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Rod Heckelman's career started in 1966 when he began his five-year role as a teacher at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Carmel Valley, California. Later he opened as the resident pro for Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch on Camelback in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In 1976 he took over as head professional/tennis director at the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, California, and added the title and responsibilities of general manager in 1982. 


In 2010 he was awarded “Manager of the Year” for the USPTA NorCal Division and the “Manager of the Year” at the USPTA World Conference. Rod has written several books including, “Down Your Alley” in 1993, “Playing Into the Sunset” in 2013, and most recently, “250 Ways to Play Tennis.”

He also produced the “Facility Manager’s Manual” and the “Business Handbook for Tennis Pros,” which is distributed by the TIA.

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The customer is the only person who can certify a tennis pro!

By Rod Heckelman

In pursuit of becoming successful, many tennis teachers will make it their goal to become the smartest person in the room, or in this case, on the tennis court. Every method of improvement to make that happen will be accessed. Seminars, conventions, sharing information with other pros, numerous readings, along with heavy interaction with the internet. If being the best is their goal, the USPTA and PTR have provided that opportunity through their programs and offerings, add the internet to that equation, and everyone has access to what it takes to be a great teacher.

This means that everybody has a fair shot of learning every aspect of teaching and coaching, making it a level playing field. After that, it’s just a matter of finding the right job in the right location and having a market that will provide ample clients. From there you will need to create a rapport with those clients that is long-lasting.


If you have what it takes, you’ll do just fine. That is why, since most information is available to everyone, at the end of the day, like in many professions, it’s not the person that is the smartest in the room, it’s more likely to be the person that is most popular in the room, or again, is this case, on the tennis court.


So, to be fair, the most successful teaching pros are those that have both the skills, motivation, and that most important intangible, charisma. Taking that last very important immeasurable skill into consideration, how can any organization lay claim to certification. If a pro is successful in creating a strong clientele and successful in sustaining that clientele, then who are we to judge who is truly qualified? 


Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

The most successful teaching pros are those that have both the skills, motivation, and that most important intangible, charisma.

Then by extension, what organization is truly qualified? It seems that the organization that provides the conventions, seminars and educational programs that are most accessible to every location and to every time of the year, would be the number one choice.


It’s an easy and convenient argument to justify the need for certification. It brings to the profession, respectability, credibility, and merit. Since these qualifications are especially important, it’s a logical political maneuver to control certification.  Taking responsibility for such important qualifications, by default takes on the image of ultimate authority.  Again, politically understandable, but because, as mentioned, so much of qualifying to become a respectable pro is predicated on the character and charisma of a person, it is literally impossible for any organization to measure that component and in turn call itself the sole organization of measurement as to who is certified to teach tennis.

Taking responsibility for such important qualifications, by default takes on the image of ultimate authority.

There is no measurement of popularity or sales skills. A coach’s charisma or likable personality that lends to the growth of a tennis facility is not part of the equation in certification. Yet, in most services that include customer satisfaction, these qualities are a premium. In the medical profession, they call this “bedside manner.”  On the tennis court, it’s not much different, so again, who are we, or for that matter, anyone to judge.


This is often a hard pill to swallow for many of the long-time teachers that feel they are true to the game and loyal to the idea that knowledge and experience should be enough to lead to success. But facts are facts, unless you have a personality or character that will harmonize with the students, it may be difficult to be able to pass on information, no matter how accurate or relevant. Remember, it’s not what you say or coach, it’s what they receive, accept, process, and actuate.

A quick evaluation of many of the most successful tennis coaches will provide a list of colorful personalities that easily capture the attention and admiration of learning players. From that position, much can be achieved. It’s this fact that makes certification of any tennis pro by any organization, an exceedingly difficult task and in turn, maybe not something that can actually be accurate or dependable. Levels can be created, measurements of education and experience can be calculated, but it still falls back to that ability to have the right stuff, stuff that usually can’t be measured.


There is also a unique character to this sport. There is an amazing variety of coaching techniques. You have coaches that have a knack for analyzing the mechanics of a player’s strokes, finding ways that will work best for that particular student. There are also coaches that have a special talent in taking a player's game and weaving together a strategic and tactical style that will help that player engineer their best game during competition. More recently, there is an entirely new group of tennis pros that specialize on what takes place from the neck up.


The mental aspect of the game has been handed off to this new group of experts, who are very talented and influential. Also, don’t forget how so many students love coaches that are great drill masters, pushing their students to their physical limits. But maybe the most impacting group of all, are the parents. No group of people that take on coaching have more influence and success in the game. It would be an easy statistical argument that parents are the most qualified of all coaches. Who certifies them?

To whom is qualified to provide certification, considering all these existential issues, this question may be a moot point to some degree, at least when considering the qualifications needed. Certification is more likely to be about, who, or what organization is in control. That is the focus of this debate. Control over every faction of the tennis industry has always been the ultimate goal of many organizations. The fact is, the USPTA and the PTR have seemed always competent in educating and sharing coaching information. They also filled the common concern for many facilities that coaches have liability insurance.

The customer is the only person

who can certify a tennis pro.

The idea that certification is the hallmark of becoming a pro, may have merit, but it’s never been the focus about the knowledge or skill of a coach until recent years. But even then, as mentioned, who are we to judge, or for that matter, anyone to judge, especially if the students are happy and satisfied with their instructor? Organizations will continue to try to set a standard and a level of qualification, but not for the moral goals of coaching, more likely for more control of that faction of the industry. Good luck with that, since the fact is, the customer is actually the only person who can certify a tennis pro.

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