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.
A NEW DOOR OPENS FOR THE COACHING WORLD
Will the USPTA see an opportunity for a fresh look at a new approach for
promoting their members?
By Rod Heckelman
As we know, there are now several organizations that have in place a process for tennis teaching pros to become certified. One of those established organizations, the USPTA is about to transition to new leadership. This would be a great time to reevaluate, and maybe, reinvent a new approach to create a more professional image. For years, the push behind having a USPTA certification was for a tennis coach to show they have earned the privilege of teaching their sport. This right was achieved by passing an extensive test, and then following through with seminars, conventions, and more recently, online learning.
This established a bonified certification that would be used as credentials for working in any tennis establishment. In turn, this confirmation would be passed on to the consumer, verifying the pros' qualifications to provide the best possible instruction for any type of student. This was always a worthy process for all involved. But it’s time the importance and value of this process of certification be better recognized by the consumers.
In recent years, more and more consumers have taken on the task of finding instruction via the Internet. This often results in contacting a tennis facility, or just finding general information about an individual who uses the internet to promote his teaching programs. In most cases, if that connection was successful, lessons would be scheduled and provided.
Again, sounds simple and easy, but how does the consumer know that they are getting proper/quality instruction? In most cases, the relationship between the student and the teacher is first judged based on compatibility. As to whether the student, or in many cases the parents, really know enough about quality tennis instruction, is seldom the case. They have fun, hit a bunch of balls, and enjoy their time on the court with that teacher. So what’s the problem?
Truth is, many times it works out just fine, but like other professions where certification is not required, it is not guaranteed that what is being taught, and in turn learned, is proper or progressive. This could result in poor retention due to lack of improvement, or injury from being taught the wrong way, or even inappropriate conduct. Again, not likely to happen, but the risk is real.
The fact still exists, that there are many great teachers that are not certified because they see no value in belonging and paying dues to any organizations. Why bother, they are doing well financially, they have loyal clients, and with probably more coming their way by word of mouth. In most communities, word of mouth about tennis teachers is a very successful and powerful method of communication. But looking at the organizations that are processing certification, there is something missing. All the organizations are working hard on providing teaching tools and skills, so check that box off.
However, there seems to be very little focus on providing the consumers about the value and importance of using a certified tennis pro. There has been so much focus on “Growing the Game,” that you would think that the message to the consumer would include the importance of proper, qualified instruction. There are snippets and hints of coaching during some of the advertising, but never is there any mention of the importance of potential students or those just picking up the game to procure the services of a certified pro.
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This could be taking place because the world of tennis coaching is so fragmented. If just one organization took on that task and were successful, it is likely everyone else would follow suit. To this day, these organizations have tried to use an upside-down approach. They developed a relationship with the services or product providers, such as the tennis facilities or the equipment companies, and hoped those contacts would send the message to the consumers on the importance of a tennis pro being certified. Some facilities might mention or post that their tennis pros are certified and post their credentials, but seldom, if ever, do the equipment companies point that out. It might be costly, but just a few ads during the U.S. Open would go a long way.
Per the title of this article, A New Door Opens for the Coaching World, hopefully like that old saying “When one door closes, another one opens,” will be true for the USPTA and they will see an opportunity for a fresh look at a new approach for promoting their members. Their new mission statement could go beyond the current line of “raising the standards of tennis-teaching professionals and coaches and to promote a greater awareness of the sport,” to including, “and representing our members to the world as being the best qualified and certified choice for instruction.”
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