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Ramp It Up - New Academy Opens in Southern California
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The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, site of the USTA Training Center-West, has a new source of activity this spring, with the opening of the RAMP Tennis Academy.

Patrick Nagle teaching at the RAMP Tennis Academy courtesy, RAMP Tennis Academy
The four principals - Rick Buchta, Andrew Laing, Marc Lucero and Patrick Nagle, whose first initials form the academy's name - submitted a proposal to USTA Player Development, who was seeking a private entity to provide programming at the suburban Los Angeles site. After their bid was selected, RAMP tennis became a reality, with the academy opening April 15th.

Laing, Lucero and Nagle all worked as USTA coaches at the Carson facility before the decision to privatize, while Buchta, an investor and businessman in nearby Manhattan Beach, has stayed involved in tennis in many capacities since his playing days at Loyola Marymount. Laing and Nagle, both of whom worked for Jose Higueras's Palm Springs academy prior to joining the USTA staff in Carson, played collegiately at Sonoma State.

Lucero, RAMP's Director of Tennis, played at Boston College and was assistant women's coach at Princeton from 2004-2007. In addition to his work with young juniors, Lucero has worked with many professional players the past five years, including Ryan Harrison, Sam Querrey, and most recently, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, now in the WTA Top 100.

I spoke with Lucero last month about the new academy, its focus and goals.

 

Questions and Answers

Colette Lewis (CL): What age group are you targeting with RAMP?

Marc Lucero (ML): One of our big focuses is going to be on the younger group, under 12. We see programs with a bunch of little kids running around, and you have very inexperienced coaches working with them often times. We want to flip that. Coaches with a background in development can start these kids out in the right way, so whatever their goals are we can provide them with a good base to build their games on in the future. Our mission is just to have a ton of little kids come out in the afternoons.

 

CL: Southern California has plenty of academies now. What do you think will distinguish RAMP in a crowded market?

ML: I think people will see that our coaches are highly motivated, passionate about the game, and I think that's going to rub off on the players that we work with. We want to go that extra mile, and I've always been one who works like crazy. Sometimes it makes me tired or makes me nuts, but I love tennis and I find myself thinking about tennis at the most random times. When people visit our program or see us at tournaments, I want them to see how much we care, how the values we have show up in our players when they watch them compete.

 

CL: The Home Depot Center has often been criticized as too isolated from the main tennis-playing population in Southern California. How do you plan to overcome that objection?

ML: I think by putting out a good product and providing a great service to the kids we work with. I see it as we're uniquely situated. We're close to Orange County, we're close to LA, we're close to the South Bay - Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach - and I think this facility provides some unique resources that not many other clubs can match.

We have a track, we have a weight room, soccer fields. You're surrounded by high-level athletes in all sports, with USA Soccer being here, Athletes' Performance, where there's NFL and NBA guys always around training, and pro tennis also. I know when I was a kid, if I saw a pro athlete or a college athlete, that kind of stuff would motivate me. I've seen that with the young kids who trained with the USTA program, when they see Sam Querrey hitting with Mardy Fish or whoever, it makes them want to train that much harder. And it also shows them that the dream is very accessible, that it's not some far off idea of being a professional athlete, that it's attainable if they do the right things.

 

CL: I know that Rick Buchta has been associated with the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. Is that your template for RAMP?

ML: We do want to get the community involved and bring kids in like JTC does. I think they're the model program in the country, their program and the program in Seattle [Northwest High Performance Tennis], a few others. What's common between these programs is passionate coaches that care about the kids and hold the kids highly accountable. The program in Maryland is special because they do so much in the community and have a high level of fundraising support, which enables them to take away cost as a barrier. We look up to the way they do that, and eventually we'd like to be able remove cost as a barrier to participation.

 

CL: What is your current pricing structure?

ML: All the information is on our website. It's a cost-based program. We have bills to pay; we have to pay our coaches. I think in tennis, people are willing to pay for a product that's good. We obviously have to show that we're worth it - that our players will get better. We want to do fundraising and get grants so we can provide this service at a reasonable cost and can be inclusive of whoever wants to participate.

 

CL: How will you incorporate the 10-and-under Tennis method into your academy?

ML: I see the modified equipment as a teaching tool. The last thing I want to see is a kid carrying a racquet that's so heavy he can barely lift it, or the yellow balls are bouncing over his head, forcing him into extreme grips. But if there are nine-year-old players who have a solid technical background and they can handle yellow balls, they're going to play with yellow balls.

If we're trying to teach something, and the new equipment enhances what we're trying to teach, then that's what we'll use. I'm not against any of the 10-and-under equipment, and regardless of how good the nine- and ten-year olds are, the level of tennis is always better with proper equipment on a size-appropriate court.

 

CL: Then do you think the resistance to the 10-and-under mandate is based on its reference to age rather than size?

ML: It's my belief that the modified equipment should be based on the skill and size of the player and not so much on the age. But unless there's one person out there who is going to grade every child, that's not going to work. So I think the only way for the USTA and ITF to make it fair is to mandate it based on age. I know that's extremely unpopular, but it's probably the least of all the evils.

 

CL: What are the most important skills you plan to teach?

ML: We want our players to have well-rounded games without technical limitations. We want their stroke production to be competent, within the parameters of what the good players do. And we want our kids to be very good competitors. The competing aspects and the way their games evolve are very important. We want our kids to get better, period.

 

To learn more about RAMP Tennis Academy, check out their website, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

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About Colette Lewis

Colette Lewis has covered topflight U.S. and international junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Her work has appeared in Tennis magazine, the Tennis Championships magazine and the US Open program, and she provides monthly content for USTA Florida. Lewis is active on Twitter, and she writes a weekly column right here at TennisRecruiting.net.

Lewis, based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has seen every National Championship final played since 1977, and her work on the tournament's ustaboys.com website led her to establish ZooTennis, where she comments on junior and college tennis daily.

 
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