For more than 50 years, Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center has worked to create a healthier Boston using tennis to open doors of opportunity and hope to all members of their community. In its history, STEC has taught thousands of young people the sport of tennis – and used tennis a means to identify and fill gaps that weaken our youth, families and community.
The Boston Foundation has been a longtime supporter of STEC’s Match Point program, in which STEC partners with 13 elementary and middle schools in Boston, as well as several other community organizations. Most of these schools are located in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury and Hyde Park; areas particularly in need of healthy physical outlets. In addition to providing school-based and out-of-school-time tennis instruction, Match Point offers individual and team play, life-skills development, and a high risk youth initiative.
As part of our continuing recognition of our Youth Activity grantees during National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, we talked with Daniel King, who coordinates the Match Point program with Gayna Sealy.
So, what does an average day at Match Point look like?
The average Match Point program is anything but average. This starts with an exceptional coaching staff who know that respect is the baseline for all work that we do.
Respect at Sportsmen’s involves not only respecting the different learning styles of individual students, but understanding and respecting cultures unique to the various schools. Adapting to the school’s atmosphere and culture allows the coaches to integrate more quickly into the community of students and staff. Some schools schedule Match Point tennis as a supplement to regular recess and PE classes. In these schools the students learn the technical basics of tennis with some less structured time built in for play.
In schools where Match Point tennis takes the place of traditional gym class, class structure is much more open with a focus on movement, effort, and respect. All classes involve rallying both with peers and coaches using equipment modified to their age and size. Often times classes will include footwork ladders, jump ropes, as well as other toys and tools to keep kids moving even when they are not hitting tennis balls.
How do you design your programs to be inclusive of all students and schools?
Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, tennis is viewed as an exclusive sport. Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center is working tirelessly to break that stigma and the Match Point program is leading the push. With a basic knowledge of the sport comes the confidence to step into an unfamiliar space; a tennis court, where a child may otherwise feel like they don’t belong. A child who experiences success, naturally is more likely to continue. Match Point classes are organized with this in mind to keep students engaged week to week and beyond. Not all children start from the same place emotionally or athletically, which can cause peer to peer conflict if unaccounted for. Though the starting places may be different, in Match Point the goal is always the same – progress. This shared goal allows any student the opportunity to participate and succeed with effort and determination.
Tell us about some of your recent successes.
Every child who sees improvement is considered a Match Point success story but some students go above and beyond. One such student is Isaiah from Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot School in Dorchester. Isaiah is one of thousands of kids in the Boston Public Schools whose introduction to the sport of tennis was through Match Point. At first Isaiah was hesitant to dive fully into tennis instruction. As a social kid, Isaiah found it difficult to break away from his peers who were less interested. After some encouragement from the Match Point coaches and a brief conversation with Isaiah’s parents, Isaiah decided to attend STEC’s Saturday program for boys, DEUCE. DEUCE (Don’t Ever Underestimate Consistent Effort) is run on site at our Dorchester campus. DEUCE integrates youth from every junior program at Sportsmen’s in an environment where students focus on life skills as well as tennis. Now in our Match Point program, Isaiah sets the culture for the rest of his peers. He leads by example and encourages his peers to focus and challenge themselves. This is an example of how changing one child’s life scales up infinitely and the type of outcome we are looking to achieve.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for your organization heading into the next school year?
This coming school year, the Match Point Program will have an opportunity to increase its depth in two particular schools; The Sarah Greenwood School and The Haynes Early Education Center. With more tennis programing scheduled in these schools for 2018-2019 school year, Match Point will have an opportunity to take the instruction beyond what is normally just an introduction to the sport, and progress into intermediate and lightly competitive play. As a sport where success is reliant on technique, tennis typically becomes increasingly fun as skills are acquired. We’re anticipating more crossover into the rest of our programming and a greater affinity for the sport among the students as a result of these changes.
What’s your long-term vision of success?
Ultimately the aim of Match Point is to introduce Boston youth to tennis in order to promote a healthier lifestyle. Sportsmen’s believes in using tennis as a vehicle to teach life enhancing skills and regular vigorous exercise is certainly one of those skills. Our vision is not only to have public courts throughout the city occupied with active, healthy, Match Point alumni but ultimately to have competitive tennis available to city youth before they reach high school. Under the current setup, BPS offers no level of competitive tennis in elementary and middle schools, leaving our students at a great disadvantage when they eventually compete with their suburban and private school counterparts. STEC believes that ALL children with an interest in tennis deserve the opportunity to follow their ambition as far as it will carry them regardless of their zip code. Through Match Point and other programs, Sportsmen’s strives to create that equity.