Throughout our lives, we are lucky if we come across even one person that can serve as a mentor of sorts; someone who helps us see things in ourselves that we didn’t know were there, and puts us on the right path.
For Chris Lewit, that person came into his life in the early 2000s following a successful career playing first singles for Cornell University. He was looking for a coach to help him prepare at a possible professional playing career, and found one in Gilad Bloom, the Israeli tennis star who was coaching high-performance tennis here in New York.
“I met Chris around 2003, I was living in Westchester at the time and had a court at my house and would give lessons there on the weekends,” recalls Bloom. “I got a call from Chris, who was in Vermont, and asked if I could coach him. And he would drive down every weekend do lessons with me, then go back up to Vermont to go back to work on Monday.”
“It was just after my college career, and it was a really unique experience. I worked with Gilad almost every week, and he transformed my game, completely cleaning up the holes in my game. He is really a genius when it comes to technique, and he became a mentor to me. At that time, he was still playing and winning prize money tournaments, and in between we would play and train together. It was an amazing few years.”
While Lewit was a top-tier collegiate player, Bloom used his knowledge of technique and how to fix it on a player to tighten up Lewit’s game and put him on the path to becoming a professional tennis player.
“He was super tough, strict and demanding, and I liked that. I came from a military family and enjoyed training under him in that type of environment. I liked being pushed,” said Lewit. “And he just has an eye for technique. Some people can take apart a motor or an engine, and put it back together, Gilad can do that with tennis technique. He can see a player and visualize what the strokes should look like, take apart their technique and put it back together through different methodology. I think that’s where his genius lies. He is very demanding, but he has a tremendous gift for correcting technique, and it’s all of those things that make him a great coach.”
As the coach-player relationship continued to grow, so did the success Lewit would be having on court. Lewit developed a big serve and liked to attach the net following up that serve, and as Bloom helped correct his strokes, he began to win some low-level pro tournaments in New England and New York areas, and had plans to compete in some pro events in the Caribbean, with the goal of making it to the U.S. Open qualifying draw.
“When he first came to me he had homemade strokes, but he had a decent serve, and it was obvious he didn’t get proper coaching when he was young,” explained Bloom. “But he had good hands and a great work ethic. He was one of my most dedicated students, and we basically reconstructed his strokes within weeks, moving the grips closer to the modern game. Every week he would come back better, and after a few months he moved to New York City permanently to train in my program full-time.”
Unfortunately, in a story that is all too familiar for athletes, injuries began to affect Lewit, most notably a chronic knee injury and bilateral adductor tears. He continued to give it a try and work through those injuries, but would ultimately come to the decision to give up the dream of playing professional tennis, and move into the new phase of his life.
But his time working with Bloom had opened his eyes to what could be, and coaching and teaching tennis suddenly became an option available to him.
“It was serendipitous that I had Gilad as a mentor, he was the first person I really saw who had a career in teaching high performance,” said Lewit. “I never even thought of having a career in coaching before that, I thought teaching tennis was just feeding balls to old ladies at country clubs. So working with Gilad was not only important to help me improve as a player, but it opened my eyes to a potential career that I enjoyed and could use to support my family. He was very influential to me first as a coach, but then also a teacher who showed me what it took to become a coach.”
Bloom knew early on in working with Lewit that his protege had what it took to make the transition into coaching.
“I was proud of what we achieved when he was fully fit, and it proved to me that it was possible to improve and reconstruct your game, even in your 20s,” said Bloom. “After his forced retirement from playing, I told Chris that I thought he would make a good coach, and offered him a job as my right-hand man in my program. He agreed and for the next two years he was my top assistant and helped me run my junior program. He was very motivated to learn, and he made the transition very smooth.”
Chris Lewit (middle) with two of his students at his Academy in Vermont
That experience would prove invaluable, and together Bloom and Lewit worked hand-in-hand to develop junior players here in New York. After a couple of years of doing that, Lewit was ready to go out on his own and created his own tennis program for juniors. First, he traveled to Spain to study under some of the famed coaches there, and used the knowledge he gained from all of those to create his tennis philosophy.
“Travelling to Spain after I left Gilad was a very different experience for me,” said Lewit. “The one commonality is the importance of hard work, but in Spain they don’t focus as intently on the technical side of things, it is more about the movement and footwor methodology, weapon building, and tactical side of the game, where you can improve but don't necessarily have to fix technique. So I think it was the best of both worlds for me, and really helped me become a well-rounded coach. It definitely gave me more tools in my tool box which I continue to use in my teaching.”
Now, several years after they met and worked together for the first time, both Bloom and Lewit run their own successful tennis programs. In operating their own boutique programs, they are somewhat of a rare commodity in the industry. Both of them have had a profound impact on the other, and to this day they remain in touch.
“I am extremely thankful for everything that Gilad taught me, both as a player and coach” said Lewit. “He put me on the path to becoming not only a better player, but turned me onto a career in high performance coaching, and for that I am very grateful.”
“We still remain in touch, and often share students and information. I am very proud of the coach and person he has become.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org