By Justin Samples
Over the past few years of my life I have realized how tennis has been a gateway into so many of the things I’ve learned and experiences I hold dear. So many of the people I have been able to meet, places I’ve been able to travel, and skills I’ve been able to build are thanks to the game of tennis.
I’m halfway through my Tennis for America fellowship and I couldn’t be happier about the opportunity I’ve been granted to share the game of tennis and all the lessons I’ve learned from it with students across the city of New York. The organization I’ve been set up with, New York Junior Tennis & Learning, has a strong commitment to growing the game of tennis in communities across the city. The organization makes tennis accessible to many under-served kids and families who would otherwise not have the means to learn what has been a historically exclusive game. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled much of the organization’s normal programming, we have and are hoping to continue working with as many students as possible through the mediums of education and tennis.
The purpose of the Tennis for America program, as conveyed to the fellows by Stephen Devereaux, is to “end poverty through tennis.” Understanding this, I determined that the best way to attack poverty is to create opportunities and avenues of success to the younger generation. As such, I’ve had the pleasure of working with students through the ACES After-School Program as well as the Intensive Training Program (ITP) at Cary Leeds Tennis Center. The ITP Program is made up of players ages 8-16 who began tennis through free NYJTL programs and have shown great commitment to the sport. I’ve especially enjoyed my role in this program because it has allowed me to engage with students in both a classroom and on-court setting. Three days a week I sit down with the students as a group for about an hour to teach them life and mental skills. We go over topics such as confidence, visualizing success, goal setting, managing stress and anger, among other things. In some of the classes we have I won’t even teach, I just listen to the students discuss certain topics themselves and chime in when they need a little guidance to move forward. It has been a very humbling experience. I also learned the game of tennis through an National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) program in Atlanta, so it often feels like I’m teaching younger versions of myself and I want to give them everything I can.
Very recently I began working at a middle school in Brooklyn through the ACES After-School Program. I’ve met some of the kids virtually already and we’ve had some fun sessions playing Kahoot! Games and talking about tennis, the best type of chocolate, and books we are reading. Most of the students are new to tennis and I’m excited to be the one to get their tennis journey started! I am really looking forward to meeting them in person soon — both to share my love of tennis and education with them and to further convey that dark chocolate is criminally overrated.
Every so often I also get the chance to teach lessons and clinics at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in the Bronx. I’ve enjoyed working with the Yellow and Green Ball Developmental Groups on court and leading fitness classes for all the junior programs on Sundays. I’ve put a lot of effort into learning new exercises and stretches to target various areas of the body – which have been very beneficial to the students as well as myself.
Despite the limiting circumstances we are all currently living through, I am very happy about the work I’ve been able to do so far with NYJTL. Their goal of making tennis accessible to kids of all ages and backgrounds through free programming across the city deeply resonates with me, and I’m thankful to be working towards this goal as well. The coaches, group leaders, and administrators are all very experienced and demonstrate a real passion for their work. I’m looking forward to the second half of my fellowship and hope to give a positive tennis experience to even more kids across the city.
The ITA’s national service program Tennis For America invests in college tennis graduates in order to fight inequality through tennis. Learn how you can support Tennis For America.