Robert Carlbo demonstrates technique to student Gail Stallwood at the North Pinellas YMCA tennis courts.
PALM HARBOR – It takes a special person to win an award that 15,000 others could have won. But there is only one Professional Tennis Registry Professional of the Year award.
This year, Palm Harbor’s Robert Carlbo was the winner and to hear those who know him, he is indeed a special person.
Close to home Veronica Condren, the program director of the North Pinellas YMCA, can’t say enough about Carlbo, who is a contract employee there.
“He is amazing, we are blessed to have him,” she said. “He is a huge asset and works with adults as often as with children.”
She says his flexibility and willingness to do anything is what makes him special.
“He does drill classes and cardio classes,” she said. “He gets involved in special events, he helps with fundraising, and he coaches wheelchair tennis. He is an amazing individual.”
The Professional Tennis Registry, headquartered in Hilton Head Island, S.C., is an educational organization that teaches and promotes a high standard of coaching throughout the world. In fact it operates in 117 countries. The award presented to Carlbo represented a myriad of coaching levels achieved by him.
Steve Keller, director of education at PTR says Carlbo is the only one in the world to have achieved all the levels of coaching offered by the organization.
“We now have seven standards of coaching,” he said. “There is 10-and-under, 11-17, performance standards and adult education. Robert has achieved all those. Then we have three levels of masters coaching, Junior Development, Performance Master, and soon to come Adult Development. Robert has all but the last one, which hasn’t been offered yet. I’m sure he’ll be here to get that when the time comes.”
To understand what drives Carlbo you just have to look at his history and tennis has been part of that since childhood.
“I played tennis my entire life; I started as a young kid in Liberia, Africa,” he said. “I had some very good coaches and my parents were very supportive.”
His love of the game and his desire to play it over-rode advice to the contrary.
“I was born with a hip disorder and was encouraged not to play tennis,” he said. “But I went ahead and did it anyway.”
By the time he was 12 he had begun to coach the sport and continued to play.
“My first coaches were understanding and they were fantastic,” he said. “My coaches in Sweden later on encouraged me to go into coaching at a young age.”
His mother was Liberian and his father Swedish and while he was born in Liberia he came to New Hampshire to go to school and never left the U.S. after that. Tennis remained a big part of his life.
He played professional tennis for a short time. He played in the Challengers circuit for about a year.
“Because of my hip situation it was difficult to play full time,” he said.
Now his life revolves around coaching and learning more about the game. In addition to his work with the YMCA, he is also the Boys head tennis Coach at East Lake High School and oversees tennis programs in nearby elementary and middle schools. He also mentors professional tennis players and coaches.
“I did some work in corporate America but I was drawn to coaching, it was in my blood,” he said. “I was born to coach, I’m passionate about it, I’m always trying to improve myself and become a better coach. It isn’t just for me but for my students too.”
It is that attitude which moved the people at the PTR to give Carlbo the award. PTR’s Keller is lavish in his praise for their prize pupil.
“Not only is he a great guy and well-traveled, but he’s a guy who gives and gives and gives,” he said. “You won’t find a better coach and that is only half the story. He is humble; he’d give you the shirt off his back. He’s always been an open person and allows people to reach out to him.”
Peggy Edwards, another of PTR’s educators added even more praise.
“I have never met anyone who has so much time for education yet has so much time to give to others,” she said. “His time management skills are amazing, he is a remarkable man.”
To all that Carlbo, 45, says he is humbled. As for the time he spends, he says he really doesn’t think about it. He gets up early in the morning and does what he has to do. His days end in the evening when he studies tennis before going to bed.
He does pay tribute to Pam, his wife of 24 years.
“I’m very thankful that she understands my work and I’m extremely grateful for that,” he said. “She allows me to do my work and that is good.”
For Carlbo enough is never enough. You might think that winning an international award for educational excellence, and being the only person in the world to do so, would be enough. Not for Robert Carlbo.
“I am going to continue to teach and explore ways to become better,” he said. “The award is not enough. You have to try different things. You can’t sit back and say I got an award, that’s fantastic.”