From avid wheelchair player to passionate coach: meet Henry Reyes
While he won't be competing at the 2022 edition, Californian Henry Reyes is a familiar face to those who'll be present at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. later this week for the annual USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships.
The 20-year-old from Paramount, Calif. first took up tennis as a player at age 8 at longtime coach Dee Henry's wheelchair tennis clinic at Biola University, and after peaking at No. 20 in the world junior wheelchair rankings and coming full-circle when he competed for Biola at last year's nationals, has turned his attention to coaching. Within the last year, Reyes received his Level 1 coaching certification from the USTA to train beginner players, and is unique amongst these coaches in that he, as a wheelchair user, teaches tennis to able-bodied youths at First Break Academy, a USTA Foundation National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter in Carson, Calif.
"My own coach, Dee Henry, she really she really pushed me to go get a wheelchair coaching certification at first, and then after I took that course," Reyes reflects, "I was in. I was hooked. I really wanted to get into it."
As a USTA Foundation NJTL chapter, First Break Academy is one of nearly 300 non-profit organizations around the country that aids under-resourced youth in tennis and educational pursuits through free or low-cost tennis lessons, academic support and in-school and after-school programming. Last year, the organization serviced 360 players from ages 5-18, with 85 percent of those players aged 10 or younger. It is these beginner players with whom Reyes primarily works as a Level 1 coach, introducing them to the game via red-ball instruction.
"They're very new [to tennis], very energetic, and they're very fun to be around," Reyes says of his pupils. "Of course, it's very hard to get their attention sometimes, but that's the challenge of coaching and that's what makes it fun."
While Reyes still has aspirations to play competitively at the highest levels and represent the U.S. at the Paralympics—he's been to the USTA National Campus for USTA Player and Coach Development wheelchair tennis clinics and camps, and trained alongside elite pros including Dana Mathewson and David Wagner—he's already seen first-hand that he's changing the game closer to home, even at his young age.
"It's been very surreal and humbling to work with these kids who come from under-resourced backgrounds, and working with wheelchair players is also amazing," he says.
"To be teaching the sport that I grew up with, to see the smiles on the kids' faces when they do something right—or even when they do something wrong—to see the face they have when they learn something, when it clicks in their head, it's amazing.
"They seem enthusiastic about learning, whether it be tennis or some other stuff that we talk about. It's a great opportunity to teach the kids about life. From what I learned from my own coach, tennis really ties into life, so it's a great opportunity for these kids to learn about life through tennis as well."
And this new coach is learning from his students, too.
"When I was little, [what he enjoyed the most was] to send the ball around and getting it over the net," Reyes says, "but now, it's just all the connections and all the people that I've met and new friends that I have, getting better at the sport and learning from all these wonderful people that I know. They've really taught me a lot."
The 21st annual USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships will bring 32 players from 12 colleges and universities to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. from April 13-16 to compete for individual and team titles. For more information, visit the USTA Collegiate Wheelchair National Championships homepage.