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 participants …
12 Shore Drive ♦ Great Neck, N.Y.
Howie Arons is owner and director of Great Neck Estates Tennis Center and has been coach of the B.N. Cardozo High School Boys Tennis Team for the past 35 years. His teams have won 18 New York City Public School Team Championships, giving Howie 567 wins, the most of any high school 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 10th 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.
In the last 20 years, Nick Brebenel has developed three professional players who, at one point, were in the ATP Top 30 (Adrian Voinea, Pavel Andrei and Max Mirnyi). Those three players have wins over the likes of Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Andre Agassi amongst others in their careers. On the junior level in the last seven years, Nick has coached a junior champion at Wimbledon and three Kalamazoo Junior Champions (Nikita Krivonos, Mergea Florin, Adam Elmadewy and James Wang).
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.
Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Center at Glen Cove
60 Sea Cliff Avenue ♦ Glen Cove, N.Y.
Stonar Coleman is a pro at Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Glen Cove facility. Stonar is a USPTA High Performance Coach, Professional 1 Rating, and was ranked in the top four nationally as a Jamaican junior player. Stonar currently coaches several top nationally-ranked junior players.
Carefree Racquet Club
1414 Jerusalem Ave # 1 ♦ North Merrick, N.Y.
Ron D'Alessandro is the head pro and director of tennis at Carefree Racquet Club and Hempstead Golf & Country Club. Ron has more than 20 years of teaching experience, and is USPTA/USPTR Certified, specializing in teaching Cardio Tennis.
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 34 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.
Long Beach Tennis Center
899 Monroe Boulevard ♦ Long Beach, N.Y.
Bandar Kayali is assistant director at Long Beach Tennis Center. He was MVP and first singles and doubles player for Adelphi University Men's Tennis, and an ITF Futures player. Bandar has a 363 U.S. national ranking for the ITF Pro Circuit. He is a USTA 5.0 NTRP rated player.
Sportime New York
101 Norcross Avenue ♦ Bethpage, N.Y.
(516) 933-8500, ext. 5123
Michael Kossoff is regional director of tennis for Sportime New York. He was a college tennis standout at Bowling Green University and has coached numerous top national players.
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. 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.
Rockville Racquet Club
80 North Centre Avenue ♦ Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Alyssa Morra has been teaching tennis for seven years. She first started working at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where she played as a junior. She also worked at Cunningham Tennis Center, Queens College Tennis Center, Bronx International (NYJTL) and The Field Club of Greenwich. She played for Queens College and helped her team to four regional championships and was ranked seventh in the east for doubles and 11th for singles in Division II tennis. Alyssa is currently with Rockville Racquet Club where she works with adults and juniors of all ages and levels.
Advantage High Performance Tennis Camp
Maurice Trail has been coaching for more than 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 running drill programs and private lessons at Jericho-Westbury Indoor Tennis Club and also runs Advantage High Performance Tennis Camp at St Dominic's Athletic Fields in Muttontown, 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.”
Tonny van de Pieterman
Point Set Indoor Racquet Club
3065 New Street ♦ Oceanside, N.Y.
Tonny van de Pieterman 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.
What are the best things you see about tennis in the New York area? What are your biggest concerns about the local tennis scene?
►Vinicius Carmo: I like how the USTA has been trying to help junior players become better tennis players. It is important to grow tennis in this country. It would be great if everyone could be on the same page with the USTA and work together. I think the biggest problem that I found in this area is how expensive tennis has become. We also need more indoor facilities so that we can have more kids playing tennis.
►Maurice Trail: There is a lot of talent in the New York area. There are a lot of good players who are capable of being highly ranked in the nation and worldwide. My concern is that we need more affordable indoor facilities, which will allow the playing field to be leveled. Junior players need to be able to train more all-year round. This will enable New York area players to compete at a better level with kids from warmer climates like Florida, California and Texas.
What is your opinion of the state of American tennis?
►Ron D'Alessandro: The men's tour is struggling right now. We need someone who is going to compete for Grand Slam championships with Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. We thought that Andy Roddick was going to emerge as the next superstar, but he has been an utter disappointment. American tennis lacks the excitement it had with Connors and McEnroe in the 1980s, and Agassi and Sampras in the 1990s. We could use another good rivalry to get things moving forward.
►Steven Kaplan: Players from the United States have experienced limited success internationally, at the highest levels of professional tennis in the last 10 years. This doesn't seem to have stopped the growth of the sport’s popularity in this country, however. Reuters reports that between 2000-2010, participation in tennis has outpaced growth in all other traditional sports up an astounding 46 percent. Tennis is a $5.5 billion-plus industry in the U.S. and the numbers are growing each year. The USTA has just released numbers for this year’s U.S. Open, indicating that media interest is up 17 percent from last year on TV, and up 24 percent online. While the state of American tennis is weak, tennis in America is thriving.
►Alyssa Morra: Tennis is an expensive sport to play in the U.S. and that can take away from a great player furthering their game with lessons and competition. I also think a lot of juniors start too late. Hopefully, now that QuickStart is being enforced, it will bring younger kids to enjoy the game and want to continue playing. At the pro level, American tennis had declined in recent years, but that is starting to turn around with good young talent like Jack Sock, Donald Young and Christina McHale all posting nice results at this year’s U.S. Open.
►Maurice Trail: American tennis is in good hands, I believe once again. When traveling recently around the country and going to the U.S. Open, I saw a lot of great young talent, including Sloane Stephens, Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, Christina McHale and Donald Young. The USTA is doing a remarkable job of getting these young American talented kids together. Hopefully in the future, they can get the talented coaches working with these kids as well.
Serena Williams had another outburst at this year’s U.S. Open. How would you address this sort of issue with kids who saw her outburst and may be negatively influenced by it? How would handle poor sportsmanship by one of your players?
►Carl Barnett: She lost! Both times, Serena Williams lost! This is a “losing strategy” and that is how I addressed the situation with my students. See my article in the January/February 2010 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine on page 31, "82,500 Reasons for Fitness.” What happened with Serena is classic “Pampered Player Syndrome,” and only happens when she is losing to a more fit player.
►Stonar Coleman: I would tell my students that the umpire should not be the determining factor in a match, no matter what the call is. As the player, you ultimately control your own destiny. You have to handle yourself maturely on the court and be aware of the match situation. If my player shows poor sportsmanship, I would explain to them where they were wrong in detail and which points they were wrong on. Poor sportsmanship is bad for their success.
►Steven Kaplan: Serena Williams behaved poorly during her most recent outburst at the U.S. Open. While she might be defended here by the recognition that it was an emotionally-charged moment, ultimately, Serena is an experienced professional with a history of outbursts at the Open. She should be held to the highest standards of accountability for her behavior and unfortunately for herself, her fans and American tennis, she did not assume responsibility for her actions. Her press conference words conspicuously omitted any personal culpability for her actions, and perhaps this is why she continues on a recurring path of self-destructive behavior. Serena did not apologize for her actions at this year’s Open and the important lesson for kids here is that if you get caught up in the heat of the moment and display bad sportsmanship, then take ownership of your actions, apologize, learn, grow and move on.
As a preface to teaching sportsmanship to young players, I believe it is vital as a coach to first understand the values of the player's parents. If the behaviors that define poor sportsmanship for me are in conflict with the views held by a player's parents, then imposing my philosophy will be both ineffective, and even undermining to the student.
Good sportsmanship is most effectively taught to players proactively. It is essential, as a coach, to act as a role model for good sportsmanship in interactions with students. This means to first personally behave with the sportsmanship that you wish your students to display. Then, instruct, and reward effort, attentiveness and respectful behavior. Next, provide a positive environment for students that encourages focused determination and hard work and leaves little opportunity for the distraction of negative behavior. Students may still behave with poor sportsmanship at times despite these efforts, and as a coach, I react by first demonstrating my disapproval, and then methodically reinforcing the practices described above.
►Maurice Trail: I watched the women’s finals of the U.S. Open and was shocked once again by Serena’s behavior. I can see her getting mad at herself, but to belittle the umpire isn’t what she’s there to do. I talk to my students about how it’s important to play with passion, but even more important to keep your emotions under control. Over the years, we’ve seen this behavior time and time again, with several top players including John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase.
Since 10 & Under tennis has been implemented at your club, have you noticed an increase in participation of kids in that age group?
►Ron D'Alessandro: Since 10 & Under tennis has been implemented at our club, the number of kids participating and risen dramatically. At least half of the children in our junior program are under the age of 10, and that number is rising. We are excited over these numbers, because they are the future of our club, and for the sport of tennis in general.
►Michael Kossoff: Enrollment is higher this year in our 10 & Under age range, but I am not sure it is directly related to our club having 10 & Under tennis. I think it has more to do with providing high-level coaches working with our younger age groups.
►Whitney Kraft: The 10 & Under programs should have a great effect in the New York City area as the population density and numerous clubs and facilities should really build the local base, help with talent by attracting some of the better young athletes, as well as recreational. One concern in this area is cost of indoor court time.
►Tonny van de Pieterman: Yes, we have had a tremendous increase in participation. We had started four QuickStart programs last year, and with the USTA’s increased focus on this age group with their advertising campaign during the recent U.S. Open, we added two 10 & Under competition training groups as well this year.
At what age, if any, should a serious junior player focus solely on tennis instead of any other extracurricular activities?
►Nick Brebenel: In my personal experience, the earlier they begin to focus strictly on tennis, the better it is. Champions like Monica Seles or Martina Hingis, or Andre Agassi or Lleyton Hewitt won big professional tennis tournaments at a young age. If you are serious about the sport of tennis, then focus on the sport as soon as possible.
►Vinicius Carmo: I think that a player should focus solely on tennis around 12 or 13 years old. Tennis today is super competitive, and you just cannot afford to play other sports. Maybe 20 years ago you were able to. But, not today
►Whitney Kraft: If not sure if this ever needs to occur. Extracurricular activities develop and maintain better athletes and help prevent players from getting stale from the sameness of one discipline/sport.
At what age level, if any, does home schooling become necessary for a serious tennis player?
►Stonar Coleman: Home schooling should become necessary for the serious tennis player at the age of 14 if they show the proper maturity level for it. Having the desire to be home schooled is also a very important part of it. If he or she does not have the competition in their area, then they have to travel to find it.
►Steven Kaplan: Schools educate children in "loco parentis" in this country. That means that parents have the right and the obligation to provide schooling for their children institutionally or personally as they see fit. Great caution should be exercised by parents in consideration of this decision. Home schooling, as a tool to provide greater training and playing opportunities for serious tennis players, is effective, but at a potentially high cost. It is very limiting to prioritize tennis education to the extent that it supersedes more academic endeavors. Professional tennis, as a career, is a trade that is a financially rewarding pursuit for a select few. Many kids, if given the choice to drop out of school to pursue the romantic dream of being a tennis professional, or to do homework and study, will choose the latter without weighing the negative consequences of failure. Parents that try to be facilitators of their children's dream are often unwittingly prioritizing and enabling the satisfaction their own desires. School serves important socialization, and as well as academic functions, and a disruption of this experience will be a negative for the healthy and safe development of most children. While the tennis rewards of home schooling are undeniable, the educational compromise and risk engendered by this road make it, all too often, a well-intended, but misguided, decision for families at any age.
I have always believed that athletics are a vital and important part of a young person's education. Tennis is a wonderful athletic outlet and enhancement to a well-rounded education, but the most lofty goal of education is personal growth and development.
►Michael Kossoff: I feel like home schooling is only necessary if the player’s goal is to become a high-level professional tennis player. If the player and parents are fully on board and are willing to go “all in” and the child is old enough to understand the decision being made, then there should not be an age restriction for home schooling the player.
At what age should a junior start cross-training?
►Carl Barnett: Let me first say that tennis for children is cross-training for what happens in their off-the-court life. All of our groups at the Early Hit Training Center have a one-hour component with Jonathan Landsman, our trainer. We use body weight, not free weights. This is a wonderful way for kids to increase strength, awareness and focus.
►Bandar Kayali: This is a very debatable topic. I believe kids should start working on fitness and physical training for tennis immediately. I'm not saying they should start bodybuilding in the gym at 12-years-old, but I do believe that juniors should be doing explosive movement drills, agility and balancing drills, and footwork coordination drills on a daily basis. All exercises should be geared towards tennis only and must be related to movements on the tennis court. For example, ladder drills to coordinate foot work, explosive throwing of medicine balls replicating forehands and back hands, and sprints that involve many changes in direction. Things such as long-distance running should be kept to a minimal, maybe only 45 min. runs about six times a year to expand lung capacity because long distance running can slow down ones fast-twitch muscles. Explosive calisthenics exercises and explosive plyometric jumps and sprints can be used to enhance fast-twitch muscle fibers. As you can see, nowhere here have I mentioned weightlifting for youngsters. Yes, it is very effective in building strength and enhancing fast-twitch muscle fibers which are necessary for tennis, but it must be done at the proper age approved by a doctor, and with proper supervision and direction.
►Alyssa Morra: Juniors of all ages can do some version of cross-training. The key is to limit the regimen to correspond with the player’s age. For younger juniors, I like to keep things easy and have them focus on hopping, skipping, jumping, relay races and other fun activities to work on footwork, hand-eye coordination and balance. Each player is different, and therefore, their training program may vary. Some version of fitness training is always recommended for players.
►Tonny van de Pieterman: I always advise parents to keep kids involved in team sports at least until the age of 12, and with my European background, I favor soccer as great cross-training for a junior tennis player. Working with stretch resistance bands for fitness could be started relatively early, but I’d wait with lifting weights until the player’s growth spurt has passed.
How much involvement should a parent have in their child’s development? What role does the tennis parent play and what role should be left to the coach?
►Ron D'Alessandro: It is very important for a child’s parent to be involved in their development. A parent needs to support their child when it comes to transporting them to lessons and tournaments. Also, the financial obligations always need to be factored in. The parent, coach and student need to be on the same page as far as the student’s development. Having an open line of communication between the coach and the parent is vital to having a successful relationship.
►Whitney Kraft: The operative word is quality of involvement, not quantity. This is the same for coaching. Quantity would vary to produce desirable changes without overload or undue pressure. A parent’s role should focus upon providing a solid support system.
►Bandar Kayali: The bond between a tennis player and his coach must be very strong on all levels, such as friendship, trust, fun and belief. Any time a parent is on the court, this takes away from that bond and prevents a lot of coach/player social transaction that is vital to that relationship. During private lessons, I believe that the parent should stay in the clubhouse most of the time and maybe once every two weeks, they should take a peek. Children will always see their mom or dad as a parent and never as a true coach, so anytime a parent gives criticism, they do not see it coming from a coach's perspective, but it seems like they are being scolded. Secondly, even if a parent is a tennis player, all coaching must be left to the coach and the coaching staff of the club they play at. The coach has a special agenda and future vision for their students based on the child's goals and potential. So, before you decide on a coach, you must trust them 100 percent to take care of your child and their future in all aspects of tennis.
Is it better for a junior player to play up or play down in ability level and why?
►Howie Arons: Every tennis player knows that the hardest match to play, is the player ranked just below you. Players love to play up, with no pressure and nothing to lose. The player that is number one, is always playing down matches and that’s why that player is so tough. The matches played up will come if you take care of business and always respect the “down match.”
►Carl Barnett: It really depends on the player. Every parent feels their child will only learn with better players. It will help their strokes, but how about learning to win? Is that going to happen if they only play against better players? Who did Roger Federer practice with all those years at number one in the world?
►Michael Kossoff: I feel like there is a lot more depth in each age group. It says a lot to the great coaching that we have available in the area, as well as the sport attracting better athletes. One of my biggest concerns is that parents and coaches tend to have their players play “up” in age groups too quickly. I am a big believer in having my players play when they are expected to win. Being put in that situation is crucial in development and helps build character.
►Alyssa Morra: Playing up or down in ability level depends on the individual junior. They both have advantages and disadvantages physically and mentally. If they want to play at a higher level, then they need to be mentally ready to compete. The junior’s physical condition also plays an important role in whether to play up or not. Juniors who are only playing for fun and want to play with their friends should not move up in ability level. They may lose interest if they are not with their friends.
What qualities do you look for in a junior player that makes them stand out from the rest as a potential top player?
►Vinicius Carmo: I look at their mental toughness. We can all teach kids strokes and get them in shape, but mental toughness is a longer process. Usually, the top players come from good families where they know how to deal with pressure, work hard, and have high self-esteem.
►Bandar Kayali: There are certain things that I look for in a junior to consider them as a potential ATP or Division I player. Some things are very difficult to teach juniors and they rarely are able to do them naturally. An example can be players who rarely get down on themselves, even if the score is 6-1 or 5-1. These players still believe they have a chance and are playing every point with a clean mindset as if it were the first point of the match. Another thing I look for that is very difficult to teach, but is rarely found naturally is great distance coordination and early recognition of where, when and how to adjust one's body to the ball coming to them. Very few kids are able to coordinate their anticipation, sprint and adjustment steps immediately after the ball is struck by their opponent on the other side of the net. Another aspect that stands out is when players from a young age are able to properly construct points patiently and smartly. Most top juniors enjoy over-hitting or playing the game too safe, and very few are able to play balanced. They have a natural inclination to set up points and vary their speeds and angles, and then know when to risk and pull the trigger at the proper time.
►Tonny van de Pieterman: Besides good hand-eye coordination, some junior players stand out because of their eagerness to learn and to try new things. This excitement usually translates into overcoming difficult hurdles in anything we do in life, as well as in tennis. The amount of time a child can focus is definitely important, but I find that most qualities can be learned if properly trained and repeated.
What’s more important for a junior player: A TennisRecruiting.net ranking or a USTA ranking?
►Howie Arons: While TennisRecruiting.net has become a valuable tool for prospective college players, there is nothing more important than a USTA Sectional and National Ranking. TennisRecruiting.net is great for networking and meeting coaches, but your ranking gives the coach a bigger picture of your ability level and tennis potential. Any player can do for himself or herself everything that TennisRecruiting.net can do.
►Nick Brebenel: After having spoken to hundreds of college tennis coaches, I understand that they clearly they prefer TennisRecruiting.net rankings over USTA rankings. Both rankings are important, but inseparable.
►Stonar Coleman: A TennisRecruiting.net ranking is more important than a USTA Ranking. The reason being because it carries more weight when it comes to match wins.
What in your teaching/coaching philosophy do you think is the backbone of your teaching and coaching methods?
►Howie Arons: Having the experience of coaching high school tennis and running a junior program for 35 years, I would say the “backbone” of my teaching and coaching philosophy is that just like life … achievement in tennis requires passion and hard work. There are no short cuts for anyone. If you love the game and are willing to really work hard, then you will succeed.
►Nick Brebenel: Over the last 20 years, I have developed three players in the top 30 on the ATP Tour, and in 2003, a junior champion at Wimbledon in both singles and doubles. I have also coached two Kalamazoo junior champions in the last seven years. I consider all aspects of coaching very important, from technical aspects to physical and mental work. You also need the ability to be able to teach children to play complex percentage tennis from the beginning and have the ability to instruct them to work very hard all the time.
►Maurice Trail: This is a very interesting question for me. Just like lawyers, doctors and scientists, these people aren’t born this way, they are made. My belief and the backbone to my coaching is that players aren’t born, they are made. I’m not one to spend time worrying about accolades. The key thing to me is I love what I do. I love working with kids of all ages and skill levels. I feel if you love what you do, you will do a great job no doubt!