Your Serve: Hiring a Tennis Pro?
An industry veteran who helps match teaching pros to jobs has some advice on what to look for.
By Denny Schackter
Tennis teaching is hard work. It can entail long and difficult hours, challenging students and, many times, a job with limited or no health and retirement benefits. While the industry is trying to correct some of these shortcomings, those who teach tennis do it more for the love of the game and the lifelong relationships that teaching can bring.
The reality is, the average age of a tennis professional is 46, and rising each year. Clearly, there is a need to bring more and younger men and women into the tennis teaching pro ranks.
But, as a facility director or manager, you are now faced with a challenge — you need to hire a new teaching pro or tennis director for your facility. What are you going to look for in your candidate?
Most club directors or managers would agree that a candidate only gets one shot at making a first impression, and it’s often that initial meeting that is most critical. A more traditional facility director might make assumptions based on a candidate’s personal appearance, clothing, tattoos or piercings, type of vehicle, etc. A more “up-to-date” manager might tolerate some things others would not — but in any case, first impressions play a key role in a candidate’s ultimate viability in fulfilling a particular job opening, and a savvy job candidate needs to be conscious of the impression he or she makes.
Facility directors should do an extensive background search on the candidate, noting previous jobs, length of service at each, and the reasons for leaving. Is the candidate certified by the USPTA or PTR, or both? Has the candidate taken advantage of educational opportunities to increase working knowledge? Has the candidate been a good teammate in previous jobs? Does the candidate have an engaging personality, good communication skills with all age groups, a good handshake and eye contact? Does the on-court lesson encompass a private and/or group strength? Does he or she show compassion and empathy? Is he reliable and on time, passionate about tennis and a lifelong learner? Does the candidate have a sense of humor?
One director I talked to mentioned good writing skills as an attribute, important in communicating with parents and members, as well as interacting in the community.
As I’ve found in my tennis consulting business and in placing teaching pros with various clubs, I believe one of the soundest ways to judge a tennis professional is to investigate the candidate’s past. Patterns generally appear at each stop, and those patterns, good and bad, are the product you are buying.
I asked friends and family who work in a variety of professions, “What do you think are the ingredients for the perfect employee?” After all, hiring a tennis pro is no different than hiring a sales rep or a nurse or any other professional. One of the responses I received that intrigued me was someone who said he works with folks who lack “well-roundedness.” They would rather finish a task at work than go home to loved ones or attend a scheduled family event.
Now, most managers probably would say, “I love it. What a great work ethic!” Looking further, though, you could ask, “Is this potential employee well-rounded, and does he have the ability to relate to students, parents and families and provide life’s lessons within the club environment?”
I love working with “people” people and I think most tennis club members do as well. Folks who can conduct a conversation about other things besides tennis and have a nice balance between work and personal life add to a teaching staff.
A friend mentioned another trait I found interesting. “I like employees who are open to motivation,” he said. I’m sure we’ve all been in staff meetings where a need occurs, but no one, or only one person, volunteers for the task. I realize I just talked about balance and “well-roundedness,” but an employee I want to work with is someone who does volunteer often, is willing to take the lead and attempt the job, and is willing to learn a new skill.
One of my favorite questions to ask goes back to my coaching days. When recruiting a prospective student-athlete, I would consider, “Is this kid a good teammate?” Another way to look at a candidate is to ask, “Is this person a ‘me’ person or a ‘we’ person?”
I love “we” people. Those folks look at a challenge that a facility may have and they say, “We can do this.” Too many times, the response is, “I don’t think this will work,” or, “Count me out.” I say, let those candidates take a job at the club down the road. I don’t want them as part of my staff.
Tennis industry veteran Denny Schackter owns Tennis Priorities (tennispriorities.com), a placement firm for tennis professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.