I played high school tennis where, as a senior, our team went
undefeated, winning the county championship. I played #2 singles
for 3 years behind the guy who, for our age group, was the top
ranked player in the state; individually both of us were undefeated
for the season. I played tournaments for 2 years in 16s
and 2 years in 18s, playing at least 8 to 10 tournaments
a year for the last 3 years. I was ranked both in the Central
Penn area and in the Middle States division of the USLTA for
both 16s and 18s.
In 1972 I went to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg,
Virginia (a Division 1 school.) I played tennis my freshman year
and was the second ranking freshman. I played varsity singles
at the numbers 5 and 6 position all season. Playingwise
it was not a great year for me, probably too much fun being away
at college. After my freshman year I started working at the tennis
courts at the world famous Williamsburg Inn. About a year after
being at the Inn, I did my first teaching. The year was 1974.
1974 was also the year that Tim Gallwey released Inner
Tennis and I saw the direction that my teaching was going
to take. To me, this approach was the future of the game; learning
how, on a consistent basis, to play in the zone.
I have been developing and refining these concepts ever since.
The one area I differ with Gallwey is that I believe that, yes,
there is perfect form inside each of us, but it doesnt
just magically happen when you walk on the court. Developing
the strokes happens over the course of time. Its like a
sculptor with a piece of stone, the perfect piece is in there,
it must be gradually and carefully brought out.
In the spring of 1975, I completed Dennis Van der Meers
TennisUniversity program. The job at the Williamsburg Inn was
too good, so rather than continuing to play on the team, I worked
at the Inn. As Im still in the same profession 36 years
later, it proved to be a good decision. I played tournaments
while I was around the Williamsburg area, and got a mens
open ranking in the Mid-Atlantic area. Later in 1975 I joined
the United States Professional Tennis Association of which I
am still a member today.
Im A Tennis Pro
After graduating from William & Mary with a B.S. in Geology
in 1976, I decided to stay with tennis and moved to rural Virginia,
near the Chesapeake Bay. I quickly found a job at a small exclusive
resort, The Tides Inn. This job helped me learn more about teaching
and dealing with people. After being there for about 9 months
I gave a series of lessons to a hotel guest, a retired Army general
who was just starting to teach tennis. We hit it off and several
months later he called saying there was a teaching position open
at his club in Annapolis, Maryland. I got the job and moved to
Annapolis in the fall of 1977. I taught there, playing regional
tournaments, and working with regional level junior players until
the fall of 1979.
Off To Europe
In September, 1979, I took off to Europe to play tennis.
I spent 3 months playing tournaments in Switzerland and France.
I played a lot of tennis, but not that many tournaments. I had
a great time and learned a lot about myself and life. I returned
to the mid-Atlantic area and got a teaching job at a club between
Washington, D.C. and Annapolis. I taught there for 2 more years
while continuing to play tournaments and work with highly ranked
tournament juniors. During this time I was regularly ranked in
the Mens Open Division both in the state of Maryland (a
high of #8), and the Mid-Atlantic area(a high of #18.) At this
point I decided that if I wanted to coach people on a world class
level, and I wanted to be able to speak from experience, I needed
to get my game on a world class level. This was 1981 and I decided
to take a year off and just play tennis.
I went into training and took off for Europe again. This time
I played a lot of tournaments (13 in 12 weeks.) I played national
and regional professional tournaments, mostly in France. I had
a pretty high classification (ranking) in France so that I usually
had a good placement in the draw. For all the people who are
into competition out there, here is a good story from this trip.
I went to a tournament outside of Lyon, France. I was in a slump.
I had lost my first match 3 weeks in a row in the last 3 tournaments.
I got to this tournament with my self-esteem in doubt, and found
out that I was the top seed. Not only that, but I am staying
with this family that is so excited because they have the top
player at their house. They were friends with the head of the
club so this was important to them. More pressure. I had to play
4 matches to win the tournament. My first match or 2 were pretty
shaky, but I won them. In the semifinals I lost the first set
but came back to win. In the finals, all the people were out
to see my opponent, the young local hero. I was a little nervous,
but since winning the three matches, my confidence was coming
up. I played well and won in straight sets. Ah, the thrill of
Lessons In Humility
After this adventure I came back to the U.S. for a couple
of months to recover from a severe wrist strain. In January of
1982 I took off looking for computer points in a satellite series
in New Zealand. My wrist had not fully recovered, but I decided
to go anyway. I had a great time, but tenniswise it was a humbling
experience. Just before returning to the U.S. I had an extraordinary
experience happen that showed me the beginnings of effortless.
Upon returning I was offered another teaching job at another
club in the Baltimore/Washington area. I also returned to playing
Dr. Jim Loehr
In 1983 I hooked up with sports psychologist, Dr. Jim Loehr,
when he was first beginning. I took his mental toughness training
workshop through Dennis Van der Meer. Jim had a big impact on
my playing and teaching. I will also be forever grateful to him.
I had always said that my tennis could take me anywhere so
in September of 1985 I decided to test out that idea and, without
a job, moved to northern California. I did have friends to help
me get settled. Things were good on the East coast, but something
was missing. So I took a chance, and Im still here. When
I arrived, it felt like home.
Soon after I got to California I started looking for teaching
jobs and signed up to play the prequalifying for the then, TransAmerica
Open. I won my first round and then played a player whom I didnt
know. He was blowing me off the court and I knew that if I didnt
stop making mistakes it was going to be over quickly. Fortunately
my opponent thought he had the match won and let up. I came back
and ended up winning in 3 sets. Just shows how important that
mental part of the game is. That player was a, soon to be, Northern
California #1. I lost my next match to current University of
California Berkeley Head Coach, Peter Wright. That was the first
last and only tournament I played in California. I played tournament
level competitive tennis from 1968 until 1985. I did my time,
I learned a lot, and I have the experience.
In 1987, after hearing so many top athletes say that when
they got into the zone, it felt effortless, which
had also been my experience, I named my program Effortless Tennis.
To me the goal in tennis is to achieve this state of being, in
the zone. Winning and losing are unimportant because if
you are in the zone, you are playing great tennis
and having funand thats all that matters.
It Does Work In Competition
From 1989 to 1991 I volunteered a lot of time with the Drake
High School Boys Tennis team in Fairfax, CA. In 3 years they
went from 1-13 to 14-0 and won the county championship defeating
the county powerhouse team, ending their 12 year consecutive
reign. All during that time I emphasized learning the skills
and that the winning would take care of itself. At first they
thought I was crazy, but winning did take care of itself so now
they think Im a genius.
Bye Bye Competition
Over the years I had noticed that it was very difficult for
people to attain the zone in any situation, let alone
in competition. After one of the people on my mailing list told
me about Alfie Kohns landmark book, No Contest: The Case
Against Competition, I knew that competition was doing more harm
than good. Mr. Kohn is brilliant in debunking the myths about
the superiority of competition. After reading his book twice,
I decided that if I was to create the best tennis learning program
possible I would have to remove all competition from the program.
That happened in the fall of 1992.
This was a giant leap for the program. Many people have fear
not only around learning sports, but learning in general. Learning
in a competitive environment is too much for many people so they
just stop trying. I am challenging a system upon which most peoples
lives have been based. Throwing people into competitive situations
before they have developed the basic skills of that activity
is a crime. How can you expect someone to be able to do something
before they know how to do it. This is the old school of hard
knocks, trial by fire, or sink or swim mentality. A nurturing,
supportive, cooperative environment is where people will attain
their true potential.
Oh, It Works Even Better In Competition
In October of 1991 a mother brought her 9 year old daughter
to me. I could see from the first moments on court that this
girl was special. She had it. She was a natural.
She is Tarrin Dougery. We worked together for 2 years until the
middle of 1993 when she got more interested in other sports.
We reconnected in January 1996 and began an intensive program
for the next 2 years. All the time we were working in this cooperative
context without any competition. We were developing the skills needed to be a great player.
As a freshman she won the MCAL doubles
crown and lost in the finals of the North Coast Sectional Doubles.
As a sophomore she won the MCAL singles crown. As a junior she
repeated as MCAL champion and lost in the semi-finals of the
North Coast Sectionals. As with many teenagers, Tarrin's priorities
changed and she lost her motivation. Her senior year she lost
twice to a girl who was much more motivated. Her overall singles
record for 4 years was 57-7. Working with Tarrin proved that someone can
be trained in a non-competitive program and succeed in competition.
The Last Fifteen Years
Since 2001 I have been teaching three Effortless Tennis classes a week for the College of Marin Community Education, a beginner, and two intermediate. Working with hundreds of beginners and non-elite athletics has confirmed how important it is to remove competition from the learning process until people can demonstrate competence in the basic skills. Seeing and feeling the relief that people have when they learn that there is no competition in the program is very rewarding. It’s like a giant weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Because the competitive system is so much a part of most people’s lives and so deeply ingrained into our subconscious, we are frequently unaware of the negative impact that it has on our ability to learn, to grow, and to attain our potential.
Done My Homework
I’ve been involved with tennis on a continuous basis since 1968, and teaching the game continuously since 1974. In total I’ve taught well over 25,000 hours of private and group lessons. It's now been twenty-four years since I removed all competition from Effortless Tennis. That means that over half of my time teaching has been in a non-competitive environment. I’ve done the research and the outcome is conclusive—a non-competitive learning system is, in every way, superior to a competitive based system. It's that simple.
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