2006 Person of the year: Kirk Anderson
On the one hand, had Kirk Anderson not taught at a park and rec tennis program one summer before college and been paid for his efforts, there’s a good chance his life could have turned out vastly different from what it is. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the recreational game without Anderson heavily involved in it.
Anderson, who is the USTA’s director of Recreational Coaches and Programs, started playing competitively when he was a sophomore at Parchment High School in Parchment, Mich., a suburb of Kalamazoo. When he entered Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, as a physical education major, he wasn’t on the tennis team. But he played well enough that he made the team as a walk-on.
“I was on the team for only an hour,” Anderson recalls. “I was kicked off the team when I signed some papers that said I had taught for money the previous summer at a rec program, and at that time, you couldn’t do that.
“I was extremely disappointed, but then I decided I’d continue to teach and become the best teacher I possibly could,” he adds. “So I taught throughout college — kids, adults, in camps, and doing community education in gymnasiums for adults, teaching over the summers. I even worked at a sporting goods store and strung racquets.”
Anderson’s goal to become the best tennis teacher possible was realized in 2003, when the International Tennis Hall of Fame honored him with its Tennis Educational Merit Award.
And now, for all of his efforts in bringing people into the game and keeping them playing — including his pivotal role within the industry as one of tennis’s premier teachers of tennis teachers — Racquet Sports Industry is honored to recognize Kirk Anderson in our Champions of Tennis issue as our 2006 Person of the Year.
“Tennis,” says Anderson’s wife, Carol, “is just a part of him. He always says how fortunate he is to be in an atmosphere where others have so much fun and appreciate it so much. I think he just wants people to enjoy it.”
Adds Kirk, “I always tell people I have the best job in the world.”
Within the industry, one would be hard-pressed to find another person with Anderson’s unique blend of creative ideas, upbeat attitude, and single-minded purpose. But, in typical Kirk Anderson fashion, he pushes aside praise of his own accomplishments and, in his own sincere way, directs it to his talented team at the USTA. “I’ve got some pretty doggone good people here,” he says. “We get along so well, we’re supportive of each other. It’s a great working environment, but you can hardly call it ‘work,’ though.”
“That’s just Kirk,” says Carol. “He’s really a quiet person, but he loves creating and working in a friendly atmosphere, on the court and in the office.”
Walk into Anderson’s well-organized office at USTA national headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., and you immediately get that sense of friendliness. For one thing, his door is always open. He likes to keep his office neat, but he’s not a neat freak — it’s not a sterile, everything-in-its-place kind of environment. Like Anderson himself, his office is warm and friendly, especially when you get a look at the walls.
Mixed in with plaques and certificates recognizing his achievements in the industry are dozens of photos of family, friends, staff, and other tennis people. One of Anderson’s hobbies is framing and matting photos and posters, and his office walls are a testament to his skill in this area of his life, too.
In addition to photos of his son and daughter, Anderson shows off photos of his granddaughter and grandson. On the walls, there’s a nice shot of Anderson with Arthur Ashe, another with Rod Laver, then Vic Braden, Chris Evert… it goes on and on, including shots of Anderson with his USTA staffers. And alongside these photos, he has three framed poems, titled “Impact of Coaches,” “To Any Coach,” and “Success.”
“Kirk always has so much energy, and he’s so great to work for,” says Kelly O’Laughlin, who reports to Anderson as the USTA’s coordinator of recreational coaches. “One of his favorite sayings is, ‘No one should be able to tell if you are having a bad day,’ and if you know Kirk, you know that’s true, he’s always upbeat. And he’s always on the go. He loves to get out and meet people in the field.”
ANDERSON’S FIRST JOB after college was teaching phys ed in school, and teaching tennis during the summers in city recreation departments. Then he hooked up with the West Hills Tennis Club in Kalamazoo, which offered him a full-time job. After a few years, he went to Battle Creek, Mich., and taught at the YMCA tennis center, then it was on to Hawaii, where he worked for Peter Burwash International for a year at a resort on Kauai.
He came back to Michigan and spent six years at the Holland (Mich.) Tennis Club, and along the way he returned to Western Michigan University and earned a master’s degree in exercise science. In the mid-1980s, Anderson joined the Midwest Tennis Association and became the schools director in Springfield, Ohio, where he remained for six years before moving to Atlanta to work for Penn Racquet Sports as its promotions manager.
He joined the USPTA as its director of education, a post he held for two years, before coming to the USTA in 1996 as the manager of the Play Tennis America program. This past September, Anderson celebrated his 10-year anniversary with the USTA.
But throughout his journey within the tennis industry, this premier tennis teacher has never stopped learning. He is one of only a handful of tennis teaching pros worldwide who are designated as “Master Professionals” in both the PTR and USPTA.
“Kirk’s been a learner for so long, and continues to be,” says Carol, who herself is the executive director of the USPTA’s Midwest Division. “He’s had the privilege of gaining a lot of knowledge through a lot of great people. He’s had many wonderful opportunities.”
Anderson, who lives in New Fairfield, Conn., frequently is a featured presenter, both oncourt and off, at industry conventions. And he is one of the co-directors of the highly successful USTA Tennis Teachers Conference, the annual gathering in New York City in late August, as the US Open is beginning, that attracts hundreds of teaching pros from the U.S. and around the world. In 2006, the TTC drew nearly 750 attendees, the largest since 2001.
He also is in charge of the on-court activities for the yearly Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, which takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on the Saturday before the US Open begins. In 2005, more than 33,000 kids attended the event.
IN HIS ROLE as USTA director of Recreational Coaches and Programs, one of Anderson’s key initiatives is the Recreational Coach Workshops (www.usta.com/coaches), designed to get parents and other volunteers involved in teaching and coaching players at the recreational level. The national program, offered in cooperation with the USPTA and PTR, offers training to help develop these rec coaches.
“In the last six years, we’ve trained over 23,000 new coaches, which is pretty cool,” says Anderson, who credits staffer O’Laughlin for coordinating the program. “We started the RCWs because we took a look at the research and saw that most people were entering the game in community programs, in parks, etc., where the people teaching them were most likely seasonal, with no formal training themselves. Now, the RCW is a six-hour on-court program that gives these coaches some skills and tools.”
The Recreational Coach Workshops offer ideas on everything from handling groups and lesson progressions to team practices and on-court activities. Some of the games and activities in the RCWs are more appropriate for kids, says Anderson, but a lot of the skills and lead-up activities are appropriate for beginning adults, too. The RCWs are not meant as a replacement for training and certification by recognized teaching associations, but the people the workshops reach, says Anderson, “are the front line in getting and keeping players.”
“We have a long way to go,” he adds. “We want parents to think about team-tennis programs like they do about soccer or Little League baseball. We really want to increase our numbers.”
Then, there’s the school’s initiative, which has a number of parts, including the high-school no-cut program. “We’re trying to recognize high-school coaches who have no-cut policies and we’re trying to assist those who do cut kids from their teams to adopt a no-cut policy,” says Anderson. Right now, he adds, there are about 340,000 high-school players and 15,000 coaches.
“If every coach could keep just a few more kids on the team, then we can make a significant impact,” he says. “In this regard, we don’t want to be like soccer, where they have a tremendous number of kids playing up until 13 or 14, then when they get to high school, most are eliminated. We want there to be plenty of opportunity for high-school tennis play.”
Another of Anderson’s objectives is to create a viable feeder system through middle schools. “There’s a huge emphasis right now on keeping kids active,” he says. “We’re trying to mirror what we do in high school. The perfect scenario would be if those kids in middle school could feed right into high-school no-cut tennis teams, playing with their friends.”
Related to this is creating intramural activities at the elementary level, including playground tennis. “We’re looking at our transition ball project, thinking that’s where it might plug in well,” says Anderson. “Elementary schools may not have tennis courts, but they can easily use gyms, parking lots, and other rec areas.”
The last component of the schools initiative is the new curriculum, written by noted educator Dr. Robert Pangrazi, an expert in teaching physical education to children and author of more than 30 textbooks. “Our new curriculum is appropriate for any teacher,” says Anderson. “We’ve made it so simple that most anyone can teach it in their programs.” This educational program is coordinated by USTA staffers Jason Jamison, Karen Green and Barb Stones.
Beyond school tennis, Anderson heads up initiatives to identify, recruit, and train off-court tennis organizers. “This is critical for any of the programs we have,” he says. “We need people to organize activities, match kids up with coaches, make schedules, and so on. Clubs have done this routinely, but we need to do this for our Junior Team Tennis program, after-school programs, etc. We can’t solely rely on teaching pros. Anne Davis has been doing a terrific job heading this up.”
There’s also the “Welcome Back to Tennis” program, also run by Davis, for former players over age 50. “It’s a one-day event to reintroduce them back into sport,” says Anderson. All of the initiatives his department deals with, he adds, are supported administratively by USTA staffer DanaMichelle Atkinson.
THE NEWEST INITIATIVE is the transition-ball project, using foam balls, low-compression balls, and different size courts to help people get involved in the game. “Of all the things we’re doing, this could have the greatest significance because it can allow kids to develop techniques and tactics at a much younger age,” says Anderson.
“Kirk’s been a great advocate for changing the way young people are introduced to tennis, and introduced in a way that will get them to like it right away,” says Scott Schultz, the USTA’s managing director of Recreational Tennis, to whom Anderson reports. “Many of the initiatives that we have are based on Kirk’s advocacy and leadership.”
Both the PTR and the USPTA praise Anderson for his leadership in the “36-60” pilot program. The numbers refer to the dimensions of a “short court” for starting kids in the game and involve using transition balls and modified scoring.
“Kirk’s one of these guys who thinks outside the box, and he’s a consensus-builder, he can bring people together,” says Dan Santorum, the CEO and executive director of the PTR. “If we could replicate around the country Kirk’s strong work ethic, his in-depth knowledge, and his tremendous passion, tennis would be a top-10 participation sport.”
“I’ve always appreciated Kirk’s enthusiasm and high level of energy, and his ability to pass on his passion for tennis to participants,” says USPTA President Ron Woods.
“I’ve known Kirk for almost 25 years,” adds Schultz. “There’s really no one in tennis as professional, dedicated, and hard-working at trying to get more people to play.”
Kirk Anderson’s tips for success
- To be an effective teacher, you need to find your students’ hot buttons — what motivates them.
- Junior players really soak up any tips you can give them to help their game. Skip the long introductions and lectures with kids.
- Spend as much time as you possibly can to make sure you hire the best people. “I have the best staff in the world,” says Anderson. “Most of the time I only provide direction and vision and they are off and running. I am most proud of the fact that they are always looking for ways to make others look better.”
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.