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The Magnificent Seven
by: Phil Naessens

I'm very fortunate here as Tennis Director/Head Tennis Professional at the Corfu Holiday Palace in Corfu, Greece that I get to work with juniors of all ages and skill levels from all over the world. I've become a better coach because of this position and these kids. But the kids I coach all year round, and the joys and challenges involved, make my job all the more rewarding.

I have a great group of local children that play here at the hotel year round. From Barbara and Cristo (2 Nationally ranked junior players) right down to little Mark, (age 5) these kids are a lot of fun to coach, but most importantly, fun to be around. I have a very special group of children that take a 2-hour group lesson on Saturdays, and since they all started playing for the first time here at the hotel, I feel most comfortable sharing our experiences together with a worldwide audience.

Each Saturday, I meet with this group of 7 youngsters, ages 5-10 for 2 hours. As I said, all of these kids began playing tennis here at the hotel, and I'm their first and only coach (so far). These kids are also the most unique group of children I've ever had the privilege of knowing, let alone coaching, for various reasons. To begin with, they all speak 3 languages (Greek, Dutch and English), they're all good friends and they all try their very best each time they come to tennis.

It took a while to explain the whole concept of hitting a ball to these kids, and it's still a battle to get them to turn sideways and to have the racquet level at contact. They don't really teach European kids how to hit a ball like they do in the USA, so it takes time and mostly patience. We just do a lot of reps, go about things slowly, play games and have fun while learning the fundamentals of the game. Now, the kids are beginning to rally and are ready to start playing mini-tennis.

Teaching the kids to serve was another matter all together. None of these kids had ever thrown a ball before, so I had to teach them how to do this skill first. This is still a work in progress for them. European kids don't learn to use their hands much so teaching them to place (toss) and catch (throw) and bow (finish) wasn't easy, but they are all getting much better. I remember telling Spiro to throw his racquet like he was "Throwing a football". His reply: "You don't throw a football, you kick it" and he turned to his friend Dimitri, and said, in Greek "Americans" and they both laughed. I forgot they call soccer football here in Europe.

These kids are also good little athletes. They can run 'suicides' starting at the first sideline and going back and forth touching every line all the way to the other courts far sideline, which is no easy thing, (my 2 nationally ranked players hate this run and complain about it all the time) without complaining. They do 6 ball pick-up drills, run laps (2) after every class and that amazes me and makes me proud to be their coach. I play a game called 'knockout' with them to help them with their eye-hand coordination and they are getting very good at catching hit balls on the run and the games last a lot longer then they did when we first started.

These kids love to play tennis. I mean, they really love the game. They watch it on TV (Martin Verkerk is their favorite player), they hit balls in their houses (sorry moms), and they want to play all the time. These kids, after 2 hours of drills and games and a LOT of running, are fighting over places on the hitting wall, which I find incredible. They aren't being pushed to play, by anyone. They play because they love it and it shows in the progress that they've made individually and as a group and I couldn't be happier for them.

Teaching these kids has been a great experience for me both personally and professionally. I've become a better listener and a much better teacher and coach. I've become more patient, creative and less demanding, skills that will help me when, or if I return to the states. Thanks Zoe, Spiro, Robin, Alexander, Dimitri, Laila and Mark for making my stay here in Greece much more enjoyable and an experience I'll never forget!!


Phil Naessens is the Director of Tennis/Head Tennis Professional at the Corfu Holiday Palace in Corfu, Greece. For information regarding the many programs for tourists and locals, contact Phil at pnaessenstennis@hotmail.com.