Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Leaky Bucket

A few years ago when I was working for a large national sports organization, one phrase/topic came up frequently and was cause for great concern at staff meetings and conferences: the Leaky Bucket. Attracting new players to our sport was paramount, and I think we were pretty good at that. We could design endless attractive and exciting activities with the best marketing money could buy and subsidize them to make them affordable to all. They were well-attended, successful events and we were mostly very pleased with the outcomes. But keeping those attendees coming back was always a challenge. Hence the Leaky Bucket analogy - there is always plenty of water flowing in, but there is always a certain amount flowing out, sometimes never to return. This was always considered a failure on our part, that we were unable to retain 100% of those we so successfully introduced to our sport.

I used to be very concerned about those Leaks. I took it very personally when my retention rates were not 100%. Heck, I took it personally if they were not above 50%! As time has passed my philosophy on the Leaky Bucket has changed. I would love to achieve and maintain 100% retention. That is my goal. I do everything I can to provide a quality product and enjoyable experience to my tennis students. But I also have become a realist. As a parent, as an instructor, as a citizen of the world, I know there are many other factors at play here (literally!). Busy schedules, tight finances, loads of competition from other activities (not just sports) are the main factors. Especially with my younger students, it is a miracle any child chooses any activity and sticks with it from pre-school to grad school.

I regret that my bucket is not perfect. But let's not forget about the water supply. Gotta have that flow coming in, even if a little more of it is escaping the bucket than we would like. It is critically important that we don't give up on promoting our sport and providing multiple opportunities for new players to give it a try. Even if a majority of tennis event participants are one-and-done, you never know when they might get the urge to pick up that racquet again and get back in the game. I believe as people age, the odds are much greater that they will return to a sport they once played rather than pick up something completely new. I also believe every kid should have the opportunity to have a racquet in their hand, on a real tennis court, at least once in their childhood.

I guess what I am trying to say is maintain some balance as you are trying to grow your tennis activities. Retaining players is a worthy goal. Just don't forget to keep that water flowing.