Soccer is widely known as the global game, a sport that spans nearly every country on Earth and is, by and large, the most popular.
But few other sports match the international flavor and global reach like tennis does. It features players, coaches and fans from all walks of life, and great things can happen when those backgrounds are combined.
The CourtSense Tennis Training Center is an example of this. With an assortment of coaches and trainers from a number of different countries and playing backgrounds, the melting pot that is CourtSense has worked to create a successful program.
“It’s a tennis program I always dreamt of being a part of as a child. I enjoyed ice hockey and many other sports growing up, but tennis was what I really wanted to pursue,” said Gordon Uehling, Founder and Managing Director of CourtSense. “Unfortunately, the tennis programs I was exposed to in our area were below average, and my tennis experiences mostly came from playing with my Dad and some friends in our neighborhood, as well as a random tennis lesson here and there during the summer months.”
Despite a lack of formative training in tennis, Uehling would go on to play collegiate tennis and eventually join the ATP Tour.
“I decided to pursue collegiate tennis and then professional tennis for nine years, so I have the equivalent of a Masters and Ph.D. in the game,” Uehling added. “I was an education major in school. My impetus was to eventually create CourtSense once I felt I had enough personal experience with all the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual facets of the game.”
Through his time on the ATP Tour, he learned from some of the legendary instructors of the sport, including Sports Psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr and coach Jose Higueras, who has worked with some of the world’s top players, including Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
With his dream of creating the type of program he longed for as a young tennis player growing up, coupled with the knowledge and experience he gained as a player and coach, Uehling was ready to launch CourtSense.
“My goal at CourtSense was to, first and foremost, build a special team environment with coaches and staff that wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Uehling said. “I knew that many people would want to be a part of a team that loved working with each other, and were passionate about the process of teaching and coaching tennis and fitness.”
In order to do so, Uehling knew he needed to bring in the types of coaches and managers that shared his vision, making sure his staff was diverse enough in their backgrounds to create the type of well-rounded program he desired.
“It was important that all of our staff was open to learning concepts and systems that were based on a lot of collective experiences, while incorporating what we learn from sports science,” said Uehling. “We always encourage our team of coaches to add to what we teach; ultimately creating a manual that has become a big collaboration.”
Integral in implanting that methodology was Carlos Cano, who is CourtSense’s Head of Player and Coaching Development, and Ray Josephs, the Director of Coaches at Tenafly Racquet Club, a CourtSense location.
“In education, there are many ways to achieve the goal you are looking for, and for that reason, it’s crucial to have coaches with different backgrounds to have different perspectives,” said Cano. “We are looking for leaders with the capacity to adapt to new ideas, and it’s also important that they are teachers and coaches at the same time, and that they enjoy the challenge of the short-, middle- and long-term process of education.”
The ability to adapt and blend your own tennis philosophies with the ones of those you work with is one of the most important qualities of the CourtSense program, and something that has established it as a staple of tennis development here in the northeast.
One of the program’s top coaches is Geoff Grant, who competed on the ATP Tour and spent time training with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Grant is the Director of Tennis and General Manager at Tenafly Racquet Club, and primarily works with players during the early part of the development process.
“All of my experience as a true professional had to be unwound because I only knew how to play very well coming off the Tour—I didn’t really know how to teach,” said Grant. “But the Tour taught me to understand the value and power of confidence, and I try to teach young players to respect confidence and the hard work it takes to achieve it. Always be looking for just a little bit better every day—the moments of success arrive but only after the gritty work.”
That willingness to do the gritty work it takes to be a great player is at the heart of the CourtSense teaching model. It’s a universal trait that exists in people from all types of backgrounds and life experiences, and is a necessity in being successful as a teacher of the sport.
“You have to work with all of your heart, soul and passion. That means you have to work 100 percent every second of the day,” said Saul Salazar, Director of High Performance at Bogota Racquet Club, who has been teaching tennis for more than 30 years. “I love the challenges that come along with that. I love seeing the success, but more importantly, the improvement, of every kid that comes through the program.”
The pillars of the CourtSense program are the coaches and the directors who have all contributed their experiences and differences to create the collaboration that Uehling had envisioned. It has grown from two courts in the beginning to 37 courts currently, and they work with more than 500 kids on a weekly basis. They will continue to grow and are taking that collaboration one step further, producing an online e-manual which will help guide the staff with its methodology and philosophy going forward.
“We all knew that we could not do this alone, so it was key for us as the company was growing to select the right people who will keep the company growing in the direction we want,” said Ogi Nikolovski, CourtSense’s General Manager and the Director of Tennis at Bogota Racquet Club, who is also the former Vice President of the Macedonian Tennis Federation. “In some ways, we have been very fortunate to find the people that we have on our team today. The key for us has always been to partner and work with people who have good character, love working with other people and have a strong passion for the game of tennis. I have a strong belief that as long as we stay true to this standard, we will help many people, especially kids, to enjoy their time on the court.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org