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The Keys to Leading a Successful Tennis Program or Facility

April 22, 2015 09:48 AM

Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina

The ideas sound simple in theory: Stick to your program’s plan. Go out of your way to serve your clients. Have high and clear expectations.

But leading an organization or program is never easy.

In South Carolina, we have dozens of tennis facility and program leaders who show admirable leadership qualities every day. To help you with your career or business, we talked to more than a handful of those leaders about the one idea they hold onto more than any other.

Some of them you’ve thought of – make sure your customers leave happy – but others will surprise you. (After you’re done reading, let us know what you think by emailing braden@sctennis.com.)

Kim_Ozmon
Ozmon

In 2007, Kim Ozmon was working about 20 hours a week as a front-desk attendant at the Rock Hill Tennis Center. The two-year-old center had 94 members.

Ozmon is now the supervisor of the 10-court facility. The center has 550 members.

Crucial to the facility’s growth, she said, has been serving every person who walks into or calls the facility.

A staff member gives new guests a tour of the facility and helps them with whatever they need.

If the person new to Rock Hill mentions needing to call the utility department, the staff member finds the phone number for them.

During their conversation, if the center’s phone rings, the staff member always lets the call go to voicemail and returns it after his or her in-person meeting ends.

Those are the ways Ozmon has tried to make the tennis center everyone’s favorite place to go.

“Make the place seem like ‘Cheers’,” she said. “That’s our motto: ‘Sorry I can’t get you a beer, Norm, but I can get you a tennis court.’”

Eighty miles south, Jorge Andrew uses similar principles as the director of tennis operations for the Lexington County Recreation Commission.

Jorge Andrew
Andrew

He and others try to do everything they can to make sure parents and their children enjoy every tennis experience, but especially their first.

“The experience of the first competition… it has to be superb,” Andrew said.

At tournaments, Andrew and others create a sheet listing all the go-to information, including website addresses, telephone numbers, and lunch times. They give the sheet to every player and leave copies at the tournament desk. Andrew and others also post it with the draws.

Tournament officials need to take such extra steps, Andrew said.

“We are in the people business, and we have to adjust to what the people want,” he said. “The first experience is more and more important. If it’s a good one, we have a very good chance of having those players… coming back.”

Helping people feel welcome at your center. Making sure they enjoy their first experience. These are both daily habits that typically spring from a long-term program plan.

But sticking to your program’s vision at all times can be difficult, said Josh Goffi, Gamecock men’s tennis coach.

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Goffi (Gamecock Athletics photo)

This season, as the men’s team struggled with injuries, Goffi remembers letting a little thing here or there slide during practice.

Maybe it was a player not placing a towel in the right bin, or maybe a player drifted his eyes away from Goffi while the coach was talking.

Whatever it was, Goffi remembers it later having an impact on the team. The player would start slacking in other areas, and his match performance would suffer because of his all-around lack of effort.

“It’s a very gradual change that you’re not aware of, things that are happening,” Goffi said.

He was reminded that he, as the head coach, must always adhere to the program’s principles, no matter how difficult that seems.

A player might have had a tough week, such as two tough losses, a couple rough tests and a break-up with a girlfriend. But letting one player slide by on one day is never just that, Goffi said.

“If you don’t stick to the principles of your program,” he said, “other kids start to waver as well.”

adam_presbyterian
Herendeen

Adam Herendeen at Presbyterian College had similar advice.

Herendeen, who just finished his fourth year as head coach of the Division I program in Clinton, said the key to their success has been the "daily discipline to take care of the details."

For example, he makes sure his players go after every ball during practice, no matter how far away that ball seems. Because of that daily discipline, the team is much more likely to go after every ball and not quit during matches.

"We want to be known as a team that's resilient and won't back down," Herendeen said.

His methods have worked. This season, with a roster that included six freshmen and no seniors, the team finished 20-9. Last season, the team achieved its first-ever Division I ITA national ranking.

"For us," he said, "it's as simple as holding guys to a standard: My job is to honor the game and I'm going to honor the game by running to every ball."

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Epley (Gamecock Athletics photo)

Kevin Epley, South Carolina women’s tennis coach, also said an eye on the long game is crucial. Leaders must make clear the expectations for the program. For the Gamecock women’s tennis team, those are told through long-term, mid-term and short-term goals, he said.

Epley also prefers giving the players a voice during this process.

For instance, before the NCAA Tournament begins in two weeks, the team will sit down and decide what they need to do better to advance to the Sweet 16.

The coaches will draw up daily practice schedules that help the team get closer to their specific goals. And after practice, the coaches and players will determine how much closer they got to their goals.

“It’s real important that they come out and have focus,” Epley said.

Roy_Barth
Barth

High expectations also have been at the core of what Roy Barth has done for 39 years on Kiawah Island. As director of tennis, Barth quickly learned that he needed to have high standards for everyone in the operation, and he needed those standards written down.

He also realized that everyone needed to be trained on those standards, including tennis professionals.

Decades ago, Barth used to hire teaching pros and immediately let them go on court and teach. He later learned that not all great players immediately become great teachers. “Some people are really good players but don’t know how to transfer their ability to other people,” Barth said.

Now new teaching professionals at his centers spend about two weeks with Barth or another pro before they teach on their own. The new pros learn how to properly teach tennis fundamentals, such as how to watch the ball and how to use leverage in every shot.

 

Few people in our state know more about tennis fundamentals than Paul Scarpa, the former Furman men’s tennis coach. But to Scarpa, running a great program also requires recruiting quality individuals.

Scarpa, who retired in 2011 as the winningest Division I tennis coach, said when he was at Furman, he recruited only the kids who were respectful and represented themselves well on court.

“As a coach you want to be proud of them. I’ve had kids on the team, I look up to them,” Scarpa said. “They’ve got everything. They’re real strong academically. They show love for their family.”

Of course, Scarpa said, it helps if the player can also win a big match here and there. “I want someone who is a tough competitor but a great sport,” Scarpa said.

Scarpa,_Paul1_High_Resolution
Scarpa (Furman Athletics photo)
 

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