James Jensen is a renowned tennis coach with years of experience on the court. After competing in the Juniors as well as the professional tour, Jensen began coaching and launched a highly successful series of video tutorials. He is now the in-house coach at Pierpont Racquet Club, located in Ventura, California. He holds the qualification of USTA High Performance Coach and is also a USPTA Certified Elite Professional.
Tell us about your career?
I grew up playing tennis. I started when I was eight years old. From there I started playing the junior tennis tournaments. I was trying to play in college, but ended up playing college football instead. And then I played tennis on the pay to play tour. Tennis is really difficult when you get out and try to make it on the tour. You pay your entry fees, and you’ve got a lot of costs involved just to get to a tournament. And then in a lot of the lower-level tournaments, the open tournaments that are money tournaments, you don’t make any money unless it’s the semis or the finals. You go and pay to play a lot, and you sink all the cost into it upfront. I’ve been at this club now for about almost three years. Before that we spent several years over in Hawaii, I was the director of tennis at the Turtle Bay Resort. Before that, I did instructional videos back when it was going from VHS to DVD. So back in the early 2000s. I did two sets, one set of six, and then another set of six under the pro tennis lessons, and they did really well worldwide actually.
How was the pandemic for tennis?
It was nice here because everything’s outdoors. The pandemic in general helped tennis because that was one of the few things that people could do. It was said that tennis and golf were the two lowest risk things to do and tennis was even lower than golf. A lot of people came out and tried it during the pandemic, and the club did very well.
What is the tennis industry like to work in?
It’s an interesting industry. During college, I was teaching tennis as well making money as I was trying to finish my college up. In the US in order to get into tennis and be a certified professional there are two main certifying bodies. One is the PTR, professional tennis registry. They’re located back East. And then the USPTA, the United States Professional Tennis Association, and that’s the one I’m associated with. They were in Texas, and now they’re kind of between Texas and Florida. In order to be an actual teacher, that’s what you should do is go and get yourself certified. Some people get certified by both, but you really only need one. The other main thing that it does for you is it gives you liability insurance, so if someone gets hurt on your court, you’re covered.
What is your experience with tennis teaching techniques?
For the kids, you’re basically trying to teach them proper technique, proper footwork, all that up front. We want to do that with the adults, but a lot of times adults have built in some pretty bad habits. Depending on how far they want to break back down to build them back up, it kind of depends. I teach anywhere from four years old, up to my oldest I have right now 80. She comes out once a week. It’s something you can do your whole life, you just keep doing it. And that’s the main thing is there’s always something going on for all the different levels. That’s what’s nice. Once someone starts playing, I get them into clinics and they start building some abilities up, and then when they’re ready they start playing some USTA league matches and that kind of stuff, just to get used to the competition site and see if they like it. Some people like it, some people don’t want to really compete, they just want to have their little group and play each week and be good with that. So, but then if they do that, then they start seeing the areas that they need to improve and then move on from there.
What is the pathway to pro for a teenager?
At 17-18 most likely it’s their parents that are paying for it. It’s somewhat still a rich man’s sport. Because of that, the ones that have the ability to pay for lessons, the ability to pay for travel, pay for tournament entries, have a step up. The tennis industry itself and a lot of non-profits are trying to kind of push money towards helping everyone to have that opportunity. But bottom line is that sometimes this comes down to the fact that you need the opportunities to be put in situations to succeed.
How can you tell as a young person if it’s realistic to pursue a rise to the level of someone like Raducanu?
You can tell somewhat based on how they come out and their hand-eye coordination, their athletic abilities. But I mean, Raducanu’s situation was really situational as well. It was during a pandemic, her and Leylah Fernandez, the two that were in the finals that year. They’re still good and up there in the score, but they’re not pushing as far – but that’s part of it too, they got thrown into that fame, Naomi Osaka, same thing. It’s a lot of pressure to put on these young kids. And depending on where they’re from, I mean, they could be the breadwinner for their whole family. And that puts a lot of pressure on the ones that are out there trying to make it as well. So you’re hoping that if they have that ability, that they’re at least tied into the USTA, where they’re helping send out some coaching, helping do some of the different clinics to help them get the ability and get the training that they need, and then give them opportunities, wildcards in the different tournaments. Then it comes down to them making the most of those opportunities. As far as making it as a living, it’s not easy at all. It’s very difficult, the top couple 100 in the world make really good money. Beyond that, you got all these other guys that are out there, just scrimping and scraping and like I said it’s pay to play. It’s not an easy route. But the teaching side of it can be, if you’re not able to make it out there, there’s money to be made in teaching. Plus, it’s very rewarding as well. You’re outside all the time, you’re on the court, you’re outside, you’re not stuck behind a desk, and you build some great relationships. And for kids, you are able to mentor. They look up to you. And so, tennis in general from that standpoint is really good for the kids, because most of the kids that are playing it are from good families, they’re good kids. They’re good in school. So normally grades are real good as well, so you’re putting your kids around other good kids as well. So from that standpoint, it’s a great sport for that as well because it is something you can do your whole life once you play at a somewhat decent level. And then if you’re playing at a high level, if you’re a former junior player that doesn’t make it on the tour, but still a really good player, how many business deals are made out on a tennis court or on a golf course? When you’re good at something, it just gives you that “wow” factor.
Tennis does not require that much expensive equipment at the most basic level. Where does the “rich man’s sport” side of things come in?
The barrier to entry is not much at all. You have a couple balls and a couple rackets, andhere in the US, you have free courts in most cities, so you have an opportunity to get out there, and at least begin. The competition is what requires money, but as far as playing it and enjoying it, my feeling with tennis is that you can find one other person at the same level as you whether you’re just a beginner, or you’re super high level, and you’ll have a great time. It doesn’t have to be that you’re both phenomenal players. You guys can be just starting out but you’re out playing, and we have guys at the club who have just started playing their first club tournaments and they’re hooked. It’s changed their family’s life. The kids now are involved and the parents are both now involved playing tournaments, playing USTA Team Tennis. I’ve watched this one gentleman who has lost 80 plus pounds, just from coming out and playing. Now he’s out hitting on the ball machine all the time, coming to my clinics, he’s out playing with other guys during the week, they play as a family. He’s sent me some texts and things saying “You don’t understand how this sport has changed my family’s life.” So it’s great for that. You really can just grab someone else and get out there and have a great time, hit and giggle.
What makes a good teacher?
I try to keep it as simple as possible. I think sometimes we as pros, one, we’ve played it so much that certain things just happen without us thinking it through. So when you take it back… when I did my instructional videos, this producer was about a 3.0-3.5 level tennis player. And he was able to go back and when we’d be explaining something he’d say, “What about this?” And then I would be able to go back into explaining things as simplified as possible. It’s basically the Magnus force. It’s basic physics that we deal with. Once you understand those and understand how certain things happen to the ball, then you can make little adjustments and it doesn’t have to be changed in a million different things. Keep it to one or two things at a time.
What has tennis done for you?
Controlling emotions is probably one of the greatest things the sport has done for me. In pressure situations you’re able to learn how to really calm yourself down keep as even keeled and in line as possible when situations get tough, and that does translate over into other parts of your life, for sure.