I believe we are at a tipping point in tennis…..
The Davis Cup reforms – FANS being disregarded
ITF World Tour – PLAYERS being disregarded
Tennis Clubs – COACHES and committees appear to be battling with each other.
The world of tennis has changed massively in the last 10-15 years. Some for the better and some for the worse. The people involved within tennis, players, coaches and fans, are incredibly unsettled at the moment and it feels like we are at a pivotal moment where we need to manage change very carefully.
As someone who spends most of his time in coach development, this article is going to focus on 8 steps you could take to help make the relationship healthier with your coach or committee. You could also use these exact same principles when working with parents of players. In fact, you will be amazed how transferable this process is.
I, very much, want this blog to provide a balanced view but I am sure there will be times where you may feel slightly uncomfortable reading it. Don’t be offended, reflect on what you read and, if you feel there is validity in the words, take action.
I want to be very clear, I do not see it as the responsibility of the governing body to oversee the ‘industry’ of coaching. Reality, the vast majority of the stakeholders (clubs and coaches) involved are run by volunteers, using self-employed coaches. This makes it virtually impossible to manage.
Therefore, it is, 100%, up to us to control the controllable. We need to step up, be professional, and find ways to work together. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, what is best for tennis….. I hope!!
So let’s get stuck in….
Every project must start with a clear & strong vision. Developing a tennis club is long-term project. Bottom line, if the coach and the club committee have different visions for how they want to develop tennis, it is a no-go right from the start.
If you are a coach, it is your job to develop tennis.
If you are a committee member, it is your hobby to develop a section of your club.
Therefore, it can be hard for a committee member to have a clear vision for how tennis will develop in their club. I’ve had some very interesting conversations with committee members over the years. It still amazes me how some believe they know better despite having zero years experience of working in tennis.
A volunteer managing a professional is always a strange dynamic so it is vital a coach shows their vision for how tennis will be developed in the club. You must do yourself credit and share this vision in as professional way as you can. Sweep people along with your passion. Make it seem so obvious, this is the way forward for the club.
If you are a committee member, understand the reason for the clubs existence, is to service all members and provide tennis opportunities for the local community. One word I would change in every tennis club…….. PRIVATE members club. I would instantly change the title to COMMUNITY TENNIS CLUB.
There is a major issue in most tennis clubs. There are a tiny percentage of members who play the majority of the time. You know the ones, they are at the club almost every day, they play at the same time of the week, each week. They believe they own those time slots. They feel they are stronger members than new members. Now, in many cases, it is these members who are the most vocal on committees.
Truth serum question for coaches and committees – if you could click your fingers and make magic happen, would you want your club to be bursting at the seams with junior & senior members, events, coaching and competitions? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be on the committee. Coaches, if this seems like too much hassle, then perhaps you should look at different options. Operating at a level of ‘just good enough’ is endemic in our culture at the moment and it needs to change.
My experience tells me that there is too large a percentage of committees who don’t want their clubs to be operating at full potential. Why? Simple, it would mean they wouldn’t get their time slots each week. They would have to share their club with others.
Reality, each and every member has equal rights within a tennis club. God forbid, if your club was sold to property developers, each member would receive an equal share in the funds. Being a member for many years does not equate to you having more rights.
I do, also believe, there are a lot of coaches who don’t want to go above and beyond. They want an easy life, they want all the money with the minimum of return. Perhaps we need the rotten apples to be able to see the healthy ones in the barrel. The issues only come when there is a mis-match between the club and the coach.
In my opinion, we are more than coaches now. We can’t just turn up, coach and leave. We are, in essence, tennis development managers. We cannot fill a huge percentage of the clubs time with just coaching classes. Tennis development is so much more than coaching. We have to provide a much more rounded experience if we are to attract and retain people in tennis.
Take some time to write down your vision for how you want to develop tennis in your club/community then find a club that shares this vision. You will not regret it!
SHOW YOUR VALUE
One of the worst human traits is to undervalue people. It has such a poisonous effect and can be avoided if we look at what each person brings to the party. It is vital we are grateful for what a person brings versus bitter about what they don’t.
Coaches, take some time to write down everything which brings added value to the club and the tennis playing community. Some examples for you:
- Increased membership – tangible value
- Revenue from events – tangible value for both parties
- Revenue from programme – tangible value for both parties
- Potential sponsorship for club – companies are looking for healthy sporty environments
- Credibility/reputation – you can help the club develop a good name in the tennis playing community
- Professional service – saves the club hiring people to do meet and greets, admin & marketing (more later)
- Potential healthy relationships with other clubs – many coaches work at multiple clubs – huge opportunity to create links to benefit the members
- Healthy links with local schools, nurseries and local organisations – it is becoming more common for tennis to work with guides, scouts etc
Map everything out and help your committee understand, exactly, what you bring by being the club coach.
Committees, take some time to write down what value you bring your members and the local tennis community. Some examples for you:
- A professional run coaching and events programme
- Internal and external competition opportunities
- Opportunities for people to be mentally and physically healthy
- A place for people to socialise
- A safe place for children and adults to visit
- If facilities allow, other activities to attract people to the club, yoga, pilates etc
You could also map out what value you bring to the coach:
- Security of work
- Additional support for event management
- Additional support across the board, be part of a team. Coaching is a very lonely profession
- Potential for extra income, retainer, part-time wage, extra income streams from events, pro-shop etc
It is crucial both parties respect what each other brings. Unfortunately, it is now becoming common practice to view the coach, simply as, just another income stream. As I mentioned earlier, this is a terrible way to view a person and completely undermines their true value. Avoid treating a person as a commodity.
AGREE BUSINESS MODEL
Traditionally, it was common practice for a club to attract a coach to their club, let them set up their coaching programme and keep all the income. In bigger clubs, which had more demands, they would pay retainers to contract, and retain, the coach to their club. The retainer was also seen as buffer for the amount of time a coach could not work, bad weather, drop in numbers in winter and unavailable courts due to other club activity.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the trend is veering towards clubs charging their coaches rent for court usage and, in some cases, a floodlight cost. The vast majority of these clubs only have outdoor courts.
Of course, it is completely up to each club how they run their business, but my huge plea, is to fully take into consideration what you are asking from the coaches. The most important aspect is, how you manage the change. In a lot of cases, a new chair person comes wading in, wants to exert their power, and before you know it, the coach has had their contract ripped up and feels like they are being forced into a new one.
If both parties show true value, you must begin a healthy negotiation on what business model you will use to work with the coach/club. Options include:
- Club takes control of the entire programme and pays the coach an hourly rate
- Club takes all the bookings for the entire programme and pays the coach an hourly rate for on-court coaching and another hourly rate for administrating the programme
- Coach takes complete control of administering the programme and pays the club an agreed rental for courts
- Coach takes control of the programme and agrees a percentage of all programme income goes to the club
- Club takes all the risk and reward, and employs the coach
It is not for me to say which one of these models is best for your club. If you have gone through steps 1 & 2, it may become more obvious which one fits best.
What I will say is, if you are the chairperson of a club, and you truly believe the coach is making a small fortune from the club…… employ them! Give them the security they need and reap the rewards of taking such a courageous and professional approach. You may be surprised what wage a coach would accept for the security of knowing what, and when, they are being paid.
There is a worrying trend, clubs taking full control for the coaching programme and just paying the coach an hourly rate. I have only seen this work in a couple of coaches and they are the ones who pay an inflated hourly rate and pay admin hours on top.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the basic rationale with this decision but the reality is completely differently. Let me, hypothetically, talk you through this from the committee point of view.
“Hang on a minute, this coach is using our club to make a small fortune here. Why should they make this huge profit when we could run the programme and take the profit? We could then use that money to help the club develop further.”
- Coaches don’t make huge profits.
- There is so much more to running a coaching programme than turning up, coaching and leaving.
- A tennis coach will have peak times of the year where they appear to make good money but there are many times of the year they make much less or zero income.
This is what has happened in many clubs in recent years. They decide the coach is making too much money from the club. They believe they can make profit to help develop the club further. So, they take on the entire administration of the programme, marketing, bookings, processing payment, and communication with parents. They often give this responsibility to the poor secretary, on a voluntary basis. “Surely, it can’t be that difficult”.
Before you know it, “what class should my kid be in?“, “my kid is too good for that group“, “He will only go if he can be in the same class as his friend“. The list of calls, demands and questions goes on and on. Last year, I worked with one coach who had been forced into this situation. I asked him to log how many calls and emails he received from the secretary and how long he spent ‘putting out the fires’. Across a 10 week block, it was an average of 4 hours per week.
THAT IS ONE WEEK OF WORK!!
The secretary soon said she could not cope anymore. The club president dug his heels in and instead of paying the coach a retainer, or admin fee, he hired an admin person for the club at a cost of 10k per year. The numbers in the programme dropped dramatically as the parents soon cottoned on to the fact they were speaking to someone that didn’t know what they were talking about. The coach dug his heels in (rightly or wrongly) and refused to deal with anything other than the coaching. The end result, membership decreased significantly, the programme numbers also dropped and, across the board, the club lost around £5,000.
Committees, please know this, you have no idea of the extra time required for a coach dealing with everything related to their programme. It is endless, they are virtually on call, every day, from the minute they wake to the minute they put their head on the pillow. Their business has to swallow all of the admin, marketing and equipment costs. They work unsociable hours and get no paid holidays. There are so many days per year in which they cannot work due to bad weather. In most places in the UK, income drops significantly between November and February.
I once heard estimations, a coach loses the equivalent of 2 months a year work due to the above. Instantly that means your club coach is only earning 10 months of the year AND they still need to take unpaid holidays on top of that. If they take 4 weeks holidays, they are now only earning for 3/4 of the year.
So committees, before you make any rash decisions on changing a coach contract, please sit down and map out the realities of the decision and don’t use some cave person equation to dream up how much more income you make. It never works out like that, ever!
If you do decide to take control, you will have to increase the hourly rate of the coach to take into account the extra work they will do. You will also have to pay for admin and consultancy costs attached to the programme.
Now, it is only fair to balance things out a little here as it does read as if I am being overly biased towards the coach. There are times when this model is the best for a coach.
- The coach may be inexperienced and have poor admin skills
- The coach may be experienced and have poor admin skills
- The coach may be someone who only wants to turn up, coach and leave
Coaches, this is where you have to step up. There is no doubt in my mind, that coaches could do so much more to appear, and be, more professional from a business point of view. We are involved in an industry that has less than 1% full-time employment. This means, over 99% of all coaches in the UK are self-employed or the directors of their own company. We have to be entrepreneurs but we work in an industry where entrepreneurial spirit is frowned upon. How dare we make a good living from something that is our passion. Surely, we should do this for free because we are privileged to be doing something we love.
Committee members, remember, it is your hobby but it is a coach’s job.
Coaches, understand how your business works. Map everything out from how much time every section takes, when you are at your most productive versus least. Map out across the board, how many weeks a year you work, how many hours per week, how many of those are paid versus free and come up with the real cost of your hourly rate. You will be shocked at how poor your hourly rate actually is. This is ideal ammunition for committee members who question how much money you are making.
We work in a bizarre industry. Success is frowned upon. We live in a culture where we build people up and then knock them down once they are successful. We are on the receiving ends of consistent digs when we buy our latest car or go on a holiday. I don’t know many other industries where this happens to peoples faces. In fact, with employment law, this would be considered bullying in the workplace. The irony being, most of these digs are coming from people with huge expendable income. For some reason, some people resent coaches making a healthy living.
Coaches, we have to step up and be uber professional. Prove to people that we are a credible profession. Study business principles, get online and watch inspirational videos of people who have been successful in industries similar to ours. Listen to podcasts on your way to and from the club. There is, literally, no excuse for not being the best professional you can be. Take tiny steps each and every day to become so professional, that you become in-expendable.
I know, when a coach and club share their visions, show their value and agree a business model which works for both parties, they will create a strong foundation to build upon. You can now get more into the really exciting stuff, making that vision come to life. The start, set your goals.
A vision without goals is like a ship without a rudder. Setting goals will help coach/club fuel their motivation to work together. Most people have heard of SMART goal setting but very few people live it out. They write down wishes that have no clarity.
Here are a couple of examples of specific goal setting for a club:
To increase membership by 10% by the end of 2019
To boost our sinking fund by £5,000 by the end of 2019
To have 2 more girls teenage teams in the leagues by 2020
To finish in the top 4 of the junior leagues by end of season
To develop enough interest to justify taking 16 members to a club trip to Spain by Easter 2020
In this context, agreeing the goals is so important. I have worked at clubs where I have set my own goals and not consulted the committee. They have their own goals and not consulted me. The end result is conflicting objectives.
My first, and strongest, experience of this was at the first club I was head coach at. I made a pitch at the AGM in 1994, they make me their first ever contracted, retainer based, coach. I went all out with the vision. I spoke about what I would bring to the club and then started to speak about developing really high level players out of the club. At the end of my passionate speech (I was shaking like a leaf), they said they wanted to make me head coach but didn’t care about the great players bit. My heart sank, I was so young and ambitious. I couldn’t believe a tennis club wouldn’t care about what level of player played at the club. I soon realised, they did but it wasn’t the juniors they cared about, it was the adults. So, what we did was agree goals for the adult teams.
The irony of this situation was, it was the first time I realised, if you want to help develop great juniors, start with the seniors. Eventually, we had 5-6 players who were playing in our Scottish National Squads. Who did they train with at the club…….. the adults.
Do not underestimate the importance of setting and agreeing goals.
AGREE A PLAN
Things get a little bit more clear now. If you have shared visions, showed the value both parties bring and agreed a business model, set agreed goals, you can now get on with making a plan to bring it all to life.
This is where I can throw in my thoughts on how club activity could be structured. First things first, I belief the first thing a coach/club should agree is the EVENTS CALENDAR
In the last 10-15 years, we have lost sight of the reason we play tennis. In years gone by, the vast majority of players only received coaching because they competed. Fast forward 30 years and the vast majority of people who receive coaching, don’t compete.
When I think back to my junior days, I have fond memories of the monthly american tournaments we had at the club. If I was lucky, I would be allowed to compete in these. I remember, being around 14, and partnering a 12 year old girl called Carole Ferguson, in the annual Industrial Joinery mixed doubles tournament. This was held at Stonehaven Tennis Club, my home town, but had many pairs visiting from surrounding clubs. Carole and I won that tournament and I thought I’d won Wimbledon.
Do not underestimate the importance of creating fun competitive opportunities for all levels of players at your club. We are involved in a sport, it is a game, it should be competitive…… for every level.
We are living in an age of programmed activity. Most people map out their weekly schedule. Our free-time is virtually zero. The reality, we don’t add things to our schedule, we swap things into our schedule.
This means that tennis has to do more to attract people into the game and have them want to swap their other activities to do more tennis. Events are the best way to create a culture of people wanting to spend time at the club outside coaching. This would be my suggested mix of events for any club:
- Purely social events – no tennis attached – just fun with friends
- Social event with tennis – social is the priority and tennis runs alongside
- Tennis with social – focus is tennis with a social event attached
- Tennis competition – tennis is the focus. Have a mixture of team and individual. I would still have things for people to do off-court.
If you can have a great spread of these types events throughout the year, you will give something for people to look forward to. They will make friends and are way more likely to come down to play in between events. They will discover that competition isn’t just for the best players AND it can be fun. This is a much healthier way to attract players into competition.
Once you have your events sorted out, you can now show how your coaching programme is wrapped around this calendar. You will create more of a need for coaching.
Coaches, please look at embedding competition into your coaching programme. This means you can offer up to 3 different competition formats to a standard block of coaching. If you have a 12 week term, you can run an embedded competition on weeks 4, 8 & 12. This means you have 3 weeks to prep for each event and you don’t have to create extra time for them, they run at the normal time of the class.
Ideas for embedded competition:
- team skill building
- team drill competition
- fun doubles events
- combinations of all of the above
Once you agree your events and coaching programme, you can work out how this will marketed and managed by both coach and the club. These events will provide an excellent opportunity for you to build a volunteer workforce at the club. People will give up their time to be involved in fun events and feel part of a bigger team.
Do not underestimate the importance of planning together. It will help you build bonds and together you see the club develop.
SHOW A UNITED FRONT
If you map out all of the above, it will be very natural to show the members you are working together. Look for ways to combine communications. There are a lot of coaches out there who have business names and advertise their programme at a club. In my opinion, this is not the healthiest way to work. Advertise and market the programme as the club programme. This creates a partnership feel.
When you run your events, make sure there are shared jobs to be done so it looks like it is a team effort.
Anytime you talk with parents, use ‘we’ as much as you can when talking about what the club is aiming for. Words are very important and people receive most of them sublimely.
Make sure the club and the coach branding are always seen together. If it is possible, have clothing with the club and coach logo on it. This will emit team and create an identity for the players, especially the ones who compete outside the club.
Remember, there is no ‘I’ in TEAM.
EVALUATE EVERY TERM
Committees can be guilty of having too many meetings. Worse still, they are often completely unproductive. They have meetings to organise meetings. It is not necessary to meet every month. With today’s technology, you can keep everyone up to date in seconds.
At the end of each term, check in on your goals and see if there is any need to re-evaluate them.
Coaches, get used to doing visual reports. A picture speaks a 1000 words. Use bar/pie charts to show growth, use images of players competing to show how the teams are getting on. Again, there is no excuse for not doing this now. The technology is there and it is free now.
REMEMBER YOUR ROLE
Stick to what you are good at. Do not cross boundaries and try and be something you are not. If you are on a committee, and have zero tennis coaching experience, don’t tell the coach what to do. Do not try and suggest what their rates should be, organise assistant coaches to come in, tell the coach what they should be paying their assistants. The list goes on and on. Remember, why you are on the committee. If it is for vested/protective reasons then you should resign. You have a duty to serve ALL your current, and potential, members to the best of your ability.
Don’t desperately appoint committee members just because you need the numbers. Only allow people on your committee who want the best for the club, as a whole.
Coaches, embrace working with your committee. Take the lead and show you can galvanise a team. This will stand you in great stead for the future. If you become a coach who jumps from club to club, you will quickly become the common denominator. You will be seen as the quick fix coach and not one who can take a club and help make it flourish. Remember, the blame game never has a healthy outcome and is often played to mask the real issues.
Remember why you got into tennis, keep it at the front of your mind. It is an amazing sport and you will meet some amazing people through it.
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