If you had told Shawna Barasch Wilson at the end of her tennis career that she would one day start one of the most successful academies in Los Angeles, she would not have believed you. In fact, Barasch Wilson wanted nothing to do with the sport, opting to stow away her racquets in search of a ‘real job.’ What Barasch Wilson failed to realize in the moment was that tennis coaching had always been her calling.
After a prosperous collegiate career, Barasch Wilson traveled across Europe in hopes of competing on the Tour before ultimately making the decision to step away from the court.
“I threw my rackets in a closet, and said I was done completely. But like many tennis players, you don’t really know much else besides the sport you’ve done your entire life,” explained Barasch Wilson. “I had just moved to Los Angeles, and a friend of mine called me and told me they needed someone to help run the junior program at the Riviera. I said, ‘Absolutely not, I’m not coaching. I’m going to get a real job.’”
However, it was not long before Barasch Wilson realized that tennis coaching was a more favorable option than sitting behind a desk all day long. “I started coaching at the Riviera and just loved it. I really bonded with the kids and made great connections, I loved being out there and found that I was pretty good at it,” she said.
Not long after her coaching career began, Barasch Wilson was receiving request after request for private coaching sessions. She then opted to leave the Riviera for her first private court. Fifteen years later, she now runs the four-location SBW Tennis Academy for tennis players of all ages and abilities.
So, how was Barasch Wilson able make the transition from beginner coach to running her own highly successful academy? The answer is simple – by building relationships. “I think it’s all about relationships. On the coaching side, we’re really good at what we do. More than that, people like being around my staff and myself,” she said.
“For years, I was a ‘yes’ person. I said yes to everybody and everything, whether it was six in the morning or eight at night, it didn’t matter. I really built up a reputation for what we were doing,” recalled Barasch Wilson. “My clients got to know more than just the tennis side of me, and it was about those relationships. Once word spreads, it really spreads organically, and we just grew and grew and grew. We have really high standards. Our clients are more than just clients, everyone is extended family.”
More than building relationships, Barasch Wilson attributes five key components to the success of the SBW Tennis Academy. First, she believes firmly in being an active part of the community. With two children who attend a small private school in Los Angeles, she has worked to develop credibility with this subset of the population to increase the academy’s clientele base.
Second, Barasch Wilson believes success comes from finding the right people to coach alongside her. “It’s about finding staff that you can trust so you know that everyone is on the same page,” she explained.
Barasch Wilson adopts a unique method for recruiting these coaches to her SBW Tennis Academy. “I definitely look for personality first,” she explained. “Everybody can be taught to coach. I really look for someone who I think people are going to bond with. I’m happy to spend endless hours teaching them to coach, or they can shadow myself for a certain amount of time before I put them out there. I really look for people who want to coach and for people I think our clients will want to spend time with.”
Another unique practice that Barasch Wilson employs at the SBW Tennis Academy is matching coaches and players based on their unique personality traits and personal goals. “We definitely like to match personalities and styles. Some people are a little more intense, and some people just want to have fun and get exercise. I think that there’s a coach for everybody.”
The third component of running a tennis coaching business is consistency. At the SBW Tennis Academy, Barasch Wilson has a firm no cancel policy, a practice that she attributes to the success she had experienced.
Next, Barasch Wilson believes in balancing fun with the ability to coach fundamentally sound technical skills. The guiding philosophy at the SBW Tennis Academy is that great players are made from sound fundamentals. One of Barasch Wilson’s main goals is to pass this philosophy on to her coaches.
“I like to have everyone shadow me and see how I run things,” she said. “That’s not to say that every coach that works at SBW teaches the same way. I don’t think that would be beneficial. Within that philosophy, I think there’s a lot of variations as long as everyone has the same basic goal in mind.”
“I think of us as a fine boutique hotel. You know you’re going to get quality when you come to us. It’s beneficial to have different personalities and different coaching styles within that program, as long as everyone is above board on proper technique. People know across the board that they’re getting high quality.”
Barasch Wilson’s fifth and final component to running a successful coaching business is the ability to stand up for what she believes in and hold her ground. “It’s about taking a stance on how you want things done. I think people respect someone who sets the standards high and expects the same thing from their clientele, that they know they’re going to get back,” she explained.
In conjunction with the five keys to running a successful academy, Barasch Wilson always comes back to the relationships.
“It’s all about trust, and it’s all about the kid being inspired by you and the parent wanting role models for their kids,” she said. “The more you can connect with the kids and the families, the better you’re going to do. It’s all about making those connections.”