Recently, I received a text message from my friend USPTA Professional Jose Rincon, who is a director of tennis in Port St. Lucie, Florida. He says, “hey I’m here at the USTA National Campus”. So, I head over to see Jose at the campus and after 25 years we get together and laugh about our days as rookie coaches at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. Our memories take us to an era long gone and we reflect together how amazing it is that we are still in the game.
After our walk down memory lane, I ask him what’s up, what’s he doing in Lake Nona on campus? He explains that he’s attending a USTA National Jr Team Camp with his 13-year-old student Violeta Martinez who is ranked in the top 5 among the 14 and unders in the state of Florida. What? Why are you here? Jose explained that they invited him, funded his trip and that he is working with them to help his student.
If you have worked in the private sector for any amount of time that sounds a bit implausible. Collaboration between USTA Player Development and USPTA coaches from the private sector? I had heard, with a certain amount of personal historical skepticism, Martin Blackman (General Manager of USTA Player Development) talk about this a few months ago in some form or another. Now my buddy is here so I decided to check it out first hand and see what’s going on.
Sid: What is your impression of the camp?
JR: I absolutely love the camp. I give it an 11 out of 10 points. For me, the camp is the equivalent of being a kid at Toys R Us. Sharing ideas with all the coaches and learning from the strongest minds in the business. I am learning so much and just love it. I’m very happy to be here.
Sid: How is the interaction with the USTA national coaches been with you as the primary coach of your player?
JR: The interaction has been fantastic. I just love the way they reach out and ask for my help. It’s a whole new culture here. It’s my first camp and they make me feel like I belong here. I have nothing but the utmost respect for these coaches here.
They are extremely receptive to listening to my input. A prime example is that I had a question about Violeta’s grip and I explained what I was looking for and they helped me come up with a solution.
Sid: While waiting to speak with you, I did take note that Coach Richard (Richard Ashby USTA National Coach) was working individually with Violeta. He often would look over to you and say, “Jose, is that what you’re looking for?” He appeared very cooperative.
JR: Absolutely. It was complete cooperation in every aspect.
After hearing the positive things about the USTA National Jr Team Camp and the cooperation between Jose and USTA national coaches, I decided to reach out to Richard Ashby and Jean Desdunes, who both work for USTA Player Development and get their insight about the collaboration between USPTA coaches and USTA Player Development.
Sid: Could you discuss the coaching culture both now and in your past experiences and have you seen a shift or a change?
JD: I know that we have done a lot to try and change the coaching culture. When Kent Kinnear, Director of Player Identification and Development first started, he wanted to make sure he reached out to the private sector, our former players and welcomed them into the fold. He started with the RTC’s (Regional Training Centers) with the idea in mind as far as reaching out to existing programs and coaches and working with them, along with having the camps there and of course national camps to invite the players. But I believe that’s where we have lived the last few years and we feel that it’s probably the most important thing we do. Their success is our success and that’s the way we look at it. I know Martin always talks about us being a resource which we are. I’m passionate about them understanding that we are a resource and nothing more.
Sid: Now along that line, let me ask you this Richard. I noticed when you were working with Violeta, you would ask Jose questions and the dialogue I saw…it seemed like you were inviting him in on the process and asking for feedback both from the player and the coach?
RA: Yes, that is correct. Our number one goal is for the player to get better. Whatever people may feel about the USTA, all we want is for players to improve and to be successful. Whoever gets the credit doesn’t really matter as long as the player is getting better. As Jean also mentioned, the person that is doing the most work with the players (especially when they’re young) are the private coaches. So, our interaction with them is how do we together get the player better? Maybe we can provide something that the private coach can’t do? When a player gets older, the private coach…unless they are willing to coach that player full time, can’t travel three weeks at a time. And so, as they get older, the USTA can provide services and assitance if we know what they were working on.
There is great energy and as I talk with all these coaches, I see it in action. I feel it when I speak with my fellow coaches. The collaboration is real and tangible, not just words. Professionals are honest and open, both about current challenges and past mistakes. This cultural shift has been a work in progress for over a decade and the fruits are coming to fruition now and in the near future. The mission statements of “grow the game” and “elevating the standards of tennis-teaching professionals and coaches’ will continue to live on.*