I get this question a lot from parents who live out of my teaching area. They ask what I’d recommend when searching to hire a coach or trainer to get private lessons for their children. Here’s 10 requirements I think every good coach/trainer should have:
Keep your kids safe and don’t assume just because the instructor dresses in a polo and has a tennis racquet and hopper of balls that they’re legit. Anyone can post on a job board that they are giving tennis lessons. If you’re wanting to get your kids some cheap community lessons, high school teachers and coaches are usually a safe bet as they are already subjected to screenings for their jobs.
USTA keeps its database updated with coaches who have been screened and taken the necessary classes to be considered Safe Play Certified. You can check this link at the USTA site.
Would you send your child to a doctor who doesn’t have a medical degree or certification? Why do it with an expensive tennis trainer? Be careful on clubs or academies whose pros aren’t even certified. There is no such thing as a true professional who isn’t certified and isn’t willing to get in their educational credits. It’s the least they could do for charging you $50-$75 an hour. The two governing bodies in the United States that test and certify tennis coaches are The United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and the United States Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). See the commonality in both names besides the words ‘United States’ and ‘Tennis’? Click on both the links above to go directly to their Find-A-Pro directories where you can search for certified coaches in your area. Here’s my direct listing with USPTA.
Basically, does your coach or trainer further your child’s love of the sport? Great trainers and teachers must be able to let others see their passion. It’s contagious. And I’ve yet to meet any great player or teaching-pro that their careers aren’t based on passion.
Coaches and trainers should have access to greater opportunities for your child. These should never be limited to your recurring membership to his or her club. Do they provide match opportunities? Do they direct you towards other opportunities that don’t involve their services? I send my academy students to several other clubs to participate in their USTA tournaments. Because match play is essential with the training I provide them with.
As a parent, when was the last time you spent $50+ on a lesson and received lessons notes from your child’s trainer? I make a point to document and post individual lesson notes. These are accessible to all players and parents through our website for all my private training sessions. If your trainer is not working with you as a parent, there’s a major link missing in bolstering your child’s tennis development. Plus, do you ever wonder what you’re actually paying for?
Balance Between Fun and Business
When to push and learn, when to let loose and have fun. It’s a fine balance, but essential to the growth of every tennis player. Without fun, many would burn out after years, months, or even weeks of heavy tennis training. Which is no good for anyone. But many trainers focus on nothing but fun, fun, fun and children come out of their drills with suckers (which is actually symbolic, sadly, in some cases).
Fun is essential, particularly in 10-and-under tennis and should be a staple for every program (no matter what age). However (and this is where the sucker symbolism comes in) fun can also be a disguise for trainers who are mediocre at best. Most parents are quick to see a smile on their kids face after being patted on the head by the “super-caring” instructor as they hand them that sucker. A content kid can falsely symbolize success and money well spent. But parents often fail to ask the most important question of all: what did you learn today?
Kids will say they had fun and love going for simple reasons. None of these reasons should be strictly social or material if you expect your child to grow competitively in the sport. Unless you’re just looking for a high priced babysitter and an expensive lollipop. If so, then carry on. I know programs where candy handouts and water balloon fights are all the rage. Then kids from that same program finally come to my academy. They have no clue there are actually different grips they should use (ways to hold the racquet) in different situations/shots. In my first year of offering lessons, 90% of high school kids that booked their first lesson with me had never used the continental grip. Which, incidentally, is the most important grip in tennis. Particularly when serving and at the net), and most of these players have had experience with other “teaching-pros” (some many years, in fact).
Tennis is a tough sport to learn and even tougher to develop into an elite player. At the end of the day, you don’t want someone cashing your checks or depositing your cash for just a service. You want someone who truly does cares about your child’s growth. Does the trainer take into account personal moods or feelings, take some time to care about the individual, not just the subject of the booking? Does he or she coach and train your child, or is it just part of a core one-plan-fits-all scheme?
A great coach must use brevity when teaching. If your coach or trainer does more talking and instructing rather than feeding, get rid or him or her immediately. Great teachers have one thing in common: they lead others to discover answers for themselves. Students will learn greater, more impactful lessons by experiencing them than hearing someone else’s version of the answers. So get a trainer that will help lead them to the water’s edge to drink, per se, not dunk and hold their heads under until they are forced to drink. (Sorry for the violent reference, folks, but trying to make a point!) Yes, instruction should happen during your training sessions but more importantly the reps needed to help grow skills.
Really Colorful Shoes
OK, just making sure you’re still paying attention. There are actually 11 bullet points on this list and this one obviously doesn’t count. But it does touch on the fact that oftentimes we make decisions for extremely wrong reasons.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. Your coach or trainer should have some skills in tennis and have played competitively. Some clubs demand 4.5 NTRP players and above or college experience in playing tennis. I think many forget that they’re actually looking for great teachers, not great players. You’d be surprised how many elite players can’t even remotely get across teaching points to juniors. There are exceptional tennis players and then there are exceptional tennis teachers. Both are not mutually exclusive in most cases. If you need a high-performance coach for an aspiring D1 player, you might also need to use the same coach as a hitting partner. Then you may want to find both a great teacher and elite player to fill both needs. Otherwise, finding a great teacher who can connect your child with the skills he or she needs is priceless.
Quality teaching pros are busy people, but if you have questions outside your regular sessions on racquet choices or have other tennis-related questions, shouldn’t they at least respond to a text or e-mail? For $50/an hour plus, they better!
Each one of these points I feel are important. I strive to bring each to my own clients, except for the really colorful shoes that I’m generally lacking due to my preference for darker attire.
Shane Staley is the founder of Staley Tennis and a USPTA-certified trainer, Accredited Professional Coach and instructor.