Career Profile: Coaching Education & Performance Manager
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David Ramos has previously worked as the Manager of Coaching Education and Performance with USTA Player Development. In this Q&A, he discusses his career path and his role at the USTA.
How did you choose this career path?
I started out going to school in New York City for illustration at F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology), and I was an assistant coach on the side when I decided to get into tennis full-time. I really liked being outside, and I thought that even though I was decent at illustration, I wasn’t sure if I could make a living in that field, and I didn’t exactly want to be a “starving artist.” In the Professional Tennis Management program, you could get a degree and get certified at the same time, so that seemed like a pretty good choice.
How did you get interested in tennis?
I started playing tennis in high school. Basically, I was a basketball player and got cut. So, I started playing tennis, but only from the 10th grade on. Then, when I was in the Air Force prior to going to illustration school, I played Junior College tennis for a year when I was 19, and did really well. I think that was the “hook” that got me thinking about doing something in tennis.
What exactly does a Coaching Education and Performance Manager do?
There’s a pretty wide range of “typical” days. Some days, I meet with players and their coaches to show them the video resources we have online. I explain how to go through the matches of their players, download them to their computers, and search for things like winners and errors, or highlights or lowlights of their play. Then, when players are actually playing matches, I record video so that we can turn that into a video production piece. Other days, I take photos of all the American players at a tournament. So, photography, video production, coaching education, match tagging, video analysis – those things all happen on a pretty regular basis. The job is kind of like an art director for tennis.
But then, I also actually play and coach, so it’s taking all of those different areas and putting them together. I might be in the office creating Power Points and handouts for Coaching Education events, or outside taking video and working with coaches to help them understand their players’ game, so it’s pretty varied, day-to-day.
How did you get to where you are today?
At 22, once I’d made the decision to do tennis full-time, I moved to Big Rapids, Michigan, for the Professional Tennis Program at Ferris State University, which had about a hundred students at the time. It was very diverse – there were people from all parts of the world there. I stayed for three years, and then got offered a really cool opportunity to go back to New York City and teach tennis, which I couldn’t refuse. I taught in NYC for three years. Then, at 28, I realized that I needed to go back and finish my degree. So I went back to Ferris, where I worked as the assistant coach. I finished my undergraduate work in International Business, which is not typically one of the majors you combine with Professional Tennis Management (PTM), so that’s a bit different.
Then, I took a job with a company called Tennis Europe, where I traveled all over the world teaching juniors to play in international tournaments. Also, I recruited players here in the U.S.
In 2000, I returned to Ferris as the Head Women’s Coach, a position I held for five years. Then, in 2005, I started coaching both the men and the women. In 2006, I coached just the men. Right when I first got to Ferris, I started using video to help players work on technique. They had software available there called Dartfish that I had started using to analyze technique, and I taught myself how to do match tagging, which is breaking matches up into individual points.
I left Ferris in 2006 to get a Master’s degree in Sports Management at Western Michigan University. I needed to do a capstone course in order to complete the Master’s degree, so since I’d gone through the High Performance Coaching Program from the USTA when I was a coach at Ferris State, I thought that would be a great place to do an internship. After the internship, they offered me a full-time position as a coordinator. So, I started working here in Coaching Education, using some of the same ideas and working with coaches to help them improve their methods. I’ve created all sorts of different resources like research study grants, and lots of technique analysis tools, like the photo sequences and video analysis of strokes. In 2012, I started doing match tagging to deliver scouting reports on players’ opponents, and was promoted at that point to Specialist.
After that, I was promoted to Manager, so that I had a person working as a coordinator under my supervision to use tagged video to help our players. Now, I’m part of the Player Development program, which works to supply as much support to players in the Top 100 as they want. So, in addition to working directly with players, we're trying to put together input from coaches who are watching matches to create an American Scouting Database by the end of 2016.
What skills or interests are important in your career?
I think a Professional Tennis Management program really opens up a door that wouldn’t otherwise be there. I heard about the program from an ad in the back of Tennis magazine. Everyone who went to the PTM program at that time had seen it. I really wanted to get a degree. When I saw this program in Professional Tennis Management, I thought that would be better than just getting certification and being in an organization without having an actual degree.
What’s the best part of the job?
My favorite aspect is being part of Team USA and helping American juniors and pros maximize their potential. I really enjoy working with National coaches and external coaches and sharing video footage, because the coaches cannot access this on their own, and it gives them so much objective information. Most players really enjoy seeing themselves and it helps them to understand their games better. One of the most satisfying parts of the job is traveling to tournaments to meet with coaches and provide them with scouting information to help them beat their opponents.
What are some of the recent innovations you’ve seen in your field?
I’d say for a performance analyst, like me, using video and Dartfish has really changed coaching methods. For instance, a coach might want to look just at a player’s serve, and could ask for a video of their player going through those motions. I capture and import the video into my computer and prepare a presentation for the coach that shows what I saw from the strokes. Usually it involves a couple of comparisons, looking at video from a couple of different angles, zooming into it, and using various tools to draw attention to whatever it is that I see that needs to be addressed.
The coach looks at it first, without the player. Then we might have another coach or two come in and look at it so we can get a general consensus. Together, we’ll make a list of the one or two things that we think this player needs to do to improve. Then, we sit down with the player and the coach goes over whatever it is that we’ve agreed upon. We post that video to a private collection that’s just for that particular player, so as soon as we’re done talking it over it goes into their history. It also goes to our Athlete Management system to keep track of everything we do in terms of working with a player. Let’s say we’re not the primary coach of that particular player. We can also send that video by email and say we did a consultant session with your player today, and here’s the video of their forehand, for example. So that’s pretty much how we use Dartfish to analyze a player’s technique.
In matches, it can be very different. It depends on the situation. So, let’s say a coach has a player who they haven’t seen play in a while. That coach will ask me to tag the match. Match tagging basically means that somebody sits and watches the video of the matches and taps on buttons to enter values as everything happens. So, if the player makes the first serve, the tagger hits the “first serve” button. If the player hits a winner, the tagger hits “winner.” Then you’re able to search through the match very quickly and summarize to the player what their performance was like and play about five minutes worth of video, instead of having them sit and watch a two-to-three-hour match. Sport-specific video editing is what “tagging” is.
Can you share any advice for high school students?
Don’t lock yourself into just one thing. For example, don’t think “I’m just going to be a coach.” Or, “I’m just going to be a player.”
You can evolve. During the very first course of my college career, we did some brainstorming to figure out our strengths and what we love to do. You might like to play tennis, but also be really into math. Or maybe you really love statistics, or, in my case, photography and taking video. So, it’s not just tennis, but what are some of the other things that you really love to do, and how can those things come together to become a tennis-related job?
Don’t limit yourself. You might start out coaching and realize that you like research and development, or working with the pro’s to develop customized racquets and making that kind of thing possible. You need to have some sort of vision. Really ask yourself, “What is it that I’d ultimately like to do that will combine all of my skills into something unique?”
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