Learn what it takes to attract crowds of players
By Mary Helen Sprecher
Almost any park can have playable tennis courts, ones that are well-maintained and can provide a good game, but parks that want a tennis complex that actually draws people in are going to have to put in some extra effort. If you want a “new and improved” tennis season, let’s get started.
From The Outside Looking In
Look around for a minute. As long as courts are clean and well-maintained, you shouldn't see, well, anything. There should be nothing that catches your eye--debris on the surface, stains, cracks, digs, or dings. A player should be able to concentrate on his or her game without any distraction. Note: Nets also should be clean, crisp-looking, and even, without drooping in the middle, without holes in the fabric, or torn or dirty headbands.
Next, take a look at the periphery of the courts. If they are lit, make sure all the lights are working, and working evenly.Readingsshould be taken with a light meter from various areas around each court. Inspect the fence too, ensuring there are no bulges, sagging rails, rusted spots, or areas where the fence fabric has sharp edges or burrs.
Make sure the windscreen is straight, and is fastened tightly to the fence to prevent it from flapping and becoming damaged.
Some of these problems are easy fixes, but others, like identifying the cause of a crack and providing a recommendation for the correct type of repair, are best left to a tennis-court contractor.
The person who originally installed the courts is a good contact; if that person is unavailable, check with colleagues for the name of a reputable sports-specialty contractor. A tennis court is actually a highly specialized installation, and a general contractor may not have the expertise necessary to do it correctly.
One word of caution: Use tennis courts only for their intended purpose. Don't allow inline skating, basketball, skateboarding, or any other use; doing so will lead to a decline in player population and damage to the courts.
Courts For Young Players
One of the growth areas for tennis is children's play. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has championed 10 and Under Tennis (10U) using the QuickStart Tennis (QST) format, which advocates shorter courts, lower nets, and softer balls to allow children to play the game sooner and master the strokes earlier. Kids love it because they can actually play short games against their friends, rather than simply practicing hitting drills.
The format allows the lines for 10U play to be painted on regular courts. While some facilities have designated shorter-sized courts for children, many facilities find it just as easy, and much more economical, to have lines painted on existing courts.
“It actually doesn't cost much to line a court for 10U play,” says Mark Brogan of Pro-Sport Construction Inc., inDevon,Penn.“On average, I think people are charging less than $500. You have to figure a club is going to make that up in the first set of group lessons they book.”
Brogan, chairman of the American Sports Builders Association, says he has yet to hear complaints from a customer who has had the new lines put on. In part, this is because lines for 10U play are generally a different color from those of the existing lines, and are unobtrusive to those who have been playing for years.
The book, Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual , notes that while the use of dedicated QST courts is preferred, “both the ITF [International Tennis Federation] and USTA agree that painting QuickStart lines on 78-foot tennis courts is acceptable, even on courts used for competition, except those used for Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and ITF-sanctioned matches. Painted lines for QuickStart courts should be a color within the same color family of the 78-foot court surface (e.g., light-blue on a dark-blue court). This differentiates QuickStart playing lines from the lines of the 78-foot court.”
If the playing lines on the regular court are white, for example, the new lines should not be white, nor be any other color that might easily be mistaken for white (such as grey).
“We have striped a lot of shared lines on various colored courts,” says Lee Murray of Competition Athletic Surfaces inChattanooga,Tenn.“Using a color several shades darker than the playing area is the best solution. Adult players aren’t as distracted when the Quick Start lines are darker than the playing area and farther from the color of the white lines.”
Complete information, including court diagrams, can be found at www.10andundertennis.com/
The Learning Experience
To reinforce the facility's ability to host new players, make it welcoming to those who want to teach. This type of court should have the following:
- Electrical outlets. These are helpful for using teaching equipment, such as ball machines. If several courts are in a battery, there should be multiple outlets so extension cords don't have to be used any more than necessary.
- A sound system. It's useful for many things, including giving instructions. If your facility sponsors Cardio Tennis, a pro will be able to use upbeat music to encourage players to keep moving.
- A hitting wall, rebound net or backboard, to allow players to groove their strokes.
Other useful amenities, not necessarily tied to teaching, include benches or tables so players can rest, and storage lockers so phones, mp3 players, and keys can be safely stowed. A secure area where the pro can keep his or her equipment is also useful. Having a clock by the courts will help pros and players.
As a side note, some tennis-court builders advocate higher fencing around courts used by new players. Others, noting those players with developing skills may be self-conscious, recommend keeping “beginner courts” as private as possible by using a windscreen, divider netting, and other equipment.
The Watching Game
In courts used by players who may have more experience, spectator seating is a nice amenity. This can range from an outdoor ”lounge” area where individuals can wait for a court or watch a casual match in progress, to a more-competitive stadium court, with bleacher-style seating.
Shaded seating is always appreciated, as are amenities like water fountains, restrooms, and a pro shop. The level of amenities provided will, of course, be tied to the budget of the municipality. Some facilities regard a tennis court as more of a do-it-yourself fixture (much like a basketball court) that players use on a first-come, first-served basis, while others use timed reservations and are more program-oriented.
Bringing In The People
A park director's nightmare is having unused or underused facilities, despite having provided resources to improve them. So, ultimately, once the tennis complex is in good repair, and the proper amenities are in place, what helps bring in people? The old philosophy of “If you build it, they will come” doesn't generally hold true.
Bring in people by creating awareness, say the pros. Schedule play dates, “try tennis” events, a mini-tournament, or a pro-am, or ask a local tennis shop about partnering for a “demo day” to showcase new racquets, grips, strings, and shoes. The most important thing is to make people aware of the facility, get them to it, and then keep them coming back.
Your tennis complex may include two, four, six, eight, or many more courts. No matter how many you have, getting them filled and keeping them filled is the best recipe for success.
Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter inBaltimore,Md.