Has tennis development largely become a paper exercise?
There are now more people employed under ‘tennis development’ than ever before. I have been involved in the game for 33 years and in that time it has gone from having zero employees and hardly any coaches to 100’s of employees and 1000’s of coaches. So, here is the killer question?
Are we better off for it?
This could be viewed as a strange question to ask from someone who works full-time under the umbrella of tennis development. The reason I ask is I think I belong to a certain group of people. I have spoken to many colleagues about this and we tend to agree on this one area. No matter what happens under any regime there will be a certain group of people that will survive and plough on regardless. Actually, one of my mates likened it to cockroaches surviving a nuclear holocaust, charming!
I am about to turn 45 and I, like most people, have gone through phases of blaming governing bodies for all that is wrong in the world. However I am now at a stage of my life where I realise blame is among the least productive words in the dictionary. My main focus is now to add value to the sport I fell in love with 33 years ago. I now try my very best to only focus on the things I can control. I say try as I am human after all and we all like a good bitch and moan every now and again.
My biggest moan is when I see too much procrastination going on which leads to little action or delayed action. Wasting time is worse than wasting money as you’ll never get time back but there is always more money to tap into somewhere. I see more people employed under the name of ‘tennis development’ than ever before yet I have to admit to seeing less action to develop tennis than ever before.
I have to admit to being uncomfortable writing this as I have many friends who are employed under these roles so I have to make it clear this is not a personal attack on anyone or any governing body. It is simply an observation on how our industry has morphed in the last 10-15 years. At the end of the day it is action that makes a difference and I would question how much of ‘tennis development’ leads to action. Then when I consider the vast sums of money ploughed into these positions I genuinely question how much return for investment we receive.
I cannot possibly write this without suggesting an alternative. For me it would be simple. We could keep every development position and turn it into 50% development work and 50% delivery work. Ideally the 50% development would be planning and the 50% would be executing and empowering others in the trenches. We have the potential to have a workforce of ‘workforce development’ officers.
Now I know some of you will be reading this thinking all I am doing is promoting the line of work I do on a daily basis. What you may be missing is exactly how many different areas there are within workforce:
- Coaches – all ages and stages
- Activators – volunteers, parents, club members, students, teachers, teenagers
- Managers – head coaches, team managers, chairs of committees
- Competition referees – all ages and stages, every format of competition
- Coach educators – for all levels
Together I am sure we could come up with more categories. My point is that workforce should include every possible person who can put back into tennis and not just the people who are employed and contracted by associations or companies. Imagine feeling part of the biggest tennis team in the world. Now that is something I would get excited about.
Imagine having an army of people who proactively build up and empower a heap of people to do everything that tennis has to offer. This would involve working alongside them on a weekly basis. How cool would it be to have someone actively help you, be an ear to all your worries, to offer you solutions to your challenges, to show you on the spot how to do things.
Even typing the above starts to get me buzzing.
In my opinion tennis development has become a paper exercise which largely leads to very little action. I believe this type of work must have some value but I do not believe it merits full-time positions. I believe a large chunk of time could be automated with FAQ sections on websites linking to pages housing all the links the troops may need in the trenches. I believe it is perfectly possible to automate a large percentage of each development role freeing up time to get involved and show people what to do, why to do it, how to do it and how to be while doing it. We need role models, if you can see it you can be it!
I would be very keen to read what you think about this topic. I have one request, it has to be a solution and not a moan. We all know each others gripes so let’s work together to offer solutions.