| By Lonnie Mitchel
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I am out on the tennis court at 7:30 a.m. in the morning working out on the tennis court, and on the court next to me is a wonderful scene. Two former students, home from college, are playing doubles with the parents of one of the boys. It turns out that these two boys (one a freshman and the other a sophomore) who were only acquaintances before they went to college, ended up coincidently at the same university. They met up at college and formed a doubles team on their college club squad and it seems as though a friendship was born. The parents of one of the boys, who are avid players themselves, were playing doubles with them and they had a great match. Now I ask you, does it get any better than that? I ran into the mother of one of the boys a few weeks later, and the mom was so proud of the accomplishment and was so pleased about the network of friends which evolved from tennis.

I got a text message from one of my former tennis students looking to play tennis when she gets home from college for the holidays. She also plays tennis on her college club squad and has developed a whole social network through tennis. It was wonderful to hear from her and get her involved with some matches at home during the holiday season. Again, I ask you … does it get any better than that?

I have heard some feedback from previous articles I recently wrote that I am downplaying the goal of playing Division I college tennis and not embracing the training efforts of some really good tennis academies on Long Island. This is simply not true. I appreciate the programs we have here on Long Island, and I admire the caliber of players that these academies turn out. These top players deserve all of the accolades they earn for competing at such a high level. I am acutely aware of how hard it is to be a top-ranked junior and how difficult it is to play Division I collegiate tennis. My own son attends a good academy and loves to compete on a high level. I applaud these parents and kids who work hard to achieve their tennis goals.

You know what I applaud more? I applaud illustrations of kids playing tennis like the ones who I talk about at the beginning of this article. Another example of the dividends I receive as a parent far outweigh any victory my children ever earned when they compete in USTA tournaments, collegiate matches and high school matches. Recently, my older son came home from college and took my younger son on as his double partner when he got together with two other collegiate players in a socially competitive doubles game. My wife and I were smiling from ear to ear when they left the house to go play. Every penny we invested in their tennis was returned in the form of one big giant dividend. Close shop … mission accomplished!

In my professional life, I have learned about the “WOW Factor” while working in sales and marketing for The Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean, and more recently, as a national account manager for Sandals and Beaches Resorts. These companies are marketing machines and continually reinvent themselves with new marketing campaigns and new ways to capture more market share and get new customers to come to their destinations and resorts. I am forced to think outside the box on a regular basis. When it comes to tennis, there are different ways to think on the court strategically and different ways to view our juniors——the future of our game!

“Am I the Only One Who Gets It?” is the name of this article and the WOW Factor (thinking outside the box) is what I am looking for from the many tennis clubs and facilities to embrace the other students who do not aspire to play Division I tennis. I get it because most parents who sign their children up for tennis lessons hope that they develop a love for the game that stays with them forever. I want to see and hear about a kid who made their middle school or high school tennis team for the first time and also maintains a good GPA in school. For that child and family, that is a huge big deal! I want to hear that a tennis facility has 35 or so kids in their program who also play on their school teams. Which student won the club junior championship? Who was the runner-up? Which student won the junior ladders and who were the runners-up? Who entered a USTA Level II tournament and made it to the semifinals? How many USTA-ranked juniors does that facility have?

In addition to Division I collegiate accomplishments, the successes from other students are also important. They might be more important because, at the end of the day, the majority of any program will have these types of players. The WOW Factor is giving accolades for the variety of successes that a program can offer. The majority of audiences on the junior level are these types of players. Embrace them because your biggest dividends will come from them. Not every student will be a Division I collegiate player. The priority for many junior development participants is to learn how to play and improve, develop a lifetime skill and a good social network.

That is an accomplishment … so let’s embrace it.

Lonnie Mitchel

Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail lonniemitchel@yahoo.com.