Five decades of diversified experience
Teacher of teachers

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Steve Smith

About Steve Smith

Steve Smith has a common name, but a very uncommon background in tennis. His life's work has been studying tennis-teaching masters and proven methodologies. He designed and directed the first comprehensive curriculum and degree plan for career-minded students seeking occupational competency as tennis-teaching pro-managers. This unique program fostered the development of similar programs around the world. Recognized as a leading educator among tennis insiders, Steve has taught in over thirty countries. He has assembled a system of instruction based on information, ideas, and insights that he has gathered over his five decades in tennis. His work can be measured by the tremendous successes of his students, both on the court and off. Steve's mission is to help people play and teach tennis better through his "GreatBase Tennis" pathway.

Delivers a system of systems
References methods and masters

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Our Story

GreatBase Tennis' Story

The story behind the GreatBase Tennis (GBT) pathway is about a journey and a quest to find what the game of tennis still needs, truth. Truth is needed, yet honesty is often missing when people sign up for tennis instruction. The GBT pathway is a product of Steve Smith's five decades in tennis teaching, and its goal is to provide a better beginning for players and teachers. Steve’s lifetime of work provides a clear and proven pathway for learning how to play and teach tennis. The pathway's name is self-defining; only a fool would argue with not having a "great base" in any sport or form of education.

Sadly, the reality is that the vast majority of tennis players still learn tennis through guesswork. Students are subject to the opinions of misinformed and often egotistical teachers as opposed to scientific principles. The trial-and-error approach is far inferior to one based on detailed rationale.

Steve Smith is a product of the tennis boom that began in the early 1970s in the US. The late James van Allen invented the tiebreaker that was first adopted by the US Open in 1970. The shortened scoring system put tennis in a time capsule, thus allowing for matches to be telecasted. Even though he is now immersed in tennis, Steve was born into an ice hockey family in northern New York, a few of miles from the Canadian border. Having played youth, prep, and college hockey, Steve initially saw a tennis ball and court as perfect tools for street hockey. However, prior to going away to a New England prep school, Steve's parents got him a job as a dish washer at a boy's camp in the Adirondack Mountains. His cabin was next to two tennis courts and a backboard and, without any formal instruction, he began to “bang balls.” Steve was still on the outskirts of tennis, yet his interest in the game grew. Within a couple of years, the tennis boom had become a full-fledged tennis industry. Steve, knowing he wanted to make a living in sport and see the world, saw tennis as his answer.

Just prior to turning twenty and without any contacts or guidance, Steve left the snowbanks of upstate New York for sunny Florida to totally immerse himself in tennis. He hit balls all day and took the role of the starving artist by working a wide assortment of jobs at night to support himself. In just over five years, he went from being a complete neophyte to being ranked in the top twenty in Florida. Steve claims that for a few years there was a chance he hit the most balls on the planet, spending hours and hours under the hot sun hitting the backboard. He did not know it at the time, but he was practicing myth after myth that he had been taught. He slowly learned that his father’s saying, “The cream comes to the top, but so does bullshit if you stir it,” summed up the typical tennis teacher.

Steve had been told that he had to first learn how to play before he could teach. To do so, he served as a volunteer teacher. He created his own school of hard-knocks, switching from traveling to tournaments in his minivan to traveling to tennis camps and academies to observe master tennis teachers. Still today, such a task is unheard of in tennis. Surgeons observe case after case prior to being licensed to operate, but the norm for tennis teachers is to just grab the ball hopper and start teaching without even one day of training. In contrast, Steve served apprenticeships under three of the most accomplished teachers in the history of tennis: Vic Braden, Dennis Van der Meer, and Welby Van Horn.

In 1981, Steve got lucky. Put differently, he was prepared and an opportunity was presented. The late Dr. Eugene Allen, the president of the board of trustees at Tyler Junior College, knew Steve's background and was in a position to make the arrangements for Steve to revise a general recreation curriculum into a comprehensive curriculum and degree plan for students seeking occupational competency as tennis-teaching pro-managers. “Tennis Tech,” The program Steve designed and directed was the first of its type; students from over forty states and over thirty-five countries enrolled. Each month, a highly respected industry leader would conduct a ten-hour weekend seminar, and every summer students were placed all over the world to complete internships. It is often said that the teacher learns more than the student, and in this case, the tennis experience Steve acquired was second to none. In addition to training individuals, who are still making their mark on the game as tennis teaching professionals, Steve also trained players. During the last five years of Steve’s ten year in Tyler, Texas, a small group of local players trained by Stave won more high school state titles than players from Dallas and Houston combined.

Steve produced an online course called "Tennis Intelligence Applied,” referencing eight educational contributors. Each of those individuals, had a major impact on the “Tennis Tech” program at Tyler Junior College. Their names are Vic Braden, Peter Burwash, Harry Hopman, Bill Jacobsen, James Loehr, Jim Verdieck, Dennis Van der Meer, and Welby Van Horn. Another source for the content was the daily journals students from Tennis Tech would log and present from their summer internships. It was as if each new concept or drill was evaluated as a potential golden nugget or pearl of wisdom to be added to a tennis-teaching treasure chest. Upon compiling all of this information, a system of systems was created.

The backbone of GBT is principled on Vic Braden's research. The late Braden was a pioneer in the field of tennis teaching, bringing science to the forefront. The decade in Tyler, Texas, was filled with endless hours of lectures and labs that allowed Steve to cleverly combine Braden's scientific approach, for example, with Van Horn's checkpoints of balance and visual cues from Don Leary's word picture method. All four components of the game were covered: technical, tactical, physical, and mental/emotional. A fifth component, statistical analysis, was covered by Bill Jacobsen, the electronic pioneer of match charting.

The system, which was fine-tuned by the end of the ‘80s, was not given a name for over twenty years. Unlike nearly all the tennis educators online, Steve gives credit where credit is due, being the first to say that there is no “Steve Smith Method.” Steve's number one mentor Braden would always say, “There is no Vic Braden method, just the method of physical laws." One of Steve's former students and long-time associates, Richard Hernandez, once told Steve that tennis needs a "great base initiative." Simply put, the standard of tennis instruction needs to improve. For this reason, Steve is optimistic about GBT being accepted as a supplemental curriculum for families, because tennis lessons are expensive.

Steve's background in ice hockey gives him a refreshingly honest approach to tennis. A hockey locker room does not have the sugar-coating and false praising that is often heard courtside in tennis. In hockey, if you can't skate, you can't play well. To Steve, it is the same in tennis; if you have no strokes, you can't play well. To remedy this epidemic in tennis, he created a unique way to assess players technically, tactically, and statistically. Before starting with instruction, video and written files are established. The goal of this assessment is to start the documentation of development. Players must check their egos at the door, listen, and study a report that prescribes how to improve. Probably the biggest factor that helps Steve in his fight against tennis ignorance is the pre-post videos of his students. The "before-and-after" films show drastic improvement.

Most tennis programs are built on recruiting, having a large percentage of tennis teachers hanging out at weekend tournaments handing out business cards to juniors who already can play well. Few embrace the challenge of teaching new beginning players, and because of this the welfare and growth of tennis is in jeopardy. Steve calls tennis teaching “the credibility business.” Credibility does not mean one is truthful, but it means one is believable. Just because someone knows how to play well, does not to any extent mean he/she knows how to teach well. Teaching can be defined as information transfer, and entry-level students need well-informed and well-trained teachers.

According to one of Steve Smith's associates, "Steve has enough credibility to choke a horse." Steve's students have won the US National Junior Championships (girls’ and boys’ 18s), and so have his students’ students. He has had over ten players he developed in their formative years win NCAA national titles, and he has had over ten of his students be recipients of USPTA Pro of the Year awards. His son Connor was ranked two in the US (18s), honored as an All-American, and ranked 200 (ATP) in the world in singles. On a regular basis, Steve's students and his students’ students reach noteworthy accomplishments. He has served as a coach, clinician, and consultant in over thirty countries and is a member and former tester with both the PTR and USPTA.

In summary, GBT is a proven pathway for all associated with player development. GBT is an education for players, parents, coaches, and special-interest groups. GBT is also a worldwide community, serving as an organization to help tennis.

Myth buster through scientific research
An honored and respected educator

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Vic Braden's Influence

Vic Braden (1929-2014)

The late Vic Braden's work is still relevant today. Vic once said, "The Vic Braden method is the method of Isaac Newton." It’s true that in tennis teaching there is a place for philosophy, but ball striking skills are about physics. "The dimensions of the court and physical laws dictate stroke production, no coach’s opinion or any unique theory," is a Braden theme that is at the forefront of GreatBase Tennis (GBT).

Steve Smith's first exposure to Vic was just like the rest of millions of Americans’. In 1974, Vic was entering people's TV rooms during tennis matches telecasted by PBS. The network had no commercials, and so they plugged in Vic's entertaining one-minute tennis tips during changeovers.

Sports Illustrated magazine published the article on May 10, 1976, "Tennis is in the Stone Ages." The article focused on the work of Vic Braden and his partner Gideon Ariel. Vic was way ahead of his time, and, up to his last months of his life, he was quoted as saying that tennis is still in the stone ages, once saying about the Internet, "Now such bad (tennis) information is going out so fast." Steve, having read the article, says that he still placed himself in the category of thinking of Vic as more of an entertainer than as an educator. In 1977, Vic published his first book, Tennis for the Future. That same year, Steve volunteered to assist the Boca Raton Tennis Association by showing one of Vic's classic instructional films. Over a weekend in a mall, Steve played and replayed Vic's film, "Go for a Winner." Steve reports that that is when he realized people remembered Vic for his presentation and not his information. Soon after, a friend and fellow student of the game, Jim Mantle, analyzed Steve's game based on Vic Braden principles. Vic disproved myth after myth that Steve, like millions of players today, was repeating on practice courts hour after hour.

Steve first attended Vic's course (United States Tennis Academy) in California in '78. Following this, Steve was fortunate to meet Tom Fey at the USTA's Tennis Teacher's Conference held in the old Roosevelt Hotel in NYC. Steve knew Tom was a Bradenite because of the questions Tom was asking during a presentation given by Nick Bollettieri. After the lecture, Steve approached Tom, and without confirming that he was on Vic Braden's staff, asked him how one would go about working for Vic. Tom, a Braden staff member himself, explained. Six months later Steve was back in California to take the course and exam again. Steve's second test score was the highest ever recorded. Vic's program screened candidates, and upon approval one was allowed to observe. Steve observed classes every day, living in his van and bartending at nights. Steve would close the bar he worked at and then illegally jump in a swimming pool to cleanse himself from the hours spent in the smoke-filled bar. A few hours later he would be waiting at Vic's office to ask for volunteer work. In a short period of time Steve was offered a full-time position with pay. Initially he turned down the position so he could continue to shadow Vic, but eventually he was needed on-staff.

Between 1979 and 2009, Steve continued to work for Vic in one capacity or another. Steve trained head coaches and their staffs that worked at Vic Braden Tennis Colleges located in the US and Europe. He also assisted in traveling clinics and was always honored when Vic would send him students who needed to rebuild their technical base. Steve designed and directed the first comprehensive curriculum and degree plan for students seeking occupational competency as tennis-teaching pro-managers, and he used Vic's books as textbooks. Vic Braden's educational contributions served as the backbone of the unique program.

Every time one of Steve's students would win a national or international title, Steve would call Vic to thank him. GBT is the “Vic Braden Method” enhanced by the implementation of information application by Steve and the other teachers he has studied.

Those associated with the GBT project are indebted to Vic Braden. Vic was a psychologist through formal study and a self-made bio-mechanist through informal study. He knew tennis backwards, forewords, upside-down, and inside-out. Vic was the teacher's teacher. He combined the science and art of tennis. In short, his work touched the lives of millions. Vic cared about people and thought deeply about the injustice of a little kid with a big dream being lied to by a misinformed coach who was only concerned about making money. The goal of the GreatBase Tennis pathway is to hold the torch of Vic Braden high and shine a bright light on tennis.