With the publication of The Athlete Centered Coach, Bill Patton is working hard to influence sports culture globally. There is a revolution going on in coaching, and Bill has always colored outside the lines, so he is ready for new lines to be drawn. He used to take his toys apart to see how they worked. He turned those experiences into
a strength. Now he creates innovative templates so that others can build on success and make it their own.
He is most proud of winning an NCS Championship and becoming a published author for the first time. Once when trying to speak another language to a player, he thought he was asking if she was embarrassed, but he used the word for pregnant. That got sorted out later.
Bill Patton is Tennis Professional and is currently coaching his 10th different high school with 30+ years of experience in the field. He has coached at several schools with many great results. Mainly, the players had a great time maximizing their games and playing on the teams. He is now featured on coachtube.com, with three different tennis courses.
Bill and his business partner Styrling Strother have started USATennisCoach, LLC, which trains, certifies, mentors, and collaborates with high school tennis coaches.
Bill, a Maverick Leader, is co-founder of USATennisCoachl, a Catalyst for Omni Athlete: The Future of Sport, a PTR and MTM Professional.
Hire Teachers and Community Builders, not Just Players
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with their results.”
~ General George S. Patton
One of the biggest mistakes in creating barriers to entry to the field of tennis coaching is most easily described by the phrase, ‘Where did you play?’. There is an unwritten rule in the tennis world, that for someone to achieve recognition or be found valuable, then they must have played the tour, or at the very least college tennis. There is little validity or relevance to whether someone played at that level, in their ability to grow the sport. Just as in many sports, the former star player finds it very difficult to coach well, instead it’s the player that was on the fringe of the sport, and probably did not play one minute of professional sport that become the all-time great coaches. But in tennis we create a barrier based on playing ability, but we don’t place much of a barrier based on teaching competency, or leadership ability. In fact, artificial barriers are in place to keep people from ascending to positions of influence. In the year of being agreeable, let’s finally stop and acknowledge this truth in our game. I hear a lot of rhetoric about inclusion, and being one team, but if we are denial about this fact, then it’s not really going to work. So, who are the people we should be promoting and hiring?
A Major Blind Spot In Certifications
‘Any fool can know, the point is to understand.’
~ Albert Einstein
I strongly urge every teaching organization, governing body and those who hire ‘tennis professionals’ to shift their focus toward whether the entry-level person can actually teach. What do they know about how people learn? Our certifications would be more relevant and valid if they were 15-25% based on learning theories, but they aren’t. With the passing of Dennis Van Der Meer and Vic Braden, we lost two of the brightest lights in this arena, and are in danger of losing the oral history of everything they taught as easily as placing a book on a shelf to gather dust. If the entry-level pro is vitally interested in learning how to teach, rather than relying simply on what they know, then the world opens up to them for success, and the success of your organization. If not, then your organizations will suffer from a bad reputation of having deficient coaches who are certified, but non-certified ‘coaches’ are actually better equipped and thus your brand suffers. I myself am no longer certified by one large organization, and yet I don’t feel less valuable in any way. Perhaps my degree in Industrial Psychology and my completion of Masters level work in Education prepared me more. So, look at the full qualifications of the person, and their background in teaching and find a lot of value there!
A Lack of Leadership Leads to a Lack of Community
‘For a lack of vision, the people perish’
~ King Solomon
Now let’s turn our attention to another vital aspect of skill that will serve the tennis industry well: Leadership. When someone aspires to be a program director and/or director of tennis, if they lack the leadership ability to bring people together in community, then a large or small minority in their group will always suffer. When those ‘leaders’ gravitate to the better players, the more popular people, those who agree with them, then they miss out on an amazing opportunity to make the group they serve bigger and better. When the people in charge really want to include as many people as possible and create a wide array of options for relationships and programs, then the sky is the limit for growth. All they have to do is listen for what is missing, and value dissenting opinions. When I have been new at a club as a director, I look for two things: 1. What is missing at the club that people want to have happened? 2. Hiring a pro who can teach, build community and is not thinking exactly like me. For example, in two different programs, I worked hard to hire a younger female coach. I wanted a different generation represented, and I also wanted the female approach to coaching in my program, as some players will gravitate more strongly to that. Another example, USTA leagues had crowded out casual play at one club, so I made a rule that USTA could not start until after 11 am on Saturday mornings and I promoted Drop-In Doubles from 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM. Of course, some of the USTA Teams squawked about that! A fairly large community of players, who simply wanted social doubles, and had no interest in paying fees, so that they could have an inconvenient practice time and two matches per season, those people really loved it. So, that is the community building. I established a new program, set limits on another program, endured some criticism, and I did it to fit the people at my club. When you try to fit the people into programs, it’s hit and miss. We have to stop missing.
Bring People Together, All Interested People
‘Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much more to do with service to people. Your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.’
~ Aretha Franklin
One of the most apt descriptions of me came from my assistant camp director, who later became the camp director because of my implicit trust in her. She later became the Director of Tennis for the City immediately upon my departure. “Bill Patton, bringing people together!” It’s not that hard, and I am only a bit hesitant to use myself as an example, but really it’s something every director must do. Many Directors of Tennis spend too many hours on court to be able to do this. Clubs and other organizations would be wise to incentivize the Director with a % of membership dues income, and enough of a retainer to make it worth their time to hang out at the club watching USTA matches, hitting a few in Drop-In Doubles, being available to chat with people and make the introductions that lead to lifelong friendships. What I love most about my job, is when someone is lonely for whatever reason, they come to where I am and I introduce them to a new friend.
Strong Social Benefits, Clubs Solving Societal Problems
In my presentation at the Racquet Show in 2018, I shared that 1 in 4 people are now mentally ill. You have mentally ill people at your club. You can be a part of their solution and the solution to their club by including them with healthy people, or you can ignore the problem. I am very proud of my current club which is rebranded from a stodgy country club to a community wellness center that features golf. Tennis has received a huge boost from the rebranding, at a club that nearly completely ignored tennis for 105 years. I am building community, and when I first said ‘Welcome to the tennis community’ to one particular member, she was overcome with joy at that moment and it’s now our running joke. You better believe I do a lot of player matching in her direction.
Be an Influencer, No Matter Your Station in Life
‘I have come to believe over and over again, that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at risk of having it bruised or misunderstood’
~ Audre Lorde
Why are you reading my stuff? It’s because in 2011 I decided to transcend the artificial barriers placed in front of me by the tennis people in charge. I made up my mind to become a thought leader to help change the influence of how decisions are made in our game. I told a former friend that, and he ridiculed me asking, ‘What makes you think you are qualified to do that?’ My response was that I have thoughts, and when I share them, people seem to like them, and ‘I guess that makes me a thought leader’. If you are reading this and have stayed silent, please speak up! Social media has created for me an amazing platform because it brought about a democratization of information. I am able to reach my audience, and that alone is why you are reading this. (Thank you, Rich Neher, for befriending me and adding to my voice). Every other organization I have joined has limited me in some way, not that I have grandiose visions of what I can accomplish if left unfettered, so I am becoming more and more independent from them, and quite a few great coaches are doing the same. As soon as I was labeled as someone ‘with an ax to grind’ in my region, then I had to transcend that by going National since in my region I had people standing in my way. If you have people standing in your way, go around them. Once you have people blocking or subverting your efforts, those who work hard to create political influence, then it’s time to go in another direction. If I agreed with everything they say, then I’m cool, but as soon as I have any dissenting opinion, there it was again, the ax. So, you the leader in tennis, look for those who think differently than yourself.
Every Voice Counts, Not Just The So-Called Experts
‘Here is a list of fearful things: The jaws of sharks, a vultures wings, the rabid bite of the dog’s of war, the voice of one who went before. But most of all the mirror’s gaze, which counts us out to number our days.’
~ Clive Barker
In building a community for our game, we need every voice. When we brainstorm how to grow the sport, all ideas are good. Of course, those need to be boiled down until we can get to realistic action items. I want to challenge all the decision-makers at the top of the game to do these things. 1. Teach and act in a way that builds tennis community. 2. Hire people who know how to educate, know how to teach tennis. 3. Hire people that are not you, hire grandpas and grandmas, hire young up and comers, WOMEN COACHES, hire 3.0 to 4.0 players, hire school teachers, and P.E. Teachers, based on the idea that they have studied learning theory. 4. Build programs that build community and bring people together, and diminish the ones that crowd that out, you can’t lose.