One area of strength for any tennis academy, club or facility is its ability to take its youngest and most beginner-level players and transition them into becoming competitive junior players.
For MatchPoint NYC in Brooklyn, a major factor in its success with progressing tennis players is Pavlo “Pasha” Bednarzh, who directs MatchPoint’s QuickStart program, amongst many other key responsibilities for the club’s tennis players.
Bednarzh is a native of Ukraine, growing up in the former Soviet Union where he was nominated and was a candidate for the nation’s premier Master of Sport award, which is given to top coaches and experts in their respective sport.
“I played for about 11 or 12 years growing up, and then went to college,” he recalls. “It’s then that I went into coaching, working in Ukraine for a couple of years before moving to Poland.”
In Poland, Bednarzh took his coaching to the next level, working with some of the country’s top junior players.
“When I first started coaching, it was with the small kids,” said Bednarzh. “I then went to Poland and began working with older juniors. It was very interesting to make the jump to working with high-performance juniors, but I enjoyed the challenge. I was the one teaching, but I made sure to be learning as well. I was teaching them the skills I knew, but I was also taking things in from the players as well as the older coaches.”
An even bigger challenge would arise when Bednarzh headed farther west and moved to the United States about 20 years ago. He landed in Brooklyn and began a coaching job at the club in which MatchPoint’s ownership would eventually take over.
Between moving to a new country and not speaking the native language, it was a difficult transition for Bednarzh. On top of that, he transitioned into working with younger kids once again and had to make the proper adjustment.
But since he had worked with all levels of junior tennis players, Bednarzh brought with him a special skill set and the necessary experience to help guide players through the progression.
“He likes to build players from the ground up,” said Khrystsina Tryboi, a 10U coach at MatchPoint who also serves as the club’s Director of Marketing. “We get players as young as four-years-old, and they move up through our program, with Pasha’s help. He introduces them to USTA tournaments, and educates the parents on what to expect, the levels of progressions, etc. He has a very broad reach within our program.”
It is that hands-on approach and his dedication that has made Bednarzh such a beloved coach by his players and their parents, but also an invaluable resource for MatchPoint.
And he has contributed to one of the most endearing aspects of MatchPoint, which is the friendly environment and atmosphere that exists when you walk inside.
“There is a sense of community here,” he said. “Everyone is friendly here, and you come in you can feel happy here. We have the lounge and restaurant upstairs, which is a great place for the parents to relax while their kid is taking a lesson. It’s just a great facility to be in and be a part of.”
Being located in an area of Brooklyn which consists of many people from Eastern Europe, MatchPoint has fostered a welcoming culture and has tailored it to fit the needs of the people it services.
“About five or six years ago, we got involved with running USTA tournaments here, and Khrystsina was integral in bringing in the USTA’s curriculum for QuickStart, and looked at how we can utilize that here,” said Bednarzh. “We took those programs and assessments, and culturally adjusted it to the Eastern European mentality. Everything here revolves around us being a cultural hub for the people who come in, and we try to tailor our programming to fit the needs of our clients.”
That welcoming culture combined with top-level coaching has allowed MatchPoint to see players rise up through the progressions of its program, as they come in as beginners and leave as high-performance juniors who are prepared to pursue tennis at the next level.
It’s precisely that which is one of the favorite parts of coaching for Bednarzh; working with a player who picks up a racket for the first time, and watching them grow and develop under your tutelage. Two of those players are Thomas Walsh and Milana Markov, who are now top-level junior players who got their start working with Bednarzh and the QuickStart programs at MatchPoint.
“When Pascha takes a kid under his wing, he handles the tennis, helps their parents, picks the tournaments, checks the draw, talks to him/her before and after their match, etc.” added Tryboi. “He is highly involved and heavily invested, and that’s what makes the difference for him as a coach. He takes a lot of pride in that.”
Bednarzh has worked with tennis players of all ages throughout his many years of coaching, and has used that wealth of experience to enhance the programming at MatchPoint, and foster a culture of tennis development. When he isn’t coaching, he enjoys heading into Manhattan to see live jazz or take in a Broadway show.
But the performances he is most interested in are the ones from his players, and the joy he gets from watching them succeed. If Bednarzh begins to work with a player, the results typically come soon after, and each player he gets to work with presents a new and unique challenge.
“While they are growing up, you can see the progress they have made from when they first started,” he said. “No two children are alike, and you have to find ways to connect with each player, and figure out the best way to coach that particular child and establish a connection with them. I love this aspect of coaching.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org