School of Hard Courts: PTM programs can turn a sport into a career

by: Cindy Shmerler | September 17, 2018

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(Berry College)

Lorna and Sang Wing thought they had life pretty well mapped out for their son Newlyn. 

Sang, a hospital information technology specialist, came to the United States from Vietnam in the late 1970s and settled in Grand Rapids, MI. He worked his way through Grand Valley State University, where he met Lorna, a registered nurse. Many years later, the Wings expected that Newlyn would follow in their footsteps and attend Grand Valley State, particularly since he had been awarded a four-year scholarship there to study business administration. But Newlyn had other ideas. When he was 11, Newlyn discovered tennis, began playing it with his older brother, Waylin, and started to dream. 

Though money was tight at home, the siblings found free summer programs and clinics in nearby parks. Newlyn made the high school team, but he knew he wasn’t good enough to earn an athletic scholarship. Still, he loved the game, and he wanted to make a career out of it. 

“I had a high school coach that connected me to a local pro who mentored me,” said Newlyn. “He’s the one who told me about Ferris [State University] and its Professional Tennis Management program. That changed everything.”

Ferris State University, in Big Rapids, MI, was the first four-year college to offer a USTA-accredited Professional Tennis Management (PTM) program, in 1986. Tyler Junior College in Tyler, TX, has offered a two-year PTM program since 1974 that awards associate degrees in Tennis Teaching Instruction and Management Skills, as well as a one-year certificate program in Business and Recreation Leadership. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque offered the first PTM Masters degree. Each of the schools are closely aligned with and accredited through the USTA.

Ferris and Tyler are two of nine PTM programs across the United States that cater to students seeking a full-time career in tennis. Their curriculums enable students to learn valuable skills that will allow them to succeed as, among other jobs, resort teaching pros, country club tennis directors, certified racquet stringers, retail operators, referees and tournament directors. Tuition ranges from $10,000-$20,000 per year at Ferris (in-state versus out-of-state students), to upwards of $40,000 at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, about 30 miles north of New York City.

“I gave up my full ride to Grand Valley, took out $40,000 in student loans and went to Ferris,” remembers Newlyn. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

PTM programs differ at each school, but the teaching tenets are uniform. Each school offers students certification by the U.S. Professional Tennis Association (USPTA), the U.S. Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR) and the U.S. Racquet Stringers’ Association. 

Each school also has a cornerstone requirement: summer internships, all paid, at tennis clubs around the United States. One PTM student spent a summer teaching tennis in Washington, D.C. to NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and her husband, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. 

“PTM is for the kid who is a tennis-aholic and wants to be involved in the sport, but doesn’t know how to get started,” says Scott Schultz, who founded Ferris State’s program and is now managing director of USTA-U at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, FL.

“At other colleges, kids have a difficult time transitioning and figuring out what to do. With PTM, students realize, ‘I can do this as a career, love what I do and get paid for it.’”

Jorge Capestany didn’t start playing tennis until he was in high school in Hudsonville, MI, nearly 40 years ago, when a friend convinced him to try out for the team. He started in the last position, but he worked his way up to the top singles spot. 

Soon, Capestany had an eye on playing in college, but his school cancelled its tennis program prior to his sophomore year. That’s when he started teaching tennis, something he’s been doing ever since. He’s now the director of the PTM program at Hope College in Holland, MI.

“I want to change the way tennis is taught,” says Capestany, 56, who will welcome his first PTM students to Hope College this fall. “There is a real shortage of quality teaching pros. Just because you played Division I tennis, or are even on the pro tour, doesn’t mean you know how to teach. Some of the best teachers are simply the most passionate people.”

When Ian Westermann was growing up, he saw an ad in a tennis magazine for Ferris’ PTM program and clipped it out. Never much of a student, Westermann, 37, worked his hardest on the court. 

At Ferris, he became a business marketing major and professional tennis studies minor. Ferris’ PTM program included courses in advertising, accounting and retail, as well as stroke analysis, tour management, racquet maintenance and teaching techniques. He studied harder for the USPTA exam his senior year than he ever had before, and passed it on his first try.

“Without a certificate program, people don’t feel they’re entering a profession,” says Schultz, who modeled Ferris’ PTM program after the PGA’s Pro Golf Management program. “Instead, they’ll teach for a while and then move on to something else. We want students to know they can do this, make a good living and support their families.”

Ten years ago, Westermann, frustrated by tennis’ country club image, launched Essential Tennis, a podcast that delves into all aspects of the game, especially attitude and mental toughness. He now has more than 100,000 subscribers. 

“The most valuable thing I learned at Ferris was how to be a great teaching professional,” says Westermann. “With that knowledge, I had access to incredible jobs and the opportunity to work at clubs that I never would have been taken to. Without PTM, I never would have developed so quickly and been able to go out on my own.”  

Keith Hardie is interested in tennis racquets and the way they are made. The 20-year-old played basketball, baseball and soccer growing up, but gravitated to tennis in high school and fell in love with the sport. He’s interested in how racquet engineers invent different technologies for the game and how that impacts the way people play.

“That’s why it’s always been my dream to work as a racquet engineer,” says Hardie. “I always thought of it as a silly fantasy. That was before I heard about PTM.”

Hardie thought he would be a chemist, so when the time came to look at colleges three years ago, he sought out top chemistry programs in the area. During a campus tour of Methodist University, an admissions representative asked him what he dreamed of doing with his life. Unconvinced by his answer, she pressed him until he admitted that he wanted to engineer tennis racquets. He is now entering his junior year at Methodist as an engineering major with a minor in PTM. 

“There is a huge demand for tennis professionals right now,” says Schultz. (All PTM programs boast that they have a 100 percent job placement rate for graduates.) “The average age for tennis pros is somewhere around 48-49 years old, and it’s inching up every year.”

Hardie is already certified in 10 and Under Tennis, USTA Sports Science, Net Generation and Cardio Tennis, and as a PTR instructor, USRSA Stringer, USPTA Professional and Master Racquet Technician. His goal is to be an engineer at a large sporting goods firm.

As for Newlyn, now 26, he has his dream job in the sport, working as a manager of the USTA’s Tennis on Campus program, which orchestrates non-varsity competition at colleges around the country. 

This latest junction between tennis and college isn’t lost on Newlyn, who has mapped out his life through PTM. Simply put, it’s the best way to become involved with the sport on a professional level.

“You live and breathe the sport,” says Newlyn of PTM program participants, and their experiences. “We’re a big family out there and we get infused with tennis DNA.”

This Weekend on Tennis Channel PLUS 

-Davis Cup Semifinals (Sep. 14-16): USA takes on Croatia, while Spain faces France
-Additionally, watch Davis Cup World Group Playoffs featuring Austria vs. Australia and Canada vs. Netherlands

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