Organizer of the Month
January 29, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. This month, we recognize a tireless instructor, coach and tournament director who believes in the value of working as a team—even in an individual sport.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
You never know what will set you off on the path to discovering your dream job. When Ari Roberts was on the boys’ varsity tennis team at Monroe Woodbury High School, a few members of the JV team approached him and asked if he would consider giving them some lessons in his free time. Roberts, then a senior, agreed and began teaching the group on public courts. That fall, Roberts headed off to Ithaca College, but whenever he returned home, the lessons continued, and then multiplied, as more and more students requested his expertise. ADVERTISEMENT The enterprise became so successful—and so unexpectedly rewarding—that upon graduating from Ithaca, Roberts wondered whether the whole operation could become a full-time gig. (Up until this point, he’d planned to enter airport management.)
“I was doing so well teaching tennis that it turned into something I loved to do,” he says. “And I actually love teaching more than I do playing. It’s really satisfying to see someone first learn to play and then eventually progress to a high-level player.”
In 2001, Roberts officially decided to abandon that airport management thing by founding his own tennis instruction organization, MatchPoint Tennis. Today the clinic, which is housed at the Goshen Sports Complex in Goshen, New York, is thriving, as thousands of aspiring players have learned the game from Roberts and his staff. Eighteen years later, Roberts has a very clear philosophy regarding instruction: He strongly believes in fostering a team atmosphere among all of the players who train at MatchPoint.
“It’s really circular,” he says. “The better the team gets along, the better they train and they work together. The results come with the hard work, and the hard work comes when the team gets along so well.”
For that reason, he recently brought a group of ten juniors from MatchPoint down to Royal Palm Tennis Academy in Miami so that they could train with Luis Manrique, the coach of 2017 US Open doubles champion Jean-Julien Rojer. Roberts has taken similar excursions to Dallas, Atlanta, Akron and Orlando.
“These trips create a sense of training for a bigger purpose than just the individual,” he says.
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. In December, Roberts coached MatchPoint’s 14 and Under intermediate Junior Team Tennis (JTT) team to a superb fifth-place finish at the National tournament. (JTT is a coed program in which kids 6-18 play competitive tennis in a team format.) Not a bad result for a group in their first year of eligibility in the age division. Roberts again notes that camaraderie was the key to success.
“The kids who went to Nationals all train and play together,” he says. “They’re friends on and off the court. Before the matches, they would get breakfast together. After the matches ended they would be playing together by the pool. Having that team support system [in JTT] is a great asset for kids who usually attend tournaments as individuals.”
In addition to his work as an instructor and coach, Roberts also runs multiple junior tournaments a year, including two on the national level. For his efforts in this area, he recently received USTA Eastern’s Tournament Director of the Year distinction at the 2019 Eastern Tennis Conference.
“It’s about realizing that when juniors go to tournaments, they’re really nervous,” he says regarding what makes a great director. “So if we are understanding, and make it fun, it leads to a better overall experience.”
Hosting these events has afforded Roberts a more expansive view of the tennis landscape in the USTA Eastern section, and he’s optimistic about the future–especially since what he’s noticed harkens back to his own viewpoint regarding the game he loves: Teamwork, and supporting each other.
“The most exciting part of being a tournament director is seeing the change in sportsmanship between players over the past couple years,” he says. “The behavior on court has been better. I think that makes tennis better.”