One of the most frustrating issues in the industry today for tennis stakeholders is the great difficulty in making a connection with a high school tennis coach. Many great tennis leaders would love to help a high school tennis coach and his or her program. I hear thousands of complaints and protests. In stark contrast, some so-called tennis professionals state that they feel like there is not much value in tennis as a school team sport. I don't hear the care and concern from those people. Both of these groups have suffered from the lack of community building from the past. We all can do better. We can come to acceptance that there has been a difficult history, but all great achievements come in the face of adversity.
It's up to you and me to turn this thing around. After we execute the the action items below, then we can dive deeper into what our standards of success are. Sometimes, we are wrecked by our own expectations. Let's move away from extreme expectations, come back to a realistic approach rooted in making things just a little better. In future years things will begin to snowball.
Taking the Best Approach
Experts in business and religion, say that it takes an average of 7 contacts for someone to become interested in looking into the proposition being posed. Some type of relationship must have been previously developed. It's not so much what you know, but who you know that matters. Keep in mind, you to them might be 'the lunatic fringe', you love the sport and you want everyone to play it all the time. The people you are approaching might think of it as a nice afterschool activity, that shouldn't be taken too seriously.
High School Can Be 'So High School'
One thing you have to keep in mind is that high school can be 'so high school' and there are some really strange behaviors that happen because people are trying to maintain an image of being one of the cool kids. You also get very strict disciplinarians. Get to know something about the coach, are they a player? Are they a teacher at the school pressed into service? Empathize with their plight. At best they might be a fellow tennis professional, or they could be enthusiastic about learning to coach and teach better. Finally, imagine how it would feel to be thrust into coaching something that you don't know well, while at the same time being put down by the experts who could be helping you.
Having been a high school teacher and coach for years, and had many discussions with stakeholders, I haven't heard anyone disagree with my observations of the break down in how high school teachers engage with the school. The level of professionalism amongst high school teachers roughly follows the 80/20 rule, but I like to think of it as the 20/60/20 rule because 20% of all teachers are amazing professionals who really pour themselves into kids and other teachers. 60% love their subject and love everyone who loves it too, tolerating
those that don't love it as much. Finally, the lowest 20% of teachers fell into the job, because they could not find other suitable work. They punch the clock, get the work done and don't really want to be bothered. If you are trying to reach that final group, good luck to you my friend.
The Tennis Enthusiast
How different is the tennis enthusiast who is the off-campus coach? You will likely find that they are more toward the top of the heap, a much better resource than a teacher that was pressed into duty. If you can make that person an ally, and help them buy into continuing education, they can be a great resource to you and the community.
Practical Steps in Order of Least Obtrusive to Most Involved
1. Drop off a donation of used tennis balls from your teaching cart that are still in decent shape. Some schools need racquets, others desperately need shoes with some tread still on them.
2. Visit a home tennis match of the team, say hello to the coach. If you are unknown to the team, avoid speaking to players beyond a friendly greeting or a quick compliment on their match.
3. Send an email to a group of coaches in your area, letting the coach know that you might like to get to know them, and find a way to help out if they are open to it.
4. Follow up with a phone message saying, 'At your convenience if you would like to talk for 5-10 minutes to discuss how I might help...
5. If you get no response, send another email directly to the person that you contacted twice. Be sure to acknowledge that they must be busy, and ask if everything is well with them, then reiterate that your door is open. Consider that the person may be extremely busy, or may be facing a personal crisis, and might not want to talk with a stranger at the moment.
6. Offer a free clinic for the team, or more importantly to a subsection of the team. Only the beginners, doubles players, the advanced players, or some other subset that the coach suggests.
7. Sure you offer a wealth of knowledge expertise. You must respect that some players may not be open to your coaching, as they already have the high school coach, and may also have a private coach. That player may struggle when seemingly is given conflicting information.
8. Always praise the coach, never run them down. Just like your mother taught you if you don't have anything nice to say...
9. Host the team at your club.
10. Host the league championships or other off-season events for the high school players to play.
11. Trust that you may gain ONE more client, but even if you don't, creating a more fertile environment, helping add to the nearly 350,000 high school tennis players in the country, succeed in growing the game. There are many more who play high school, than play USTA Tournaments.
12. Encourage ONE player to start playing some tournaments.
13. Make sure everyone knows that you are better than the high school coach, that you could beat them in a set 6-0, and that you would welcome taking over the program from them. (Checking to see if you are awake, and look it's #13)
14. Encourage your local high schools to take advantage of FREE services provided by UTR. Level based play, and having a tangible sign of improvement given by a rating can be a huge motivator, open up a pathway to college tennis, and allow coaches to set lineups for more competitive matches without risking a loss.
15. Give the coach a copy of The Art of Coaching High School Tennis as a gift. You save on the Amazon price, and they get a signed copy from the author. I then also make myself available to them for a 20-minute consultation which can make a world of difference.
Order here: https://zeke37sports.com/products/art-of-coaching-high-school-tennis.
Tennis professionals tend to be a bit all or nothing in their assessments. If you offer your service to eight different schools and they all said yes, you would not have time to do it well. If you reach out to eight and five don't respond, that's pretty normal. Also, two might show the courtesy of saying, 'thanks but no thanks, but you can bring us some balls'. Finally, you might get one mildly enthusiastic response. Instead of thinking of that as 88% failure, think of it as an infinitesimal success. If you were helping zero schools, now are working with ONE. So do your very best for the one. Circle back in 3 to 6 months to the others, especially as the impact of your help with the one school takes hold. Now the snowball is beginning ever so slowly to roll downhill.
Blog originally published in tennisbusinessclub.com since 2014