This story first appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine. Click Here to see the full issue.
The local tennis community has some of the sport’s finest facilities and some of the top coaches in the world. With this wealth of talent available, Long Island Tennis Magazine took the opportunity to pick the brains of some of these coaches. What you will find below are some of the sport’s top instructors sharing their ideas on the return of the New York Open to the area, the parent’s role in junior development, cheating in the sport, in-match coaching, and much more.
Meet the participants …
This year marked the 17th season of Carl Barnett's Early Hit Training Center. Early Hit Training Center 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.
Lisa Dodson is the Developer and Owner of Servemaster, a USPTA Elite Professional and a former WTA world-ranked player. She is also a national speaker, serve specialist, and is currently the Director of Tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y.
John Evert is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Evert Tennis Academy. John has developed and managed top junior, collegiate and professional players for over 35 years. Prior to establishing the Evert Tennis Academy, John was the Vice President of IMG’s Tennis Division where he served as an agent for recruiting and developing tennis talent. At the Evert Tennis Academy, John has coached and developed players such as Andy Roddick and Madison Keys and numerous other professional players, as well as many National and NCAA Champions. John has been a consultant for the USTA, Chinese Tennis Association and works closely with coaches and Federations located in Central America and the Bahamas. John also advises Lacoste, Wilson and Nike on their junior sponsorship programs.
Laurie Tenney Fehrs has been the Director of Tennis and Head Professional at Eastern Athletic Club for the past 35 years. A former National 18U Doubles Champion, she began her successful career on the professional tour when she was 17 and would go on to compete in six Wimbledon Championships and seven U.S. Opens.
Michael Fehrs grew up on Long Island in a tennis-playing family, and currently serves as the Head Pro at Eastern Athletic Club and Tam O’Shanter Country Club. He is a former New York State Doubles Champion from Huntington High School, and played Division I collegiate tennis at the University of Delaware.
Geoffrey Jagdfeld is the USPTA Eastern President and currently Tennis Director of Solaris Sports Clubs. He is a USPTA Elite Professional and USTA High Performance Coach who serves as USTA Junior Team Tennis League Coordinator for Westchester. He is the Head Coach of the Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams at St. John Fisher College, and played collegiate tennis at Michigan State University.
Jay Kang is currently a Senior Staff Professional for New York Tennis at Great Neck, where he works with Junior Development and High Performance Players. Jay has taught more than 400 students during his 19 years as a teaching professional, and was a former nationally-ranked junior and Division I collegiate player. Jay has a passion for junior development on and off the court, and believes there are no shortcuts in teaching students—both instructors and students must commit to the craft equally to be successful.
Steve Kaplan is the Owner and Managing Director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as the Director of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and Executive Director and Founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,000 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals, many of whom have become prominent tennis coaches themselves. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA.
Dmytro Kovalevych is a USPTA-Certified Professional currently working at Christopher Morley Tennis. He is a graduate of South Carolina State University where he played Division I tennis, and recently was named the Men’s Open Player of the Year on Long Island.
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.
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.
David Nisenson is the Director of Junior Development at Point Set Tennis. 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.
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.
What positive impact have you seen from USTA’s Net Generation initiative?
Ben Marks: Net Generation, although very new and fresh, has been extremely visible throughout Long Island at tournaments like the U.S. Open and the New York Open, giving kids amazing opportunities to be a part of some fantastic events. Talking to our kids after they had the chance to participate in these on-court demo days, there has been nothing but amazing feedback. Parents are telling me they are at home watching every match, glued to the TV after attending the events. I think it has really helped the younger players form more of a connection to tennis, which can only be a positive moving forward.
Steve Kaplan: I know that the Net Generation is an initiative to get new players interested in tennis, but I was a little unsure about "exactly what does it do for tennis." I ask many colleagues and club members and no one could answer clearly, so I consulted the USTA site. It said, "Net Generation is a celebration of a game where no one sits on the sidelines. Tennis is easy to learn and tailored for all ages and abilities, giving kids a game that will help them build friendships and learn skills they'll use for life." So I guess that clears that up. Net Generation is a clever marketing pun that needs to provide clarity to grow the game.
Jason Wass: The biggest WOW has been the play opportunities at the U.S. Open and other tournaments throughout the country giving young tennis players a chance to play on the same courts as the pros, and in some cases, getting a chance to meet their heroes. Additionally, Net Gen has done a nice job of bringing all the various USTA resources together in one place—Schools programs, JTT, marketing, etc.
What do you think the New York Open, now in its second year, can do for growing the sport of tennis on Long Island?
Ricky Becker: My experience from last year was that it was difficult to get people to break their weekly routine to go to the tournament, but the ones who did really enjoyed it and wanted to go again. I know corporate support is what the tournament needs most, but most of the people I saw at the tournament last year were casual tennis fans and not those junior tournament players where tennis is a large part of their lives. Maybe a high-performance "New York Open" Junior Clinic can help both local tennis and the tournament.
Steve Kaplan: The New York Open deserves the support of the local tennis community. However, the sad reality of this event is that its failure to attract fans remains a mystery. While Madison Square Garden fills the stands for celebrity tennis exhibitions, the New York Open gives savvy, local fans an up-close and economical chance to see some of the best players in the world and yet, the turnout was disappointing. The best, and most popular part of the New York Open was the New York Tennis Expo, and this event has and will continue to grow the sport.
Whitney Kraft: The talented folks behind this event are already doing yeoman's work by connecting to the communities and organizations around the Tri-State area. They have many innovative ideas and activations planned to create positive action and experiences around the event within and around NYCB LIVE. All this is a win-win for both the New York Open and tennis on Long Island and New York, as it brings people together playing, spectating and socializing.
Ben Marks: The New York Open is going to help in a very similar way to what Net Generation has done … create more excitement and more access to tennis for our kids. Being able to go and be a part of amazing tournaments such as the New York Open can be a deciding factor when kids are choosing whether to continue playing tennis or not. The energy and excitement when our kids knew that they were attending a pro tournament and seeing some of the best players in the world was incredible.
Jason Wass: I think it is important that everyone gets exposed to the NY Open in one way or another. Being able to experience the highest level of tennis, up close and right in our own backyard, is a remarkable opportunity to get patrons excited about the game.
What role does the parent play in their child’s tennis training? What are some common mistakes you see from parents?
John Evert: First, I would like to emphasize that parents are critical in the early stages of a player’s development. Second, the player’s motivation always has to trump the parent’s motivation. For 35-plus years, I have seen family dynamics that I thought were great and others that were not so great. There is no perfect formula other than remembering to be a parent first. At the Evert Tennis Academy, we are very parent-friendly and consider parents a big part of the team.
Dmytro Kovalevych: I believe that parents should fulfill the role of positive supporters for their child. Becoming a tennis player is a long journey, and parents should be supportive and patient to make their child's training enjoyable. A common mistake for many parents is their emphasis on winning. Another mistake that parents make is discussing the financial commitment with their child. Both, talking to the child about how expensive tennis is and placing an emphasis on winning could create more mental pressure and make the player nervous.
Ed Krass: The biggest role a parent has is to be mentally, emotionally and hopefully financially supportive of their child's tennis goals and dreams. Making yourself available to drive to tournaments and watch without interfering is the great balance that is sought after! The biggest mistake is when a parent wants to coach and/or teach their child anything about tennis before, during or immediately after the tournament or practice session. No matter how great a parent's tennis background or lack thereof, most kids appreciate another different voice when it comes to tennis coaching. Love, respect and logistics-planning should be the parent’s primary objectives when raising their tennis-playing child.
Kat Sorokko: Without a doubt, parents play the most important role in the child’s development in tennis. Throughout a child’s early development and young adulthood pathway, they will most likely encounter numerous coaches, tennis clubs and academies. It is the parent’s responsibility, especially at a young age to find the right coach and system for their child which will motivate them, teach them and most importantly, make them love the sport. A common mistake I see in parents is them trying to find that silver bullet and the new coach in town. I think it is important for parents not to compare their child’s development with someone else’s and find a coach who works well with their child.
Laurie Tenney Fehrs: A parent’s role in their child's tennis training is important in so many ways. Making the sport accessible to a child in a way that they will see success immediately when they make contact with the ball. Offering them a tennis coach they can connect with so they will want to keep going. They must always be encouraging to their child and careful not to set them up in a situation for failure and disappointment. A parent’s role and goals are not about the end result of a college scholarship or ranking. For me, as a parent and a touring and teaching pro, it was about creating self-esteem for my children and keeping them in the sport for a lifetime. As adults, they are both involved in tennis and love it!
What is your opinion on in-match coaching, whether it be at the junior level or the professional level? Do you think it should be allowed to some extent?
Carl Barnett: It looks like the WTA is moving toward coaching. If you don’t like it, your coach may stay in the stands. College and high school already have it, and it is a real benefit to teams and coaches. USTA junior tennis, in my opinion, shouldn’t allow coaching because not all competitors can afford a coach to travel to matches, thus creating an unfair advantage.
Geoffrey Jagdfeld: On-court coaching is a tricky one, as I am of two minds on this topic. On one hand, it adds another layer into the mix of watching an exciting match. Alternatively, does it favor the person who can afford a better coach? I think when it comes down to it, having to work through the mental ups and downs of a competitive match without a coach is more intriguing.
Steve Kaplan: In-match coaching goes on in junior and professional tennis today even when it's against the rules. As rule-breaking, covert behavior, it's usually subtle and not overly disruptive to match play. If it were legalized at the junior level, I could see the potential for some very uncivil behavior that would not be good for the sport. Despite the individual nature of the sport of tennis, coaching at the professional level should be allowed. The enforcement of the no coaching rule is too arbitrary and the permission to coach would be consistent with almost every other professional sport.
Jay Kang: Juniors or pros, I don’t think coaching should be allowed. We don’t let students study for finals and ask teachers for hints. Likewise, all players should be on their own during the match and learn to figure out a way to win.
David Nisenson: I like that there is no coaching during a match. It makes tennis unique compared to other sports. I believe this forces players to learn how to problem-solve and strategize on their own. I am not opposed to the WTA experimenting with in-match coaching, but I do not like that the fans can hear what the coach is telling the player. I think it should be a private moment between the player and their coach.
Laurie Tenney Fehrs: I believe in-match coaching should be available and allowed as long as both coaches are available. The smarter tennis player prospers. Therefore, if we, as their pros, can enhance their games by coaching them during a match, this would elevate the game of tennis even more.
What advice would you give a junior player who is struggling with the balancing of practice and schoolwork?
Lisa Dodson: It’s probably best to scale back on tennis if schoolwork becomes a struggle. Unless the player is able to leave the worry about school “at the door,” then they won’t be present enough to make their tennis practice beneficial. In fact, tennis may become frustrating, so neither activity will be satisfying.
John Evert: Balancing school and tennis practice depends on age and priorities. Everyone is different. At the Evert Tennis Academy, we take academics very seriously and that is why we offer a variety of options. I will say that if the child is trying to play at the highest level, they need to practice twice a day because that is what their competitors globally are doing. The good news is that home schooling and online schooling are getting better and more recognized by colleges.
Michael Fehrs: With the pressure on education these days, practice should be the outlet for every child. For those students who struggle, prioritizing and balancing schoolwork and practice will help alleviate the pressure of succeeding.
Dmytro Kovalevych: Balancing practice and schoolwork requires self-discipline from the player. I suggest that the player who struggles with tennis and schoolwork should develop a plan or a list of things to do for each day of the week. Developing a plan for the day, together with a discipline to stick to that plan, should help the player to stay on track.
Kat Sorokko: Every child, regardless of their talent or potential, should have school as their primary area of focus. Time management is obviously a big factor to help balance tennis and schoolwork. My advice would be to plan ahead. Write out the test, projects and tournaments you have for the month. Communicate with your teachers when you will be missing school for tournaments, and it never hurts to bring back a trophy to show your teacher and thank them for their support.
The Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) has become a major factor in junior tennis over the last year or so. How have you or your players utilized this ranking system and has it been beneficial?
Whitney Kraft: UTR is changing every day and provides for accurate data derived from head-to-head results. Level disparities have always been a challenge for matching players. UTR provides a platform to ensure players are matched accordingly providing for close contests. As well, it bridges gender and age, and allows for more play options. All features customizable by the host and or organizer. UTR provides accuracy with the volume of play, therefore, motivating players to play more and work to increase their individual level.
Ed Krass: The UTR is a big benefit to our juniors in that they will now get credit for playing and losing close matches to players ranked above them. The UTR's sophisticated algorithm for rating players seems to be a very accurate way to rate players, from one to 16, with one being a beginner and 16 being one of the top ATP players in the world. I use the Universal Tennis Rating to do all my tournament event seedings and to place juniors, attending my College Tennis Exposure Camps, into their initial groups.
Kat Sorokko: The UTR system has been a great resource for us here at John McEnroe Tennis Academy in Syosset. We have many great players who train here with us at JMTA year-round, and the UTR system has helped us measure and track our players’ development. I also use the UTR frequently when traveling to ITF tournaments to gauge the level of the international players who don’t have a USTA ranking and cannot be found on the TennisRecuiting.net Web site.
What advice do you give your students on dealing with a situation where they feel their opponents are cheating?
Geoffrey Jagdfeld: Make sure you question a cheater on the first bad call. They will rarely change the call, but you will have at least notified them that you are on to them. When cheating happens, have rehearsed statements to use such as: “Are you sure? It looked good from here;” “Are you sure about that call? That’s two that looked in to me.” Follow up with, “How far out was it?” and/or “I thought that ball was in. I’ll get an official so we can just play tennis.”
Jay Kang: When your opponent is cheating, there isn't much you can do as a junior tennis player. You just have to stay positive and learn to control your emotions. Of course, getting the refs to watch would be helpful, but they don’t stay more than a couple of points anyways.
Dmytro Kovalevych: If a player thinks they were cheated for the first time during the match, I advise that they question the call or ask their opponent to show the mark (if the match is played on clay courts). It won't necessarily impact the opponent's initial decision, but they might not be so confident to cheat again. If the cheating happens again, I suggest that the player goes to the referee, explains the situation, and asks the referee to monitor the game. Also, the players who usually cheat won't make a bad call if the ball lands way within the lines. That's why, tactically, I would advise my students to aim the ball not too close to the lines, especially at key points during a match.
David Nisenson: I think at the younger ages, some players are under a lot of parental pressure to win, and unfortunately, this can result in cheating. Tennis is the only youth sport that is officiated by the players. I would love to see these tournaments have a high school-aged kid on the court to help with the officiating. I have been to too many tournaments where the Tournament Director is there alone and not on the court, unless they are called out for a dispute. If a player felt like their opponent was cheating I would tell them to let the first bad call go, and if it happens again, to stop play and get the Tournament Director. Sometimes a match can be decided by a few points, and therefore, cheating can have a significant impact on the outcome of a match.
What advice would you give to a student who wants to end their relationship with a coach because they feel they are no longer improving?
Carl Barnett: “Why” is the big question? This turns out well often, but doesn’t work when the reason for change is not well-founded. The parent needs to hear the child, watch the lessons and then know that too many coaching changes aren’t advisable either.
Ricky Becker: Do it! You cannot change the player, but you can change the coach. I don't know any coach with a modicum of experience who hasn't had a player change coaches because the player felt they weren’t improving, whether it was justified or not. What I do suggest though is to be classy about it, and depending on the relationship with the coach, either tell them in-person or over the phone. Don't let the awkwardness of the conversation push you to sending a text or just ignore the coach altogether.
David Nisenson: Very few players have one coach their entire career. Sometimes, a coaching change is necessary and can be very beneficial. A new voice and a fresh pair of eyes can often be the push a young player needs. That being said, however, some players jump from coach to coach way too often. There definitely needs to be a good line of communication between the player and coach, and the player’s family needs to decide what is best for the player.
Laurie Tenney Fehrs: When a child has been with a coach for a long period of time and feels no improvement occurring, that can be discouraging. However, it can be as simple as changing a relationship in distress or adding another pro's expertise in the different aspects of the game. My first suggestion would be to create some excitement by asking the coach about new things you might like to learn or why you are losing. That often creates a spark in the coach-student relationship, and the purpose in the lesson improves. If the connection is lost, then that would be the time to research someone new that will perhaps give you what is missing in your game. Change is easy, but often not the right answer.
Name the best things about the current landscape about tennis on Long Island and name some of the glaring issues where improvements are needed?
Ricky Becker: I think the good and bad are both associated with pros and courts. There are a lot of solid coaches now on Long Island, but a common strategy many clubs are using is to bring in someone from out of town, hype them up and then do something that makes that pro leave Long Island. Juniors are getting good coaching, but not the same quality long-term coaching. It also seems like there are quite a few indoor clubs for kids to train which is of course good for consumers as far as clubs competing with one another. On the flip side, it seems like some outdoor tennis club are being sold for housing which is bad for local tennis, especially for adults and families.
Michael Fehrs: The current landscape of tennis on Long Island, in my opinion, is good. There have been new programs and more inexpensive ways to get new children and adults involved in the sport. The number one thing that I feel needs to be improved upon is making junior tennis more team-oriented to get that feeling of camaraderie that other team sports have.
Steve Kaplan: Long Island has great tennis resources, but the promotional practices of many clubs and pros is as divisive, tribal and partisan as the political landscape is today. This does not help attract players to stay in such a difficult and economically-challenging sport. To grow, we need to recognize that there is no better sport than tennis to further education and health, and this should be the centerpiece of our collective message.
Ben Marks: From personal experience both as a Director and as Coach of Cold Spring Harbor High School, I think more needs to be done during tennis seasons for our players. More understanding from coaches about players missing practice (even just once a week) to come to coaching groups can only be a good thing. We find that once high school players make their high school teams, through hard work put in at their clubs, they tend to pull back slightly during season, as they are already playing every day. This harms our players’ development in the long run, as although they are hitting a lot of balls at high school practices, there is often no corrections or learning really happening. It is impossible to give 18 players the attention they need as a single coach, whereas during their club tennis, most clubs offer a maximum of four students per pro. Having coaches with a little more flexibility will benefit all of our players, clubs and high school teams.
Jason Wass: There are a number of success stories coming out of Long Island tennis. Noah Rubin reaching his career-best ranking, Cannon Kingsley and Lea Ma reaching the third round of Junior Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, a number of high level tennis players contributing at the college level, etc. These are great accomplishments. However, in order to see strong results like these in the future, we need to find ways to engage players and keep players playing at all ages and levels. Creating social and team environments around the sport are important if we want to keep players connected to the game, whether they are young or old.
How should a player go about choosing their coach and how should they know who would be a good fit for them?
Carl Barnett: Ask friends, get referrals and try a few different coaches. As a child progresses, they may move from a coach who is a good remedial instructor, to a coach whose focus is both on strokes, match play and has a strong group of other tournament players close to and better than your child.
Lisa Dodson: This can be a very important decision. The coach needs to be available, positive, organized and understanding. Going to the busiest and most sought-after coach may not be the way to go as they have less and less time to provide personal attention. The player’s emotional needs come before skill set. Most reputable coaches can teach adequate strokes, but not all of them can provide the mental and attitude coaching that kids need most.
John Evert: Great question! Choosing a coach requires trust, belief and passion. It is important that the coach is experienced or knowledgeable, but it is essential that the coach is committed. The best developmental coaches put their ego aside and do what is best for the player. At Evert Tennis Academy, we hand-pick our coaches to ensure program quality and personalization.
Geoffrey Jagdfeld: First, find a coach who specializes in the area you need to improve upon. Secondly, look for a USPTA-certified coach who has the proper training and experience. Then, look for a coach that “gets” your child’s needs. Finally, look for a coach that fits your budget.
Jay Kang: Finding a perfect coach for a student is very tough. Students must trust the coach's ability to guide in all aspects of the game, especially the non-tangibles for tournament players. Just like hiring any other professional, ask for student/parent references and also find out about their reputation as a coach.
Ed Krass: A player should choose their coach after previewing and taking a few lessons first. Hopefully, the player and parents really like the coach’s background and bio before the lessons take place. If there is a good communication style coming from the coach and the player can feel good progress is being made, then we have a good match between player and coach.