Mark Dickson, assistant coach of men’s tennis at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, joined the University of Miami in 2011, following successful careers as both a player and a coach. A 10-time winner of international professional tennis tournaments, Dickson defeated many of the world’s top players in the U.S. Open and Australian Open.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Dickson began coaching privately in 1990, opened the Mark Dickson Tennis Academy, and has run an investment company for 15 years. On top of his previous success, Dickson made the choice to go back to school for Northeastern University’s Master of Sports Leadership program.
We sat down to talk about coaching, leadership, and his career.
How would you summarize your position?
I’m involved with every aspect of the tennis program, including evaluating and recruiting student-athletes from all over the world, budgeting, coordinating travel for our teams, assisting with scheduling, and staying on top of players’ academics to make sure they graduate on time with a meaningful degree. My door is always open and I talk with student-athletes about school, personal and family issues. I’m always building relationships with them. It’s heartfelt. It’s amazing to be able to do the things I love to do — it’s like a fairy tale.
What is it like going from being a pro player to a coach?
I see it as an extension of what I was already doing in some ways. I’ve realized that everyone learns differently and processes things differently, and I need to be able to communicate and say the things students need to hear, and in the way they need to hear it. That’s been the joy of making this transition. Being a good player certainly helps to be a good coach, but understanding what each individual student needs is most exciting.
What leadership skills resonate in particular?
Every day I learn something that I apply into my day-to-day life. It’s helped my communication skills a lot. Being able to communicate well with athletes from around the world means recognizing their differences in personalities, culture and needs. I really enjoy it. I’m learning that it’s important to have excellent listening skills and to hear what people are saying — but also to understand what they are meaning.
And on the court, I’m doing a better job of reading them. So much of what we do as coaches is nonverbal communication. So it’s not just in what I say or what they say, but body language and sensing when to give them a nod as opposed to saying something.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
To be part of the athletes’ lives and help them understand the importance of helping others and contributing to society. To be able to shape them — and be shaped by them — is a wonderful experience that’s had a huge impact on me.
Being in the Sports Leadership program has given me empathy for our student-;athletes. I know how tiring it is to do all we do as coaches, but students also have to go to class and focus. I have an even deeper level of understanding since I need to do my coursework, stay fresh, and handle my responsibilities well.
How do you find studying in the degree program while working?
Education is a hugely important part of my life. For me to continue my education at Northeastern really gives me a sense of purpose. I like how I can talk to students from first-hand experience about the importance of continuing your education throughout life. And I can be a role model to my son and daughter.
Where do you see your career headed?
I’m very happy. The day I get my diploma I’ll be so disappointed. I don’t want the program to end!