If you have ever heard me speak, read any of my articles or (let’s face it) work in the hospitality industry you know that we are living in the Age of Racquets. It is no longer enough to just be great at running tennis programs. The consistent growth in other racquet sports such as pickleball and paddle have lead to an unprecedented demand for racquets. This will change how we staff, program, teach and ultimately connect the dots from one racquet sport to another. The future of your membership will depend on the depth and understanding of all your racquets offerings. Now more than ever, is your clubs make it or break it moment.

The consistent growth in racquet sports like pickleball and paddle have led to an unprecedented demand for a total racquets program that changes the nature of how we staff, program, teach and connect one to the next. It is now more than ever that your club has the opportunity to thrive or suffer greatly. There is no doubt the obstacles are great, but with difficulty comes opportunity and you can either meet the new demands, pressures and expectations head on, or protect the status quo and be left behind. We must now be an expert in multiple areas which demands we ask more, not just from ourselves, but from others as well. We must prioritize education and training to update our staff’s knowledge and arm them with the tools they need to succeed.

The greatest investment always lies in people and it is through people that you will make the greatest difference. It is when you invest in others that you add value to their individual skill sets and obtain the highest overall returns. The foundation to success stems from leadership. A good friend once told me—“it isn’t the club that makes the pro, but rather the pro that makes the club.” As a director, if you do not seek to become an expert in everything, you fail to be the total racquets expert that is now essential to success. This means stepping outside your comfort zone and being willing to continue growing even while on top. One of the greatest pitfalls to success is allowing yourself to be stagnant by being afraid to fail at something unfamiliar. It can certainly be difficult to change when things are succeeding, but it is actually then that you must continue to innovate and adapt in a constantly evolving world. So as our successes rise so should our failures. If you are not failing you are not innovating and failure to do so will ultimately lead to stagnation. If you cannot innovate and adapt when things are at a high, it will be all but impossible when things are at a low. The greatest way to grow is through your network—by connecting with people that you can learn from, and who in turn, learn from you. It does not matter how much expertise you acquire, there will always be someone who knows more in that particular field than you do. But it is those very top-in-their-field experts who you want to know.

I have always approached relationships asking myself first—what can I do for this person…? And second—what can they do for me…? If you can’t answer these two questions clearly it is probably not the best relationship to pursue. If you always look to give before seeking anything in return you will nearly always receive returns that exceed your expectations. Mentorship is very much a two-way street and is something that has defined how I approach my relationships. I can say with certainty that everything valuable I have ever achieved has been due to the people who surround me.

Your staff will define you and your success which means finding the right people is of the highest importance. The first trait I look for is motivation, which is often found in people that would be considered diamonds in the rough. I want people who aspire to be directors, who wake up in the middle of the night with a million ideas they can’t wait to share, and who are always looking for what is next. Having people like this is the key to racquets. It is not so much the ability to be great at one thing, but the desire to be great at all things. I have always been, and will continue to be, in constant pursuit of passionate, dedicated individuals. It is now not only important to be able to teach one racquet sport, but a necessity to be able to acquire the knowledge to teach all racquet sports. It is what is required today to succeed.

It is not an easy challenge to be required to be an expert in multiple racquet sports, but it holds enormous opportunity to separate yourself from the crowd. It IS possible to become a total racquets expert by investing in your staff, which all starts with the decisions you make as a director. Your staff is the key to building your overarching knowledge of the racquets industry and connecting all racquet sports to one another. Your team can show members how pickleball helps their tennis, how tennis helps their paddle, and overall, how general racquet skills build on one another. On average, there is a 30% crossover rate from one racquet sport to another when clubs are staffed with “racquets”, not just tennis, pickleball, or paddle professionals. Which means if 1,000 members play tennis at your club, when you add pickleball, you will average 300 people crossing over to play both sports. This is monumental for your programs but more importantly to your club as a whole.

Racquets is one area of the club that has the ability to grow member utilization across the board through all areas and amenities. Racquets—tennis, pickleball, paddle, squash, padel, pop tennis, create more amenities, creating more value to your members. The more your amenities grow, the more opportunity members will have to use the club and for staff to teach and connect yet more of racquets. Alternatively, imagine the contrast if a director opts not to invest in racquets—you completely lose out on the opportunity for so many benefits to members and staff by simply providing what everyone else offers as a minimum. I have seen this firsthand all over the country when managers tell me—“my director doesn’t want to try pickleball,” or “we have no room to build facilities.” A person who has played a pivotal role in my career has always told me—“we need to see things not for how they are but for how they can be.” A great leader has the ability to see into the future and guide those around them through uncertain situations. As we have seen through this pandemic, you never can predict what is around the corner, but if we are prepared, with the right people pushing the boundaries, we can achieve more than we ever thought possible.

The clubs that have invested in racquets have seen unprecedented growth through Covid while the clubs that have taken a passive approach are struggling. The result is staff at some clubs have risen to new heights while staff at others have felt nothing but uncertainty. As a leader your greatest responsibility is to your staff! Your people will define you and you have the ability to define them. In order to staff for success you must always remember that it all starts with you. Push yourself for more, want more, expect more, and I promise you will attract the people that share those same qualities. Never forget you hold the ability to set the pace. What you do matters. Invest in yourself and your team.

I regularly attend and speak at conferences, hold certifications from every notable teaching organization, and certify pros around the country. I don’t do this for the stamp of approval on a piece of paper. I do it to grow new relationships that benefit my membership and team. As your staff begins to understand the value all of this brings, they will follow your lead. This all goes back to the adage—“a leader always leads by example.” If you lead by example, you will never struggle to find and hire the people who make the difference. There is no question that the age of racquets is going to be defined by extreme successes and quick failures. The clubs that have invested and continue to invest in racquets will see unprecedented growth, while the ones that have not, will struggle and ultimately fail. The pandemic has only accelerated this process. Everyone reading this knows of clubs that are on the rise and others that have recently failed to cope with the sudden obstacles. These challenges will continue to hold endless opportunities which means how we choose to approach them is what matters.

I believe every obstacle can be viewed as an opportunity. It was the continual decline in tennis that was the foundation for the racquets boom. If tennis hadn’t consistently declined, there would be no pickleball, paddle, or other racquet sports that have come onto center stage in recent times. If you think back to the 70’s and 80’s this fact is obvious. Yet, it is racquets as a whole that will ultimately lead tennis to its highest participation numbers in history. And it is staffing that is the foundation to success that holds the key to the future of racquets!

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