by Bryan Shepherd
Long ago I realized the need to set myself apart from any and all tennis pros with a hopper and tennis balls and a few racquets giving lessons. Today I realized I had made it, and I want to keep making it! I do not have the luxury of a captive audience that my club pro colleagues enjoy. The park and neighborhood clientele is fluid, and thus there is a need to frequently re-image myself. I am offering a glimpse--not just for you, but for me, too--so that I can look back later and remember. It is all about service.
Daddy duty first! Wake high schoolers and prepare them for the day as senior and sophomore respectively. I treasure the mornings as (with no more corporate responsibilities) I can see them off and help them start their days through myservice. I am the alarm, short-order cook, and driver, and I relish these tasks.
- On-court at Mountain Park Park, Lilburn. I have been a regular for the last 10 years here. I take the time to address the regular walkers and dog walkers or "stroll and sniffers" as one dog grandparent affectionately calls his journey. One of my regulars is in the city finals and is practicing serves. We have no lesson scheduled, but I grab a racquet and join in because I am here to serve.
- The senior men are in the back as we finish and are one man short. I join in and am ready again to serve.
- I get a call from the attendant. There is a lady on the phone desperate to hit, inquiring about drills and a round robin at 1PM. Come on out now, and I can hit with you because I am here to serve.
First break and the preparation for the 1PM event. Decide on Subway and a little potluck, so I text the Drop-in Drills distribution list to solicit contributions. We serve one another this way.
The troopers arrive at 12:50 or so. One is a morning lesson leftover, and there is one new party who inquired after the facebook post! The 73-year-old former USTA official with chair and line call experience is always the first and most eager arrival. I am pleased that this man is eager to learn, and after 50+ years in and around the game has adopted me as the coach du jour! He has invited an opponent from one of his leagues to come out so he can see that I can serve him in the same capacity as he seeks to improve his play. He is a young 67!
I am in make-them-enjoy-the-game mode! We often forget we play games to have fun when it comes to tennis. I have seen clients drill marvelously and then forget to make shots and enjoy the game once the match starts. Learning and having fun are not mutually exclusive, and I often measure the success or lack thereof of the session by the smiles and laughs we share. They feel bad enough about missing the shot, no need for me to heap on more misery by criticizing their every move. That would be a disservice.
A few regulars are on IR and cannot participate, so I invite them to come to lunch anyway. We break bread together, and I help one of the kids with his serve while the round robin goes on. We have winners and almost winners each round because there are no losers!
First break. Off to my second home, the Mountain Park branch of the Gwinnett County Library system, conveniently located directly adjacent to the courts. They have given me access to the break area and the kitchen as I have developed a relationship where I am treated as adjunct staffer staff. They get the leftover subs, cupcakes and doughnuts today!
Off to nearby subdivision for the brothers’ lesson! They are 9 and 12 and work best when each has his own time slot. As a service to mom, that is what we get!
Back to Mountain Park Park for the 6PM little hitters. Only one showed up, but guess what? We hit because that is the service I am committed to providing.
Across the aisle, where current and former DMTA students are hitting around, I am not nearly as gifted as some of these kids are (from a tennis perspective as a player), but the mind overcomes the physical limitations and we win Zoneball!
DMTA ball machine drills commence, and I sit for an hour just taking it all in. I am approached by a mother-daughter pair who are tired of ballet and want to start tennis!