The Long Island tennis community has some of the sport’s finest facilities, both indoor and outdoor, and best coaches in the world. With this wealth of talent available right in our own backyard, Long Island Tennis Magazine recently took the opportunity to pick the brains of some of these top coaches. What you will find below are some of the sport’s top instructors sharing their ideas and strategies on growing the sport locally, the state of U.S. tennis, training methods, 10 & Under tennis, and much more. Even the best coach can always learn an extra tip or two, and the following article will provide all players and coaches with a chance to learn from the cream of the area’s crop.
Meet The Participants
This is the 14th season of Carl Barnett’s Early Hit Training Center at Glen Head Racquet Club. Early Hit is dedicated to providing lessons, groups and training in its comprehensive ALPS program. Pat Etcheberry has worked with Carl as an advisor with the ALPS training program. Carl has concluded that students learn faster when they have core fitness, flexibility and explosive strength. Early Hit not only serves juniors as the program features nationally-ranked players in the USTA Open, 40s, 60s and 70s Divisions.
Ricky Becker is the founder of JuniorTennisConsulting LLC, director of tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club and independently coaches high-performance juniors year-round. Ricky was named the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and was a top-five nationally-ranked junior.
David Brent has more than 35 years of experience as a professional tennis instructor and coach, and was nationally ranked as a junior in Australia. A standout in college at Tennessee Tech, David was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in 1975. He has held many National and Eastern rankings, including being ranked number one in the East and second Nationally in the 45 Doubles. In 2009 and 2011, he was a finalist at the USTA 55 National Grass Court Doubles Championships. He was named Long Island Tennis Professional of the Year in 2014.
Steven Kaplan is the owner of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as the director of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation. Over the last 35-plus years, Steve has been the long-time coach of more than 600 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division I Singles Champions, and numerous touring professionals and prominent coaches. Steve's students have been awarded in excess of $8 million in college scholarship money.
Since 2007, Whitney Kraft has been the director of tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., and director of player operations for the U.S. Open. Previously, he was director of tennis for the City of Fort Lauderdale Park & Recreation Department (1998-2007). He was a 1983 Singles All-American for Florida Atlantic University, and inducted into their inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame class in 2006. He is a National 10 & Under Trainer, a USPPTA Platform Tennis instructor, as well as a member of the National Cardio Tennis Speakers Team (2000-2007) and the USTA National Open Clay Court and Indoor Championships (1998-present).
Ed Krass coached the Harvard Women’s Tennis Team to four consecutive Ivy League titles from 1986-1990. Ed is the founder and director of the Annual College Tennis Exposure Camps, which are taught exclusively by all head college coaches for high school-aged players (15-18). Ed is also the founder of One-On-One Doubles tournaments, which have been played at USTA, ATP, ITA and USPTA national events.
Ben Marks is director of junior tennis at Carefree Racquet Club, and director of tennis at Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club. He previously worked at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, and was the Cold Spring Harbor Varsity Head Coach for three years, earning Nassau County Coach of the Year Honors in 2014. He played number one and number two singles for Norfolk State University, and number one doubles—reaching a career-high regional ranking of ninth in the Atlantic Region. He is a 2015 National Open Doubles Champion.
Danny McGuire is the assistant Academy director at JMTA’s Long Island Annex at Sportime Syosset. A native of Great Britain, Danny attended Tennessee Martin University, where he played number one singles and doubles, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2006 with a degree in sports management. He went on to earn his masters in physical education, with a concentration in coaching and sports leadership, from the University of Central Florida, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2009. Danny has worked at both the Winter Park Racquet Club in Orlando, and as a hitting partner and traveling coach for former ATP top 100 American Robert Kendrick. He joined Sportime/JMTA in 2012.
Andrei Rosianu is the owner and director of Max Tennis Academy. During the fall, winter and spring seasons, he offers a variety of comprehensive tennis programs at Jericho-Westbury Indoor Tennis. He also operates a full-service summer program. He started his career as a tennis player at the age of six, and continued to play competitive tennis throughout his junior years in Romania and Germany. With more than 22 years of instructional experience, his coaching technique has positioned students in world-class ITF competitions, as well as placement in top tier universities.
Butch Seewagen is owner of CATS—Children's Athletic Training School and Butch Seewagen Tennis Academy in Rockville Centre, N.Y. He is a former U.S. Amateur Champion, coach of Ivy League Champion Columbia University, and a former top 70 in the world. Having played the U.S. Open 13 times, Butch reached the semifinals in doubles and was among the last 32 in singles.
Jason Wass is a USPTA Professional Certified Instructor, with experience coaching all ages and levels. A graduate of the USTA High-Performance Player Development Program, Jay’s strengths lie in working with players in developmental stages of the game, building a player’s technique and strategy from the ground up. Jason’s versatility as a tennis coach is demonstrated by his list of students, ranging from total beginner to nationally-ranked. Named the 2010 USTA Long Island Tennis Professional of the Year, Jay is the director of tennis at Sportime Kings Park.
What do you feel is the best way to grow participation in the local area?
Ricky Becker: I think that clubs tend to put pros who need hours into the grassroots spots, rather than pros who are better able to engage the grassroots players. It's also important to get kids playing with friends of theirs because even though tennis is the greatest sport in the world, the individual aspect could turn a kid off.
David Brent: Knowing your market and catering towards it. With USTA support, local clubs can better teach tennis to adults and juniors. The better support the local clubs get from the USTA in the form of positive advertising and programming, the better participation will be.
Steven Kaplan: Numbers are not strong in the local area, especially in eastern Long Island. While this might be the natural ebb and flow of the business cycle, some positive steps can be taken to re-ignite interest in the sport. First, as teaching professionals, we need to shift the paradigm in thinking and recognize that we are educators. We must hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards, so that we don't just get players in the door, but keep them. Next, while the frequently heard notion that we need to all "work together" sounds nice, it's just not realistic. We can, however, work positively with innovative programs that are fun and affordable, both within the scope of what the USTA offers, as well as outside the box. Lastly, we need to support promising players based on income and ability to create opportunities that truly grow the game.
Danny McGuire: I believe that this is a two-pronged approach that begins with introducing young children to the sport of tennis in elementary schools. It must continue with making sure these boys and girls enter into a quality program that ensures progress through the stages of development and fosters the enhancement of specific skills. Events such as the Sportime World Tour, held several times a year, have become a celebratory experience where we can see the collective growth of the grassroots of our game.
How important are grassroots initiatives in local markets to growing tennis on a national level?
David Brent: Tennis professionals are very important in the grassroots initiative. The better the tennis pro, the more each student will grow. If a pro can connect with a student, that initial impression may determine whether the student is hooked on the sport for life. Support of the professionals from higher level management and understanding the needs of the customer by the pro is important in growing tennis on a national level.
Ben Marks: Grassroots initiatives in local markets will always be very important in growing tennis on a national level, simply because the more people we have playing tennis locally at young ages, the better chance we have of being successful at a national level. If kids can develop a love and passion for the game with their local communities, they will be lifelong participants in the sport, and we will eventually start to see results on the national level.
Jay Wass: I think it is extremely important, however there has to be some quality control along with it. This is not a case of “something is better than nothing,” rather, it is more “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” If we, as an industry, are not able to deliver a quality experience early in the tennis process, we are better off not offering one at all. Grassroots tennis events need to be planned, marketed and staffed properly, with trained professionals, otherwise, in my opinion, our efforts can backfire.
Does the U.S. need a top five player on the men’s side to grow the popularity of the sport? How close are we to getting that top player?
Carl Barnett: Today's men's top 20 is made up of four players from France and three from Spain, with 18 Europeans total. The women's top 20 includes three Americans. I don't believe tennis is any less popular because Serena is no longer number one. The expansion of tennis on TV is important to generate greater interest. The USTA tournament system is essential to our development. The fact that so many players from foreign countries gain scholarships in our colleges is what helps and hurts our development the most. It helps the level of competition, yet diminishes opportunity at schools strongest in higher level development. In terms of this developing top five players, the added density of high level competition is a bonus.
Whitney Kraft: It certainly never hurts when there are U.S. players at the top of the rankings. We’ve been fortunate in the past having had so many engaging personas from Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, the Bryan Brothers and others, and a new cadre of American players, including but not limited to Taylor Fritz, Francis Tiafoe, Tommy Paul and Dennis Kudla, all poised to make their mark on the game.
Danny McGuire: When I look at the current rankings, more than half of the top 20 players in the world are in their late 20s or early 30s, so there will be chances for younger players to insert themselves into the mix at the summit of our sport. The crop of players that really excites me is the young group of Americans ranked between 50 and 300, beginning with Taylor Fritz, currently ranked 58 in the world; and including Jared Donaldson, 98th in the world; Francis Tiafoe, 117th in the world; and others. In order for the popularity of the sport to grow, we would need this group of guys to enhance their play and dominate for years, pushing each other like in the 1990s and early 2000s, when Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang were at the top of the game, or in the 1970s and 1980s when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were at their peak.
Butch Seewagen: From a fan’s perspective, it is not that important. Like baseball, the tennis world of the fans is international. When I was growing up, my idols were Pancho Gonzales and Manolo Santana. However, to get media publicity for the game, a U.S. champion would be invaluable. I believe we certainly will have some top 10 players within five years.
What do you think the new USTA training facility in Orlando will bring to the American tennis landscape
Steven Kaplan: The new Orlando center is an amazing monument to tennis and could be money well spent, but definitely not best spent. I wrote a blog for Long Island Tennis Magazine’s Web site suggesting that the lofty funds spent on this new Center could do more if budgeted directly for the costs of training the next generation of American athletes. The limitation in American tennis is not the venues, but the opportunities for the best players to ascend in America by entrepreneurship. Shiny buildings are exciting to look at, but they don't create champions. Great players result from great training.
Whitney Kraft: Collaboration and opportunity. The blending of community tennis endeavors, with collegiate and player development creates a pathway and synergy that’s contagious. It’s a fabulous venue that will be utilized effectively.
What are the biggest positives and negatives about the current state of tennis on Long Island?
Ben Marks: I think there are lots of positives on Long Island at the moment. The quality of clubs and programming are definitely improving and giving players a great choice in the programs they offer. I have only been here four years, but I definitely see improvements each year with new pro staff, new programs and new initiatives from all of our clubs to try and help our players as much as possible. In terms of the negatives that I have seen, I think we are not seeing great participation in our lower level tournaments. I have had numerous players playing tournaments, with only two or three kids in it. Match practice and playing different people in different environments are a key part of a player’s growth which they are missing out on if they play only one match in a tournament due to a lack of numbers.
Andrei Rosianu: In the last 10 years, tennis clubs in the Long Island area have been replenishing their workforce with more experienced and qualified tennis coaches. This is enabling the clubs and academies to create new and exciting programs for kids and adults. These programs are turning Long Island juniors into a competitive force moving forward. However, underprivileged children still do not have easy access to affordable tennis programs created by communities and schools.
Is there a difference between coaching boys and girls? If so, what are those differences?
Carl Barnett: Boys need and want to be pushed. You should know where their buttons are, but don't go overboard. The need for "less is more" is common. Girls are more mindful and present in practice. With girls, confirm often when finding new techniques, and only raise your voice in praise. Girls are no doubt some of my toughest players, but an even voice providing lots of support to their efforts is what I have found works best.
Ricky Becker: A huge difference! Girls want a friend, as well as a coach. They need someone who they like and respect. Girls don't react well to yelling, whereas boys do not need to like their coach as much and just have to respect them. Boys take criticism much better and you can undoubtedly be tougher with them.
Ed Krass: I think it is a good idea to tell girls a few things they are doing well, before telling them what they are doing "wrong.” This may hold true with some boys, as well. I have found the direct approach works better with the boys, but not all the time. Each person is different, so your approach to coaching men and women should differ a bit. The women should both like their coach and respect their coach. The men need to respect their coach and can actually not like their coach, yet still produce winning results. I've seen plenty of this type of scenario over the years!
What is the one thing you hope all of your students learn from you?
Carl Barnett: I hope my players learn focus and grit from me. Teaching is not just “teaching” tennis. Developing juniors is really cross-training for life. The ability to focus on and maintain a passion for growth in a pursuit over a long period of time is what I am trying to share.
David Brent: I want all of my students to understand the importance of mutually respecting others playing the game. That includes opponents, partners and others on the courts around you. There is more to winning than just the final score. If you learn to respect the game, then tennis will be a rewarding part of your life, no matter your age.
Ed Krass: I hope all of my students learn that is it most important to be a good person, besides being good at tennis. This means being respectful of others, caring for others and always be a good listener. Learn how to become a truthful, sincere person and you will go a long way in life! Have a passion to achieve, but refrain from the temptations of cheating and taking short-cuts!
Jay Wass: I hope my players all learn accountability. Even with younger players, I try to give students expectations, goals and tasks. It can begin with little things, like packing and carrying their own equipment … things that they need to learn to do for themselves. Far too often, I see kids relying on parents, teachers and instructors to give them answers. I'd prefer they figure things out on their own.
What mental traits set a top player apart from others?
Danny McGuire: Every great player has a certain amount of raw, natural talent that makes them special, and this is something that certain athletes are born with. I think these four things set the very best tennis players apart from the pack: Drive, Determination, Discipline and Self-Confidence. Being driven takes internal motivation and means never being satisfied with attaining one goal, and always pushing forward to the next goal. I believe discipline is necessary in regards to following a strict diet and lifestyle to be in peak physical condition. The determination to never give up, no matter the cost and the ability to take a loss and bounce right back, is important to becoming a great player. Self-confidence is the most important trait, and the knowledge that you are a winner is essential to fulfilling potential.
Andrei Rosianu: The most critical mental trait that sets apart the top players from others is their ability to cope with momentary defeat. In other words, how they handle losing a point, game or set. These top athletes have an overwhelming aptitude to regroup and sustain the same high level of intensity, even after a loss. They are able to accept an error, overcome and regain their confidence between each and every point. They have an incredible sense of resilience during their game play.
Butch Seewagen: Determination and a never-quit attitude are two traits that set players apart from the rest of the pack.
How important is specific doubles training and playing doubles tournaments for a junior player?
Carl Barnett: Doubles helps complete players who, by and large, are baseliners these days. It causes players to master the middle court moving forward, and have competent volleys and overheads. Doubles play fosters partnerships and rivalries, which is great for juniors who tend to be way too isolated as singles-only players and you can also gain points for your ranking. Doubles is also vital to team success at the high school and collegiate level. My girls team at Lutheran last year was 9-2, with singles going 16-17, while doubles were 19-3. College doubles is played by the top players, unlike high school. So if you are number five or six on the depth chart and don't play doubles well, you may be replaced by someone who is strong in both.
Ed Krass: Specific doubles training is very important to prepare for college tennis. For any serious college-bound player, I suggest to play a few sets of One-On-One Doubles to ensure the development of the serve and volley game for your half of the court. Develop and strengthen the mid-court volleys, quick volleys and net game for doubles.
Who is the greatest male and female tennis player of all-time?
Ricky Becker: I think the greatest male player of all-time has got to be Roger Federer. On the women's side. I would go with the great Margaret Court as being the best for her era, although with today's athleticism and technology, it would be hard to think that Serena wouldn't beat her.
Andrei Rosianu: In my opinion, Roger Federer and Serena Williams are the greatest male and female players of all-time. While there are many close seconds, these athletes have unmatched talent and longevity in their career. Their sheer strength, talent and flawless technique earns them this top distinction in tennis history.
Butch Seewagen: From the older era, I think the best male player was Pancho Gonzales, and Roger Federer in the newer era. On the female side, I would have to say Steffi Graff. She had an error-free backhand, huge forehand, a big serve, and was the best mover of her era.
In looking at the tournament participation numbers, it appears that the greater metropolitan area has been reluctant to embrace 10 & Under tennis. Why do you think this is so?
Steven Kaplan: The local area has not embraced 10 & Under tennis. The facts here are not in dispute, it's the interpretation of this fact that has been contended. Consider that, as a whole, the area is highly educated, well-informed and independent. New Yorkers don't like to be told what to do and how to do it, and the 10 & Under system provides few format alternatives to tournament participation, so many are dropping out of the sport entirely. Conclusive research evidence for the value of the 10 & Under format needs to be undertaken to assess it as a best practice.
Ben Marks: Ten & Under Tennis is great thing where the U.S. is years behind other countries in implementing. I think some of the reluctance to embrace it are the restrictions placed on it. Many kids and coaches feel like they are being forced to use it and are not able to use their own professional judgment and personal experience in terms of choosing which level of U10 tennis is best for their own students. I don’t think anybody can ignore the benefits of the smaller court and low compression balls, but the speed at which the child progresses through has to be down to the coach/coaches who are working directly with the player.
Whitney Kraft: New concepts for U10 play. Patience at the ROGY levels (Red, Orange, Green & Yellow Levels) will yield greater competency and upside potential long-term. Tournament numbers shouldn’t be the bellwether stat anyway as friendly competitions for 10U are built into most programs. The emphasis is better placed on fun, play and intrinsic motivation to continue, whereby effort and good sportsmanship are to be rewarded.
Jay Wass: I think everyone is to blame: Me, you, coaches, parents and the USTA. We all need to do a better job of getting the word out, understanding why the 10 & Under pathway is important, how it works and how it benefits the participants. Having embraced 10 & Under tennis for a long time now, I see the positives, and I've seen players benefit tremendously. I believe the current system offers the best of both worlds. For those just beginning the tournament process, there is a defined starting point, followed by advancement based on performance. This will allow players who ‘earn’ the opportunity to play against older/stronger players to compete “up,” while eliminating the guesswork for players and parents who simply are unsure of where to begin or where to go from here. For ultimate success, I think the more we can work together and create fantastic competitive experiences for players through 10 & Under tournaments, Junior Team Tennis and club events, the better for everyone.
What would you like to see Long Island Tennis Magazine do to help improve local tennis?
Steven Kaplan: Long Island Tennis Magazine and New York Tennis Magazine are the single most important agents for change and vehicles for the promotion of tennis in the local area. These publications have enlightened self-interest for clubs, school instructors, players, fans and the Section to support these publications with advertising, content and participation. The local area needs these publications to prosper for tennis to improve in the local area.
Whitney Kraft: These magazines shed light and tell stories on all of the terrific community tennis organizations. Significant work is being done by selfless citizens for non-profit tennis organizations in the metro area that, by sharing their stories, folks will be more inclined to assist with the mission of growing the game, with RCTA, Parks Foundation, NYKATA, CATS, Polonia, NYJTL, Nippon and our own PACES school program to name a few.
Danny McGuire: I would love to see Long Island Tennis Magazine focus a little more on U10 tournaments and feature interviews or player profiles on the winners of local tournaments. This will encourage the younger players by showing them that their efforts are being publicized, while also keeping them hungry for more success and keeping their passion for the game alive.