How to Run an Employee Tennis Club
by Channing Brown
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
review and update the rules as needed, perhaps using the model challenge
ladder guide at
publicity (including a notice to the previous season's members)
receive registrations from members
distribute information on ladder rules and procedures
generate the first issue of the ladder listing
receive match results from players
periodically generate another issue, reporting results and
standings since the previous issue
if desired, create certificates or other awards for categories such as
most active or most improved
decide on the form and rules of the tournament
- how many tournaments,
- type of tournament (e.g., single elimination)
- requirements for when matches are played,
- what awards will be given -- winner, runner-up, etc.
publicity (especially including an announcement to challenge ladder
receive registrations from members
distribute tournament rules and procedures
generate and distribute the tournament draws
receive match results from players, and inform players of next opponents
generate a report of the tournament results and distribute to all members
obtain trophies, certificates, and/or prizes (possibly customized with
the winners' name, etc.)
plan the event (when, where, etc.)
reserve the tennis court facility
publicity (including ladder and tournament participants)
receive registrations from members
create the match schedule, and make enough copies to distribute at the event
obtain food, beverages, ice, paper plates, cups, napkins, tennis balls, etc.
if appropriate, distribute awards from the ladder and/or tournament
take the opportunity to publicly recognize and thank the tennis committee
members for their work
And, most importantly, have fun at your events!
An informal tennis club like this will greatly enhance your enjoyment
of the game.
Channing Brown has spent many years serving on
tennis committees, organizing the challenge ladder,
tournaments, and tennis parties. His company, Greencourt Software, sells software for running tennis events.
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