3 major stress points of a tennis coaching business.
Unofficially I started my first tennis business as a 15 year old. Summertown tennis club was a local club with a handful of teams playing in the Adelaide Hills league. The netball poles would be carried away and the nets would go back up for the summer. Clearly there was a severe shortage of coach options for that year and as a relatively strong teenage player, I was asked if I would be happy to help out with their junior lessons. From that point moving forwards I always had tennis lessons as a way I could earn money.
After playing NCAA College Tennis for a year and then dropping out of my business marketing degree, I went fulltime tennis coach working in Darwin during my Junior Development (Level 1) course and then Perth for my Club Professional (Level 2) course before coaching at Next Generation Cambridge in the UK. At 25 years old I won the contract to be the Club Coach at Scarborough Tennis Club back in Western Australia and my ‘real’ business journey started.
Scarborough Tennis Academy built up quickly, being driven mostly by my energy and enthusiasm. I was driven to succeed but also driven NOT to fail so almost frantically I grew school programs all over the community which started feeding the club program. The coaching team expanded as did the junior club membership. We have been fortunate to have some outside recognition with a City of Stirling business award finalist, some Tennis West Club Coaching awards over the years and more recently we have been successful in our junior pennant results winning more than any other club.
On one hand this has been beyond my wildest expectations and on the other hand, it’s exactly how I envisioned it to be. When I dropped out of university I decided I would become the best tennis coach I could be and then start my own business. It’s hard to describe but I always knew I could make somewhat of a success of a tennis coaching business but the results have compounded over the years as I have got sharper, wiser and clearer on our purpose and goals.
But there are parts of the journey of a Club Coach or Director of Coaching which are really difficult. These issues will end many tennis careers or businesses. As for any business owner, there is always something to work on and anxiety and stress will rear its ugly head from time to time. You can though create a strategy to help overcome these stress points.
Note – these stress points do not include a lack of clients or customers which is a different problem altogether.
Stress point #1 – Overworking and not delegating
The first couple of years I was doing 7 days a week. I was coaching as many hours as I could get as well as stringing racquets, administering the program and running junior pennants on Sunday. This can be important in a start-up phase to make sure you are across all parts of the club coaching role. But it’s also not sustainable and we need down time to rest our bodies as well as our minds. To sustainably run any coaching business you need at least one day completely away from tennis. To sustainably build a large, long term coaching business you need multiple staff and support and need to focus your energy on what you do best.
Strategy – Train someone to help out as your coaching assistant. Create a system of what needs to be done and train another coach to take that coaching shift or that pennant supervision. Yes this will mean that you will not earn as much money for that shift BUT it ensures you have some balance to rest your body and mind. As your business grows this first stage of getting comfortable with delegating serves an important reminder of what is required to grow your business. Off the court, you need to also think of ways to delegate. Unless you really love the administration side (and are quick and efficient) then you should be looking at how to get help. This can involve a part time office manager position as well as a bookkeeper to handle all your administration and financial obligations to the ATO and to your staff. Again this comes at a cost but by not doing it that comes with an opportunity cost.
Stress point #2 – Staff
I know how important my coaching team to being able to scale the program. I have had some fantastic coaches over the years and many who started with no coaching know how and kept improving year after year. But replacing coaches or adding new coaches I find overwhelming. We are in a tricky little niche of an industry and good coaches are generally hard to come by. This is due to so many just not trusting or believing that a full time career as a tennis coach is possible and other casual coaches who just want to earn some quick cash by playing ‘jail’ or ‘skeleton’ over and over again so they have some money for the weekends or to go travel.
Strategy – As the owner of the business you need to be professional on what type of role you have at your club. To attract someone to a fulltime position you need to provide financial security, professional development opportunities and a fun and rewarding coaching role. This carries risk and if you do not generate enough lessons then you will slowly bleed $. For casual part time coaches you may need to do more in house training and ensure that all coaches are on the same page so that one mini lesson with one coach is not totally different from your other coach on a different day or court. A few years ago I worked with a graphic designer to create a ‘Coach Pack’ document which covers all sorts of areas from pay rates to academy values through to coach fundamentals.
Stress point #3 – Rain
Each winter I question why I am still in tennis coaching. Cancelling lessons can be great when you just a coach and suddenly have a free afternoon to catch up with mates but as a business owner it’s depressing, inconvenient, a letdown to customers and a financial loss for the business. At Scarborough Tennis Academy, any private lesson or squad session that is cancelled due to rain is applied as a credit on the next terms invoice. So effectively all of that income for privates or squad sessions from the cancellations is literally washed away. For our Hotshots programs, we run a makeup session on Sunday mornings and the school holidays so this section of the business is protected from the income loss. The weather cancellations also affect your coaches hours for the week which for your casual staff is just the way it is but for coaches on a retainer or a fulltime position puts the pressure back on you as the business owner to make sure you provide more hours or have earned enough income for the week. You also will often have a club lease adding more financial pressure to the business.
Strategy – The best strategy is to have a retractable roof! But given this is clearly not realistic for 99.9% of facilities, you simply have to deal with the cancellations and have a clear and firm weather policy. Our weather policy is explained in detail here but in essence it involves a system message sent 30 minutes before the session IF the session has been cancelled. No message sent then the lesson is on. There are times still that we have to cancel courtside but we do try and save parents the hassle of turning up for no reason. Before this policy was refined I remember getting phone after phone call and voice message after voice message, wondering if it’s running. As far as making sure your coaches are looked after hours wise you need to allow for up to 25% of lessons to be cancelled over winter. So if you’re aiming on 30 hours then schedule 37 hours, aiming on 15 hours then schedule 19 hours. On more extreme wet weeks I have resorted to providing some YouTube videos/online learning to supplement any contracted hours or retainer.
These strategies will help but are no guarantee for a long term successful coaching business. It’s actually a very tricky industry and requires lots of working on your business as well as in your business. We have recently had a lot of cancelled sessions and I need to start the process of recruiting a new fulltime coach for 2024 so its fair to say these stress points are never far away.
Director of Coaching