Though he quit coaching he couldn’t give up teaching. I asked Coach
Verdieck early on if he knew Dennis Van Der Meer. Not only is Van Der Meer
the world’s most prolific tennis teacher, he was close to my mentor, Jim
Leighton. Verdieck said, “Know Dennis? I taught him ninety percent of what
he knows!” When I asked Coach Leighton if he knew Coach Verdieck, he
said no. I told him of the Verdieck comment about Dennis Van Der Meer.
Leighton was appalled and said he intended to ask Dennis about it! A
couple of years went by, and I asked Leighton if he’d asked about Verdieck.
Leighton admitted that Dennis had responded, “Yes, that’s probably
In retirement, Verdieck worked with Dennis at Sweet Briar College in the
mountains of Virginia. I called Coach Verdieck and asked if I could hire him.
“What for?” he asked. I told him I wanted to know more about coaching
and he was the one who I most respected. I’d been coaching 25 years at
this point. Still not convinced, he argued that his knees had gotten so bad
he couldn’t move enough to hit many balls. I replied, “Coach, I just want to
talk with you.” He contended he didn’t talk much but to come by and
we’d probably be done in 30 minutes. My wife went with me and waited
patiently for three-and-a-half hours. “Tom, we have to set the babysitter
free at 8:00 PM.”
You’re never too old to learn, and I learned a lot that day. When I became
director of athletics the first thing I did was book an hour with five different
athletic directors whom I admired. Dylan said you had to get up close to
the teacher if you want to learn anything.
Coach Verdieck was impressive. In The Little Green Book of Tennis I draw
from all my writings, and his coaching and advice show up, as well as that
of my long-term mentor and friend, Jim Leighton.
Here, then, is The Little Green Book of Tennis. Done, I hope, in a style that
does justice to the great game of tennis and to the fine men I have learned
P.S. Find your mentor(s)!