Saturday, May 12, 2007

Get ready for the summer!!!

Jump Start Your Summer Tennis Program

It’s almost summer. School will be out for three months, which means parents will be looking for constructive ways to occupy their children. Spring is the perfect time to jump start a Munchkin Program, generating income for you and your club and bringing more beginning players into our game. Based on a very successful event we conceived and promoted, this article is structured with step-by-step instructions to stimulate interest in tennis and excite youngsters enough to want to sign up for summer lessons.

Ours, dubbed “The International Day of the Munchkin”, was created to introduce the game of tennis to children ages 6-9. It was a Game & Relay format with food, fun, music, balloons, and prizes…and to further encourage participation, the entire event was FREE to the kids!

Before you start, check into your club’s liability insurance. Your Munchkin Day might be considered just like any other tennis event, but it is best to check your policy’s coverage to be sure. Now, choose a date, making sure not to coincide with any holiday where local families may travel away from your facility. Saturday is recommended so then use Sunday for back-up in case you need a rain date. We were lucky to have access to covered courts, so we planned a rain-or-shine event.

Now let’s get down to work. You have to reach these kids to let them know about your big day that has been especially designed for them. Perhaps more importantly, you have to reach their parents. Create a flyer that lays out the details. Remember to include the basics: who, what, where, when, and why. Invite the parents to stay if they wish. Let the kids know how to dress and to wear play shoes. Be informative, without too much copy. Use a fun, but legible, typeface and kid-friendly graphics. One page, one color ink on white or colored paper is the least expensive and will accomplish your goal.

Contact the schools first. Call the administration office, explain your program and request their approval to distribute your flyers within the school system, especially because your event if FREE to all. Be thoughtful of their policies as this could be your best resource. Two weeks before your event – no sooner, no later – have the children take the flyers home to their parents. Also approach churches in your area that have children’s programs. Post your flyers everyplace that will let you. We found that with a little networking, word of mouth developed a life of its own.

More on the advertising front, spare yourself the expense of actually paying to place ads in local papers. Instead send well-written press releases to the editors of both the daily sports and weekly kid’s section of your local papers. We sent three and all three received space. When writing your release, keep it simple and basic, with the who, what, where, when and why included as well as contact information, in case they want to expand upon it for an article. Invite the press to come to the event and encourage them to bring a photographer, further promoting coverage. We were even lucky enough to know a local radio personality who scheduled an interview/chat generating free airtime prior to our big day.

Okay, you’ve figured out how to reach your target audience, the next step to consider is getting free stuff, otherwise known as sponsorships. First, list your needs based on the day’s planned activities. Are you planning to serve lunch? Then you’ll need pizzas, subs, and cookies for dessert or other kid-friendly foods. Drinks for the day are a must. Will you be offering prizes? Then you’ll need to solicit for them. How about decorations, party favors or giveaways? Plan your event and then determine the best local companies to approach for sponsorships.

So, how do you approach a business for freebies? It is certainly better to go to the store or venue personally rather than call on the phone. Of course, use the phone in those cases where a personal visit is not feasible. Ask for the owner or manager. Introduce yourself; explain who you are, where you work, what you do and what you are planning for the event. Be upbeat and very positive about your program. Ask them if they will be your “pizza sponsor” or your “cookie sponsor” or your “balloon sponsor”. Tell them what they will receive in return. Barter is a two-way street, you know. Tell them you would like to hang a banner with their logo, if they have one. Offer to put their store’s logo on your flyers or any other promotional material you may have. We were able to get sponsorships from a local grocery store for balloons, a bakery for cookies, a toy store for prizes, Subway and Papa Johns for lunch. The options are as varied as your imagination and the time you are willing to put into it.

Next on your to-do list is to find volunteers – lots of volunteers. When a mom or dad calls to register their child, ask them if they would volunteer as a “Team Parent”. Ask your tennis co-workers. Ask friends. Network, network, network. You will need help and lots of it, so sell your passion about the program as you solicit volunteers. Prior to the event, meet with your volunteers. Review the day’s schedule and assign duties. Make sure everyone understands his or her role.

Prepare for more children than you have registered. There may be overflow. We accepted reservations over the phone until we reached our target of 144 kids. Once 144 registered, we created a waiting list. Regardless of requiring registration, over 150 kids showed up for the four-hour event. How do you deal with the overflow? Be prepared to add more children to each relay or to tack on another play station. Try to remedy this potential for a problem up front by making it clear in your flyers and press releases that spots are limited. Emphasize the need for reservations. Keep a file of the registration information, in case you need to reach a parent or for future solicitations.

Schedule the event to the minute and do not deviate from the schedule. If you do, your group will deteriorate into chaos. When planning your day, remember these are very young children with limited attention spans. Keep each relay brief and move the kids along to the next station quickly.

Our International Day of the Munchkin was held from 10:30am to 1:00pm. Check-in began at 10:00am. Each child was given a color-coded nametag to wear which identified them by age group. To occupy those who had already checked-in while they waited for the 10:30am start, we played a video of The Wizard of Oz. Promptly at 10:30am, we led the group into our covered courts, which were colorfully decorated, with all of the relay stations ready for action. Helium balloons, crepe paper and windsocks provided visual stimulation. Energetic music filled the area, where the kids were greeted by two high-spirited dance aerobics instructors who got them warmed up with fun jumps and twists, all to the electrifying beat. The children were then grouped by their color-coded nametags. The plan was for 12 groups of 12, but we made room for the overflow. Each of the groups was assigned a Team Parent. The Team Parent’s role was to ensure that each child in their group did not stray and to make sure that the kids rotated to the next station together.

Our three courts were partitioned into 12 sections. Divided properly, with distinct partitions, 3 courts will provide ample space for 12 stations. There was actually room to spare in case we had to add another station. Our stations included such activities as ball balance relay, obstacle course, throw and catch with a fishing net, groundstroke to target and even a face painting area. In one we had a pyramid of tennis ball cans that one child had to protect with their racquet as another tried to roll the ball and knock it down. We had a mini ball machine and a foam tennis ball war. Every 8 minutes, we blew a whistle indicating it was time for the Team Parent to take his or her group to the next station. Use your imagination to develop your stations. Above all, have fun with it!

After the on-court activities, we escorted the kids outside to a single court for photos. We took several shots of the kids racing to the net waving their racquets and hats. Another shot had them leaping up trying to catch a bunch of balls we had thrown into the air. Overall, the group pictures displayed energy, excitement and fun.

It was time for lunch. While we were having our photo shoot, some of our volunteers were setting up the lunch line. We had 30 pizzas from Papa Johns and six-foot subs courtesy of Subway, along with other goodies donated by various local stores. Even Rita’s Ice set up a table and gave away Italian Ice samples. After lunch, the kids received a variety of prizes, games, and a certificate. The colorful certificate proclaimed “TENNIS IS FUN!” and displayed the child’s name. Prizes included small toys, posters, tennis racquets, T-shirts, caps, kites, and more. The kids seemed to love every minute of it.

Information about available Munchkin Tennis programs was given to all the parents at the end of the event. A Munchkin program at a nominal rate seemed very attractive to the parents. Remember, enticing newcomers to the game is your ultimate goal.

HAVE FUN! Oh...and by the way...if you're interested in Hilton Head Island real estate, please contact me!

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