| By Miguel Cervantes III

The positive growth of tennis in America requires the community to engage in mentorship at every level of the game. Whether as a coach, a meet up group, a player or parent, mentorship can make a huge difference not just in the rate of growth of our sport, but more importantly, the positive growth of our sport. There is a difference between the competitive player and casual player, but the growth of both of these groups does not necessarily mean that tennis is being grown in a positive way. Juniors can grow up loving the competitive side of the game and lose track of sportsmanship and the sheer love of the art of sport. Programs that promote tennis can grow its numbers, yet fizzle out years later from an absence of leadership and direction. Mentorship in every facet of the game helps to promote and develop our sport in a positive way and should be practiced more often.

Mentorship involves giving back to tennis by helping others especially when they are in a position that you were earlier. The practice of “mentorship” helps the mentor because it helps to ground that person and remind them where they came from and what they went through. It helps the mentee as they benefit from the experience and wisdom of someone who was in their shoes. If it weren’t for my mentor Daniel Burgess, I would not have been able to be successful as a tennis instructor. This is one area I believe is exceptionally neglected. Tennis instructors come from all walks of life. Some are former players, some are former teachers, and some come from a professional background. Regardless of where they come from, being able to play the game is a necessary skill to have, but being able to communicate and teach is even more important. Mentorship between experienced instructors and new instructors should be far more prolific if we wish to advance our teaching methods.

Mentorship should happen at the player level as well. I have been very fortunate to work with some excellent juniors, but it has often been the case that amazing juniors become complacent and/or cocky. Advanced juniors should be involved in the mentorship of other players that are just beginning. It serves to remind them where they came from and it helps them to add another dimension to how they think of the game. Most players learn through repetition until their bodies internalize it and it becomes muscle memory. The advanced junior adds the dimension of understanding to their repertoire when they teach the beginner since they must articulate to them in a concise and concrete way. One example is to use the assistance of players in the junior development program to help in a PAL or community-based program.

Grassroots and other tennis programs must also move towards a trend of mentorship. Programs that help get people into tennis are usually led by the passion of one or a few individuals. That passion can rarely survive the hardships that come with the thankless job of running that type of program. It is a lot to ask of a person to run a tennis meet up or grassroots program for years upon years and that’s where mentorship can take over. Everyone has multiple commitments, including family, work and social obligations. Mentoring someone helps spark their passion and can help alleviate some of the burden of carrying the flag of tennis. Everyone pitching in means a sharing of responsibilities and results in a positive cycle.

For tennis to successfully grow in a positive way, mentorship will be necessary at every level of the game. Sharing our passion is great, but going beyond that to nurture that passion in others is what will have a compound effect and bring us the next generation of tennis superstars, players, instructors and organizers alike.

Miguel Cervantes III

Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com.