Tennis Participation Reporting in Australia – By Colin Mander
In June 2011, Australian National, State and Territory ministers for sport established the National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework (the Framework) designed to contribute to enhanced health, educational, social and community development outcomes. This Framework identified three priority areas:
1. Increased participation;
2. Success in International competition, and
3. Development of a strong National sporting competition.
The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) is responsible for the delivery of programs consistent with these priority areas and the provision of assistance, including funding, to national sporting organisations (NSO).
Tennis Australia (TA) is the NSO for tennis and has aligned its programs with the three priority areas of the Framework. TA has devised and implemented a suite of strategic priorities to guide its activities and to articulate with the Framework. Strategic Priorities 1 and 2 (Hot Shots and Cardio Tennis programs) are the key drivers aimed at increased tennis participation. The ASC investment in TA in support of Increased Tennis Participation has been $966,000 per annum for 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Has TA achieved success in its drive for increased participation?
What Industry Resource Reports Say
The ASC reports that ‘the Exercise, Recreation and Sport Surveys (ERASS) were a joint initiative of the ASC and State/Territory Departments of Sport and Recreation, conducted on an annual basis between 2001 and 2010. The ERASS collected information on activities participated in by persons aged 15 years and over for exercise, recreation or sport during the previous 12 months. Participation means active playing participation, and does not include persons involved as a coach, referee, club committee member, administrator, spectator etc.
The ERASS 2010 data collection on tennis participation shows that tennis participation numbers have declined from 1,381,000 in 2001 and 1,253,300 in 2005 to 1,050,100 in 2010 (Source: Australian Sports Commission — http://www.ausport.gov.au). The ERASS data was collected for organised and non-organised tennis participation. After the release of its Annual Report for 2010, the ERASS ceased operation. The ASC now uses information gathered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) ‘through the biennial adult physical activity survey, a module of the ABS’ Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS).’
ABS information on tennis participation may be found in its publications Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation and Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia (www.abs.gov.au)
The Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation survey is restricted to persons 15 years and over. Participants are defined as ‘Those playing a sport or physically undertaking an activity. Persons involved solely as a coach, teacher, instructor, referee, umpire, administrator or club committee member are excluded from the data’. Data is collected for organised and non-organised tennis participation. Hence, the sample collected by the ABS data is similar to that of the ERRASS data.
However, the survey of Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities is restricted to children aged 5 to 14 years who participated in organised sport.
Selected information from ABS publications discloses that participation in tennis has steadily declined from about 7.5% of the Australian population in 2000 to approximately 4.5% in 2012. Tennis participation by children under 15 years has declined during that period by about 1.2% and by persons 15 years and older by about 3.2% (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue No 4177.0
Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation 2011-12, 2009-10, 2005-06, 2002, 1999-2000 and Catalogue No 4901.0
Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities 2012, 2009, 2006, 2003, 2000)
What TA Reports Say
A review of TA Annual Reports since 2005 when significant restructuring of TA and the above mentioned strategies were adopted reveals the following disclosures relevant to participation:
2005-2006 The Sweeney Sports Report Summer & Winter Edition 2000-2005 showed tennis participation was reasonably stable at about 23% over the period. This is obviously in contrast to each of the above survey instruments, which reflected a noticeable decline over the same period. How participation was calculated in the Sweeney Sports Report is not explained. Such an explanation may go toward either explaining the difference in results or the preference of TA to use it over the ERRASS or ABS indicators.
TA also cited the Tennis Health Index which includes measures of:
– registered members,
– tennis ball imports,
– total attendances and
– racquets sold.
The Index for 2005 was 120, a recovery from 112 in 2004, but still below the baseline index of 125 in established in 2000. There are no benchmarks such as indices for other sports or comparative international tennis figures to enable an objective assessment of the Index result.
2006-2007 Hot Shots had 6,000 registered participants. A ‘participant’ is not defined. Does a ‘participant’ include those that enjoyed a single ‘experience’ and, if so, why not include use ERASS or ABS measures? Participation remains uncertain.
2007-2008 The Sweeney Sports Report for 2007-2008 showed that tennis is the sport that people ‘… are most interested in (57 %)’. ‘Interest’ includes people who attend matches, watch television programs, listen to radio broadcasts, read print media reports and use the internet for information about tennis as well as participants.
2008-2009 The ERASS for 2008 showed ‘a healthy upsurge’ of tennis participation numbers over the year. TA concluded that ‘This result validates all the hard work done at the grassroots level by Tennis Australia’s (TA’s) Community Tennis Department and the Member Associations (MAs)…’. Whilst tennis participation increased over the year, TA was opportunistic in its favourable reporting as participation was coming off its lowest point since 2000 (as evidenced in the foregoing ERASS graphical depiction).
Again, the Sweeney Sports Report for the year showed ‘Tennis was recognised ….for the fourth consecutive survey period as the No.1 sport of interest to the public in Australia’.
2009-2010 Hot Shots had 193,795 participants )
2010-2011 Hot Shots had 248,013 participants ) A ‘participant’ is not defined
2011-2012 Hot Shots had 348,480 participants )
Cardio Tennis had 7,799 participants )
It seems the measurement has begun to use broader and broader definitions, now including active recreation activities (Cardio Tennis) and activities stretching to spectators, those that listen to tennis on the radio or read about it in the newspaper.
Measuring and Reporting Tennis Participation
The reporting attributed to ERASS and the ABS cited above highlights the variances that may arise due to differences in the scope of the sample, the methodology used and the design of the questionnaire. ERASS and the ABS consider participation to involve physical activity on at least one occasion during the previous year. Some reporting involves both organised and non-organised sport whilst other reporting involves organised sport only.
The reporting now favoured by TA showcases an arbitrary and capricious selection of disclosures and non-disclosures. Data presented is often undefined.
It is evident from the foregoing that there is not one definition of tennis participation. Nevertheless, the ASC should demand that participation be defined and measured on a consistent basis to enable an appraisal of TA’s performance in meeting its objectives relative to tennis participation. Indeed, TA should be championing a transparent and honourable approach to its self-assessment and measurement processes.
The Framework prescribes the measure of success in meeting participation objectives as the ‘increase in the number of Australians participating regularly’. The concept of ‘participating regularly’ is endorsed by the ASC. Accordingly, it is both consistent with Government philosophy and pragmatic for TA to define a tennis participant as a regular player of tennis.
Regular players of tennis may include players registered with TA and its (State/Territory) Member Associations, players who are not registered with any organisation, players receiving regular coaching, children who do tennis programs on an ad hoc basis as well as, I am sure, other categories of participants. Similarly, tennis participation would not include coaches, volunteers, non-playing members, spectators, administrators, people interested in reading about tennis in the newspaper or about it on the radio and the like; tennis participation would not be limited to selected TA program participants (such as Hot Shots) as they are only a small percentage of tennis players and may not satisfy the ‘regular player’ test.
It may also be very useful to categorise tennis participation by timeframe (such as hours) and frequency criteria (such as weekly). This could lead to more fine-grained analysis enabling pin point development of response strategies to adverse trends.
For the purposes of this paper, though, it really doesn’t matter what the categories or sub-categories are. What is important is firstly, that the ‘regular player’ test (or the participant) is determined and, secondly, that relevant data is transparently collected and analysed against the projected participation targets.
Measuring changes in tennis participation should:
Report results against objectives (to measure success);
Use measures that are widely reported and used by other tennis nations (to enable comparability), and
Use reliable and readily available source data sets (so that it brings prima facie understanding to all that are interested and is cost-effective)
The purpose of annual reporting by TA should be to discharge its public accountability responsibilities. The annual report should serve as a communication tool to:
Provide broad information on activities carried out and services provided, and
Compare actual results with forecast results.
The information in the annual report should allow TA stakeholders and the wider public to assess how TA has performed in relation to the efficiency, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of its strategies and operations. To inspire confidence TA should maintain a transparency about any changes it needs to make and what it can do better.
Given the agreed priority of tennis participation as a fundamental driver of Government and TA objectives, the effective measurement and reporting of tennis participation by TA should be readily understood and undertaken.
Since 2005, TA has established many platforms, benchmarks, frameworks, pathways, rollouts, activations, showcases, templates, matrices, pyramids, models, key performance indicators, partnerships and so on, all purported to support the implementation of changes to tennis in Australia. These changes were described by a TA executive Craig Tiley in 2010 as both ‘revolutionary and evolutionary’.
The effectiveness of TA’s changes in respect of tennis participation in Australia is problematic as ‘participation’ remains undefined and seems to be morphing over time into a definition that is a long way from the number of people playing tennis. Moreover, the development of existing TA participation strategies is rather perplexing since the development of any strategy should be based on evidence identifiable through both statistical and observational research. Defining participation and gathering reliable, comparable data over time must be a foundation for this.
The use of selective program metrics and attendance numbers (such as Hot Shots) are presented as participation figures in annual reports. This reporting does not address the large proportion of tennis participation in Australia and, therefore, public accountability is not discharged. It measures participation in Hot Shots, not tennis. In addition, it is incongruous that the ASC continues to provide funding to TA without figures to support increased participation having already recognised that good governance was a key plank of the funding reform model arising from the Independent Sport Panel Report, The Future of Sport in Australia 2009 (known as the Crawford Report).
The lack of information and reporting on tennis participation leads to emotive comments ranging from references to the decay of Australian tennis to claims that participation remains at high levels in Australia. A further effect is that little constructive dialogue can occur between the many stakeholders, from players both junior and senior, parents, club administrators, coaches, state tennis bodies and TA. Thus, any focus on strategies to improve tennis remains at best fragmented and at worst misdirected and wasteful. These strategies serve to disengage many people who have a heartfelt passion for the sport and remain an underutilised resource and over time will lead to their disenchantment and potential withdrawal from the sport.
The gamut of comments on tennis participation in Australia, including the numerous motherhood statements made by TA and its State/Territory Member Associations, cannot be supported by any substantial and verifiable evidence due to current data collection deficiencies and resultant inadequate information reporting, which denies the opportunity for meaningful analysis on which to base effective strategy. Comments and analysis remain intuitive statements only. The management of participation as a strategic objective, such as the ability to tackle adverse trends, cannot occur if participation is not effectively measured.
The question raised in the Introduction, ‘Has TA achieved success in its drive for increased participation?’ remains unanswered.