Serving Up An Ace

By Glen Howe

“Best by test” is the motto of the testing committee and the head testers at the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA). There are more difficult tennis certifications throughout the world, but the USPTA is the benchmark for identifying qualified teaching professionals in the United States. As the tennis superintendent for the city of Tallahassee, Fla., I see that diverse skills are necessary to be successful in following USPTA standards, as well as to be in line with the core values of the city and needs of the public.

To become a certified teaching professional, a candidate must pass both on- and off-court exams. The test has several parts:

  • Teaching a private lesson
  • Teaching a group lesson
  • Demonstrating proper stroke production
  • Demonstrating various grips
  • Taking a feeding test
  • Passing a written test.

Membership Levels

The USPTA—in cooperation with the USTA (United States Tennis Association)—now has six modules online and a 3½-hour workshop as part of the certification process. The goal is a comprehensive test that properly identifies the level of the teaching professional. After receiving a passing grade, the teaching professional is then classified by status:

  • Professional
  • Elite Professional
  • Master Professional.

Less than 1 percent of the organization members have attained Master Professional status.

Additional categories of USTA membership include:

  • Wheelchair Certification
  • Applicant
  • Recreational Coach
  • School Coach
  • Corporate Membership

While many combinations can be mixed and matched to create a teaching team, there are some typical roles that professionals play in organizations.

A Recreational Coach, for example, is an entry-level professional who can benefit more as an assistant and generally needs to be mentored. A Professional is—in most cases—the workhorse of the facility. That person works on the court tirelessly and tends to have other skills, such as pro-shop sales, stringing, and maintenance abilities. An Elite Professional is typically the “head pro” and “tennis director.” He or she has decided to make it a career. The Master Professional has reached the apex of the industry. This individual has not only contributed greatly to the industry, but managed or owned complexes throughout the career as well.

Hiring Industry Pros
The hiring process for teaching professionals is one that many managers prefer to avoid. After going through an extensive hiring process, there are no guarantees that a tennis professional will be a good fit or stay with the position. It has been my experience that some of my best hires were through the recommendation of a fellow teaching professional. Networking and staying connected to other teaching professionals in one’s division is one of the many benefits a municipality can derive from a USPTA pro.

The USPTA also works with organizations, such as Club Manager’s Association of America, to help owners and managers of clubs and facilities realize what a certified professional can do for them. If an advertisement is placed looking for an Elite professional, for instance, nothing less than that status will be considered.

One advantage for the city of Tallahassee in utilizing USPTA-certified teaching professionals has been to establish a consistent baseline of credibility. Any teaching professional who works for the city must become certified within the first year. The city has encouraged education for many pros attending the Florida Division and World Conference. In addition, the city’s fee structure is based on the certification level. The more one works on his or her trade and attends educational forums, the higher the ratingthat professional will attain, ultimately earning more income.

Continuing Education
USPTA teaching professionals also need to acquire six educational points every 2 years to maintain their certification status. This can be accomplished by attending conferences and workshops, or reviewing one of the many educational opportunities online. These provide the professional with current information and aids in the management of the many challenges that come with the position.

A municipality is tasked with not only maintaining a program, but also improving it while still watching the budget closely. It is important to rely on the relationships of USTA, travel bureau, or professional teaching organizations to maximize one’s potential. Not only can new and exciting ideas be found at these venues, but networking continues to be a valuable resource. In this new era, it has never been more important to join forces with other organizations of similar aims.

Glen Howe, USPTA Master Professional, is currently the Tennis Superintendent for the city of Tallahassee, Fla. Reach him at