Last weekend we took the kids to one of our favourite places in the world, Aviemore. I love this place as the pace of life is so much slower and relaxed and there are tons of things to do. When I sit back and look at the town I see it as a perfect example of what a typical Scottish town could be. Of course they are very close to the Cairngorms offering a skiing season but over my lifetime it has becomes a place to go all around the year. They have something for everyone and they utilise every possible opportunity to grow the amenities and attract even more people for their holidays.
Before we left we googled somewhere to stop and break up the journey for the kids. I stumbled on a soft play centre in Old Meldrum on Hoodles farm. Yet another example of how farms have really moved with the times and created places for families to go on their leisure time. To my surprise when we pulled into the car park there was a huge new building which had a sign on the side of it saying ‘ETKO Sports Academy’. Of course, I was like a magnet to it and went into the small reception area. I spoke with a very friendly receptionist and asked what the facility was for. She told me it was a purpose built gymnastics and wrestling centre. She kindly said to pop my head in and when I opened the door I was astonished to find the gymnastics equivalent to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I started bombarding the poor lady with questions about who built this, how does it make money and I could sense she was on the ropes. She told me the farm had built it and works on partnerships with various organisations. Check out the website. What they do is amazing http://www.etkosportsacademy.co.uk
The toddlers classes look phenomenal!!
This got me thinking back to a blog I wrote in May 2016 which went down well at the time. Almost 2 years later everything still applies but since then we (Scotland) have been granted a large pot of money to help develop indoor tennis centres. I genuinely believe we could think outside the box and look to build less sophisticated structures and include community sporting facilities so they are not 100% tennis centres. The absolute reality of indoor tennis is it does not make anywhere near a profit. I heard one tennis development officer say that his centre is around the busiest in the UK and it makes a 40k loss per year. Apparently the average loss per court in the UK is around 30-40k per court. It is clear, indoor tennis does not make money so what does make money? Gyms, soft play, fitness classes, cafes and gift shops.
The time is right to take tennis in a new exciting direction. There are funds available and we have to find partners who would like to jump on board and join up to create fun family environments with many options for fitness. It will take creativity, hard work and above all, courage. We have to break the mould and take tennis into the 21st century. Farmers have done and think of the massive tradition they have through their generations. Tennis has remained in the 20th century and we are in danger of staying there unless we take action.
If you have any out there suggestions please write them below. Remember, together we will make a difference. Let’s do it!!
Here is the May 2016 blog, I hope you enjoy.
Could we farm tennis out a bit more….
Last Sunday I spent several hours at a local farm with my family and friends. We arrived, had a lovely lunch then played with the children in a huge playground which included trampolines, toy houses, bikes, cars, a huge fort, a go kart track and excellent pedal go karts. There were dozens of families there all doing the same thing, having fun…… while spending money.
I took a moment to sit back and take in exactly where I was and how much the farming world has moved with the times in recent years. We were still essentially on what would have originally been the farm house premises. There was a restaurant, a gift shop selling their own local produce amongst many other things. Last Christmas we took our daughter there to see Santa, the real Santa by the way! This farm has opened its doors to the local community and turned it into a place where people choose to visit with friends and families just to pass the hours.
Then I think about tennis clubs and how much they have transformed in the last couple of decades. There are some who have replaced court surfaces and decorated their clubhouses. There are others who have put a coach or coaching team in place to add huge coaching programmes. All of these things add something to their club but I feel the one thing which could transform most clubs is to make them places where the local community choose to visit just to pass the hours.
If my wife is at a loose end with her friends they choose to go to garden centres, coffee shops and now farms. Imagine someone being at a loose end and thinking ‘where will we go just to hang out? I know, let’s just go to the tennis club. We can have lunch, get coffee, cakes while the kids just play’. I know not every club have the facilities to add catering to their services but my point is making the club a place where the local community have it in their minds to visit.
Now, if you are a coach and reading this you may be thinking ‘is this clown really suggesting I should start a cafe at the club or provide a soft play facility’. In one hand I am not saying that but in the other I’m thinking why not? I hear coaches all round the country moaning about the weather and how it affects their income. Or they complain about having too much dead time during the day and don’t like to work late. Perhaps you could think outside the box and provide something for the local community to come and visit the club without thinking about having to play tennis. This could be as simple as going to your local baker and doing a deal with them for a tray of cakes. You sell them on for a profit and charge a minimal fee for tea and coffee.
However this blog is not about coaches. It is about utilising the countless enthusiastic people you have at your clubs. I believe the biggest impact a typical tennis club could make is not on court but off court it. If the two could be sewn together then jackpot!
Create a workforce of volunteers at your club that help organise and run a social and competitive programme.
I spend more and more time working with coaches and parents remotely. In most occasions I have never even met the people I am working with. I had an interesting case last year where a coach approached me about transforming his coaching programme. It was the same situation I hear all the time. They want more players to compete. They feel they have too many players in their programme that attend one coaching session a week and never play outside that. How has this come to be…..
Coaching has become an activity people do all around the country. Some even say ‘I play tennis’ when all they do is attend coaching. I recently heard a coach say they had lots of people in the programme that played football and rugby and attended tennis coaching. It would be very easy to say there are not enough tennis tournaments around the country. This is true by the way but the issue is too many people complain about things they cannot influence.
So going back to the coach who wanted to transform the culture at his club. My suggestion was simple. I said he could put on a competitive programme which led to a coaching programme. I suggested this competitive programme should include something for everyone and have fun and competition at the heart of it. Competition does not have to always be a formal tournament. You can have skill building, themed, team, social and of course formal competition. We need to offer competitive opportunities to everyone at all levels. At the moment the competition structure is too top heavy. Many are too scared to enter tournaments as they believe only the best players play tournaments. We need to find ways of gently introducing people to competition. This coach was in a position to influence as he had free reign at his club. He piloted a few ideas with players who had never competed and he said the results were amazing. Many of the players who took part in the competitive programme started to come down to the club to play more and more. Then something happened… they asked if they could get coaching!
You see, there are too many people who’s first experience of tennis is to receive coaching. It then becomes too easy to get stuck in a routine of thinking coaching is tennis.
So my advice to clubs and coaches is simple. Think outside the box. Create opportunities for the local community to come along to the club and just hang out. Alongside this offer FOC drop in sessions, tasters, informal competition options, themed social events amongst many more ideas. Until clubs are places where people can hang out with their families and friends then I fear we will be hearing the same old complaints from coaches for decades to come.
Use volunteers in your club to run things. The coach cannot and does not need to do everything. Pull on all your resources and watch how quickly your environment will change.
Oh and to be clear, you don’t need the governing body to do any of the above so you CAN make a difference. Pilot it, I dare you, see what happens when you offer something other than coaching at your club. You may be more than surprised at the results….
Farms used to rely on their crops and cattle to provide their income. Clubs seem to rely on their membership and their coaching programmes for income. Their is an opportunity to move with the times. If farmers can do it so can we.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, have a great day.