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Career Profile: Director of Junior Tennis

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Anne Smudz has previously worked as the Director of Junior Tennis at Cheval Athletic Club in Tampa. She is currently a Marketing Associate with USTA Florida. In this Q&A, she talks about her career path and her previous role in Tampa. 


How did you choose this career path?


When I was looking for collegiate careers, I saw a Professional Tennis Management program. It’s kind of like a Sports Science degree mixed with a Marketing degree. I always wanted to go into marketing. And so, I thought, if there’s some way I could mix marketing and sports – tennis in particular – that would be  great! Someday I might actually want to go off court and do only business, so I thought this program was good choice for me.


How did you get interested in tennis?


I have an emotional connection to tennis more than a physical one. My grandmother was a big mentor in my life, and she passed away in 2006. She was a very good tennis player and she always urged me to play. I had only played recreationally here and there for fun when I was young. When she passed away, it was a therapeutic way to cope with my  grief. I was only 13 when she passed, so I just started to play and channeled that emotion into the sport, and I found that I had a really big connection to the sport. It was a way for me to deal with a lot of things in my life  as a young teenager.


I think now when I’m teaching somebody and I see something similar in them, I recognize that’s a big part of the appeal to me. If I’m their mentor, or the person they need to vent to, or that one hour a day with me is enough to make them happy, then maybe I can en- courage that love of the game in them. So, I started with that emotional connection.


What exactly does a Junior Tennis Director do?


I run the Junior Tennis program within the Cheval community. This involves managing staff, scheduling, doing administrative tasks, marketing, and dealing with clients. There are over 100 players in the program. I work closely with our Tennis Director to develop and maintain a solid program. I also cultivate my own private lesson base. I also have the freedom to run and create any program or event that I want.


I would say my day-to-day varies quite a bit. So, it’s hard to say that it’s a standard nine to five job with a set schedule. Typically, Monday through Friday I will go into work in the morn- ing and teach adults or do an adult group or a clinic. Then, later in the morning or in the afternoon, either I can take off and do my own thing or I stay at the athletic club and do administrative work, or prepare for our evening classes, our junior classes, and then usually from about 3:30 to 8:00 in the evening I’m on the court. It’s really that after school time through the evening that I’m booking most of my hours on the court. That’s when court time is very, very popular, so, I save the morning and the afternoon to either do things that I need to do, or if I feel the need to come in and work, then I am very flexible with that. And the weekend’s the same. I usually have Saturday and Sunday off, but I have my own choice to run an event or do private lessons. So, I’d say in terms of teaching either the clinics or private lessons, it’s about 50/50 as far as my hours go.


How did you get to where you are today?


I did an in-house internship throughout the four years of college, working at the Ferris State Racquet and Fitness Center, the tennis club there at the University. And every summer in between, I also did an externship. So, I was basically a part-time teaching pro at various facilities every summer for all four years. I did one in at the Country Club of Fairfield in Connecticut, one at Georgetown Prep Tennis Club in Washington, D.C., another at Wilson Summer Tennis Camp in Michigan, so that was a great learning experience. Then, when I graduated in 2014, I immediately went to work at Georgetown Prep Tennis Club, one of the facilities where I had done an externship. I worked there as a Senior Staff Professional for a little over a year, and then got a call from the Director at Cheval Athletic Club about the Director of Junior Tennis position, where I’m currently working. So, I moved up very quickly.


What skills or interests are important in your career?


You really, really have to love it. It doesn’t mean you have to be the best tennis player out there, but if you love it and you can embrace that part of it, it makes the hours go by very quickly. You have to know yourself, your schedule, and be self-motivated. The variable schedule can make it hard to fall into a routine and keep your personal and professional lives balanced, so, you have to make sure that you’re really good at planning out your time well and making use of it. There’s a lot of scheduling to be done.


There’s a lot of cold calling, too, so you have to be good at working with people. Sometimes there’s conflict. And I can say, being on the court – I’m in Florida, so it’s hot – it’s a physical job for sure. That can sometimes be tough if you don’t plan it out well.


What’s the best part of the job?


There are a couple of different things. I like working with people. I like that it’s always interesting. There’s a lot of variety. It doesn’t get boring. It’s very rewarding to see the work with a student begin to pay off. Seeing their strokes, tactics, and confidence evolve into what you had aimed for when you started – seeing that come through is a great feeling. Serving as a role model, mentor, and sound- ing board to kids who look forward to their time on the court with you and being able to connect people through the sport makes this a fantastic and rewarding job.


What are some of the recent innovations you’ve seen in your field?


The invention of the different-colored, low compression tennis balls has been a huge change. Generally, kids 8 and under use a red ball, which is larger and has less air, so that it bounces slower. And then they move up to an orange ball, then a green dot ball, and then a yellow ball as they progress. I really see a difference in the way children progress now, as opposed to before. Because these balls are graduated, they work for the size, height, and maturity of the child. And then, there are the mini-nets and shortened courts – all of that is super helpful for both the tennis pro and the child.


Can you share any advice for high school students?


Ask a lot of questions. Talk to multiple people. Everyone has something different to offer. It does take a certain kind of person to enjoy this job. Find out where to get your questions answered. Reach out to people in the industry. And before you take a job, wait on it and do your research. You might be getting an hourly wage, and not a salary. There might not be set hours. You really have to know what you’re getting into. 


You’ve also got to find your niche, what works for you. Know yourself. What do you enjoy? Is this a good fit for you? If you’re scared to work with people, and you don’t want to be in the limelight, this might not be a good fit for you. Teaching on the court is a good place to start, but it might not be something you want to keep doing until you retire. Tennis professionals might work at the national level, or at a company that makes tennis equipment, or do marketing. There are ways to transition to a different outlet. But there’s definitely no shortage of jobs available for tennis professionals.


Also, I think people feel that it’s like the entertainment industry, in that you kind of have to have an “in,” or you have to know somebody. I was never like that. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, where there’s not much tennis. Luckily, my program happened to be in Michigan. But the USTA is working to expand this program to more colleges throughout the U.S., so that more people will know about it, and understand what it means to be a tennis pro.


Being a tennis pro sounds like a leisurely, unique job. And it is in many ways. But it can also be extremely challenging. It’s hard work. It’s also a solid career. For all of the reasons listed above that I love my job, they can also turn into large disadvantages if you are not aware of how to use them to your benefit. Find a mentor who will show you the ropes and a club that honors your need to be compensated and organized to see that you’re not taken advantage of. It’s such a variable job that if you can be self-motivated and organized, it works well. If you can make it work for you, it can be a very lucrative and rewarding job right from the start.


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