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 health and fitness of today’s athletes, 10 & Under Tennis, the role of the parent, the current state of the Long Island tennis scene, and much more.
This was the 16th season of Carl Barnett's Early Hit Training Center. 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.
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.
Richard Bowie is the Associate Director of Tennis at Christopher Morley. He is a USTA High Performance Certified Coach and a former member of the Temple University Men’s Tennis Team. He has coached Dustin Brown at ATP events, including the U.S. Open. He has traditionally coached in the Metro Region, but is now coaching on Long Island.
Vinicius Carmo is Tennis Director of The Ross School Tennis Academy and Coach of the Boy’s and Girl’s Varsity Tennis Teams. As a player, Vinicius was ranked among the top five junior players in Brazil and played several international junior tennis tournaments. He attended the University of Tennessee for four years on a full scholarship.
Born in Chappaqua, N.Y., Lisa Dodson is a 40-year teaching professional and former world ranked player. Having spent 20 years in Northern California, Lisa returned home to Mt. Kisco, New York in 2013. Lisa is now the seasonal Director of Tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y., and professional at The Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. Lisa is a former WTA player with a world ranking of 270th in singles. She played basketball and tennis for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1979 with a BA in Political Science. Lisa also competed on the Eastern United States Volleyball travel team and went to Olympic basketball trials while at Horace Greeley. She has held sectional rankings in women's singles and doubles in the Eastern, Florida and Northern California Sections and has been a USTA Nor Cal 35s, 40s and 45s sectional team player.
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.
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.
Greg Lumpkin is the Associate Director for JMTA Long Island. A native Long Islander, Greg attended Hofstra University where he earned a spot on the varsity tennis team as a walk-on. He also spent time working under a world-renowned physical therapist from whom he learned about injury prevention, treatment and management, as well as kinesiology and biomechanics. He is also an expert in slow motion video analysis and has used it successfully in the development of top juniors throughout his coaching career.
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.
David Nisenson, Director of Junior Development at Point Set Tennis, brings energy and excitement to the program. With more than 25 years of playing and coaching experience and an unmatched competitiveness, David has quickly become one of the driving forces behind Point Set’s Junior Development Program.
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.
Kat Sorokko is the Director of Player Development/Tournament Director at Sportime Syosset. She is a former top national junior player out of Queens, and would go on to play four years at Brown University, graduating with a BA in organizational behavior before getting her master’s degree in sport management from Columbia University. She has previously worked at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Gotham Tennis and NYJTL. She joined Sportime/JMTA in 2013.
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.
Todd Widom is a former Top 200 ATP Professional in both singles and doubles, and Owner of TW Tennis, South Florida’s top small group/private tennis training geared exclusively for the high-performance junior, collegiate or professional tennis player.
What is the most effective type of fitness regimen for tennis players?
Carl Barnett: Many of my students are training twice a week. We focus on core, strength and flexibility. Lastly, speed and agility off the court and extended point play on the court for endurance are areas we focus on.
Ben Marks: This definitely depends on the age and the physical development of the player. At a young age, I strongly encourage playing a variety of sports to develop all around coordination and athleticism. Introducing footwork drills and tennis-related movements in a fun environment can help our young tennis players begin to accelerate their on-court movement and fitness, and give them a great base to work from. As players become more physically advanced and develop a combination of gym work (strength training, stabilization work, flexibility work), on-court footwork drills and speed training, injury prevention work is very effective. Pro players are all very strong and stable in their lower bodies and core, and have very strong, lean and flexible upper bodies. Roger Federer has made comments how every morning, he starts with 30 minutes of stretching before he does anything else. This could be one of many reasons why he has managed to avoid some of the injuries that have plagued other top players through the years.
Kat Sorokko: I think the most effective type of fitness regimen is any workout that works on your fast twitch muscles and footwork. My personal favorite, which has become very popular on the WTA Tour, is boxing. You also cannot forget about the classics, like jump-rope and medicine ball for your core and technique.
Ricky Becker: I've been pretty public about this. I am very against the whole progression/low compression ball/small court process. After I wrote an article against 10U Tennis, the USTA was kind enough to invite me up to their offices in Westchester to have lunch discussing it. We basically agreed to disagree. What I commonly hear is that children don't want to get stuck in the progression and they either wait until 11-years-old to play tournaments or don't play tournaments at all. The most invested kids will play through it just so they can get to 12s, but the others shy away it seems.
Butch Seewagen: I think 10U Tennis is progressing at an impressive rate. With shorter courts, slower balls and age-appropriate rackets, more children can play this difficult sport. With their success comes further enjoyment and a desire to continue playing tennis. From what I see, there is less resistance from coaches to use the slower balls and better support to get even younger students playing. With a larger base of players, we will eventually increase the number of players reaching the higher levels in the sport.
Jason Wass: 10U Tennis is better than ever, mainly because coaches and parents are now more educated on the process. The implementation of the USTA's Youth Progression Pathway has really helped people who are just starting to compete, and the 10U progressions fit nicely within this system. I think it is a positive for juniors as they can play tennis that fits their size right away. I've seen more players staying involved in the sport, and ultimately, that is what matters. If they no longer want to continue in our sport, that's a bigger problem.
Do you feel more is learned from wins or from losses?
David Nisenson: I think there is an argument for both. Reflecting after a loss can force a player to look within and learn from their mistakes. Every player has to recognize that there is little success without first experiencing failure. On the flip side, recognizing what was successful during a match can prove to be an invaluable lesson in the future.
Jason Wass: Players learn every time they get the chance to compete. Of course, as much as everyone wants to win, they can often learn a ton by failing.
Steve Kaplan: The goal of a coach is to help each player develop to be the very best they can be. Here are some simple assessments that parents can focus on to evaluate if their child is on the path to actualization. With the help of a coach, the player: Enjoys tennis as both a physical activity and as a learning opportunity; Integrates off-court abilities and experiences to on-the-court play; Is motivated and confident in their ability to improve in tennis through hard work and perseverance; Recognizes their unique path to ultimate tennis success; Develops and plays a style of game that is consistent with their personality traits; Develops and plays a style of game that is synergistic with their physical attributes; Has a strong student-mentor coaching bond based on mutual respect and open communication; Is emotionally grounded, humble, ambitious and undaunted by failure; Is intellectually curious, and as a result, is hungry to improve their skills, tactics and fitness protocols; and Is physically, mentally and emotionally resilient, and injury resistant.
Greg Lumpkin: There is much gray area when talking about maximizing a player’s potential. The key is to find a coach who cares about your child. A good teaching pro will give you a great one-hour lesson, but a coach will adapt to the player's personality and learning style. A coach will go the extra mile. He or she will attend local tournaments, help create a tournament schedule, have a development plan, communicate with parents, and be involved in anything else related to the tennis.
Ben Marks: This is a very tough question to answer. I don't think a parent will ever know if that is the case or not. Did Rafa know that his Uncle Tony Nadal was getting "the most" out of his ability? Will we ever know? All we know is they worked extremely well together and Rafa has become one of the all-time greats. A parent should look for the following things from their coach: The ability to ensure their child enjoys the game, works hard and every time their child leaves the court, they have learned and improved upon something that day. If a player can improve some aspect of their game every time they step on the court, no matter how small, week by week and year by year, they will see dramatic results.
Todd Widom: The child should feel like they are being challenged when they are in a training session. The junior player should feel and see that they are improving certain aspects of their game that is going to help them achieve their goals. Lastly, there is TennisRecruiting.net and Universal Tennis Rating which are excellent tools to see if your child is progressing in terms of their tennis tournament results. Results never lie.
What is a parent’s role in their child’s training? What are some common mistakes you see from parents?
Carl Barnett: The most important role of a parent is to provide emotional support … watch, encourage and minimize stress. Organize, drive and never resent their child's tennis. Common errors are feeling compelled to be the coach. Your emotional support will resonate better when you’re not breaking down and criticizing your child’s game. Lastly, often a parent's zeal for the game will leave your child feeling it's more important to you. This rarely ends well.
Ricky Becker: The parental role is a huge one. They need to be as invested as the child with not just money, but time. They should know the USTA points system, what it takes to get into different tournaments and be on top of scheduling. Kids need to be independent for sure, but parents should almost be a consultant in these areas. I think parents should provide feedback to the coach on what they see when the coach is not there but should not interfere during the lesson. Also parents should be proactive about coaches and clubs to help with getting them started into tournaments. Don't assume the club will come to you!
Lisa Dodson: Initially, find a good, reputable coach who will provide structure while having fun. If a child wants to take it further, provide regular instruction (as appropriate). The parent simply supports the child in their endeavor with structure, encouragement and organization. Parents show interest, but don’t coach and micro-manage, constantly ask how their lesson was or if they won a practice match. This is what should happen at all levels of play.
How do you prepare a junior player to be mentally tougher on the court?
Richard Bowie: I try to instill a competitive mindset in my players during open practices. Survival is an innate quality I try to bring out of the player in sessions, to translate in competition. Great competitors tend to turn on the focus at key moments and handle the mental pressures and stress better.
Vinicius Carmo: The preparation comes from daily habits that coaches implement in the routine of training such as: Determination and being goal-focused, sticking with the plan under pressure and always striving for the goals; Toughness in embracing challenges and going all in with everything we have; Resiliency and the ability to bounce back when struggling; Engagement and immersing at the moment; Confidence in believing in themselves; and Happiness in doing what they love and enjoying every moment.
Lisa Dodson: Encourage them how to be well-rounded, self-sufficient and sure of their ability to produce dependable strokes. Then, they can concentrate on how to form and change strategy. A shaky stroke is always somewhere in the back of a player’s mind and ready to become a negative factor when the going gets tough. If any player has a firm confidence in their technical ability, then they will naturally have a path to become mentally more secure.
Butch Seewagen: To compete more effectively, I tell students what my coach, Sammy Giammalva from Rice University, told me: “It’s easier to find an excuse to lose (checking out) than to find an excuse to win (checking in).” I think that if a player focuses on competing until the end and keeping the focus on execution and smart tactics, winning will take care of itself.
How would you describe the current state of tennis on Long Island? What are the pros and cons?
Ricky Becker: The fabric has really changed a lot with clubs getting more aggressive in recruiting players and coaches from other clubs. I think this is both positive and negative. Firstly, on the positive side, it seems like in the battle to get good players, clubs are giving away more things for free like tournament travel expenses and groups that a lot of the same level of players weren't getting in the past, so for the players, that's great! On the negative side, it does harbor a negative spirit between the clubs and can come off as not very classy.
Steve Kaplan: As tennis is strongly ingrained in culture, the quality of facilities, programs, coaches and players is at a very high level and that is the biggest "pro" of tennis in this area. We have great resources to further and grow the game. This same question, when asked in this publication previously, was used by some respondents as an opportunity for competitive self-promotion, rather than reflection and that, in many ways, characterizes the biggest "con" of tennis in the local area. When we focus on the quality of the services we deliver and how we are unique, rather than on attempting to convince the market that WE are the only club, program or person qualified, the fragmentation and hard sell that turns many people away from the sport and harms us all will lessen. I don't expect that we will all work together anytime soon, but I hope we all share the same common goal to ascend the sport.
Ben Marks: I think there are a lot of options out there now in terms of clubs and programs for players to participate in which is a great thing. Competition will always raise the bar for players and clubs alike. I still would like to see more participation at lower and younger levels of the game. Tournaments are a great way to really see what works and what needs to improve. Too many players and parents put a strong emphasis on results, so maybe don't play as many matches as they should as they don't feel ready to win. Players shouldn't be afraid to play a tournament and lose, as long as it is approached with the right attitude. My players who play tournaments will always go on with a goal and something that they need to focus on during their matches. At the younger ages, playing "the right way" (for your game) is more important than wins and losses. In the long run, these players will blow past the players focused solely on winning.
Jason Wass: Long Island has an amazing group of people involved in the game. Long Island Tennis Magazine brings a ton of awareness and exposure to the sport that other areas don’t have. I believe we need to embrace more opportunities to get players started in the game at a younger age. Ideally, we as coaches can find ways to work with schools to offer more play within their current curriculum.
Carl Barnett: Tennis is an individual technique sport. When players at one stage of competition experience less than their opponents in tournament play, it will take that whole stage at least to catch up. A player who starts tournaments in the 12s is already at a disadvantage. Focus and commitment must start early for a tournament player and cannot be in seasonal increments.
Vinicius Carmo: I do believe that it is beneficial, but it should not take time away from tennis practices. Coaches today should also implement other physical exercises that will supplement tennis players. The fitness could be playing soccer, baseball or playing flag football. Tennis today is different than 10 or 20 years ago, as today, it is much more competitive and physical.
Ed Krass: I think it is important that our young tennis players get exposed to playing at least one other sport in their formative years, ages 10-13. I know that I played flag football, JV basketball and Little League baseball, leading up to playing tennis full-time at the age of 14 going forward. I do think that the athletic skills one develops playing other sports can help transfer over to tennis. However, with tournament tennis being such a demanding and technical game, one should think about "specializing" in the sport at around the ages of 13 or 14, as the quantity of time invested will often dictate the type of quality results a junior player will receive.
Kat Sorokko: I think it is crucial for kids to play multiple sports growing up. Playing a sport improves your overall athleticism. From my own personal experience, playing soccer and running cross-country really helped me in my development as a tennis player. Additionally, my 16-year-old sister who has had great success nationally and is now with the ITF, has been horseback riding since she was a toddler. I credit her calmness and mental toughness on the tennis court to her ability to control a horse and not panic.
Do you think top juniors should play for their high school varsity teams?
Richard Bowie: I think playing varsity is a great experience for top players, as it helps with life skills and introduces the team element that many will be exposed to in college. Some of my best juniors have found success playing in Nassau County Championships and value that experience dearly.
Greg Lumpkin: At JMTA, we encourage our top juniors to play for their high school teams as long as the high school coach is flexible and understanding about the schedule. We work with athletic directors and coaches to ensure the player’s training and tournament schedule stay on the right track. High school tennis is a great team and social experience, so we don’t want to take that away from a player who has that opportunity and the ability to balance academics and family life with the demands of the tennis schedule.
Ben Marks: This is a question without a straightforward answer. It comes down to the individual and their high school coach finding a balance between the two. I coached the Cold Spring Harbor Boys Varsity Team for three years. I was fortunate that I was able to coach players who have reached the top 100 in their age groups in the country and have gone on to play DI college tennis, yet still wanted to represent our team. I believe that playing in these high pressure matches was fantastic for their development as players and future college athletes. I believe, however, that high performance players cannot give up their individual tennis completely during the high school season, like many coaches require, without causing harm to their games and without bad habits creeping in. All of the players on my team were given the option to attend one or two private lessons/groups during the week instead of coming to every high school practice. This was a great compromise for all of our players, and the only way high school tennis can still attract the best juniors in the country. High school tennis provides huge benefits, including playing under pressure, playing as part of team, dealing with many unusual conditions, etc., but it cannot provide our juniors with the technical help and structure that they need to continue their development like our academies and clubs can.
David Nisenson: I strongly believe the camaraderie and relationships built through team sports is a great thing, especially for an individual sport like tennis. However, the reality is, a tournament player typically stands alone on the team with little competition, and less meaningful practice time. With the increase trend in home-schooling student athletes, I think we will see less and less players on varsity teams.
Richard Bowie: I think we are doing a great job here with our players in New York. At Christopher Morley, we have arguably one of the best 16 & Under boys in the country and another who earned bronze in last year’s B14s Junior Orange Bowl. There is a reason behind the USTA Eastern Section getting a lot of National Junior Endorsement spots, as we have proven to produce high-quality juniors that get results.
Vinicius Carmo: The Eastern Section is one of the strongest Sections in the country. There is enough competition and we have good academies with schools in the Eastern Section. The academy schools, in general, are also better up north. I don't advise anyone to leave home and their parents at an early age if you can find a good tennis academy and school close by. Of course, if you don't have a good school or academy around, you have to leave and find what fits the best. Also, people say all of the time that the weather is better for tennis in Florida. Do you know how many days of practice you miss because of rain? Also, your practice is much shorter when dealing with humidity and warmer temperatures.
Kat Sorokko: Stay close to your family and train full-time in New York! There are many amazing academies right here in the Tri-State area. In fact, that is one of the main reasons I joined John McEnroe Tennis Academy and have been there for five years. JMTA offers the same high-intensity training and high level of players as the top academies in Florida and California. I think the idea of going to warmer weather to train is outdated. Nowadays, you are seeing the top players coming from the East Coast, and even our own Eastern Section. I think that the talented and devoted coaches we have here in the Northeastern United States is a big reason you are seeing such success from our players.
What effect do you think the recent success of the American women at the U.S. Open will have on American tennis?
Lisa Dodson: Hopefully, this success will inspire more coaches to teach women a varied and effective game, rather than just standing them on the baseline to see who can hit better groundstrokes. The rest of the world has been working on this for ages. The current top women are serving more effectively and have more variety, along with power and speed from the baseline. They are being encouraged to use their athleticism, speed and smarts to play a more well-rounded game. As it should be.
Ed Krass: The recent success of our American women at the U.S. Open was very inspiring to see! I think that these amazing results show our American women (and men) that if a player has great motivation, talent and opportunity, that the sky could be the limit! Any time an American player wins a Grand Slam, it’s reassuring to know that our country's top players are truly the best in the world!
David Nisenson: I think it will have a huge positive effect. I thought the all-American semifinals were extremely exciting for U.S. tennis. I expect that watching those four American women have such success will continue to groom the sport in this country.
Butch Seewagen: I think the success of American women can only help motivate many young players to be just like them. Every youngster has someone they look up to for inspiration. A surplus of great American women tennis stars can only excite many more to be great, as well.
Steve Kaplan: Let's face it … initiatives have come and gone, and most have failed. I hope Net Generation is able to unify the tennis brand in a comprehensive and user-friendly approach to appeal to the next generation of tennis participants. It's a clever name and an ambitious marketing idea, but its success will be the result of execution and support given to this program. Many previous attempts at unifying and promoting the brand have been stalled by an overly bureaucratic and disconnected program rollout. I hope that this program will avoid pitfalls like a narrow and unrealistic agenda, as well as an unwillingness to adapt that were some of the causes of previously-failed initiatives.
Jason Wass: Anything that the USTA can do to get kids playing and having "Great Tennis Experiences" is a plus, I thought the presence at the U.S. Open was great, and any opportunities to make tennis the "place to be" would be great. I believe the schools portion of the program is one of the most important areas of impact. From what I've seen, the USTA is making a significant investment in these areas.
Todd Widom: The Net Generation Initiative sounds like a great way to bring young tennis players of all skill levels together to promote a healthy competitive environment. This program may be able to mold some great kids in the New York area into tennis players who may have otherwise not had these resources. I would love to see more young kids playing tennis and continue to play tennis throughout their junior tennis career and on into college.
What are some tips to help a high-level player secure a college scholarship?
Ricky Becker: For starters ... win matches and have a high TennisRecruiting.net, ITF or UTR ranking. That's the number that everything gets built around. After that, be proactive in contacting schools that you know, and if they want you to play a tournament or go to a showcase, do it! The other thing is don't put all of your eggs into one school's basket. Even if you are dead set on going somewhere, approach it like you want to secure scholarships at other schools because if the school you want doesn't work out, you are starting from square one and someone else may have taken your scholarship already!
Steve Kaplan: The road to a college tennis scholarship is best traveled by demonstrating the value that you bring to a school. While this is primarily demonstrated by playing ability and ranking, there are attributes that go beyond the numbers and some are briefly listed below: Establish a long, strong record of tournament participation, success and achievement; Display athleticism and versatility as a singles and doubles player; Tend to your health and well-being with a record and emphasis on being illness- and injury-resistant, fit and well-conditioned; Achieve a record of academic participation, success, achievement and improvement; Recognize the value of team and community orientation with an emphasis on using your abilities to help others; Have personal integrity and a reputation for competitive, as well as, fair play; Demonstrate personal independence as well as self-responsibility; Show a desire to improve and grow so that coaches feel you will improve and inspire others, rather than merely using your tennis to leverage admission and money.
Ed Krass: For a high-level junior player to secure a college tennis scholarship, they must be tremendously dedicated to achieve at the highest level. The topics of setting goals, creating your vision, making a game plan for achievement, alongside getting exposure to top college coaches will all help in a player's goal to receiving a college tennis scholarship.
Greg Lumpkin: TennisRecruiting.net and Universal Tennis Ratings play a major role in getting scholarships, so it’s very important to play a good tournament schedule. Players will want to be playing strong competitive tennis, while still winning at about a 2:1 ratio. College showcases, recruiting combines, and DVDs are great way to get on a coach’s radar as well. Communication is key. Do not be afraid to reach out to schools you and your child are interested in.
Todd Widom: The best tip I can tell you is to peak and play your best tennis when you are 16- to 18-years-old. To do this, you and your coach need to be organized about the development process, make sure you are playing in the correct tournaments, and perform well at those tournaments. Of course, make sure to do well in the classroom as well.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 print edition of Long Island Tennis Magazine.