The Director of Tennis at Silver Creek Valley Country Club in San Jose, California, enjoys being a mentor to anyone who loves the game of tennis. Besides assisting in providing continuing education for tennis-teaching professionals and coaches, his specialties include drills for tennis pros - large groups, team drills, and specialty drills - Available on DVD from his website.
Ken DeHart's abbreviated bio:
Director of Tennis Silver Creek Valley Country Club
PTR Hall of Fame
PTR International Master Professional
Former Executive Director of PTR
USPTA Master Professional
USA High-Performance Coach
Wilson Premier Advisory Staff
2-time PTR International Pro of the Year
4-time USPTA Divisional Pro of the Year
Contributing writer for TennisPro, Addvantage
and Tennis Magazine
International speaker at Australian Open, Wimbledon
and US Open Coaches Conferences on games,
drills and mental skills training
Facebook at Ken DeHart Tennis
7 Habits of Highly Successful Tennis Professionals & Tennis Directors
By Ken DeHart
1. Get to the Court on Time (early)
Get there early. Think of how you would prepare to play a match. Review your notes – physical or mental from past lessons, have a game plan for your student, be early with all your tennis balls and teaching toys ready to go.
*Prep time – Check your day timer to visualize your schedule for the day so you can “see” your road map for the day. Get ready, arrive early to get your teaching basket, cones, targets, and toys in place to take to the court before your first lesson ever arrives.
*Getting in the zone – when you have your equipment ready and your road map for the day in your head, it is time to prepare both the mind and body. Prepare for the day like you would for a tournament match. Get warmed up by going to the gym, ride the stationary bike, hit the rowing machine or do some dynamic stretching like you teach your students. Prepare for today’s performance with your mind and body engaged for the events of the day.
*Team ready tips – Be sure to notify the front desk or staff of any expected guests who may come by to see you during the day. Tell the desk where to send them and what time you will be available to meet with them. Have a copy of your schedule available so staff can fill lesson times for you and know whom to look for in sequence during your teaching day as well as when you will have breaks to answer questions. The front desk and staff do not like to be surprised by not having answers to questions by members, other management staff or guests. If you cannot meet with other teaching staff members before you start, leave them notes as to things you need to be done or items to be aware of during the day and changes to previous plans.
Injury Prevention on the Court
Injuries often come quickly but they are usually cumulative effects of series of many small dings and nicks. A small injury here and there will put stress on those areas. As injuries accumulate, recovery time begins to add up which can affect your physical performance, confidence level and your ability to function as a teaching professional.
*Begin the warm-up on the way to the court. Even the way you walk can be a warm-up. Walk on the balls of your feet, lift teaching equipment as though it were a heavy object-feet apart-back straight-using the legs to lift. Go through the motions for all your strokes (physical rehearsal) to loosen up and prepare the muscles you will be using in your lessons, both clinic and private.
*Safety in movement. As you begin your warm-up with the students, move your feet like you ask and expect them to do. Take 8-10 small adjusting steps between each volley or ground stroke like the pros. Be aware of loose tennis balls in your area of movement as well as the area around the students.
*Staying loose and stretched when feeding and rallying. As you feed balls to your students, make the point of contact try to fully extend your arm on groundstroke feeds after point of contact. Use your lower body to help propel the stroke instead of just your hands and arms. This will take the stress off the arm and elbow. In addition, you want to reinforce your own correct point of contact while feeding the next 1,000 balls - the body does remember.
2. Feeding Styles to Save Your Body
*Where to feed from – change your position. Avoid feeding from the middle of the court near the service line all the time. In a match, the ball seldom comes from that depth or position in the court. Adjust your feeding position so the next feed ball comes back to your student from the angle that a real rally ball would be coming from. If you feed a ball cross-court to a student and ask them to return the ball down the line then your next ball to them should come from the down the line position, not from the initial cross-court feed position.
Feed the ball as a volley if the opponent would be seeing the ball come to them as a volley and not a groundstroke. If you are feeding from a position that would be a groundstroke, feed from a bounce and hit feed position.
*How to position your body for less stress – hold your body in a balanced or neutral position of posture. Avoid slouching over with your shoulders rotated inward and your hips tucked under your body.
As a right-handed feeder, feed balls with the right foot slightly forward of the left foot. Place the ball forward of your right foot and right hip with your left hand to feed thus creating a contact point that will allow you to use your core, legs, and hip rotation and not just your forearm so your feed ball can be contacted in a match play point of contact. Keep your shoulders back and your head centered over your body for a stress-free feeding position. The tension level in your hitting hand should be around level 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 5 as you use your body rotation to send the ball more than just your arm.
*Positioning the teaching cart for safety. For a right-handed feeder, keep the basket on your left-hand side and slightly behind you. This position on the left of you is so you do not have to reach across your body to get the next ball from the basket for a quicker and more efficient feed of the ball.
Keep the teaching cart square to the net so that balls returned by your students do not bounce inward and hit you. Never feed with the cart directly in front of you as balls may bounce off the cart and contact you in the eye, chest or face.
*Positioning the teaching cart for efficiency. Move the teaching cart with you as you go around the court so you can have immediate access to balls to demonstrate a point or feed a ball to a player to keep a drill moving.
*Learn to feed with your backhand by placing the cart directly to your right, hold your racquet in your left hand, drop feed the ball toward the net in front of you and feed a backhand shot by placing your right hand back on the racquet. While this might feel strange at first, it will help you not get stale, expand your perception of feeding and the students need to know what it looks like to see a ball coming from a player's backhand instead of only from the forehand side. This is a time for the pro to learn a skill as well as the student.
*Use a “Slinghopper” on your hip that can hold up to 30 balls when you are coaching so you do not need to be tied to the teaching cart. This item allows you to roam around the courts with tennis balls at your immediate call.
*Place the teaching cart well behind a group of players so they will have to move directly back to get balls for the next drill. This will keep them from walking into the path of racquets or moving players. This also keeps drills moving quickly and safely.
*Place the teaching cart about 4-6 feet in front of the baseline if you are working with a smaller group,so the players have to move forward after serving as though they were moving toward the net. Serve move forward and split step near the basket to get the next ball. If possible this is a better position than having the players move backwards to get the next ball to serve.
3. Making Teaching a “Moving Experience”
*Feed balls from the correct angle. Move around the court when you feed so players can receive balls from the direction they would be returned by their opponents. This moving to feed can help keep you from getting stale and stiff from standing in one position for a long period of time. Players who only receive balls fed from one position on the court seldom can react well to points played in a match. All of a sudden balls are coming from angles they never practiced receiving in their lessons.
*Getting in your own workout in the lesson – private or group. If there is a live ball situation, move your feet as though you were playing the point. Players often imitate what they see more than what you are saying. This would mean 6-10 steps between each ball that you feed or hit to your students. You will be amazed by how your conditioning improves – while on the court. Your students get used to seeing their opposition moving instead of standing in one place to play shots.
*Getting the proper view. When students are feeding their own drills or hitting “live” balls with another player, walk around the court to observe each student from the side and behind. You will be amazed at what you can see from another angle. This also allows you time to use your quieter private lesson voice in a group situation.
*Players always start a rally by serving the ball to the opponent instead of feeding the ball in play underhanded whenever possible. The two key points in a match are the serve and return and usually 2 of the least practiced shots. These 2 shots make up 70% of all shots hit in a match. Don't save serving until the end of a lesson, use it to start every feed ball or rally ball and see the difference.
4. Getting Your Off Court Workout On Court
*How to train during a lesson - split and pick up the balls with the students. Your legs will get stronger, work on your split steps and the students appreciate it when the pros help pick up as well.
*Getting stronger every hour. Think of how many hours you are on the court teaching each day. If you were moving as a player, in balance with small adjusting steps, you would teach your way into shape.
*Keeping a cardio record. Wear a cardio watch that tells you when you are in your cardio zone and how many calories you burn in an hour. You can keep a record for the day and even download it onto your computer daily. This will amaze you and motivate you to stay in motion on the court.
*Warm up with the students, when possible jump into the drills, let the students feed the drill to appreciate what a great feeder you are. They also love to play against the pro.
5. What to do with your eyes
*Protection from sun and balls. Wear special glasses designed for tennis. Lenses that are too dark make depth perception difficult. Mirrored glasses make eye contact impossible and give the appearance of a highway patrolman. The best lenses are called "racing red" and used by cyclists. They make the yellow ball stand out, do not distort depth perception greatly and work well in sunlight or shadows.
*If you do wear sunglasses, take them off or drop them down when you talk to your students. Eye contact is sincerity and essential in communication.
*Learning where to look and when teaching. When you are not feeding a fast-paced volley drill you can practice your “match play” eyes. Look at the ball as you drop it to feed or toss it up to volley. See the ball or the “yellow streak” leave your racquet like in a match. There is plenty of time to see your student move, prepare and contact the ball. When your student sends the ball back to you, track the ball like in a match, focus on the ball as it leaves their racquet, your secondary vision will allow you to read your student’s movement and see all the essentials like you would read like in a match
*Practice match play eyes as you feed balls practice keeping your eyes on your point of contact and only looking up after contact like you would in a match. There is plenty of time to observe the student's reaction and preparation to your shot. This is especially true if you are rallying with your students. This helps prevent the “teaching pro eyes” when you are playing. Your peripheral vision will give you most all the clues you need to provide effective feedback to your student.
6. Networking for life
*Become the resource center for injury prevention and rehab. Identify key people at your club, school or center who might help your students. Attorneys, doctors, chiropractors, deep tissue professionals, real estate agents, mechanics and etc. are examples of people whom clients often seek for information. Often in lessons the conversations turn to needs your students have in their real life and you can be a huge resource center for them. This is a great service that builds you up in your student’s eyes.
*Prepare for your second career. Just as many people prepare to leave their current jobs and retire to teach tennis, as a teaching professional you may also discover your second life calling by all the people you meet. You may even become a tennis recruiter. Because of your communication skills and extensive client base, tennis pros often become agents, salespersons or service-oriented players in a variety of businesses.
*Loving your life. Can you believe it? Your friends come to visit, you are outside most of the day in the beautiful weather, incredible scenery and working with people who want to hear what you have to say. You receive hourly satisfaction in seeing students progress and see them experience "I get it" moments. your students tell you things they would never tell others and ask your advice about all kinds of things, services and topics. You have an amazing impact on many students that change their lives or direct them more than most people in their lives. You will receive amazing "thank you's" from past students for the rest of your life. You made a difference.....
7. Hiring a professional
I have had the most success with hiring pros by finding club members who liked my style of teaching, shown an interest in tennis as a career, have an aptitude for sharing knowledge and motivating others. Hiring an outside pro requires finding someone who will buy into your teaching system, have your back and are willing to grow under your guidance. I usually look within when hiring, especially for specialized positions like, working with Red, Orange and Green ball players, assistants who help with intermediate and high-level drill clinics who grew up in my program. These people are usually hungry to learn and stay with you for a long time as friends as well as quality coaches.
Another way to test for quality pros is to be a tester or attend testing workshops conducted by the USPTA and PTR. You get to see how they teach, their mannerisms, how they deal with change in their own game and how they deal with others. Do they have that spark you want for your program? You are also able to identify key prospects not only for your own teaching staff but you will be able to recommend positions with fellow professionals looking to hire quality pros for their staff.
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