Tag: Tennis

What 20 Years As A Tennis Coach Taught Me About Making A Living From My Passion

by Joe Barnes


Pratical Tools & Tips


Date: Sep 27, 2023

What 20 Years As A Tennis Coach Taught Me About Making A Living From My Passion

20 years ago (September 2003), I began working as a tennis coach. 

At the time, it represented a major step forward in my life. 

Prior to that, I’d never enjoyed a single moment of the jobs I’d worked. I spent my entire time working in a sports retail store, as a bartender, at a call centre and working in data entry, clock watching and praying for the end of the day. 

This was the first job, I thought, where I was actually going to enjoy the work and get to make a living doing something I was interested in.

What happened next is 20 years of lessons learned, surprises and personal growth. 

Making a living from one of my passions was not, in any way, shape or form, what I expected it to be.

I now share this story in the hope that I can help you on your journey.

Here are the five lessons I’ve learned from 20 years as a tennis coach. 


1. Your Passion Might Need Tweaking 

Before starting work as a tennis coach, I had the romantic notion that all I needed to do was gain my coaching qualification, find the clients, and everything would be great.

I expected each lesson to be fun and inspiring. This was one of my passions after all, and I’d read that when you align yourself with something you love, special things happen.  

The reality of coaching (at the time, I mainly taught groups of 6 to 12 children in one class), though, was very different. 

It wasn’t fun. Often, the children behaved badly and the lesson was more about maintaining order than teaching the students anything of value. 

Worse still, I discovered that the ethos of the coach I was working with (he initially hired me to work with his coaching company) wasn’t congruent with mine. 

For him, tennis coaching was a business and although he did his best to ensure the lessons were run well, the concept of developing outstanding tennis players was secondary to making money.

A month into what I thought was going to be a dream job, I started to have doubts. 

For a moment, I thought about quitting. I had all these expectations about what making a living from my passion would be like and none of them were being met.  

Fortunately, though, I decided to stick it out.

Despite the difficulties I had in maintaining discipline, and the coaching ethos not being what I imagined it would be, I had one thing going in my favour. 

While on court, I was in charge. I had the autonomy to make the work what I wanted it to be. 

This took a long time. I had to learn about disciplining children and improve my coaching skills. However, with the passing of the years, I was able to fight for less children in my class and ensure that we were working towards a motivating goal (playing in team competitions and coaching the most talented kids to work their way up the junior rankings). 

Eventually, I made the work more rewarding and enjoyable. However, the process taught me an important lesson. 

No matter how passionate you may think you are about a certain job, or role, you never know what it’s going to be like. The idea and the reality are often very different. However, this doesn’t mean you’re without scope to mould your passion into what you want it to be. 

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” This also applies to making a living from your passion.


2. Experience Trumps Qualifications 

I’ve never done any further qualifications than my initial, entry level course to become a tennis coach. 


Because I’ve never needed to. 

  • The first 7 years of my tennis coaching career were spent working for coach who had his own coaching company.
  • The next 5 were spent working at a sports centre after I broke away from this coach and set up my own business at one of his venues (more on this to come).
  • In 2016, I moved to a new tennis club and have been performing the head coach role there ever since. 

This progression is slightly unusual for a tennis coach with only the standard level of qualification (there are two higher levels which many coaches in my position will take). However, my reasoning for never gaining these qualifications is that they will take up A LOT of my time and money while failing to turn me into a better coach.

I’m not a big fan of qualifications. By and large, I view them as box ticking exercises. 

I know a few people with MBAs and Masters Degrees who spent a lot of time and money gaining these qualifications but never really furthered their careers after attaining them. 

What’s the point? 

You can learn whatever you need to learn when on the job, by taking smaller, one day or weekend courses and staying up to date with the latest trends and techniques in your industry with online content or a mastermind group of fellow professionals. 

Years of desire to learn and improve is what turned me into a good tennis coach, not the letters after my name. 

Occasionally, you don’t even need qualifications!

You might remember Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist whose true story came to prominence through the Oscar winning film, The King’s Speech. After many professionals with numerous qualifications had attempted to cure King George VI of his stutter and failed, Logue was recruited in the hope his unconventional methods might work. 

Amazingly, they did. The King found his voice and was transformed in his ability to perform his royal duties. However, Logue was self-taught and didn’t have a qualification to his name (apart from the most important one – his experience). 


3. You Must Embrace Uncertainty

Making a living from your passion is not the same as earning money through a conventional career. Often, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make any money at all.

This level of uncertainty is incredibly testing. Tony Robbins lists “certainty” as one of our 6 essential human needs. To live anxiety free, most people need to know when the next paycheque is coming and what their schedule will look like the next week. 

Making a living from your passion doesn’t always afford you that luxury.

This was especially true with tennis coaching. 

I’ve had to deal with bad weather forcing me to cancel lessons (I live in England), client turnover when the children inevitably change schools or go to university and the unnerving initial challenge of building a big enough client base to support me. 

Initially, this lack of certainty messed with my head. I couldn’t tell whether I’d still be a tennis coach 8 months after I’d started. However, as I got used living without guarantees, something amazing happened. 

I started developing the unconscious belief that I’d always be provided for.

Even if there was bad weather, and I’d miss a week’s worth of work, I believed I’d make it up when the sun came out. Even when I branched out on my own, taking the risk to set up my own coaching business after 7 years of working for someone else, I believed everything would work out. 

And, amazingly, it did.

By embracing uncertainty and believing I’d always be provided for, it felt like I got into the flow of abundance.   

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a more resourceful state.

Because I wasn’t worried about where the next client was coming from, I got on with my job, taught my lessons with enthusiasm, and this enabled me to keep the clients I had and attract new ones either through recommendations or people being impressed with my work.

Or, perhaps there’s a lot of demand for tennis coaching in my area and anyone doing a half way decent job can get enough clients.   

Whatever the case, as someone looking to make a living from their passion, I’d advise you to embrace uncertainty. 


4. Sometimes You Have To Be Ruthless And Make Tough Decisions To Grow

After 7 years of working with another tennis coach, I decided it was time I branched out. 

For a couple of years, I’d been applying for head coach positions at other tennis clubs but hadn’t been successful. So, I hatched a plan to operate independently at one of the venues I’d been working at for the last 7 years. 

Of course, this plan wasn’t without risk because it brought me into conflict with the tennis coach who I’d been working with since I qualified. 

Despite him never working at these tennis courts (3 of them attached to an LA Fitness gym) and me having done the heavy lifting of running and growing a thriving holiday tennis course programme there, he still very much considered it HIS venue. 

Fortunately, though, the managers of the LA Fitness didn’t. They were pissed off with him never paying his rent on time and owing them over £600 in fees. As a result, they were more than happy to strike a new deal with me, allowing me to operate independently at the venue. 

To say my former boss was mad about this move was an understatement. 

I thought if we met face to face, a fight would have ensued. 

I received a couple of abusive phone calls, laced with expletives and I was also threatened with legal action (although on what grounds I’m not sure as I wasn’t breaking any law). 

It was an unpleasant experience. However, it had to be done.  

On the one hand, I was destroying any friendship I had with the tennis coach who gave me my first job (and that didn’t feel good).

On the other hand, this was a huge opportunity for my advancement (more money, greater freedom and autonomy).

Although part of me liked this man, it was undeniable that he was arrogant, egotistical, a habitual late payer and regularly made a point of letting the coaches who worked for him know who was boss. 

In some ways, he got what he deserved.

In some ways, it was a ruthless move on my behalf. 

Wherever you lie on assessing whether my decision was ethical, what’s undeniable was that it was difficult. 

I expect you’ll be faced with decisions of a similar magnitude on your journey to making a living from your passion. 

When you are, understand that it’s ok to be a little ruthless. I don’t regret my decision. 

It had to be done so I could continue to grow. That’s the most important point. So long as you’re not REALLY harming another person (my takeover only cost my former boss 10% to 15% of a substantial income), it’s ok to put yourself first. 


5. Don’t Let Something You Like Stop You From Doing Something You Love 

You probably know me as a writer (perhaps you didn’t even know I worked as a tennis coach and hypnotherapist – and still do). 

Writing is my main passion. My life goal is to sell a million copies of the books I write

However, my journey to making a living from the work that inspires me didn’t begin with writing. 

Back in 2003, fresh out of university, I had a plan. I would use jobs that I liked (tennis coaching and hypnotherapy) to support myself while I created a career that I loved (writing and being a speaker). 

I created this plan because I believe, and still do, that working just to make money equates to a dull and soulless life. Your work has to be meaningful and enjoyable otherwise you’re wasting your talents and potential (no matter how much money you make). 

Ironically, this logic also applies to lesser passions getting in the way of your ultimate goal. For many years, I’ve been guilty of not pushing hard enough with my writing because I’ve had my tennis coaching to fall back on.

Because, for the most part, I enjoy the work, there’s a lack of urgency to succeed as a writer.

You must be aware of this if you’re following a similar approach.

Don’t get too comfortable. Keep your eyes on the prize and know when it’s time to risk something you like for something you love.  



If you want to discover a passion you can make a living from and overcome the fears that are holding you back, check out my free course 30 Days to Escape The SystemClick here to get the course right now! (You’ll find the tips on developing belief and self-confidence fascinating!) 


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