How to Choose a Tennis Pro
An Important Decision
Choosing the right tennis professional will make a profound difference in how quickly and effectively a student learns the game of tennis.
However, because most people lack the proper information regarding how to identify a qualified tennis professional, the selection process can be difficult and somewhat confusing. So, here are some suggestions to help you in the process.
First Things First ...
Two Important Words: LIABILITY INSURANCE
Accidents can, and do, occur on the tennis court during a clinic or private lesson. If the accident is caused by the actions or negligence of the tennis pro, that pro's liability insurance becomes an issue.
The tennis professional whom you choose should possess on-court liability insurance, either on their own or through the facility for which they teach. A tennis pro who is certified by the USPTA or USPTR (see below) automatically has liability insurance, as long as they are current with paying their yearly membership dues or have not let their membership lapse. Always inquire about a tennis pro's liability insurance.
Who is qualified to teach tennis?
Unfortunately, anybody can claim to be a tennis professional, simply by saying, "I'm a tennis professional," even though they have neither the qualifications to teach, nor a teaching certification. (And, there are a boatload of these people out there teaching tennis).
A "license" is not required in order for someone to call themselves a "tennis teacher." However, a qualified teaching pro should possess a TEACHING CERTIFICATION from one of the two United States tennis teaching organizations, the USPTA (United States Professional Teaching Association) or the USPTR (United States Professional Teaching Registry).
During the certification process, both organizations test an applicant's knowledge of stroke techniques, teaching techniques, stroke evaluation. Also, each applicant must demonstrate the ability to properly perform all tennis stokes and, additionally, conduct a group lesson and a private lesson while adhering to all lesson guidelines.
Never assume that a person who is teaching tennis is a certified tennis professional.
Never assume that a high school or college tennis coach is certified tennis professional.
To find out if someone is a certified tennis professional, you can log on to the USPTA or USPTR website and click on "Find a Pro."
A word of caution: Both the USPTA and USPTR offer certifications in " tennis coaching," such as "Instructor." A "Certified Tennis Instructor" is not the same as a "Certified Professional." Certified Tennis Instructors" are not Certified Teaching Professionals.
"CERTIFIED" DOES NOT MEAN "QUALIFIED"
USPTA or USPTR Certification is a great place to start in your search for a tennis pro, but certification does not guarantee that a teaching pro is a knowledgeable and competent teacher.
As in any profession, tennis professionals have varying amount of skill and expertise. Your goal is to find tennis pro who has a thorough knowledge of all tennis strokes, enthusiasm for teaching, exceptional diagnosis and correction skills, a well-thought-out lesson plan, and the ability to relate concepts in a way that is easy to understand. (That's a lot to look for, huh?) Okay, here's some help:
DIAGNOSIS AND CORRECTION SKILLS
Please remember the following, because it is extremely important:
What you are paying for in a tennis lesson is the tennis pro's ability to DIAGNOSE errors in the stroke mechanics and footwork and apply the APPROPRIATE CORRECTIVE TECHINQUES to help cure the problem.
The ability to quickly and properly diagnose stroke deficiencies requires superior analytical skills and a thorough understanding of the bio-mechanics of each tennis stroke, as well as the cause/effect of every movement contained in a tennis stroke.
"Diagnosing" skill is what differentiates one tennis pro from another. I've found that "diagnosing" skill is a "talent" that is possessed by a small percentage of teaching pros. These pros have a thirst for knowledge, and they hone their diagnosing skills by continually researching and analyzing all facets of the tennis stroke on the amateur and professional levels.
Tennis "playing" ability does equal tennis "teaching" ability.
The fact that a tennis pro was a championship high school or college tennis player--or even a player at some level of professional rank--does not guarantee that they are a skilled tennis teacher. Although tennis "playing" ability is definitely a plus in choosing a tennis pro, it should not be a requirement. In fact, some of today's top tennis instructors--who instruct professional players at the highest level--have never played professional tennis.
One of the best coaches that I had in my early years of sports was not a start high school star or a college player. However, he was incredibly knowledgeable about every aspect of the game and could teach techniques effectively.
The tennis lesson should have a definitive structure:
Evaluation of the stroke.
Diagnosis of the error.
Corrective techniques and proper drills to help eliminate the error.
Comprehensive review of what was learned at the lesson.
Homework (drills and/or exercises for the student to perform before the next lesson).
How Students Learn
Tennis teaching methods are similar to school teaching methods.
Students learn in the following ways:
Auditory Learning (verbally explaining the proper technique ). 20%-30% of the school-age population remember what they hear.
Visual Learning (demonstrating the proper technique, or showing a picture or video of the proper technique); 40% of school kids recall what they see.
Kinesthetic Learning (physically guiding a student's hands and arms through the proper motion). The majority of students learn best from this method.
Every student has one the aforementioned learning modes that works best for them, and it is up to the tennis pro to identify that mode in each student. I find that my students benefit the most from a combination of these methods, with the kinesthetic method being the most effective.
The speaking tone of the tennis pro should be appropriate for the age and ability level of the student. Younger students (ages 4-12) require a more understanding tone of voice than do older advanced junior players or adults. Younger children will be turned off by a pro who uses the same aggressive tone that they use with teens and adults. At no time should a tennis pro be yelling at a young inexperienced player.
If you are the parent of the student ... Watch the lesson!
Many parents simply drop their child off at the lesson and then leave. At least for the first few lessons, WATCH THE LESSON. Pay close attention to the following:
- Does the lesson start on time?
- Is the teaching pro neatly and professionally dressed? You should be "impressed" by their "dress."
- Is there proper lesson structure (as mentioned above).
- Are they enthusiastic? (They should get excited about a student's progress!).
- Do their instructions seem to be easy to understand?
- Are they "teaching" (i.e. using some or all of the teaching methods mentioned above)? Or are they merely giving out orders (i.e. "dictating")?
- Are they giving specific instructions, or just vague directions?
- Ask as many questions as you need to ask. Get feedback from your child.
There is nothing wrong with taking a lesson with a few different tennis pros in order to find out which one you like best. There is really no other way to compare teachers than to give each a "test drive."
There is also nothing wrong with changing to a different tennis pro if you feel that your current pro if you are not improving, or if the pro is not meeting your requirements. It's your money! Get your money's worth!
I hope that this information has helped you. Feel free to contact me regarding any questions that you may have.