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I am The J: Tennis pro Dale likes a FAST game

United States Professional Tennis Association-certified elite professional Dale Clark has been teaching tennis at The J for almost three decades. After playing for Jefferson State Junior College and Samford University, Dale became a teaching pro and coached Tuscaloosa’s Central High School Falcons to a State 6A Championship. He has been ranked No. 1 in Alabama in men’s doubles and highly ranked in mixed doubles.

We caught up with Dale to ask about his FAST tennis program plus a few other questions…

A man holding a tennis racket to his chest and wearing a cap leans against a wood-trimmed wall in a well-lit lobby
“I enjoy teaching all aspects of the physical part of tennis,” Dale says. “It gives me satisfaction watching an individual learn to control the ball placement through their footwork as well as learning all the spins that help control the ball.”
LJCC: How did you end up at The J?

DC: I was the pro at Pine Tree Country Club when they had a change in management and got rid of all their employees. One of my Pine Tree clients was a member at The J and she recommended me for the job here. That was nearly three decades ago!

So what the heck is this FAST tennis thing? 

“FAST” is actually an acronym for fun adult starter tennis. Since just picking up a racket and thinking you’re going to learn tennis in a few lessons can seem intimidating, FAST uses a progression of larger, slower (low-compression) tennis balls along with a smaller court area. This combination makes learning to hit the ball easier, resulting in a lot more fun from the start.

The size and speed of the tennis balls increase as adult students gain confidence. And then the court area increases, too, which keeps things interesting.

How long does it take for an adult to learn tennis using the FAST method?

The 10-lesson program is spread out over two days a week for five weeks, at which point students should see a dramatic improvement in their footwork as well as their control over the ball. Tennis is a sport of a lifetime, and the more you practice, the better you get.

What do you enjoy most about coaching tennis? 

I enjoy teaching all aspects of the physical part of tennis. It gives me satisfaction watching an individual learn to control the ball placement through their footwork as well as learning all the spins that help control the ball. 

What I enjoy the most about coaching tennis is the mental part of the game. Tennis is at least 80% mental and that is the part of the game that is the toughest to master. This is the most rewarding part of coaching. Developing a player so they are mentally tough under all playing situations.

How does your approach to coaching differ between kids and adults? 

Kids know how to have fun on the court from the very start. They contact the ball and are just as happy and pleased regardless. And the kids use smaller equipment and slower balls, and play on a smaller court area.

But adults have to learn how to have fun on the court, which can make for an interesting mental challenge, and when they miss the ball too often they can get discouraged easily. The FAST method does a great job of counteracting those issues — because remember that the “F” stands for “fun.”

You put in some long days. How many lessons can you fit in from sunrise to sunset? 

I’ve worked days when I started at 8 a.m., took an hour for lunch, and then was back on the court until 9 in the evening. But it’s not work when you enjoy what you’re doing.

Do you have a favorite time of year at The J?

Anytime it’s hot outside. I sweat better than I shiver!