The New York City tennis community is blessed to have some of the best indoor facilities and best coaches in the world right here in our backyard. Recently, New York Tennis Magazine spoke with some of these top coaches to get some insight into their coaching/training strategies, what they look for in a great player, views on important local tennis topics, and an overview of the state of affairs in the world of tennis. Even the best coach can always learn an extra tip or two, and the following article will provide all players and coaches with a chance to learn from the best.
Meet the Participants ...
Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club
450 West 43rd Street ♦ New York, N.Y.
(212) 594-0554 ♦ ManhattanPlazaRacquetClub.com
Gabrielle Baker is a tennis pro with Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club. She grew up on Australia’s “Gold Coast” near Brisbane and was ranked in the top-20 in Australia as recently as 2004. Gabby played on the international WTA Tour, and in 2004, reached a ranking of 450th in the world. She was offered a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma where she attended from 2004-2007 and graduated with honors. Gabby was captain of the women’s tennis team (2006-2007), was on the All Big 12 Singles Team (2006) and a Big 12 Singles and Doubles Champion (2004), and made the All-American Team in 2006. Gabby has several years of teaching and coaching experience both in Australia and here in the United States for Nike Tennis Camps, Cliff Drysdale Tennis and other tennis centers.
Midtown Tennis Club
341 8th Avenue (27th Street) ♦ New York, N.Y.
(212) 989-8572 ♦ MidtownTennis.com
Jarett Cascino is Minnesota native, with success as a junior in the Northern Section, winning two Minnesota State Doubles Championships and finishing his high school career as the Minnesota State Singles Champion. He went on to play Division I Men's Tennis at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and was also the assistant tennis coach. Jarett is a USPTA-certified professional and has coached tennis in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the International Tennis Academy in Florida, and was the head tennis professional at the Deal Casino in Deal, N.J.
Go! Tennis Programs at North Shore Tennis and Racquets Club
34-28 214th Place ♦ Bayside, N.Y.
(718) 224-6303 ♦ GoTennisPrograms.com
George Garland is director of tennis and president of Go! Tennis Programs at North Shore Tennis and Racquets Club in Bayside, N.Y. A former coordinator of adult tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Garland played on the collegiate, satellite and senior levels. George, a national teaching clinician for the USTA, is a personal coach to numerous sectionally- and nationally-ranked juniors, as well as many television, music and movie personalities.
The West Side Tennis Club
One Tennis Place ♦ Forest Hills, N.Y.
(718) 268-2300, ext. 135 ♦ ForestHillsTennis.com
Thomas Gilliland is assistant tennis director at The West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. and is certified by the PTR. He recently completed Columbia University's Master of Sports Management program. Thomas is a USTA/Eastern National Coach, sits on the USTA/Eastern Metro Region Board of Directors and on the USTA/Eastern Coaches Commission. Under his direction, the Junior Program has grown enormously and the program displays his abundant energy, creativity and professionalism.
John McEnroe Tennis Academy/Sportime Randall’s Island
1 Randall’s Island ♦ Randall’s Island, N.Y.
(212) 427-6150 ♦ JohnMcEnroeTennisAcademy.com
Bruce Haddad is assistant academy director of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at Sportime Randall’s Island. Born in New Jersey, Bruce was a standout junior player, reaching the number one ranking in the USTA Eastern Section, and achieving national top 10 rankings in the boys 12s, 14s and 16s Divisions. As a junior, Bruce was the national clay court champion in singles and doubles and the national indoor champion in the 14s Division, before winning the prestigious Easter Bowl in the 16s. Bruce attended the University of Florida and graduated from Arizona State University, where he achieved a national collegiate ranking of ninth nationally and was a two-time All-American, earning a degree in communications. Bruce competed professionally, achieving an ATP ranking of 888th in the world. Bruce was the co-owner and founder of Knickerbocker Sports Tennis, was a professional coach on the WTA Tour and was manager and director of the Columbus Racquet Club in NYC.
Cunningham Park Tennis Center
196-00 Union Turnpike ♦ Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
(718) 740-6800 ♦ CunninghamSportsCenter.com
Marvin Jeffery is competition coordinator/senior teaching professional at Cunningham Park Tennis Center in Fresh Meadows, N.Y. Marvin has been a standout tennis professional at Bay Terrace since 1998. He is currently coaching numerous tournament players and attends many junior events. In addition, Marvin is competing in Men's Open ETA tournaments and is ranked among the top players in his age group.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Meridian Road at Grand Central Parkway ♦ Queens, N.Y.
Whitney Kraft is director of tennis programs at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and director of player operations for the U.S. Open. A native of Summit, N.J., Whitney brings more than 25 years of tennis experience to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Prior to joining the USTA, Kraft served as director of tennis for the city of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. where he oversaw the daily programming and operations of more than 45 courts at nine different facilities. As a tennis player, Kraft was a four-time National Mixed-Open Champion and most recently in 2006, Kraft was the USPTA International Championship 45 Doubles Champion.
New York Tennis Club
3081 Harding Avenue ♦ Bronx, N.Y.
(718) 239-7916 ♦ NewYorkTennisClub.com
Ajay Kumar is currently the director of tennis at one of the oldest tennis facilities in New York, the New York Tennis Club (NYTC), and is an assistant director for the Advantage Tennis Clubs family, servicing out of four-major locations in Manhattan. Prior to taking over the director of tennis position at NYTC, Ajay was a partner at Metro Tennis Academy and was instrumental in developing a renowned junior program that serviced both recreational and competitive players. He has played in the USTA Eastern Section, and as well as in the ITF. He graduated with a sports medicine major from Manhattan College, where he played competitively in its Division I varsity team as a scholar-athlete.
Gotham Tennis Academy and Stadium Tennis Center
725 Gateway Center Boulevard (formerly Exterior Street) at E152nd Street and the Harlem River ♦ Bronx, N.Y.
(718) 665-4684 ♦ StadiumTennisNYC.com
Rich Reyes is a director of tennis at Gotham Tennis Academy and Stadium Tennis Center. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (718) 665-4684.
Roosevelt Island Racquet Club
281 Main Street ♦ Roosevelt Island, N.Y.
(212) 935-0250 ♦ www.rirctennis.com
Jason Speirs is the tennis director at Roosevelt Island Racquet Club, part of the family of clubs for Advantage Tennis Clubs, and teaches full time in the junior program. Playing tennis for Assumption College, he became a doubles player at the national level, attaining a ranking of 24th for Division II, and number three in the Northeast Region. His tennis background includes tournament director for the Rochester Junior Grand Prix, teaching at The Harley School, New England Tennis Camp, and prestigious clubs such as the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Jason has worked at RIRC since 2004 and is a USPTA-certified teaching professional.
What are the best things you see about tennis in the New York area and do you have any concerns about the local tennis scene?
►Jarett Cascino: New York City is known for its diversity and tennis is a sport that people play around the world. Lots of people come out and the courts are starting to fill up with kids, tennis fanatics, or just beginners holding a racquet for the first time! One major asset in our tennis community is the competitive business nature of New York City. Tennis clubs are much like any other enterprise or activity, each club is looking to retain existing clients and find new ones in order to turn a profit. Thus, each club has to compete with the next one in order to stay afloat. From improvements to infrastructure, all the way to the staff teaching lessons, the pressure felt from the competition makes each club provide a better service to the customers.
There are really only two major concerns that I see with the local tennis scene. One is the availability of courts. New York City has a lot of people, but not a lot of indoor tennis clubs comparatively. And because of that is the second major concern: The prices. If you really would like to learn the game of tennis you should play two or three times a week, more for a progressing junior with aspirations of playing college tennis. You can get the parks pass and play on your own for relatively cheap; however, you are not guaranteed a court and you cannot play outside all year long. In turn, people play at the few indoor clubs and pay top dollar. This means that not everyone can play all year long. We lose kids, especially to other team sports that are cheaper to finance. This is a major concern for the growth and popularity of the sport in our area.
►George Garland: I think the best thing is the sport’s availability. From parks, to commercial facilities, to country clubs, there are a million programs and opportunities to learn the sport and play. The downside of that, however, is that the quality of those programs isn't always what it could be. Because of the great demand, there are people teaching the game and running programs who just are not that qualified. In other areas of the country where there are fewer tennis jobs to be had, the level of experience and professionalism required to get those jobs is much greater.
►Thomas Gilliland: The best thing about tennis in New York is how diverse the players are. You can find any level and personality. One of my biggest concerns is the rise in price for the City Parks Permit and how it will affect how the accessibility of tennis is to the general public in the future.
►Bruce Haddad: The best things I see about tennis in the New York area is that there are many more kids starting to play, and those who have been playing have continued in the sport. With that being said, my concern is that most kids who are playing consider the sport as a recreational activity and not taking it serious enough to become a high level tournament player.
►Marvin Jeffery: The best things about tennis is that, for the most part, the people involved in the sport are fun and friendly.
►Ajay Kumar: Best things would be the growing number of people wanting to play. The biggest concern, I feel, is the quality, accessibility and affordability of tennis facilities.
Rich Reyes: The best things I see in New York City tennis is that the sport is growing and thriving with excitement. And with 10 & Under tennis, the game will keep kids in the sport longer. My biggest concern is the lack of high-quality courts in the city. On a per capita basis, the demand for tennis in New York City greatly outweighs the supply of courts, and too many courts are simply in poor condition. There are too many courts that are not regulation size and are improperly maintained.
What is your opinion of the state of American tennis?
►Gabrielle Baker: I feel the state of American tennis could be improved if there was more unity. In other countries throughout the world, the best players in the nation train together, travel together, work together and encourage each other. They utilize the best coaches that country has to offer and the government supports these programs.
►George Garland: American tennis has two very real problems. The first is that there is not one centralized place where the best players in the country go to train and compete against each other. Because we are a free capitalistic society, tennis is treated as a business. Everybody and their brother, literally, has an academy and claims to have all the answers. Being in the tennis business and making great players are two different things. Other countries know that. Making players isn't that complicated. Take the best players from a given area (in this case, the entire U.S.), have them train and compete and make each other better, and you'll end up with the one or two that become the best. But because we are fractured into small groups with individual agendas, that doesn't happen. The other problem is that, for the most part, American kids are just not that desperate. They have lots of options in their life. In other countries, it's make it or go home and work in the factory. That’s not the case here in America.
►Bruce Haddad: My opinion of the state of American tennis is one of major concern. The U.S. has a great run of success for many years, but over the last four to five years, it has regressed and it doesn't seem like this will change anytime soon.
►Ajay Kumar: American tennis is on the rise, but the governing body doesn’t do enough to encourage players to practice/play in tournaments held on Har-Tru/clay courts. Predominantly, all tournaments are held on hard courts, and this is hard for young players because they do not know how to transition to a clay surface. A clay surface develops patience and great playing strategies, to name a few key points, and most juniors around the world prefer clay/Har-Tru courts to develop skills, footwork and mental ability to develop their tennis, and in turn, success overall.
►Rich Reyes: I am optimistic about the future of American tennis with all of the young stars who are coming up. The USTA is committed to giving opportunities to young talent which should accelerate the development of our country's most talented players.
►Jason Speirs: I think American tennis is in shambles. It’s terrible that a nation as big as ours cannot produce more players per capita in the top 10, let alone in the top 100. We have the money and resources to produce exceptional players. We have phenomenal coaches at our disposal, but not enough kids who want to learn. I’ve found, and maybe I’m wrong (I’d like to be), that our kids think it’s enough to have a strong forehand and serve to become a top player in the world. Our youth look up to who … Andy Roddick, James Blake and John Isner?! I hope that the younger players like Mardy Fish, Alex Bogomolov, Donald Young, Ryan Sweeting, Ryan Harrison and Sam Querrey can change the way our youth play tennis. Look at all the top 10 players! They can hit amazing shots off both sides and can/are willing to come to the net. I’d like to see our kids be more patient with their groundstrokes and willing to work on their net game.
Serena Williams had another outburst at this year’s U.S. Open. How would you address this sort of issue with kids who saw her outburst and may be negatively influenced by it? How would handle poor sportsmanship by one of your players?
►Jarett Cascino: I would say that Serena Williams normally has a great attitude. Even when she is losing, she always competes and gives it her best shot to with the match. Inexplicably, however, we saw a side of her that let her emotions take control. Certainly the outburst had not helped her whatsoever with her tennis game. At this point, I would go on to explain that controlling your emotions during a tennis match is a considerably important facet of the game. A match can be won and lost on emotion and momentum, just look at the recent collapses of Roger Federer in tense situations. When I was a kid starting to play tournaments I wasn’t always a good sport. It seems so important to play in a tournament for a trophy. I’ve had my fair share of broken sticks in matches I “should have won.” This may or may not answer the question, but I was given a rule by my long-time coach, boss and friend, and for me, it is something to live by. After you play a tennis match, you have 15 min. to think about the match. Whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter. If you win, you can celebrate and be big headed or whatever for 15 min. and then it’s done. If you lose, you can pout and be sad and think about what could have gone differently, etc. for 15 min. and then the match is behind you. I think this was the best rule for sportsmanship. My coach was really just telling me that winning a tennis match is not the most important thing in the world, and the result shouldn’t have any effect on the rest of the day.
►George Garland: Handling behavior starts from the beginning. We teach kids from the outset what is acceptable and what isn't. It's important to grow good kids, as well as good players. The game of tennis has to enforce correct conduct as well. I don't know if Serena is a great example, because she really has been hosed a few times. But I would say that John McEnroe might have had an even greater career if the sport would have dealt with his behavior earlier and more consistently.
►Bruce Haddad: I would address the issue as a major disappointment to the kids and all those who saw it. I do not tolerate poor sportsmanship by any of my players. There are consequences for these actions, and I try to figure out the root of the behavior and teach them about controlling it.
►Rich Reyes: Serena's outburst was a lapse in judgment. She let her emotions get the better of her. We all lose our cool and there are consequences to it. The key is to learn and grow from it. With our players at Gotham Tennis Academy and Stadium Tennis Center, we mentor and encourage patience and staying in control of one’s emotions.
►Jason Speirs: I tell my kids off the bat that any negative outburst is unacceptable. Yes, it feels good to let out the emotions, but it distracts you from focusing on how you’re going to construct the next point. If you are busy feeling bad for yourself, you potentially begin a negative spiral that becomes hard to stop. Poor sportsmanship is not tolerated. If my kids cannot respect the game, they do not deserve to play. I’m strict about respecting the coach and the game.
Since 10 & Under tennis has been implemented at your club, have you noticed an increase in participation of kids in that age group?
►Whitney Kraft: The 10 & Under programs should have a great effect in the New York City area as the population density and numerous clubs and facilities should really build the local base, help with talent by attracting some of the better young athletes, as well as recreational. One concern in this area is cost of indoor court time.
At what age, if any, should a serious junior player focus solely on tennis instead of any other extracurricular activities?
►Gabrielle Baker: A serious junior player aspiring to reach the collegiate or professional level should consider limiting extracurricular activities by the age of 11. National tournaments for 12 and under players are extremely competitive and require full commitment.
►Marvin Jeffery: By the age of nine or 10, because by the time they hit 15 or 16, young players are already playing Futures and Satellites.
►Whitney Kraft: If not sure if this ever needs to occur. Extracurricular activities develop and maintain better athletes and help prevent players from getting stale from the sameness of one discipline/sport.
►Ajay Kumar: Around the ages of 12-14 is when a player should solely focus on heavy competition. At this age, most of the motor skills that are known to them will be formed and developed, and the same applies to their mental capacity of accepting competition. Physically, the player develops their growth plates and bone structure to help develop their muscles to strenuous competition—the mental aspect works in sync to support the body.
►Jason Speirs: That’s a very tough question because the younger the child, the more important it is for them to learn new skills, and if they focus solely on tennis, the potential for burnout increases dramatically. By the age of 14 or 15, the drive to train and succeed must come from within. If a young teenager can make this commitment, then they will use everything around them, school, training and friends and family, to succeed.
How much involvement should a parent have in their child's tennis development? What role do you think the tennis parent should have and what should be left to the coach?
►Gabrielle Baker: Parents should play a major role in a child's development … off the court. There are many elements, like attitude, diet, discipline, sacrifice and off-court training, just to name a few, that the parents can be involved with. But in terms of coaching, technique and instruction, the coach should fulfill this role.
►Jarett Cascino: The parents should definitely play a role on the child’s development if the child has the desire to play. Every parent and family situation is different, but as a general rule if the child likes it and seems to be improving ask him/her if he would like to do another day per week. If he already does a couple days a week then ask him/her if they would like to play tournaments, maybe then see if they can work their way up the USTA junior ranking system. In other words, give them every opportunity they can to become a fully developed tennis player if they seem to like it. I always encourage parents to go out and hit with their kids or do extra practice on the side somehow. The parent should have some knowledge of maybe what the strengths and weakness of the child are so that they can work on them together. However, at a certain level, leave the teaching up to the professional, just work on the stuff they learned in class. Here again, every situation is different. If the parent has a true understanding of all aspects of the game, including technique, scoring, strategy, and the intelligent use of power and plays at a reasonable level, they should take a much more active role in the development. But, if the kid’s technique becomes better than the parent’s technique, just go out and let him/her practice hitting the ball with only telling them the basics.
►Thomas Gilliland: It depends on a million different variables, but the main thing is to be open about boundaries. Once everyone is comfortable with them and they have been established, stick with them with the understanding that they can be re-evaluated later on.
►Whitney Kraft: The operative word is quality of involvement, not quantity. This is the same for coaching. Quantity would vary to produce desirable changes without overload or undue pressure. A parent’s role should focus upon providing a solid support system.
►Ajay Kumar: Both parent and coach have a direct impact on a player. Stories of players listening to their coaches more than parents are rampant. Coaches become role models, and parents should let the coach do their job on the court. They should be the sole developer of the player on the court, as the parent should be helping the player develop positive attitudes off the court, and encouraging the player, whether in a defeat or win. This way, the perspectives are clear and roles are defined. The player will recognize this and listen and work accordingly and develop their overall game. Players will no doubt respond to a parent’s call, as well as a coaches’ work ethic. It would be a tremendous help where coaches also click to a parents’ personality as it will be much easier to communicate within each other.
What qualities do you look for in a junior player that makes them stand out from the rest of the pack as a potential top player?
►Thomas Gilliland: We look for a lot of the same things that other coaches in other sports look for (coordination, speed, stamina, focus), but tennis is an individual sport and might require a mental toughness and maturity that team sports do not require. Time management skills are also a huge advantage for top players because their schedules can be so demanding.
►Marvin Jeffery: I look for players who are superb athletes, as well as a mental sponge. I look for the kid who is committed to being a student of the game.
►Rich Reyes: Identifying talent is not easy. One key for me is to see the type of character a player has. Physical talent is important, but it's the emotional and mental aspects of a player that often makes the difference between good and great.
►Jason Speirs: Work ethic is key … that will make or break a player. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t work hard, you’re not going to reach your potential, you’re not going to expand as a player and you’re certainly not going to respect the blood, sweat and tears that goes into becoming a champion.
What in your teaching/coaching philosophy do you think is the backbone of your teaching and coaching methods?
►Jarett Cascino: I am a big advocate of teaching people not just technique, but teaching them how to keep score properly, serve their own ball in the court, and play a set of tennis when a coach is not present. I work on the basic foundation, but it is all up to the player to go out on their own and play. In the last few years, it has become easier to learn the game because of “QuickStart” tennis. Bigger balls and regular-sized “low compression” balls are used with mini nets and smaller racquets so that children can rally. It is really great. Proper technique is being taught, and kids are learning to rally and play a tennis match!
►George Garland: I've always broken the game down into four main areas: the mechanical, strategic, physical, and mental/emotional. I start with technique and try to give the player sound, current strokes in all parts of the court. From there, as they develop as a player, it becomes more about the other areas. Ultimately, it comes down to what's in their head and inside their heart. The biggest thing I can give a player is the strength to understand and accept that they are responsible and accountable for their performance and results.
►Thomas Gilliland: Making sure that the player's technique is biomechanically sound will help prevent injury and get the most out of their game. Tennis is something that should be enjoyed for the rest of their lives. I find that being patient and focusing on the good things someone is doing is far more effective than always picking on what someone is doing wrong.
►Bruce Haddad: The backbone of my coaching method is that I try to teach the kids to master their minds. The bottom line is that if you give 100 percent effort and don't beat yourself up, regardless of the outcome, you will be a winner.
►Marvin Jeffery: My belief is that you have to be willing to adapt while still staying true to your fundamentals.