New approaches to tennis that adjust both facilities and programming are ensuring that players stay in the game for life.
According to the Physical Activity Council (PAC), tennis is the only “traditional participation sport” that has seen growth over the past eight years, with 6% overall growth from 2014 to 2016. However, as all sports suffer the ill effects of what the PAC calls an “inactivity pandemic,” in which 83 million Americans of all ages report “no physical activity,” the tennis industry is not content with resting on its laurels.
Creating the Need
On November 12, 2016, The Clubs at Houston Oaks in Hockley, Texas made a commitment to tennis when it officially opened its new tennis facility. The club previously offered two recreational courts attached to a basketball court, but “you couldn’t actually call it a tennis center,” says Chief Executive Officer Roland Rutjens. The facility also had no tennis program or in-house pro.
To help facilitate the popularity of Cardio Tennis, a high-energy, calorie-burning workout, the Tennis Industry Association is offering training courses for instructors across the country throughout 2017, with costs ranging from $110-$285. The following training events are scheduled for the remainder of the year:
Visit www.cardiotennis.com to sign up for a training course.
“Everything else at the club was at a professional level, and the only thing missing was a comprehensive tennis program,” says Rutjens. “We built six state-of-the-art courts and engaged Liezel and Tony Huber, two pros at the top of their game, to build the program.”
The outdoor court complex features professional LED lighting and medium-speed Har-Tru courts that are designed for all levels of play.
“We think Houston has ideal weather, and we want people to be outdoors all the time, making it part of their lifestyle,” says Tennis Director Liezel Huber, who competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. “For the first time, the coming generation is expected to live a shorter lifespan than the current generation, so we want to be proactive and try to meet members’ need for fun, as well as their health needs.”
When deciding to build the tennis amenity, Rutjens says the club’s setting was already perfect for a dedicated tennis environment. “We have 1,000 acres, so we don’t wait for a need—we build something and create and fulfill the need,” he says.
The tennis program at Houston Oaks includes packages for players of all levels, using video to focus on footwork, tactical and technical skills, and strokes. “Being a professional tennis player, it becomes mundane to practice the same thing over and over, so we try to be innovative and offer variety,” Liezel Huber says. “We recently had a member say ‘Wow, I’ve been here five months and haven’t done the same thing twice.’ Our goal for the members is to show them what the pros are doing now.”
Though Houston Oaks already had members when its tennis program started, “we didn’t know who was already a good tennis player,” Liezel Huber says. The tennis program is now focusing primarily on growing participation among juniors through its excellence program, partially because many tennis-focused college scholarships are available, especially for young females.
“This is where Liezel stands out, as an Olympic champion,” says Rutjens. “Kids in this program learn that they won’t always win and that it’s OK to lose. We’re giving life lessons to younger generations—it’s not only about winning, but about how you approach life.”
Programming for All
In 2016, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) announced it would begin testing a short-court version of tennis called POP Tennis, played on 36- and 60-foot tennis courts (vs. the full-size, 78-foot-long court) with red, orange and green lower-compression balls and short racquets or paddles.
“We believe POP Tennis can be a ‘feeder’ system into tennis for kids, and a ‘keeper’ for keeping adults and seniors in the game,” said Kurt Kamperman, a USTA executive.
Offering a variety of programming that taps into the needs of all clientele ensures that players will be active in the game for life. At Houston Oaks, an in-house league for the elderly is offered that incorporates specific drills for older players who have challenges with mobility.
“We work a little more on technique and fitness to prevent injury, and cover about one-third of the court,” says Liezel Huber. “For older populations, it’s more social—it’s about getting out there. You have to cater to clients’ needs and abilities.”
Looking to the future of the property’s racquet sports program, Rutjens says an expansion is likely. “We’re looking to build an indoor court system, to bring in people nationally and internationally,” he says. “We can offer squash and paddle tennis—the possibilities in racquet sports are endless.”
As technological advances become more enmeshed into daily life and culture, the tennis industry is finding ways to incorporate our collective screen obsession into the sport itself.
“For tennis players, and those who want to play the sport, having access to new technology with user-friendly feedback will bring the tennis experience to a new and different level,” said Tennis Industry Association Executive Director Jolyn de Boer at the Tennis Tech Fair, held for the first time in June 2016. “This technology gives players the feedback that they want and can use to improve their on-court performance and fitness levels.”
Cardio Tennis, the fastest-growing segment of tennis (up 26% since 2014), promotes the use of heart-rate monitors, so participants can play and train in their ideal heart-rate zone for maximum benefit.
“The popularity of these technologies with tennis consumers looks strong, with participation on the upswing,” said de Boer. “Smart Court technology and wearables also offer coaches and facilities an opportunity to capitalize on this growing trend with ‘smart lessons,’ and provide exciting adaptations for near-perfect player matching.”
Frog Hollow Racquet Club in Lansdale, Pa., installed a PlaySight Smart Court in the spring of 2016 on one of its existing indoor courts. The system includes 12 cameras surrounding the court to document players’ every move, and a debriefing kiosk off the court allows players and trainers to watch the footage and check out statistics from the performance. Players simply log in before using the court, and statistics are even exported to a smartphone app.
But Frog Hollow’s staff were no strangers to technology before the PlaySight was installed. “We’ve always used tablets and recorded different strokes during lessons,” says Denard McLendon, Director of Tennis. “With juniors, we always recommend that parents take video, so if a pro can’t attend we can still see what needs to be worked on.
“Once we found out about the PlaySight’s ability to pull stats, it was a no-brainer for us to have it installed,” McLendon adds. “It makes things easier for us and helps us teach.”
While players at the Frog Hollow facility range from four years old to 85, the smart court is primarily used by juniors, McLendon says. “Tournament-level juniors are probably our biggest group at this time,” he reports. “We’re trying to incorporate it more with adults, but they don’t always want to see what they look like.”
While the cost of playing on the smart court is a bit higher than for other courts, McLendon says, players can create an account for free. PlaySight handles all necessary maintenance for the court, including calibrating the cameras and offering a help desk.
The smart court has proved to be popular enough that Frog Hollow plans to expand to three courts in the future. “We wanted to test just one first, to be sure this is what we were looking for,” McLendon says.