Junior tennis champion of the Year: Vesa Ponkka
You can grow a love of tennis in children, says Vesa Ponkka, but it’s not so much about the lessons you impart as it is the approach you take. “The biggest mistake we make in teaching tennis, at every level and in every country, is always the same: We ask the coaches and players to believe in our system, but what we need to do is believe in the players first,” he says.
Ponkka, senior director of tennis at The Tennis Center at College Park in College Park, Md., has been working with juniors almost 30 years. One thing he says he has learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. “A lot of young coaches want to coach players the way they were coached when they were young. You have to look at the players and what they need.”
And while there may be complaints about tennis parents, says Ponkka, those moms and dads are spot-on in one respect. “They don’t have the knowledge base, but they have an absolutely unyielding belief in their children. When you think about it, the good teachers, the best teachers, are always the ones who believe in the kids and as a result, they inspire them.”
“Vesa might be one of the finest role models in tennis,” says Ajay Pant, general manager at The Tennis Center at College Park. “He lives and breathes everything he teaches on the court. If my kids were still in juniors, I would want them with him not just because he would make them into great players but because he would make them into great people.” — Mary Helen Sprecher
Tips For Success
- Don’t try to categorize what you think the player should be doing. Kids move at their own speed. Work at the kid’s pace.
- Every coach should be able to look in the mirror and say, “Today I worked to establish belief in my players.”
- Always use common sense; go out there on the court every day and provide good resources.
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.
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