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Short, Cheap, and Easy

by John White, USPTA Professional

The three reasons given for why people don’t play more golf or tennis, or take it up, are always the same: takes too long, costs too much, too hard. But it does not always have to be this way. With that being said, I have a couple thoughts on making the game of tennis short, cheap and easy for all players and tennis enthusiasts alike.

The national average for a one-hour private with a certified pro in America (according to the Tennis Industry Report)) is about $60. That’s a dollar a minute. You can keep your dollar a minute, but you don’t have to do an hour. For me, 60 minutes is too long and 30 is not enough. My Goldilocks is 40 minutes for $40. If they want to save $20, they can do a “3-pac” (3 in 3 weeks for $100).

I wanted to watch Nadal and Thiem play the finals of the 2018 French Open but the prospect of sitting on the couch for hours persuaded me to do something else. I did watch Justify take the Triple Crown; took him two minutes. Anything that speeds-up tennis will be good for the growth of the game. No-ad scoring, best of three, play the lets. Get it down to two hours for viewers (when was the last time you sat through a three-hour movie?) and an hour for weekend warriors, or 75 minutes.

Let’s admit, golf and tennis have many challenges in common and game length is one of them. Golf shoots itself in the foot with its antediluvian etched in bronze five-hour death marches. And that’s not counting the drive to get to there and back. It’s an all-day ordeal to all but retired codgers trying to fill up a day. For the growth of golf: Offer shorter options for busy people (6, 9 or 12 holes). My favorite is to walk 9 or 12 holes of twilight when the shadows are long and the critters come out. To interest new golfers, charge a $5 fee for ride alongs (wives, kids, friends). It will pay dividends later.

To attract a bigger customer base, give your students all the advantages of technology today. For 10 bucks a month, I get a terabyte of space on Google Drive (1,000 gigabytes). It’s like Dropbox, a place to store your stuff in the cloud. One of the folders I keep in there for my students I call “Frozen Pros.” Pics of pros frozen in motion doing what I want my students to do.

If I want them to point to the ball with their spare hand, fingertips up, on a forehand, or dip the tip on a two-hand backhand, it helps if I can show them that a pro is doing it.

Videos are great, and this is a golden age for videos, but sometimes a still-shot is what the doctor ordered. If I can’t get the exact picture I want by doing a Google Image Search for the pro plus the stroke (e.g., “Federer serve”), I’ll go to YouTube and plug in the words “Federer serve slow” and advance it frame by frame. When I get to the frame I want, I take a screenshot.

I stash everything (audios, videos, pics and pdf’s) in folders on Google Drive and give the links to whomever I want.

If I don’t have a card handy, or a pencil to write with, and I want to tell somebody how to get in touch with me, I throw a ball on the ground and say “where the ball hits the ground is the bouncepoint. If you want to get in touch with me, or see what I’m up to, Google the word “bouncepoint”. I’m the only one.” (I keep a free website on Weebly for that purpose.)

Make it easier to meet people. Adult students have trouble finding people to hit with. The day after a clinic I send out an “Icy Fab” (in case you found a bud) with the names and numbers of the people they hit with. If somebody is looking for a rally partner, singles match or a fourth for dubs, I run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. “Game-arranging” is easy for us. We know how everybody hits and we’ve got their numbers.

Run a “Mingles” (mixed doubles for singles) or a “Couple Doubles” for couples (but don’t let husbands play with wives). People want to meet people. We are very tribal. We need to be around people we like. It’s one of the reasons folks in the five Blue Zones live to be 100.

Post a bulletin board by e-mail. Mine is called “Jupiter” (John’s ultra-private inside tennis exclusive referrals). “The people you hit with and I teach.” It’s my little Angie’s List: Help Wanted, Job Wanted, For Sale, List My Business, Fund Raiser, Sniper Needed. No charge.

Bring your people together in other ways. “Sunday Morning Holy Rollers Bicycle Society” is a leisurely bike ride I do for chit-chatters up the NCR Trail. No speed-demons or trail snails. 30 minutes one way, 30 minutes back, apples at the turnaround. Same trail Lincoln took to Gettysburg four score and seven years ago.

Start your own little club of 20 preferred students. “Johnnyclub” is mine. My JC’s (Johnnyclubbers) pay $50 in January and get “JC Bennies” all year (discounts on lessons, tips each week, priority on signups, gift certificates, ‘round the world cruises).

The very best strategy in tennis is very good strokes. The best way to get new students and keep the ones you’ve got is very good teaching. One of the ways to improve your teaching is by using your Dick Tracy Two-Way Wrist Radio. Dick got his in ‘46 (thanks to Chester Gould). I got mine in ‘07 which is now called the Apple Watch (thanks to Steven Jobs).

When a lesson is over, I reach in my pocket, pull out my Tracy with a cracked screen, click on the Voice Memo app, hit the red button to record and summarize what we just did. If the student’s phone has Air-Drop, I drop it to them. If it doesn’t, I text it to them and they can listen on the way home. In the ‘70s and ‘80s I used audio cassettes with a lapel mic. If Im going to record on the way home, my right earbud has a microphone. If I want to show a student what they are doing on their serve, I hit the camera app, click video, and show it to them. If I want to break that video down into a couple of stills, I bring it up on my Mac when I get home, advance it frame by frame and take screenshots. If the student agrees to share their video, I stick it in a folder on Google Drive or YouTube and share the link with other students.

To make it easier to sign up for privates, I blind-copy my students and give them one-letter choices (e.g., A = sign me up for Mon 7pm. B = put me in the Sat serve clinic, etc.). They respond with one letter. For same-day communications, texting is the way to go. Make it short, cheap and easy.

About John White
John White is a semi-retired tennis pro who also teaches golf and lacrosse. Prior to his tennis-teaching career, he was a correctional counselor at the Maryland Training School for Boys along with being a high school English teacher and lacrosse coach in Baltimore, Maryland. He currently is a teaching pro at John White Sports.
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