How to Become a Tennis Teaching Pro: Part I

Preparation

This is the first installment in a three-part series. Part Two will explore how you should go about gaining the knowledge and certification you'll need to become a highly qualified pro. Part Three will weigh some of the pros and cons of life as a tennis teacher.

It's often been said that the way to choose a profession is to find something you love to do, then find a way to get paid for doing it. I don't know how many of us manage to work things out that well, but I would guess that people who teach tennis for a living have found their true calling to a greater extent than most.

Like any profession, teaching tennis has its difficulties, but there's much to be said for being in a business that's largely focused on helping people have fun.

If you think you might want to become a teaching pro, your first step should be to become an experienced and well-rounded player. For example, you might be able to beat everyone in your town without ever venturing to the net, but if you're going to teach others who might not have your baseline groundstroking talents, you need to know how to play the net. A good tennis teacher should know not only his or her own game, but how to play with a wide variety of styles. You shouldn't be forcing students to model the one playing style you prefer; you should be able to help them find the style that suits them best.

For the sake of your students, you should also do some serious studying before you start. Gifted players don't necessarily make good teachers.

What comes naturally to you might be difficult for someone else, and if you don't have a thorough understanding of a wide range of strokes and how and why they work, you'll end up offering your students little more than an opportunity to try to imitate your style of play. Worse, you're likely to perpetuate many of the myths that abound in the tennis world.

One way to develop a deep understanding of the game and its teaching is to take lessons from the type of pro who will encourage you to learn a wide range of strokes and to apply an analytical approach to improving your own game. You can also explicitly hire a pro to teach you how to teach. If a pro is unavailable or unaffordable, you should carefully study at least two comprehensive and detailed books on tennis. This amount of study is merely a minimum preparation for a beginning job. You'll be studying in far greater depth as you prepare to become a top professional.

To get your first taste of actual teaching, you have several options:

  1. Assist an experienced pro. Some tennis clubs hire rookie tennis teachers to work on the same court with a pro for a while, then start teaching beginner classes, usually with younger children.
  2. Teach in a summer public recreation program. Many towns hire good players as young as 17 or 18 to teach tennis. These classes are typically informal and geared toward beginners, mostly intended to give kids a taste of having fun with tennis. At the better programs, experienced instructors are on hand and classes are small, but very often, a young first-time instructor is in charge of the whole program, and, unfortunately, too many kids at once. If you get such a job, try to find a way to spread classes out so that you have no more than six kids per class, preferably four. Giving good instruction to larger classes than this is too difficult for many experienced teachers, let alone a first-timer. The USTA can help you learn how to organize and teach a large recreational program. It offers Recreational Coach Workshops nationwide every year. These one-day, often free events focus on how to teach groups of beginners and advanced beginners.
  1. Many summer camps offer tennis as a minor activity and hire an inexperienced "tennis specialist" who runs the whole tennis program. For the right person at the right camp, being a counselor can be incredible fun. At many camps, tennis will be an elective activity, and you might not have the problem of oversized classes as you often would in a public recreation program. As a specialist, you might also be exempt from living in a cabin with a group of kids. If you want to teach tennis, you have to like kids, but you don't necessarily have to want to live with eight of them.
  2. Other general summer camps focus much more seriously on tennis as a major elective. The minimal qualifications for getting a job at a general camp with a big tennis program are less than those at a dedicated tennis camp, but if you've never taught tennis, you certainly will not be put in charge of the whole program, and even an assistant will often be expected to have some teaching or college playing experience. Some of these camps hire quite a large staff of tennis instructors and assistants.
  1. Dedicated tennis camps usually cater to players who take lessons year-round. They generally hire experienced teaching pros, but some, especially those that only draw from their local area, will hire an inexperienced teacher to assist with the younger children.
  2. In many smaller towns, high-school sports are a major center of attention, and it's not uncommon for a local star tennis player to find lots of families eager to have their kids sign up for lessons. If you are "famous" for your tennis in your home town, you might attract a good number of students just by posting some notices at the local courts and a few other public spots. Since you'll be entirely on your own, and your students will likely be eager to follow in your footsteps and become advanced players, it's especially important that you make sure you're prepared to give them quality instruction. You should put in more than the minimal preparation I described earlier.
    Part Two explores the process of getting certified as a tennis instructor and the benefits of certification.

    Part Three looks at the best and the worst of life as a professional tennis instructor.