Junior Tennis champions of the Year: Butch Staples and Leah Friedman
They’re advocates for getting kids into the game. They’re passionate about them having fun. And they just might be QuickStart’s biggest fans.
Butch Staples and Leah Friedman are the head tennis pro and junior development director, respectively, at Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago. They teach children tennis starting at age 3, and their philosophy is simple: Get them playing. Not just learning strokes and doing drills, but actually playing. And that means doing something counter-intuitive: taking a step back from the court.
“Sometimes pros like to keep feeding the ball so kids can hit it,” says Friedman, “but we’ve learned that if we’re patient, the kids will start working together, hitting back and forth. It becomes cooperative; they learn more and they have fun. Lessons should be kid-centered, not coach-centered.”
“That’s the magic of our programming,” says Staples, “the notion of children actually playing tennis at an early age.” Midtown’s junior tennis program has 500 players at various levels. Beginners start with the QST format. Both Staples and Friedman have rapid improvement among juniors as a result of their ability to take charge of their own games.
“Butch and Leah put the fun into learning and playing,” says Kirk Anderson, the USTA’s Director of Recreational Coaches and Programs. “Retention has been outstanding and it’s because kids enjoy themselves.”
“I love that kids are out there laughing and having fun,” says Friedman. “When their lesson is over, they’re saying, ‘When can I come back?’”
Tips for success
- Commit to QST. “A good program requires commitment and passion from the leaders,” Staples says. “It all has to be there, from the top down.”
- Make sure everyone’s on board. If kids are taking lessons using QuickStart, says Friedman, “you want to make sure their parents practice with them using the same equipment.”
- Make everything age-appropriate. Not just the size of the court and height of the net, but the duration of events kids participate in. “Our competition formats for little kids last maybe two hours,” says Staples. “You want to stay family-friendly.”
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.