This blog addresses the question of how to maximize income from tennis lessons at a tennis club or public facility. In other words, “How to get more people to take tennis lessons?” I have written my own Q&A to cover this topic with the hope that some of you will answer the questions for yourselves and then compare your opinions to some of the comments I have offered.
However, before starting, I feel compelled to try and take away some excuses that some of our reader’s may feel justified in giving for somewhat limited income from lessons. Sorry to be so blunt, but I have seen too many success stories in both small towns and in the heart of large cities to not be convinced that practically every tennis program in the country has potential to steadily improve and grow. One barometer to see how you stack up is to look at your current gross annual lesson revenue and compare it to recent years. Dozens of successful clubs I have spoken with across the country over the past year are experiencing consistent double-digit growth each year. So, unless you are experiencing at least a 10% annual growth in your lesson and clinic income, consider this article a chance to step back and take an objective look at your programs. Who knows? A little objective self-analysis might be just the catalyst your program needs to reinvent itself to succeed more than ever before.
1. Q. How do you think the game should be taught to get more players to take lessons?
A. I believe that many tennis teachers make the great mistake of thinking that they are being paid to find mistakes and fix things. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you think about it, it should become clear that this is a major problem. The majority of tennis teachers are predisposed to immediately see what’s wrong and then focus on how to fix it. An alternative approach is for the teacher to involve the student in the process (especially adults) and not be so quick to be critical. So, if this is true, what’s the main responsibility of the tennis teacher? I believe the primary role of the teacher is to create an environment that encourages students to become more dedicated to playing and improving. They will become more dedicated when the following three things happen: When they have fun, increase their self-esteem, and develop friendly relationships with their teachers. And, when they keep playing, they will improve automatically.
2. Q. Specifically, since most lessons are taken by players from the beginning levels through 3.5, how can we get more 4.0 or better players to take lessons more often?
A. I believe players feel anxious because they believe that taking lessons means to “change.” Of course, this reflects the approach of most tennis teachers who feel that they are being paid to make their students look like the photos in Tennis Magazine. Rather than immediately making corrections in technique, teachers should guide the students to become interested in the overall learning process. Then, as simple as it sounds, when the students are ready to learn, they will learn. If they do not specifically desire to learn and improve, they probably won’t. Now, someone may ask, “If someone signs up for a lesson, are they not asking to improve?” Yes and no. They may be asking to improve but may not consciously be ready to pay the price in terms of working on any changes that may be needed.
3. Q. Are there any new approaches that would help grow a lesson program?
A. Here are three facts: 1) A tennis court has a total of 490 feet of lines. 2) Every tennis court looks the same. 3) Players are most intrigued and interested when visually stimulated. Therefore, tennis teachers must change the visual appearance of a tennis court through the extensive use of training aids when teaching or running drills. Using visual aids will help students increase their focus, and increased focus will automatically help them improve. Visual aids will also benefit a program by generating onlooker interest, a factor that can contribute significantly to increasing the student base of any teacher.
4. Q. On the positive side, what have teachers learned in recent years to make their instruction more effective?
A. There is no question that nowadays teachers are instructing techniques that are biomechanically more sound than ever before. The result should be a generation of players with fewer injuries. Another recent positive trend is the “games approach,” a concept that has been learned primarily from the popularity of youth soccer. The “games approach” means that tennis teachers stop teaching tennis one stroke at a time, and then put it all together in the context of the game months down the road. Instead, tennis teachers should incorporate game-based teaching (playing the game first) and then, when students realize that they need to work on one aspect of their game, they will more eagerly and enthusiastically work on individual strokes and mechanics.
5. Q. What other teaching innovations will we be seeing more of in the future?
A. The statements I have made above are certainly not rocket science. Rather, they are the conclusions of top educators in many fields from around the world. In tennis, we will do better as an industry if we open ourselves up to incorporate what has already proven to succeed in other industries. One specific opportunity is readily accessible in every community in the country, big and small. Simply go to an elementary school in your area and speak with the physical education teacher. Set up an appointment for you and your staff to observe this trained teacher of motor skills and sports. You might find that the carryover benefits to your own tennis program are enough to fill a notebook … or two. Yet another opportunity along this same train of thought is to contact your state branch of a national organization called AAHPERD (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance). This group has national and statewide conventions in nearly all fifty U.S. states each and every year. Attend one of these conventions and you will be pleased to take home to your tennis program a new vitality and enthusiasm that is hard to find outside of the arena of professional physical education teachers.
Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the USPTA and PTR, has been recognized with numerous national awards including the 2019 City of Dallas Humanitarian Award for contributions to inner city tennis, and has conducted clinics and exhibitions in over 50 countries. Joe is the author and editor of 9 books and more than 20 DVDs, has more than 300 published articles in various tennis and pickleball magazines, and has aired many instructional tips on the Tennis Channel. Plus, Joe’s YouTube channel has more than 2 million views and growing! His latest book “Words, Wisdom, and Whimsy” is the second volume of an illustrated series called “Poems from the Heart.” In 1994, Joe founded OnCourt OffCourt, Ltd., a company dedicated to serving the tennis, pickleball, fitness, yoga, and physical education industries with innovative training aids and educational tools. Today, he has designed and manufactured more than 150 creative products being distributed and used in 100 countries worldwide.