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Building Your College Tennis Program

Chapter 1: Building Community Support

There are many factors to building a successful program, but none may be as important as building a strong relationship with your local community. Your community is the home of your serious tennis fans, home of your potential boosters and donors. Unlike your campus/student fan base, these are the people that will be following your program for many years down the road.

How do you get your community interested in your program and how do you get them out to your matches? These are some of the areas with which our collegiate coaches have had success in gaining community support are:

Reaching out
· Working with and approaching the local tennis clubs and tennis fans
· Community youth and “Little League” tennis
· Special Scheduling

Presenting a positive public image of yourself and your team is very important in generating community support. This is an area where you can create win-win situations.

Perhaps one of the most powerful and effective ways college tennis programs have reached out to their communities and helped foster a positive image has been through the tutoring and mentoring programs. 

Four universities which are role models for such programs have been the Tenacity program at Harvard University, the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring at Stanford University, the Bear Trax program at the University of California-Berkeley, and the Taking Kids Out (TKO) Program at Princeton University. The are just four examples of programs that have helped bolster the image of the tennis programs on campus.

Harvard University tennis has helped introduce a program called Tenacity to campus and it has benefited greatly from it. Tenacity, which also uses M.I.T.’s facilities, is currently administered in the city of Boston and could serve as a template for building a modern college tennis community across the country. Tenacity is a year round youth development program that offers free tennis instruction during the summer and an intensive after-school program during the academic year. Former San Diego State tennis player Ned Eames is a Founder and Executive Director for Tenacity. For complete information on this program, please click on this link to the Tenacity web site

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring
Since 1988, the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring Program has been impacting the lives of hundreds of East Palo Alto youth. Using the unique mix of one-on-one academic tutoring and tennis instruction, EPATT strives to enrich the academic, athletic and social skills of its participants. EPATT is headquartered at Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Stadium and Stanford Tennis has been heavily involved in the program, creating a link between the Stanford teams and this inner city out-reach program. You can find out more about EPATT at
www.gostanford.comor www.stanford.edu/group/EPATT.

Taking Kids Out (TKO) Program
The TKO includes an on campus program run during the academic year at Princeton University. The program provides tutoring, mentorship and athletic instruction for children in need. The program goals are to assist disadvantaged students with their homework, provide mentorship, instill aspirations for college and assist with the development of core values through sports (including tennis). The program is intended to encourage and facilitate volunteer participation from varsity athletes and athletic department staff members, in addition to the university community at large. To find out more on how this program works you can e-mail former Princeton women's coach Louise Gengler at

Bear Trax
For the second consecutive year, Youth Tennis Advantage is partnering with U.C. Berkeley in an effort to introduce Oakland young people to the tennis and academic environment of the university campus. They will be part of a YTA partnership with the men’s and women’s tennis teams at Cal called Bear Trax. This partnership brings Oakland kids to the campus twice each week for three hours of tennis and tutoring with Cal students, including members of the Cal tennis teams. The purpose of the program is to expose Oakland children to the educational resources and new perspectives on learning at the university campus. Our hope is that we can build a bridge between Oakland neighborhoods and U.C. Berkeley. Cal Men’s Head Coach Peter Wright, Youth Tennis Advantage Board of Directors president Bob Lee and YTA Executive Director Charles Higgins formulated a plan to replicate some of the program elements of the successful EPATT program at Stanford University. The intent is to provide inner-city children exposure to the athletic and educational resources of the university. To find out more on how this program works you can e-mail Cal men's coach Peter Wright at

Additional Ideas
There may not be a better audience than your local elementary schools. Many university marketing departments have programs where they set up outings to area schools (or bring schools in). If your school already has a program in place, make sure your tennis teams are active in this. Strive to be the most active program in your athletic department with community service, or be the coach in your athletic department to get a program started. There are several messages you can put out there when speaking at schools, depending where you are. If you have trouble getting someone from your athletic department to get you started in the right direction, look in the Yellow Pages or try an Online search engine (Yahoo, Google.com, etc.) for organizations that catch your eye, such as your local American Cancer Society, your local Parks and Recreation Department, and the local Police and Fire Departments. Odds are they can use your help and would be willing to help you get started. Having your players donate time to area hospitals, shelters, etc., is also a powerful way to show that your program is important to the community..

It is always a good idea to build a strong relationship with the local tennis club(s). Contact all your clubs, hit with the members, shake hands, get them excited about the program. This is where tennis fans are – people that can fill your stands and join your booster clubs.

Tennis Clubs
“The first thing I would tell any new coach to do is contact the local country clubs,” says one coach. “This is where you can find people who have a strong interest in tennis and also where you can find strong boosters. You’ll want to contact the head tennis pro as well as the social director."

There are several ways to develop links with club. Some teams have held “home” matches at a club, others have held their pro-am fundraisers at a club.

Coaches have also set up days where they take their teams to go to the club to hit with the members, which is another way of developing a relationship. The club members now feel like they know you and your players on a more personal level and will likely be more interested in coming out to watch your matches and supporting your program. Developing those personal connections is a major part or building interest and support.

Tennis Fans
In addition to working with the clubs, you need to work with the tennis fans. Where are they? Try the local adult tennis leagues, the high school teams or the USTA Section office if it's nearby. Not only invite them to your matches, but hold a special clinic for them or "fun" play days with them. Also, think about bringing outside events to your facility, such as the adult tennis leagues or high school and junior tournaments. These are all ways to establish contact with tennis enthusiasts and get them more interested in what your program may have to offer them as fans.

Jeff Moore, the former women’s tennis coach at the University of Texas, developed a strong fan base in Austin for several years and was one of the most creative minds in collegiate tennis. Moore’s “Little League” tennis program was highly successful in getting area families interested in his Texas women’s team.

Moore borrowed from a highly successful model - Little League Baseball - to bring the team tennis concept to the Austin youth. At all levels of junior tennis, the team concept is somewhat of an afterthought. Everything is individual. As Little League Baseball has proven for the last century, it is the team concept that works well in youth sports.

Moore set up an event format where his Longhorn players served as coaches in a 3-6 dual match. He holds a tournament over a weekend. The teams are co-ed and consist of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. The winning team will face the winner of the same type of tournament played at another Central Texas location at the conference tournament at the end of the season.

Besides getting kids interested in tennis, the Little League concept worked well to create a new fan base. Since the current Longhorn players are serving as coaches they are developing relationships with the kids. The kids will in turn want to come out to the matches to see their new heroes in action and will need their parents to bring them to these matches. This is another example of the importance of developing personal relationships with the community.

All these activities make you and your team visible in the community and show you as role models. It is a win-win. You are helping others and also generating a positive image of your program within the community.

Along with developing an active fan base, you need to work a home schedule that will encourage your fans to attend your matches on a regular basis.

Obviously, your facilities can really limit what type of scheduling you can do. No lights or only four indoor courts can hinder flexibility and creativity.

Night Matches
Without any question, evening matches work best in getting fans to matches during the week.

“I’ve been resistant, but I’m finally realizing that night matches are the way to go to get fans out during the week,” says one coach. “There has been a dramatic difference in attendance at our home matches, depending on if it is held during the afternoon or during the evening.”

But what do you do if you don’t have lights at your campus facility? This might be good time to schedule one or two home matches at your local tennis club, assuming it has lights.

Some coaches have also had success piggy-backing onto home baseball games or other well-attended athletic events in close proximity to the home courts.

Also, while you might not be able to play every match on a Saturday morning or afternoon, there is no doubt that this is when teams tend to draw the best.

Weeknight and weekend afternoon matches simply make your home matches that much more accessible.

ITA Attendance Race
Started in 2008, the ITA Attendance Race recognizes the nation's top programs for total and average attendance as well as for single matches. Make fans feel like they are part of the race, they're helping your program finish in the top 5, top 10, etc.