Career Profile: USPTA Professional
Developed in collaboration with
Christin Thurston has previously worked as an Elite Professional at Life Time Fitness. In this Q&A, she discusses her career path and her role at the club.
Being a tennis professional extraordinaire is not just about being a good player. As a USPTA Elite Professional, the highest level of certification for a professional to teach tennis, Christin shows that helping people is the essence of being a tennis coach.
How did you choose this career path?
I started playing tennis at the age of seven, and my first coach was my dad. I was always obsessed with tennis, played through high school, and really wanted to keep at it. So I started exploring different colleges that had tennis programs.
How did you get interested in tennis?
Both my parents played tennis, and my dad played a lot, so I just remember growing up around tennis and starting to take lessons there at the local club, with dad starting to coach me at a young age.
What exactly does an Elite Professional do?
There are a couple of different hats that I wear as a tennis professional. I’m an assistant tennis professional at a country club, working outdoors in the summer, then in the winter- time, we move to an indoor facility. The other hat I wear is I am senior director for the USPTA Northern Division—they’re the ones that certify tennis pros to teach tennis. There I run the day-to-day operations at the USPTA for our section. One of the areas that I specialize in when I am teaching tennis is a program called Cardio Tennis. It’s a fitness class in which you’re using tennis to get a good workout. So my day usually starts at the club at about 7 a.m., teaching the Cardio Tennis class. From there I teach private lessons and group lessons. I coach women earlier in the day and work with kids in the afternoon. So it’s a lot of on court work, teaching people and helping them with their game day-to-day.
How did you get to where you are today?
I got into the industry in the first place to try to help people to become better people themselves. I came across Ferris State University in Michigan, where they offer the Professional Tennis Management program. So I went to college there and graduated with a Professional Tennis Management degree, including four years of business marketing, and through that program became certified to teach tennis. Then I did fun internships in Washington DC and Philadelphia teaching tennis there. Then I moved back home and started teaching tennis in Minnesota.
What skills or interests are important in your career?
One of the most important skills that a tennis professional can possess is their ability to communicate. You’re using your communication skills day-to-day with people on the court. It’s really special to get to know your clients and sometimes it’s almost like you get to become part of their family. You’re not only helping students out with their game, but you might be able to help them out with life in general. Also, follow-up and being detail-oriented are important. We’re on the court a lot, then we finish up our day, and answer our phone calls and emails—following through with things and making sure that you’re well-organized so that your teams run smoothly. So organization skills would be another important quality to have.
I also certainly think that you have to be a good tennis player. Physically we need to be fit and be able to run, and to have coordination skills. But we take those skills a little bit for granted because most people in our career already are good tennis players. Knowing how to deal with people always gets you further— you’re better able to help people if you are a good communicator and are well-organized.
What’s the best part of the job?
The best part of the job is getting to work with people and see the smile on their face when they leave the court—when they’ve been able to do some skill that you’re trying to coach them or train them to do and they finally can—just to see the smile on their face. That reward—that they’re able to do some- thing new and that they’re going to have a great day because they had a good time on the tennis court with you—it goes a long way.
What are some of the recent innovations you’ve seen in your field?
One of the biggest things in the past few years that has impacted my job is starting something called TRX Cardio Tennis. It’s a fitness class, and we have TRX straps on the tennis court so you can help people to get a good workout and get their tennis class all in one spot. They’re becoming stronger tennis players because they’re using their core strength and foot speed in the TRX workout, so that’s helped my job a lot—helping people get better at their fitness. Their tennis ends up being stronger, because they’re strengthening their core with the TRX class that I teach. (TRX is a piece of workout equipment. It’s a strap where you’re using your own body weight as resistance to do a push-up type of exercise to strengthen your core. It’s a physical tool that’s used on the court.)
Can you share any advice for high school students?
Coming through the program at Ferris State, it was always very important to pay attention in your business classes, because you also use your business skills in your tennis career.
Sometimes you take for granted that you’re a talented tennis player, but you also have to know about accounting, court psychology, and business law in order to run the back end of the tennis business. The other piece that I think is really important is working on your communication skills—reading, writing—and honing those, because we spend every day on the tennis court to get our point across to students. If you’re not sure what you want to go into, tennis is definitely an industry where you can have a good income, meet a lot of people, help a lot of people in their lives in general, and help them to become better people. To me, that’s what it’s all about—helping others become better within themselves.