Summer school: USTA Player and Coach Development fellows taught more than tennis

Victoria Chiesa | December 15, 2022

For 12 weeks this summer at the USTA National Campus, future tennis coaches were fully immersed in what it’d be like to live their dreams thanks to USTA Player and Coach Development’s inaugural Fellowship in Tennis Coaching & Leadership.


This year’s fellowship, the latest iteration of an evolving program that’s helped guide young tennis coaches over the years, was joint effort by USTA Player and Coach Development and the USTA’s diversity & inclusion department, in collaboration with the USTA Foundation, from May to August. The first class consisted of 10 participants—five men and five women—who represented seven states and hailed from all paths of life. They included five coaches of color; eight former college tennis players, including Fresno Pacific University student-athlete Maria Borodii, originally from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine; two-time Paralympian Shelby Baron; and 2020 Mississippi State University graduate Alec Osbourne, who was once a rock-climbing guide in Maine.


But the fellowship wasn’t just limited to one-time NCAA stars, or those in search of their first post-college job. Take it from Venecca Green, a licensed attorney and grandmother from Jackson, Miss. whose resume included captaining her 4.0 and 5.0 USTA League teams and running a USTA Foundation National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter that served under-resourced youth.


“I thought about [the fellowship] for somebody else,” Green said. “Not necessarily me, but the more I read it, the more I believed that that was something that I should do. I have a couple of promising kids that I believed needed more than what I could give, and in reading what would be offered at the USTA National Campus, I wanted to come and see if I had what it took to be able to teach high-performance-level tennis.

“The ‘aha!’ moment was that I don't have to be a Division I player, or a professional player, to be able to go back and teach high performance.”


The fellows were afforded weekly leadership development opportunities, and shadowed USTA Player and Coach Development staff on and off the court, and in areas that also included strength and conditioning, coaching education and video analysis, and National Campus programming and event support. They also traveled to the famed Junior Tennis Champions’ Center (JTCC) in College Park, Md.—which has produced pros like Frances Tiafoe, Denis Kudla and Robin Montgomery—to get hands-on experience with their adult tennis, junior development, community outreach and adaptive tennis, and program and facility management teams.


“I think it's important to have a support system like we had here in the fellowship to develop as a coach,” fellow Diego Nava, from Woodland Hills, Calif., said. “I think that variety gives us a lot of experience and makes us dynamic when we step on the court with any player.”

The 2022 fellowship participants.

After successful completion of the fellowship, each participant was certified by the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) as a Level 2 teaching professional—a feather in the cap that’s particularly valuable to fellows like Mihaela Codreanu, who played college tennis at the University of Rhode Island and Tarleton State University and came to Orlando after spending time as a volunteer assistant coach at Tarleton State.


“Coaching, it's not just something that you're thrown into or because you play tennis, you can, all of a sudden, start coaching,” Codreanu said. “It's a skill that needs to be taught and it's a skill that needs to be learned, and so this is what the fellowship is. It's teaching us coaches to be better coaches and take it to the next level.”


Baron, the first wheelchair user to participate in the program, also hoped to use the lessons learned in the fellowship to shape her post-playing path.  


“I think if a future employer sees this player development, coaching and leadership fellowship on my resume, it makes me really stand out because I’ve learned so much throughout this fellowship about just the basics of coaching and all these theories about why we do the things we do on court,” Baron added.


“I've had a lot of really good coaches in the past, and I’ve modeled the coaches that I liked the best, but I've never really understood why I do the things that I do. Being able to learn the reasons … I'm really understanding how a player learns best, with all different types of players, juniors, adults, able-bodied and wheelchair.”


The fellowship is expected to expand to a roster of 16 participants in 2023. Over the long-term, the hope is that it creates a pipeline of qualified tennis coaches that will recalibrate the number of diverse tennis leaders in the industry—and that will, in turn, attract, train and shape the next generation of participants.


“I think tennis and life mirror each other so much,” fellow Edik Pribitkin of Blue Bell, Penn., said. "Getting into it as a coach can really give you new insights and build new opportunities that might not otherwise be there before, and can really help you help other people grow.”

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