Chip Fazio (Midwest) always loved sports. When he was young, it was skateboarding. Then it was fitness and dance. Then it was rock climbing.
It wasn’t until his late 30s that Fazio really started playing tennis. He was working on his master’s degree while tutoring at Wayne State University in Detroit when some of his fellow tutors got him playing.
“One thing I really liked about tennis when I got into it is, your game is like a fingerprint. Your style of game is like a Rorschach inkblot test,” said Fazio, who got his bachelor’s from WSU in psychology. “Your tennis is like a personality test. It’s as individual as you are.”
Individuality is something he found in his other sports. But skateboarding, fitness, dance and rock climbing also share a wide range of movements and freedom of expression – just like tennis.
He’s now a USPTA Elite Professional, but Fazio first joined the USPTA as a Recreational Coach. It’s the entry level membership, but it was perfect for him because it gave him the credential he needed to get involved in coaching tennis.
In addition to his work as a tutor and adjunct professor, for almost 14 years, Fazio was a Feldenkrais practitioner, helping people become more aware of, increase and ease their physical movements. Fazio said going from teaching fitness to teaching tennis was “a pretty natural transition.”
“I found great opportunity in parks & rec, community-based tennis,” he said. “The short courts, the foam balls, the portable nets. I started doing it in the community center gym using pickleball courts and foam balls.”
His unique perspective on the game helped him find another niche in the community. In 2008 he established First Serve, an organization that partners with schools to introduce kids to tennis and offer lessons throughout Southeast Michigan.
They also host non-elimination red, orange and yellow ball tournaments for kids in kindergarten all the way through high school -- all to get kids “off the couch.”
“You hear all this, and it’s true, the number of kids who compete in sports has been going down,” Fazio said. “I think there’s a real need for it. My whole life I’ve loved to move. That’s something I’ve always had and has always been fun. I just want to share that with people.”
During the school year, Fazio has a team of “about two assistants, sometimes three. Then during the summer months we have about 12 people teaching at all the different sites.”
A couple of them are adult and high school tennis coaches, but he also gives opportunities to coach the youngsters to high schoolers.
“I go to a school, I teach tennis and PE. I bring all the equipment. I do it enough that I see every kid once, it’s usually like a week or so per school,” Fazio said. “I hand out a flyer to the local parks & rec tennis program, which we run.
“The kids have a blast. We get them playing matches all day, kindergarten and up.”
Fazio has been teaching and helping others all his life. He’s done it in the classroom, in the gym and on the tennis court.
“I don’t know a guidance counselor in the country that would’ve said, ‘Hey you should be the community tennis guy,’ you know what I mean? It’s kind of a niche that almost doesn’t exist.
“Who would’ve thought you could do this for a living?”