| By Brett Bothwell

A recent article by Fritz Buehning in the January/February 2013 issue of New York Tennis Magazine on string technology was a refreshing reminder of how important it is for tennis professionals and coaches at the grassroots level to stay informed and to take a lead in educating the tennis community regarding equipment and technological advances. Strings, racquets, balls and even sneakers have become very player-specific, and it’s essential for professionals to take an active role in matching players up with the appropriate “tools” to play. Injuries can occur and even player retention/participation can suffer greatly if players aren’t given proper guidance.
The role of “educator” is an obvious one for teaching professionals, and it’s a role pros must embrace with as much regard for equipment as for stroke production. There are lots of ways to hit a tennis ball and pros serve as information filters everyday when considering how to teach. In this same manner, pros can serve as filters regarding equipment and technical information as well. It’s not enough for pros to be merely vehicles of commerce. The tennis community needs more precise guidance and the natural place to get it is from tennis professionals. Ideally, pros are continually sifting through the latest information, in fact are seeking it out, in order to help players find the “best fit” possible.

Players who are mismatched with their equipment, particularly a racquet or string, are far more susceptible to injury. Thoughtless recommendations can be dangerous, making the tennis industry itself vulnerable to harm. According to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), approximately 30 percent of frequent player participation is lost each year due to injury. For the industry as a whole, that’s a big number: less court time sold, fewer balls sold, etc. Pros can form the last line of defense at the grass-roots level, and just as a coach on the court must be alert to a problematic stroke technique, a coach must also be alert to an equipment-player mismatch.

Should a 3.5 Level player swinging a racquet at a fraction of Rafa’s swing speed, and who is half the weight of Rafa, and who is a mortal being unlike Rafa, use the same string and the same type of racquet as Rafa? Most of the time the answer should be “No,” yet this combination of player and equipment can be found on tennis courts everywhere. This is inexcusable, and it’s the responsibility of teachers and coaches to intervene and to open up a conversation which leads to smarter consumer decisions, for the benefit of all.

There are certainly instances when a player will insist on using inappropriate equipment in spite of a credible recommendation otherwise, but the frequency of mismatches suggests the lack of an active dialogue. There is no doubt that players can be persuaded by direct appeals from manufacturers, but more often than not, tennis pros and/or stringers are the final customer consultation regarding an equipment purchase, and if the pro is armed with a solid knowledge base, then a sound recommendation is likely to hit home. A proper equipment fit can make tennis easier to play and making the game easier leads to a greater conversion rate of casual participants to frequent players. A good example of this is 10 & Under tennis. The equipment has been scaled down to fit the small scale of the children making the game much more engaging and enjoyable. It’s not an accident that the conversion rate of 10 & Under kids to frequently playing juniors is significantly on the rise. The same principle applies to fitting adults for equipment. The likelihood of a beginning adult enjoying the game and embracing it as a game for life is much greater if they’re using an appropriate beginner racquet and string, and maybe even a special ball. These are decisions that pros must actively engage in for the greater good of the game.

“According to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), approximately 30 percent of frequent player participation is lost each year due to injury.”

In order to maximize everyone’s enjoyment of tennis and to grow the game, coaches and teaching professionals must embrace their role as guardians of the tennis community. It’s not enough to sell the latest stuff because it’s readily available. Pros must seize the opportunity to do more, and to make themselves an even greater asset to the game by taking responsibility for fitting players with appropriate equipment. Just as pros and coaches spend time training to play and to teach, they must take time as well to understand the impact and implications of new products and technologies in order to make sound recommendations to the playing community.

Brett Bothwell

<p>Brett Bothwell is founder and director of BOLT Sports, and senior staff pro, USPTA for Roosevelt Island Racquet Club. He may be reached by phone at (877) 430-BOLT, e-mail <a href="mailto:contact@bolt-sports.com">contact@bolt-sports.com</a> or visit <a href="http://www.boltadvance.com">www.boltadvance.com</a>.</p>