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Tennis Business 104 Be Other-Centered

It’s interesting and disappointing to me how self-centered many coaches can be, but the most successful ones are other centered, or at least fake it well. I am tempted to go on a tangent about ‘fake it until you make it’, but I want to stay on topic, as you should. When we are serving others, it’s important to have the first two traits, empathy and understanding, but being other centered means that our actions will also line up with our mental ascent. You will know that you are other centered when it takes you at least slightly out of your comfort zone to serve someone they way they want to be served. There is a limit to this, because there is only so much flexibility you can show, and as Spock said many times on Star Trek, “The needs of the many outweigh the wants of the one”. Finding a balance of prioritizing the wants and needs of your largest group that you serve, then fitting in the wants and needs of your second largest sub group, and so on, until you still have some flexibility to serve small groups or even one person.

Serve Your Largest Most Important Groups First

An example would be if someone wants to use the ball machine. The best way to serve that person is to help them find ideal times to use it. Unfortunately, prime time doubles with all courts full is not that time. So we need to be honest with that person, it’s not going to work at that time, but early mornings, early afternoons and after the afterwork crowd comes, that will work for one person on court with the ball machine.

Stretching Comfort Zones

I had a situation a couple weeks ago, where I was coaching a ladies clinic, and we have two courts reserved for it. Only five ladies came that morning, and a member showed up to drop in for play. All the courts were in use, so I got all of our ladies onto one court and let the drop in member play on the court we had reserved for the clinic. Amazingly one or two of the ladies voiced that I should not have given up the court. I was astonished, but I confirmed, that the five can play a rotational doubles format to allow another MEMBER to use the court. For us to artificially fill up the courts by having me play as a fourth, and two people playing singles, thus crossing out an opportunity for a dad to play with his kids is completely the wrong message at a club with only four courts. It’s my job to encourage play, and face some negativity from the clinic in front of me to meet the challenge of encouraging more play. In addition, I was serving my ladies doubles clinic by teaching them an object lesson about sharing the courts. I would be lying if I said it was 100% comfortable, but I had to go out of my zone to show the necessary leadership to serve the mission of the club, and thus it’s membership.

How Far Is Too Far?

An exception to this is a person I coached who said that I should not talk during the lesson. Admittedly, I do talk more than most coaches, but the way I do it is generally received as quite helpful. Players who gain value from that love my lessons, and the ones who think I talk to much do not and they leave. This player strangely seemed to be determined to continue with lessons, while also continually expressing that she was so strongly a visual learner, that it wasn’t working. I shifted strongly to a non-verbal, demonstration style of teaching, but her mind was made up. She abruptly ended the lesson, while maintaining that she would pay for the full time. It was quite odd. Even more strangely, I had moved to a new facility about a year later, and this player contacted me again, and we began to have lessons. I acted as though I did not remember her from before, and she seemed this time to be much happier with the lessons, and I curbed some of the banter that I normally include. After quite a few lessons that seemed to be going quite well with dramatic improvement on their part, they again abruptly stopped one lesson saying, “This isn’t working”. The whole thing was very odd, but I was willing to try it again and I certainly can’t account for what is going on in that person’s mind. Even so, I went out of my way to try to serve them, but it turns out I was unable to meet their stated need or want, so it’s best if they continue their search for a coach who can perform as they wish. Sometimes our service is to refer them to a different coach who might be a better fit. Sometimes it’s in agreeing with them that it’s not working, even when we see improvement in them. In the battle between perception and reality, perception always wins. It is selfish to think that we can serve everyone who comes to us. We will run into a small population of people who will be better served by someone else, or in an environment of better fit.


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