Ray Bilsey, Tennis Director and Head Pro

What is your background in tennis?

Ironically, nobody in family played tennis and I grew up playing basketball, baseball and soccer as I loved sports and wanted to play them all day long. And when I was 12 years old a good friend and tennis player asked me to play a match and he crushed me. I wanted to beat him back so I practiced for an entire summer at Washington Park (Burlingame) and played him near the end of the summer and beat him (it felt awesome). I started to love the one-on-one battle that tennis provided and was hooked. By the end of the year, at 13 years old, I started playing tournaments and by 14 I won the Most Improved Junior in Northern California and was ranked in the top 15 … amazing for someone who picked up the game at 12 and so, so fun. I always thought I had such an advantage at junior tournaments because I had no pressure from my family as I was just playing cause I loved it, while I could see that so many junior opponents felt tons of parental pressure.  

Then, I attended Burlingame High School and won the Pacific Athletic League (PAL) individual singles title three years in a row. From there I went to Foothill and played for coach Tom Chivington (Tom coached Brad Gilbert his entire career), as Foothill was the #1 ranked tennis program in the nation for community colleges. And then played for Cal State Hayward and was a nationally ranked collegiate player there. While working on my masters in business at CSUH I became the assistant tennis coach at Cal State and also the main assistant pro at Burlingame Country Club. A few years later, I became the assistant tennis pro at Pacific Athletic Club a few months after it opened. It was very fun to build a tennis program from the ground up at PAC (now Bay Club) and see it flourish. And for the last 18 years I’ve been thrilled to be the Tennis Director/Head Pro at Ladera Oaks.    

When did you decide that coaching/instructing was for you?

When I started coaching tennis at Burlingame Country Club, the head pro had surgery on his ankle and was out for over four months so I taught all of the lessons and realized I was LOVING teaching because so many students were saying how much they enjoyed their lessons and my teaching … I remember the moment when I realized I’m a darn good coach and I’m loving coaching players so my career was off & running from there. 

What is special about Ladera Oaks' program and what makes Ladera Oaks so unique to the sport?

LO Tennis is such a perfect family tennis club because it combines a great competitive tennis atmosphere (30+ USTA adult and junior teams per year and over 60+ players on its Junior Tennis Team) with a relaxing and fun tennis vibe surrounding the entire program. I can’t imagine another club having such a blend of players wanting to improve but also just thoroughly enjoying the game of tennis and hanging out with the friends and family at such a nice club. It has been an absolute blast being the Head Pro here because of our unique tennis environment.  

What is the most important thing you can leave your athletes?

I think my favorite thing in coaching/teaching tennis is when you have a junior player or adult take a few lessons and you see the player’s confidence grow as a few things start to click … And that moment when they realize that ‘Hey, I’m getting pretty good at tennis and this is really working.’ I think it is so fun to just feel like you are improving and sometimes you see such rapid improvement it makes the reward of teaching just incredible. That teamwork between coach and player when it works just right is especially satisfying.