Mercedes Fernandez (Texas) has worked at her tennis club for 20 years.
Ron Wiser (Florida) has coached tennis for a few years, but was a chef for over 30.
Rob Kresberg (Eastern) has worked as a director of tennis before, but has never been the owner/operator he is now.
They are among the many USPTA members to gather at the World Headquarters in Lake Nona, Fla., for the Leadership Academy, a three-day workshop to give coaches the skills need to elevate their careers.
“This is your workshop. Let’s get to work everybody,” said Feisal Hassan, a USPTA Master Professional and one of the instructors of the Academy. “We’ve got a lot to learn. Once again, we will not be lecturing.”
Instead, Hassan and Elite Professional Jose Pastrello led the group through a series of discussions and exercises, each designed to stimulate reflection on what it means to be a leader. It is a fundamental concept, but one that is so often misunderstood.
It started with a group project. What skills do you feel an off-court position requires?
Each table then split off into its own discussion about the various competencies needed, and after a minute or two the room was alive with discourse. Buzzwords were called out and lists were drawn. Concepts came into focus.
The next prompt was simple enough: What is the difference between a leader and a manager?
“A leader gets his hands dirty,” Wiser said. “A manager sits in an office and works with numbers.”
“When you lead someone, you have to inspire them,” said Marcos del Pilar (Florida), an Elite Professional and a Padel Master Professional. “You have to talk to their heart.”
In the room were over 100 years of combined coaching experience. Each coach came with something to learn, and each came with something to contribute. During the leader vs. manager discussion, Vito Galatioto (Eastern) asked a question about a specific scenario he recently encountered. Kyle Devlin (New England) gave an answer, and Pastrello followed up with a story about a similar situation he went through and how he handled it.
Notes were being scribbled throughout.
Later on, the topic of hiring and managing a staff came up. Many students agreed that they weren’t sure how to handle a coach that wanted a raise or promotion. How do I balance their needs with my bottom line?
The question was debated at length. Some were worried that they wouldn’t be able to keep the coach on staff, while others worried that keeping the coach would cost too much. Pastrello, patiently watching the discussion from the corner, offered a different point of view.
“You have to develop a person at the risk of losing them,” he said. “What is the risk of not developing a person who ends up staying?”
Hassan offered a similar bit of advice, just with a bit more color.
“The problem is not the problem,” he said. “The problem is your attitude about the problem. That’s Captain Jack Sparrow.”
That sparked discussion about something they had covered previously, when each person picked one of five quotes they felt most encompassed the meaning of leadership. Many of the quotes revolved around the core principle that a leader is someone who makes people or environment around them better.
For everyone, it was another moment of clarity.
Over the next two days, they’ll continue their discourse on leadership. They’ll continue learning from each other.
And Hassan, who will become USPTA President in January, may offer some more words of borrowed wisdom, like these from President Theodore Roosevelt:
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”