There will always be impactful people in our lives. But sometimes it is left up to us to extract those nuggets of guidance and wisdom from them for our own well-being. My career as a USPTA tennis teaching professional has been guided by three distinct lessons that a special man had provided me. He never told me what they were: he just lived them every day to the best of his abilities or in some cases, his inabilities. Who was this mentor?
He was a man who could compete with the best of them, but his actions spoke even louder.
One of the most gifted athletes I ever saw, he stood at 6’1” and 185lbs. He was a wonderful basketball player when he was younger with a silky smooth arsenal developed on the streets and gyms of the Philadelphia suburbs where he grew up. He was also a baseball pitcher who possessed a knack for delivering the perfect pitch based on the count time and time again. I only played tennis with him once but I distinctly remember it in three stages: the first time, the last time and never again.
He never spoke of enjoying tennis and never showed an interest in my own pursuit of the game. But one day, he grabbed an old racquet out of my bag with worn strings and a disintegrating grip and asked me to play with him. What followed was a moment of true brilliance. His groundstrokes were purposeful in their delivery but lacking the technical pretense of a pro tour player. We drilled and he executed. Side to side and up and back, our tennis was over as quickly as it began.
Looking back on these formative years, I witnessed habits and philosophies performed by my mentor that were not discussed but rather done and executed to the finest degree of intensity and craftsmanship. It is funny that the biggest impact he had on me was not on my tennis game, but on my philosophy of business. This framework helped me in my growth as a tennis professional.
Forge Your Own Path
Never one to follow the crowd or do what was expected, my mentor did what he felt was right. A corporate culinary career led him to own and operate two successful restaurants. When everyone told him to play safe and stick with the corporate gig, he worked hard and made the dream a reality. Instead of settling for a small piece of market share by imitating the competition, he created a dining culture unlike all the others. He encouraged me to find my own way and to think differently than my peers. He emphasized the importance of independence and being an original, pushing my chosen industry forward. He was always willing to support any idea or ambition I had in sports, travel and life. He always hoped I forged vivid memories and experiences that would make my future endeavors that much richer.
: Don’t focus and compare yourself to the competition. Change the paradigm and make your club, business or yourself a precious commodity and a model for others to follow. Instead of asking “what are they doing?” you need to start wondering “what can I be doing?”
The Value of Hard Work
My mentor always stressed working full days. Never when I was a junior did I hear of him calling in sick, getting in late or leaving early. Nor did I hear him complain about the long hours, physical labor or the issues with customers and clients. He just simply worked and he did it with a focus and intensity that was rare. It was measured, precise, organized and purposeful. He never had a bad word spoken about him from his staff, his friends or any customers. He was reliable and his word was more than just lip service, it was his bond and his true character. That work ethic he displayed for numerous decades won over many people, helped the business grow and made many people comfortable sums of money from which to live. But the person that benefited the most from it was himself. The pride of a job well done was his greatest thrill.
: There are many things you can’t control in life, but one that you can is your own personal effort. It is a reflection of you as an employee, a person and a leader. The smile of satisfaction when your head lays down on your pillow at night not only signifies a job well done, it instills motivation and discipline for you to do something bigger the next day..
Never Compromise on Quality
Putting out the best product or service should not seem like a chore, it should seem like a habit. Never being one to accept mediocrity, my mentor was merciless when it came to “making it nice”. Whether he was hosting an event for a group of 50 or 500 people, his attention to detail and willingness to go above and beyond to enhance the quality and experience at his restaurants was admirable. He was obsessed with perfection and his staff knew if he got his hands on it, he would turn it into something special. This infatuation of “making it nice” came from self-pride and the general principle that the product says more about the philosophy, culture and quality of the business than anything else. The customer has one shot to like it and it is critical that they are blown away by it their first time. If it’s something he had even the slimmest doubt on, it would be scrapped and started from scratch. Because of this, the customers raised their standards and my mentor never had to lower his. He built a culture of excellence and he built it from upholding the standards from which he never deviated.
: Quantity is something you can count but quality is something you can count on. Impress your students and customer base by providing them a memorable experience. Don’t skimp on the details and don’t be content on “just getting by”. Students will recognize the difference and will make your lessons, programs and club a routine part of their life and their own culture of excellence. You raise their standards of acceptance on how tennis should be taught, served and provided and they will share with you their two most precious commodities; their time
Oddly enough, our relationship was never that strong and at times, it was tumultuous. The mentor that I am referring to in this article just so happens to be my father.
Charles LaCroix lost his battle with cancer on January 24, 2019. I never got a chance to sit down and thank him or discuss with him these lessons he showed to me. I wish I had done so to learn even more and make myself even better. When you get a chance, reach out to your mentor or parent. Find out what valuable lessons and philosophies guided them.