Get a haircut and get a real job
How tennis coaching became a real job for me………..
The town of Summertown in the Adelaide Hills has a population of around 300. In the Summer of 1996 I was offered my first tennis coaching job with the Summertown Tennis Club as coach of their small amount of juniors for the year. This was a part time opportunity which was 1 or 2 days a week after school for an hour or so. I was only 15 years old.
That experience taught me a lot. It was the first real time I saw how by being good at tennis paid off in the way of a job. Although I was lucky to have a family very involved in coaching and sporting clubs, I had no experience at assistant tennis coaching let alone being the head coach. The main thing I remember was one of my students Rebecca having a blast joking about my Adam’s apple and the size of it. I do remember getting paid for it and feeling a little proud of myself for earning the $ and getting the job done. I am sure my coaching was terribly scrappy and I am sure I played way too much ‘Skeleton’ which was the game I also had learnt to play in my lessons. I was 15 and where I was a good at tennis, I was an adventurous, slightly rebellious kid who didn’t deserve or earn the job. I didn’t apply for it, I didn’t struggle to earn it but really it was just that they had no other options for that season.
In 1998 I got a phone call about taking some lessons at a private girls school called Mercedes College. They had a teacher there who knew me through tennis and she called and asked if I can do it. I was to run their squads for their school tennis teams. I had no experience in that at all except for my own tennis training which I am sure I paid way too little attention to. I was 16 or 17 with no experience for running a team training session. I had not applied for any job and I had not volunteered my time at any other tennis clubs or coaching programs. I only got the gig because they had no other options for that season and I could fix their problem easily by accepting the job.
In 2001 I had just completed 1 year of a degree in North Carolina playing on their division 2 NCAA tennis team and after returning to Adelaide, I had just pulled out after one semester of my business degree in Adelaide. I really didn’t like university and I thought I was wasting my time. I had also built up a few private tennis pupils and was running a very very small coaching business. However, I wanted to experience the industry properly. I made some phone calls to Northern Queensland and Darwin as I liked the idea of the tropics. In North Queensland there was an opportunity of a coach working regional area and travelling to outback towns. Based on the conversation I had, I thought I was in with a chance at that job, I don’t think there were many options. I then spoke to someone in Darwin who I knew through someone else I knew in tennis. He offered 20 hours per week with the opportunity to build to full time. It would range from coaching groups and private lessons, coaching schools all over the top end, running competitions along with doing a coaching course with Tennis NT. I was super keen and had the job. I didn’t exchange any type of resume and I again got the impression that perhaps coaches were hard to come by and there were not many options.
How I learnt that it was a real job……….
Although after Darwin I became a legitimate tennis coach who could bring value to a program. I am very thankful that I got these opportunities to experience tennis coaching and be doing something that I was not ready for at the time. After dropping out of University and then completing a coaching course and working for a year and half full time in Darwin I saw the need to commit to the profession of tennis coaching. Darwin provided me with a network of other coaches who worked full time in the industry. It opened up my eyes to the opportunities.
This lead me down the paths of going yearly to the coach’s conference in Melbourne along with attending professional developments, doing further study on coaching and small business and basically committing to every part of what is involved with the tennis coaching industry. I had tried one and a half years of university and didn’t like it , I also knew my interpersonal skills were a whole lot better than my handyman skills so any type of trade was out so I gave myself no choice but to commit to the industry. After Darwin I coached in Perth, then Cambridge in the UK, then back to Perth to start Scarborough Tennis Academy.
How I learnt that most people don’t see it as a real job…….
As a business owner and director of tennis at Scarborough Tennis Academy, I have learnt that there is a dark side to this easy access to a part time tennis coaching job. In high school and their early twenties, the good players will be offered part time coaching and if they are just ok at it they will offered more hours and will often be the one picking and choosing what hours they want to do. They may even go to another program if they are paid a higher hourly rate. This is because the numbers in coaching programs fluctuate and if the numbers are high then most coaches will ask another assistant rather than cap the group. Many coaching businesses will either have 1 full timer (the head coach) or a very small team so when there are fluctuations, the demand for a part time coach becomes huge, particularly in the summer.
So they grow up getting offered coaching shifts through their teenage years and early twenties. As much or as little as they want in many cases. But the problem is when they consider the prospect of tennis coaching as a full time career. A full time career is something you work towards. A full time career is something you go to university for or trade school for. A full time career is what will then define what you do and therefore who you are. Law or Medicine gets you status, money and respect. An accountancy degree gets you certified, a nursing degree gets you registered and a teaching degree gets you qualified. However, what does tennis coaching career (with our without official TA qualifications) bring to mind?
- “Tennis is no more than a part time job.”
- “Not a real job that is only a casual job that varies in its hours.”
- “No security.”
- “No career progression.”
- “Not something you can do forever.”
- “Maybe I will do it for a year or 2”
- “Maybe I will just do it to save up for traveling”
So what is the tennis coaching industry doing wrong?
As a coaching industry we need to ensure that our staff are well trained and have clear pathway of career development. The premier education supplier in Australia is Tennis Australia (TA). TA offer good quality courses which are such an important part of legitimising of the industry. One of their better strategic moves was to align the courses with mainstream tertiary equivalent courses. I believe there is a missing pathway though for the non entrepreneurial career coach. The junior development course is really targeting those coaching part time through university or as a side job. Some Junior Development coaches will go on to try a full time coaching career but not many and not for long. The next course is the Club Professional Course which is targeting those coaches who want to run their own full time tennis business. So what this does is divides coaches into those who have an interest in running their own business (which most people actually don’t want) with those who can stay a Junior Development Coach and see no other pathway and career progression from there. What is missing is a ‘Teaching Pro’ course which has a pathway which leads to full time teaching jobs in the $45000 – $70000 per year category. However, I am sure TA are providing courses which match the demand of the industry so if this is the case then its up to the coaching business to create more full time teaching professional opportunities. What comes first, chicken or the egg?
The ‘Teaching Pro’ then has opportunities to work in the best programs long term and help contribute to the culture and program. To see a 6 year old player leave for college tennis in 12 years or to see a 8 year beginner improve to the point where they play regularly in social competitions or to see the enormous improvements in their own coaching effectiveness over the years. They don’t all need to be business owners but the industry does need to work on public awareness that tennis coaching can be a real job.
Is the full time tennis coaching job a victim of the readily available part time coaching? Does the leniency in employing unqualified or inexperienced part time coaches affect the perception of tennis coaching as a full time career? Or is it that the qualification pathways are not right or the public perception of tennis coaching as a career screams part time job? I would think its a combination of all these factors.
On a personal note, I love not having a ‘real’ job! and don’t plan on getting any urgent haircuts anytime soon…….