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If your clientele base is kids - parents provide a significant impact on your success.

On Board with Your Parents
By Robin Bateman

If your primary clientele base is juniors, then parents provide a significant impact on your programs' success.

As facility managers, tennis coaches and programs coordinators, we're always looking for ways to increase participation, walk-in traffic, league play, and sell more merchandise. One obvious resource sometimes overlooked is the purchasing power parents of our junior participants possess. And with USTA's debut of QuickStart in February of 2008, clubs and courts are swarming with parents who don't know much about the game.


It never fails; hours before a novice tournament registration deadline, when I'm in the thick of multi-tasking, the phone rings.

"Tell me about this satellite tournament thing you're running," an unfamiliar voice asks me over the phone. It's a mother whom I've never met. She's struggling with the decision on whether to enter her 11-year-old daughter or not. "She's never played in a tournament before," the voice continues.

She hesitates; a short anxious silent moment -then I jump in. I understand my role here - that of information provider. Even though, for a split second, I'd much rather give her a quick reply; I have a "bah-zillion" things to do. How can I possibly make time for her?

But I know better. I take a deep breath, settle into my office chair and answer her questions. In addition, I offer suggestions for her child like what to bring and where to go when "checking-in". If I handle things correctly, I know my long conversation will pay off. Maybe, I hope, I've helped to ignite the fire under the feet of some young girl on tournament day.

Truth is I love these phone calls, even when they interrupt my t-shirt ordering and trophy purchasing. I get a rush spending thirty minutes on the phone, preparing a parent for the upcoming event. Personally, I had no idea what "third set match tiebreak if you split" meant when my daughter turned from the tournament desk, a can of Penn balls tucked under her arm, to step on the court for her very first real match.

Does cultivating a relationship with a parent really increase business? You betcha.

Chris Mather, high performance coach for Top Gun Academy at the Springhurst facility located in Louisville Kentucky says, "Our junior summer programs have more than doubled since we've hired Rob Downey as the new juniors director for Springhurst. Mather tells me the previous juniors director didn't believe in talking to parents, to the point of almost refusing to do so.

The Wallet Factor -
Mom keeps the debit card snuggled tightly in her pocketbook. One pleading look from her child and she whips it out faster than Andy Roddick's serve. It's not just the class at hand either. There's the extra private lesson before the big tournament, the drill class her best friend takes, and the Nike outfit hanging in the pro shop window...wasn't Sharapova wearing the very same one in the French Open? Let's not forget about the Prince 03 White...gotta have that Plus, the countless drinks, and snacks served in the concessions area.

The Friend Factor - Word of Mouth
After class, three-year old Stacey isn't grabbing her cell phone to call her BFF and say, "Dude, guess what I just did..." Stacey's mother is the one bragging. She wants Stacey's friends to join Stacey in-between the lines. Mom knows daughter is more likely to continue playing if friends surround her on court. Rob Downey, the parent friendly juniors director at Springhurst actually changed his on-court technique to include high energy, loud, encouraging words to his students. Before beginning each class he asks himself, "What would I (as a parent myself) want to see my own kids doing? The approach paid off in summer camp enrollments of over one hundred.

The Family Factor -
Convince the child tennis is a worthwhile activity and other family members are sure to follow. The grandparents make a perfect objective! How many sports after all, can a grandmother play with her grandson? Spending quality family time together -siblings, parents/child, cousins --, getting exercise and enjoying each other's company is a high priority for today's families.

The Skill Factor -
More than the money, connecting with your parents is good for your student's tennis advancement. Carl Hodge, City of Macon's Tennis Director, says it's about the ability to increase a child's tennis level to the best it can be. "Parents are allowing you to work with their precious children on a physical level. No one knows that student better than his parents." Mom and Dad can shed light on the idiosyncrasies of a particular student, like whether physical or emotional issues are present. Incorporating such knowledge into the coaching routines for that student sets a better teaching atmosphere, allowing the player to reach his full potential. "Furthermore," Hodge adds, "a child's interest may appear normal to me, but a mother can argue otherwise. This inside information allows me to capitalize on the moment when it comes to driving a kid."

The Fun Factor -
Texting, gaming, and other electronic gadgets gripped in the hands of today's youth, mean you must compete for attention. Tennis is up against things like Zunes and the iPod touch, and cell phones equipped with full keyboards. On court activities must be engaging and capture the attention of participants thus making them forget about answering all those text messages. Keeping tennis fun guarantees their return. If kids think drills are boring, why would a parent continue to finance them?

What do parents want?

Parents want to see their children happy while learning new skills in a social environment. They want a clean facility with friendly staff and a place where they feel comfortable and safe leaving their children if they have to run errands. Parents want information; i.e. upcoming events, rain policies, payment polices, proper attire, etc.

They want face-to-face or over the phone with coaches and tournament directors. If they have a barrage of questions about next week's round robin, they want to feel like they are the only ones on your agenda during that meeting. "I spend twenty percent of my day communicating with parents," says Rob Peterson, a high performance coach in Cary, North Carolina. Peterson encourages parent involvement from the start by turning the tables. Peterson is the one asking questions. Parents answer inquiries like "Where do you see your child in six months from now?" Together, they map out a plan for the student, putting everyone on the same page. Eliminating confusion helps to ensure continued involvement.

Often times, as tennis industry employees, we are stretched thin. We eagerly accept any additional responsibilities because of our love for the game. With filled plates and sometimes short-staffed facilities, or dealing with the normal business activities during peak seasons, our free or open time is limited. But managing your day to include communicating and connecting with parents means your customers and those who foot the bill for your customers are happy and you are the one who reaps the benefits.

Possible sidebar: But what about those tough parents?

Problem: The Never Ending Questions
Solution: Facility manager and programs coordinators can post FAQs on websites, on the facility's bulletin boards, and behind the counters(so all staff working can field questions).

Problem: Overbearing parents, pushing their kids too hard
Solution: Wayne Bryan's book on "Raising kids with Arts, Academics and Athletics" and tell them, "you should read this" It seems to work well.

Also, City of Reading Tennis Director Larry Zerbe embraces the enthusiasm of the "tough Parent" Directs that energy towards common goals for the child. Establishes Tennis discipline vs Family discipline then establishes Written responsibilities that the Tough Parent" is paying the professional for. At this point asking the tough parent to help with the younger juniors in the program pays dividends

Problem: Underfoot parents
Solution: give them a volunteer position

Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis programs and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events. She is a contributing editor for Racquet Sports Industry Magazine and the communications director for TennisConnect..
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