NYJTL Continues to Find Ways to ‘Grow with the Game’ Despite Remote Shift

Even with all of the uncertainty and difficulties that the Coronavirus has wrought, New York Junior Tennis and Learning has not lost sight of its commitment to both the kids and staff it serves.

On March 13 NYJTL suspended all of its Community Tennis Programs, Intensive Training Program, Serve & Connect and SAT Prep classes. The Cary Leeds Center, NYJTL’s flagship home, followed closely behind, closing its doors on March 16. The organization has gotten creative with online activities and training to keep its staff employed and its members engaged, however, many questions remain as to whether or not the organization will be holding a summer term and how much the city will fund it.

“Right away I liked what NYJTL was doing — giving back, helping the children in need, mentoring them,” said Anna Tatishvili, a coach at the Cary Leeds Center. “We’re working for a great cause.” 

NYJTL has continued to prove its dedication through these unprecedented times. To keep students engaged, NYJTL has taken to its social media platforms and website to create and share content, as well as keep members informed.

NYJTL’s ACES, an afterschool program that serves students across four boroughs, has spearheaded a series of videos created by all its staff, which include at-home tennis drills, workouts, art activities, and more. With help from the schools the program partners with, staff members and teachers have also been able to conduct virtual classes in real time.

The organization has created multiple pages on its website where these resources are located. These resources span topics related to food access, kid safety, emotional and mental health, education, fitness and wellness, etc. — NYJTL wants to make sure its members feel supported in all capacities during this difficult time.

Jacob Weaver, the manager of curriculum for ACES, said shifting remote has posed some challenges because the interactions between the coaches, students and their families have lost the personal touch that makes their peer mentorship so special. However, they are doing their best to maintain and nurture those ties.

Their increased media presence has allowed them to stay connected with their kids, giving them comforting messages in videos and constantly checking in with them to make sure their needs are being taken care of and that they have an outlet that they would otherwise be using tennis for.

“Our kids have been going through all kinds of emotional stresses during this, as are all the kids throughout America,” said Lorraine Rohlsen-Alexander, a CTP site director. “I build relationships with a lot of my kids so that it’s not just a person calling, I’m like a member of the family to many of them and I give them my support. That’s what I’m here for: to help them in any way that I can.”

Another one of NYJTL’s endeavors has been its Facebook and Instagram LIVES in which coaches Liezel Huber, Anna Tatishvili, and Ahsha Rolle, all former professional tennis players, discuss different aspects of tennis and interview legends of the game, some of which include Chris Evert, Andy Brandi, and Jermaine Jenkins.

Tatishvili said that even though they are doing these LIVEs to keep their kids engaged, there has been a large learning curve for everyone involved.

“It’s been incredible. When I first decided to do this I was very nervous because it was very new, but it was very interesting to talk to tennis players and to get their insight — what they think about tennis, ask them details and questions. You learn a lot — not only am I trying to give information to our audience, I’m also learning by listening to them and having them answer my questions,” said Tatishvili. “We all want to be on the tennis court, but these live videos and detailed talks with great champions have been very informative for me, and as a tennis coach I am growing just by listening to them.”

Coaches from the Community Tennis Program (CTP) division are doing some online learning of their own through virtual staff training.

To keep them employed and developing new skills, the staff is taking online certificate courses through the University of Albany Professional Development program in regards to child safety and education, completing HR modules through ADP Workforce, learning new ways to coach tennis through USTA’s Net Generation videos, viewing and creating content for its members, connecting for meetings over Zoom, and more. The organization is even considering using these resources to supplement its traditional outdoor training at the Cary Leeds Center.

And to help alleviate any stress or anxiety NYJTL staff may be experiencing, they have also been given access to services, such as counseling, through the Employee Assistance Program.

“NYJTL really has been doing everything they can for the kids and their families and the staff. We’re reaching out to the staff and teaching them employment skills and stuff like that,” said Weaver. “I feel like we’re reaching out to them just as much as we’re reaching out to the kids and their parents. A lot of them are so young and this experience has really been an opportunity to show how much NYJTL cares about their staff.”

Staff and kids alike cannot wait to take their lessons back outside and NYJTL is working to put the appropriate preparations in place for the summer if that happens.

As stated on the Cary Leeds Facebook the Center’s “top two priorities are to keep [everyone] safe, and to get [everyone] back on the tennis courts.” The center has a three phase plan prepared to gradually open once given clearance from the NYC parks department.

This clearance will also allow NYJTL to file the permits for its CTP sites.

With the help of staff input, CTP has come up with a comprehensive plan that respects social distancing should they be given the go on summer classes. This plan includes requiring all participants and coaches to wear masks, having participants stand six feet apart, mirrored teaching, allowing no participant or coach to touch another, temperature checks, constantly disinfecting and sanitizing, etc. The team also plans to have shortened class times and fewer sites that will be more heavily staffed. 

To further ensure the least amount of contact as possible, NYJTL will also have online registration for the first year.

“I can hardly wait to get on the court and hit a few balls. I can hardly wait to see all the kids and all my friends,” said Rohlsen-Alexander. “We just have to be patient and do what we’re told. We are all going through this together and we are going to come out of it together.”

However, even if given permission by the city, the extent to which NYJTL programs may run is dependent on its funding. Emphasizing the essential need for summer programming to keep kids engaged, CTP is petitioning the city for its full funding for the 2021 fiscal year under the Council’s Physical Education & Fitness Initiative.

NYJTL wrote on its Facebook page on May 21, “As parents are finally able to return to work, families will need access to free, quality childcare that summer programs offer, as well as the knowledge that their children are participating in safe, structured, engaging AND fun summer activities.”

City Council Funding has yet to be finalized for NYJTL for the upcoming fiscal year, however, Council Members continue to be enthusiastic and supportive of NYJTL’s work, said Scott Daly, senior director of Community Tennis.

Whether the organization’s endeavors remain online for the summer term or its operations are brought outside, NYJTL is keeping its students in mind.

“During these uncertain times, we want every child to know that ‘CTP is still here for you’,” said Daly.

Follow NYJTL and Cary Leeds’s websites and social media for activities and updates regarding summer programming.

By: Christina Perrier