If you have been watching my VLOGS you will know I have been talking about the world of coaching as an industry. I received an excellent email from a friend and colleague, Andrew Haw who now coaches in Germany. Amongst many great things he mentioned in his email he wrote “using the term ‘industry’ is maybe inaccurate as there is so little infrastructure to support careers”
In a way I suppose this could support my opinion. On one hand it is an industry and on the other it is not. Time wise it’s in its infancy but it is around the same age as the tech industry and more comparable the fitness industry. I don’t feel I have found a way to nail the message or direction of my VLOGS as yet so I am going back to my most comfortable mode of communication, writing to see if I can make more sense.
It is my nature to reflect, sometimes way too much and when it comes to this topic I am feeling myself becoming stronger with my opinions and thoughts the more I think about it. Think about it for a minute. There is so much talk about attracting players into the game and relatively so little about attracting coaches into the game. If we don’t have hard working, highly skilled coaches then we are banging our heads against a brick wall with all our player initiatives.
When it comes to talent identification there are several stages. This is something that is often overlooked as most people perceive talent identification with the top end the game. I like to think of it as a global concept for several reasons. First of all I genuinely believe that every level of tennis (and there are many) is equally as important. Without each layer the level above and below can’t exist or operate. It is a dangerous thought to value someone or something more important based on some subconscious or conscious hierarchy.
The layers of talent identification as I see them are:
Now, I can picture some to you reading this and thinking ‘hang on a minute, I thought we were not allowed to label someone as talented’. I’ll be honest here and say I’m getting a bit fed up with people latching on to trends without really understanding them fully. The reality is that everyone has talents (natural abilities) and these are just starting points. Of course hard and smart work will help you realise your potential so let’s not get on our high horses about the word talent. I am thinking globally here.
So let’s now think about overlapping these 4 strands into the coaching world.
I had a conversation with a colleague on Saturday who works in coaching. We were talking about someone who had made the decision to quit his job as an engineer in the oil industry to go full-time in coaching. I mentioned I loved these types of people as they are clearly doing it because they love tennis and/or coaching. This then led naturally to us speaking about what I discuss in my VLOGS where coaches reach a tipping point in their lives/careers where they feel they can’t advance and/or they have an unhealthy imbalance between family/life and their work. This then got me thinking about how we attract coaches into tennis which lead me to do some basic digging on the internet for some figures.
Have a look at the chart below which breaks down the average UK salaries at the age of 20,30,40 and 50.
The average UK wage for a 20 year old is around the £16,000 mark. This got me thinking on what a 20 year old level 3 coach could potentially make. I did the conservative sum of 30 hours of work @ £25 per hour over only 40 weeks of the year. This provides an income of £30,000.
Before I go into a couple of scenarios, think for a minute about the benefits of having an actual path to follow in terms of career and income. Are you more likely to work harder to learn and grow if you know what the next step up is? Are you more likely to work extra unpaid hours to try and build relationships with people who you can learn from and who may open doors for you? I genuinely believe that it would help the tennis coaching world if we had a structure that put you in a position where you did not earn a lot of money at the start and had a definite path to walk in order to make more. Metaphorically I believe young coaches should have to clean the boots and wash the toilets before they climb the ladder.
Now you could be reading this thinking ‘wow, surely it is a great thing you could earn this money instantly. Surely this would attract great talent into the coaching world’. This is where the labelling of talent could be appropriate. Let’s imagine that an athlete with relatively hardly any training and experience could reach the very top of the game without really trying. Is this athlete really going to have learned the hard lessons that the journey of struggle, perseverance and determination naturally provide? Will they be working on a daily basis to make the 0.001% increases in performance that could turn a failure into a success? Will they truly value the people ‘beneath’ them? Reflect on that for a second.
So lets go back to the 20 year old coach who is earning a salary that is almost the average of someone 20 years their senior. In fact, let us go with 2 examples, coach A and coach B
Coach A – earns this money and has the qualities of constant growth & development. Really invests in forging a career in the world of tennis coaching. Attaches themselves to a mentor, earns their stripes and does every type of coaching possible in order to learn their trade. They realise there are no shortcuts. If they are going to find the area that suits their character and skills best then they will have to experience everything that tennis coaching has to offer. They surround themselves with people who have greater experience than they do and they go about bleeding these people dry. Eventually doors start to open and sprint through them. The cost of these developments is that in reality they will be earning the same or even LESS when they hit 30. Combine this with the possibility they may have met someone and want to set up home, possibly have family and ‘settle down’. Here is where it gets really messy. Do they plough on with the development of their career or create a change so they can have a balanced life where they see their partner regularly. If they choose the former this will put a serious strain on their relationship especially if they have children. If they choose the latter they have invested 10 years to get to what feels like the start point and then they ‘settle’ for a compromise. This also can cause a strain on a relationship as the coach could harbour bitterness for all this hard work going to nothing. Imagine training as a michelin starred chef and going to work in a Burger King. Now imagine how tough it is for a female coach if they want to have children and still coach afterwards. This is often overlooked in coach development. Imagine attracting the best females to the world of tennis coaching, they plough 10+ years of quality work in to be the best they can be and want to have children. What’s next? No maternity pay, have to pay for child minders (they earn more than tennis coaches, think about that for a second), have to work everything around dropping off and picking up children. It is no wonder only 17% of all UK tennis coaches are female.
Coach B – earns this money and loves it. So much so they decide to make the basic calculation of doubling their hours to double their salary. The only way of doing that is working 7 days a week. However they are in their early 20’s making close to £60,000 and, what the hell, I’ll work 45 weeks of the year and make £67,500. They have hardly any commitments both financially or with a life partner so they plough on. Perhaps they even enjoy spending their hard earned money. They may buy a flash car, expensive clothes and a bit of bling. Compared to their friends at university they are minted and look pretty cool, they are a tennis pro after all. They may even start to burn the candle at both ends. Finishing late and then going straight out with their pals who don’t have to get up for work the next day. Perhaps they can even keep this up for a few years but eventually it all catches up on them and motivation starts to go. Their mind and their body cannot keep up with the demands of such a heavy schedule and something has to give. They don’t have the life experience just yet to help cope with this and inevitably they begin to become unreliable. They may get ill, simply not show up or cancel at the last minute. They have nothing else to fall back on as they have not developed any other skills in the last few years. Perhaps by their late 20’s they have chucked it all in and gone to another career path.
Now, the chances are you are thinking these are huge exaggerations but in my experience these 2 scenarios are actually way more common than you would think. The figures can obviously change and in many cases there may be a mix of the 2 situations. Either way they are not healthy and this is my point about how we categorically do not have a healthy tennis coaching industry in the UK. There is no path, if you are ambitious you have to forge your own way, create your own path. There are relatively speaking hardly any salaried jobs in the market place. The salaries tend to be associated with governing bodies or sporting organisations that are run by local authorities. These organisations do not suit everyone and even if they did there would be virtually no supply for the demand.
In my opinion we have to have a serious rethink about what we want coach C to look like and if it is feasible we have to put things in place now so that in 10 years time we have an industry full of hungry, motivated, passionate and skilled coaches who all have found their place in the tennis world. Happy at work, happy at home, constantly feeling they are developing and taking baby steps every day to reach somewhere towards your potential.
This would be my preferred option….
Coach C – Loves tennis and I mean properly loves it. Why do they love it? They have played the game for many years. I don’t care what level they have achieved, they simply love the game of tennis and everything about it. They love the idea of being connected to the tennis world in some way. Think of all the jobs that could be connected to the tennis world. Let’s forget players for a second, of course there are coaches but there are also physiotherapists, fitness coaches, doctors, nutritionists, photographers, lawyers, accountants, journalists. Honestly, if you want a challenge, please consider putting together a mind map where it covers all the jobs that could be connected to the tennis world. So coach C has a job in an industry that is connected to tennis AND wants to do 2-3 hours of coaching 2-3 days a week. They literally skip out of their work so happy they are about to go and help people learn the game they love so much.
What would be even more amazing was if we tennis created a way of offering even part-time salaries to tennis people who then spend their days developing tennis and then 2-3 hours each week day night coaching. I have seen examples of this and in my opinion it worked brilliantly but they are few and far between. If I had my way I would either have part-time tennis development positions where their salaries would be supplemented by practically delivering on the court. I simply don’t see the return of investment in full time development posts. The best way to learn is to work alongside people who have experience. So if I was to appoint someone on a full-time salary I would suggest that around 40-50% of their time was spent practically showing people how to do things. Imagine loving tennis the way you do and feeling like you could do 15 hours of coaching a week and have a healthy career and home life. WOW!!
This may be all very romantic but I see this being more common in countries like Belgium who tend to be very systematic at the best of times. I remember speaking to a Belgian coach who ran a few clubs and he said they avoid hiring coaches who are full time in only tennis because he sees it knock their love of what they do out of them. Mmmmm sounds familiar.
My wish would be that tennis could attract the very best of talent to work within its industry. Once in we would have such a healthy place of work that the retention rates would be huge. We would have ways of developing these coaches so they could discover over time what area of the game their character and skills suit. Then from here we could truly identify people who are clearly doing a great job and invest in them heavily. Then the cycle begins again, we attach young coaches to these experienced coaches and from here we can create business models that are sustainable and healthy.
As with everything I do, podcast, VLOGS and blogs, my goal is never to tell people what they should do. I simply want to stimulate thought and reflection. If you have enjoyed reading this blog please share it with others who you know will also enjoy it. More importantly start to leave comments on my Facebook page about how we could think outside the box and help create a heather industry to work in. Yes Andrew, I’m going to keep calling it an industry even though you are right, it is most probably not even considered one.
Kris Soutar says
Please feel free to post your thoughts below….
Kris Soutar says
You may have to elaborate Phil 🙂
Jane Bowen says
It is always an interesting discussion. Do part time coaches with “proper jobs” take away from full time coaches?
How do you explain to a young coach,who sees the fee per hourbeing more attractive than being employed on a salary will help their long-term career prospects and will give them security and paid holiday, but will equate to a lower per hour rate.
The big challenge for tennis is that barely qualified coaches can earn a good living as a full time coach, especially in the commercial sector. If coaches couldn’t earn/ be full time until they have at least a level 3 then there would be coaches who at least a decent basic level of skill and knowledge working in the sport.
Kris Soutar says
100% agree with you Jane. It sounds weird but I believe we could attract more of the right types of people if the entry money was lower. I do also think we need to think of ways of linking employed or part-time employed jobs to tennis coaching. That way we avoid any potential bitterness between full-time coaches and people who already have jobs. For example, if someone is involved in sports development also does coaching. However to be honest any full-time tennis coach that gets bitter about anyone else ‘stealing’ their work needs a good shake 🙂
Thanks for commenting and hope all is great with you
Peg Connor says
This is a wonderfully thought-provoking article. I moved out of the coaching/teaching arena as a young person because of what I perceived as the tough work/life balance and capped pay. I loved teaching/coaching and the impact you can have on lives…but instead, I chose to obtain my masters in sports management and have worked in the tennis industry ever since, but off the court. I am very interested in continuing the dialogue on this topic and will look forward to further comments.
Kris Soutar says
Thank you for taking the time to write that Peg. Can I ask what area of the tennis industry you work in specifically? I am really keen to try and find ways of connecting the major parts of the tennis industry so people who love tennis can see there are so many options.
Peg Connor says
Thank you, Kris. I’m currently doing consulting work with the Tennis Industry Association, USTA Middle States, Tennis Industry Magazine and POP Tennis. Prior to this, I was at Prince Global Sports for 17 years. I’ve worked for professional ATP & WTA & WTT events as well as being an assistant collegiate tennis coach for the men’s & women’s teams at a small DI school and director of tennis at a seasonal country club. I’ve also been a longtime USTA volunteer at the local, sectional & national level. There are many, many options in the tennis industry for people who love tennis and the business of tennis.
Kris Soutar says
Wow Peg, you certainly have experienced a lot of what the tennis world has to offer. I was not aware there is an organisation called The Tennis Industry Association. I will check it out. Have a great New Years celebration and I hope 2018 is your best year yet.
Kris Soutar says
and Peg, if you believe there is a way we could work together to help raise awareness of potential career paths within the tennis world then please keep me in mind