Running tennis programmes at nearly 40 venues across the UK has given i2c a huge amount of insight into what kids and tennis parents are looking for in a tennis programme for kids. i2c Director Richard Marklow reveals the most important elements of a programme.
Interview with Richard Marklow
Tennis(24/7): What do you find that kids enjoy the most in i2c’s coaching groups?
Richard: While it does depend on each group, I think children love competing. They love playing. They love competitions. They don’t always love standing there and learning the technique of something. They love playing and playing the game of tennis. They love improving. I think they love being with other children. That’s critical, isn’t it?
We know that one of the highlights for kids is going with their friends. That’s a really important thing for us and for our coaches – we make sure we have these little groups that really form clubs within the club. It’s really critical that kids come with people they like and that they like the coach.
Tennis(24/7): What do you pay the closest attention to for making i2c programs appealing for tennis parents and children?
Richard: Our network. Through our partner (Inspiring Community Tennis) we can offer competition programs. We offer lesson plans which are the same across the country. We’ve got really good standardization.
We make sure that tennis parents know the coach is a good quality and will do a good job. Their kids will be safe and there will be an opportunity to compete.
Tennis(24/7): What is the most common question that parents ask you?
Richard: “Why is my child playing with that red ball? Shouldn’t they be playing with a yellow ball by now?” That’s the most common question that we get asked!
There’s a real education role for coaches and the industry to help tennis parents understand that we use the mini red, orange, green, yellow ball system – which has a competitive system that runs alongside it. Parents aren’t aware that there is lots of research about ball bounce height and equipment lengths et cetera. There are lots of good resources and evidence that growing the game from red to yellow ball makes senses. Nonetheless, that’s a question the parents ask quite a lot.
Similarly, we’re asked, “Is my child ready to play proper tennis?” Which is scary because you realise that parents haven’t been helped to understand the process of why the kids play mini red court matches that are right for the size, age, and height of the child. Then kids move on to orange and green so they can progress and organically develop with technique.
Tennis(24/7): For most of the children that enter into a program, how often do they usually play per week?
Richard: We have lots of children that play once a week and it is part of their healthy lifestyle, one of many things like swimming lessons and golf lessons; lots of different things they do once a week. It’s our job to help them love tennis! That’s the only way to convince them to play twice a week and then hopefully into three times a week and then add some competition elements to the offer.
We want to really engage kids and get them involved in the sport for the long-term. It can really became part of what they do and then kids will hopefully choose tennis over other sports. Although I do believe it’s important for kids to play more than one sport I would like our coaches and to really sell the benefits of playing tennis often.
Tennis(24/7): What would you say are the top things that children gain playing tennis, that they don’t gain from other sports?
Richard: I think the most important thing that it has got a really good structure that starts at three or four years old. There is a very defined structure right the way through and you can be playing tennis into your very very later years in veterans tennis and different competitive programs. Tennis really is a school for life. That’s the number one thing that we need to really promote tennis. There are not many sports that can go from 3 to 83 and players continue to grow through the sport.
Tennis also provides good opportunities for children to then go to university and play tennis. It is a good social skill to have throughout your whole life. It can open doors wherever you go. You can play and meet different people – all over the world.
For me personally, I also think it’s really nice to have a sport where you can be a little bit more technical; you have to learn the skill. You can go home and you can practice it. You can really develop your new skill and be with friends in quite often lovely settings.
Lots of really good benefits with tennis.
Tennis(24/7): If you had to summarise in one sentence; what does i2c do really really well?
Richard: We have quite a strict ratio of coaches to kids. In our focus groups, we work from a one to five ratio and then in training groups, we work from a 6 to 12 ratio.
By keeping the ratios tight, people know exactly what they’re going to get. I think we charge more money for a focus group but then we suddenly start to get 8 or 10 children and then it’s a real lack of respect to any further for like the product itself and to the answer the customer.
I think it’s really good to make sure that we keep we have pretty strict ratios and we follow some good quality planning over the year.
Tennis(24/7): Okay, what are you most excited about for i2c in 2019?
Richard: Okay. I think that term– as the as the business grows and we start to go to different parts of the country. I think there are exciting opportunities for us to really grow the brand and to really move into different areas of the country. To just keep doing what we know works really well in a club and just keep replicating it. Make sure that we grow the brand on the name and the quality of what we do.
Tennis(24/7): What would what would you say to encourage the young person to consider tennis coaching as a career?
Richard: Okay, the most important thing for tennis coaches is that there are so many transferable skills. You can grow your confidence coach in tennis and you can learn how to organize the players on the court. You can understand the professional standards. There are lots of life skills that you can get from tennis. If you’re a good tennis player or if you’re not a business player and you were in a coaching program, you’d like to offer advice to other children.
Really just a chance to get involved. Get on the court, do a leaders course, get involved in coaching and see whether it’s essentially a career opportunity for you. There are many opportunities in tennis which aren’t just tennis coaching. In our business, we’ve got telesales. We’ve got marketing. We’ve got finance. We’ve got refereeing. We’ve got coaching part-time. We’ve got, include area managers. There are many many opportunities in tennis which aren’t just about getting a tennis ball.
I think I’d recommend that coach when young people look at tennis for them as a chance to develop life skills. It’s also a chance to use the vehicle of sports for lots of other career opportunities, not just coaching. Maybe the guy says to be open minded to lots of different ways you can get involved in the career.
Tennis(24/7): If you were starting again, what advice would you give to your younger self about starting a business?
Richard: I would say that in life, you tend to gravitate to very very similar people. If you look at your– all your friends, it tends to be potentially quite similar people. Then what you can do then, is you can literally jump straight into a business with a like-minded person. I think that can be dangerous because the danger with that is then you’ve got very similar skill sets and you’re lacking other skill sets. I would say that Mark and myself were very fortunate and we’re good friends and also very different.
I think that the dangers sometimes, you can jump straight into a business opportunity with a like-minded person. The strengthening of i2c over the years has been that Mark is very different to me. The benefit of that is that then we then can grow the business in a more rounded way rather than going off. I think you’d be happy to riches in the business it wouldn’t work and to market, it would work so I think the fact that we’ve got different skill sets you definitely advice would give people when they start a business.