Jon Glover blog: How I found the game of tennis

June 23, 2017 08:59 AM

USTA National Coach Jon Glover has more than 15 years of coaching experience and joined USTA Player Development from Legacy Youth Tennis & Education in Philadelphia, where he was the Director of Player Development since September 2009. He was a top junior player and went on to play four years at the University of Florida, where he was the team captain his junior and senior years and left the Gators with the fifth most wins in program history. Glover will be writing a blog for over the next few weeks. In his first blog, he writes about how he got involved in the game of tennis.

By Jon Glover

Growing up in Philadelphia as a kid, I played the same sports as all of my friends – football, basketball and baseball. That’s what I saw on TV, and if you asked me at 8 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would’ve said, “Starting point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers.”

When my older brother and I had free time after school or on weekends, we would walk to the park near our house to play a game of b-ball, as we liked to call it then. The only problem was that I was much younger than the other kids who played at the park, so while my brother often got picked, most times I was often relegated to the role of a spectator.

On one of the these occasions when I was left out of the game and wandering by the sideline, an older gentlemen with a bucket of tennis balls and some racquets asked me if I wanted to try out tennis on the neighboring tennis court with him. Since I had nothing better to do, I figured, why not? I’d seen some tennis on TV before. It couldn’t be that hard, right? I don’t remember a lot about that first “tennis lesson,” but I do remember it taking several minutes to find the strings and chasing my wild misses around the court.  

The next time my brother and I went to the park, I remember thinking maybe I could play tennis if I couldn’t play basketball. Even though I wasn’t very good yet, I had a lot of fun that day. Luckily for me, the same “coach” was there the next day. He already had a hitting partner, but he lent me a racquet and ball and taught me how to practice by hitting the ball against the wall. I was hooked! Something about the rhythm and the continuity of hitting the ball back against the wall fit my personality. As long as I hit the ball straight, it would keep coming back, which meant I could play as long as I wanted to.

Glover-4-457x305Things went on like this for a few months, but now my brother had joined in my tennis lessons with Coach Al. We decided we needed racquets of our own because Mr. Al wasn’t always at the park. We got our first racquets at a flea market for .75 cents each.

After numerous “sessions” with Coach Al, he told my parents that he couldn’t help us anymore and that if we really liked playing tennis we should find a real coach or a tennis camp to attend. This began my family’s journey through the world of junior tennis. My brother and I still played little-league baseball every spring, and I played in basketball leagues, as well, but nothing fed my competitive spirit like tennis. Even though I wasn’t very good, I liked the fact that I won or lost on my own and would never be let down by a teammate’s mistake or lack of effort. I also liked that I could play by myself and hit against the wall for hours on end.  

After trying several tennis programs in the Philadelphia area, my family settled on the Arthur Ashe Youth and Education Center. AAYTE was perfect for my family because it was close to home and, as an NJTL program, the practices were affordable. It was here that I began to develop my skills as a player and develop passion for the game. AAYTE had a close-knit family environment. The kids traveled to tournaments as a team, participated in community-service projects and learned life skills from our coaches and mentors. I was even lucky enough to have some practice sessions with Arthur Ashe himself and to receive coaching and mentorship from him. At the time, it all seemed very normal to me, and only later did I realize how special those moments truly were.

By the age of 14, I had developed into one of the top players in my section, but I knew if I wanted to go further it would require more practice and dedication. I had given up baseball two years prior so that I could play more tournaments in the spring, but now I had to make the choice between playing tennis full time or playing another year of school basketball. I agonized over the decision for days but eventually decided to go “all in” with tennis. The extra training and tournaments in the winter months allowed my game to flourish, and the next winter I won a gold ball at the Boys’ 16 National Indoor Championship.

Sometimes I wonder how my life might be different now had there been more boys my age to play basketball with at the park. Would I have found the sport of tennis later in life? Tennis has given my family so much. My brother, sister and I all worked hard enough to earn D1 tennis scholarships, not to mention the many lifelong relationships of friends, coaches and mentors that were made.

Tennis is such a great game to learn life lessons because of its individual nature. You must rely only on your skills and wits. There is no one to help once the match starts. I am now blessed to teach the lessons that I learned to children and help them develop on and off the court.

When I think back to how I found the game of tennis, it feels more like the game found me.