January 2008 -- My old economics professor always used to say "pay attention to the demographics and you will run your business with success and invest well." The baby boomers are back and ready to play tennis. In the ’70s they hit their 20s and were responsible for giving tennis a great growth spurt. Then life got in the way. They had careers and kids to chase after. Now they are starting to retire and are looking for something to do rather than golf. We will need more courts in our new active-adult communities.
They are back! We need to look at the way we are teaching and who we are hiring to teach these successful baby boomers. The formula for hiring tennis pros has been previous college or professional playing experience. It may make some sense to find professionals who have been successful in other professions and communicate at a level similar to the client. These folks are not kids trying to make a college team or the pro circuit. They want to get the foundation back so they can play doubles in the local active-adult community. Not to say that there are not still quite a few type A personalities out there looking to play on the various age group senior circuits. Their emphasis is more on getting into shape to compete in singles.
As a general manager of a club or director of tennis, it does not make interesting press to announce the hiring of the new head pro who used to be a banker. It is sexier to announce his or her previous ranking, tour experience or what college he or she played for. It is a challenge, but hiring to match the demographics of the client/member base is the key. A young club requires the traditional hiring process, but a resort that caters to successful business people or an active-adult community should look to a previously successful business person. There are a lot of USPTA pros who have changed careers.
We need to emphasize the tools to hit consistent shots, not how to hit a running topspin forehand. We will not see a lot of smoke coming from their sneakers as they cover the courts. Teach the grip that will give them more consistency. I know we all do it now, but stretching before and after is very important as we age.
This is a great group to market to. They have a tendency to bring the racquet out that was new 10 years ago. Get them into new equipment. They will pay attention to their pro even more than the previous generations. This is the same group that sees value added in a good teaching pro. As the strings age the elasticity is lost and more vibration is created. Use vibration absorbers and change strings more often. We really have to be aware of things that may give them tennis elbow. Using less tension with strings makes sense. As their swing path shortens, more power is needed.
If you have not done it yet, get certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and make sure you have a cell phone on the courts to call 911 if there is an emergency. As our client base ages, we must be prepared.
Rod Dunnett, USPTA, teaches at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vt., in the summer and is the head pro for an active-adult community in the Palm Springs, Fla., area. Previously, he was an executive for Bank of America and president and chairman of the board of his own private bank.