Column: If a mentor helped guide your passion, time to pay it forward

In this life if you could do something you love and enjoy, make a living out of it and then help others with the same passion do the same, wouldn't you?

As a kid to get to experience many, many different avenues of life is a real treat and eye-opener. And every now and then while you're still in the developing stages of your younger years, you're lucky to possibly come across a thing or two that you cotton up to in a manner that intrigues and challenges your inner being.

If you have the right people in your life, normally starting with your parents/family members, teachers or coaches - someone who helps mentor that spark - it grows into a part of your life that you relish and can't seem to get enough of.

But the big question as we develop our skills and passion is how we can work this into a way to make a living - or at least a great hobby?

It helps to have a good work ethic to start with, to be a bit enterprising, not afraid to smile and say hello and ask questions, and to surround ourselves with people that are positive.

I happened to love the game of tennis, but my folks, school and friends, who were supportive, didn't have the background to help me get on the right path to do much directing and developing of what might have helped reach goals I would have like to know existed.

No one ever asked me if I'd like to get into the world of tennis as a college player, instructor, stringer or club manager. I played the game pretty well, and I enjoyed the people who surrounded it. But no one really took me under their wing to help think things out in a manner that really could have helped during the formative teenage years.

When I was 15 I decided, why not hang up a sign on the high school courts where I would teach tennis to people who might be interested in learning how to play. It didn't really occur to me that I had never taken a private lesson from anyone, but for $5 an hour I'd still give them their money's worth. Ignorance is bliss and my professional tennis career began.

A couple years later an indoor tennis facility was built in our town and I hooked a job working the front desk, assisting the pro - basically learning the trade.

Was I good enough to have played college tennis? Probably so. My high school didn't have a tennis team, so I started one. I was the coach, driver, scheduler, and #1 player. But I still didn't have that mentor to give me advice.

The local country club offered me a job as the assistant tennis coach for the summer and I loved what I was doing. The people were fun, healthy and successful. I decided this was what I was going to do for a living, but still wasn't sure how.

No colleges had programs that taught you how to become a tennis professional. It seemed to be a hands-on type of learning process during the early 1970s. So I had a couple contacts to interview for jobs in Arizona and California, and landed at the 5-Star Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix in 1976.

As an assistant pro you do everything. You help with clinics, give privates and hit sessions. You run tournaments, repair racquets, set up adult and junior programs, run leagues, coach teams, squeegee and wash courts, put up nets and windscreens, make phone calls, set up a clientele, etc.

If you're lucky and good enough you find some mentors and stretch your limits.

Nowadays you can go to college and get a degree in business or marketing with an emphasis on tennis. Most high schools have tennis teams, athletic directors, counselors and coaches that help guide you along if you're smart enough to ask.

As you mature in your passion the big picture begins to evolve; how you can continue the journey into more interesting avenues, such as creating associations or clubs, keeping facilities vibrant and refurbished, mentoring others who need the guidance you could have used.

It's definitely a circle from being the new kid on the block, to learning the ropes, to helping others. One thing for all of us to remember that have had our passion nurtured, it's our turn to do the same for others.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.