Junior Development at the MLTC
Written by Marcus Lewis

Years prior to acquiring the indoor court space we now have, the MLTC had been focused on broadening its base and forming relationships with local community programs.  Like building a house on a strong foundation, we recognized that building an exceptional junior tennis program would begin at the grass roots level.  The bigger we built it, the stronger it would become.  Although we had some tournament level juniors, that portion of the program was always limited by the lack of indoor court space.  By 2013 when we had bubbled over the courts at MLTC West and 2014 when we took over the building at MLTC East, it had become a very different game.

To understand the philosophy at the MLTC, I thought it was time for me to share more of my background than I have ever put to print. I have never cared to do that as there are many pros who name-drop along with a lot of chest-thumping.  I would rather not be part of that club.  By the same token, parents want to know who it is they are entrusting their child to.  They want to know that for the limited time their child has to work on his/her game, their child is being given accurate information and their child is being guided in the right direction. That is completely understandable.

Below is a history of my background as a player and instructor relative to the inception of the JTP and the MLTC Masters programs. I hope parents and players will find it useful in determining whether or not our programs are a good match for their needs.

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After playing all of the traditional sports of baseball, basketball and football, I dropped baseball my freshman year of high school so that I could play on the tennis team at Lunenburg High School in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.  I had hacked around in the summers hitting a tennis ball around with my brother a handful of times, but baseball was just too boring to continue with during the spring season. The gratification in tennis of hitting a ball every few seconds was unparalleled to me and I immediately discovered my passion.

I played the first doubles position during my freshman and sophomore years. It wasn’t until age 16 that I had acquired a job at a health club and then received my first real tennis lesson (for parents reading this, if your child started playing and taking lessons before age 14, then odds are, he/she was better than me when I started).  By this time I had dropped football and basketball and played tennis through the winter for the first time.

For any serious tennis player, there is no substitute for playing year-round.  While seasonal tennis players are engaged in other activities during the winter months, it’s an opportunity to jump ahead of them and be completely ready for the spring season.  In my case, I went from easily losing in challenge matches against our first singles player, to not dropping a single game when I faced him as a junior after just one winter of consistent training.

By this time I could not get enough of the sport and wanted to play it incessantly.  Although I was receiving competent instruction from the pros, the real key was hard work and a lot of it.  Ball after ball after ball after ball of drilling, playing and practicing serves.  Within four years I had gone from being someone who had played very little tennis and was at the middle of the pack of the high school team to being a semi-finalist at the state tournament my senior year.

Realize that I was a good athlete, but by no means exceptional.  I could play any sport, but I was never the kid who was the star of the team.  It’s also worth noting that I came from a family that did not have financial means beyond the basics.  Every tennis lesson…every tennis clinic…every racquet…tournament fee…can of balls…you name it, I paid for it.  The job at the club gave me discounts and sometimes I could fill in on a class, but otherwise I worked about 20 hours/week while in high school which helped to finance my tennis.

Although I had made great strides in only four years, it was still miles away from top collegiate tennis.  Nonetheless, I chose to matriculate into the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) where they had a great science program, and of course, a great tennis team.  The year before I arrived, UCSB was in the top 25 in the country in Division I.

My freshman year in college I was cut along with nearly every other candidate since there was only one opening on the team.  I continued to train with some of the other players who also did not make it, and when I returned as a sophomore, I was proud to have earned a slot on the roster (near the bottom, but still good enough to be there).  During that year I had met with my professors to discuss how to also reach my career goal of becoming a geneticist.  I had dreamed of doing research since my days as a kid growing up on sci-fi movies, however upon being told that I would be in school through most of my 20’s, that my work would be owned by the school or corporation I worked for and that I would only make peanuts while doing all of it, I decided that I would “rather be playing tennis” and returned to Massachusetts to train.  Although California has a lot of players, I had a stronger network back east.  I also needed to finance my ambition and there was a tennis teaching job at home waiting for me.

After about 4 years of saving pennies and training continuously, I hopped on a plane to Portugal and spent most of 1995 slugging it out abroad.  I won my very first match (woo hoo) and had other victories along the way, but the overall experience was an eye-opening endeavor that I was ill-prepared for.  There were many things that I had wished I was better informed about that would have made a difference in my overall performance, but I was enjoying the thrill of competing against ATP ranked players.

After my funds were exhausted, I returned to the area to teach tennis once again. I decided to take a few years off from playing as I was somewhat burned out from the travel and constant pressure.  I also needed to pay off the sizable debt I incurred from the experience.

I gradually started to think about returning to playing when a friend of mine came to me and said, “Marcus…I have a 14 year-old student who is so good, that he would beat even you!”  Granted, I had not played a real match for close to two years, but a 14 year-old??  Never!

We put $50 on the match and set a date.  When that date came, I found myself across from a slender lefty who hit a heavy ball and had a wicked lefty serve.  To my dismay, I was summarily dispatched by this kid in straight sets, lightening my pocket by $50.

The benefit from the loss is that I saw the potential for a great training partner.  His name was Jamie and he and I worked out 2-4 times a week for the next 3-4 years.  We did drill routines that I had put together to ensure that we would both continue to develop a complete game.  Although I was playing even better than I had before, I eventually had to make a difficult decision to leave competitive playing and put my energies into the growing tennis academy that I had started at Nagog Woods in Acton.  It paid the bills whereas playing tennis only grew them.

What of Jamie?  His full name is Jamie Cerratani.  He went to Brown University and this is how things turned out for him:: http://www.atpworldtour.com/tennis/players/top-players/james-cerretani.aspx  At the time of writing this, Jamie is still competing as a world class player who reached as high as 45 in doubles on the tour.

Although I was indefinitely delayed from playing due to finances, I vicariously focused on the next best thing which was the pleasure of helping other players progress; particularly the juniors. I knew I had a unique background along with knowledge that could help players make similar gains like I had done.  I was not someone who started at age 6 or 7 with lessons every week for years.  I was someone who started in high school far behind his peers, but yet had made up the difference.  I had studied video, looked at stroke mechanics, applied my science background and read anything I could get my hands on relative to tennis to give me any edge against the competition.  I even became a certified aerobics instructor so that I could get paid for staying in shape (no, I never wore a leotard).  I always found it surprising how players would hit the ball but seldom understood the physics involved or the geometrics of the court.  Knowledge has always been power in my book.

In my late 20’s when I was still associated with an indoor club, I had launched a training program called “Excalibur.”  Excalibur was a blueprint for serious junior players and it gave them the same formula that I had followed.  When juniors were accepted into Excalibur, they had to commit to being on the court a certain number of times each week along with a certain amount of playing and service practice.  The end results were obvious to both the players and their parents.   (This part of the tale will be of great importance later in the story).

I eventually left that club and started the Marcus Lewis Tennis Center in 1997 as a small seasonal tennis operation in a condo complex in Acton.  By the early 2000’s, I had received a call for from a friend, John Ippolito, to help coach the Assumption College tennis team in Worcester, Massachusetts; a team that had a record 0-39 losing streak.  John had instantly flipped that losing record into an undefeated legacy the very next year by recruiting player phenoms from countries such as South Africa, Columbia and Russia; some even had Davis Cup play experience.  John was a master marketer at recruiting talent, and as the Assistant Coach, I was tasked with improving the stroke mechanics of the players and helping them to better understand their point construction tactics.

By 2010, I applied my life experience to the town of Littleton where the tennis program was on the precipice of being dropped from their high school sport offerings.  I took over their boys’ team which included a small group of players that went 0-12 their first year.  In a few years, the program grew to have both a boys and a girls team.  By my fifth season, the school was celebrating its first ever undefeated league record as well as the team’s first league championship in 40 years.

In 2013, I had orchestrated the bubbling over of the four condo courts in Acton and then took over a second tennis facility in the same town in 2014.  By the end of 2016, the Marcus Lewis Tennis Center was logging over 1,000 memberships annually; a metric that some multi-recreational clubs have difficulty achieving.

Remember that Excalibur program?  I literally had to wait 17 years to resurrect the project.  In order for the new iteration of the program to be a success, it required not just physical resources such as the additional courts we now had, but it necessitated instructional firepower.  There was a time when my operation was mostly a one-man show and I did 90% of the teaching, but that has not been the case circa the year 2000.  Like most clubs, I first tried hiring talent from a résumé.  After meeting with more headaches than good hires, I decided to train my instructors in-house.  I was not looking for good players; I was looking for dynamic and patient teachers.  I can show anyone how to diagnose a forehand or correct a service motion.  I cannot teach things like interpersonal skills or how to relate to people.  You either have it or you don’t.

A great example is my Head Pro, Tara Spaulding.  After completing the training course, it was not long thereafter that Tara was introduced to the USTA’s new junior program of using red, orange and green balls and the mini-nets.  Our organization was literally the first program in Acton to use that system, but it was started locally by Tara.  Before long, she was training ALL of the staff (yes, including me) on how to best implement the program.  There were times when I would ask for her thoughts on a player because I was unsure of whether they were better off using an orange or a green ball.  She knows instantly.

Although I could write quite a bit on each instructor, what should resonate with parents is that the pros at the MLTC are consistent with their information and that they are matched with their strengths.  We can work with a child as young as four who has never held a racquet, all the way up through players having ATP points or Davis Cup experience. We also make it a point to build players up and NOT break them down with negative reinforcement. You get the most from players by building their esteem and enabling them. The other route is a quick path to burnout and far less enjoyment of the game.

We ultimately launched the 21st century version of Excalibur and offered two levels: The Junior Training Program (JTP) and the Masters Program.

Junior Training Program
For players who are more serious about their tennis, we have our Junior Training Program (JTP).  This is the next step if your child decides that he/she would like to take their tennis to the next level.  The bottom line to improving, regardless of the activity, is time spent practicing that activity.  In the JTP, players are committed to one clinic and one match-play session each week from September through the middle of June.  Other details are as follows:

  • Players must be granted approval in order to join the JTP.
  • Players must be a member at the MLTC East facility.
  • Although match-play programs are open to all players, JTP clinics are for JTP/Masters or approved players only, as we foster a more serious brand of tennis with these players.
  • Orange ball classes at this level are for 1.5 hours.  Green and yellow ball classes are for 2 hours. Click here to see the JTP/Masters class schedule.
  • Players can opt for special conditioning classes at Teamworks Acton (30 Great Road). Although conditioning classes are not mandatory, they are strongly recommended.
  • Match play sessions occur on weekends through our Junior Challenger Series League. Click here to learn more about the league and see the schedule.
  • Middle school and high school yellow ball players will be credited for the spring tennis season if tennis team tryouts or their tennis team schedule conflicts with MLTC’s JTP schedule.
  • The annual deadline for enrollment is September 1. After that date, players will not be admitted until the following September. The exception is a player who is new to MLTC and was not aware of the program previously.
  • Cost of the program reflects a 15% discount of regular session fees for clinic, match play, and conditioning class.
  • The commitment is from September through mid-June.  Payment is made in two installments.  Other arrangements can be made if necessary.
  • Parents may choose to prorate up to two weeks of classes between September and January 1 (i.e., during Fall Sessions I and II), and between January and mid June (i.e., during Winter and Spring Sessions). In other words, you have the option to prorate up to two match days, two clinics, and two conditioning classes before the beginning of each period (Fall and Winter/Spring). We must know these dates BEFORE the beginning of each period so that invoices can be calculated.
  • Because of the discounted rate as well as the ability to prorate out classes, make-ups are NOT granted.

Playing tennis once a week is great for the recreational player who enjoys the activity on a basic level,  however for anyone looking to play competitively, the JTP routine will provide consistent, measurable improvement.

MLTC Masters
The program described above has many elements of the original “Excalibur” initiative from years ago, but not all.  On the other hand, the Masters program contains everything from that template, along with a very significant twist.

For entry into this echelon, the players must exhibit 5 key qualities:

– Passion
– Commitment
– A strong work ethic
– Composure both on and off the court
– The acheivement of having won a USTA sanctioned tournament within the last six months of applying for entry into the Masters program..

Aptitude in the first three areas can compensate for having less physical ability.  Also, the candidate’s composure and how they represent themselves is extremely important to us at the MLTC.  When a player is accepted into this program, they represent not only themselves, but the organization.

Players in the Masters program make a similar commitment as JTP players above (one clinic and one match-play session each week).  Additionally, Masters juniors are required to have a private lesson each week, to practice their serves once each week and to complete the Mental Toughness 101 course at some point after turning 12 years old..

Further details of the Masters program are as follows:

  • Entry into the Masters program requires a personal interview with Marcus Lewis.
  • Candidates must have won at least one USTA tournament within one year of their interview.
  • Players must be a member at the MLTC East facility.
  • Although match-play programs are open to all players, Masters juniors are trained in their clinics with other JTP/Masters and aproved players only.
  • Orange ball classes at this level are for 1.5 hours.  Green and yellow ball classes are for 2 hours.
  • Players can opt for special conditioning classes at Teamworks Acton (30 Great Road). Although conditioning classes are not mandatory, they are strongly recommended.
  • Yellow ball players will be prorated for the high school season if try-outs for their team schedule conflicts with the JTP/Masters schedule.
  • The requisites outlined above are what is minimally necessary for players to develop their talents for high-level competition. Two optional “Add-ons” for players looking for additional training are either the Hit with the Pro or our Matchmaker program. These can be scheduled as part of the player’s weekly regimen.
  • Parents have until September 1st to enroll their children into the Masters program.  After that date, juniors will not be admitted until the following fall.  The exception is a child who is new to the MLTC program and was not aware of the Masters program previously.
  • The entire package is discounted by 15%
  • The commitment is from September through mid-June (i.e. ten months).  Payment is made in two installments.  Other arrangements can be made if necessary.
  • Parents may choose to prorate out up to two weeks’ of classes between September and January first.  They may choose to do the same for the period between January and mid-June.  In other words, parents can prorate out up to two match days, two clinics and two conditioning classes in order to allow for potential scheduling conflicts.  We must know these dates BEFORE the start of the session.
  • Because of the discounted rate as well as the ability to prorate out classes, make-ups are NOT allowed.
  • MLTC Masters may not prorate the weekly private lesson. It can be rescheduled as long as MLTC’s lesson cancelation policy is followed.

Additional benefits include:

  • Each Masters player receives a special t-shirt each fall that must be worn at all instructional programs..
  • Masters players receive a match shirt each year.  The shirt MUST be worn at all match competitions both in and out of the Marcus Lewis Tennis Center, except for high school team matches.
  • Players receive an impressive full-body warm-up suit upon being accepted into the program and a new one every two years.  The warm-up MUST be worn at all match competitions both in and out of the Marcus Lewis Tennis Center, except for high school team matches.
  • Players will be given a racquet stencil and MUST consistently display the MLTC logo on their racquet strings.
  • Strokes are videotaped once a year for analysis.
  • Players are allotted two, 30-minute slots to book courts and practice their serves.  They MUST do this at least once a week.
  • Their annual USTA fee is paid for by the MLTC.
  • Tournament fees are paid for by the MLTC.
  • Players are allowed unlimited use of the ball machine without an additional charge to use it.
  • Players are allowed access to the club ball carts.
  • Parents of Masters players are allowed to play with them and are not required to have a membership to do so.
  • After completing one full session (Sept-June) and registering for the upcoming fall, players are given a racquet of their choosing (up to $150)
  • After completing their second consecutive session and registering for the upcoming fall, players are given a racquet bag (up to $75)
  • After completing their third consecutive session and registering for the upcoming fall, players are given a second racquet
  • After completing their fifth consecutive session and registering for the upcoming fall, players are given a third racquet or a pair of shoes or a new bag…their choice (up to $150 to spend).
  • Every two years thereafter until they graduate from high school and after registering for the upcoming fall, players will have their choice of a racquet, pair of shoes or a new bag (up to $150 to spend).

What is extremely unique about this portion of the program is that it does something that no other club we know of has ever done or even tried to do.  The MLTC sponsors a population of its juniors.

Unlike many programs that keep raising rates for the same services, our revenue is reinvested back into the players.  Although we are a business and we hope to do well, our primary focus is to continue the mission of “Tennis For Everyone,” as our tagline states.

In 8 months we went from having no dedicated indoor courts to having 10; the most of any facility around.  It meant we could channel our resources in a manner that is unprecedented in the world of privately operated facilities.

If you feel that your child is ready for the JTP, then please contact Christi at christi@marcuslewisenterprises.com.  If you would like to have your child interview for the Masters program, then please contact Marcus directly at marcus@marcuslewisenterprises.com.

Although these programs are very exciting to be a part of, please give careful thought before choosing to initiate the process.  It is important that kids are the right match for either program, otherwise there is bound to be disappointment and we would prefer to avoid that.

If your child is the right match, then we can guarantee that they will not only have a great time, but that we will give them the best opportunity they can have at realizing their potential.