The Long Island tennis community is blessed to have some of the best indoor facilities and best coaches in the world right here in our backyard. Recently, Long Island Tennis Magazine spoke with some of these top coaches to get insight into their coaching/training strategies, what they look for in a great player, views on important local tennis topics, and a background in how they got into coaching. Even the best coach can always learn an extra tip or two, and the following article will provide all players and coaches with a chance to learn from the best.
Meet the roundtable…
Cunningham Park Tennis Center
Union Turnpike & 193rd Street, Queens, N.Y.
Howie Arons has been coaching and directing junior programs in Queens, N.Y. for the past 35 years at Alley Pond, Bay Terrace and currently, Cunningham Park Tennis Center. Howie served as a national coach for ETA in 1991 and 1997. He was ETA Coach of the Year in 1989 and USPTA High School Coach of the Year in 2007. As head coach of Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Flushing, N.Y., his teams have won 18 City Championships. With 556 wins, Howie has the most of any coach in New York State.
Glen Head Racquet Club, Home of the Early Hit Training Center
95 Glen Head Road, Glen Head, N.Y.
This is the ninth season of Carl Barnett’s Early Hit Training Center at Glen Head Racquet Club. Early Hit is dedicated to providing lessons, groups and training in its comprehensive ALPS program. Pat Etcheberry has worked with Carl as an advisor with the ALPS training program. Carl has concluded that students learn faster when they have core fitness, flexibility and explosive strength. Early Hit not only serves juniors as the program features nationally-ranked players in the U.S. Open, 40s, 60s and 70s divisions.
18 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton, N.Y.
Vinicius Carmo is tennis director of the Ross School tennis academy and coach of the boys and girls varsity tennis teams. As a player, Vinicius was ranked among the top five junior players in Brazil and played several international junior tennis tournaments, and attended the University of Tennessee for four years on a full scholarship. For seven years, Vinicius was the regional tennis director of the East End Sportime locations. He also coached many top juniors in the country and has helped them to get tennis scholarships in many universities. Now, Vinicius runs the tennis program at the Ross School. The boys varsity tennis team won the league VII title in 2010 and finished second in the Suffolk County team tournament. The Ross School tennis team also had three players qualify for the state tournament in 2010.
Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Center at Glen Cove
60 Sea Cliff Avenue, Glen Cove, N.Y.
Adrian Chirici has been a coach at Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Center at Glen Cove for over 15 years. In that time, more than 50 of his students have gone on to play for NCAA Division I colleges, and a handful have gone on to play on the pro tour. Adrian is currently the head pro/coach at RWTT's Glenwood Landing facility and part owner of the RWTT facility at Glen Cove. He is a two-time Long Island Section Coach of the Year, three-time USPTA Sectional Touring Coach of the Year, and recently received the USPTA National Touring Coach of the Year Award. In addition, Adrian still enjoys competing and currently holds the number one ETA sectional ranking in both the Men’s 35s and Men’s 40s age divisions.
Bethpage Park Tennis Center
99 Quaker Meeting House Road #1, Farmingdale, N.Y.
Steven Kaplan is the owner of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as the director of Reebok Academy for New York City Parks Foundation. Over the last 33 years, Steve has been the longtime coach of more than 500 nationally-ranked junior players, 14 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous touring professionals and prominent coaches. Steve's students have been awarded in excess of $7 million in college scholarship money.
Sportime Clubs of New York
Lawrence Kleger is nationally acclaimed as a unique talent in junior development. As the director of Sportime’s Excel Tennis Camps each summer and of the Elite development program each winter, Lawrence has trained hundreds of sectionally- and nationally-ranked juniors. His knowledge, experience and keen “eye” help Lawrence to produce players who are fundamentally, technically and mechanically sound. His commitment to true sportsmanship and proper tennis etiquette has produced 13 USTA/Eastern year-end Sportsmanship Award winners. Lawrence is one of a select group of coaches invited to attend two levels of the USA High Performance Coaching Program. He was named the 2006 USTA/Eastern Section Long Island Section Tennis Professional of the Year. Lawrence’s campers have captured more than 70 USTA National Championships.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Meridian Road at Grand Central Parkway, Queens, N.Y.
Whitney Kraft is director of tennis programs at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and director of player operations for the U.S. Open. A native of Summit, N.J., Whitney brings more than 25 years of tennis experience to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Prior to joining the USTA, Kraft served as director of tennis for the city of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. where he oversaw the daily programming and operations of more than 45 courts at nine different facilities. His tennis industry affiliations include serving in as district president of the USPTA, district director for the USTA, as well as city liaison for First Serve of Broward County. He is also a member of the National Cardio Tennis Speaker Team. For the past eight years Kraft has served as tournament director for both the USTA Boy’s 14 Clay Court Nationals and USTA Open National Clay Court Championships. As a tennis player, Kraft was a four-time National Mixed-Open Champion and most recently in 2006, Kraft was the USPTA International Championship 45 Doubles Champion. An avid beach tennis player, in 2007 Kraft captured two national tour events winning Beach Tennis USA events in Delray Beach, Fla. and Long Beach, NY.
Glen Head Racquet Club
95 Glen Head Road, Glen Head, N.Y.
Maurice Trail has been coaching for 15 years, beginning as a coach at the Rick Macci Academy in Florida. Maurice played on the circuit for a few years before moving to New York. He is currently the director and owner of the Advanced High Performance Tennis Academy in N.Y. “I find great satisfaction in helping players develop their tennis and accomplishing their goals,” said Trail. “Knowing that you’ve had a hand in the success of a player you’ve worked with is very rewarding.”
Point Set Indoor Racquet Club
3065 New Street, Oceanside, N.Y.
Tonny vandePieterman is director of tennis at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y. He is the co-founder of Point Set's high performance Tournament Training (TTP) programs, and he has coached many juniors to sectional and national rankings. Before arriving in New York, he was traveling coach for the Harry Hopman Academy in Saddlebrook, Fla. He was briefly an ATP touring pro after college. Tonny was the captain of the University of Miami Hurricanes men’s tennis team where he won the Big East title in 1993. He currently resides in Long Beach, N.Y.
What are the best things you see about tennis in the New York area? What are your biggest concerns about the local tennis scene?
Steven Kaplan: The local area has a tradition of inspiring tennis activity and success. We are the home to the U.S. Open and to as great a wealth of the top players, coaches, trainers and facilities as anywhere in the world. Local players, as a whole, value education, achievement and understand time efficiency and they need to because tennis is costly here. Players and parents also have lofty goals and high expectations for success. I am concerned about the ability of the industry to satisfy its demanding population with the economy tanking, the cost of living rising and the underlying economics of providing tennis services rising.
Lawrence Kleger: The most exciting thing to happen in tennis in the greater New York area in a long, long time is the opening of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA) at Sportime Randall’s Island. Not only is John McEnroe one of the all-time great tennis players, he is considered by many to be one of the top five competitors in the history of all sports. With Gilad Bloom at the helm, the JMTA will be developing and training many of the areas top juniors and overcoming many of the obstacles towards future champions hailing from the greater New York City area. Advantage … all New Yorkers.
On Long Island, we have some of best and most dedicated junior coaches in the country. Many have excellent track records in developing junior talent for the national and international level. And, most of these names are know in tennis playing households across Long Island and are regular contributors to this fine publication. Advantage … Long Island. The main challenges in our region start with our northeastern climate. We mostly train and play indoors from September to June, so our players are less prepared to face the challenges and adverse conditions of outdoor play. The cost of participation is high and court time is not always available. Advantage … warm weather climates.
Whitney Kraft: The vitality and interest in tennis in the New York area is incredible. A lot of credit should go to the USTA Eastern Section and their competent and innovative staff for coordinating, promoting and implementing so many great programs, events and tournaments. I think people appreciate and value the sport and game, and view court time as a privilege and coveted amenity which, in turn, produces constructive use of one’s play and practice time. On the flip side, this is probably the biggest concern: Not enough courts and/or court time to go around or court time that is inexpensive enough to supply the demand in winter and during inclement days.
If you were training an elite junior player, would you advise them to attend college or go right to the pro circuit?
Howie Arons: If I were coaching an elite junior player who had to make this decision, my answer would be pretty one-sided. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Todd Martin, James Blake and Justin Gimelstob were all great juniors who decided to go to college to further develop their tennis abilities.
The top schools in the United States offer elite juniors the opportunities to play other elite players on a regular basis. There is a huge influx of international players in many of the top conferences which leads to even greater competition.
In terms of fitness and conditioning, that junior player, fresh out of high school, will become a lot stronger and more fit. The opportunity to become a better tennis player and ultimately turn pro can be achieved by going to college. The college tennis experience will enable that elite junior to know just how good they really are. Turn pro after you win the NCAAs.
Carl Barnett: These are rare kids that can do this. Would John Isner have made it out of high school? Absolutely not. Timing is very important and very few are ready to make that transition at such a young age.
Maurice Trail: This is a question I’ve been asked so many times over the years from players, parents and people looking for my advice. My advice would be to sit down and determine what your level is.
If you are 16 or 17, and are on a level in which Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer are at, then go straight to the pros. However, if you are not quite at that level, go to college and play on a college team first. Playing for a college is an honor and will help improve your match play, while you are obtaining an education. A few notable players that took this route are Todd Martin, John McEnroe, James Blake, and recently, John Isner. This route will give you the best of both worlds, college education and then the opportunity to play on the pro tour.
What do you suggest a junior player look at when they are approaching the college recruiting process?
Howie Arons: When a junior player is approaching the college recruiting process, there are many important issues to consider. Every one of these issues has equal importance in selecting the right school. Ultimately, the junior being happy with their choice is the number one consideration. Meeting and talking with coaches in person is essential. Did they like the coach? Was the coach interested in you? Did you visit the school and meet the team? Do you think you can honestly play for the team and will you have an opportunity to play? Does the college meet your needs academically and socially? If you weren’t an athlete, would you still enjoy attending that particular school? If you can answer “yes” to all of these questions, then I think you have found the right school.
Adrian Chirici: A junior player should look at what schools will fit their academic profile and playing ability, and make a list of them in the summer before their junior year. The list should include schools that are a realistic fit and some of the list should have "reach" academic schools sprinkled with some "reach" tennis schools in case there is improvement in either or both areas. Once the list is made, the player should e-mail the coaches immediately.
Maurice Trail: Research is key in this process. Not every school is a good fit for everyone. Players should visit schools and meet with coaches. Players need to make sure their targeted school offers studies of main interest, and geographically, it is an environment they are looking for. Players need to look into schools that will best serve them academically and provide them the best chance to play on a team.
How do you feel about training on different surfaces? How important is it that your players understand how to play on all surfaces?
Whitney Kraft: I’m a huge proponent of training on all surfaces, especially clay where players learn to play defense, are more apt to learn and make use of a drop shot, topspin lob, slice backhand, etc. Stamina and conditioning improve from longer points being played and the body doesn’t absorb the same physical toll that playing on hard can cause.
Tonny vandePieterman: Training players on different surfaces is an interesting challenge. It often takes a few sessions for a player to get in sync with a different court surface: The timing, the different footing and the pace of play requires some time to adjust to. Having played my junior tennis in Europe, I believe I got the best of both worlds. In the summer, all training and tournaments were held on the slow red clay courts, where in the winter, lightning-fast carpet courts had to be dealt with. This resulted in most juniors ending up with skills for all-around games.
I think Raphael Nadal has shown us all how a once labeled "clay court specialist" can be successful on all surfaces by continuing to add to his game. By adding a backhand slice, little nuances in his court positioning and beefing up his first serve, he attained all-court surface champion status.
During our high performance tournament training sessions at Point Set, which are held on hard courts, we sometimes hold little Grand Slam practice tournaments. We encourage our players to visualize being at Wimbledon and playing grass court tennis. Or to battle out long baseline exchanges with lots of variety, while pretending to be at Roland Garros. It is not only a valuable exercise, it is great fun as well!
What makes for the perfect player/coach relationship?
Vinicius Carmo: I think that what makes the perfect coach/player relationship is how the coach understands the player’s needs and how the coach will help his/her player. Players have different needs and it is up to the coach to find them and work with them. Being a coach is not only understanding tennis, but it is understanding the players as human beings. In order for a tennis player to be successful, the player needs to have confidence and needs to be mentally tough to overcome the challenges inside the court.
Tonny vandePieterman: Naturally, there has to be a great deal of trust. A “we are in this together attitude” has to be developed and the player has to know that the coach has the player's best interest at heart. Naturally, over the years, a relationship changes. I have found myself change during longer term player/coach relationship from teacher, to coach, to mentor. In addition, motivation has to be present on both parts of the equation. Sometimes, I need to be the spark to get the session off on the right foot, sometimes my student's enthusiasm and readiness to be productive will start us off right. Most of the time it is both.
What is your opinion of the state of American tennis?
Vinicius Carmo: I think that American tennis needs a professional player with charisma that will motivate the kids to get out there and play more tennis. I think that Patrick McEnroe is doing a great job in Flushing Meadows working with the juniors. He understands the game and cares about this country.
Adrian Chirici: On the men’s side, we are doing okay. I see no need to panic like some articles I have read or people that I have spoken to. Sam Querrey and John Isner have positioned themselves nicely to possibly make a top 10 run or better. Some of our younger crop of players, like Ryan Harrision, are starting to make a mark on the ATP Tour, and Jack Sock and Dennis Kudla have shown that they have potential by winning on the highest level in the juniors.
The old guard of Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish are still playing top 10 level tennis and are great role models for the younger players because they have been putting in the hard work which is the key to success. They still have the hunger and that’s what its going to take for the younger American crew to make an impact on the tour. Hopefully, these up and comers take some pointers from these guys. On the women’s side, we are not doing quite as well once you take away Venus and Serena Williams. Our next highest player is Bethanie Mattek-Sands ranked at 59th. Why is this … I’m just not sure we have the athletes at the moment. Melanie Oudin, Vania King and Christina McHale are good, don’t get me wrong, but there are no major weapons there to make me believe they could reach the top 10 within the next couple of years. A few athletes with athletic pedigree that catch my eye that could do damage in a few years are Coco Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens.
What would be the most important things for a parent of a young child (ages three to six) to look for when choosing a coach?
Carl Barnett: I would suggest that they look for a coach that is patient, strong on fundamentals, well-versed in Quick Start and can make it fun for little people.
Whitney Kraft: I’d have them ask friends and others who the “pied piper” of tennis professionals is in their neighborhood, and who works well with that age range. Some coaches have a knack for connecting and relating well to Pee Wees. They know how to make it fun! They most likely use lots of props, soft balls, properly-sized racquets and are advocates of the QuickStart Under 10 Tennis format of how to learn and play.
What in your teaching/coaching philosophy do you think is the backbone of your teaching and coaching methods?
Adrian Chirici: The backbone of my coaching philosophy is to start accentuating the things that a student does well which in turn will make the player have confidence, and with that confidence, makes them more eager to want to evolve.
Steven Kaplan: My philosophy of coaching centers on enabling students with those tools necessary to develop problem solving abilities. I do so by exploring the "why" of performing skills, tactics and behaviors, rather than simply directing them "how" to perform. While I have always viewed coaching as the integration of art and science, I have come to believe that the science of tennis is undervalued and over-compartmentalized, and that, too often, teaching emphasizes style over substance.
Clear, precise and persuasive communication skills are important of course, but they are no substitution for proving sound information derived from understanding, mechanics, physics, physiology and psychology. The reinforcement of the idea that success is derived primarily from a philosophy of, “whatever you believe, you can achieve," is limiting, because while motivation is a necessary prerequisite to achievement, it is not the foundation of success.
Lawrence Kleger: My philosophy of coaching junior players is: Athletes first; winning second. I believe that the chances of any of my students having a successful career on the pro circuit are very remote at best. And, if any of them had the talent and drive for greatness, it would show itself like a beacon of light. I do not think that I can create greatness, nor do I think I can prevent it. Therefore, my role as a coach is to make each individual player better off for having gone through the process of trying to become the best player they can be. I never tell my students that it is impossible to make it on the tour. I would never kill a child’s dream. But, I have to be realistic as I help each player set their goals. I take the responsibility of being a coach very seriously. I am very comfortable with the life lessons I teach to my players. My greatest accomplishments as a coach does not involve the highest-ranked players. I believe in the process. If the process is healthy, feelings of accomplishment and winning usually follow. If the process is not healthy, I do not believe the player will be happy, regardless of the level they reach.
I believe in hard work and goal-directed work. Working hard gives a player a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that he or she is deserving of success. It is very hard to feel like a true winner when part of you believes that your preparation has been inadequate.
I believe that competition is inherently healthy. As long as the player realizes that his or her self-worth is totally independent of winning or losing a match, competition can be used for character building. Competition is a big part of every aspect of life. It cannot be ignored, but it must be placed in its proper perspective.
What role should a parent play in their child’s tennis development?
Howie Arons: A parent’s job is the most important job they will ever have. Giving your children good values and teaching them to be good human beings is an important role and one not to be taken lightly. The most important factor a 10-year-old junior looking to get better in tennis is by truly enjoying the sport. Juniors who love the game become the best players as they grow from 16s to 18s to college. Parents really have the ability to help their children enjoy the game even more by being totally supportive. Supportive means many things because there are many things a parent has to do to let a junior try to become a national player, including time spent going to practices and lessons, and all those late Friday night matches in New Jersey. The time that you spend with your child in between matches and in the car is all very important. This time period will go very fast, so enjoy it and make it a life positive experience. Be a loving parent and not a coach!
Maurice Trail: Parents play a big role in helping their child reach their fullest potential. The encouragement and support of a parent is very important in their child’s development as a tennis player. Parents must pick a coach that best suits their child’s needs. They must also pick a coach that they can trust, and that will help their child reach their potential.
Tonny vandePieterman: The role of the parents in this process seems to be the hardest part to get right. Parents often feel the need to help coach the player, especially after they have become "experts" by watching hours and hours of tennis. Parents, of course, mean well, but I find their most important role is in the balance of life part. They must try to keep their child emotionally balanced, pick them up when they are down and bring them back to Earth when they're flying high. It’s not an easy job, but a very important one nonetheless!
What is your opinion of the new USTA rules for 10-and-under tournaments? What impact do you think it will have?
Carl Barnett: Because of our physical training program, our seven- and eight-year-olds are already playing full court. I personally feel, and so do many other coaches, that many nine- and 10-year-olds will start playing the 12-and-under events sooner possibly than they should.
Steven Kaplan: The 10-and-under rule changes at a grassroots level makes the game easier and more fun, and is a very worthwhile development; however, the imposition of this change at the tournament level is a concern. My curiosity was sparked when I first read about the change on the USTA Web site after reading the following statement:
"Studies have found that competition, when conducted in a welcoming environment that allows for multiple play opportunities, enhances kids' enjoyment of the game."
This statement seemed out of context, so I contacted the USTA director, recreation coaches and programs, and asked to see these "studies" and guess what … they don't exist. They were "lengthy discussions" about de-emphasizing winning and increasing play opportunities. When the headline article on the USTA Web site deceptively references fictional studies that focus on unrelated topics to promote the rule change, it makes me question just how thought-out this change was planned. The USTA director subsequently explained to me that the philosophy of the change is in part the result of the notion that, in his words, "We basically have nothing to lose by changing the format because we have such a small amount of players in the 10-and-under age group who are actually competing in tournaments."
I happen to coach seven players ranked in the top 10 in the east in boy's and girl's. In conversations with some of these players and their parents, it is clear that they would like the option of competition in the current format, as well as the new format. Ultimately, the loss of opportunity and freedom of choice for this group of highly-skilled players is unfortunate, unnecessary and potentially counterproductive to growing the game.
Lawrence Kleger: The new format for 10-and-under tournaments has been, and will continue to be, a very hotly debated issue. Obviously, for any BG10 that is already playing 12-and-under tournaments, this rule is irrelevant. For any BG10 that is ranked very high in the standings, he or she will be forced to move to BG12 possibly a little earlier than expected; not very tragic in my opinion.
But, BG10s who are not quite ready to make the jump to BG12 competition will face a dilemma. Do they move up to BG12 and take their lumps, or do they play BG10 in the new format that some might consider “going backwards?”
For all others, there really is no choice … they must play within the new format. In order to introduce a new comprehensive system of learning, there have to be major changes made. QuickStart Tennis, and similar programs around the world, are now accepted as the best methods for learning our sport. By utilizing slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls, on smaller courts and with lighter, smaller racquets, QuickStart now parallels Little League Baseball and youth soccer. The mantra is now, “The scaled-down equipment and smaller playing fields allow kids to achieve success the first time out—and sustain that success as they continue develop and refine their skills.”
Time will tell if this system will work in the United States as it has in other countries, but I believe that it deserves the opportunity.