When the USPTA was looking for volunteers among the Master Pros to be mentors for younger pros, I immediately volunteered. I did it in order to play it forward for all the mentoring I was fortunate to receive as I entered the tennis profession over 50 years ago. Among my early mentors were Dalton Hill, tennis coach at El Paso Irvin High School and David Kent, long time men’s coach at Texas A&M. As I became a teaching pro and director of tennis, my initial mentors were Tim Heckler and Dennis Van der Meer. They taught me much through advice and training, but most of it was by example.
As I hired full time assistant professionals in the 1970’s and 80’s, my goal was to prepare them to move from the job with me to becoming a director of tennis. I am pleased to say that eight of my first nine became directors of tennis. Most of those are still working in the industry. The purpose of this article is to share what seem to be the most important lessons for someone to become the all-purpose professional expected by owners, boards, and customers of the director of tennis (DOT).
The first thing that a pro, who changes from assistant to DOT, should realize is that expectations from others will immediately increase. The customers will assume that you will know everything that all the assistants know, as well as being able to manage them as a team. The pro must be organized in a way to keep the respect of even those assistants who may have applied for the position. How? By showing respect for all who work for you in the same way you would expect it, and of course, by leading through example. Anticipate that you will be expected to be the expert on tennis equipment, on the latest teaching methods, on the games of current top professionals, on leagues and tournaments, and on the USTA.
The following are bullet points of the priorities of becoming a DOT. What may be noted is that continuing education and keeping up with the latest in tennis knowledge is not high on the list. This is mostly because that should be a given just by being in our industry. This list has the less measurable qualities that are the real reasons that a pro gets and keeps a director of tennis job.
Humility can be an elusive quality in a competitive industry full of egos. However, in a profession reliant on happy customers, it is crucial. The best advice for those of us challenged by this is low-key your qualities by letting them speak for themselves. Let others discover your skills by being quietly confident and never arrogant. Part of this is learning the difficult lesson of being tactfully honest at all times. Related to this is a lesson I learned from Tim Heckler while he was giving me the USPTA test in 1974. He noted that I was very proud of my knowledge of teaching skills and techniques. He burst my bubble by saying it was good and well that I had such ability, but I should face the reality that customers will sign up with me because they like me long before they do it because of my knowledge.
A close cousin to humility is fairness. At a club, all sorts of folks will try to draw you into their web for various reasons. Some will try to dominate your time; others will simply allow you into their clique. A good DOT will spread himself or herself as equally as possible outside of time paid for such as lessons and events. Treat everyone the same in the tournaments, leagues, group lessons, and other events. This may sound obvious and simple, but trust me, it is not easy. In the long run, your reputation for fairness will win out over someone being upset because you did not make an exception for him or her. When it comes to having to choose sides, side with ideas but never people. This will certainly be easier to accomplish if you have the habit of being fair in your personal life.
When you work at a club or tennis center, there should be no distinction of hierarchy when it comes to how you treat your fellow workers. The court and grounds maintenance people will often be the folks who will save an event when the electricity or plumbing goes out. If you have been respectful of them, they are more likely to put in the extra effort for you in these situations. Respect everyone for each one’s contributions to the club. The staff is in this together and a DOT should not only know everyone’s names, but they should know that the director cares. Again, this is much easier if this way of treating others is part of your personal life, it is much easier to make it real in your professional life.
The one last bit of advice is to continuously keep improving by studying and going to workshops and seminars on the latest in tennis. At the same time, share and listen to your fellow professionals, including the younger pros. Finally, listen to non-tennis people when they reflect on what they see from outside the tennis industry. Although it sometimes seems as if our tennis world is an island to itself, the reality is that we are not.
About Ken McAllister
Ken McAllister has been a master professional since 1987 and has more than 51 years of experience in the tennis industry. McAllister’s experience includes 10 years as a high school coach, 17 as a teaching professional, and 24 years as the executive director of USTA Texas. He has been a USPTA member for 43 years and was a USPTA tester for 20 years. He was inducted into the Texas Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013. He also served on the USPTA national board during the 2016-17 calendar year.