USTA Jr. Team Tennis emphasizes the importance of being part of a team, all while having fun and playing with friends. While you can’t have a match or a practice without players, the driving force behind successful Jr. Team Tennis squads are the coaches and parents. These passionate advocates are the ones introducing the game to new youth players; in regards to this week’s National Championships, their influence has had a lasting effect on the children competing at the Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center.
Jonathan Ingham of the USTA Southern 14 & Under Intermediate team has been coaching at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., for the last 13 years. He started his first Jr. Team Tennis program seven years ago, and each year the program expands. Currently, he works with 120 kids, 75 of whom play Jr. Team Tennis.
Ingham coaches alongside Lauren Isenhour, and together they have developed two sectional championship teams which will compete for a national title -- one this weekend one at the upcoming 18 & Under competition beginning next week.
Seven Landfall kids have moved on to play for Division I colleges and universities under Ingham’s watch. What’s more, the 18U team competing next week consists of four players who are currently attending college. Many of the players on that team serve as mentors for the kids coming up through the program.
Coaching Jr. Team Tennis "is one my proudest things,” said Ingham. “The kids put their individual goals aside and do this as a team. The kids love being part of a team and create a journey as a group.”
Ingham’s motivation and support has been essential to creating a positive experience for many of his players. His advice for other coaches starting a team: “Coaches have to be the leaders and trust that the program will be good for their kids -- playing on a team and relying on each other is an important aspect.”
Ashok Samuel, whose son Joshua plays for the USTA Eastern 14U Intermediate Team from Tenafly, N.J., took it upon himself to turn Jr. Team Tennis into a call-to-action in his community. Three years ago, Samuel decided to form a Jr. Team Tennis squad from scratch. At first, it was difficult filling out the roster, but his persistence and passion for the game made an impact.
Today, Samuel organizes five Jr. Team Tennis teams consisting of 68 kids. This year they made their first trip to Nationals.
Samuel’s message, both then and now, is that the game is fun for the whole family, not just the kids. It goes well beyond the court.
“It is not just tennis matches; it is a way of life,” said Samuel. “When we don’t have tennis matches, I create tennis parties. It makes it a fun for not only the children, but also for the parents. We will hang out together and build relationships and friendships. We are all part of a team.”