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Tennis Is Looking For a New Type of Volunteer

May 25, 2008 12:04 PM

Tennis Is Looking For a New Type of Volunteer

Player, coach and tennis volunteer Vic Braden is known to many in the tennis world for his commitment to growing the game. In February 2004, he wrote this call to action regarding how to treat volunteers involved in tennis and bring in new volunteers ready to take part.

When the USTA announced last year that one million people entered our great game, but one million left tennis, that started a frenzy of wholesome activity. Then along came Jim Baugh, new president of the Tennis Industry Association, who said the numbers were more like five million new and five million who said "goodbye" to tennis. For those who remain in the game, it's hard to understand why anyone would leave our wonderful sport, but it happened. What a wake-up call!

As I write this column, I'm in Florida meeting with those amazing USA Tennis Florida volunteers who have worked so hard to keep tennis strong and healthy. And, as a member of the Southern California Board of Directors, I was interested in comparing the efforts of the two sections on opposite sides of the country. I'm happy to report that both organizations are hot on the trail to get more people into the game ... and keeping them in the game.

The consensus from both groups is that working programs must stay, long-time programs that have produced meager results must go and new systems must be vigorously pursued. That means the hunt is on for new thinkers in the game. Baugh, president of the TIA, can't stop talking about the new "Tennis Welcome Centers" that promote tennis by creating a warm home environment for tennis newcomers. The Tennis Welcome Centers will be backed by an aggressive national advertising campaign and a permanent structure to make things enjoyable and easy for beginners and players who want to come back to the game.

Alan Schwartz, president of the USTA, is on a tireless traveling and work schedule to make certain all tennis-related organizations pick up their pace. There's a whole lot of energy going on.

The Florida section of the USTA recently began rewarding programs that produce results. There have been open dialogues on strengths and weaknesses of programs for volunteers. I've had an opportunity to address a large group of successful volunteers and the following are some positive and negative statements we all heard:

One comment that startled me was that some events often have too many volunteers. When an event is overloaded with volunteers, issues become confused. But the very next statement came from a volunteer who stated that, in her territory in Florida, there are too few volunteers and a smaller core group is worked to death. Another issue that surfaced was that people with special talents are often assigned jobs that have no relationship to their area of expertise within the event. One director of volunteers was concerned that some people volunteer for the wrong reasons and are useless. For example, there are those who say they want to help, but in actuality they simply want a free ticket to the event. The session was lively and meaningful to me.

The bottom line was that each volunteer is a special human being and needs to be treated with respect and intelligence. One highly successful volunteer stated that her group had been together for years and had become a family. Each person supports the other and they have a ton of fun while working hard on each event. One woman told me that when she was in the right group, there was so much excitement, love and friendship that she would beg to stay with the team of volunteers.

It's this writer's opinion that volunteers are just as important as players. I've seen volunteers working professional events who are so gracious that guests can't help but enjoy the event. On the other hand, I've seen arrogant and power hungry volunteers who manage to turn people off. For those people, one would advise them not to apply for volunteer work. After being part of a management team for professional events for more than two decades, my thoughts about recruiting volunteers are as follows:

1. All directors of volunteer teams should have to go through training with experienced volunteer administrators.

2. We should begin to train young tennis players to help with volunteer projects so that they learn how to "give back" to the game.

3. A photo board at tournaments should contain the pictures of all volunteers with a brief bio on each. Volunteers are human; they like to be appreciated. Plus, a photo board might encourage others to volunteer.

4. In professional events, if a large TV screen is inside an arena, a few of the long-time volunteers should appear on the screen with a brief bio for the fans to read during the changeovers.

5. Volunteers would do well to keep a journal. The experiences are precious information for meetings, etc. We have a tendency to forget critical events which could greatly help the Director of Volunteers.

6. Volunteers should be asked for a bio so that Directors may place them in positions that take advantage of individual strengths.

7. Sponsors should not be stingy with gifts (shirts, etc.) for volunteers as they work day after day for nothing.

8. Each division should generate its own volunteer manual as events often vary greatly from state to state.

9. A video, or DVD, should be developed so that volunteers and management get a clear picture of what lies ahead and the importance of the role of volunteers.

10. Volunteers who have agendas that don't relate to the healthy growth of the game should be recognized and refused participation. A phony volunteer can do more damage than good.

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