| By Lonnie Mitchel

In the past several articles, I have written that there is an underlying theme that resonates. There is so much more to tennis than just hitting a ball back and forth over the net.

You also know that if you have been reading my articles that I am a huge proponent of the collateral benefits of our game. According to Dr. Jack Groppel, USPTA Master Professional and a USTA spokesman, major benefits come from participation in tennis for a minimum of three hours a week with moderate intensity cut their risk of death in half from any cause. Tennis players score higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem, while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes and non-athletes. Tennis requires alertness and tactical thinking, and therefore, may generate new connections between nerves in the brain and promote a lifetime of continuing development of the brain. Tennis outperforms golf and most other sports in developing positive personality characteristics. Competitive tennis burns more calories than aerobics or cycling.

In my efforts to be a self-appointed ambassador of the game, I am on an endless search for new reasons to play and get players from the other sports to join in. I have written in the past that tennis in much of the mass market still has a country club stigma attached to it, of which, our game really I think has to separate itself from. The team I coach at SUNY Oneonta recently had a match against SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island. After the match was over, we went to one of the parent’s home who graciously hosted us for a dinner. Among the dinner guests, some former alumni came with a former assistant coach and extended family members. As I was sitting inside with several of the parents, I looked out on the patio where I saw young men and women sitting outside sharing some laughs. I had another moment where I thought if I was a parent of one of these young men and women, I would have been so pleased that they had their own sorority or fraternity to which they belong to. Players from our program from past and present now have a foundation that was seeded and nurtured with tennis being the commonality. I am now adding another benefit to the ones written earlier, that is developing social skills and nurturing a higher emotional IQ. Tennis is a skill that takes you well beyond the courts and enhances your professional skills to be used in any occupation. You will meet people through interaction and communication on the tennis court and beyond, and in turn, develop social skills and increase one’s confidence.

That evening during a four-hour van ride back to Oneonta with 11 collegiate student athletes, I observed how valuable social skills can resonate from a common interest in the sport of tennis. A three-hour tennis match played earlier in the day was a valuable competitive experience. However, a much more valuable closeness that went well beyond the tennis court sidelines transpired. I cannot tell you how proud I was not only as the coach, but if I was a parent of one of these ladies, I would have thought every dime invested in the sport of tennis for my child was paying off.

I thought maybe I should write about how to improve strategy, tennis skills and the mental approach to the game? After all … I have preached these tennis skills more than half of my life. However, there are thousands upon thousands of You Tube Videos, books, instructional articles available in the easily accessible information world we live in on the subject of tennis improvement. The message I prefer to write about here offers more of a value I believe. I want players whom I work with privately and on my collegiate teams to enhance their lives beyond hitting a forehand or backhand. As a tennis professional and college coach, that is my primary objective. If you are a tennis professional and are reading this, the skills taught to your students should go well beyond the tennis court. Teaching a forehand or a backhand is like teaching a potential carpenter how to hammer a nail, but teaching a carpenter to build a house that lasts for generations is the ultimate goal. Building a tennis player is the same … build a tennis player to completion. I am not talking about creating world champions here! I am talking about building a player who can add value to their lives, in the workplace, and socially for years. Assets that pay dividends far beyond the ability to skillfully hit a ball over the net are the absolute.

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.