Good morning Ruben Herrera of Base Tennis, Germany, its great to have you here today! Please tell the SportsProsConnect community a little about yourself and your tennis background.
Hi Mark. First of all, thanks a lot for the opportunity to chat and share some thoughts that may be interesting and useful for SportsProsConnect community.
Just to tell you a bit about myself, I went to the USA to play NCAA Division 1 College Tennis at Jacksonville State University. Whist there I received my bachelors in Public Relations and an MBA. It was an amazing experience.
After graduating, I became involved in the corporate world collecting experience in sales and marketing mainly. Whilst living in the USA, I also had an opportunity to become involved in education sector and worked in an elementary school. After that, I went back to Venezuela (my place of birth) and started working in an advertising agency.
After a few years away from the world of tennis, me and two friends of mine decided to use our knowledge and promote tournaments, clinics and exhibitions. It was at that moment, that I realised this is and was what I want to do. I wanted to be in the tennis industry. I loved the game, so it made it easy to use all my knowledge on education, sales and marketing and bring it to the sport of tennis.
That lead me to the project I have been co-leading with my friend Rodney Rapson called BASE TENNIS in Germany for the last 9 years. I am the co-founder and director of the club/tennis program for the last 5 years, which has been a very enriching experience.
Long winded intro, but it is hard to summarise my journey in on paragraph.
So, today we are here to talk about the recruitment of a tennis coach. You have had many years experience doing this, can you give us a synopsis of your recruitment policy at Base Tennis?
Our hiring policy is precise and simple!
BASE TENNIS has very strong values. We are a professional, multicultural team that behaves like a family. We think of ourselves as a boutique for tennis and are pro technology. Most importantly, we place more emphasis on developing the person as a whole, and not only a ‘tennis player’. If you do not believe this, you do not fit in our culture, which is totally fine. Creating a good working culture is not easy, but we hold these values high and strive to stay that way.
We hire for culture first. Second, how well you fit in our team. Third, skills and know how.
Do not take me wrong, it is not a sympathy contest. We are hiring professionals, but experience has taught us the sum of all parts is much stronger than any individual. So, a coach can have amazing credentials and know how, but if he does not believe in the project and is willing to work for the good of the team, it is not going to work for us.
Besides that, we pretty much have an open door policy. As I said, we welcome open minded people in our team with different ideas, because we know it will make us better, but he or she has to understand that the project itself is the driver.
We invest in people, when they invest in themselves.
We do not have a real “Trial Period”.
When we hire, we believe in developing the person until he or she reaches his or her potential.
By now, we are able to see within a month or two if we fit to each other, and go from there.
It has to be really a win-win situation for everyone with clear guidelines to the near future.
As you know we are new into the business of tennis coach recruiting. We have worked in many different scenarios outside of tennis, and one of the first observations would be to say that I do not think coaches promote themselves well, would you agree?
One hundred percent or better yet one thousand percent. This is my conclusion by now. Coaches are trained to be coaches, not to sell. It is a common theme across most sports and not limited to tennis. We can not blame the coaches really, because the industry works this way, just take a look at coaching courses on offer and you will hardly find one catering to the business side. On the other hand, being able to sell yourself is such a valuable skill, we all need to work at it to eventually become good at it.
I find that many coaches have astounding “know how” on how to make athletes better physically, technically, tactically and even mentally. The good ones learn to communicate with athletes and teams.
In general though, coaches generally have no idea of what selling is all about which is a pity in my humble opinion. We are constantly selling. We sell ourselves, we sell ideas, we sell concepts, you name it. It is very frustrating to have good coaches who cannot speak to parents or players and sell the idea on why we should train more, or differently.From a hiring perspective, when I am interviewing coaches for a job and their communication and selling skills are limited, I already know it is a no-go.
Professionalism is a word that is used too often, but not really well understood. Part of being professional is being able to present yourself in an appropriate manner. Promoting yourself is not about telling the whole world how amazing you are and bragging about yourself, that is just being tacky.
I am talking more on things like your personal presentation, politeness, punctuality, preparation for the interview process and personalisation in every communication among other things.
Thanks Ruben. My second observation lies around cover letters and the lack of knowledge around a covering letter within the tennis industry. As an employer, how important is a good cover letter and what needs to be included in it?
This is an interesting question, and I will get to cover letters in a second.
How about doing your homework before applying for a job? So often coaches just write a general email to the company along this line:
“Hi, my name is John Peters (fake name). I am a tennis coach and wanted to know if you are looking to hire at the moment. Attached is my resume.
Well, you know what happens there. No chance!
Doing your homework means researching the company, going to their website, social media, etc. See what the club is all about. If you live in the nearby, go visit it. Try to find out what kind of coaches they are looking for. Any information will help. Then, send a professional (the word again) cover letter.
First I would like to see clearly all your basic contact information. Second, a short paragraph stating the reason for writing. If you know the specific position or type of work for which you are applying for, mention it. Also, how you heard about the club and the position to start showing that you did your homework.
Then, explain why you think you are a good fit for the academy or club. Please include what makes you unique or what your strengths are that would benefit the employer. Remember you are selling yourself, so I recommend being honest and not exaggerate your skills. There is no need really.
Another paragraph where you mention that you have attached your resume and you can indicate your desire to have a phone call as a follow-up.
Lastly and very importantly, thank the club (or academy, or manager) for taking the time to read your message. Politeness and courteousness are always important for anyone hiring. Be as professional in your communication as you can be.
When you are about to employ a coach, what sort of background checks would you do before you send the final offer letter to your applicant?
This is pretty simple really. We do what would be standard in any company:
We check the coaching licenses, diplomas, etc. and confirm couple of references every time.
We require a criminal background check for sure as well. We work with minors and this we take very seriously. On that topic, we require a valid First Aid Course as well as a drug test. On top of that, we will ask for any medical conditions that we should be aware of. Your health is vital in this job, so we want to know everything is fine.
Most tennis companies are taking the safety of their players and coaches very serious in every possible way, so they are making sure to comply with the industry standards.
Am sure you have generally hired successfully, but please do tell us about a time where it didn’t go right and what did you do differently the next time?
I would say the hiring process, it has been a lot of learning, trying and learning some more. Hiring and keeping people in the company is without a doubt the most challenging part of my job. It can be both, the most frustrating as well as most satisfying part. We are humans, with all our needs and desires. And we change and evolve with time, so as a manager you got to keep up.
Let me be extremely clear, in our business people make or break your club. We offer a service and it is all based on the people that deliver it. You can have all the standard and procedures you want, you can have continual education, you name it, it is all about people in the tennis industry and finding valuable team members, is like finding a gem! I really mean it.
I will share with you couple of painful stories. The first one was to hire a coach because we knew he could play good tennis and he came recommended by a friend. It may sound not so bad, but painfully we learned that you have to do your homework no matter what. The fact that someone can play very well, does not mean that he or she can teach very well.
Also, that the person is really passionate about being there because he or she believes in the philosophy and the project you are building. We had a coach for almost a year that did not fit. He was there for a job, we were there for a project. Lesson learned and it is now in our policies. A person has to fit our culture, philosophy and is there because he believes in the project first.
The second painful one was hiring a coach in a rush. We were growing and things were going well. We needed to find a coach ASAP. We did it too fast. Again, we did not cover all the details in the process and after interviewing a few candidates, we hired by “gut feeling”. Rookie mistake. We should have known better. We do now.
The person hiring or the person applying should take his or her time. It is called a hiring process for a reason. You really get to know each other after working together, I know this now. Still, not taking the time to clear all questions is a painful mistake. By now, we have screening per email. Then, a short phone call. Then, a longer phone call. You will speak to at least to two team members. We have a very detailed job description. We have a detailed FAQ. A written job offer.
Once we feel the candidate fits the job, we invite him or her to BASE. We see them work on court. We interview again with hiring managers to make sure everyone involved is very clear on what everyone wants. Even then, both the academy and coach take a risk, but a calculated one. It is a work in progress, always evolving and getting better, but indeed very interesting.
That is how we got to our policies which I mentioned before. It has been a very long process of learning from our past experiences.
In your opinion what are the three most important areas that you look at when deciding whether the coach is a right fit for your company?
This question relates to the one regarding our policy, but this is what we are looking for:
Does the person believe in what we believe and our project?
Does the candidate fit our team and philosophy?
Is he or she accountable, collaborative and has initiative?
Sorry for the fourth one… Does he or she have the “know how” and can actually teach the game of tennis and get people excited about playing it? (meaning, can he or she do the job)
These are the “general” questions that we want answered when deciding if a coach is the right fit for our company.
Finally, unrelated to the recruitment process, who are your dark horses to win Grand Slam tournaments over the rest of 2020 for the mens and womens events?
This is the hardest of all the questions! So with Nole, Rafa and Roger out for the mens, I will have to say Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas are knocking on Grand Slams wins. Definitely Thiem, I believe he can actually do it this year.
On the women’s is so tough at the moment. So many players have won Grand Slams and no one is really really dominating. I am going to say that Muguruza and Pliskova will win Grand Slams this year. I know, they are not dark horses (both are former number one) but I think they will be holding silverware at one of the majors this year. Watch out for Wimbledon!
Thanks Mark for having me in your blog! I had a blast with this Q&A and hope your community found it helpful in some way. I am looking forward very much to chat with you soon!
Best of luck with all your projects and especially SportsProsConnect! I am really excited for all you are doing for us with this community.
Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me today Ruben. If you would like to know more about Base Tennis in Germany, you can visit his Base Tennis Website or contact Ruben direct via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him using his Linked in profile.
Mark Wylam (Owner Sportsprosconnect.com)