A United Front
A longtime teaching pro says that to make this game truly grow, it’s time the PTR and USPTA come together and form one organization.
By Bruce Levine
I’ve been a full-time tennis teaching professional for 30 years. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of programs come and go, a lot of teaching methods become really popular then fall by the wayside, and a lot of people rotate into, then out of, this business. But the one thing that continues to baffle me is, why do we still have two professional teaching pro organizations?
It’s time that both groups join hands and start to work together, with the ultimate goal that we have only one organization that certifies tennis-teaching professionals.
In my three decades in this business I have constantly dealt with both USPTA and PTR pros. I’ve worked alongside pros from both organizations, I’ve hired pros from both, I’ve recommended pros from each group to various players over the years. But let’s face it, when we’re trying to grow this game and increase participation, two competing teaching organizations are simply confusing to consumers and provide unnecessary conflict within the industry itself.
As a teaching pro, think of it from a business point of view. Should you belong to one group, or the other? How do you know which group to join? Is there an advantage to spending even more of your hard-earned money to be a member of both?
I realize there are differences between the two groups, both real and perceived. The USPTA, some say, is more “serious” about its business; the PTR is the much more “friendly” and “open” organization. The PTR, founded by Dennis Van der Meer, uses a “Standard Method” that pros need to learn for the certification exam; whereas the USPTA, led by Tim Heckler, is more open-minded in terms of technique. And within the industry itself, the perception is that the USPTA can be irascible, stubborn and suspicious of other groups, while the PTR takes in more “hobbyist pros” who aren’t making their living in this sport and the group lags behind in technology.
And what should our students, and potential students, think? If you are a USPTA or PTR pro, just ask your students if they know what that teaching pro “shingle” means, or if they even know about either organization. I’m willing to bet that 99 percent of your students couldn’t really care about which organization you belong to. In fact, they probably perceive no difference between the two, and if they did know about both, they’d probably wonder exactly what this industry is doing.
Also consider manufacturers and other businesses and organizations in this industry. Do they throw their lot in with one or the other group in terms of sponsorship? If so, do they risk the ire of the group they don’t select? Or is it easier for them just not to get involved at all? (And how, then, will that benefit anybody?) Kudos to HEAD Penn for figuring out a way to sponsor both groups, but I suspect there are a lot of marginal members of either group that join to get the free or discounted equipment, and I suspect Head may be paying a heavy price for this appeasement of both groups.
The USTA, TIA and manufacturers need to get involved here. They need to take a stand and make it clear that both PTR and USPTA need to take steps toward getting together. Otherwise, I would be willing to bet that the USTA itself will, at some point down the road, take things into its own hands and start certifying teaching pros—and you know, with the current situation, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. In virtually every other country, the national tennis federation certifies teaching pros. (For a number of years, the USTA has been running the very successful Recreational Coach Workshops, designed essentially to get parents and other adults involved in teaching basics to beginning children. I think this is a wonderful program to grow the game, but I can only imagine the resistance the USTA has had to overcome from, especially, the USPTA.)
Think how much easier it will be to build this game without these two competing groups. Think how much easier it will be for the businesses in tennis to confidently deal with one teaching pro organization and know that members of that one group will influence the development of this game in the U.S. And think how nice it would be to combine the USPTA’s impressive digital and internet services with the PTR’s friendly and open customer service, along with its international representation. Something tells me that the more each of these two groups may compete for members, the lower the standards for teaching pros may actually become. And no one in this business wants that. Just look at golf: There’s only one teaching organization, the PGA, and I’ve been to dozens of clubs that all have PGA-certified pros.
If the leaders of both the PTR and USPTA made a point to sit down and be civil toward each other, with other key industry players in the room, something could be worked out toward unifying this country’s teaching pros under one umbrella. Then, instead of spending their resources (which are, after all, their members’ money) duplicating their efforts, competing with each other, and sniping at each other, their unified efforts will make this sport grow for all.
See all articles by Bruce Levine
About the Author
Bruce Levine is the General Manager of the Courtside Racquet Club in Lebanon, N.J.