When Dawn Diaz and Marci Cooper started playing tennis, they never imagined they would get into coaching.
“It’s kind of a funny story. We only played for about five years and just got really into it, started playing every day,” Diaz said in Las Vegas at the 2019 USPTA World Conference. The two were stay-at-home moms in the Phoenix area looking for “a part-time gig” when they noticed a need for youth tennis coaches.
“We’re like, maybe we should consider coaching,” Cooper continued. “We’re not elite tennis players, but we can coach little kids!”
They started shadowing a coach near where they live in Phoenix to see what it was like. He was welcoming and encouraging, they said, and he recommended that they get USPTA-certified. Motivated, they gathered old USPTA testing manuals from coaches they knew and started studying.
When they started the certification process, they thought it was “a means to an end,” Cooper said. “I thought we would get the certificate, just to say we had it, plus have insurance, then we would do whatever continuing education credits we needed to keep it current and that was the end of it.
“But through the process, we came to realize that the group was so much more than just a certificate. The education itself was valuable to help us along the path. There were mentor programs and training and emails made available that helped us along the way.”
Though they were relatively new to tennis – they’d been playing for a few years, while other coaches in their class were former professional players – they were lifelong athletes and fully committed themselves to learning.
They were tireless in their preparation. Their practice sessions became practice testing sessions. They interviewed testers to know what they should expect.
“They were both incredibly well-prepared for their test,” USPTA National Head Tester Sid Newcomb said.
After they passed their certification test in May, they started coaching through the USTA’s Net Generation program. Though they often coach together, each started their own program – Diaz’s is called Top Spin Tennis; Cooper’s is Exceptional Tennis Academy – and offer lessons in the morning and evening to avoid the midday Arizona heat.
“It was great. We started going forward with setting up programs for kids, so red ball, orange ball, green dot,” Diaz said. “We work with our community center, we work with a school and we just set up programs, camps, different things to get kids interested to grow the sport.”
“Once we started doing that we started getting all these leads,” Cooper continued. “We promoted on Facebook, we just posted some pictures and then people we knew started contacting us being like, ‘Hey, you have a program, what can you do for my kids?’ We’re doing some high school and we’ve done a few adult lessons, but the majority is the Net Generation. I love it.”
While they were getting certified, Newcomb told them they “couldn’t afford not to go” to the World Conference in Las Vegas. At the time, they didn’t fully understand why. But since it was close enough to Phoenix, they decided they’d go together.
“I see the real truth of that statement now,” Cooper said. “The USPTA is more than just a certificate. It’s an organization that helps develop better coaches through a community, through education, through support and networking. It has been a really great experience.
“We were thinking that when we got here it would be mostly higher level stuff,” she said. “But everything had something for us in it that really works that we can take home and use with our kids.”
Diaz and Cooper’s journey into coaching was an unexpected one. It started by noticing a demand for youth tennis coaches. It took off with their decision to join the USPTA.
“Every time we put out a program, there’s a wait list,” Diaz said. “There’s just constantly people asking questions, wanting to get their kids involved. It’s a lot of brand new families who have never played tennis before. It’s really nice that we feel we’re contributing in that way where we can introduce children to a sport. Hopefully they stick with it.” *