For many years now I have been wondering why public tennis authorities decide to manage tennis playing in the community (far and away the fastest growing major sport), with the almost universal policy of “build any kind of courts anywhere, don’t maintain them …and they will come”.
There seems to be a total lack of consideration for what the tennis playing experience is all about or what people need to enjoy tennis.
Most every tennis player will understand the madness of this approach, yet the authorities who are supposed to be serving our interests do not seem to get the message. Tennis is a game requiring skill, that is played with a moving ball that has to be hit by a racket over a net and between lines. We do not need the extra challenge of playing on courts with bad fencing, bounces and nets.
I would like to see if we can identify why this approach is so rampant and how to get the message to authorities that this is not acceptable.
With the possible exception of outdoor basketball which can be played on a somewhat uneven surface with metal nets and backboards, it is commonly understood (as it should be) that public sports facilities must be properly built and maintained to enable safe and enjoyable play. For this privilege we all agree to pay something to use or rent the facility. Fields get fertilized, weeded and lined and indoor facilities get maintained and painted etc.
Why is it that tennis facilities are simply ignored except for the odd resurfacing every five to seven years? Why are the outdoor courts usually built with cheap surfaces, nets and fences and with nowhere to change, go to the bathroom or have a refreshment? Except for the odd exceptional public facility, we and our partners are playing outside on a grey surface with faded lines and a grey net surrounded by a grey fence. Indoor facilities are usually in the same vein: Greying steel boxes or plastic bubbles with poor lighting and no viewing. The courts are never swept or cleaned.
I liken it to playing on the moon.
There is usually nowhere nice to hang out or watch. Tennis is a sport which thrives on social interaction. Tennis players number one need is to meet more players to play with. Tennis players like to socialise before and after they play and watch other people play. They like tennis events and lessons and programming to learn and participate more.
So what is the reason for this public authority lack of care and attention? I think it is simply bureaucratic complacency: “We’ve always done it this way!”.
So… how can we change that attitude?
We can tell them we like and want properly built and maintained facilities. We will pay for the right to have some nicer facilities on a per use basis. Some courts (but not all) can be free and open all the time for drop in play. But most of us will gladly pay a bit to book courts, as we do for using fields and rinks or to swim or play golf. We will pay for events, like round robins, ladders and tournaments and programming, like lessons, drills, leagues and clinics. With revenue, appropriate facilities can be properly built and maintained. In short, public officials need to do what they are paid to do – gather data about what how we use facilities, how many of us use them and how many of us would be prepared to pay for a properly managed more enjoyable tennis experience.