Take a Dive in the Deep End: Q&A with Albert Fernandez
Cliff Drysdale Tennis takes immense pride in our incredibly talented staff. Each of them has their own story, and their own methods. Each month we take you behind the curtain to learn more about those that make the #UltimateTennisExperience possible. Today we’re talking with Albert Fernandez, Director of Tennis at Weston Tennis Center.
How did you get your career starting in coaching?
Albert Fernandez: I was 16 years old, and realized I could help out and teach while I was playing. I was in South Florida and I realized I could actually make a little money, which of course is always nice as a teenager. From there I just tried to start learning about the business, I enjoyed the management aspect of tennis. I was enamored with the idea of managing my own club, I started to realize that there was a lot more than just being on the court.
Early on in your career, what were some of the things that you struggled with and how did you overcome those challenges? AF: Personally, I was not really a big personality. I was a bit shy. And when you’re working at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami, being shy is really easy way of being forgotten. I used it as a competition, I knew I needed to be louder, involved in conversation, talking to members, being present and in their ear. I just started being at the club as much as possible, even if I wasn’t on the court. That really led me to develop a name for myself and become more familiar with the members.
Everyone has a different personality, so how did you develop your own brand on and off the court?
AF: I spent time observing the ways I impacted people. For some coaches it’s with their technical analysis, it can be through humor or simply personal connection. And really every client is looking for something different. So I just tried to recognize what people responded to, and doubled down on that. Really it was about playing to my strengths.
Heading into your first Director of Tennis Position at Omni Rancho Las Palmas, what skills did you have to work on the most and what did you enjoy most about the job?
AF: Biggest thing was organizational skills, trying to pre-plan can be really challenging. A long term vision is hard to image when you haven’t been at a club for long time. Managing personnel is an evolving challenge and one that I’m still working on today. I don’t want to micromanage, but you also want to give people the skills they need to succeed. Also as a new director, you are empowered to make decisions. I had always previously been the one taking direction; now I’m the one being looked at. It’s nerve racking and difficult, but obviously it’s something you have to learn. I loved the location, meeting new people and building my network. My little taste of Cuba in the Southern California desert. It was an amazing experience.
Next up, you became the Director of Tennis at Weston Tennis Center, where you’ve been for over 4 years now. What was different about this position? AF: Weston was honestly completely different. There were so many different aspects of the club that are now the responsibility of the director. At a resort, the hotel takes care of a lot of things like maintenance, facility management, the little details. Now I’m in charge of all those departments, in addition to a much larger teaching staff. There were also new priorities, from the member experience to the city’s goals to my own objectives, I had to learn to juggle things that sometimes conflicted with each other. Also I replaced somebody who was very established at the club before me. So once again I had to make myself known, which is not something you can do overnight.
Weston has been one of CDT’s most innovate clubs in terms of embracing new programming, from beginner tennis to now pickleball and padel. What has allowed you to have so much success in these new programs?
AF: Just learning to trust the process, trust yourself, don’t be afraid to make changes that will help in the long term. Sure, a few people might not like the schedule changes or the pro availability changes, but over time these programs bring so much new business and energy to our club. I think you have to dive into the deep end, go all in, don’t go halfway. That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t. Also just to stay positive. Whether you get 1 or 100 people, that’s still a win. And you have to over-communicate and over-deliver with those new customers. Don’t be discouraged if your numbers are low, because that’s a new person who is very valuable. Tennis 101 has had such a successful long term affect on our club. We’ve grown our adult programs exponentially because of 101, so to see that success has meant a lot. It’s full circle.
What advice would you have for anyone looking at a career in tennis management or interested in moving up the ladder?
AF: I would say it’s a wonderful career, I’ve learned in real time with real experiences things that I could never learn in a classroom. I’ve had plenty of support behind me, so even in areas where I wasn’t that experienced, CDT always had my back. It’s a rewarding career, you can make a lot of impact on people’s lives, from 3 year olds to 90 year olds. I once had somebody tell me “you have no idea the amount of happiness you bring to us” after a lesson. We are not doctors or preachers, but we make a huge positive impact on the day to day life of so many people. It’s extremely rewarding and I encourage you to dive in.