Tennis Industry magazine


Letters: Teaching Pro Membership Resolution Brings Up Concerns

A longtime pro is baffled by a ruling that he feels stifles the game’s growth.

By Ken DeHart, PTR & USPTA Master Professional

How often do you hear something that just makes you wonder, “What the heck is that all about, and how could that have happened in the first place?”

Well, that’s exactly what I thought when I heard that at the September USPTA National Conference in Marco Island, Fla., a binding resolution was passed through the Executive Committee by the National USPTA Board that said, in part:

  1. No USPTA member who is also a PTR member may serve USPTA as an Executive Committee member at the national level (current members are “grandfathered” in until end of their term).
  2. No USPTA member who is also a PTR member may serve as a USPTA Divisional Officer in the position of President or Regional Vice President.
  3. No USPTA member who is also a PTR member may be a national tester.

For those of us who feel we’re doing all we can to contribute to the health, well-being, and growth of tennis, this ruling raises a lot of questions and concerns. For instance:

  • Why is it so important that a USPTA professional not be a member of the PTR?
  • Why is it a problem in belonging to any organization that is helping to grow the game of tennis?
  • Who in the USPTA leadership feels that serving the tennis industry through whatever means possible is a conflict of interest?
  • Why make such a ruling at this time, when everyone in the tennis industry is supposedly coming together to help grow tennis to the status we all feel it belongs?
  • When did the much-admired characteristic of seeking professional growth through the learning opportunities afforded by different organizations (USTA, TIA, USRSA, USPTA, PTR — or any other organization, for that matter) become a problem in this industry?
  • How will belonging to one of these organizations affect my ability to financially afford belonging to any of the others?
  • Why was the USPTA general membership not notified of the need for this ruling, or the fact that it even was being considered, let alone passed?

In 1976 — about 30 years ago, as my USPTA 30-year pin says — a rookie wannabe tennis teaching instructor took the USPTA test with Bill Tym in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and became a USPTA Professional. Seeking to further expand my knowledge, and wanting to be a credible tennis teaching pro, I drove with a friend from Nashville to Sarasota, Fla., and took a 10-day workshop and test to become a PTR Professional.

Years later, I served as executive director of the PTR, with never a thought that my membership in the USPTA was a conflict of interest. My only aim was to continue to be of service to this great game in any way I could. I was never instructed by the PTR that being a member of the USPTA was a conflict of interest or financial commitment. Since then, I have been:

  • a USPTA Divisional officer
  • two-time Southwest USPTA Pro of the Year
  • two-time NorCal USPTA Pro of the Year
  • PTR International Pro of the Year
  • a USPTA Master Professional
  • one of the eight original PTR Master Professionals
  • a USPTA Executive Committee member
  • a Top 10 Career Development USPTA Professional for 10 years
  • a PTR National Tester (I wanted to be a USPTA Tester as well, but I wasn’t allowed to be. However, when I test members for the PTR, I tell them how they join the USPTA as well.)

I list these credentials not to boast, but to demonstrate the opportunities available to me by being a member of both the USPTA and PTR. Not once have I considered being a member of one organization a conflict of interest with the other.

What am I? I’m proud to be a tennis teaching professional who feels a responsibility to service the tennis industry, the students I teach, the club for which I serve as director of tennis, and my own professional growth in any way possible. I am professional enough to know how to serve several organizations without confusing my lines of professionalism or duties.

As it now stands, to serve my division in a key capacity or to continue to be involved with USPTA as a chair of the Continuing Education Committee or become a national tester, I must either drop my PTR membership (which I could not do if I were a lifetime member), or cancel my PTR membership for the time I plan to serve the USPTA as an Executive Committee member. (If I were not a current PTR Master Pro, that would prohibit me from becoming one, since one of the criteria is to have 10 consecutive years of membership in the PTR.) Some clubs even have as a requirement that the professional must be a member of both organizations. So what is a pro to do if he is a leader in both organizations?

There are some members currently on the USPTA Executive Committee (USPTA Divisional Officers) who are members of the PTR as well and will be “grandfathered” in to finish their term in their division. Then they must decide to become USPTA or keep their PTR membership and not serve in the future.

I asked one of the USPTA national officers how such a binding resolution could pass. His comment was something along the lines of, “I didn’t see a reason for it not to, I guess.” Another common comment is, “It’s a business and we are both competing for membership dollars, and when a pro joins the PTR it takes away from our income.” Not so if the pro sees the benefit of belonging to both organizations, which happens a lot in our area and in the South. Other comments have included: “The PTR takes away from our endorsement dollars since manufacturers give to both organizations.” “The USTA feels compelled to give both the PTR and USPTA equal opportunities to present USTA programs and grants that could all go to the USPTA.”

Why should this even be a consideration by the USPTA? Aren’t there other, much more major, problems out there to solve? Be the best you can be for the USPTA pros and the tennis industry. All this ruling does is limit experienced professionals around the country — who choose not to drop their PTR affiliation — from serving the tennis industry or the USPTA in certain leadership capacities.

I am currently hosting a PTR Mini-Symposium in my area that is open to all PTR and USPTA pros, high school and college coaches that the USPTA will not support because it promotes the PTR and someone might join the PTR (how about they may join the USPTA as well?). How about we get high school and college coaches to become more educated and get involved in our tennis industry?

I suppose these comments and questions will end my potential to continue as a speaker at the USPTA National Conference and some Divisional Conferences in the future. But it certainly will not end my desire to continue to grow educationally, to share my experiences with both USPTA and PTR members, and to someday become a USPTA Executive Committee member again by serving as a President or Regional Vice President of my NorCal division.

It certainly will not end my desire to serve the PTR, the USTA, or any other organization that promotes the education of tennis pros or the growth the sport I love: Tennis.

The head of the USPTA says it’s a matter of competing businesses.

By Tim Heckler, Chief Executive Officer, USPTA

In this issue of RSI, a letter by a longtime USPTA and PTR member complains that USPTA no longer allows PTR members to serve on its most confidential Executive Committee. The letter writer, however, is incorrect on this issue.

This argument has been published in other magazines using a series of questions, one being: “What was the need for this ruling at a time when everyone in the industry is supposedly coming together?” I’ll answer this with a very clear analogy, one that involves three dominant tennis companies: Head, Wilson, and Prince. While these companies willingly sit on the TIA board of directors, where common plans for industry improvements are discussed and carried out, not one of these companies would dream of allowing a representative of one of their competitors to sit in on a company board or executive committee meeting, where the formulation or release of new programs or technologies takes place. And, no one in our industry would question this decision.

Similarly, both Dan Santorum (PTR) and I sit on the TIA board together, but we certainly do not expect to sit on each other’s respective company boards. The belief that the USPTA ruling will create disharmony in our industry or prevent qualified pros from speaking at educational events is simply unfounded.

The crux of the matter is that many people just don’t see USPTA and PTR as business competitors. But, both companies are fighting for the same membership resources much the same way that other companies compete for customers.

Another thing that is greatly misunderstood is the nature of the respective governances of USPTA and PTR. USPTA, much like USTA, is run by an executive committee, board of directors, and various other committees. All policy matters are resolved by the board and executive committee. USPTA has 17 divisions that are very much aligned along the same boundaries as the USTA’s sections. The executive committee is composed of the president and regional vice-president of each division, the national board of directors, and the three immediate past presidents. This 45-person body governs USPTA by representative democracy in the same way that Congress governs our country.

Should anyone suggest that USPTA’s entire 14,000 members be polled or informed of this or every other decision, the answer is simply that it is impossible to govern that way. There is no such thing as a referendum democracy. Our democratically elected executive committee makes many policy decisions on behalf of the general membership during each of its meetings, and its 34 divisional representatives have every right to report these decisions to their constituents.

As a matter of fact, and by way of example, in November 2004, the Northern California Division passed a bylaw that prevents PTR members from serving on its division board. Almost six months later, in April 2005, it was resolved at the national level that USPTA testers could not be members of PTR. Then, in September 2005, it was resolved at the national level that our most important and confidential committee should follow the same rules. This issue is not new and our division leaders have had ample time to discuss it with their constituents.

We differ from PTR in other important ways. Our national association returns 35 percent of all dues to our divisions to run additional programs at the grassroots level. PTR, by comparison, has its policies set by one or two people, has no official division structure, expenses, or governance by them. Due to USPTA’s form of governance, by having inside information, PTR can copy or beat us to the punch on every program we are about to initiate.

Up until recently, USPTA has allowed people with divided loyalties to serve on its most confidential governing bodies. This has resulted in the duplication of USPTA programs and member services, while other programs have been impeded. For years USPTA has dealt with these types of business conflicts, which further substantiates the competitive analogies above.

The most vocal critic of our policy previously served as the executive director of PTR, which in itself explains the basis of his loyalty and the motive of his complaint. He just does not see that USPTA regards itself as a business and not a fraternity for those who teach tennis.

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