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Keep Your Club Going

 By: Mary Helen Sprecher


Graduation: It happens every spring. That means every fall, Tennis On Campus teams hit the baseline, ready to start over. Returning players take stock of who's still participating, and they wonder who will come in to fill the empty spaces. And many have the momentary sense of panic: I need to make sure our team keeps going.

Guaranteeing continuity of a club, say TOC members, involves a three-part effort: recruitment, rebuilding and retention.

Duke University for Retention Article
Duke University - at the 2012 Fall Invitational - believes
"creating a team makes all the difference."

Recruitment: Getting the Players

Many colleges use a campus-wide expo to make students aware of the opportunities for club participation. The University of California Santa Barbara, offers its Fun and Fitness Festival. Over 5,000 students turn out to learn about the school's clubs, including its Gauchos Tennis Team.

According to Michael Montgomery, co-president of the club, the festival "really gives everyone a great opportunity to learn about things on campus. It's not just club sports either; the school has clubs for all kinds of interests, and it really teaches people what's available to them."

North Carolina State University offers clubs a similar opportunity when it presents its Fall Festival, says tennis club member Tanya Bator. The University of Alabama hosts Get On Board Day through its Division of Student Affairs. At all events, club representatives are ready with information on meetings and practices, and can take down contact information for prospective members.

Many Tennis On Campus teams in smaller schools market themselves to students using posters and e-mails, as well as in-person events such as open houses, tennis mixers and more.

One of the newer additions to the TOC family, the tennis club at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, came together after using a campaign of flyers and notices around campus. Club president Hani Barghout said it took some time, "but the players did come out."

Rebuilding: A Team Effort

Rebuilding a tennis club, says Stephanie Dudzinski, women's team president at Duke University, can be a challenge every September.

"I think definitely if you have new members, creating a team, not just having players, makes a huge difference."

Duke, she adds, is "dedicated to having those extra practices" to bring its team together.

Team-building can take many forms. Club members at the College of Charleston have three-times-a-week practice, but also make time to just go to the park together on weekends and hit, something that they say fosters a spirit of unity.

Clemson University's club team has a unique way of bonding, according to senior Nathan Wood. The school fields a competitive team, but is welcoming to players of all levels, he notes. "Anyone who wants to come out and play can. We practice four days a week, Monday through Thursday, and then on Friday, we book a small gym and play basketball together. It's bad basketball, but hey, we're tennis players."

Retention: Key to the Future

The challenge facing many teams is assuring continuity following graduation of strong players who have been active in recruitment efforts and in team activities throughout their years as students. In many cases, keeping a club viable depends on keeping up its visibility in the eyes of the student body.

The University of Connecticut, says Sam Laudati, has improved continuously since its formation.

"Thankfully every year, we've gotten better and better," he notes.

Players who see themselves growing in skill will return each semester, and will talk up the team to others -- those who want to improve, and those who already have years of play under their belts.

At Ohio University, club president Jennifer Hoffman was faced with "a somewhat younger team" following the graduation of some longtime members, but like many teams, recognizes that underclassmen can be the key to continuity.

Mark Otten, president of the UCLA Bruins, who won Nationals in 2011, would agree with that. The star players on the Bruins' winning team included " two freshman girls, and two sophomore guys so our future looks bright."

Note: Is your club concentrating on the three Rs? Do you have any special strategies that you'd like to share with fellow clubs? Tennis On Campus would love to have you share them. E-mail us at tennisoncampus@usta.com