Harrisburg’s Keith Dismuke is on a mission to transform the game of tennis – one player, one game and even one stroke at a time.
A native of Sparta, Dismuke returned to southern Illinois in 2014 after many years as a professional tennis player and coach in Maine. He brought with him a passion for sharing the sport with new generations of players, starting with those of Harrisburg.
“I was able to develop what we call the City Tennis Association and together with the US Tennis Association we have programs in place to do assemblies and programs in schools to develop tennis in the area” , he explained.
Today, Dismuke is a popular tennis instructor, coach and sports ambassador through his program, Zero Gravity Tennis. Despite a pandemic-necessitated hiatus from his volunteer efforts at Harrisburg schools, Dismuke continues to teach tennis players of all ages and skill levels in group and private lessons.
Dismuke, who won the Illinois Seniors tournament at age 53, hopes grassroots efforts like his will bring tennis back to the fore. One of the few certified tennis coaches in the area, he said he hopes to see tennis return to popularity soon.
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“I would say the state of American tennis right now is probably about two or three on a scale of five,” he said. “We don’t have American tennis champions right now and that’s probably what it’s going to take to get people interested in the game again. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication from a lot of people. of people. “
In addition to his grassroots efforts to promote tennis, Dismuke is also a sought-after tennis official, working on NCAA and USTA events.
“When I’m not teaching, I’m refereeing,” he explained. “It gives me more insight as a coach.”
Dismuke said refereeing also makes him more obsessed with the rules and etiquette of the game.
“As officials, we learn to force players to follow the rules and to convince them that the rules for everyone should be the same. A lot of times coaches show favoritism to certain players and allow them to do things that aren’t acceptable to everyone because they’re good or they can get away with it, but it’s not like this,” he said.
He said the teaching methods he uses in Zero Gravity Tennis are a bit different.
“I’m integrating more body awareness and more of the person’s natural ability,” he said. “We focus on things like if you take a martial arts class or something similar. First you have to understand how your body moves and how your body works, then we can build your game around that.
He said it was important to understand body control, pointing out that while hard shots are impressive, it’s the finesse behind those shots that makes the difference. He said he addresses the attitude and psychological approach needed to succeed in the game.
He said Southern Illinois tennis is growing somewhat and has an unexpected ally in a new sport that is growing in popularity: pickleball.
“They work together because they’re so similar,” he explained.
He said the benefits of tennis go beyond just fun and exercise.
“Tennis is a great game because it builds character in a very personal way,” he continued. “You can’t watch your team, it’s just you on the pitch with your own style. You control your own game,” he said.
Dismuke added that he wants his students to be like him – lifelong game lovers.
“The first thing with tennis is that it’s a sport for life,” he said.