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.
Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at the Glen Oaks Club. He also 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.
Vinicius Carmo is the Director of Tennis at the Ross School Tennis Academy. A former standout player from Brazil, Carmo attended the University of Tennessee on a full tennis scholarship, before moving on to direct several prestigous tennis programs in the Hamptons before going to RSTA. Carmo has expanded the program to include events, competitive training techniques and more, using his NCAA experience and extensive connections to help RSTA graduates in the next stage of their tennis careers.
Dale Evans is the Director of Tennis Operations at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Originally from Oakland, CA, he is a two-time tennis industry nationalaward winner and two-time national coaching champion who has spoken at several conferences and USPTA World Conferences. After playing collegiate tennis at Jackson State University (MS), he has spent an extensive amount of time coaching players and leading high-performing teams throughout the tennis industry. He holds a B.S. in Management and M.S. in Sports Management and certifications from USPTA, PTR, Academia De Sanchez- Casal, and IPTPA.
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 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA.
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 ExposureCamps, 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 the Director of Junior Development 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 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 coaches in NYC and year-round at his high performance tennis academy in Manchester, VT, where players can live and train the Spanish Way full- time or short-term.
Greg Lumpkin is the Associate JMTA Director at Sportime Syosset, the Long Island annex of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. A Long Island native, Lumpkin attended Hofstra University on an academic scholarship to study physics, and 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.
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 JohnMcEnroe 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.
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.
Samantha Siegel is a tennis coordinator and coach at Sportime Syosset, the Long Island annex of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. Originally from Houston, Texas, Siegel was a top junior player, ranked as high as #200 nationally. She attended McKendree University, where she played #1 singles and doubles and was the team captain as a senior. She graduated from MU with a Bachelor’s degree in Health and Wellness. Samantha coached at the IMG Academy and the Naval Academy before joining SPORTIME and JMTA in 2015.
How do you find the right balance between training and rest/recovery for junior tennis players?
Carmo: I think every player is different and the coach needs to understand how much rest/ recovery between training is needed for each player on an individual basis. Some players play with less intensity and still do very well. These players can go for more hours and get less recovery time between sessions. Other players are very physical and need more time to recover. We also have to consider the mental part of the recovery during competition; some players can play several matches in a row and enjoy the competition. Other players will have a lot of stress and mental fatigue after a competition and need more time for recovery.
Lumpkin: Rest is one of the most important parts of the training process. I believe plenty of rest should be built into the training schedule, but a player should always listen to their body. If more or less rest time is needed the schedule can be adjusted week by week.
Nisenson: Tennis is such a physically demanding sport. I think players need to be in tune with their bodies. You definitely need to push through soreness but not at the risk of injury. I strongly suggest a lot of stretching and yoga to make sure the flexibility is there and injuries are prevented.
Mental health is an important topic that has been brought to the forefront of athletics recently. How often and how do you engage your players on their mental well-being, both on and off the court?
Carmo: It is extremely important to engage in their mental well-being both on and off the court. Coaches need to listen and understand each player individually. The coach needs to understand what is going on with their players to help them perform better. Understanding and dealing with their well-being is as important as tennis practice on the court or doing fitness every day. Coaches must take time on and off the court daily to talk to their players and support them.
Lewit: Mental health is often unfortunately ignored by elite coaches. Rather, the goal is winning and results only. When I’m in a long-term coaching relationship, I build up a rapport and trust with the student and that connection can open up doors to talk about the player’s personal feelings and mental health. It’s important for coaches to keep the doors of communication open with other coaches, trainers, and especially parents of junior players too. Parents are often shut out of the team by coaches who mistakenly believe the parents are the problem. I see parents differently. I see them as a valuable resource and I regularly engage them to learn about my player’s well-being off the court.
Marks: Aside from my regular chat with any of my students about school, tennis, and life in general and offering some advice from my own experiences, I think if I spot a student who is having mental health concerns then it has to be referred to the parent or guardian to take them for more professional help. It is not something I, or most tennis coaches are qualified to do beyond the above mentioned talking, listening and advice.
Gamesmanship and cheating are always controversial topics at the junior level. How do we begin to try and eliminate those sorts of things from the game?
Evans: The key to eliminating gamesmanship and cheating is the pro-activity of coaches. As tennis industry leaders, coaches must take responsibility in players’ pursuit of realistic performance goals, players’ preparation for adverse on-court situations, and cultivation of a cohesive player-parent-coach relationship. Communicating realistic performance goals to players and parents will emphasize that not winning every match is part of developing as a player. With the proper win- to-loss ratio, players should look at losses as learning opportunities, therefore diminishing the pressure to cheat.
Krass: The temptation to cheat is always going to be there for players in tournaments, but event officials can play a role in preventing this. Many College matches, especially at the Division I Level, have a ref or umpire on every court. I recommend we start paying extra for referees and charge more to play; I bet most parents would buy into this!
Nisenson: Tennis is the only youth sport that is officiated by the players. At young ages players can feel internal, parental, and coaching pressures that can create that win at all costs mentality which can turn into cheating. We are trying to get more kids involved in the sport of tennis but a bad experience unfortunately can be a deterrent to new players and they may choose another sport to play. When I was in high school I officiated youth sports as a job, and a good idea would be to hire high-school age kids to be on the courts to alleviate this problem. I’m not saying they should officiate the whole match but having someone on court through the match to help on disputes would definitely help these situations.
What is the current state of tennis on Long Island? How do we continue growing and improving?
Becker: To be honest, I feel like tennis on Long Island as a whole is thriving. As an independent pro in the winter I see a lot of indoor clubs and there are fewer unused courts than I can ever remember and this has been confirmed to me by other independent pros. Outdoor club directors that I speak with indicate their clubs are busier than they have been for years as well. Hopefully coaches and clubs can focus their attention a bit more to steering their younger players towards tournaments and competitive tennis even if it does not positively affect their bottom line.
Lee: Tennis on Long Island has been growing every year. I believe it is important for the current pro's to continue their education and learning to provide the best knowledge for players. On top of that, more trained professionals are needed to keep the players engaged in lessons, groups, adult or junior clinics and tournaments. This can provide players with new ideas and different methods and philosophies to the game.
Lumpkin: Tennis, and other racket sports, are thriving on Long Island. If the tennis and racket sport community continues to invest in facilities I would expect participation to continue to improve.
Marks: Tennis is still booming! We are still seeing hundreds of new tennis players at each of our clubs each year and it hasn't shown any signs of slowing down! One thing that we always struggle with is our players balancing their high school sports seasons with keeping up their tennis. We need coaches to allow players to continue their lessons even just once per week so they can benefit from more professional and individualized coaching.
Nisenson: I think that because we are located in the northeast we always face the challenge of tennis being an expensive sport to play because we have to be able to keep the indoor facilities open. That being said I think the growth can happen from clubs just providing the best possible product on the court.
What is missing from the development of American tennis on the professional stage?
Becker: I’m not sure but I think every other country would like to miss the same thing we are! We have nine men in the top-50, nine women in the top-50 and nations that the casual fan may think are thriving tennis-wise pale in comparison to this. Look at baseball, basketball and hockey to see all sports that are more competitive on the international stage. For someone who wants to look at it from the lens of building a legend than you can say we had Serena, Serbia has Djokovic, Switzerland has Federer and Spain has Nadal and we are one of four.
Lee: Tennis has become very globalized, introducing new fresh faces with different game styles to the professional circuit and its helped players to learn and even so the young junior players are being developed differently by their coaches. Personally, American Tennis has new and improved facilities that provide top US juniors and current US professionals with a base to train and improve their strength and conditioning. Compared to Europe, America does not offer enough clay courts which is why I see our professionals focus too much on going too big on their shots, we need to focus more on variety as well as developing an all court game.
Lumpkin: On the women’s side, American tennis has been incredibly successful. On the men’s side there are plenty of young prospects. I think the level of college tennis has improved considerably and it creates a pathway for players to continue to develop even if they are not ready for the professional game at 18 years of age.
Marks: I don’t really see much is missing aside from a consistent grand slam winner. We have two women in the top 10, four in the top 20 and 10 in the top 50. For the men we have nine players in the top 50 and players now beginning to make deeper runs in the slams. I think we have to give it time and we will see this current group succeed more and more.
We saw Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek win U.S. Opens, and the retirements of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Is tennis entering a new era?
Evans: Simply stated, yes. Tennis is entering what I anticipate being known as the post-golden era. With four elite champions amassing 20 or more Grand Slams each, this era will most likely be regarded as a transitional era. This seems to be similar to the transition from the golden era of American Men’s tennis in the early 2000s which gave way to a few years of parody. Nowhere has that parody been on display more than here in New York at the National Tennis Center with the last four US Open Men’s and Women’s champions being four different players.
Krass: We are entering into a new era of Tennis and I think we will see more true all court players competing at the top of the Men's and Women's game. We sure will miss Roger and Serena, but it is an exciting time of tennis for sure.
Lewit: Absolutely. It’s an exciting time to be a tennis fan with many new next gen players rising up the rankings and hitting the big stage. I just recently came back from a study trip in Spain where I spent a week at Carlos Alcaraz’s training home and observed his practices up close. I must say that he is the real deal, with great talent and also charisma that is a positive for the game. On the women’s side of the game, Swiatek has been on an amazing run and is having a breakout year. One of the lesser known stories in women’s tennis is the remarkable depth developing in the pro game.
Siegel: It is sad to see the retirements of Federer and Serena, however I do not feel that tennis is entering a new era in regards to the men’s side. We still have Djokovic and Nadal playing and they have won three of the four Grand Slams this past year. In regards to the women’s side I do see it entering a new era and the younger players are taking over.
There has been a surge in popularity of other racquet sports in recent years. Can this be beneficial to tennis? Why or why not?
Evans: It is too soon to draw any correlations between the many up-and-coming racquet sports and their impact on tennis. The real question we should ask is how these sports will impact the real estate footprint of tennis courts. If they create new spaces, then I can see these sports as feeders into tennis. If they repurpose tennis courts, then I can see these sports as bleeders. With tennis’ two- year growth rate of 27 percent, we are on the right track and look forward to any newcomers helping us increase tennis participation.
Krass: Other Racquet Sports are all an offshoot of tennis and ultimately help to promote our great game. I know many are fearful about the rise in pickleball popularity, but tennis needs a rising star, in racquet sports, to truly evolve into a more exciting game for all!
Lee: Definitely! One example is Pickleball which is the fastest growing sport in America right now. It can help tennis players improve their hand eye coordination, allowing players to develop skills at the net with increased hand speed, reactions, and touch.
Siegel: It is great to see that many other racquet sports are up and coming and have more involvement. It is beneficial to tennis as it gives players options to still play in similar aspects and be active even if it is not necessarily tennis. The skills such as hand eye coordination and movements are similar so it makes it easy for players to interchange along with the sports and have fun doing so.
What fundamental beliefs about tennis technique have you questioned or changed over time?
Becker: Looking back to when I first started coaching, I know now never to change an adult’s serve grip to continental unless they are going to take follow-through with regular lessons or else it will just mess them up. I also have started to believe that while technique on volleys counts, physicality and athleticism are just as important.
Evans: My fundamental technical beliefs have remained relatively the same, with slight modifications as we evolve in sports science. Tactically, however, that is a different story in two key areas: use of the drop shot and exploitation of the court’s middle third in singles. After traveling with many players nationally, I firmly believe the drop shot should be layered into tactics early in matches to test an opponents’ vertical mobility and set his/her baseline positioning. This will create more passing lanes in the outer thirds of the court, especially for younger competitive juniors. For exploiting the middle third, the current generation has yet to embrace moving forward willingly so using deep “point builders” can be a great tactic.
Kaplan: As a coach, I believe it's essential to always evolve and grow my skill set. How can I expect my students to have a growth mindset to learn, embrace challenges, overcome failures, develop skills, and believe that effort is the path to mastery if I don't lead by my example? Therefore I have learned to recognize that I must be always learning to teach most effectively. One very important technique driven concept that I have learned from my experience is to never teach a technique to a young player that will need to be "untaught" later on. This is particularly true when teaching very young players who are capable of ingraining movement patterns that are highly inefficient to unlearn at a later age. Techniques that are unsound, should not be modified to provide students with immediate gratification with the idea that such success promotes motivation.
Lewit: One of the technical concepts that I have challenged and changed is that players should stay on the ground when learning groundstrokes and the serve. I have developed a method for teaching the groundstrokes and serve with controlled jumping that is much more effective than traditional methods of teaching grounded technique. The game of tennis has become dramatically more airborne over the past few decades. I’m surprised to see so many coaches teaching some old school techniques—such as always staying on the ground—that have clearly become outdated.
Lumpkin: From a technical aspect I think the game has progressed a lot in the last 20 years. I think players now need to be more versatile and well rounded than ever before. The advancement in racket/string technology along with the access to information has raised the level and players need to be completely proficient in all aspects of the game.
How do you teach students to solve problems?
Kaplan: You teach students to solve problems by providing them with problem solving tools and presenting them with problems solving opportunities. There are no tactics without technique so that to solve a court problem you must first have the ability to hit the shots that execute a tactic. Then you can explain the goal of the tactic. Finally you can present players with object oriented drills and games to instill and reinforce this skill. Coaches must be more than managers. They must be leaders and a good leader pushes a student to learn how great they can be by helping them see obstacles as objectives for success.
Krass: We need to, as coaches, ask our students more questions about where and when they experience problems. We need to have them come up with the solution with some subtle leadership involved!
Marks: I like to ask lots of questions when I teach to try to guide students into coming up with the solution themselves. I believe eventually this will lead to the ability to problem solve on their own. However, with the developments coming down in professional tennis where coaching is being allowed more and more will this become a lost skill? Will players become more and more reliant on their coaches and less able to "figure it out" by themselves? This is something we have all grown up as players having to do, and as coaches putting a lot of emphasis on with our players.
Siegel: I allow the student to make a mistake/ problem and see how they handle the outcome first. Seeing how they react then allows me to see the best way in helping them cope through the problem. Each student is different in this aspect, I have come across players who like to try and figure out the problem first, others will like to be told what exactly they should do, and then there are those who like to talk it through and work together to figure out the best solution.
How do you feel about students who question you?
Becker: I like it because it makes me a better coach and players who are more assertive tend to become better players. At the same though, it’s not tough to read body language to see who really has an opinion and who just wants to be rebellious. I like to say to my students, “Absorb. Don’t just reflect.”
Carmo: I feel that it is valid as long as the players respect the coaches and they have a valid point. Coaches are also learning every day and some methods work differently with each player. Players can share their ideas and ask why the coach is doing a specific kind of training and what is the purpose of the training. Players also need to trust that the coach knows what he or she is doing. Questioning is ok as long as there is an understanding that the coach wants the best for their players and players feels that the coaches want the best for them.
Kaplan: The most productive student-teacher relationship is interactive so it's important that students not only listen but also question. I tell students that they should listen and carefully consider everything that I tell them and then not accept it as true unless they do the following: First, ask themselves if the information makes sense? Does it reinforce or conflict with what they know about the world? Next, is it consistent with what they see as commonality in the best players so that it is likely and fundamental and not style? Finally, if it passes the first two steps, it can then be understood if it is uniquely suitable for them? It's important because students inevitably receive input from many sources and often such input will conflict. Therefore the recognition that students must take a large responsibility for their education is vital.
Lewit: It depends on the situation and tone of the questions. If the student is being blatantly disrespectful than we are going to have a serious problem. However, if the student has sincere questions and wants to start a dialogue about technique or tactics or anything in his or her game, this type of communication is valuable and should be encouraged by the coach. It’s wrong when the coach has a huge ego and doesn’t tolerate any doubts or concerns from his or her students. Many elite coaches can fall into this pattern of behavior. I believe that no matter how high your level is as a coach or what you’ve accomplished, you are only as good as your current lesson.
Nisenson: I love students who question me and I strongly encourage it. Asking questions means the student is interested in learning and that’s how the relationship is built. The more dialogue there is between student and coach, the better. A lot of coaching is just words but players need to feel things within themselves and asking questions is very important part of the process.
Siegel: I highly encourage my players to ask respective questions. Players whom ask questions are showing that they are willing to learn and are engaged in what they are being told. The one thing I do not allow from my students is to ask disrespectful question to any coach.
Can and should junior players have more than one coach?
Carmo: I think that one coach only should be responsible for the player's strokes and development. It can get tricky when players receive information from different coaches. There is not one right away to teach tennis. Some coaches achieve the same results using different methods of coaching. I think it is ok to have more than one coach for different things a long as everyone on the team understands that only one main coach works with the player's strokes and development.
Kaplan: It's unrealistic to believe that any one coach will be the only source of information and inspiration for a young student. All young players have more than one coach even if it is not recognized or acknowledged. It takes a village to raise a child and a player. The key to making the support team of a player highly functional can be reduced to the four most important elements: First, each member should focus on their area of expertise. Second, there should be strong and fluid communication between team members. Thirdly, the values of team members should align and those values should be clearly established by the player’s family. Finally, there should be a clear hierarchy of responsibilities for each team member. Tennis is a mostly individual sport but success in junior tennis takes a team effort.