The development pathway of any tennis program is an important pipeline that not only helps create great tennis players, but also serves as a way to keep young players in a facility’s program. Establishing this pipeline from the earliest ages is a key aspect to a successful one, and with that in mind, earlier this year, Centercourt its new dedicated Red Ball Performance Center at its Chatham location, as it aims to continue its innovative outlook on junior tennis.
“From a Centercourt perspective, we recognize the importance of a quality foundation of coaching,” said Conrad Singh, Centercourt Tennis Academy’s CEO. “So with that foundation, we wanted to make our red ball program unique. Red ball is the key to developing and retaining players. We wanted to create a dedicated learning center for them where they aren’t cramped and bumping into each other. We developed an eight-court red ball performance center for that reason. The kids have a lot of space and are able to work on crosscourt patterns, down the line patterns, etc. It’s been working really well, and the inspiration came from just our understanding of the importance of red ball.”
The idea to create a facility strictly dedicated to red ball players first arose at the end of 2022, when Centercourt brought in Cinto Casanova, an acclaimed talent developer who has a reputation of creating top players from his time coaching throughout Asia, Spain and Australia.
The idea to create a facility strictly dedicated to Red Ball players has been on our plans for some time. At the end of 2022 when Clay Bibbee – Centercourt Sports (Founder & Managing Partner) asked the questions on what can we do to continue to lead the Red Ball Pathway – the solution was obvious. Add to this the experience & expertise of Casanova, Director of Coaching & Talent Identification, along with Singh’s Leadership their vision was turned into a reality.
“That forward-thinking approach is why I came to Centercourt,” explains Casanova. “I always say, I came to the United States to work at Centercourt. I didn’t come here to work just anywhere, but it was specifically to join Centercourt. And it’s because of things like this. We had a vision, and then put in the work to execute it. We are always trying to find new solutions to problems, and that is a very exciting way to approach your work.”
The Red Ball Performance Center and Centercourt’s new approach to this part of the pathway features four pillars that make up its core. It begins with the first stage which is the Future Stars program, where they accept kids ranging from one-to-three-years-old. At this stage, they use racquets and balls, but it’s more about developing the basic motor skills as opposed to hitting the ball. The focus is on hand-eye coordination and tracking the ball to establish those basic motor skills.
From there, they progress into clinics and normal group lessons that run every day and then move into the Red Ball Personalized Programming. This is where they take part in one-on-one lessons with coaches, with the director, Casanova, supervising the development of all the players. As the lessons go on, Casanova floats from court to court to monitor the progress and personalizes the coaching to each individual player.
“We adapted these lessons to fit with the ages of the players we are coaching,” explained Casanova. “A 12-year-old junior can handle doing a one-hour private lesson, but you can’t really do that with a four-year-old. It wouldn’t really make sense, they have a hard time staying focused for that long. So the program adapts to the stage of development the kid is at, and the amount of focus and attention-span they have at that point.”
The fourth and final pillar of the program is the competitive side, where Centercourt hosts weekly tournaments, and the players can take what they’ve learned in the training and apply it to match play.
“Our philosophy is very game-based right from the start, and so those kids are competing weekly, and if not during the week, at least on the weekends,” said Singh.
And so for the last few months, the Red Ball Performance Center has added another layer to Centercourt’s innovative way of developing tennis players, from the earliest of ages.
“This is good not only for us, but for the sport of tennis as a whole,” said Casanova. “We want to keep these kids engaged, and have them play tennis in a fun environment that is specific to them. By doing that, we are able to retain more players and keep them involved in our sport.”
Part of that retention is establishing a connection between the coach and the player, a crucial dynamic that helps kids stay engaged with tennis. Casanova and Singh both a wide-range of experience in not only developing players, but developing coaches, and they spend a great deal of time identifying the skill sets of their coaches and what part of their programming would be best suited for them.
“Between myself and Cinto, we identify our coaches and determine what level they should be coaching at,” said Singh. “Some coaches may not even be aware that they have certain skills, and so it’s exciting for us to be able to maximize the ability of all of our coaches. The connection between a kid and a coach is hard to develop during a group lesson, so when you put one kid out there with the same coach, for 30 minutes every week, a connection develops. And we know that if the kid connects and trusts their coach, they will stay in the sport. So we emphasize the quality of coaching and establishing a player’s connection to that coach and to our facility. Our Performance Center is designed specifically for them, and when they walk in they definitively have the feeling that this is for them.”
Singh says that just in the last five weeks, they have seen 70 additional private lessons for red ball players booked, and he attributes that to the new Performance Center, and the supplementary Personalized Programming that comes with it.
“We spent January mastering what we were trying to do, February was spent training the coaches, and in March we launched the Red Ball Personalized Programming,” he said. “And now here we are. I really take my hat off to Cinto for developing this idea, and to Clay Bibbee for his full support. We are proud of the legacy and history of Centercourt, and all the players we’ve developed over the years, and are excited to see what this new center and new programming can do to continue and add to that legacy.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com