Ryler DeHeart, Tennis: The Dark Horse of American Talent and Heart

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Ryler DeHeart, Tennis:  The Dark Horse of American Talent and Heart
Ryler DeHeart in full swing at the U.S. Open

Ryler DeHeart was born on March 1st, 1984 in Kauai, Hawaii and now resides in Tampa Bay, Florida.  I was first introduced to him on a blog talk radio show, and immediately recognized his wonderful passion for the sport and his ability to speak and express himself so eloquently. 

Ryler turned professional in 2006 and amounted a career singles high number of 174 back in March of 2010.  Ryler is the type of player that can just take apart his opponent's game with his smooth style of play.  He has a wonderful one-handed backhand that can angle any shot from any position on court. 

During the 2008 U.S. Open, Ryler DeHeart had the match of his life competing against current world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.  Ryler mentioned how much respect he had for Nadal's game, since competing at the highest level of the game is something he will remember for the rest of his life.

Ryler became a more defined player during his developmental days while attending the University of Illinois as a student-athlete.  He was a participant of the 2003 NCAA championship team that included ATP professionals Amer Delic and Rajeev Ram (who were the biggest hitters in the lineup of players). 

Ryler DeHeart versus Andis Juska playing a challenger in 2009

He graduated as a psych/pre-med major, although his core passion and love still lies with tennis. 

Ryler DeHeart is now working on establishing himself in the Tampa Bay, Florida area and hoping to begin his own academy, where he will be forging the hearts and minds of junior players from around the world. 

If anyone can produce national and international champions here in the United States, it is certainly Ryler DeHeart; he has tremendous leadership abilities and passion for what he does. 

Following is my interview with Ryler:

JL:  Ryler, as a young and up-and-coming-athlete, what sports have you participated in that gave you the needed skill-set and abilities to help accelerate your playing career in tennis?  What important lessons have you learned from those experiences, and do any of them stand out more so than others?  If so, why?

RD:  I played soccer at a young age and some of my first sports memories were watching and playing many different sports.  I started with soccer and when I began playing tennis, I played only for fun and because I enjoyed playing the game more than any other at the time.  That is the main reason why, when I was about 11 years old, I decided to pick tennis as the sport I would concentrate on.

Michael Kosta speaking with Ryler DeHeart at the 2008 U.S. Open

I think not specializing in one sport too early on in the development of an athlete is very important. 

The reason I feel very strongly about this is because of how important it is for kids to become good athletes first, and good tennis players second.  If a kid is put into tennis too early, without those crucial athletic skills (for example footwork skills developed in a sport like soccer) that child is at a disadvantage from the beginning and is also much more likely to become burnt out.

In my opinion, kids should play many sports and have fun when they are young, then pick a sport for the right reason—because they love it!

JL:  As a rising junior player coming up through the USTA and ITF ranking system, was there a specific training methodology that you implemented on a daily basis that gave you the needed confidence to drive your success to the professional circuit?  Did you have a pre-match ritual or mantra that you conducted prior to the match that you felt gave you an edge? 

RD:  My training as a junior player was quite a bit different than my later years in tennis.  In the beginning, I spent a lot of time working on my game and developing a technical base of sound fundamentals that is so important to have in any sport.

Ryler DeHeart and Roger Federer sharing a moment together

I basically figured out what I needed to do to hit the ball the best way I could hit it and do it a million times over.  My training would vary depending on the time of the year and whether or not I had tournaments, but I would basically play as much as I could as a kid because I loved the game.  

I loved improving and practicing, so putting that time in and seeing the hard work pay off was the most enjoyable part for me.  I am not a very ritualistic or superstitious person, but I did enjoy listening to music that pumped me up. 

JL:  During your professional playing career on the ATP circuit, how have you evolved as a person, player and coach over the years?  How has the experience transformed your perception on life and can you share any personal principles or philosophies that you have developed during your training and travels with our readers?  

RD:  Trying to reach the top ranks of a sport is always a challenging feat that forces a person to explore themselves.  When you are pushing yourself like you have to as a professional athlete, it forces you to really discover what you are made of and what you are willing to do to achieve your goals. 

I learned way too many things in my nearly six years of playing to write about here, but one of the main principles I live my life by is that there are no shortcuts to success in anything in life.  

If you want something bad enough, you have to work for it and earn it with what you say, what you think, what you believe, and most importantly what you do.   

JL:  In our previous conversations, you had mentioned that you were interested in developing an academy in the Tampa Bay, Florida area.  Can you expand on that further?  How will your business model of the academy be different from your competitors in the local area?  Where are you currently at in the development phase of the academy?  

RD:  I am heading up all the programs, including the junior program (which we are building from scratch) as the head tennis professional at the Seminole Lake Tennis Center located in Largo, Florida, between Clearwater and St. Pete beaches.  

I am trying to instill some of the principles that I implemented in my own training as a player and to offer our kids the best combination of technical, tactical, physical and mental/emotional development and training as possible.  

In my own tennis development, I have found that many coaches are very good in one or two of these areas of development, but very few coaches recognize the importance of all of them and the balance of combining all to get the very most out of a player. 

JL:  As an extension of the previous question, what kind of impact are you looking to make with your academy within the local community of Tampa Bay, Florida?  Have you mapped out a long-term vision for the company and what will be your target market and objective both short- and long-term wise? 

RD:  At Seminole we are looking to offer players a balance between these aspects of player development that is very hard to find.  The program we offer stresses the development of a player as both a physical athlete and as a tennis player.  

We are targeting all kids and players in the area that want to improve their tennis and their fitness—and, most importantly, want to have fun doing it.   

The short-term vision is to grow the club and program to be a very successful developmental tennis base in the area. The long-term vision is to have multiple clubs and academies that share our vision and love for the game of tennis: fun, fitness and sport and health in general. 

JL:  As a professional player transitioning more into the coaching role, have you thought about the type of impression and impact you'd like to make with the juniors you'll be coaching on a more full-time basis?  What principles and philosophies will you been instilling to the many junior players you'll be coaching over the next couple of years that will benefit their playing careers both in high school and college? 

RD:  I would like to impress a very positive and uplifting spirit into every one of my players, no matter what their perceived level or ability.  Human beings tend to put themselves into categories and boxes according to what people say and think about them and eventually start to believe that as truth.  

Your limits as a person are set by you and you only.  Therefore, if you work your butt off and believe in the path you are on, the sky is the limit!

I have always believed that your biggest goal as an athlete should be to be the absolute best you can be and get the maximum potential out of yourself.  I think there is no substitute for hard work, discipline and intensity, and I know that if you want to get the most out of yourself in anything you do there are no shortcuts to success.  

My favorite quote is one from Arthur Ashe. He said: "Success is a journey, not a destination.  The doing is often more important than the outcome." (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/arthur_ashe.html)

JL:  I have noticed that you have a website under development called "Ryler DeHeart." Can you share more information about the site and the kind of content you will have on it?  I have seen many websites that feature their own junior players and the progress they have made in the USTA and ITF.  Do you plan to follow the same format, or will you introduce a whole new concept and approach to the site?  Have you thought about linking the academy to the current site you have under development?  

RD:  There is nothing on it!  I had a website before that a friend from college put together for me, but he got a real job and didn't have time to update it, so we decided to get the domain in hopes of doing whatever we thought best with it.

I would love to get it going and put stuff about both my playing career, and more importantly, what we are doing now—trying to motivate and inspire junior players here in Florida. If you know of anyone who would be interested, let me know!

JL:  Have you considered any partnership programs with the USTA High Performance in Boca Raton, Florida?  Do you think it is essential and important for academies and companies to share information on player development for the greater good of the sport here in America?  Or, do you think it can hamper the progress of the relationship between coach and player if outside influences (i.e., parents and/or other coaches) can contribute to the player's overall playing performance?

RD:  We have applied for a grant for 10-and-under tennis equipment, and in the past few weeks have begun to develop a relationship with the USTA on the coaching side (before it was only based on my playing career). I would like to continue to work with them and help in any way I can.  

I attended a high performance coaching convention a few weekends ago in Boca, with Jose heading it up, and it was very helpful and informative.  I will be the 16's boys and girls zonal's coach for the Florida section at the end of July at Wake Forrest University.  The greater good of the sport and the welfare of the kids must always come first.

JL:  You had mentioned during a blog talk radio segment that you are experiencing current physical injuries that are preventing you from competing on the professional circuit.  How has this impacted your decision to continue with your training and potentially harming your world ranking?  Do you see yourself doing both the academy in Tampa Bay, Florida and traveling around the United States to compete on the ATP circuit?  

RD:  I have signed a two-year contract to be the head tennis professional here at the Seminole Lake Tennis Center (SLTC), working under the direction of the Golub brothers (who have run a very successful junior academy in Brandon, Florida for the past several years).  

This is my main focus now.  I had too many injuries to continue playing full-time on the tour, but did receive a protected ranking that (after sitting out a full year from any competitive tennis) will enable me to come back and compete in many professional tournaments in the area when my body allows me to do so.  I am trying to get fit and healthy and mainly nursing and rehabbing a herniated disc in my lower back.  

JL:  In conclusion, where do you see yourself in the coming years?  What aspirations do you have as a player, coach and business owner moving forward into 2011 and beyond?  Is there anything you'd like to personally share with the up-and-coming-players here in the United States? 

RD:  The main focus now is to get things going here in Seminole and to build a very successful junior academy that reaches out to players of all levels and ages. I would like to drive all the people that I work with as I was driven—to be the best player and person I could be both on and off the court. 

I think my serious playing days are behind me; however, I still enjoy getting on the court and hopefully my name will be seen on professional draws again sometime in the near future.   

I would tell American players to put their heads down and get to work, but most importantly to enjoy the wild ride of tennis and have fun playing the game—with passion and because you love it.  

If this isn't the case, then do something to change it, because if you don't have a passion for what you are doing everyday, then you will not ever go as far as you can and you will never be truly happy doing it.  Work hard; stay the course and the sky's the limit!

 

Thank you, Ryler, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to have interviewed you.  You certainly bring a new level of passion, excitement and energy to the court and I am certain that any up-and-coming junior player would be lucky to have you as their full-time coach. 

As you progress in 2011, I would like to wish you the very best and hope that you enjoy as much success in the development of your new academy in Tampa, Florida as you did in your professional playing career on the ATP circuit. 

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