Certification Exam Preparation – Private & group lessons

by Ryan Thompson, USPTA

I had been teaching private and group lessons for about a year and a half and felt pretty comfortable handling both environments when I went in to teach the lesson portion of the USPTA test. Even though I felt a little more seasoned with the teaching part of the test, there were still a few curveballs that came my way that I was unprepared for.

Keep in mind that the grading for this test is not done on an average. If you ace every portion of the test but fall short in just one area, your overall rating will suffer. So it’s important to be on the ball with every facet of the exam on test day.

UpgradespagePlay by the rules While you may be able to teach a technique using your own flair and inventive way of getting the information communicated, be aware that the testers grading you are looking for very specific items covered in each lesson. They want textbook, and that’s exactly what you should give them if you want a solid score.

You can find exactly what the testers will be looking for under the “Upgrades” tab on the USPTA member’s only website where there will be links to the different parts on the test including the private and group lesson portions. In addition to this you can go to lms.uspta.com and access the online review course, something I’d highly recommend. (Contact the membership department if you don’t remember your login information.)

It’s definitely worth taking a look at either the review course or the PDFs on the USPTA website because there are a couple of very specific things your testers will be on the lookout for.  Some of these items include asking each student three things about themselves, listing three things about yourself, assigning them drills they can do off the tennis court, saying each of their names six times and so on.

Find a practice partner Giving these lessons will most likely be different from ones you’ve done before, so it’s important to run through a practice lesson or two and make sure you get it right. Go through the test materials and come up with a checklist of items your testers will want you to go over. This checklist should include grips, footwork, your private or group warm-up, etc. It will feel bizarre to teach a lesson and check off items, but it’s better to practice it all and feel a little odd doing so than give what you think is a great lesson on test day only to receive a P-3 in that portion of the exam and have no clue where you fell short.

Stay on task On test day you will be given a very explicit technique to teach. This technique will range from the forehand volley to teaching topspin. Make sure you do not stray from teaching your given technique one iota! For my private lesson, I was told to teach the slice spin serve. During my lesson I had my student warm up by hitting a couple of flat serves and a couple of spin serves. While she was doing this I discussed some of the differences between the two serves. Big mistake! I was docked points for not staying on task when I talked about the flat serve. Please don’t repeat my error.

Be prepared for the unexpected After working as a full-time professional for more than five years and with two different clubs, I’ve taught my fair share of unorthodox lessons. One of the things I came across on test day during my private and group lessons definitely caught me off guard though. For my private lesson I taught this sweet 65-year-old woman who was a 3.0. For my group lesson, not only did I teach this same woman, but she was joined by three other people who couldn’t have been more different in age and skill level!

Like I noted above, the testers want it all to be done by the book, regardless of the situation. So if you end up teaching the same person in your group lesson that you had in your private, or vice versa, go through your checklist from top to bottom all the same.

Cross your T’s and dot your I’s Remember that when you are teaching these lessons to be professional the entire time. This begins with coming to the exam dressed professionally and ends with you cleaning up your court when you’re done. This may seem obvious, but there was a person in my group who finished up his group lesson with serves and just walked off the court when he was done teaching, leaving at least a hundred balls on the court. It’s not hard to think what ran through the grader’s mind when he had to clean up after this particular professional.

Make sure when test day arrives that you’ve done your homework ahead of time and are ready for anything unexpected that might come your way.

Ryan Thompson, USPTA, is writing a series of articles based on his experiences taking the Certification Exam. He has been a teaching pro at the Claremont Country Club in Pleasant Hill, Calif., for five years and recently joined the staff at Blackhawk Country Club. He played collegiate tennis for U.C. Santa Cruz and U.C. San Diego from 1998-2002. Thompson is a USPTA-certified Professional and received a B.A. in Communications from U.C. San Diego in 2003. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in sport management at the University of San Francisco.

Certification Exam Preparation – Stroke Production

by Ryan Thompson, USPTA

ThompsonI had been working as a full-time professional for a year and a half when I decided it was time to join the USPTA and obtain my tennis-teacher certification. My coworker at the time had recently completed his certification and communicated the importance and benefits of becoming a certified teaching professional. It had been several years since I had taken any kind of exam, and I knew that I would have to be well prepared if I wanted a positive result. What follows is a compilation of my preparation strategies and what I learned while going through the USPTA certification process. This is part one of my certification exam cheat sheet and will show how to score well in all phases of the test. Hopefully it will help other professionals who want to put their best foot forward and prepare for the challenge.

In my test group there were several very skilled tennis players. Some had recently graduated from college after playing for their respective schools for several years. For the most part, these players breezed through the tennis skill tests. However, there were a few areas in which they struggled because they were unprepared for the variety of skills they were asked to perform. With the on-court skill test it is important to know what shots you are going to be asked to hit and to practice going through the test as well.

Practice makes perfect
My work provides a very positive environment for learning. This holds true for students and coaches. I had the benefit of being able to learn from a coworker of mine who took the test a year or two before I did. I asked my coworker if he could help me prepare for the on-court skills portion by basket feeding me a little bit. As it turned out, my teammate went above and beyond the call of duty by roping off different parts of the court and had me practice hitting different shots into these sectioned off areas. Going through the entire skills test several times and being forced to keep track of how many shots I made in a sequence helped me prepare for the task to come.

The USPTA provides the answers to the test
I realize that I was in a unique situation because I had a friend who could walk me through what I would encounter on test day. However, everybody has access to information on what they will be asked to do regarding stroke production. Under the “Upgrades” tab on the USPTA website are links to the different parts on the test. Clicking on these links will bring up a detailed PDF document listing the shot sequence you will be asked to perform. It will also direct you on what part of the court you will need to stand in and where the ball should be directed.

It’s no secret that the more you submerge yourself in the study materials the better prepared you will be. While many of the pros in my test group were skilled players, they didn’t score as high as they could have in stroke production simply because they didn’t familiarize themselves with what was expected of them. Set yourself up for success by putting in the work ahead of time.

Ryan Thompson has been a teaching pro at the Claremont Country Club in Pleasant Hill, Calif., for five years and recently joined the staff at Blackhawk Country Club. He played collegiate tennis for U.C. Santa Cruz and U.C. San Diego from 1998-2002. Thompson is a USPTA-certified Professional and received a B.A in Communications from U.C. San Diego in 2003. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sport Management at the University of San Francisco.

I need to upgrade. What do I do?

If you are a Professional or Recreational Coach, you may find it necessary to upgrade your rating, either as a requirement for a job or for your own growth as a tennis-teaching professional.  Here is some information to help you prepare for your upgrade:

Be sure to study for the section you need to retest on.

Know what section you need to retake

To determine which areas of the Certification Exam you need to retake, refer to the exam results you received from the World Headquarters. If you are not sure which sections you need to upgrade on, please send an email to membership@uspta.org. Click here to see what the requirements are for each level.

Study materials

You can use the same materials that you used when you tested the first time. If you used the online PTCA I for your initial exam, you still have access to the course. Contact membership@uspta.org if you don’t remember your login information.

Several sections of the study materials are available on the USPTA website: grips, private lesson, group lesson, stroke production, feeding, written, and player development. To access these, log into Members Only and click on Upgrade Materials.

In addition, you received a copy of the private and group lesson grading sheets with your exam results. You can use this to help you determine what areas you need to work on.

Professional to Elite Professional

To upgrade to Elite Professional, you must successfully complete the following exams:

  • Written Elite exam (online) – based on four subject areas. There are at least two specialty courses available that are associated with each topic.
    • Business (budgets, management, staffing, retail, customer service, etc.)
    • Programming (lessons, clinics, activities, events, etc.)
    • Sport science (motor skills, biomechanics, sport physiology, sport psychology, etc.)
    • Tennis operations (program implementation, program calendar, staff supervision, court maintenance, etc.)
  • Feeding competency (Elite level)
  • Stroke analysis (revised online exam)

You must earn 16 specialty course credits in the four areas listed above plus 24 APC credits. (Once this has been met, it doesn’t have to be repeated.)

You also must submit documentation that you have three years’ full-time tennis-teaching experience.

Call the Membership Department at 800-877-8248 for your upgrade fee. Applicants can register by phone by providing a credit card number.

You will receive an email of confirmation for the exam, including site information.

Recreational Coach to Professional

If you are interested in upgrading from Recreational Coach, you must pay the application fee of $175. Once this fee has been paid, we will email the study materials, PTCA I, to you. You also need to pay the difference between Recreational Coach and Professional dues. Please contact the Membership Department for your dues amount.

At that time, you can register for the exam. Click here for a complete list of test dates. You will receive an email of confirmation for the exam, including site information.

Test results take four to six weeks to process. They are mailed via USPS. If you took the Professional-level exam and received a Recreational Coach rating, you will receive an eligibility date for when you can attempt to upgrade. To prepare for the exam, study the portions on which you received the RC rating. You will only need to retake those portion

Click here to learn more about becoming a USPTA-certified Professional.

If you passed all sections as a Elite Pro, but are younger than 22

Call us when you turn 22 and we’ll upgrade you to Elite at no charge.

If you have any questions about the upgrade process, please write to membership@uspta.org or call 800-877-8248.

Professional ratings explained

I took the exam and passed! How was my rating determined?

When you pass the USPTA exam, you will become a certified professional. There are two rating levels that are determined by your score, as well as several other requirements. Here’s a breakdown.


Must be 18 years of age or older

Must pass all portions of the Certification Exam at the Professional level

Must have an NTRP of 4.0 or higher

Must demonstrate teaching ability through apprenticeship or teaching experience

Elite Professional

Must be 22 years of age or older

Must pass all portions of the Certification Exam at the Elite Professional level

Must have an NTRP of 4.5 or higher

Must have three years or five seasons of full-time teaching experience

How is the Certification Exam graded?

The private, group and written exams are graded based on a standard grading scale. The stroke production and feeding parts of the exam are based on how well you perform each particular task. (This is explained further in the study materials you’ll receive after you apply. Copies of the score sheets for each section are included.)

I passed all sections of the exam at the Elite level, but am only 19.

You will be rated a Professional. Call us when you turn 22 and we’ll upgrade you to Elite Professional at no charge.

I meet all the other requirements but failed one part of the exam. What happens now?

You will be a Recreational Coach. While this category normally does not include liability coverage,  since you are a Professional-level applicant, we will continue to provide this benefit to you without any lapse of coverage until the end of the calendar year. You will be eligible to upgrade after three months. (We’ll cover upgrading in a later blog.)

If you have any questions, please contact the membership department at membership@uspta.org.

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!

If an accident happens on court, USPTA pros are protected by $9 million in on-court liability/bodily injury and property damage insurance.

Definitely not something you want to hear on your tennis court. But it can happen, and thanks to your USPTA membership, you will be protected.

Your yearly membership dues include $9 million in on-court liability/bodily injury and property damage insurance. This covers USPTA applicants and certified members while practicing, playing, teaching or officiating tennis in the United States, its territories and Canada. (USPTA Recreational Coaches may purchase the on-court liability coverage separately.*)

Many employers require USPTA membership because of this liability insurance.  Once you are certified, you may request insurance verification for yourself or an employer online. The verification comes in the form of a personalized letter with coverage details, including the policy number, effective period and a description of the $9 million on-court liability coverage.

To request your verification letter, go to uspta.com, click on Member login, then Member documents.

What do I do if there’s an accident?

If an accident occurs, gather all the details of the incident and call the World Headquarters as soon as possible (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Central) at 800-877-8248, ext. 110, and ask for Melony DeLoach, Insurance Department. She will email, mail or fax you an insurance claim form. Once she receives the form back, she will then forward the claim to the insurance company. The claims representative will contact you within 48 hours.

Is Cardio Tennis covered?

Yes,  your policy covers any tennis activity provided by any USPTA applicant or certified pro (and Recreational  Coach if the policy is purchased).

Can I add someone else to my policy?

Yes. If you are a certified member, you may apply for coverage for nonmember assistants. To add someone to your policy, go to Quicklinks on http://uspta.com and select Additional insurance. Log in on the next page. (For your username, use the email address we have on file and “uspta” immediately followed by your membership number as the password.) The verification letter for the nonmember assistant will be mailed within seven business days.

The nonmember insurance fee ($90) is neither prorated nor transferable, and will cover the nonmember through the term of the policy year (from December 31 to December 31 of the next year). The nonmember assistant’s coverage becomes effective when payment is received at the USPTA World Headquarters. You must remember to reapply for the nonmember each year in a timely fashion, since no notices or invoices will be sent as a reminder.

There is no limit on how many nonmember assistants you can add. However, the assistant must be 18 years or older.

Is the facility where I work covered?

No, but additional insurance coverage may be purchased and added to your policy for $65 if you are a certified or applicant member. (See below for information for Recreational Coaches.) This covers the facility on any accident resulting from your negligence. You can even purchase additional insurance for more than one facility, for $40 per additional facility.

This does not mean that the facility is covered against any liability that might arise due to its own negligence or act.  It simply means that the club, camp, etc., would be covered for any vicarious liability arising from an accident caused by any USPTA applicant, certified member or insured non-USPTA member. If the club is held negligent, it could be sued separately and would not be covered by the USPTA member’s insurance and consequently still would need its own liability insurance coverage.

In simple terms, suppose you leave balls laying on the court and your student trips on one, falls and breaks a hip. You and the facility are protected in the event of a lawsuit. However, if the locker room staff leaves a puddle on the floor that results in an accident, your insurance does not cover that.

Can I purchase additional insurance for a club I own?

No. USPTA does not provide coverage for clubs, camps, clinics, academies, etc., owned by its own members. If you own one of these facilities or programs and need liability insurance, you must contact your local insurance agent. The reason why a USPTA member-owned facility cannot be added to the policy is because USPTA has no ownership in the facility owned by the member, therefore, the company cannot be added to our policies as a Named Insured. In order to add the facility that is owned by the member to the policy, USPTA must maintain ownership or a majority interest in the company.

What else isn’t covered?

The liability policy does not cover you against accidents that occur while transporting students to and from official tennis events, such as tournaments or interclub matches.

You will need to ascertain whether your personal insurance is adequate and appropriate for the use of that vehicle.

Liability insurance is provided only to citizens and those who legally reside and work in the United States, its territories and Canada.

*I’m a Recreational Coach. How do I get liability insurance?

A Recreational Coach may purchase liability insurance for $45 a year. All USPTA members will receive a liability insurance form in November. On this form, Rec Coaches will have the option to add liability insurance. (If you choose to add insurance later on in the year, call the World Headquarters.)

Rec Coaches may also purchase additional insurance for their facility ($125). The facility insurance is neither prorated nor transferable and will cover the facility through the term of the policy year (from December 31 to December 31 of the next year).  Payment must be received at the World Headquarters with the request for additional coverage.  If you need more than one facility covered,  add $75 for each additional facility.

A Recreational Coach cannot purchase liability insurance for a nonmember assistant.

More information

Here is some more information you might find useful. This article is by USPTA General Counsel Paul Waldman. Negligence and the tennis professional

We hope this information helps. If you ever have any questions about your liability insurance, please contact Melony at insurance@uspta.org or 800-877-8248, ext. 110.

Steps to becoming a USPTA Pro

Want to become a USPTA Professional but aren’t sure what to do? We know it can be a bit confusing, so we’ve put together the following information to help you on your way.

Sign up

The first step is the application. But before you start filling it out, you should gather some information. In addition to personal data, you will be asked for references, tennis-teaching experience and playing experience.

You will also be asked to schedule an exam on the application, so pull out your calendar. Scheduling this now will help ensure that you are registered for the test you want. If you prefer to take the written and grips portions of the exam online, you may select that option on the application.

Use the fee chart on the application to determine your prorated dues, plus your application fee. The nonrefundable application fee covers all administrative costs, study materials, the Certification Exam and test processing. If you would like to purchase a hard copy of the study materials for $25, select the option on the application.

After you fill everything out, including your payment information, submit the application and you’re ready for the next step. (If you prefer to pay by check, mail the application and all appropriate fees to the Membership Department at the USPTA World Headquarters.)

 Application           Testing schedule           Fee schedule


After we receive your application, we will send you an email with your study materials and mail you a welcome package that contains information about USPTA and a collection of “On Court with USPTA” episodes.

If you opted to take the exam online, you will receive an email containing instructions on how to access the online PTCA I (review course) and the exam. If you chose to take the review course in a classroom setting, your tester will review all portions of the exam (but you’ll still want to study the PTCA I manual that we emailed to you).

Look at the chart below to determine which study path works best for you.


Register and complete Coach Youth Tennis

Information coming soon.

Exam time

Closer to exam time, you will receive a final confirmation along with site information. After you have completed the certification process, your test results will be mailed to you.  This process takes four to six weeks from your exam date.


As a USPTA applicant, you have access to several USPTA benefits. Go to uspta.com/benefits to learn more.

As always, if you have any questions during this process, please call us, 800-877-8248, or write to membership@uspta.org, and we will be happy to help you.

USPTA ratings: What does it all mean?

If you’re taking the USPTA Certification Exam, you’ve probably heard that you need to make certain scores on all different parts of the test. And, depending on what you score, you’ll either be an Elite Professional, Professional or Recreational Coach. But what does that mean?

We have broken down the ratings by possible corresponding job descriptions.

Elite Professional
To become an Elite Professional, a USPTA member must be at least 22 years old, pass the written Elite exam, which covers business, programming, sport science and tennis operations, Elite stroke analysis exam and the Elite-level on-court exams. In addition, members must earn 16 specialty course and 24 APC credits. Elite Professionals are required to earn 6 credits every three years to maintain their membership. They commonly are considered for director of tennis or head tennis professional positions.

USPTA Professionals must be at least 18 years old, pass the on-court and written portions of the exam, and complete Stage 1 and 2 of Coach Youth Tennis. They should be able to organize and implement most tennis programs, assist with and develop competitive players, and assist with and/or direct pro shop management and facility maintenance. Depending on the person’s experience, a USPTA Professional’s job description may range from assistant pro to head tennis professional. USPTA Professionals are required to earn 6 credits every three years to maintain their membership.

Recreational Coach (Non-certified category)
This is a separate membership category that has been added for non-career path and/or part-time tennis teachers. It is designed for people who may already be teaching tennis – as high school coaches, at recreational facilities or in other part-time situations – but are not immediate candidates for careers as full-time teaching professionals. These members learn the basic standards of tennis teaching during workshops led by the USTA or by completing an online course by USPTA, but do not take the comprehensive Certification Exams for a Professional rating. Must be 18 years old and are not required to have tennis-teaching experience. You can sign up for this category, or, if you don’t pass a portion of the exam at the professional level, you will be placed in this category until you upgrade.

These are just general guidelines. Ultimately, your job will depend on you, your skills and your experience.

Make your private lesson POP

Taking the private lesson portion of your Certification Exam can be nerve-racking, even for an experience teaching pro.  You’re on an unfamiliar court with an unfamiliar student, and every little thing you say and do is being judged by someone else. But don’t worry! Fortunately, we have put together a very detailed outline of everything you need to know in the Professional Tennis Coaches Academy I that you received via email after you submitted your application.

Private lesson exam

Be sure to plan ahead and practice before your private lesson exam.

The outline includes information on the following:

  • How to project a professional image and get acquainted
  • How to evaluate the student and his/her needs
  • How to implement an effective lesson plan
  • Demonstration
  • What to do with a beginner versus an intermediate or advance player
  • How to maintain rapport and enthusiasm
  • How to diagnose the problem and suggest a solution
  • How to properly feed, use targets and maintain safety

Study the outline carefully and know what you will be judged on.

Besides studying the outline, the most important thing you can do to prepare is PREPARE. You won’t know what stroke your lesson will cover or the ability level of your student.  But you can plan a basic lesson for each stroke (forehand volley and groundstroke, backhand volley and groundstroke, serve and overhead) and know what you would do depending on your student’s level.  Also, plan what you’ll do if your student is a lefty and you’re a righty, or vice versa.

Also PRACTICE. Let your friends and family be your guinea pigs. Work with people of differing experience and athletic abilities. You need to be able to modify drills or games based upon your student’s ability level. Know how to scale the spin, speed, height, depth, direction and frequency of your feed. (Scalability lesson 1, lesson 2)

Don’t just practice the hitting part. Plan your introduction, questions for the student and wrapup and rehearse them with your guinea pigs. Practice eye contact. Practice saying your student’s name. Practice sounding confident but not arrogant.

Another way to prepare is to find an USPTA Master Pro or Elite Professional to talk to. Maybe you can observe a lesson or have him or her watch one of yours and critique it. If you don’t know someone, give us a call and we’ll help you find someone to talk to.

Also, ask your tester if you can observe an on-court exam prior to your exam. It may be several months ahead, so plan accordingly.

Your USPTA certification is an investment in your career. If you are taking this step, you owe it to yourself to be well-prepared and confident going into the on-court portions of the test. If you have any questions at all as you prepare, leave a comment below, call us (800-877-8248), email us, or ask us on Facebook or Twitter. Good luck!

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