Competing as a high-level junior tennis player can sometimes feel like a full- time job. Between the training, practices, fitness, travelling and match preparation, it’s often difficult to find a balanced schedule, especially when you factor in school and a normal social life.
It’s for this reason that many players decide to enroll in schools that provide them the flexibility and convenience to pursue their goals outside of school while also obtaining a high-level education. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Professional Children’s School embodies that mission, and has helped a number of young tennis players chase their tennis dreams without sacrificing the educational aspect.
Take Rhys Spano for example.
The high school sophomore is in his first year attending Professional Children’s School, and has loved his time there thus far. Prior to arriving at Professional Children’s School, Spano attended the Lycee Francais de New York, a school he enjoyed but was inconvenient to his rigorous tennis schedule.
“Being at Professional Children’s School has been great, and has helped me so much already,” said Spano. “They are very accommodating to my schedule, and if I need to leave early for tournaments, I am able to, and the teachers help you avoid falling behind. I was previously at an all-French speaking school, and they have helped me adjust fast to being at an American school.”
Spano has been in love with tennis for as long as he can remember, and first started playing when he was around two-years-old.
“I can remember going on a trip with some family friends,” Spano recalls. “They were renting a house for the summer which had a tennis court. They all went out to play and I joined them, and picked up a racquet for the first time. Since then I’ve been in love with the sport.”
Growing up, in addition to tennis, Spano played in a variety of other sports, including golf, swimming, skiing, skateboarding and soccer, but tennis was always at the forefront. Competing in those other sports has helped Spano develop important skills that he now incorporates into his tennis game.
“Skateboarding helped with my balance, while soccer helped with my footwork,” he says. “Swimming helped strengthen my upper body and core, while golf helped hone my precision, focus, and maintaining consistency. The mental game in golf is also huge, and has helped me in my tennis.”
All of that has played a factor in Spano’s development, and with a more accommodating schedule, he is able to travel to bigger tournaments, and more tournaments in general, providing essential match play and new experiences.
Spano has even given people a glimpse into what it is like to train and travel for a tournament via his video blogs on YouTube. He shares highlights on everything from his practice sessions to car rides to hotel visits, which has been a fun experience for him to both shoot and edit his videos in his downtime.
“I’ve always loved making videos to share with other people, and I wanted to combine two of my favorite things, which is creating videos and tennis,” said Spano. “So I just started making vlogs about how I train, playing tennis, traveling, etc. They’re fun to make and it’s also nice to look back at the footage after you finish a tournament and keep those memories. It’s been great being able to document some of my tennis experiences.”
Part of that training has been a recent emphasis on weight lifting and getting stronger. Spano stands about 5’6’’ and only about 100 pounds, so putting on weight and growing is a major emphasis for him right now. Spano comes from a family of tall people, including both of his parents and a couple of uncles, so he is confident he will continue getting taller as he gets older.
“I have an all-around game, and I can get blown off the court a little bit by bigger players, especially in the 16s divisions, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I grow into my body. I know I will grow, so I just have to keep grinding hard on the training court, because I know that once I grow, I will be at the top...I started doing weight training this year, and on top of that, you have to eat well. My trainer is also a nutritionist, and we talk about the importance of both fitness and nutrition. It all works together.”
Spano has a goal of becoming a professional tennis player one day, and takes his preparation for matches very seriously. Prior to his matches, Spano tries not to use his phone for about an hour beforehand, except to listen to music, and does about three minutes of mediation and visualization.
“I try to envision how I want to hit the ball, how I want to think out there during the match, and prepare how I am plan on playing the important and crucial points,” he said. “I also do Box Breathing. It’s where you breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds and exhale for four seconds. I learned about it from watching TennisTV. They had a video clip on it during the Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer match at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. I decided to try it and it has really helped my game; I’ve been doing it ever since.”
With his continued training and growth, Spano is set to continue improving and rising up the junior rankings. He has already come a long way in the last year, and that will only increase with more tournament play and his practice sessions. But he isn’t focused on his ranking too much, and wants to continue putting in the work, and let the rest take care of itself.
“I’m really not trying to think about my ranking. I feel like when you do that, it can mess with your head, you over think it, and then you feel down on yourself if you don’t achieve the ranking you thought you should,” he explained. “So I’m trying to focus on being the best I can be, and if I do that, the ranking will go up. I just need to focus on the process, and the results will handle themselves.”
With its accommodating schedules and the academic tools it provides, Professional Children’s School has created the ideal environment for tennis players like Spano to pursue their dreams and goals outside of school.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org