Organizer of the Month
July 16, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects a passionate advocate who has made exceptional contributions within the community through tennis. This month, we recognize a leader who’s been at the forefront of tennis youth development in western New York.
Making It Simple
Laramie Gavin showed little interest in tennis until he turned twelve. A neighbor invited him to join a tennis camp that summer; he had to borrow a racquet just to attend. But the experience proved to be transformative—he hasn’t tired of the sport since.
“It was fun,” he remembers. “I went back [to the camp] the following year, and then I started playing a little in the park. And then from there I played for my high school and college [at Southern Illinois University].”
That was just the beginning. After working as an instructor in a parks program during his junior year at SIU, Gavin thought about trying to find full-time work in the sport.ADVERTISEMENT
“When I was finishing up college, I wanted to be a teacher,” he says. “But I couldn’t really envision myself in a classroom setting. [Giving lessons] ticked similar boxes for me—working with people and see them learn, grow and become successful.”
His pursuit paid off. Post-graduation Gavin worked at Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago, where he crossed paths with then up-and-coming players like Donald Young and Evan King as he traveled to tournaments with and trained high-level juniors based in the area. Eventually his role transitioned into growing the club’s junior development program, and that has been his primary focus within the realm of tennis ever since. Currently, as the Director of Racquet Sports at Midtown Athletic Club in Rochester, N.Y., Gavin works every day to replicate his own camp experience and keep young players interested in the game.
“If we do it well from the start by making it simple and engaging, how can you not enjoy it?” he says about introducing kids to the sport. “I get turned off by all the YouTube videos out there that are called ‘Mastering the Federer forehand’ or something like that. That’s all nonsense. Kids just need to be engaged, they need to make friends, and they need a reason to keep coming back.”
It’s a practice he’s eager to share with others. Gavin “jumped” at the chance in 2018 to serve as a Net Generation Ambassador for the USTA. Net Generation is the USTA’s flagship youth program aimed at attracting new, young players to the game. A big component of Net Generation is empowering coaches, organizers and teachers by giving them access to USTA expertise and materials.
“I love the ideas behind Net Generation,” he says. “And my experience [as a Net Generation Ambassador] has been positive. I’ve had opportunities to lead trainings and workshops, which is very cool. Hopefully I’ve been able to help directors see the benefits of implementing tennis programs within their larger programs, whether they are camps, schools, recreation programs, whatever.”
Gavin is also a fan of USTA’s Team Challenges, an introductory format in which kids can develop their tennis skills in a team environment, de-emphasizing results. He has hosted a few Team Challenges at Midtown Athletic Club and will lead a Team Challenge at the Binghamton Challenger, one of four stops on USTA Eastern’s Team Challenge Summer Series. (To learn more about our Team Challenge Summer Series and how you can participate, click here.) But he thinks the simple structure is particularly useful for nascent and emerging tennis programs. “I love that a rec program or a development program that’s just getting started can have access to a format that’s spelled out for them, that explains ‘This is how you need to do this,’” he says.
Gavin knows just how critical it is to engage young people with the right tools. After all, the camp program he attended as a twelve-year-old ultimately led him to the fulfilling career he has today. “We always talk about creating a learning environment and setting a stage,” he says. “Guiding kids to learn something new, and then own it—that’s pretty rewarding.”