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What’s Next?

by John R. Embree, USPTA CEO

It is common knowledge that our beloved industry is not near as healthy as it should be. We have the best game on the planet, yet the metrics for both casual and core players over the past few years are flat to declining. Even worse, the manufacturers experienced the most challenging year for selling their products into the trade last year since records have been kept. If it is any consolation, we are far better off than many traditional team sports that are seeing dramatic declines in participation of late.

It is against this backdrop that Katrina Adams, president of the USTA, gathered leaders from the different manufacturers, USTA sections, USTA board members, Sr. USTA executives, the TIA, USPTA and multi-club operators for an Industry Summit, which was held in the training room of your USPTA Headquarters. It was an honor to host this event with some of the brightest people in our sport who came together to talk about how to jump start the industry.

As one would expect, there were lots of divergent interests in the room. The mantra going in was that everyone should put the specific needs of their respective organizations aside and focus on the common goal of growing tennis participation by bringing lapsed players back into the game and attracting new players to our sport. If we develop more players, everyone wins. It was refreshing to see that people took off their “brand” hats and contributed to the conversation with ideas that would benefit the industry as a whole.

I do not have the time or the space in this article to dissect all the notions that were vetted over the day and a half. But, without question, there were two or three themes that no one in the room could dispute. In order to truly grow the game, there must be a significant influx in the quantity of tennis deliverers of the game at the grass roots level. Coupled with that premise, these deliverers must be of higher quality, be more educated and trained on the latest teaching/coaching trends and be more committed to growing tennis participation. Repeatedly, no matter what programs were discussed, the tennis delivery system (mostly USPTA professionals) must be better at what we do, and we have to offer a better experience for the customers with whom we work.

With the aging of our population of tennis teaching professionals, the focus on developing strong Professional Tennis Management (PTM) programs is paramount if we are to be successful. Students that graduate from a quality PTM program are more prepared and more knowledgeable about running high-quality tennis programs than many of those who have been working in clubs for years.

Secondly, we also have an aging player base. So, we need more providers to deliver entry-level programs for beginner adults and kids. It is one thing to give a six-week program and then stop: it is another to retain them, keep them engaged and bring them into the fold as frequent players. That requires extensive training that the industry is prepared to embrace, with pilot programs beginning in 2019 at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida.

A third concept that evolved out of the summit was the concept of establishing premier tennis facilities across the country. These would be targeted public, private and commercial facilities that would offer and embrace a variety of new player initiatives to grow the game in their respective communities. In turn, they would receive a variety of benefits from various industry partners and the USTA in recognition of their efforts to grow tennis participation. Much must be done in 2019 to vet this premise so that it is attractive and viable for those tennis facilities who wish to be a part of this endeavor.

Nothing is gained from a meeting of such stature unless there is consistent follow-up and quantifiable action steps are defined. I have been to too many industry meetings over the years where lots of good ideas are discussed but nothing gets done. This cannot be the outcome of this summit! We are at a critical tipping point when an industry-wide effort must be put forth that every segment of our sport can endorse and activate. I, for one, will be pushing to make sure this gets done.   
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