It was an exciting gathering of over 100 coaches from across Southern California for the National Junior Tennis and Learning program sponsored by the LA84 Foundation and the Southern California Tennis Association. The group met at UCLA recently for a day of fun, learning, networking and education.
The NJTL program strives to instill a love for the game of tennis in economically disadvantaged children, and provide them with an opportunity to play, compete and to develop good sportsmanship. It was founded in 1969 as the brainchild of former tennis champs Arthur Ashe and Charlie Pasarell, along with businessman Sheridan Snyder. Its goal was simple: to encourage kids — with a specific focus on urban kids — to try the game of tennis.
The formula has been successful as the Southern California chapter that currently services approximately 10,000 children at 150 summer sites, including 52 year round programs from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. The recent NJTL Orientation seminar is a yearly educational experience that provides coaches with knowledge, friendship and a sense of belonging to an amazing organization.
This year the group was blessed to hear keynote speaker Billy Martin, the esteemed UCLA Men’s Head Tennis Coach, who inspired listeners with words of wisdom and advice. Additionally, the program offered a three-hour on-court workshop led by USTA National Ten and Under Trainer Karen Ronney.
“We meet every year to kick off the summer season,” said Melanie Bischoff, the Director of Community Tennis for the Southern California Tennis Association. “It’s great to be able to provide coaching education and renew friendships. We also get psyched up to make it a great summer season.” Our coaches are a mix of people that have been involved for over 40 years and those that are brand new coaches. It is a great time to get them together to talk and learn and grow with the days events.”
Coach Billy Martin offered the idea that giving the gift of tennis has six distinctive benefits to children and their families. They were:
- Tennis can be a safe haven for kids for a few hours while they are on the courts because you never know what is going on in their lives. They can play with freedom from worries, fears or concerns.
- It’s a great way to maintain health and get exercise in a really fun game.
- Sticking with the sport gives kids a chance to pursue the game at higher levels such as USTA Junior Team Tennis, high school tennis and possibly college tennis.
- It offers a sense of accomplishment. Children can reach goals they never dreamed possible.
- Athletes who play tennis are more desired in adult career opportunities to future employers, who would respect the life skills that the sport teaches kids.
- In some cases, if NJTL players keep advancing, they may be able to play in college as a varsity athlete, recreational classes or perhaps the USTA’s Tennis On Campus program.
The audience was captivated by Coach Billy’s take on tennis and responded with many probing questions. Some included:
“How do you get older kids to learn the game? Answer: When they attend camps and classes try to place them in classes with kids of similar ages and abilities. It makes for a more comfortable learning environment.
“What does it take for a player to be successful at the NCAA Division I level such as UCLA? Answer: Players need to learn to compete well under pressure in front of large crowds. If you are a UCLA Bruin and you are playing at the home cour t of another school, it’s important to ignore the shouting and cheering that goes on for your opponents. You need to be able to concentrate and play your game.
What are some demands placed on athletes when they compete for colleges and universities? Answer: There is a lot of work that happens off the courts. Players are running, training and lifting weights.
Both Martin and Bischoff agree that the NJTL program has been and is a great introduction to the sport. They know it’s a starting point that inspires youngsters to grow a love for the game. NJTL could not continue without the ongoing support of the NJTL instructors, the LA84 Foundation, and all the wonderful partnerships that help us continue to grow.
“Tennis is a sport for everyone,” said Bruce Hunt, Executive Director for the SCTA. “Getting a child engaged in NJTL is a great starting point. You never know where future champs will come from and it’s a chance to make big dreams come true.”