When USTA Junior Team Tennis was set to begin at New Jersey’s Mercer County Park four years ago, JTT coordinator and USTA volunteer Lisa Ullmann luckily had three parents volunteer as managers.
Great volunteers can be tough to come by, and Ullmann realized how lucky she was to have a group of engaged, enthusiastic individuals willing to help.
Four years later, Ullmann feels even luckier. The group is still involved — maybe more than ever.
Ramesh Venugopal, Chris Potter and Ravikumar Nammalvar remain dedicated JTT Parent Coaches/Managers season after season. They bundle up outdoors for the fall season (one set of matches was 35 degrees…), move inside for the winter season and wait out the storms when spring comes around.
Ramesh, Chris and Ravi often coach together or against each other. In any coaching scenario, all three are fair, encouraging and calm. They’ve evolved into leaders in the JTT community.
So what drives this group to stay so involved for the last four-plus years? We sat down with them to discuss JTT, tennis and much more.
USTA MS: What made you decide to volunteer to become a JTT manager/coach?
Ramesh: Volunteering is my passion and I love the sport of tennis. So when an opportunity came along that combined both, how could I refuse?
Chris: I enjoyed playing team tennis as a kid and I wanted my kids to have that experience, too. Being a coach helps me to ensure all of the players have fun while challenging themselves.
Ravi: It gives the opportunity to spend time with the kids. I made new friends while coaching!
USTA MS: What have you enjoyed most about JTT managing?
Ramesh: Seeing these boys and girls through their stages of growth, learning to become better tennis players and learning to work with others in a team environment has been the most enjoyable part.
Chris: Managing JTT is most rewarding when the players are happy after their matches, regardless of the outcome. The kids respond very well to encouragement and they really appreciate hearing “nice shot” and “great point.”
Ravi: It is fun to watch the kids play tennis. They all have amazing talents.
USTA MS: What is your coaching style like?
Ramesh: Soft but firm, and cooperative.
Chris: My coaching style is based on establishing a positive tone that is encouraging and inclusive for all of the players. I also try to be hands-off as much as possible so the players can have greater independence and ownership of their experiences.
Ravi: I try to give equal opportunities to all kids. Winning isn’t everything! I encourage them to play competitive sports.
What are your favorite JTT moments/highlights?
Ramesh: The smile and excitement on my daughter’s face after she won over a tough opponent.
Chris: My favorite moments occur during doubles matches when teammates demonstrate encouragement, patience and graciousness with each other. Those moments truly emphasize the idea that being your personal best is more important than winning alone.
Ravi: We discuss about the game with players to find out what went well or what could have done better. These discussions prepares them for the future games.
USTA MS: What has been the funniest JTT coaching moment?
Chris: The most amusing thing happens at the end of each season when our local JTT coordinator, Lisa, brings pizza, cookies and drinks for an end-of-season celebration. There is more food than everyone can eat (which is better than not having enough). Inevitably, Lisa ends up frantically trying to push all of the uneaten food on the last remaining party-goers. As the final minutes tick away, you start to feel that leaving empty-handed might be a criminal act
USTA MS: What was your hardest JTT coaching experience?
Ramesh: Picking the best sport player every week, and when we played outdoors one fall season when it was 30 degrees.
Chris: The most challenging part coaching is finding the right balance when conflicts arise. It’s important to be patient and a good listener.
What do your children enjoy about your JTT managing?
Ramesh: The level of confidence and comfort she gets when her dad is the coach.
Chris: My children enjoy the fact that being a JTT coach makes me part of their team. We get to share the whole JTT experience together.
Ravi: The best thing in JTT is, there is no game pressure. Kids love to play long rallies!
USTA MS: Provide some examples of your coaching words.
Ramesh: “Go for it” – “Keep going” – “Hit it”
Chris: Do your best and have fun!
Ravi: Stay positive and don’t give up.
Any other thoughts about JTT?
Chris: My JTT experience has been very positive due to the collective participation and support of the players, the coaches and our enthusiastic JTT organizer, Lisa!