“It’s coming,” James Derrick says, referring to the unpredictability that is about to engulf court number-four at The Lake Club. Six young kids will be here for tennis lessons, all at once, all of them depending on James to hold their interest. I ask if he needs to pound a cup of coffee. “Nah, it just makes me jittery. The kids are all the caffeine I need.”

He has a mutual impact on the kids when they arrive. They’re 3-10 years old, and it’s hard to tell if they’re dressed for tennis, basketball, or after-school naps. Within the first minute, James has them moving and laughing. He acts like the seventh kid on the court, except he’s taller, stronger, and hairier.

“I introduced my son to tennis,” one mom says from a seat in the shade, “but the reason he enjoys it is James.”

Some teachers might try to suppress the energy. James craves it. When the kids start jumping around for no particular reason, I look to see how he’ll reestablish control. “Let ‘em go,” he says. “They’re excited to be here. As someone who had ADD growing up, I know how it is.”

There are a total of 50 kids in Reynolds’ youth tennis program. For James and director of tennis, Eric Gessner, the goal is to impart basics and keep them all interested enough to come back — rather than turn them into tennis specialists before they can tie their own shoes. James started playing when he was five years old and says the game didn’t come naturally for him. Enthusiasm did. It became his biggest strength, as a player and a coach.

“That’s a must for anyone who wants to do this job,” he says.

Patience is another requirement. James admits he once struggled with that one, too.

“My dad never got mad at me for missing a shot, only for throwing a fit. So, it goes without saying that we can’t have a tennis instructor who gets frustrated with players.”

Like now, for example, when kids are alternately whacking some shots over the net, off their shoes, and with stunning accuracy off James. He not only absorbs the barrage, he sometimes encourages it as a reward for mastering a hitting technique.

“It keeps them busy, and happy,” he says. The attention spans are surprisingly long. No one wanders off. These kids are learning the game of tennis, even as they play soft-toss dodgeball and use buckets to catch each other’s shots.

“I like to connect different sports to tennis, to add a layer of interest,” James says. As a multi-sport athlete himself, the tactics are as much for his benefit as for theirs. “It makes me a better coach.”

Earlier today, six adult Members came to James for instruction more serious than “let’s hit Coach James with a serve!” They want the strings on their rackets adjusted? No problem. Tennis balls fresh out of the can? Here you go. James can’t control the climate, but he does rally his team to make sure there’s plenty of ice, water, towels, and Powerades available.

A new hire like me starts even lower on the ladder: Ball checker.

“You do it like this,” James says, squeezing a ball to make sure it still has plenty of tension, which translates to bounce. “We have to check all of them.”

There are 5,000 balls sprayed around The Lake Club facility. I find one basketful and begin squeezing. After 27 balls, my forearms are cramping, so I distract James with more questions: “Do you play much? Or are you like golf pros who rarely get in a full round?”

“In the course of giving lessons to Members, I hit about 2,000 balls a day.”

Sometimes a Member comes for a lesson and turns it into an actual game. For James there’s a fine line between making them happy and making them finish runner-up to him. “I don’t want to blow anyone away, but if we’re keeping score then heck yeah, I want to win.”

He says the best part of his job is seeing someone master a shot they’ve been working on. “Those are cool moments. It doesn’t matter if the player is 4 years old or 84 years old. That’s what it’s all about.”

One of the little girls needs help with her contact point. As James starts to show her an easy way to do it every time, a one-hopper harmlessly bounces off his back. James feigns as if hit with a Rafael Nadal serve.

“Nice shot!” James shouts. The laughter means there’s still energy on the court, even as the hour comes to a close.

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