It's all about learning
To make the grade as a teaching pro, Ken DeHart says never miss an educational opportunity.
Throughout his career, 57-year-old Ken DeHart of San Jose, Calif. has sought to make learning tennis fun and simple for players of all ages. Just as effective in growing the game, his colleagues say, is the expertise and enthusiasm he imparts to his fellow teaching professionals through seminars delivered worldwide on the strategic and mental aspects of the sport.
R.J. Tessier, director of certification for the USPTA, says DeHart is a popular speaker whose entertaining demonstrations of “100 Drills in an Hour” (many of which he invented), how to teach large groups, and the psychology of competition are repeatedly requested at industry events.
“Ken is an accomplished player, and he’s still in the trenches teaching day to day. That experience adds a lot of credibility,” Tessier says.
Julie Jilly, vice president of operations for the PTR, also has special knowledge of DeHart’s dedication to the game; DeHart hired her when he was the PTR’s executive director in 1985. “Even then, Ken was this very nice, down-to-earth man who loved being on the court,” Jilly says. “His forte is helping people with their game; he’s just a great ambassador of the sport.”
DeHart became a PTR member in 1977, before the organization was even a year old. He is also a national PTR clinician and tester, and a longtime speaker at the organization’s annual symposium. “If you look at all his accolades,” Jilly adds, “it’s amazing he has time to do as much as he does.”
Aside from being a player, teacher, coach, speaker, and mentor, DeHart was the first person to earn Master Professional ratings from both the USPTA and PTR — and is still one of only six teaching pros in the world to have accomplished that honor. “It’s very special to be identified by your peers as one of the elite people in the tennis industry,” DeHart says, “though I started out on such a small scale that I still don’t see myself at that level.”
DeHart was introduced to tennis halfway through his freshman year at Campbellsville College in Kentucky, when he and the rest of the cross-country team ran by some tennis courts. “I had never seen tennis played before,” DeHart recalls. “I went right out to K-mart, bought a Wilson racquet for $14.95 and a can of balls, and decided to become a tennis player.”
In his sophomore year, DeHart convinced his roommate to try out with him for the tennis team. “We didn’t know you had to be good,” he recalls with a laugh. Instead of a place on the team, the coach said he could hit with the players and pick up balls at practices. Impressed with DeHart’s work ethic, she offered him a position as secretary of the physical education department through which he helped teach phys-ed classes, coach the women’s tennis team, and travel with the men’s tennis team. He also continued playing, earning a spot on the team in his junior year. The following year, he was named the team’s most valuable player.
After graduating in 1971 with a triple major in business, physical education, and history, DeHart went on to earn a master’s in education from Western Kentucky University while coaching tennis, bowling, table tennis, and track. After returning to Campbellsville to teach high school and college tennis, he met teaching pro Thay Butchee who helped him get a job interview for the director of tennis position at an eight-court facility in Nashville.
“For three years, I went over [Butchee’s] house just about every night and asked him what he had taught that day. And for three years, I taught that same thing the next day,” DeHart says. “I always thought, if I ever knew that much, it would be so amazing.”
Many would argue that DeHart has achieved that aspiration. He’s taught all ages and skill levels at clubs in Nashville, Tempe, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and now San Jose, where he is director of tennis at the seven-court San Jose Swim & Tennis Club. A USA Tennis High Performance coach, he also conducts Cardio Tennis demonstrations and USTA workshops for recreational coaches.
As one of the 20 Wilson Premier Advisory Staff Members, DeHart travels and speaks to tennis pros across the country about drills, teaching certification, and mental toughness. He also serves as associate editor of the Tennis One website (www.tennisone.com) devoted to tennis instruction, and is a prolific writer who co-wrote the International Book of Drills with PTR founder Dennis Van der Meer.
During tax season, DeHart helps his wife and father-in-law run one of the largest income-tax practices in northern California. He’s also a collector, having accumulated about 1,800 tennis racquets, 2,000 books on the sport, and memorabilia including the 1924 trophy commemorating Army’s win over Navy.
“More teaching pros should take advantage of all the educational opportunities offered [by the PTR and USTPA]. I hear people say they can’t take the time off, but the way I see it, how can you not?” DeHart says. “Even if you get just one new idea, it will help you teach better and your players will learn faster. Tennis will get even bigger and be more fun for everyone.” w This is the third of six installments on the teaching pros who hold Master Pro certifications from both the PTR and the USPTA.
DeHart’s Tips for Success
- Embrace change. Ken DeHart continues to look for ways to grow the game — and is currently touring the nation to help other teaching pros do the same by offering Cardio Tennis at their facilities. Never miss an opportunity to add variety to your programming, which could attract a new audience.
- Reduce unforced errors: Throughout his career, DeHart has worked to transform weaknesses into strengths by refusing to give in to fear of either success or failure. “Focus on the present,” he says, “because that’s all any of us can really deal with at any given moment.”
- Never stop learning. Seek the advice of experienced fellow pros, and take the time to pursue educational opportunities through organizations like the PTR and USPTA. Your time is valuable, but so is the experience of learning best practices from industry leaders.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.