Hiring a new Tennis or Racquets Director? First read these tips from an Industry Search Professional and USPTA Master Professional.
Author: Mark McMahon, USPTA Master Professional
One task certain to raise the stress level of a manager is hiring a new Tennis or Racquets Director. Whether it was the club’s choice to make the change or not, just thinking about all that needs to be done to find the right person can be overwhelming.
The good news is there have never been more ways to get the word out. And the bad news? Well, there has never been more ways to get out the word! One Manager shared with me that his original Director of Tennis job posting generated over 150 resumes!
The two major teaching pro associations, United States Professional Tennis Association (www.uspta.com) and Professional Tennis Registry (www.ptrtennis.org) have made enhancements to their job-posting sites in recent years and offer clubs a no-cost way to advertise their position to 15,000+ teaching pros who might be searching for a new position. There are also more than 20 commercial sites however none offer advice or assistance with the search process, they only post job listings.
The question for even the most seasoned club manager is how to identify the most qualified pool of viable candidates to put in front of the search committee.
Your program likely has different needs and priorities now than when the position was last filled. Finding candidates who possess the relevant skills, have proven and verifiable success in a similar role, and who are at an appropriate phase of their career to have your open position can be a daunting task.
Most candidates likely hold a degree in something other than being the department head of tennis at a private club! They probably started as an assistant or associate pro and advanced up the ladder. Almost all will have played competitive tennis, and may continue to play, some at a very high level. Needless to say, all will profess to be friendly, enthusiastic and energetic! This article offers some suggestions to help you separate the good from the great.
Finding and selecting the right Tennis or Racquets Director is like putting together a great dish. Even if you have a recipe, the list of ingredients, and step by step instructions, not everyone can follow that recipe and produce a great result.
Your club employs an experienced and accomplished Chef because great outcomes require expertise and the ability to work beyond the step by step instructions. Your Chef considers the freshness or availability of certain ingredients, mixing in the right sequence, cooking at an exact temperature and for the right amount of time, and ultimately plating the dish to appeal to your unique and discerning membership. Working creatively and navigating these nuances produces a result that gets people talking positively. Like an executive chef, you need to be able to successful navigate the nuances when seeking the perfect new Director.
With that said, there is indeed a ‘recipe’ and ‘list of ingredients’ for making the perfect “Director Dish”!
For a Tennis Director or Director of Racquets, an easy benchmark to consider for your “first cut” is professional certification. Start by considering only candidates who hold the highest level of certification from their respective professional organization.
The specific skills required for your new Director to succeed willdiffer from club to club, depending on the many unique needs of your tennis program as it is today. As suggested earlier, those needs are likely not the same as when the club hired the previous Director.
When identifying the ideal skill set of your candidate pool, the manager and search committee should consider the different player types, player levels and playing patterns of the club membership. Search Committees can help, and sometimes hinder this aspect of selection – particularly if this group represents only one or two of the different tennis playing groups at the club. For this reason, it’s critical that the Search Committee members represent a diverse cross-section of the tennis-playing membership. Only then can a thorough assessment of the existing program – pros & cons, be completed. After clearly defining a realistic set of expectations and priorities for the new Director, you’re ready to match those expectations against the appropriate skills and experience of your candidates.
Every applicant for your open position will claim to have proven teaching skills, creative programming expertise and exemplary member service. These all are important and any professional you would seriously consider will undoubtedly exhibit all of these traits. The most successful searches however rely on a much deeper exploration of each skill set. Using just these three examples, here are some follow up research questions that can be aligned with your assessment outcome to increase your chances of a successful search.
Proven Teaching Skills?
§ What level of player(s)
§ What type of environment
§ For what purpose – competitive or social?
§ To what level?
§ How did players respond?
§ For what player type(s) did the candidate develop creative programming?
§ When (days and times) did the programming take place?
§ How well attended was the programming?
§ How did the programming change over time in response to member feedback?
§ How was feedback about the programming gathered?
§ How satisfied were each tennis playing group?
Exemplary Member Service?
§ From what perspective was the candidate’s member service considered exemplary?
§ How was the level of service judged to be exemplary – and by whom?
§ How is the candidate likely to respond to any challenges to the level of service provided?
Another sometimes challenging scenario revolves around the agreed upon future priorities for the program. As an example, let’s say the Tennis Committee determines that the club needs “a much better junior program” and you include this as part of the criteria in your job posting.
Let’s also assume for the sake of the example that a member of the Search Committee is the parent of a highly ranked junior player. When the Committee meets for the first time, the parent recommends that the club should seriously consider the tennis pro who coaches his son as the new Director. You ultimately receive a resume from this pro and see that in his 20 years of experience he’s coached multiple state champions and several nationally ranked players. You also notice that he’s had short (2 – 4 years) stints at several exclusive clubs considered similar to your club, and has spent the last five years at a club with a large pool of top state-ranked and section-ranked juniors. Any warning bells? Could this be your new Director?
This professional may be a genius with juniors, but what about his work with adult players? What about his relationships with club superiors? If he intends to focus heavily on building the junior program at your club, does he have the management skills to ensure that other parts of the program are successfully managed by his direct reports? Hiring someone with verifiable experience and success in an area you have identified as needing improvement is critical. The trick though is to accomplish this without a cost to other, currently successful, areas of your operation.
APPROPRIATE CAREER PHASE
In my 25-year career as a club tennis professional I was employed at five different clubs. My tenure at each club, in order, was 1 year, 2 years, 8 years, 3 years and 12 years. I considered each move a “step up”. The last move, after only 3 years, had nothing to do with compensation and everything to do with work/life balance and member demographics. This last move was driven by a personal career phase motivation.
As you consider your pool of candidates and the skills needed, it’s also important to also think about how long your choice is likely stay with you. As private clubs begin to look at a new generation of tennis directors, it’s important to consider how your position (including responsibility, status and compensation) matches with the career phase of this candidate pool. It’s quite possible that your search may not result in hiring the pro with the best playing record or most well-known. Instead it might be someone who, within his or her career, is ideally positioned for exactly the type of position you’re offering.
PERSONALITY / CULTURAL FIT
How can you accurately measure the ambiguous criteria of personality and cultural fit of a candidate? Tennis pros are experts at “talking the talk” and it’s a good bet that you’ll be confronted with a choice of “friendly, friendly and friendly” when comparing the personalities of candidates. The better question to ask is, “Can this candidate walk the walk”? But, how can you really know?
While not easy to do, one thing I always look for when conducting reference calls is to try and talk with people who have played tennis with the candidate. It may be a college team-mate from long ago, but like the proverbial leopard, the spots of personality are very hard to alter and like golf, the game of tennis definitely reveals a lot about the personality of those who play. Speaking with a former tournament colleague, school teammate or club member can say much about how your candidate will respond to pressure, maintain perspective and in general “get along” with co-workers and members.
The second consideration, and maybe the most important reading you can get regarding personality and cultural fit is what I call the “sitting on the porch” test. Ask yourself if your candidate be comfortable sitting on the porch (or in a formal dining room, if appropriate) with you, your tennis chairperson or the captain of the club’s A-level women’s team and making small talk? The issues that normally trip up even the best tennis pros often have more to do with “sitting on the porch” than “sitting courtside.” In every search project, I make it a point to spend time with the candidate talking about the things he / she enjoys experiencing outside of the club. This is just one way to get to know your candidates outside of the structured environment of an interview.
Knowing where to list your open position; having a solid understanding of the education, experience and certification level the new pro should have; and having a high number of experienced candidates to select from, represents only the fundamentals around a great process for hiring a new director of tennis. There is much more. Like an executive chef, you need a recipe, a list of ingredients and to sort through the range of nuances and variables that will certainly attempt to destroy the taste of your new dish.
McMahon offers clubs who are planning to hire a Director a Complimentary telephone consultation with no obligation. The McMahon Pre-Hire Consultation includes a review of your club’s goals for the program; an outline of the critical components of a successful search for a Director including esitimated hiring timeline; industry benchmarks on the responsibilities and expectations of the position; feedback on the proposed compensation components / package; and review of how the right professional will help your club accomplish the goals for your program. Call Mark McMahon 404-271-3088 to schedule.
With more than 30 years of success in private clubs and the tennis industry, Mark McMahon is the president of McMahon & Associates, a search consulting practice for tennis and racquet sports in private clubs. Mark personally manages each Director of Tennis and Director of Racquets retained-search assignment. McMahon and Associates has completed searches for clubs across the country including Greenwich Country Club, Wee Burn Country Club and St. Louis Country Club. McMahon’s broad experience includes directing the tennis operations at Boca West Country Club in Florida and Dunwoody Country Club in Atlanta. McMahon was a founding faculty member of the CMAA Sports Management Education Program and has presented workshops and seminars worldwide, including the CMAA World Conference. A Vice President and Board Member and Division President for the USPTA, McMahon has been recognized as International Pro of the Year and is a recipient of the USTA Tennis Facility of the Year for Private Clubs. McMahon launched and directed a team of 60 tennis consultants (Tennis Service Representatives) for the USTA before launching McMahon & Associates in 2008. Mark may be reached at (404) 271-3088 email@example.com