Mention the word influencer and many over the age of 25 will roll their eyes in despair.
Yet that negativity need not apply to the new wave of tennis influencers who are highlighting the sport on their social media platforms in a new and diverse way.
Think of an influencer and you might assume pouting selfies and daring outfits are on the agenda, yet the tennis variety offers up a very different menu to their followers.
THE TENNIS MENTOR
Coaching tips, videos of crazy rallies on court and clips of rising junior stars are proving to be a huge hit on Instagram, with Ashley Neaves leading the way with his ‘Tennis Mentor’ channel.
Head coach at The Avenue Lawn Tennis Club on England’s south coast, Ashley used the unwanted spare time he was presented with during the Covid-19 lockdown to boost the flow of content on his social media channels in his guide as The Tennis Mentor, with his one-minute coaching tip videos proving to be a big hit.
With over 90k followers on Instagram and a growing audience on his polished YouTube platform, the Tennis Mentor suggests that he is keen to spread the message of the game around the world rather than become a ‘tennis influencer.’
“Influencer is a funny word,” begins Ashley. “Although my influence on different platforms has grown, I wouldn’t class myself as an influencer.
“In the tennis world, those of us putting out coaching tips on our social platforms are doing it to help players improve their skills, help parents to get a better understanding of the tennis landscape and even inspire other coaches with our ideas for drills.
“As tennis coaches, we have an influence over people in being role models and there is a really positive thing happening online with coaches putting lots of positive content out there.
“I’m not sure how I feel about being a tennis influencer, but maybe it will grow on me.”
Ashley’s success with his loyal follower base highlights the power of social media platforms for a tennis coach, yet there are some social media accounts that have reached impressive follower numbers in recent years by following a very simple formula.
The Functional Tennis Instagram account is an example of a sporting success story based around the fascination of tennis fans around the world with watching tennis clips that take them behind the scenes in our sport, with practice sessions and quirky clips proving to be a big hit with their almost half a million followers.
The Instagram account that is followed by Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic is run by Irishman Fabio Molle, who admits he is surprised and delighted by the attention his Instagram page has attracted.
“I really didn’t see this coming when I started posting a few videos on Instagram of people hitting tennis balls in practice, then suddenly, they started to get a big reaction,” Fabio told us.
“We started Functional Tennis back in 2016 and six years later, we have well over 500k followers and have a real presence in a sport I have always loved.
“Tennis has always been my passion. I played a lot as a kid, even playing in a few futures tournaments, but injuries affected my ambition and now I find myself working full-time in the sport running Functional Tennis. I posted a lot of great videos that could help players develop their game, but I didn’t think the account would take off as it did.
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“This Instagram account has opened so many doors for me in the sport and our podcast has benefited from that as we have some great names joining us on there.
“The account has also been great for coaching talent to promote their work and also for inspiring young players. I know some junior players have been spotted by agents on the Functional Tennis account, who then went on to be signed, which is a wonderful sideshow of this.”
Emma Raducanu’s rapid social media growth after her US Open win last year highlighted the appetite for tennis among a youthful audience and The Tennis Mentor suggests that growth is good for the game.
“Tennis is tricky to find on television now, so kids growing up these days will see most of their tennis online on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube as opposed to seeing full-on matches,” added Ashley.
“While that is sad, it means more kids are seeing tennis on social media, which could be a good thing for our sport.”
As tennis looks to attract a younger generation, new avenues are opening up which may be crucial to the future of the game.