Many people have enjoyed the benefits of an informal tennis club -- and by "club" I'm referring to a group of people within a company, community, condo association, church, or other group, that join together to play tennis (as opposed to a public or private tennis club with a building, tennis courts, etc.) Usually, the only hard part is finding the few dedicated volunteers to hold it all together -- someone to keep the challenge ladder records, organize the annual tournament, and so on. But it really doesn't have to be that hard; this essay is a guide to organizing and running your own informal tennis club. (And by the way, although tennis happens to be my interest, many of these ideas should work for any recreational sport or game.)
TENNIS CLUB ACTIVITIES
For a number of years, I have been on the tennis committee where I work, either as chairman, or in some other role. The number of people involved has varied from 40 or 50 players some years to more than 100. I have always viewed the challenge ladder as the primary activity that we sponsor. In New Jersey, we have to deal with the seasons, so we typically operate our challenge ladder from April to October, when the weather is good for outdoor play. The challenge ladder is an important concept to me, because it allows any player to find other players with whom their skill levels are compatible. This allows everybody, from the beginners to the most advanced, to have fun. It also provides the opportunity for people to improve their play, by challenging people a little above them on the ladder.
The second type of activity that we have organized is an end-of-season tournament (typically in September to early October). This allows the players who are interested in a more "competitive" event to compete for trophies, and provides a nice end to the outdoor season. We have typically offered three tournaments (A, B, and C, for the advanced, intermediate, and beginner levels) so that everyone can compete at an appropriate skill level. The results from the challenge ladder help in assigning players to the right tournament, and in seeding players as well.
Finally, we round out the season with one or two tennis parties during the winter (often in November and February). These are more social occasions, in which we rent out a tennis club for the evening, and generally play doubles tennis. It provides an opportunity for members to socialize and keep in touch with tennis friends over the winter. The November party is also the perfect opportunity to award trophies from the tournament; sometimes we have also given recognition to the "most active" or the "most improved" on the challenge ladder during the season just ended.
These three types of activities constitute our program each year -- each one provides different benefits, and appeals to different needs, and I enjoy all three of them. The challenge ladder is the foundation, providing a way for tennis players to find each other. The tournament appeals to the more competitive, while the parties provide the most social environment.
There will be some variations depending on your needs and your membership. We operate a single challenge ladder for both men and women, and indeed, I see no reason to offer separate challenge ladders in our situation. On the other hand, we sometimes offered separate tournaments, while the tournaments were "coed" in other years. At the tennis parties, we have tried to schedule traditional "mixed doubles" matches where possible, but of course, it depends on the mix of people who sign up to attend. In our group, the singles ladder has been more active than the doubles ladder (it is apparently difficult to get four people together at the same time), and in some years we haven't had a doubles tournament at all.
TENNIS CLUB ORGANIZATION
Each of the three activities is different in terms of what is required to run them. In this section, I'll discuss how to do it, as well as mentioning how computer software can help make the job easy.
The challenge ladder typically requires one individual to keep the records. We start each season with the list of players from the previous season. We also put a notice in the company newsletter at the start of the season, letting people know we exist, and telling them who to contact for more information. As people join or leave the ladder, they are added or deleted from the list accordingly. My main job is to receive scores from players, and enter the scores into the challenge ladder program. Then, once every week or two, I print off a current copy of the challenge ladder and distribute it to all the members. (The software figures out everybody's positions on the ladder, based on the reported match results.)
In the "early days," I'd print a copy of the ladder, make photocopies, and distribute them by company mail. More recently, with the widespread use of electronic mail, I can simply print the ladder to a file, and e-mail that file to all the members. Once we got away from paper, that reduced the amount of work for the ladder coordinator to almost nothing! We have found that it works best to allow individual players to set up their own matches (time and place), so the coordinator doesn't have to become involved in that. Depending on your situation, you may request that players report results using a paper form, telephone, e-mail, fax, etc.
The most important point for the ladder coordinator is to distribute the ladder listing on a frequent and regular basis. Even though we all love playing tennis, the occasional reminder helps prompt us to get out there and play more. If you don't send out the ladder frequently and on a regular basis, activity will probably decline, which will likely lead you to send it even less frequently, and so on. Don't be afraid to send out a listing even if there are no results for that period.
The tournament is a one-shot event, so there are no ongoing responsibilities such as there are for the ladder coordinator. We publicize the tournament to our members with a notice in the ladder report, as well as possibly putting a notice in the company newsletter. (If you have tournament entrants who are not on the ladder, proper assignment and seeding is more difficult; you might solve that problem by entering all such unknown players as unseeded entrants in the A tournament.) Whereas our challenge ladder has always been free for company employees and guests, we typically charge a small fee for the tournament, to cover the cost of trophies. Therefore, we need a coordinator to collect registration forms and money.
Once all the registrations are in, we assign players to the tournaments, seeding some of them. Software handles the issues of placing the seeded players in the correct spots, and randomly assigning the non-seeded players, as well as placing byes. (The number of players that sign up for our tournaments typically is not exactly a power of two -- 16 or 32, for example -- so we normally have some byes in the tournament draw.) We typically have a coordinator for each tournament, to receive scores as the matches are played, and notify players as to who their next opponents are. Because of time constraints in the tournament (we usually need to get at least one round per week), we enforce deadlines for the completion of matches, and notify players as soon as possible of their next opponent. (Sometimes we have scheduled the semifinal and final rounds to be played at a specific time and place, but we normally left the scheduling of the early rounds to the individual players.) We usually also distribute a copy of the results to the entire ladder membership.
The tennis party is also a one-time event, but is probably the most complicated to organize. For this event more than the other two, it is helpful to have a small committee (even just a couple of additional people) to help with the details. Because we rent a tennis club for a Saturday evening, we always have to charge for this event, but the price is really quite reasonable -- perhaps $15 per person. The tricky part, of course, is to guess in advance how many people will attend, so as to reserve enough court time, but not too much. (You're not aiming to make a profit here, but losing money isn't good either!) We have provided some food and beverages to accompany the socializing, and tennis balls for the players. Occasionally, members will bring a non-playing guest, for whom we charge a reduced fee. Again, you need a designated representative to collect registrations, and publicity in the newsletter for this event is a good idea (you may attract some new players to join the tennis ladder the following season).
A couple of days before the event, we create a schedule of play, so that each player will have two hours of court time, playing doubles. This might be divided into three 40-minute sessions, for example. The idea for this event is to play with as many different people as possible, but to schedule matches where the skill levels are compatible (i.e., don't put the advanced players with the beginners). Again, scheduling software is particularly helpful here, as it is quite a chore to do this schedule by hand. And, more importantly, the event runs very smoothly with a schedule (as opposed to just sending people out to find partners and available courts on their own).
There are also other possibilities for events. Located in the New York metropolitan area, we have sometimes organized annual trips to spend a day at the U. S. Open. Regardless of where you are located, you can probably find some tennis event that your members might like to visit together. We also had a very advanced player who was able to run tennis clinics for some of our members.
A tennis club like that described here can be a very low-budget (or even no-budget) organization, especially if you are lucky enough to have free access to a tennis court facility for your tennis party. However, if you do encounter some of the expenses described here, it is helpful to have a treasurer on your committee to handle the funds, as well as maintaining a small surplus to carry forward from year to year (some years you may have a surplus from your party or other events, while other years you may have to cover a shortfall).
Be sure to check with your employer or sponsoring organization as to what support they can provide to your club. Possibilities include publicity, computer resources, office space and supplies, and financial support. Finally, you may need or want to require a "limited liability" form for members to sign before participating (stating that they understand risks of injury, agree to release the group from any liability, etc.). Check with your sponsoring organization to see if this is necessary.
To summarize the operation of your tennis club, I present a checklist of activities that you may need to do to run successful events. Hopefully, you will have a committee of more than one to help, but it doesn't take many people to keep the typical group going. The duties can be divided among committee members in many ways, depending on individual interests and abilities. As with any organization, it helps to have a tennis committee chairperson to hold it all together. The chairperson will likely always be on the lookout for new volunteers to join the committee and/or help out with the various activities.
And, most importantly, have fun at your events! An informal tennis club like this will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the game.
This guide is available on the Web at www.GreencourtSoftware.com/essays/howto.html. Software for running events as described here is available from Greencourt Software, Inc., at www.GreencourtSoftware.com/gameplan. Permission to reprint this guide (on paper, electronically, or in any other medium) is granted provided that the copyright notice and these notices are included and that no changes are made to the document. (Edition 1.2 -- November 1998)