August 2007 -- Cardio Tennis programs are easy to start, expand and customize because teaching pros can target specific student groups.
Popular subcategories include: team, beginner (aka starter), advanced, extreme, kids, singles, family and senior Cardio Tennis. Many pros have already built their own customized program to suit their facility, staff and client interests.
Fitness for tennis and tennis for fitness
Concentrating on a Cardio Tennis subgroup helps develop new players by drawing from the more than 56 million participants in the immense fitness industry. We have only just begun to scratch the surface in prospecting this proverbial goldmine of new players.
Tennis, like all traditional sports, has a perception problem to overcome. Only one in four people, tennis players and nonplayers alike, perceives tennis as a fitness activity. Cardio Tennis has the ability to change this perception and potentially create a "modern tennis boom" if we develop the right mind-set and functional process to achieve this goal.
Integration of tennis with the fitness industry
Approximately half of all fitness club members engage in aerobic activities, both in classes and on machines, as their primary use of the facility. Even many "purist tennis clubs" have expanded their fitness facilities at least once over the last 15 years. Example: A former tennis-only facility built in the mid-1980s now has more than 6,000 members, but fewer than 300 are tennis members using the 14 courts. As the saying goes, "If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em," and Cardio Tennis leads the way.
Successfully converting fitness enthusiasts into tennis members requires targeting the beginner or, in more label-friendly terminology, "starter" players. We know from extensive research that starters have a low retention rate directly related to their initial experience with tennis. In other words, many quit. The 2005 USTA/TIA Participation Study showed that 76 percent of people who tried tennis without instruction and even 51 percent who began in a structured program never picked up a racquet again.
How: fun and fitness over intimidation, and initial skill acquisition
Cardio Tennis can significantly improve those retention numbers and increase the total number of players by attracting - and keeping - more "samplers" from the aerobic-oriented public. Cardio Tennis is less intimidating than traditional tennis because of fun games, properly selected drills, less "tech talk," and the use of starter equipment such as low-compression and foam balls and short courts. This approach produces less performance anxiety and more excitement.
The 2006 USPTA World Conference in Las Vegas featured an eye-opening general session by Jack Groppel, Ph.D., on "The Health Benefits of Tennis." This USPTA Master Professional offered many reasons why tennis, particularly Cardio Tennis, is an excellent and marketable form of exercise. He explained that the No. 1 reason nonplayers said they could be tempted by tennis was "getting a good workout." Tennis is a form of interval training that incorporates diversified, functional movement patterns, Groppel pointed out. It would take quite an array of boring aerobic machines to duplicate all the movements seen in an hour of tennis!
Survey says .
By now, most pros have learned of the TIA/USTA national studies comparing heart rates in Cardio Tennis to those of singles and doubles players. The results demonstrated Cardio Tennis burns the most calories and creates the highest aerobic benefit. More recently, a pilot study was conducted comparing Cardio Tennis to traditional aerobic classes. This pilot study combined caloric expenditure with subjective values of the participants, who had an average NTRP rating of 2.4.
The results indicated that the participants, who were recruited directly from step classes and boot camps, 10 percent to 15 percent more calories, had a 15 percent to 25 percent greater enjoyment level, and 10 percent to 20 percent less (perceived) exertion in Cardio Tennis. Translation: They had more fun - working out harder - in Cardio Tennis!
Putting this information into play.
Does your facility offer aerobic classes?
As the Cardio Tennis fitness and research adviser, I was appointed to conduct the pilot study comparing other popular aerobic classes to Cardio Tennis. The initial challenge was recruiting the subjects. First, looking for the easy path, I approached the players in my regular Cardio Tennis classes.
One morning I arrived a little earlier than usual to discover the aerobics instructor who teaches boot camp using one of the indoor courts for her class due to its large size and the inclement weather. There were more people (23) on that one court exercising than all of the tennis players using the other 10 indoor courts combined! Ding! I asked the instructor if she would be interested in having this class try Cardio Tennis as a change-up for a couple of the normally scheduled classes. The answer was a vibrant "Yes!" Like many tennis pros, she enjoyed a change and so did the fitness members. A new early-bird Cardio Tennis class was born and I had my first group of subjects for that pilot study!
The aerobics instructors came to me. We all know the power of word-of-mouth, and both fitness members and instructors do talk. Within the following week of the "boot camp revelation," the fitness director approached me wanting to add Cardio Tennis to the slate of aerobic class programming. Initially, I played a little hard to get, just enough to guarantee profitability and another subject group (a former step class) for the study. Cardio Tennis was then positioned prominently in the fitness brochures, fitness segments of the monthly newsletter and in local advertising, as well as on the bulletin board and facility Web site. These marketing expenses were budgeted and tasked (with my input) to the fitness department.
Study done! And I had fun, new equipment sales, additional private lessons, and new Cardio Tennis classes at a high profit! One of my observations from fitness-oriented starter groups was more of the participants owned heart rate monitors than racquets. It didn’t take my pro shop long to address that incongruity! Note: HEAD and other manufacturers now make inexpensive adult racquets that are well suited for starter group loaners. The www.partners.cardiotennis.com Web site lists a discounted sponsor offer from HEAD Penn: Ti Agassi @$16 and the Ti Radical Elite for $24.
With pilot-study class sizes between 18-23 and just me (as the only tennis pro), I was concerned about maintaining the quality. Much to my relief, I discovered I could lead that many, even on a single court with the aid of a fitness instructor and enough appropriate sideline exercise props and stations. More significantly, the participants had a blast and burned more calories than my lower-ratio traditional Cardio Tennis classes. Another interesting observation was the large-group fun factor; I found the larger scale group interaction was infectiously enjoyable and less intimidating. The participants of lesser natural ability seemed unaffected by any errors. I would, however, recommend starting with lower ratios until you are more comfortable and confident leading a mega-class.
Since then, the tennis staff acquired skills from the fitness instructors on how to better run sideline exercises and conduct large fitness-oriented groups. This provides professional development and more work opportunities for the assistant pros. Also, becoming a USPTA Sport Science Specialist is another asset that would greatly enhance your knowledge and credibility, build up the fitness factor, and provide proficiency working with advanced players in the modern, more physical game.
Pro Penn Stars balls for starters
I discovered my Playmate ball machines could shoot the Pro Penn low-compression Stars balls we were already using for Cardio Tennis. The machine made it easier to have more participants and use extra court stations. I was concerned the Stars balls would jam in the machine like dead balls, but soon discovered that was not the case and the feeds were actually more even than with regular balls. Stan Oley is working on creating a "Ball Machine Drill Inventory" specifically for Cardio Tennis.
Designing and adjusting drills to fitness and skill level was quite easy. In a simple side-to-side volley drill, highly fit players moved along the service line, where they had to run farther and bend lower, while the less fit moved much closer to the net. This can also be applied effectively in elevating or decreasing individual heart rates to remain in the target-heart-rate zone. Skill level can be controlled by volley type and target difficulty. Players quickly learn the advantage of closing in on the net.
Moral of this whole story: "One hand washes the other." The fitness department was happy to add and support Cardio Tennis as part of its programming. The general manager and board realized they could better compete against the fitness-only facilities by marketing Cardio Tennis as fitness programming. The tennis department had new and increased streams of revenue from a tennis clinic disguised as a fitness class. Or is it the other way around? Both, but who cares!
I try to regularly meet with the fitness director and both departments’ staff to coordinate schedules and cultivate a healthy inter-department/industry relationship to grow the game, and also plan what to do with those fitness-seeking starters after they are hooked and ready for the next level!
A good time to schedule tennis activities for the fitness seeker is anytime the facility has high utilization of aerobic classes or equipment. While I found my best opportunity was with the abundant early weekday exercisers, when I also had more courts and staff available, you need to evaluate your own facility’s patterns and potential.
David Robinson holds a Pro 1 rating in the USPTA. He is certified as a fitness trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine, National Sports Performance Association and the American Council on Exercise.