The thing about sports is despite how fast the world spins, the fundamental driver behind sports doesn’t change! It’s about meeting fundamental human needs through play! Some people suggest that play is when you don’t have a score and so it is somehow devoid of competition but in fact many of us need the score element to make play enjoyable. In short, when three elderly ladies spend Thursday morning playing their fixed four they are both playing and competing! It’s playing (including competing) that has got lost in tennis, and it’s fixing this element through engaging, and crucially, appropriate formats that will get tennis back on track.
When we wrote Tennis10s back in the early 2000s, Dave Miley, the Development Director asked me to remove the information about teaching the game and focus on clubs based play and competition. Even today Tennis10s is one of the only guides that starts with play and competition. Around the world there is a plethora of guides on teaching, because of course, lessons are where the money is, but that brings us to the title. Teaching the game without the clear and deliberate intention of playing it is like learning a language you will never speak, like walking into a class and saying “Let’s learn Klingon!” It may actually be fun a first, though I suspect that the amount of phlegm required to avoid a sore throat will be huge, but ultimately unless you are a super trekkie or are planning on a world tour of all the comicon conventions it doesn’t have a lot of value! New teaching approaches are a small part of creating the momentum we are looking for in tennis! Club based play and competition is a huge part!
Providing half the program is meeting less than half of a players emotional and social needs through sport, is the real problem we face! Tennis facilities must provide the right competition and social environments and until they do they will continue to spiral down the proverbial toilet! It’s not about innovation or technology per say! We have tons of tech in tennis and most has a very hard time finding the the niche or market share that they are looking for! The reason sports have a place in our society and always have is the fundamental human need to play! So if you make a commitment to do one thing to improve your program in the year head then make it better club based competition!
And don’t be fooled by tennis on TV and use that as a model! Recently we asked a group of tour players what their favorite events were. The answers were surprising! Many selected venue based on the social aspects of the event (player party, players lounge), the location and the ancillary services and activities, over the surface or event venue. Even at the highest level players have the need to enjoy life around the court and not just on the court.
It’s one of the reasons that within the evolution program we focus on three areas for World Tour competitions:
- Getting the on court environment right for kids
- Getting the off court environment right for kids
- Getting the off court environment right for parents
Getting these areas right for the players, and not using our perception of what we would like as competitors is crucial. Some of the questions to ask are
- How important is the social aspect of this event?
- How confident are the players?
- How important is winning and losing in this event to their development?
- What are the learning opportunities in this event that can link back to the need to learn something in lessons?
- How long should the event be? Individual matches be?
- Can you get the same outcomes from a team event (we include doubles as a team) as from a singles event?
- Does this event link to other or stand alone?
- What messages do you want to send about competition and do these messages resonate in the minds of the players?
Are we saying quality lessons are not important? Of course we have to teach the game but the focus for everyone should be on developing appropriate club based play and competitions that drive kids to taking lessons with a purpose!
PS: Oh and here is the real winner! Kids that play and compete stay longer in your program, take more lessons and make a greater commitment to you and your program!