'Learning never stops' is mantra at second edition of USTA Diverse Coaches Summit

Victoria Chiesa | June 27, 2024

The teachers were the students this past weekend at the USTA National Campus, as more than 70 tennis coaches from around the country flocked to Orlando for the second edition of the USTA Diverse Coaches Development Summit which included three days of education, training and networking—all in the name of cultivating continued growth in the sport.


The annual conference, which debuted last year, aims to support the development of tennis coaches of all ages and backgrounds by giving them the critical resources necessary to help them succeed and their players flourish. With the U.S. seeing an increase in tennis participation among players of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in each of the last four years, the program was developed as a means of combating an existing nationwide shortage of tennis coaches—while simultaneously continuing to open the sport up to people who may once have been discouraged or excluded from pursuing it, according to Marisa Grimes, the USTA’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.


“This conference isn’t your typical coaches’ conference,” she said. “There are a lot of conferences out there that are focused on coaching fundamentals. This is not that. This is an opportunity for us to think about how we're developing coaches from diverse backgrounds as people, as well as professionals.


“It’s about pouring into them, focusing on some of the specific needs and unique needs that they have, as they're looking to coach players from diverse background— whether that's athletes with disabilities or communities of color, or women and girls. We really wanted to focus on those aspects of coaching and how they can be better coaches off the court as well as on the court.”


The jam-packed weekend offered a rich tapestry of on and off-court sessions, all of which were designed with these principles in mind, Grimes said. On court, the coaches were, for example, introduced to wheelchair tennis—where they were joined by a pair of former Paralympians, Shelby Baron, now a USTA employee, and former world No. 1 Shingo Kunieda— and shown how to adapt tennis for the blind and visually impaired. They heard from high-performance coaches in the USTA Player Development program, too, and had the opportunity to demo some of the drills that USTA national coaches use with elite players.  

“There’s always something new to learn in tennis, and in the coaching field,” said Elliott James of Palm Coast, Fla., who transitioned from a lifelong player to a teaching pro at the Palm Coast Tennis Center, where he primarily works with beginner adults.


Off court, the attendees augmented their education with breakout sessions from guest speakers that were designed to help coaches think holistically about the tennis ecosystem, and barriers that have historically prevented players from receiving the full complement of the sport’s many physical, mental, social and emotional health benefits. They heard from Nevin Caple, a former Division I basketball player and consultant on LGBTQ+ inclusion; Jeff Greenwald, a sports psychology consultant and mental coach; and Vanessa Fuchs, CEO of WeCoach, a nonprofit dedicated to recruiting and retaining female coaches across all sports, among others.

Exposure to a broad range of experiences and perspectives like these was something that Miyako Coffey, a rising senior at Division III Hope College, was hoping to take away from the weekend as a first-time attendee. Coffey came to college with no desire to make tennis coaching her full-time career, only to eventually find a home in Hope’s professional tennis management bachelor’s program in the most recently-completed academic year. The Holland, Mich. school is one of only five nationwide that offer the fledgling field of study to undergraduates, and Coffey says that being on the forefront of change in the industry even before graduation is a thrill.


“I originally wanted to be a politician or lawyer and create change,” she said, “but I realized that I like to work one-on-one and individually with people, and what better way to do that than through tennis? I love the way that tennis can develop somebody as a person and not just as a player, and so to help facilitate that, and use tennis as the vehicle for change in a person and to create those great habits of accountability and responsibility, that's really what gravitated me towards [coaching].


“I love being able to … see those changes in a person, and how tennis is that positive impact on people.”


Despite her young age, just being present at the conference already made Coffey herself a game-changer, too.


“I had a female coach for one month of my career—other than that, it was all male coaches,” she added. “That inspired me to be the female coach that maybe some other female player, or male player, had never had before. To be in the new generation of coaches who are hopefully turning the tide, and to model off of them, is inspiring.”


That sentiment is exactly what the USTA hopes attendees will take away from the program—and even just two years in, it’s evident that it's already taking hold.


“It's important to see people like you or have the opportunity to have a group or organization in charge of something to bring you in and say, ‘Hey, we value you. We value your opinion. We value educating you to make you a better coach and a better person,’” Marc Atkinson, the head women’s tennis coach at Edward Waters University in Jacksonville, Fla., said.


“If you can’t see it, you don’t think you can achieve it. A lot of times, if you don’t see coaches like yourself coming up … you tend to drift away. That’s why we lose a lot of coaches. But we have an organization like the USTA that’s leading the charge, that’s saying, ‘We value you, come learn more, and give back to people that are coming behind you.’”

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