Jorge Capestany: The significance behind being a good coach
It’s the kind of story many of us are familiar with… where a young man picks up a new sport because his friends are doing it.
“I started playing tennis because of my friends in junior high— they were one grade older. I was in seventh grade. They were in eighth and they played tennis,” says Jorge Capestany, Tennis Pro and Tennis Club Manager at the Dewitt Tennis Center at Hope College, a DIII college located in Holland, Michigan.
“My friends were twins and they were kind of big guys. As a matter of fact, one of them was Ray Bentley.”
Ray Bentley would go on to become a professional football player for the United States Football League, with nine years of play for teams like the Buffalo Bills and the Panthers back when they were based in Pontiac, Michigan.
During high school, Ray and his brother, Rahn, played on the tennis team with their dad as the coach. In his interview, Jorge describes his friends’ dad as a mentor and a tough athlete who coached from his wheelchair.
“Their whole family played tennis.”
Jorge’s family was unlike Ray and Rahn’s because Jorge’s parents never played tennis.
So he grew up hitting with his friends. “I was completely no good... but it was kind of fun.”
According to Jorge, tennis was so much fun that he decided to play in high school.
“When I was a freshman and they were sophomores, I decided for the first time ever in the spring I would not play baseball like I'd grown up doing. I was going to play tennis because, frankly, my friends were on the team. Luckily I was a halfway decent athlete. I could hustle around and I made varsity as a freshman — the lowest spot back then: third doubles… But I thought it was really cool. I got a varsity letter as a freshman, which I never thought I'd do.”
He was a self-described, “total rookie”, who next year, would decide to also stop playing basketball because he wanted to train for tennis in the winter.
The extra court time paid off. Jorge moved up from third doubles to one singles… To Jorge, that kind of leap was terrifying!
“My perception was, I can't beat these guys… So I lost a ton of matches. It was kind of a brutal growing experience,” Jorge remembers.
Jorge Capestany grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan.
“I was actually born in Havana, Cuba,” says Jorge. “I was born in '62.”
Jorge was born during the Cuban Revolution — when Fidel Castro, a Cuban political leader, transformed the country into the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.
“My parents, along with thousands of Cubans, left because Castro had just overtaken. They were realizing, Cuba's going to be a communist country.”
So Jorge’s parents traveled to America. “Everybody who came [to the U.S.] at that time thought it was just temporary like We'll go to the U.S. and then when Castro’s overthrown, we'll go back.”
In the beginning, Jorge and his family stayed with an aunt in Miami, Florida, but Castro’s time as leader lasted longer than expected. “He wasn't getting overthrown... and suddenly there were way too many people in Miami where my aunt lived. So there were churches that were sponsoring refugee families,” Jorge recalls. “My dad — he grew up loving the ocean. He lived on the ocean and swam in the ocean every day, even as an adult. So when they showed him a map of the United States and said, 'There's a church here in Denver. There's one here in Montana and there's one here in Michigan.' [My dad] saw all the water and goes, 'Michigan!'”
Jorge’s family moved to Michigan — his mom and dad, his two older brothers who were nine and 10 at the time, and Jorge who was a baby. The idea was still that Michigan was temporary. Just a couple more years in the United States…
“That didn’t happen,” says Jorge. Years later, his mother would return to Cuba, but only for a short visit. And his father never made the trip back. “My parents both went from having a really nice life and having maids and cars to being a maid and working in factories just so we could be free.”
Jorge says, he hasn’t been back to Cuba but says he’d like to visit one day.
Michigan is Jorge’s home, and it’s where his tennis career has evolved over the years. He played tennis in college and then became a teaching professional. Early on, he developed three Gold Ball Winners, and after about six years he’d grown in popularity as a coach. As a high-performance coach, he traveled constantly, bringing players to tournaments across the country. One year, he brought 44 kids from his program to the Midwest Closed.
Then he became a Director of Tennis and, eventually, a club manager. It was 19 years ago when he was hired at Hope College to begin programming there.
“We had immediate success.”
Jorge describes Holland, Michigan as a “tennis town” with programs selling out almost year-round. Dewitt Tennis Center is now a full-service club with lessons, team tennis, tennis cardio, everything you could imagine… On top of that, there’s the school’s varsity tennis program, intramural tennis, and now, Professional Tennis Management (PTM) — a USTA program.
“Students can come here, grab whatever major they want, do a minor in kinesiology and tennis, and end up as a certified pro when they're done.”
It’s an impressive program with great potential for students. There’s currently a shortage of tennis pros and clubs across the Midwest, and many students come out of the program with a job offer.
In Jorge’s day-to-day, he’s in charge of managing Dewitt Tennis Center and he trains tennis pros. He also creates content for two websites. Tennisdrills.tv has thousands of coaches subscribed, looking for new drills to teach their athletes and jorgecapestany.com serves as a major resource for all-level tennis players and coaches.
When tennis becomes your career, it’s safe to say you meet a lot of people through the sport, but not all of us have met our spouse through tennis.
Jorge says, he met Martha (she goes by Marti) in college.
In 1980, at Grand Valley State University in Western Michigan, Jorge was on the courts with his friend and on the very next court was Marti and soon-to-be one of Jorge’s college teammates. Jorge said hello, later had some classes with Marti, and the two started dating! Now they’re married and Jorge’s not the only pro in their relationship. Marti is also a teaching pro, and at 61 years old, her USTA rating is still a 5.0.
"She's good and she's a great teacher!"
Jorge and Marti have an adult daughter who also plays tennis, even playing at Hope College when she was a student.
Over the years, Jorge’s favorite part of teaching the game is helping players build their character, “making championship people, not just championship players,” Jorge points out.
Jorge doesn’t play tennis much these days. He’s got a couple of knee problems, a previous ACL injury and hamstring issues, but he still enjoys teaching. When explaining his tennis style growing up, Jorge says, he began his career playing mostly singles — then enjoying doubles in his 20s. He liked doubles because he could play in the frontcourt as much as he wanted. At the height of his game, he was playing with a 5.0/5.5 USTA rating.
“I definitely had a couple [of] killer mentors and coaches in tennis,” Jorge says, looking back on the years.
When Jorge was that sophomore in high school, wanting to play tennis in the winter, he didn't know where to start.
“We were an immigrant family. My family didn’t have a lot of money. So the thought of paying hundreds of dollars on tennis lessons was not going to happen for us,” Jorge says. “I found a club... thinking, I want to play tennis during the indoor season and train. I met the coach — the pro Don Dickinson. He sat me down and explained what private lessons were, how much they were... Internally I was like, that ain't going to happen... It was dawning on me that I wasn't going to be able to play indoor tennis. So I was embarrassed. I didn't really want to tell him, 'Hey we don't have any money.' So I kind of said, 'Okay yeah. Let me talk to my parents about this.' And I started walking out of the club. I literally had my hand on the door to go... and he said, 'Hey Jorge, come on back here'... He must have sensed something.”
Dickinson offered Jorge a walk-on pass for just $20 a month so that Jorge could walk onto a court and play the moment one was open. Jorge seized the opportunity, and he knew another kid in town, Chris, doing the same thing he was.
Every day after school, Jorge and Chris would go to the club and play sets. Whenever classes would start and the courts were reserved, they’d take a break from playing and go into the lobby to do their homework.
"We just lived at the club and hopped on whenever we could… I was getting better and better.”
Dickinson saw Jorge’s improvement and encouraged him to join some group clinics. He told Jorge, if he came early and swept the courts, it’d pay for his clinic time.
"I started getting all these jobs that ranged from cleaning the toilets to sweeping the courts, preparing the clay courts, to stringing racquets and teaching the little kids. By the end, I was a senior in high school and volunteering my time a lot… So I could train a lot! That's how I afforded it. Then I got good and that's probably what launched me down this path of tennis. I'm so grateful because I'm pretty sure, if I had exited that day, my life would have been completely different. I probably wouldn't be into tennis. I certainly wouldn't have gotten good — wouldn’t have played college tennis… That one decision from that coach having a little compassion, helping somebody who didn't have a lot of money… I mean— it was epic. I literally think he changed the trajectory of my life just by giving me a chance."
That chance led Jorge to coach more than one National Champion and eventually his daughter. Jorge is one of only a dozen or so Master Professionals with PTR and USPTA. He’s been named Pro of the Year and National Pro of the Year on separate occasions, and he gives a lot of credit to his students. “They allowed me to do that... I'm humbled that I had [that recognition].”
A look at Jorge’s past in volunteerism also shows he was the former president of USTA Western Michigan, and today, he's looking forward towards a new company he started: Racquet Sports U (RSU). The company was started by Jorge along with partners Scott Schultz, long-time USTA executive and the creator of the first-ever Professional Tennis Management (PTM) program, and renowned Sports Scientist, Mark Kovacs. Together they’re creating content intending to act as a coaching education company — to help develop a new generation of tennis coaches and make them great.