The annual USTA Eastern Conference in White Plains is always an important and productive weekend, as members of the regions that comprise the Eastern Section gather to discuss the year that was, as well as look ahead to the future. At this year’s conference, it was a time to welcome in many new members of the board of directors, including new USTA Eastern Metro Region President Pablo Sierra.
Sierra has a long history of contributing to the tennis community in the New York City-area, and previously served on the board as the second vice president.
“The idea is to continue to grow the game and try and spread it out to other areas,” said Sierra. “I hate driving by tennis courts and seeing them empty. I remember when I was growing up during the tennis boom, if you wanted to get on court you needed to wait on line because of how packed they would be. It would be nice to see that again.”
Sierra grew up in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, and began loving tennis from watching it on the PBS Channel, loving the games of players like Billie Jean King and Roscoe Tanner which influenced him to get out and try the game himself.
“We didn’t really have the money for tennis lessons, but I saved up money for a tennis instructional book, picked it up and started teaching myself how to play,” Sierra said. “I would go down Red Hook Stadium and hit against the back of a wall they had there. One day, a golf pro that was giving lessons in the area told me about the low-cost programs that were out there and started participating in those. I got hooked on the game.”
He played high school tennis and a little bit in college, and then Sierra joined the Army as an Officer and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. He recalls sometimes going out into formations having played tennis during the early part of the morning on the tennis court that was on the base.
After he got out of the service, Sierra took on a teaching job and continued to play tennis, even if it was just here and there.
“I always continued to love it, though,” Sierra said. “There was just something about it. Every time you go out on the court it is like a strategy session, you’re always thinking about outthinking your opponent. You can see how the game can really help you in the long run, in terms of everyday life.”
Around 2010, he was helping out at a tennis event for the American Cancer Society and met local area politician Lydia Buffington who suggested to him that the youth in the area could benefit from tennis. That idea stuck in Sierra’s head, and would create the South Brooklyn Tennis Association (SBTA).
“I said to myself: ‘Why not?’ I’d like to be able to promote the game of tennis and the community had a need for it. I had heard about QuickStart tennis and I thought it was a great idea. I went out and bought some foam balls and small rackets and got it started,” said Sierra. “It started in Red Hook, but it quickly expanded and we took the game on the road, and started to get invited to different events, and developing relationships with those groups, including the American Diabetes Association and the Hispanic Federation. It got big to the point where we made our tag line ‘Tennis Anywhere, Any Place, Any Time.’ One of my first thoughts was developing satellites, and I still believe in this. If we take the game somewhere and they like it, then that area becomes its own satellite, and then they take it somewhere else and create another satellite program. And so on. The idea is to grow the game and spread it out to as many places as possible.”
The goals of the SBTA were to make tennis fun and accessible for kids who would not normally be exposed to the game and to help promote prevention of things like childhood obesity and diabetes.
Sierra now hopes to take those same ideals and initiatives into his new role as the head of the USTA Metro Region. He also wants to bridge some of the gaps that separate a lot of clubs and programs in the New York City-area.
“I think that QuickStart is a great tool to introduce tennis to kids for the first time. The problem is once you get kids playing and they want to continue that experience, what happens next?” Sierra said. “That is where the gap is and that is one of the things we will try to fix. I see a lot of people running programs, USTA or not, but the communication between all of them is sometimes lacking. So it’s about developing relationships, starting a dialogue and bringing them all together. One idea I have is putting together a list of all the programs out there on our website that way parents can search through it and find the one that suits them and is best for their kids.
I think that is something that could work, and I’m just excited for the opportunity to serve in this role.”