How to Start a Junior Tennis Program From Scratch
By: Scott McCulloch
There a variety of ways to build a junior program from scratch and every market will present different challenges that can range from demographics, competition, opposing sports, interests etc. No matter the environment or market your club is located in, I've listed what I think are five of the most important ingredients to build your junior program and position it for continued growth...
1. Program design and Junior Pathway
The best first step is designing a program that is simple to follow, convenient for customers and lays out a pathway that can be easily understood by all on how the player can progress both through programming levels and also into different play options. Too often new programs add too much complexity and specialization to their programs making them confusing to understand and creating a barrier to entry. When you are building your program from scratch you will be catering to a variety of levels which will primarily be made of new/recreational players so cater to that market. Some quick tips as you design this program:
- Create options for different days
- Know the pricing of your competitors and other sports
- Be aware of when school is let out for each age to set appropriate starting clinic times
- Schedule back to back i.e. red ball and orange ball. This makes it easier for parents with multiple kids of different ages
- Build sessions of 6-8 weeks together
- Flexible to grow program options i.e. start with a red ball class but as it grows and the player levels vary create a new program, red ball and red ball select for the more advanced players
2. Quality Program
In order to attract, retain and grow your junior program it is so important that you establish the standard and quality of the program. As you grow you will have other coaches teaching your players and it is very clear to parents and the kids if they are a part of a quality program or not. The easiest way to achieve this is to educate and train your pros. Provide them the tools and resources to deliver a quality program. This can be done by creating curriculums, lesson plans, ongoing education, access to industry tools like net generation, understanding of your pathway etc. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants here, plan and build the foundation of quality in your program and live by it.
3. Promoting your program
Starting a junior program from scratch can have it's challenges, but with a very active promotion and engagement plan that covers the whole spectrum you can pick up momentum and traction rather quickly. The key is to consistently utilize every possible outlet at your disposal and feed those outlets as frequently as possible and enroll as many people as you can into that same process and do not let up. Some examples of this are:
- Be super friendly and proactive in meeting as many people as possible at your club or in the community and talk about your program, and if they don’t have kids they probably will have
friends that do. This is something that you continue to do and teach your staff how to as well
- Connect with your Local UTSA TSR and become and ambassador of tennis in the local schools in your area
- Look to create community partnerships with local businesses, moms groups etc
- Drive an active social media presence posting multiple times a week
- Follow up on any inquires and don’t wait for people to get back to you
- Take pictures and videos on your classes and create tips of the week and engagement with your players
- Be relentless with always adding bandwidth in promoting in always possible
- Create an easy way for people to connect with you ie website and inquiry forms
- Relentlessly be a promoter and diligent about connecting and getting back to people
4. Energy, Excitement and Passion
The most important ingredient in growing a successful program that will attract, retain and grow is to hire a team that is passionate and that is relentlessly positive and engaging with the kids. There is an old saying “people don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care”. Become the leader that leads this way and surround yourself with people that care as much as you do.
5. Play Options
A lot of tennis programs focus around the programming of clinics and lessons and don’t put enough of a focus on play options for the juniors. It has be proven that kids thrive and grow in a “play to learn” environment. With that in mind make sure that you put in a pathway of play (round robins, play days, tournaments, etc) that lines up with your clinics and lessons so that your players can enjoy both. Having both the program and the play options will lead to a well-rounded experience for the player and a higher retention rate which generally leads to a higher referral rate.
Growing a junior program from scratch will take planned work, consistent effort, relentless commitment and vision from you and your team but it is one of the most rewarding joys a coach can experience as you reflect back and can see how many young lives you are impacting and affecting. I encourage you to maximize your output on the 5 ingredients covered to grow your junior program. Remember to Stay patient, stay focused and stay committed as 1 player at a time adds up as your bring all those players together.