Over the last couple of years, USTA Eastern has been making a strong push to bring tennis into local schools, an important initiative that will usher in a new crop of young players. At the heart of this initiative is Neil Thakur, the organization’s Tennis Service Representative for the Long Island Region.
“The main objective of the USTA is to grow the game of tennis, and the best way to do that is to expose kids to tennis from a young age,” said Thakur. “To achieve this, we have created a robust school program which I want to get into every school district on Long Island. At no cost to them, we offer teacher training, equipment, curriculum developed with SHAPE America and most importantly, a school partner who has been background checked and gone through a safe play training to help them succeed in introducing tennis to their students. No tennis courts are required, it is done within their gym classes. All we want in return is for them to give an opportunity for their students to experience tennis. Many people and the schools in particular may not know about this program, so it’s important to get the word out and have them take advantage of all that we offer.”
Thakur has been integral in spreading and promoting Net Generation here on Long Island since he joined USTA Eastern at the beginning of last year, around the same time that the Net Generation initiative was launched by the USTA.
“A couple of years ago, my nephew came across a job listing for the Long Island Tennis Service Representative opening, and he sent it to me because he knew that I know a lot of people involved with tennis, and that I like to network and connect people,” said Thakur. “But when I read the description I said, ‘Why don’t I just apply?’ I didn’t even forward it on to anybody, and just applied myself.”
Thakur came to the tennis industry after working in healthcare and sports medicine for two decades. While he had never worked in tennis, he had been an avid recreational tennis player and always loved the sport.
“I’ve been playing for a long time,” he said. “I love competing in the USTA leagues. Having a team sport where you are all playing for one another is a lot of fun and creates camaraderie.”
Born in London, England, Thakur, whose father was an Indian diplomat, lived in many countries around the world growing up, including India. He moved to the United States when he was 19 to attend college, and after graduation, he began working at the United Nations.
“I moved into the healthcare field after that, primarily working in a pain management and sports medicine practice,” said Thakur. “I helped expand the practice into multiple locations on Long Island and Queens. I did that for about 15 years, and really had no intention of doing anything else. That was going to be my career.”
Despite never having worked in the tennis industry, the idea of bringing people closer together is something that has always been a part of Thakur. Connecting people from all walks of life is a natural instinct for him.
“The thing I think I’m good at is bringing people together,” said Thakur. “One of the first things I did when hired was to go out in the community, meet the tennis providers and learn about their programs and their needs. I wanted to introduce myself and just let them know that I was here. It took a while but I’ve built some great relationships.”
Developing those types of relationships is vital to Thakur’s role, as many schools, programs and other entities are sometimes unaware of just what USTA Eastern and Net Generation offers. It’s not just a matter of providing rackets and balls and dumping them onto the floor of a gymnasium.
“Although schools are a major focus, there are many other things that we offer,” said Thakur. “I am working with providers and clubs to create a Junior Team Tennis league. The USTA also offers support for community programs for beginners and advanced players alike. We also have a program for college players who want to continue to play recreationally called ‘Tennis on Campus.’ We provide opportunities for younger players to experience the U.S. Open, as well as the New York Open on Long Island. Anyone involved with youth tennis should also explore Net Generation. Anything to do with tennis, I can help.”
One of the great things about the Long Island tennis community is that we all share a common goal of growing the sport, because the more it succeeds, the more everyone benefits. And that is precisely Thakur’s goal.
“I love what I do. I’ve been able to learn quite a bit in a short time, and hopefully I’m helping people, and that they trust that what I am doing is for their benefit,” said Thakur. “I am here and the USTA is here to help and work with them in whatever manner they may need us. I would encourage players, parents and coaches to reach out to me to see how we can work together to grow this lifelong game.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.