic for further full-price sales is my favorite reason for offering a sale. But how can I do that at a country club?

Well, there are several things you can do. Let’s take for example a tournament coming up on the weekend. Most Directors of Tennis get a percentage of the tournament fee – if you’re not you need to renegotiate your package! I tend to offer discounts on sale merchandise to tournament players that weekend and market that. Incentivize them to play in the tournament and the higher turnout covers the discount of my stock through collected tournament fees. But there’s more…

I do the same thing early in the season to help cash flow. I hold an early Adult Camp where all campers get 15% off merchandise if they do two or more days of the four day camp. Use the merchandise discount to gain more members per court and per professional to lower your on-court cost percentage. I usually sell about 40 percent of my held inventory which shows me what is going to sell early in the season and usually pays for my initial purchases in regards to the shop.

Profit also has an affect on how I view my inventory.  If I am showing a larger profit than expected for for the summer or year – a year with little rain or no staff issues – I might sit on my stock and write some of it down. If I am showing a small gain or a loss, I will help my cash flow and sell off as much of my merchandise I can late in the summer.

It’s a four-pronged attack when looking at inventory and retail sales, and each year is a different story. So, take all of the above issues into account and do what is best for you given your situation.