ORGANIZER OF THE MONTH
USTA Eastern | March 22, 2018
Each month, USTA Eastern selects a passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. In celebrating Women’s History Month, we shine a spotlight on a Fort Lee pro who is a woman making a difference with the youngest of children, using tennis as a medium for growing kids’ athletic development, as well as sharing the importance of staying positive and developing resilience.
Tennis Organizer of the Month: March 2018
Taking Tennis to the Tots
While many tennis professionals shy away from teaching the unpredictable, easily-distracted toddler set, Patricia “Patty” Garay thrives and treasures her time working with these young bundles of energy. Garay has more than 10 years of teaching experience on and off the court and will complete her degree in elementary education from Saint Peter’s University next year.ADVERTISEMENT
With her unyielding commitment to showing children a path to healthy living at a very young age, Garay leads a “Mommy & Me” fitness program at Fort Lee Racquet Club (which recently gained its designation as a registered Net Generation provider from the USTA). She helps toddlers develop their motor and movement skills and introduces them to the fun in fitness and exercise, using tennis as the medium. “I love being these children’s first experience with tennis as a fitness activity and organized sport,” said Garay. “I always want to make my classes and activities super fun, and help them develop a good foundation in personal fitness.”
Using tennis equipment that is tailored for the smallest and youngest of players, Garay facilitates interactive games for children as young as two years old to develop important skills that are the basis of physical literacy, such as agility, balance, coordination (also known as the ABCs of tennis), eye tracking and spatial awareness. Before even picking up a racket, she introduces children with simply rolling the ball back and forth with one another or their parent.
“Tennis is a sport that you have to be able to reciprocate, meaning it's a give and take,” said Garay. “You hit the ball to someone and they are supposed to hit it back to you – that’s the sport. Learning this first piece of the progression in its simplest form is important to understanding how to play.”
Garay believes in teaching the technical progression of tennis slowly, breaking each facet and technique down to the smallest components, which helps the children in her Mommy & Me program achieve quicker success. She then gradually transitions kids to hand rackets, foam paddles that slip over a child’s hand and help young children get a feel for contacting the ball and playing tennis before they’re ready for junior racquets.
When not teaching at Fort Lee Racquet Club, Garay runs an eight-week, after-school tennis program in the gymnasium of the Hola Hoboken Dual Language Charter School. Garay integrates fun games and ultimately gets her elementary school students to rally, play games and get moving after a long day in the classroom. She also facilitates a Little Tennis Tots class for preschool students at the Appleview Early Learning Center in North Bergen. “I work with children, ages 2.5 - 5 years old and focus on the ABCs of Tennis,” said Garay. “This program has been received well by the kids and their parents. In fact, many of my Appleview preschool students come join the 10 & Under program I lead at the Fort Lee Racquet Club.” But a greater good motivates Garay in teaching tennis to these wee athletes.
Garay started playing USTA junior tournaments around the age of 13, became a nationally-ranked player and played for Concordia College. It was through her own experiences playing tennis competitively that she realized the value that tennis can play in developing a strong personal character.
“I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest take-away from my own tennis career was my resilience and my grit has served me well during some challenging times,” said Garay. “In competitive tennis play, you have to be able to deal with loss, and then learn from it. And you have to maintain a positive mindset and not beat yourself up when you fail. I want to share this important character trait with other children to give them the tools of perseverance, endurance, strength of character, positive self-talk, everything that you need when you're going to be an athlete and an accomplished person.”