When they were just kids, Tennis Innovators’ Cesar and Juan Andrade came to the United States from Ecuador with their family, first settling in Malverne, Long Island before going to live in Queens.
It is there, where the two brothers’ love for tennis began. Along with their two sisters, the Andrade’s would attend free morning programming held by the City Parks Foundation on the weekends at Juniper Valley Park.
“I think all of our siblings ended up playing at the camp at Juniper Valley Park. Our mother used to take us there in the morning,” recalls Cesar. “That program really instilled the concept of playing tennis for all of us. Everybody started playing, at least during the summer because indoor tennis was expensive, and that’s how we really got started playing.”
Cesar was about nine when his family came over to the U.S., and he remembers his dad giving him lessons back in Ecuador when he was younger. While he liked the sport, soccer was his first love, but that would quickly change to tennis the more and more he attended those programs with his brothers and sisters.
Juan, who is just a few years younger than Cesar, also immediately took to the game.
“It was just kids from the neighborhood playing. There were a bunch of pros who took a liking and an interest in making sure we had access to all the benefits that City Parks had available, like the Reebok Program, NYJTL, etc. My mom made sure she was always looking into that stuff. And from there, tennis was huge for us.”
The two would both go on to have solid playing careers and found themselves entering the coaching world, carrying with them the same values and principles instilled in them through those free community programs.
The Tennis Innovators brand was born inside Juan’s midtown Manhattan apartment, with those same philosophies in mind. The two were both working at Sportime Harbor Island and had worked their way up the ranks. In his free time, Juan began brainstorming ideas and crafting new concepts for 10U programs in New York City.
“He started to get the itch to do his own thing,” Cesar said of his brother. “Being in the city was sort of an inspirational environment for him to be in. He made a bold move and started crafting concepts for 10U programs. He is the founder of the brand, the logo, and the whole concept.
He was able to go to colleges and schools and asked if he could rent their space, whether it was gyms, cafeterias or basketball courts. He really established the brand and a name from that little room.”
One of Juan’s goals was to create a club-like feel no matter where he popped up the program, whether it was in midtown or Harlem. He got a sense of the tennis landscape in New York City from his time at the Central Park Tennis Center, and wanted to improve upon it.
“Little by little it grew. I knew that if I could bring this club atmosphere to such a fast city, and make people feel as if we were connecting with them, and growing with them and their kids and that their level of tennis is improving, that we could build something positive,” said Juan. “It goes back to those tennis pros you remember when you’re little. Someone always has to be there opening the door for you and helping you out. And that’s exactly what happened. We bring the same energy and quality of instruction everywhere we go.”
Juan continued to go around the city to rent space and bring his innovative programming to all corners of New York City. From there, he began a summer camp and Tennis Innovators was taking off.
Now, the program has expanded throughout New York City, and back in January of 2015, they were able to launch their first flag ship location in Delfino Park, White Plains, N.Y., Tennis Innovators Academy (TIA). TIA is an eight-court indoor/outdoor facility catering to all ages and levels with curriculum-based academy programs, private lessons and seasonal courts. Cesar is the director of operations and owner at this facility, while Juan manages the vision behind the marketing and branding of all TIA business as the marketing director, and the owner and operator of all Tennis Innovator NYC business.
“It’s a perfect balance of creativity and organization,” Juan said. “He keeps me in check when I want to do some crazy marketing thing, and I help as much as possible to make sure we keep the program new and fresh, and avoid complacency.”
While the programs in the city and the academy in White Plains differ, the core principles and values of their teachings remain the same.
“What we look for in coaches is similar, we want those who are inspirational to our students,” added Cesar. “We want hard-working coaches. Kwame Griffith is a great example of that. He started at Juan’s program in the city, and he is now a full-blown director in White Plains. I think the situation we provide for both the coaches, as well as the students, is the opportunity to grow and get better with us.”
The quality of the programming is another similarity between New York City and White Plains. While Juan is in the city and is somewhat limited because of space and the costs of court time, bringing high-quality tennis instruction with passion is something that is the basis of Tennis Innovators, regardless of where it is located.
The desire to provide kids, from whatever background or demographic, with tennis is engrained in both Juan and Cesar from their days as kids playing in New York.
“I think there is definitely a natural connection for us in wanting to seek talent and get young kids, especially less privileged kids involved,” said Cesar. “Of course, the other side of things is making sure you are running a business that is profitable. But there is no question that the spirit behind what we do is definitely shaped around the concept of providing an environment that kids will really remember. I want my students to look back and remember me for those types of things, because I have a few people throughout my lifetime that I feel that way about.”
Juan Andrade with kids during a Tennis Innovators clinic
Cesar Andrade with a student of the Tennis Innovators Academy
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org