The local tennis community boasts some of the top coaches in the world, and with this wealth of talent available, Long Island Tennis Magazine took the opportunity to pick the brains of some of these coaches. These coaches share their thoughts on a wide variety of tennis topics and issues, ranging from junior tennis to the professional game.
Meet the participants…
Ricardo Acioly is a director at the Evert Tennis Academy. He is a former member of the Brazilian Davis Cup Team who was ranked in the top 50 in the ATP doubles rankings. Ricardo has coached several top players including Marcelo Rios and Gabriela Sabatini. He served as Davis Cup Captain for Brazil for six years, and during his tenure as the team captain, reached the semifinal in the World Group. Ricardo has also served as a director on the ATP board of directors and is a two-time member of the ATP Player Council.
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club for his ninth year, coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs. As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior.
Tawhid Choudhury is a tennis professional at New York Tennis at Great Neck. He grew up playing in different programs in New York City, while competing in national and international ITF tournaments, before going on to play college tennis at Asa College in Miami.
Jared El Gayeh is the U10 Director and Camp Director at SPORTIME Syosset. He has served in a variety of teaching and management capacities in his 10-plus years at SPORTIME, and has an infectious energy and ability to motivate children on the court. He was a star goaltender on the Marywood University soccer team.
Laurie Tenney Fehrs has been the director of tennis and head professional at Eastern Athletic Club for the past 36 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.
Jason Joseph is the Chair of the USPTA Eastern's Education Committe. He is a USTA Net Generation Coach and a Master Performance Coach who is endorsed by both the United States and Canadian Olympic Committees. He is the Head Racquets Professional at Park Country Club and the Director of the Academy at Hamburg Racquet Club.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division I Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA.
Ed Krass coached theHarvard 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.
Adam Lee is a teaching professional at Glen Head Racquet and Fitness. He was a three- year captain at Wake Forest where he still holds the program record for singles victories, and achieved an ATP ranking. He has worked with Top 500 ATP Tour players as well as top nationally-ranked juniors, and has USPTA, ITPA, Certified Tennis Performance Specialist and GPTCA coaching certifications.
Chris Lewit is a former number one for Cornell and a pro circuit player. He is a high-performance coach, educator, and the author of two best-selling books: The Secrets of Spanish Tennis and The Tennis Technique Bible. He has coached numerous top 10 nationally- ranked players and is known for his expertise in building the foundations of young prodigies. Chris trains players during the school year in the NYC area, and players come from around the country to his summer camp in the paradise of Vermont.
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. In 2018, he was named USTA Long Island’s Tennis Professional of the Year.
Eric Meditz is a coach at SPORTIME Syosset. Growing up on Long Island, he was once ranked in the Top 50 nationally and went on to play at Penn State University. Following a stint on the pro tour, Meditz joined SPORTIME in 2005, JMTA in 2012, and has produced numerous Division I collegiate players.
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.
Jay Pinho is the head professional of 10U and High-Performance at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He is a USPTA elite professional, a former NCAA Division I coach and player, and has specialized in developing competitive junior players over the past decade. Currently, he is the private coach of three national champions and a WTA touring pro.
College recruiting is always a difficult process, never more so than right now. What is some advice you have for players navigating this process during a pandemic?
Acioly: The overall tournament schedule has been greatly reduced so lots of kids are worried about not being able to compete and raise their UTR. But this can be seen as an opportunity to work on one's game and develop and/or improve aspects that would probably not be done under a regular tournament schedule. Hitting the books to raise GPA and preparing a good college video are good things to do at this time and everyone has the challenge to take the initiative to communicate and be in the radar of college coaches as much as possible.
Becker: As hard as it is, stay positive and patient but also be prepared. It is extremely important to take advantage of tournaments that are being played now. Travel farther than you would have previously to get your events in! Much of recruiting will be done by last year's results and it puts an even higher emphasis on videos and whether grades improved. At the same time, many college coaches may not know what their rosters are going to look like so there may be unexpected opportunities that pop up.
Krass: My advice to players/recruits during this pandemic is to pay close attention to all CDC guidelines while playing, travelling and competing. I know in person recruiting is heavily restricted, so play the best events available to you to show your interest in improving and competing. If you stop competing in tournaments altogether, due to the pandemic, then coaches will need to judge you on just past results. Producing a current matchplay video, against a comparable UTR level player, in a set, unedited except for the dead time, will speak volumes to your level. I offer my Exposure Camps/Clinics outdoors to add an even better opportunity for college tennis recruitment. Try to get college coaches to watch you play at a tournament, camp and on video. Keep your letters of interest short and to the point and keep updating coaches on your progress. Hopefully, in due time, you will be able to visit your top college tennis choices to where coaches are also interested in you.
Lee: My advice is that knowing college coaches are restricted to travel, student athletes should really get ahead of the pack by building their own list of colleges and should definitely start establishing connections and relationships with college coaches before other prospects do. Given the new D1 rule that has recently gone into effect, players should now be focusing heavily on their academics for funding benefits on top of athletic scholarships.
Meditz: Players that don’t have an opportunity to play tournaments where college coaches attend, now have to be creative in the ways they get in touch with them and market themselves. The best bet I would recommend is to reach out to one of the coaches at your club who has been around for a while and has dealt with college coaches before. Have them do you a favor and reach out to them in your behalf. This might get the ball rolling with a potential college that you might want to play for and maybe a video of a past match can be passed along.
How do you feel about on-court coaching, and at which levels should it be allowed?
Joseph: In the midst of this pandemic, my feelings are that on-court coaching is safe, as long as we follow the guidelines proposed to us by our government leaders. While indoors, I think it is imperative that we ensure social distancing and good ventilation. Providing coaching to all levels of players is possible during the pandemic, however, we should meet or exceed the expectations of players and parents in helping to minimize transmission of the virus. This may mean having smaller groups, especially for small children, and focusing on quality over quantity.
Lee: I personally don't agree with on-court coaching at all. I think the best players in the world would profit from this as they have the money to buy the best coaching team, whereas other guys who cannot afford coaches, are unable to benefit from on-court coaching. Another reason is that tennis is a one on one sport, and i believe it would take away the player's ability to think.
Lewit: It’s a controversial issue—and I know I will upset traditionalists—but I’m a huge believer in on-court coaching. I’ve written a lot about it and we have done episodes on my podcast, The Prodigy Maker Show, on this exact topic. At the junior level, it’s a child welfare issue. Most children are not emotionally or developmentally ready for long tennis matches without psychological support from a coach or parent. Some kids are naturally tough, but many young kids would benefit greatly from support from a coach. It’s a healthy way to improve the junior sport of tennis. We lose many children to other sports where they receive coach support and are much happier. At the pro level, on-court coaching is just more entertaining. Bottom line. And on court coaching is already part of the culture of college tennis.
Pinho: I am in favor of on-court coaching during tournaments. I believe that this practice could not only speed up the learning curve on a wide range of aspects for the players, but it can also create a better experience for juniors. Our sport has a high turnover in terms of juniors playing tournaments, and having the presence of a coach on-court could provide a less intimidating scenario for players who are starting or who are young, thus potentially increasing the chances that this player would "stick around" for the long-term. While I understand and respect the nature of our sport, where two individuals (in the case of singles) have to problem solve on their own and mitigate the ups and downs of a match, I also feel that having a progression where players start with more help and then become more independent as they mature (both as a player and an individual) would be the best approach. I also understand the argument that wealthier families/players that could afford a coach during events could end up having a competitive advantage over those who cannot afford it. However, isn't that the case in many other sports too, where we have teams that have trained coaches and others are coached by parents? While I acknowledge this potential competitive advantage, I think the pros outweigh the cons in this case.
How do you deal with a student who shows poor sportsmanship on the court and/or a negative attitude?
Acioly: At ETA, we work to instill a culture to involve all students in a conversation with the purpose that they take ownership of the process to identify positive and negative behaviors that are then set as guidelines for everyone. That way it is easier for a student to identify the consequences of his or her actions and how it impacts themselves and the group as a whole. On an individual basis we try to identify specific things that are causing this behavior to happen and give the student tools to deal with the issue, always trying to inspire him or her to improve, grow and reach maturity.
Marks: For me understanding why players show a negative attitude is important. Usually juniors do not cope with making mistakes as maturely as an adult. Educating the player that tennis is a game of mistakes and the player who manages their mistakes best usually performs better or has better results. No player can ever be perfect, so dealing with adversity is a skill that has to be worked on. Poor sportsmanship for me much more easily addressed, our players are expected to act and behave in a certain way and uphold certain standards. Tennis is historically a very "classy" sport so there is a level of decorum and sportsmanship that should be followed. There is no other option for our players and once educated most are very good at upholding those standards!
Meditz: If a student is a behavioral problem on the court, you can point it out to the kid and hope you have enough power in their life to change that, but more importantly you have to talk to the parents and let them know. Let them know that the kids who get the most attention from coaches are the ones that are polite, attentive, and great sports. Coaches are drawn to this behavior and will go out of the way to help them achieve whatever goal possible. The kids that misbehave, who are disrespectful and cheat will get the bare minimum required from anyone involved. Not enough parents are aware of this in my opinion.
2020 has been a challenging year on many fronts. As a tennis coach, how have you adapted your coaching style to coincide with this new socially-distant world we live in?
Choudhury: Since the pandemic a few things have changed in terms of how coaches can teach. For example we try to keep a distance at all times while we feed balls or play games but if we must come close to the clients then we have our masks on and we keep six feet apart . Other than that tennis can be taught and played at a distance so it doesn't affect our teaching styles too much.
Kaplan: It's challenging to be socially distant from students while teaching since I can no longer give the same kind of kinesthetic feedback (cuing students to recognize the position and movement of their body) but manageable as long as I am attentive to giving very clear, precise and explicit verbal and visual instruction. Most importantly however, it's a difficult time for young students and my goal while teaching is to be highly supportive and reassuring to help them through these highly uncertain times. Young people are not getting the same opportunities for socialization so I try to engage them to interact more to provide them with a feeling of normalcy.
Nisenson: 2020 has been extremely challenging and will continue to be for the near future. I think we need to follow the protocols to keep ourselves and our student’s safe during this time. Mask wearing is crucial when you have to get closer to a student as well as constantly sanitizing all the equipment. I also think it’s important to keep the amount of students you put in a group to make sure you have enough space to social distance and use the court correctly.
Pinho: In addition to complying with governmental mandates and USTA guidelines, this period was an opportunity to tackle "technical projects" with some of my players. We know how difficult it is to make changes when players are competing on most weekends, so this presented an opportunity to work on specific areas without the players being so concerned about taking a half step back to then take two steps forward. The use of at home activities was also a valuable addition to the mix, which made me and the players more creative in finding ways to improve with the tools that were available at the time.
As a socially-distant sport, do you think tennis will see an uptick in participation due to the pandemic and lack of other competitive sports available?
Choudhury: Yes I believe so because most people are starting to realize that the pandemic has been harshly affecting their health. People want to stay active but are afraid to go to an enclosed space like a gym or go and bump bodies playing sports like basketball, football, soccer, etc. Tennis is the perfect sport for these times because of the fact that we can play at a distance even doubles and singles
Joseph: Tennis is primed, as a socially- distant sport, to see an increase in participation. In fact, without seeing the data yet, I am amazed how many people are playing the sport, especially those that have not played for a number of years or even never played at all. I was (safely) coaching at a public park with 12 courts throughout the spring and summer and I was amazed at seeing the number of players who needed to wait for a court. It took me back to my childhood in the early 90s, since I have seen anyone having to wait for a court at a public facility.
Lewit: Yes—tennis has already seen a modest uptick. I own a high performance club in Manchester, Vermont, for example, and my coaches have seen an increase in kids and adults looking for tennis lessons. Folks see tennis as a healthy activity that is safe during the pandemic.
Nisenson: I think there was a big uptick this past summer. Many people were working from home full time and were itching to do some activity and felt that outdoor tennis was safe. Another reason for that this summer was many people were not traveling and kids did not go away to camp. Now that we have transitioned indoors I see some more concern but I am happy with the start. If we continue to follow the safety protocols I think people will continue to feel more comfortable playing at indoor facilities.
What are the most commonly asked questions you receive from parents?
Becker: I get many questions but there are two that stand out and at the beginning of the process. One is, what does my child need to do to have a chance at a scholarship or to play Ivy League tennis. And the answer to that there are no short- cuts and tennis has to be a lifestyle that the child and family can embrace. It won't happen by accident. Secondly, and I know I will probably hear from the USTA on this....why is it mandatory to start with short-court orange ball tournaments when my under-10 child has been playing full-court with both green dot and regular balls for a few years and all the kids that play in these tournaments hate it as well?
Choudhury: A lot of parents usually ask about my background and how I was introduced to this sport. Many times I'm also asked what their child can improve and I try to do my best to help when asked these questions.
El Gayeh: Is my child ready to move up to next level. I tend to see parents want to rush through progression before their child is technically proficient. We have been so successful at JMTA Long Island because we make sure our players are proficient tactically as well as technically and do not rush them up before we feel they are ready and confident.
Fehrs: The most commonly asked question I receive from parents is: How is my child doing? The second would be...Do you think my child is good enough for his or her school team?
Krass: The biggest two questions that parents want to ultimately have answers for is: What schools might my son or daughter thrive both academically and athletically? How can we better understand how the college tennis recruiting process works?
Who do you think is the greatest tennis player ever and why?
Fehrs: In my opinion and record wise Rafa Nadal is the greatest player of all time! With 20 Grand Slam Titles, tied with Roger Federer, he is considered the King of Clay Courts without losing a set to date! Rafa has 86 Career Titles overall...with 60 of them on clay! He has captured the most wins on a single surface in the Open Era!
Joseph: I really cannot answer that question with detail. I just know that we are fortunate to have such superstars playing in front of our eyes like Serena and Venus, Roger, Rafa, and Novak. To have so many players who push the boundaries of the record books in our lifetime is very special and we should appreciate that.
Pinho: Roger Federer is the best one ever in my view. While Rafa and Novak may end up with more Grand Slam titles, Roger has many other accomplishments that are unlikely to be surpassed. Furthermore, I feel that he is not only a more complete player but also the most "plastic" tennis player ever. On top of that, he's arguably one of the best role models ever from the sport world, which elevates the image of our sport as a whole. Rafa would be a close second on that "race" though.
How can we as a tennis industry make sure that tennis becomes more accessible and inclusive, and that the landscape of the sport can be more diverse?
Acioly: Nowadays, kids and adults can start playing with beginner methods that really deliver a good result in terms of an easier and faster way of learning, which in turn helps retention. Public facilities and their respective programs should receive the incentive to apply these methods across the country via a subsidized program.
Fehrs: The tennis industry needs to get through the Pandemic first and slowly open it up to include programs that are small group friendly. Perhaps include more Cardio Tennis, and create an inclusive internet program so people can contact each other to play more socially. It’s particularly hard right now but most people need social outlets from a distance and tennis is a great sport and outlet for that!
Lewit: The main reason that tennis is still exclusive is because it is too expensive to play. Until the game becomes cheaper to train and play, the sport will always be out of reach for many families. Some countries, like Spain for example, have been able to keep down the cost of training and the result is a surge in participation rates. Tennis is a truly awesome sport, but the financial hurdles to play will always deter families of modest means. Concerning diversity, we are in a great place due to the success of so many athletes from diverse backgrounds and regions. The recent successes of African- American players, and superstars from Asia, Europe and South America for example, ensure a broad ethnic diversity at the top of the game. Those superstars in turn drive participation by minority players and families at the grassroots level.
Marks: In general I think the biggest barrier for people playing tennis is the cost. Especially in places like Long island where indoor tennis is our only option for much of the year. Clubs operating costs are very high so that cost is passed down to the players and members as in any other business. Scholarship programs and programs such as our PAL programs are a great way of reducing those costs to new players and getting new players on our courts. The USTA has a responsibility also to help subsidize these programs and initiatives and there are lots of grants available which clubs can take advantage of. The more players we can get on our courts the more successful tennis in the US will be as a whole. There are no high school sports this fall and winter.
What’s your advice for high school players on staying motivated and maintaining training during these months?
Becker: Play in local UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) and USTA Events! UTR events are an awesome way to compete in matches that count towards a rating which many high school players may find competitive but much less stressful than USTA Tournaments. We are going to start running them at Bethpage Park. There's various formats but each Bethpage event will take place for one weekend evening night so it won't take up the whole weekend but it still counts! Although there aren't as many USTA events right now due to Covid, those of course are better as far as if you are looking at college tennis but UTR is the perfect solution to high school players.
El Gayeh: They should continue to compete and play USTA tournaments or UTR verified matches on average twice a month. This will keep them match tough and feel like they are training to improve results in competition.
Kaplan: The ability to maintain an organized day is so vital for young people and with most attending in person school just two or three days a week it's very important for everyone not just tennis players to keep active, engaged and structured. It's more importation than ever for young athletes take responsibility for motivating themselves to eat well, get rest, workout and be healthy. I strongly encourage School team members to reach out to one another to help maintain their sense of community. Those with leadership qualities have an opportunity to help support their friend and team member who might be a little lonely, scared and unhappy.
Nisenson: My advice to high school players that lost the season would be continue to stay fit. Plenty of zoom workouts to be done at this time that you can do at home. Inquire about a local training program or a match play program at an indoor facility. Keep your spirits up and let’s hope for the best come spring time.
How would you describe the current state of tennis on Long Island? What are the pros and cons?
El Gayeh: I personally feel tennis on Long Island is in a healthy position. There are a ton of facilities to play throughout the year with world class coaches now calling Long Island home. The results of past junior players competing at the highest level shows that you don't have to be home schooled or live in a warm weather climate to reach a very high level college career or even on the pro tour! The cons are not being able to play outdoors for the majority of the year, thus making the sport more expensive compared to the cost for players in warmer climates.
Kaplan: Tennis is a great socially distant activity so in many ways the sport and those who play and support tennis have been affected less by Covid 19 than gyms, restaurants and theaters, for example. We are very fortunate in that regard but still the pain felt by players, parents, publications, organizations, industries, pros, support staff and club's is significant. We are learning all the time about how to enjoy tennis while still maintaining safety and I am optimistic that the sport will emerge stronger in some ways in the local area than before this pandemic.
Lee: A tough one to answer as I am just as busy as I was before lockdown. My club, Glen Head Racquet and Fitness, is following every guideline to make sure everyone is safe and I do think tennis is a relatively COVID safe sport. Tournaments are running as well as they could be, it is difficult for everyone.
Marks: It has been a very weird 2020 for tennis but also a very good one if we look at the numbers of new players that have been introduced to the game or players returning to tennis after a long time away. With tennis being deemed such a safe sport to play during the COVID pandemic we have seen a huge uptick in participation across the island. High school and park courts were filled to the brim with lines of players waiting to get on a court. I have never seen this in the 8 years I have been coaching in NY. Now that we have transitioned back indoors I am happy and slightly surprised with the solid numbers we are continuing to see. Clubs have spent a lot of time and money making facilities as safe as possible for their players and people definitely are noticing this and therefore feeling comfortable coming back inside to play. I know from my experience at Carefree Racquet Club, the systems we have in place with 'one way traffic', sanitizing stations, MERV 13 filters and UV light filters on the AC units are all very much appreciated by our players, and they are showing that appreciation by continuing to play with us.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.