Careers Beyond the Court Profile:
Gregory Allensworth is a Chair Umpire from North Canton, Ohio. In this Q&A, he chats about his career path and his role on the court.
How did you choose this career path?
Like many of my fellow Officials, I got into officiating by chance. I grew up playing tennis, and I played all throughout high school. The plan was to play for the University of Ohio, but as luck would have it, I tore my ACL in my last year of high school. Despite my injury, I still went to the University of Ohio. While there, I started officiating as a summer job, but it turned full-time once I graduated.
After about two years on the road, I got a job running Junior and Adult Competition Programs for USTA Kentucky. After a few years, and some persuading from a few fellow USTA Officials, I made the decision to go back to officiating full-time. ADVERTISEMENT
How did you get interested in tennis?
I have played tennis my whole life. I started playing at the local club when I was five years old, and I’ve been playing ever since. My parents encouraged me to try different sports, so I played just about every other one growing up. Also, all of my friends growing up were tennis players. I like that tennis can have a team aspect, but it is also an individual sport.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I got injured, many of my coaches recommended that I try officiating at the local level as a way of staying connected to the game. One of my coaches in particular, who was also a USTA Official, helped me through the certification process. Although the process has changed since when I first was certified, the basic steps are still the same. To become an Official today, you must be in compliance with the USTA SafePlay Program, be a USTA member, submit a vision form, and complete five online courses that teach you about the USTA and its officiating structure, rules and regulations, and Roving Umpire procedures.
There is a natural career progression in officiating. Most Officials start out as a local, grassroots officials at junior or adult tournaments. As you gain experience, you will move up to higher level Community events.
Once you complete the required online education and In-Person Workshop, there are opportunities to try your hand as a Chair or Line Umpire. In addition, there are opportunities to take on the role of an off-court Official, such as a Chief Umpire or Referee. These disciplines require different skills such as budgeting, planning, and scheduling. No matter the discipline, most officials start
at the Community level.
As Officials progresses with their skills, experience, and knowledge, there are opportunities to move from Community events to Professional events. For me, like many officials, I got my first professional event experience as a Line Umpire. It is important to be open to feedback and seek out advise throughout your time as an Official. As an Official, you are always learning and improving, even at the highest level. It’s all a natural progression. It’s important to move up at your own pace and not get ahead of yourself.
What exactly does a Chair Umpire do?
The Chair Umpire oversees everything that happens on-court during the course of the match. Normally, the Chair Umpires will arrive at the site at least an hour before play begins. The Chief Umpire and Referee meet with the Chair Umpires to go over the schedule and discuss what matches they will be officiating. If there are Line Umpires, the Chair Umpires will meet with them, and make sure that everyone’s on the same page. Then, we go out and officiate our assigned matches.
What skills or interests are important?
Patience – everything around being an Official and officiating requires patience, especially when it comes to progressing in your career. Patience is key when you are at events as well. In this sport, our days can be spent waiting around for a match ahead of ours to finish, or waiting for the rain to stop so we can play. When you are on court as a Chair Umpire, you are dealing with players, spectators, and difficult situations, so again, patience is key. It’s important to always take a deep breath and stay calm before responding to a difficult situation.
What’s the best part of the job?
Do you even need to ask? I have the best view in the house! For me, it’s being there in the game. It’s the next best thing to being a player. I grew up wanting to be a player, but unfortunately like a lot of people, becoming a player at highest level wasn’t going to be an option. As a Chair Umpire, I can be involved with tennis at the highest levels and experience it in a way that many people never will.
Another perk of the job is that I get to travel all across the country and world. I’m on the road about forty weeks a year. I love traveling because I get to visit so many different places. Just this year, I worked tournaments in Stockholm, Australia, England, and New York City. This career has given me the opportunity to travel to places I would
not have otherwise gotten to see.
What are some of the recent innovations you’ve seen in your field?
The biggest change in technology has been the Hawk-Eye system – the electronic review of line decisions. Cameras around the court film all the shots, and the system has the ability to tell you whether the shot is “in” or “out.” Before Hawk-Eye, whatever call the Line Umpires or Chair Umpire made was the final answer, but this system caused many problems. For example, everyone has seen the videos of John McEnroe blowing up over a line call. With Hawk-Eye, player outbursts are now few and far between. While there are still disputes over certain calls, players have three incorrect challenges per set and an extra challenge if a match goes to a tiebreak. If a player disagrees with a call, he/she can “challenge” the call, and the machine will determine whether the ball was in or out. A player only loses a challenge if it is incorrect.
Technology has also improved the racquets, shoes, balls, and equipment the players use. I think that has allowed many players to hit the ball very hard. I would definitely say players have developed a little bit moreof an aggressive style of play.
Can you share any advice for high school students?
Have a good mentor, which is important no matter what profession you choose to pursue. Finding an experienced Official who is willing to help you as you progress can have a major impact on your career. I was very fortunate to have a great mentor, and I still talk to him all the time. He has been instrumental to my development as a Chair Umpire. The USTA can help you with finding mentors as well.
Another skill is learning how to study and retain information. As a Chair Umpire, I am constantly reviewing rules and scenarios so I am prepared to make a quick, correct decision during a match. The better you understand the rules, the better you can apply them. As an Official, especially a Chair Umpire, you are never done improving and are constantly learning.
The last piece of advice I would give to high school students is to learn patience. In today’s day and age, we are so accustomed to instant gratification; we forget that things take time. You’re not going to be the Chair Umpire of the US Open Final overnight. It takes a lot of time and hard work to get to that level, but when you do, it makes it so much more special. Take a deep breath along the way, progress through the steps, and enjoy the journey. racket so we can feel good about what we put out there.