10 questions with Sport and Recreation Planner, Dan Willsmore
Sport and Recreation Planners work for local governments as well as for private consultancy firms. Tennis Clubs can work with their local government on areas such as sustainability and facility planning.
Dan Willsmore is an experienced Sport and Recreation Planner whose sporting experience ranges from being a part of the green-keeping staff at Wimbledon through to project and event management for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and other major events. He has also worked extensively in local government where he worked to plan for and develop sporting clubs and recreational facilities and now is a consultant working on various projects in Tasmania and Victoria. He also happens to be my older brother.
Rick – Dan, thanks for contributing to the Art of Tennis.
What does local government want from a tennis club?
Dan – Tennis clubs like all sporting clubs in a community provide sport and recreational opportunities to residents leading to better health and well-being outcomes and social interactions. Tennis clubs are often located on land owned by the local government and therefore it is important for a club to develop and maintain a strong relationship with their local government.
Local governments need their sport and recreation partners such as tennis clubs (and other sports clubs in their community) to gain an understanding of who lives in their community and how they can better provide services and opportunities to as many different groups as they can within these communities. The traditional membership only model is less effective than it used to be for some clubs and consideration of other methods of getting residents into tennis need to be looked at by both clubs through strategic planning and the local governments through their leases and agreements with clubs.
Other areas where local governments will always be supportive of clubs include the development of a variety of community engagement methods such as getting out to schools, community groups or the targeting of specific groups that have been identified as being a low participation group with the club or the community more broadly.
One of the most important things a club can do to help their relationship with local government as well as help themselves become more sustainable into the future is to develop a financial model that allows them to save money to specifically go towards replacing and upgrading key facility elements such as court surfaces, fencing, lights and clubhouse maintenance and upgrades. Having matching funding or a significant contribution towards a project is usually seen positively and should be promoted.
Rick – What is something that holds back tennis clubs from blossoming?
Dan – One of the things that all clubs, not just tennis clubs, often do that can hold back their growth or development is expecting that people will just keep coming into the gates to play or to become members. Sport participants are getting harder to draw into clubs and even harder to maintain the numbers into the future. Changing sports trends, changing working arrangements and hours as well as the fact that people (especially young kids and teens) now have so many activities to fill in their recreational time in and out of school are leading to fluctuating member numbers within clubs. So when developing new strategies in promotion/membership, clubs need to understand the barriers that restrict members of the community from playing tennis.
Rick – What trends do sporting clubs need to be aware of moving forward?
Dan – All sports are in a constant battle for participants. Modified sports with shorter seasons or pay and play opportunities that people can fit within their busy lives will continue to be in demand. More recently the rise in the profile and level of competitions for women in traditional men’s sports has been significant and this growth will continue for a little while yet. This trend in particular has a significant impact on the facility needs and the increase in demand for a facility. Clubs also need to be looking for opportunities to share services, facilities, administration and promotion with other sports clubs within your reserve or community. Also, ensuring that facilities are well designed and functional will go a long way to helping to recruit volunteers and retain volunteers within the club into the future.
Rick – How do clubs find more players/participants?
Dan – Numbers of tennis participants and people wanting to be participants significantly increases during events such as the Australian Open and Wimbledon (especially if an Australian player is doing well) and clubs need to develop and implement well planned strategies to firstly get these people hitting balls and secondly to keep these people playing tennis past the period of their original interest. These might be in the form of providing tennis opportunities to busy people such as week night comps, pay and play options or even making available and promoting a free access court or two within your complex all the time or at certain times of the week.
People stop playing a sport if they feel they are not getting any better, they cannot find someone to play with that is of similar ability to themselves or that there are no competitions or social opportunities that suit them. Well considered programming, targeted coaching and providing a friendly sociable environment where people can meet new players more easily can all contribute to reducing the“drop out” rate in the sport.
Rick – What about the club facility or clubhouse, what is important here?
Dan – People are also attracted to a sport such as tennis when the facility is well presented and maintained, signage is well positioned and updated regularly with new information about events and opportunities and when they regularly see others playing and enjoying themselves.
Signage and promotion related to the tennis club, membership, coaching and other playing opportunities within the club environment need to be clearly displayed and members and visitors need to feel welcome at the facility.
I think it is also important for clubs to be open to non-tennis groups utilising courts and social rooms/clubhouses. These might include any number of community groups and potentially groups who would use the courts for other recreational activities. This is not only an opportunity for another income stream when tennis is not using the courts but an opportunity to get new people through the gates to see what a tennis club has on offer.
Rick – Do you think clubs will be volunteer run into the future or linked with private management or a combination?
Dan – I think tennis clubs will always have and need to have a volunteer element to them. More and more clubs are working towards getting a club coach on board leasing courts at certain periods of the week. These coaches promote the sport in the suburb or town which is great for the sport and helps bring people into contact with the club. Providing the non-member resident who is being coached at the club with opportunities to become a member or competition player or providing the social feeling around the club is likely to remain the role of a volunteer.
Rick – What are the most important things a club can do when it comes to obtaining funding?
Dan – The most important thing for a club to do when it comes to funding is to:
- Strategically plan what you would like or need to develop to achieve your goals and objectives
- Research the funding opportunities available
- Develop and maintain a good relationship and have regular dialogue with state government sports departments, local governments and your state sporting organisation.
- Ensure that your project meets the criteria set by the funding opportunity.
Rick – What types of funding opportunities are there for tennis clubs?
Dan – One important funding opportunity for well organised clubs, local government and schools is the Tennis Australia National Court rebate scheme. This program aims to stimulate progressive facility developments in line with the Tennis 2020 National Facility Development and Management Framework.
Other funding for tennis clubs can be sourced from State and Territory Sport and Recreation Departments. These funding opportunities can range from larger amounts for facility developments, funding that clubs can use to aid in developing and running community programs (especially those that aim to get people from diverse backgrounds into tennis and activity in general) and smaller grants that can provide uniforms, equipment, small infrastructure projects and major event projects.
Rick – What type of strategic planning does a club need to do?
Dan – The club environment, facilities, and operations should be reviewed by a club regularly. 5 Key areas that I believe a club should review that relate to the club environment and operations and the development of new initiatives include:
- Areas related to club membership
Clubs will look at ways to maintain or increase member numbers, increase membership in certain age groups not well represented in your club, identify parts of the community that are not represented at your club, identify additional benefits that a membership may provide, review the current member categories and consider if changes are required, consider and assess the trends in other sports and look at how other sports/clubs are attracting members.
- Tennis opportunities, competitions and participation
Clubs would consider the success or failure of different levels of competitions and tennis opportunities conducted by the club such as social tennis, junior programs, coaching programs and opportunities for community tennis as well as intra and inter club pennant and structured competitions.
- Courts, lights, fencing and surrounding environments including clubhouses and other building structures.
Clubs need to ensure that the facilities continue to be appropriate for the level of sport currently played at the facility or that the club intends to be played at the facility in the future.
Clubs need to work towards developing a strategic approach to the replacement or development of key facility elements.
- Club communication and marketing initiatives
Understanding and communicating with current members, your community, your sponsors (both current and potential), your key stakeholders such as state sporting bodies, local government and funding bodies is almost the most important thing that you will do as a club.
- Governance and finance
Again, another area related closely with all other areas. Ensuring that your committee and sub-committees understand their roles and responsibilities, be open minded and continue to develop the club in a positive way while aiming to meet the clubs mission, vision and strategic goals.
Financially, it is essential that clubs develop financial plans that allow the development and replacement of essential infrastructure such as courts, lights, buildings and surrounding environments.
Rick – So Dan if a tennis club or local government need help with planning for their sporting club, how can they get in touch with you to discuss further?
Thanks for your time Dan