Growing up, Lisa Dodson was always a big-time athlete. A four-sport athlete in high school, and the only person ever to be named All-County in four sports in Westchester County, Dodson went on to play basketball and tennis at the University of North Carolina.
She was a walk-on for the Tar Heels Tennis team, and admits that playing in college was the first time she really took tennis seriously. In doing so, Dodson carved out a nice collegiate career, and a couple of years after college, decided to make a run at a pro career.
“I was able to get a sponsor and played on the Tour for about four years,” Dodson said. “I didn’t have the experience the other players had, so I became a serve and volleyer. I ended up earning a world ranking in singles and doubles … it really came out of nowhere. It was then that I realized I really loved tennis, and decided to make a career of it.”
After playing on the Tour for a few years, Dodson entered the coaching world, working full-time at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn., quickly rising up the ranks to becoming The Stanwich’s Director of Tennis. She found that she had the ability to look at a player’s game and break it down in order to provide the right instruction.
“I started thinking about my game and what I do, and then looked at other’s games and found out what was right for that particular person,” said Dodson. “I have the ability to break things down for players and help them progress. I am very direct. I don’t string them along, and I try to draw the very best out of them.”
That direct approach has been at the heart of Dodson’s career. She has carved out a career in what is a predominantly male industry because he has worked tirelessly and showed great perseverance.
“As a teacher, I didn’t really run into any obstacles personally,” said Dodson. “Maybe I got lucky, or maybe I’m just good. Once I got my foot in the door, the only concern from members was: ‘What are you going to do for us?’ But being a woman is always in the background. And even now, if I sought a job at a different club, it would be tough to get that job considering my age and the fact that I am a woman. While I haven’t met any opposition in terms of that, I know women who have experienced that.”
As someone who has never let those sorts of barriers impede her career path, she does have some advice for aspiring women looking to break through in the tennis industry.
“What you have to do is prove to people that you are as good, or better, than the other candidates, and that isn’t necessarily based on your playing records,” said Dodson. “You have to be creative and go after the position, which many times, women don’t do because they assume or think they won’t get the job. Be prepared, just go after it and apply. If you have to work seven days a week for five months, then that’s what you have to do. And if you can’t, then you are not qualified for that job. Show them in interviews that you are confident and have experience. I sometimes think women are too timid or not confident enough when applying for a position. You need to be proactive and do something about it.”
Dodson’s career has gone beyond simply being a coach and has ventured into the entrepreneurial world. A while back when she was teaching in California, she was injured and was sidelined for about a year. She decided to put that time to good use and started to develop a tennis teaching tool.
“I had never really thought about creating a product before,” Dodson said. “Even though I had always made up little things and tools for people to use, this was the time I decided to try and make a real product out of this.”
The product was designed to help with the serve, and her original prototype featured tools from her garage: Jump rope, weights and a cord.
“I knew someone who had a rubber company, and the next thing I knew, I had someone interested in helping me and I decided to manufacture it locally,” said Dodson. “I knew nothing about manufacturing or creating a business, or how to get patents and market a product. It took me awhile and I went step-by-step, and I really took my time with it.”
And with that, the ServeMaster was born. Dodson made sure to create videos and tutorials on how to use the product, because, as she says, “It takes a bit of education to use ServeMaster. The average person can’t use it … it takes watching videos and learning, or having someone help you with it. Because some people can look at it and think it’s a gimmick or a toy. It’s hard to conceptualize, especially in a still picture.”
Dodson funded the project completely on her own and the product has helped her become a better teacher as well.
“It’s an incredible experience and it has made me an even better teacher and manager,” she said. “It refined my skills, and taught me how to run a business my own way.”
In addition to running ServeMaster, Dodson currently works as the Director of Tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y. She still loves what she does each and every day, and even has plans to launch another product in the near future.
“I have a patent on a second product, it’s called ‘TossMaster,’” Dodson said. “I funded the first project on my own, and don’t want to do that with this one, so I am still looking for funding. The goal is to have it on the market by next spring. I’m crazy busy, but I love the game of tennis. I enjoy trying to dissect the sport, make sense of it, and use that to help other people. Whether they want to rally with their husband, make their high school tennis team or compete on the pro tour, I am enthusiastic about it and get caught up in the excitement of teaching. That’s really what I get out of it.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com