NJTL 50 for 50:
Arthur Kapetanakis | June 24, 2019
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com looks at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who helped shape this incredible community dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In this installment, we catch up with Mathieu Sullivan. Sullivan is an alumnus of the Legacy Youth Tennis Center in Philadelphia, formerly known as the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center. Sullivan went on to win the USTA Foundation Essay Contest twice. He has since gone on to graduate Villanova University, and is currently a government relations associate in Philadelphia.
The Mathieu Sullivan File
Name: Mathieu Sullivan
NJTL Chapter: Legacy Youth Tennis Center, Philadelphia
Role with NJTL: Past participant and coach
Age became active in NJTL: 8
How did you first get involved with the NJTL?
Mathieu Sullivan: I actually started out because I was playing at another facility and I wanted to play more and get more serious about tennis. ADVERTISEMENT So, I went to the Arthur Ashe Center to start participating just in their clinics that they had during the year, and playing at the actual home center. Then when I heard about the essay contest, I decided I'm going do NJTL during the summer, and it just gave more opportunity to play and just get better at tennis. So, then I went to the local recreation center and I played during the summer as part of NJTL, and then I would go back in the fall during the school year and play again back at the main facility.
You won the USTA Foundation essay contest not once but twice! What motivated you to submit an essay?
Mathieu Sullivan: So, it's actually kind of a funny story. At the chapter where I started playing, one day I saw a flyer for the Arthur Ashe Essay Contest. Well, actually I saw a flyer that said that you could win this trip to New York and go to the US Open, go to Kids' Day and whatever and do all this cool stuff. I saw it, I was like, "I want to do that. How do I do this?"
I thought you could just sign up and go. I didn't realize that you actually had to write an essay. So, the reason why I got involved was because I wanted to go on this trip. In order for me to do that I had to join NJTL, which I hadn't previously planned to do, and I didn't really know anything about it.
I wrote the essay and I actually won the contest. But I also got the opportunity to participate in NJTL. Actually, at the time when I won, they hadn't had anybody as young as me win before. They had to actually call my parents and make sure that my parents were OK with me going, because they didn't know what to do with an 8-year-old who won. It was like, "Is he OK to go? Is he too young?"
My mom was like, "Oh, no, it's just all he wanted really. He just wanted to go to New York. He didn't even want to write the essay."
How did you enjoy the trip to New York?
Mathieu Sullivan: There were other kids, all of them older than me, and they were from the different age divisions that they had. I went with my mom. We were put in a hotel in Manhattan for a few days and we went to see a Broadway show, the whole group of us, the kids and their families. There were people from USTA. We got to go on a cruise around the island of Manhattan. Then we went to Arthur Ashe Kids' Day and got to actually go out on the stage where they performed the musical acts and everything. We got tickets and we got to sit right close by and watch the show and participate in all the activities.
We also went to a luncheon at Mayor David Dinkins' apartment. He hosted all the essay contest winners and had them over and we got to meet him. And we got to kind of mingle with some other people. Of course, this was all very overwhelming for me because I was the youngest kid there by a couple of years, and I'm just like wide-eyed. I don't even think I really comprehended what was going on. Then I actually, somehow—I forget exactly who it was—but somebody, it might have been somebody from USTA, had tickets to opening night of the US Open, and couldn't use them. I ended up getting them and was able to go. That was the first time I was able to go to the US Open. I went for opening night and saw the opening ceremonies, and got to see Pete Sampras play.
That was beyond anything I had ever expected, and it actually started a trend of me going every year after that for a number of years, probably 10 or 11 years in a row I went.
You’re also still involved today. How did you get back into the NJTL community as a coach?
Mathieu Sullivan: Obviously I kept playing tennis, which I still do today.
But I kept playing and at one point when I was 18, when I just graduated high school and left to go to college, I was actually injured at the time. I couldn't play. But I wanted to be just out on the court.
So, a couple of the coaches, now at this point it's Legacy Tennis, a couple of the coaches said, "You know, why don't you just join us out here on the court and you can help coach and you can feed balls and run some of the drills and stuff.” So, that was my first opportunity to actually coach. I did that with the summer camps, just at the main center for several years during the summer when I wasn't in school.
In 2017, I got the opportunity to actually be an instructor at one of the sites, one of the NJTL sites, and I worked with another coach. Then I got an opportunity to also go to a different site and actually be the site supervisor, be in charge at a different site, and actually from day to day come up with all the drills we were going to do and kind of run the whole thing. I had an assistant with me as well, another coach with me as well.
In total, I actually ended up working at three different sites over the course of the summer, working with several different populations each time. The site that I ran was out in the suburbs. It was at a summer camp. Then the other two sites I worked at were in the city, totally different populations. A lot of inner-city kids. Kids coming from Police Athletic League, kids coming from just the neighborhood, and kids coming from the Rec Center summer camp.
So, basically, I started out as just a summer camp coach and then they said, "Why don't you do NJTL? We have this site that you can go, it can be your site. Then you can go support these other coaches at these other sites."
You’ve spent so much time in the NJTL community. What has kept you involved with tennis for so long?
Mathieu Sullivan: When I started doing NJTL, I was playing year-round, and it was more hardcore training. It had a different focus. I was learning about tennis from the individual perspective because of course, everybody knows tennis is an individual, it's not a team sport necessarily. I was just focusing on myself.
When I got the opportunity to do NJTL, it was a totally different experience. I got to experience the camaraderie that can happen if you do get the opportunity to play on a team. I got to meet new people, and get to know where other people are coming from, what their backgrounds are, what their interests are, and so it gave me a little bit different perspective of tennis and just of sports in general. Some of the coaches that I had both at NJTL and also just at my normal clinic became mentors to me. So, I was able to learn the importance of being a mentor, the importance of having mentors, the importance of giving back and teaching others what you know and sharing your knowledge with others.
Pictured: Mathieu Sullivan (Photo Credit: Mathieu Sullivan)