We keep reading how the tennis industry is 'aging out' and for the most part is dominated by a bunch of older male professionals.
So we set out to find young female tennis professionals who are really flourishing in our male-dominated industry. And we found them on the U.S. East Coast, West Coast, in England, and in Australia. We asked them a bunch of questions in order to learn how they got into teaching tennis, why they did it, and if they would do it again. We wanted to know their story.
"I SPENT TIME ON THE COURT BEFORE I COULD WALK
AND FELL IN LOVE WITH THE SPORT."
QUESTIONS FOR ERIN CALLAHAN
TCB: Where were you born (city, country)?
EC: I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
TCB: How old were you when you started to play tennis and who introduced you?
EC: I started playing tennis as early as I can remember (around age 5). My mom grew up teaching tennis so I spent time on the court before I could walk and fell in love with the sport.
TCB: Did you play tennis in high school, college?
EC: Yes. I played for Mahtomedi High School and went on to play for Hamline University.
TCB: Was tennis your first choice of work after school? If not, please explain.
EC: I always knew I wanted to do something in the sport's industry, and tennis seemed like a good place to start. I majored in global business leadership and coached tennis throughout my undergrad. I am pursuing my Master's in Sport Management at The University of San Francisco, and hope to combine my passion for tennis into a more business-oriented role.
TCB: When did you start teaching, tennis and why?
EC: I started as an assistant pro in the city recreation program when I was 16. The director was my high school coach and I grew up babysitting and tutoring so I knew I enjoyed working with kids. I then progressed on to my first full-time teaching role when I moved to California, at Cliff Drysdale In Shape Club in Vacaville. I worked with a fantastic director who took me under his wing. I was able to work with adults of all levels, ran summer camps, and started to find my niche in coordinating events/tournaments. This is when I really started to love coaching.
TCB: Did you get certified as a tennis professional?
EC: I have thought about getting certified through USPTA for some time but have not gotten around to it. So far I have not found it to be something clubs/companies are requiring.
TCB: Where and in what position did you work as a tennis professional?
EC: I started as an assistant professional at a recreation program in my hometown. I then moved to California and started as a full-time head teaching professional at Cliff Drysdale In Shape Vacaville/Fairfield clubs.
TCB: Where do you work now, and what is your position?
EC: I work for Arora Tennis and Fitness in Dublin California as a Junior Tennis Coordinator and Teaching Professional.
TCB: Do you like your current position, and why?
Yes, I enjoy my current position very much so. I got away from the club and corporate scene. The member drama that surrounds our sport and being stuck at a club when you are not on the court were the main reasons I switched from club to recreation. In my current position, I am given the freedom to teach the classes I want, on the schedule I want, and I am not required to sit at a desk or work if I am not on the court. From "stealing" clients to fighting over clinic/event hours, the tennis industry is competitive and ruthless between many teaching pros. I am privileged to work with some of the most talented, kind coaches under a dedicated, experienced director. As pros we all bring something different to the table, and we all have various strengths and weaknesses. This is the first place I've worked where we are a TEAM. If I know I have a student who wants to work on serves this month and I know that is not my strong suit or something I enjoy, I'll pass it to one of the other coaches who excel at it and vice versa.
TCB: What are the challenges you are facing today?
EC: Given the current pandemic, I and many other teaching professionals, have put our work on pause. Court availability is also a constant issue. Unless you are lucky enough to work at a site that has twenty-some courts, scheduling, and changing lesson plans due to limited courts is a challenge.
TCB: How difficult was it for you as a woman to have a career in male-dominated tennis? (Please elaborate, if you like)
EC: In the beginning, if you are not a well known, D1 collegiate athlete it is hard for anyone to get started in this industry (in well-established clubs/programs). Being a female trying to break into this industry, only adds a layer of difficulty to it. When people are asked who their favorite player is, the majority of them will name a male professional player. Just the same as many clients male or female will choose a male teaching professional instinctively as they may be perceived as bigger, faster, stronger. I remember looking at our company website and reading through the coach's bios, mine was one of the top three as far as experience goes. However, time and time again, inquiries from the website generated requests for my less experienced male coworkers. Based solely on a photo on our website, I was already seen as a level below my fellow male coaches. As a female that does not have a national ranking or D1 playing experience, it was hard to be taken seriously. I went years in the beginning with no private lessons and only assisting. I was looked at as purely an assistant and only worked with young, unexperienced youth players. I had to hit with members, train, join and captain USTA teams, cold call old lesson rosters, to let the members see I wasn't just a pretty face that helped with the little kids.
TCB: How did your past income, and how does your current income compare to similarly experienced male tennis professionals?
EC: In the beginning I definitely started lower than my male coworkers with similar experience. Now, I am in my ninth year of coaching and have made a name for myself, and I see no difference in my income compared to male tennis professionals.
TCB: What would you say to young women interested in tennis and undecided whether they want to make a career out of it?
EC: I say go for it. If you are passionate about the sport, do not mind long days on the court, and enjoy the teaching aspect, then it really is a great career. Reach out to former coaches, old teammates, and your local USTA office. If you don't come with a high level of playing experience, I also recommend joining a USTA team to get an "official" ranking, so potential clients can see you are a current player and your standings. It is also a great way to network and pick up new lessons with fellow teammates and their kids. Be likable, offer a listening ear (half the time we as tennis pros can double as counselors), and have fun on the court. You'll learn quickly, in the tennis industry whether your good or bad, liked or disliked, as a teaching pro word travels fast.
TCB: If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you choose the same career again?
EC: Absolutely. I'm paid to play and teach a sport I love while getting a tan, and exercise! Haha. But seriously, many of the clients and their kids have become like family, I've got to work beside some of the most talented, driven coaches I've ever met, and I've learned so much both on and off the court.
TCB: Do you play or teach Pickleball? How do you like the sport?
EC: I have yet to try pickleball. My mom is an avid player and I need to take her up on the invite.
TCB: What is your tennis racquet of choice?
EC: I've been using the Speed MP for the last few years.
TCB: Thank you, Erin Callahan.