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Mentoring

KCTL Kicks Off New Mentoring Initiative at Google!

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KCTL Kicks Off New Mentoring Initiative at Google!

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We recently announced that we’re supplementing our four-month tennis mentoring program with off-season field trips. As the weather only allows for so much outdoor tennis time, periodic educational outings will enable us to fill in the gaps while widening our students’ world views.

KCTL Google

KCTL Google

So, on Monday, April 6, we made our first stop: Google’s office in Manhattan! Accompanied by their parents and a few volunteers, about two dozen KCTL kids explored the New York City office of the world’s most admirable employer. We’re very grateful to Sumner Site Leader Bryce Richards – a Software Engineer at Google when he’s not teaching tennis – for arranging the special visit.

The students begin their tour by examining antique computers – which provided a glimpse into how much technology has evolved since before their lifetimes. Next, it was off to Google’s game room, which included video games, pool, ping pong and treadmills. We were impressed to see the skills they have beyond the sport of tennis! The games continued in the LEGO café, followed by the climbing wall.

But we didn’t forget that Google is an office: an environment where employees congregate and accomplish projects together every day. The students observed Google’s uniquely designed conference rooms and workspaces, too. This final component of the trip gave them critical insight into look and feel of an exceptional, forward-thinking professional space – somewhere they might one day strive to build a career.

Thanks to everyone who made this an incredible experience for our students. Be sure to check out additional photos on Facebook.

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Off-Court Talk: Stress Management

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Off-Court Talk: Stress Management

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Stress Management was a timely off-court discussion topic this past Saturday at Marcy, where our students were about two weeks into the school year and two weeks away from the end-of-season Jamboree tournament. In between match play station drills and games, the kids chatted with Gary at a court-side picnic table. The table seats about four to five people comfortably, so Saturday’s conversations were a bit smaller and more personalized than usual, allowing for greater individual contribution from each student.

The small groups spoke extensively about school-related stress. “Is a particular subject going to stress you out?” Gary asked to introduce the concept. Yes, while the kids are mostly comfortable with the upcoming school year, they remarked that they’re worried about one or two classes, and they agreed that stress is no fun. Stress causes poor health, they explained; stomach problems, bad eating habits and disorders and insufficient sleep are often the products of one’s nerves. Fortunately, the kids keenly understand how stress also motivates them to do better and promotes a sense of urgency. Moreover, they’re all well prepared to handle academic stress effectively. The Marcy kids pointed to music, friends, teachers and guidance counselors as their favorite resources for stress reduction.

Gary connected the upcoming Jamboree to the previous reflections on stress. “Will you be worried on Game Day? Will the competition and the eyes of your friends, family and other spectators cause you stress?” Luckily everyone agreed that nerves in sports are a positive thing in that they promote healthy competition.They closed out the conversations with reminders to practice good sportsmanship in the tournament.

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Off-Court: Art Project

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Off-Court: Art Project

Off-court sessions at KCTL are typically reserved for verbal expression through guided conversation, but this past Saturday at Marcy, our players expressed themselves artistically instead. Working with one blank canvas and just six paint pens of a limited, basic color scheme (red, yellow, green, blue, black and white) our kids turned the prompt--"What does KCTL mean to you?"--into a mini masterpiece.

In between rallying and serving practice, the Marcy kids took turns contributing to the canvas. By the end of the class, they had collaborated to create a beautiful montage of tennis-related illustrations, as well as some tennis terminology and even a few professions of love for the game! It seems like our students at Marcy are not only athletes, but also artists! Just see for yourself:

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Want to see the final masterpiece? See it first at the KCTL 5th Annual Fundraiser on Wed. Sept 3 to see Marcy's art board as well as the art board from Tompkins, Lafayette Gardens and Sumner sites!

Eventbrite - Love All, New York: 5th Annual Youth Tennis Fundraiser

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Off-Court Talk: Back to School

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Off-Court Talk: Back to School

Our off-court talk at Marcy was all about the upcoming 2014-2015 school year—now just around the corner for our students. Gary began the discussion with an announcement and a question: “One month from today, you will go back to school. How do you feel now that summer is almost over?” The question received mixed responses. Some kids were enthusiastic, while others were disappointed. The latter group didn’t shock us; we remember how happy they were to have begun summer vacation a few months ago.

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After the reminder that summer’s freedom is officially slipping away, we moved into expectations for the upcoming school year. How will this year be different than the last? Advancing to a higher grade means the work will be a bit difficult, they said. At the same time, they remembered that they’ll get to reunite with both old and new friends upon returning to school. This heightened everyone’s excitement and led more to express that they’re now looking forward to the school year.

The conversation ended with questions about favorite subjects and future careers. We learned that Marcy has a few aspiring scientists, media professionals and artists!

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Off-Court Talk: Our Future

Saturday’s off-court discussion at Marcy called for a bit more creativity than usual. Gary posed the question, “How do you see the world in 25 years?” to kick off the conversation.

Of course, there are no objectively right or wrong answers, so the students were inspired to use their imaginations. The kids made a number of fun predictions about what human life will be like in 25 years--mostly related to technology. For instance, the kids expect that by 2039, hovercraft cars and vacuum tube trains will be our primary modes of travel, while gas-powered cars and existing modes of public transit will become obsolete. They also anticipate robots assisting with human beings’ daily functions and tasks, providing a great benefit to mankind.

In addition to their expectations for technological advancement, the students brought up some more meaningful ideas about life 25 years away. For one, they were confident that a woman will be—or will already have been—President of the United States by 2039, and pointed to some of our female volunteers as possible candidates. They also spoke of their hope for environmental improvements. People will have to change their habits now, the kids said, if we want to enjoy a clean and beautiful environment in the future.

All in all, the Marcy students expressed desire that our future world will be a better place. More importantly, they touched upon an important reality: While we can’t possibly guess all the little details of the distant future, we can modify our current actions to shape the big picture into something positive.

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Off-Court Talk: Education & Learning Styles

Now that school is officially out for summer in New York City, the volunteers at Marcy led a reflection on the academic year this past Saturday. As the previous day marked the first day of summer vacation for our students, we started the water break asking, “How does everyone feel now that the school year has ended?”

“Happy!” the students shouted in unison--no surprise there! Summer’s onset is just about the most exciting time of the year for any child.

Even though our kids were expectedly thrilled to have temporarily escaped the woes of waking up early, being on their best behavior, doing homework etc., they agreed that the most recently completed school year was a good one, and spoke positively about their teachers.

Gary asked, “Who is your favorite teacher, and why do you consider him or her to be the best?” Their responses were varied, but it seemed like Science, Physical Education and English Language Arts teachers received the most votes. The most likeable teachers are those who dedicate the most time and energy helping students get through difficult topics, the kids explained. Conversely, we explored what actions make a good student, either in school or at KCTL, to encourage appreciation for a learning relationships from both perspectives.

As a group exercise, we asked a few kids to pretend to be “teachers,” while the rest listened as “students.” The teachers led a tennis lesson by demonstrating proper technique for groundstrokes.

Afterwards, we asked the teachers how it felt to stand in front of the “class” to educate students about an assigned topic. They said that they felt nervous at first, but soon became relaxed and confident about the experience. Our exercise was a success! The kids understood the effort required to successfully teach a class. We closed out with a discussion about who would like to become a teacher someday before returning to rallying.

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Off-Court Talk: Community

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Off-Court Talk: Community

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Over the weekend at Marcy, our off-court discussion borrowed the central theme from the day’s earlier ribbon cutting ceremony: community.

The ceremony unveiled our newly restored, beautifully painted blue tennis court—but our celebration didn’t stop there. Together with students, parents and volunteers from all four KCTL sites, along with local leadership figures, we also celebrated something more meaningful than a tennis court--our community. Speakers at the ceremony praised KCTL’s impact on the community, and expressed confidence that the new court will intensify this positive influence.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the renovated Marcy tennis court.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and 36th District Council Member Robert Cornegy applauded our program’s creation of a new community. KCTL is a fusion of children, parents and adult volunteers in safe and fun learning environments, they said.

KCTL president and founder, Michael McCasland emphasized that the new facility welcomes an entire community. Although it’s located at the Marcy Playground, closest to the Marcy Houses, the renovated space is open to all KCTL students, including those who reside in Tompkins, Sumner and Lafayette Gardens.

Brandon, a 15-year-old KCTL student who has been with the program since it began in 2010, enthusiastically told the audience that KCTL has created a new community for him, a “second family.”

After the ceremony, we talked about community in our off-court discussion to round everything out. Appropriately, some of our neighbors in the community sat alongside us, since we’d invited students and volunteers from Tompkins to join our site for the day.

In our conversation, we explained that communities are best defined by where you live. We pointed out how earlier that day, we had united four communities to join as one. With this understanding, the kids told us about the importance of taking care of your community and its resources. If someone’s damaging community property—say, with graffiti or breaking glass—you should ask them to stop or alert someone who can help.

The students learned that any community is strongest when its members interact in cooperation in pursuit of common good—just like the community we’d come together to celebrate earlier in the day.

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Off-Court Talk: Friendship

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Off-Court Talk: Friendship

During our off-court discussions at Marcy last weekend, we talked about Friendship, a topic that perfectly complimented our first class dedicated to rallying.

Our chat about Friendship was actually inspired by the previous class’ talk about Values. Noticing that the students gave little prioritization to friendship in the Values Ranking exercise, we decided to lead an entire discussion about the people we call our friends. We got the kids talking about what makes someone a friend. They identified two important features of friendship: having common interests and being able to trust one another.

We also helped the students to distinguish between their friends and best friends. The kids overturned the idea that a best friend is someone who is simply physically close to you all the time. One student, Brenda, proved this by explaining that her best friend goes to a different school than her. Although they’re not by each other’s side everyday, their frequent communication keeps their friendship afloat.

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So, what does this have to do with rallying? Until Saturday, our lessons had kept the game of tennis entirely “one-way”: focused on hitting forehands and backhands over the net or at a target, never returned by a fellow student to initiate back-and-forth play. Our groundstrokes drills—with balls fed directly to students to improve their form—explored tennis only from the standpoint of the individual player, without considering what the game really is: hitting with another person or people, sustaining a rally.

Rallying is easily likened to friendship. Like maintaining an exciting rally, keeping a good friendship requires effort and responsiveness on both sides. A life with strong friendships is definitely more meaningful and than one without them, all alone—just like tennis is much more fun with someone else on the other side of the net, playing against you!

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Off Court Talk: Values

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Off Court Talk: Values

On Saturday at Marcy, our off-court talk topic was Values, which we explored in between groundstroke drills and our usual end-of-class game, breakout. This time, we invited the entire site to talk together, rather than in small discussion groups of four to five kids.

After making sure that everyone understood what we meant by values, we explained that these ideals usually originate within one’s family: While we all have our own personal values, they probably overlap with what our families consider most important.

We distributed copies of a worksheet titled “Rank Your Values” to make the conversation less abstract. The sheet contained a list of 21 common values relevant to kids of all ages: Getting Good Grades; Being Artistic or Creative; Helping Others; Being Healthy; Getting a Job I Really Like; Making Money; Being Accepted by My Friends.

We challenged the students to select and share their top 10 personal values from the list. Leading the discussion, Marcy’s site coordinator, Gary, reminded everyone that there were no right or wrong answers—only you can determine what you personally value! He called on several kids to reveal their value rankings to the group. While most of the kids included similar sets of values in their top 10, they all ordered them slightly differently, reinforcing that we all prioritize values uniquely as individuals.

Below, check out a photo of some of the Marcy students reviewing their Values worksheets while cooling off in the shade!

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Off-Court Talk: Listening (And More Charades!)

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Off-Court Talk: Listening (And More Charades!)

Our tennis players at Marcy had fun revisiting last week’s discussion topic—communication—this past Saturday. This time around, Gary led a conversation about a different part of communication: listening. He asked the students, “When we communicate with someone, what else do we do besides talk or express ourselves non-verbally?” After a few guesses, the kids correctly determined that listening is the other big component of communication.

We all talked about the reasons why being a good listener is important to communicating. Careful listening—not just hearing—helps us to comprehend others’ messages. Unless we understand what someone has communicated to us, we can’t respond to them or have a dialogue. Listening well is polite and respectful, too. It shows that we are interested in what someone else has to say. Finally, listening enables us to have balanced conversations with all participants contributing their ideas equally.

We ended the break with several rounds of charades, everyone’s new favorite game off the tennis courts. We played one big site-wide game that included some more challenging words and phrases. Working together as a team, the kids solved every charades performance from “Eating Spaghetti” to “Riding a Rollercoaster” to “Getting Caught in the Rain.”

Here are some pictures of the discussion and the game!

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Off-Court Talk: Non-Verbal Communication

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Off-Court Talk: Non-Verbal Communication

With an exceptionally large student turnout at Marcy on Saturday, the off-court talks were especially fun and interactive. The topic of the week was Non-Verbal Communication, which we brought to life with charades. Of course, the game of charades restricts the “actor” or “actress” from using words, so this week’s talk had a bit less “talking” than usual!

We began with a brief discussion to inspire reflection on non-verbal communication. First we asked, “How do you communicate with others?” The students described speaking, talking, or using words. Then, we presented a challenge: “How would you communicate with someone if you were not able to speak?” They suggested sign language and facial expressions. We explained that these are two forms of non-verbal communication, and then told them about one more: acting. To illustrate the concept, we organized games of charades.

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Without a boxed version of the game available, we generated original words and phrases and hand wrote them on index cards. Some mystery words/phrases proved trickier than others, but the kids worked hard to solve each performance. Likewise, as actors or actresses, the students were persistent and creative when their audiences were stumped.

“Blowing out candles on a birthday cake” was one particularly challenging phrase. After blowing out imaginary candles on an imaginary cake produced only wrong answers from her guessers, one student, Franchesca, added a bit more detail. She picked up an imaginary knife from her side, began cutting the imaginary cake and passed out imaginary slices to everyone sitting around her. It was only a matter of seconds before her actions registered and her fellow students guessed the phrase correctly.

And where’s the lesson in all of this? Communication isn’t limited to the words we use, and what we convey non-verbally can be even more powerful. Everyone had a blast playing KCTL’s version of charades. We’re sure the kids will be thrilled to revisit the concept with some additional games of charades later in the season!

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Off-Court Talk: Manners & Etiquette

This past Saturday, we introduced off-court talks to the students at Marcy, where we focused on the subject of manners and etiquette. The discussions, which convened in a shaded corner of the blacktop courts with plenty of water bottles in reach, were a relaxing time-out from forehand drills and games. So, it wasn’t surprising that the kids arrived to the water break/discussion station ready to put their racquets aside, take a seat, and–most importantly--talk!

I got to join a few of the conversations and was pleased by how much some of the kids had to say about this week’s topic. Others had to be encouraged a bit, but every kid eventually felt comfortable and confident enough to share his or her individual perceptions. Our site coordinator, Gary, started the conversation, asking, “What do good manners mean to you?”

The kids at Marcy know that saying “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” is critical, but they quickly acknowledged that actions speak louder than words--offering supporting examples. For instance, one student cited helping her little sister with homework as a courteous action. Another student offered that if a school classmate had taken her assigned desk without permission, she would remain calm, politely explain that the desk is hers, and forgive the classmate for the mistake.

We wrapped up the talks by connecting good manners and etiquette to tennis. Saying “Good game,” shaking hands, and complimenting an opponent on a skillful shot--instead of using profanity or throwing your racquet--are the best ways to speak and act while on the court.

Needless to say, our first week of off-court discussions at Marcy went well! We’re looking forward to picking up where we left off next week.

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KCTL Introduces New Mentoring Tool: Off-Court Talks

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KCTL Introduces New Mentoring Tool: Off-Court Talks

For the 2014 season, KCTL is proud to introduce a new, formalized mentoring component to weekly classes: off-court educational discussions.

As mentors, our volunteers do more than teach the fundamentals of groundstrokes, volleys and footwork. While coaching and playing tennis with the kids is certainly valuable--and lots of fun!--KCTL’s first priority has always been youth development. With that in mind, we’re going to make mentoring a bigger focus this season through meaningful conversations, aka off-court talks. 

Held during water breaks in small groups of three to five, off-court talks are volunteer-led, open discussions to inspire knowledge, critical thinking and positive communication for our students. Each weekly talk addresses a scheduled topic made appropriate for the group’s age level, and all students are encouraged to share their opinions. Throughout the season, we'll be covering topics such as Peer Pressure, Time Management, Family Values, Sportsmanship and more!

We look forward to bringing additional educational value to kids this season through the tool of conversation. Check back each week to see what we covered in our discussions. You just might learn something, too!

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