Pumping Up the Vital Signs
With decades of service to recreational players, Kirk Anderson says the game is giving back to him.
This is the first of six installments on the teaching pros who hold Master Pro certifications from both the PTR and the USPTA.
After being told he was ineligible to play college tennis because he had taught the sport at a summer camp, Kirk Anderson says he dedicated his career to becoming the best teaching pro he could be. He recently took another step toward achieving that goal by becoming one of only six teaching pros in the world to hold the Master Professional rating from both the PTR and the USPTA.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” says 54-year-old Anderson of New Fairfield, Conn., who recently added the PTR rating to the one he has held through the USPTA for more than a decade. “The more you do and the more you participate, the better teacher you’ll be. This [training] is just another way the game gives back to you.”
While the USPTA and PTR each require a combination of playing ability, teaching skills and experience, published research and communications, professional development and industry service, both organizations’ Master Professional designations recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the game throughout their career.
“It’s tough to achieve,” says USPTA Director of Certification R.J. Tessier. “Kirk is a hard worker. You’ve got to give him credit.”
“Kirk has earned this,” agrees Geoffrey Norton, director of development at the PTR. “He has tons of energy and unbelievable dedication. He’s the kind of guy who keeps plugging away until he nails it.”
After graduating from Western Michigan University with an undergraduate degree in health and physical education in 1973, Anderson taught tennis at park and recreation departments, clubs in Michigan and Ohio, and a resort in Hawaii. He returned to Western Michigan University, earning a master’s degree in exercise science in 1985, and held positions with the USPTA and HEAD Penn Racquet Sports. Formerly the USTA’s national director of community play, Anderson says he recently “carved out the position of my fondest dreams” at the USTA national headquarters.
As USTA director of recreational coaches and programs, Anderson provides services and resources nationwide to coaches and tennis leaders involved in recruiting and retaining players. While Little League and youth soccer programs are supported by about 300,000 volunteer and parent coaches, Anderson bemoans the limited impact of the country’s 15,000 teaching pros for 5.9 million new tennis players and 4.2 million who returned to the game in 2004, according to the participation survey conducted by the USTA and Tennis Industry Association.
“We need more paramedics to get local tennis programs started and keep the vital signs going,” Anderson says.
Before that can happen, however, he warns a cultural change is needed. Whereas kids get involved in sports like baseball, soccer, and football through teams, the perception of tennis players needing lessons limits participation, according to Anderson.
“I ask park directors and managers, ‘Do you offer baseball lessons?’ and they look at me like I just landed on the planet,” Anderson says. “I drive by Little League games and only one or two kids can really play, but they practice as a team and by the time they’re older they’re pretty good. Meanwhile, the parents are organizing and coaching games and running the concessions. Why can’t we do the same with tennis programs?”
To boost youth and parent coach participation levels, Anderson endorses teaching tennis in the context of match play, rather than perfecting strokes independently of one another. Slower, lighter balls currently being produced give new players more control and time to get to the ball, while modified courts — positioning players simultaneously from the baseline to the fence, baseline to service line, and service line to net, for example — create more opportunities for players to stay active rather than waiting for a turn to hit.
“Our goal is teaching players to serve, return, rally, and score in the first hour,” Anderson says. While technique is important at all levels, he adds, kids just want the game to be fun. Adults prefer more structure, and seniors look for clinics that are social, active and low-stress.
“The way things are now, a few players become champions, but we lose everyone else,” Anderson says. “That’s not good enough.”
Helping to Get Parents Involved
As the USTA’s director of recreational coaches and programs, Kirk Anderson encourages parents and other volunteers to get involved in teaching and coaching players at the recreational level. The USTA, in cooperation with the USPTA and PTR, offers a training program to help develop recreational coaches nationwide. Upcoming workshops include:
- San Juan, Puerto Rico: Aug. 20-21, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Free
- Costa Mesa, Calif.: Aug. 26, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. $25; $30 after Aug. 1
- New Haven, Conn.: Sept. 11, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. $40; $50 after Aug. 1 (includes lunch)
- Bayamon, Puerto Rico: Sept. 24, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. $35
- Vero Beach, Fla.: Oct. 11, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. $30 (includes lunch)
For more information about 2005 USTA Recreation Coach Workshops, visit usta.com. To learn how your park and recreation agency can host a workshop, contact Jason Jamison, USTA product manager, recreational coaching, at 623-374-4905 or Jamison@usta.com.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.