Tennis is a great game, and recent estimates put the number of people in the world who watch or play tennis in excess of a billion. An awful lot of those fans are could be keen to pick up a racket themselves, but it’s also a game with a steep learning curve. Whilst a child can start kicking a football around and hope to get better, they’re unlikely to make much progress with their backhand without a skilled coach to guide them.
With the celebrity status of tennis superstars like Andy Murray and Roger Federer, there’s never been a better time to start your own tennis academy. Here are some factors to consider:
The most important thing first-off is to decide on the sort of academy that you’re interested in building. The term can mean many things to many people, from a two-week summer boot camp in a local school gym to a collection of skilled coaches giving one on one tuition, to an A-grade residential programme that aims to create the champions of tomorrow.
Who you want to teach and how you want to teach them, are the most crucial questions to ask before moving forward.
Tennis isn’t like playing football, you can’t just turn up in a field with a few balls and start playing. Proper Tennis coaching requires proper, full-sized courts, and because only two to four players can use a court at once, you’re going to need a few of them if you intend to do anything more than one-on-one coaching or very small group lessons. Players aren’t going to think your academy is worth it if they have to spend all of their time queueing up for their turn on the court.
If you’re not looking to invest in infrastructure, a lot of schools will have multiple tennis courts and may be willing to rent them out during the evening or at weekends. A local tennis club might have a lack of coaches and be thrilled to find someone to partner with. There’s always the possibility of building something from scratch if you have the necessary land and capital to invest in the project, but in that case, you can easily be looking at £20,000 to 40,000 per court.
Effective, engaging, reliable coaches are absolutely essential to any successful tennis academy. Pupils, both young and old, tend to form a bond with their teachers, and if your coaches are poor communicators, or if you have a high turnover of staff, then all the students who join your new academy will feel little desire to stick around.
Most importantly, of course, your coaches need to know their tennis, because no one is going to pay a hefty coaching fee if they don’t learn anything. Good coaches keep their students engaged and make sure they’re having fun during their practice sessions. If one of your coaches starts running their students through endless repetitive drills, they’ll soon be fleeing in droves.
This is much simpler if you’re the coach yourself because you already have this angle sorted, but you’ll also need to make sure that you don’t take on too much. Don’t’ underestimate how much time it will take to organise the logistics of your academy, buy and maintain equipment, manage the finances and communicate with students (or the parents of students). If you’re running an academy, you’re a business-owner as well as a coach, and you’ll only damage your own brand if taking on too much forces you to compromise on either your teaching or your organisation. If it gets too much, don’t be afraid to hire more coaches!
This partly comes back to the quality of your coaches but is equally bound up in the design and aims of your academy. It’s all well and good to create an academy of all ages and ability levels, but if you try to throw them all in together in a single class, then a lot of students may end up miserable and – even worse – not learning anything. Tennis players learn the most when they play people who are of a comparable skill level to themselves, or slightly better. If your tiny, mixed class pairs up an eleven-year-old beginner with a six foot tall, experienced player, then you’re going to create nothing but frustration.
So make sure you think about the students you accept. If you decide to take on lots of mixed ability students, make sure you have a class design that can teach and encourage them all equally.
Equipment for a Tennis Academy can be a major task, but your decisions here will, again, be entirely reliant on the kind of academy that you’re trying to run. If you’re primarily giving one on one coaching sessions, then you can safely expect that anyone who engages your services will have their own racket. The same would be true if you were planning an elite, residential tennis Academy. However, if you’re looking to enthuse the next generation of young players, or maybe encourage a class of adult beginners, then you’ll need an inventory of rackets in different sizes and designs. The last thing you want is for an enthusiastic young student to arrive, only for their first lesson go terribly because there wasn’t a suitably sized racket for them to use. That’s the kind of first experience that puts students off for life.
After that, there will be a lot of associated paraphernalia: tennis balls, replacement grips, and perhaps something like a ball machine to help students to practice.
If these all sound like challenges you can get to grips with, then maybe starting a tennis academy is the right move for you. There are more than a billion tennis fans out there in the world, and most of them have never even held a racket – time to get started!