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Serving Up Tennis Success

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For many gyms, tennis programming is not only a great source of revenue, but also serves as a way to engage members and foster community.

Just ask Manolito Kehoss, the tennis director at the Wisconsin Athletic Club Lake Country (WAC-LC). The club offers both private and small group lessons, as well as an outstanding junior tennis program. It offers more rookie junior tournaments than any other club in Wisconsin, and adults can take advantage of drop-in Drill & Play classes, or sign up for in-house weekly leagues to help build social connections with other members.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Here, Kehoss shares keys to success for running a great tennis department.

What makes your tennis programming stand out? 

Our outstanding staff makes every junior class fun, motivational and informative. The one program that separates us from other tennis clubs is our High-Performance Program, which is run and created by assistant tennis director Tim Hartwick. The top tier of the High-Performance Program is made up of the top ranked juniors in the state. The top levels of High-Performance are the Academy classes, but we also offer High Performance training for youth progression students in the form of HP Yellow, Green and Orange. This follows the national USTA pathway program. These juniors all play USTA tournaments and are actively involved in our junior program and lessons. The HP Yellow Ball and the Academy classes have a 30-minute fitness component run by Alex Klaas, who is a certified tennis instructor as well as a certified personal trainer. Alex puts together workouts specifically designed to challenge our tennis players for the demands the game requires for top-level players.

What are some best practices or tips you can share for running a tennis department? 

Our tennis team is made up of nine full-time certified tennis professionals and four part-time staff professionals to run eight indoor courts. When I started 23 years ago, we had three tennis professionals. The success of our program does not come from one individual, but what each of us brings to the table and how we all communicate and learn from one another. We are certified and keep up with continuing education so we can be a resource to our members and community.

Additionally, our community outreach is unmatched, as we go into the local schools and work with the gym classes, run the tennis courts at the local Kids Day, and toss tennis balls at the 4th of July Parade while juniors rally shots to each other walking down the streets.

What are some ways to maximize tennis profits? 

Maximizing tennis profits can come from many areas and all ideas are welcomed. The simplest strategy is how many people can you fit on a court to teach and still make it worth while for the customer? This number changes per tennis pro on what they can handle and also the kind of drill. Take Cardio Tennis, for example. This is a fast-paced drill intended for a cardio workout and is movement based while playing points. It is a faster-fed drill that can rotate people in and out more to support a larger group size, but still keeping everyone engaged.

Another thing we have gotten away from is evening primetime private sessions. Since we have so much demand during the busy 6 to 9 p.m. time slots, we have eliminated private one-on-one lessons during that time. This allows more members to get on the court during those times if we turn a private into small group lessons instead. The courts are a resource and by having doubles leagues playing with four people and larger drills or junior programmed classes, you maximize your resource.

The problem with maximizing is trying not to flood an area of revenue, but allow a balance. That is easier said than done. Our junior tennis programmed classes, small group/private lessons and league play are what dominate our courts from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. If you make one area too large, it takes away from another and will definitely have negative repercussions. Find your balance.

What characteristics should clubs look for in a tennis professional? 

Finding a good tennis professional can be difficult. You would think there should be plenty to choose from, but that is not the case. We do not have enough young people going into the business, so the pool to draw from is small. One resources we use is the USPTA website, but most people who apply are from the south and have never braved a Midwest winter. Our best source comes from being active in the business, so you have a name people know. We have great contacts with college coaches like Frank Barnes at Whitewater University and Craig Mours at Carroll University. Some of our staff played for Whitewater and still coach at the Warhawk camps.

The most rewarding hire is grooming your own students into teaching positions. We use our local high school tennis players to work with our professional tennis staff as junior tennis assistants. They learn how to set up courts, keep kids safe on the court, what to say, how to teach and how to befriend the kids. These junior assistants eventually go to college and need a summer job. Where better to work than the club you grew up playing at? Where all the kids you assisted idolize you? By making their connection at the club always positive, you are always giving yourself the chance they will return for a career. WAC-LC currently has two of the nine full-time tennis professionals on staff that have taken that pathway: Kevin Lanigan and Alex Klaas.

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Rachel Zabonick

Rachel Zabonick is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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