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Mentoring

#NothingTopsTennis: Tennis Balls to Think About Thinking

#NothingTopsTennis: Tennis Balls to Think About Thinking

At Jackie Robinson, Educational Coordinator Christine led a session about cognitive awareness or, more simply, "thinking about thinking."

Much like how the students at Marcy learned about the concept—divided into pairs with only one member given a tennis ball—Jackie Robinson's empty-handed players were instructed to get the bright yellow sphere from their partners in 30 seconds by "any means necessary." With the exception making physical violence totally off-limits, no further rules were given.

Many of the children ended up chasing each other around the tennis courts. They recouped and Christine had them share how they tried to obtain the ball and discuss which methods worked best.

After some conversation, Christine finally asked who simply requested the ball from their partner, rather than trying to grab it out of his or her hands. To her delight, many did in fact "ask" for the ball, indicating a high level of cognitive awareness.

Following the tennis ball activity, Christine noticed how one of Jackie Robinson's most energetic students, Joey, has shown maturity and cognitive development—particularly in his "assistant coaching" stints. When he helped Michele organize the class, Christine asked, "Joey, how did you get all the kids to follow you? Did you shout?"  

"No, I just asked them individually," he responded proudly.

#NothingTopsTennis: Using Our Tennis Court to Teach Healthy Choices

#NothingTopsTennis: Using Our Tennis Court to Teach Healthy Choices

June is Healthy Choices Month at Kings County Tennis League. Our students have participated in a series of off-court discussions about nutrition and exercise, and this coming weekend, during Family Day, we’re having a fitness challenge!

At Lafayette Gardens, where there is no physical tennis court, but a large open blacktop space with portable nets and hand-drawn lines, Educational Coordinator Ari recently led an informational, interactive game called “This or That.” Quite fantastically, the game combines exercise and nutrition!

Ari presented her students with two different foods—each set at opposite ends of the court—and directed them to decide which is nutritionally superior. They were instructed to declare their choice by running to the end of the court at which the perceived healthier food was located.

The decisions were individual, not team-based. Each child independently ran to the side that reflected his or her own personal opinion. After each sprint to a food choice, Ari led a discussion about which choice was, in fact, nutritionally better and why. It was definitely an excellent educational opportunity for all of the participants.

Lafayette Gardens may lack a real tennis court, but, evidently, this cannot stop the team from using its makeshift tennis surface in a creative way. Most of us look at a tennis court and see only one purpose: to play a specific game. But at KCTL, we use the tennis court—"real" or not—for activities and lessons of all kinds.   

#NothingTopsTennis: Off-Court in the Hot Seat with Michele from Jackie Robinson

#NothingTopsTennis: Off-Court in the Hot Seat with Michele from Jackie Robinson

At Jackie Robinson’s June 4 class, we used the off-court session for a new learning initiative, the “Hot Seat,” in which students have the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions questions to a volunteer or staff member. This week, Jackie Robinson’s Site Leader, Michele Gee, was “interviewed” by her students in the Hot Seat.

Questions ranged from silly things like, “What hair products do you use”?” to “How do you feel when you play tennis?”. The latter question was proposed by a 10-year-old student, Amr, who so sincerely wanted to know how tennis makes Michele feel—as if he, too, experiences something “special” when playing the game.

Michele’s answer was simple, yet powerful; the game makes her feel strong because it reminds her of the obstacles she’s overcome. “I struggled with athleticism throughout my childhood. I always had to work twice as hard as the next person to develop my hand eye coordination and motor skills. When I think of all the perseverance that it took for me to succeed, I know that it required a ton of strength for me to not give up. Tennis was very much a challenge for me but when I look back at all the obstacles I had to overcome, I feel very accomplished.”

Reflecting on the session, Educational Coordinator Christine Hum says, “Tennis has a unique way of bringing out the best in others and bringing people of different backgrounds together. Who knew we'd have so much to talk about off-court?”

Some of the younger kids who are usually quiet came out of their shells to pepper Michele with questions about her life, Christine proudly recalls. The kids loved the interview format and a chance to relate to the adults on their site. The 30+ students had more questions than time allowed, so Christine encouraged them to continue their conversations with Michele throughout the summer.  

Students Explore Entrepreneurship, Individual Passion at Shoe Factory Visit

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Students Explore Entrepreneurship, Individual Passion at Shoe Factory Visit

Saturday, February 6 marked a special day in Kings County Tennis League's off-season. Our youth athletes enjoyed a unique educational experience--off the tennis court--at a footwear factory in the Garment District of Midtown, Manhattan.

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The field trip was the latest installment in our series of efforts to inspire our youngsters through non-tennis enrichment. The event comes as a follow-up to our 2015 Google visit, which exposed the students to a new possibility, a career in the Technology sector with the world's biggest employer. Both field trips function as "real life" applications of our Off-Court Curriculum, which aims to help our students develop life skills outside of tennis.

Our host, Marcy Tennis Club Volunteer Omar Bailey, graciously welcomed 30 students and 15 parents to the factory, his workplace. He's the co-founding partner of Modern Vice, a luxury shoe brand that is designed, developed, and manufactured right here in our city. Omar's factory is one of the last remaining sites of its kind in Manhattan.

As young as age nine, Omar dreamed of working in the footwear design industry. After gigs with big name brands like Nike, though, Omar was ready to take his career to the next level as an entrepreneur. Omar has created masterpieces for celebrities including Shaquille O'Neill, Terry Crews, Lady Gaga, and QuestLove.

The experience strongly inspired the students, especially the few who said they're aspiring footwear designers. Professional dreams aside, the machinery, the manufacturing process, the creative work, and, of course, the finished products kept all of the students fully engaged. At the end of the tour and presentation from Omar, we challenged students with the question "What's your shoe story?" We asked the students to draw, explain, and name their own shoe.

Shoe design and manufacturing might have little to do with tennis, but we like that entrepreneurship--an individual, risky endeavor that requires belief in oneself--can be connected to our favorite individual sport. "You don't always have to go for the obvious," Omar told his listeners on Saturday. "If there is something you want to do, be confident and believe you do it."

Visit us on Facebook for more photos from the field trip.

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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.

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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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Become a Role Model for Kids With KCTL

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Become a Role Model for Kids With KCTL

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No summer plans yet? We've got you covered. Register to volunteer with Kings County Tennis League. Our season begins May 30. Individuals of all ages (16+) and tennis abilities are welcome.

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Our volunteer mentors are role models for children ages five to 15 in various public housing communities in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Guided by KCTL staff, volunteers inspire kids with an enriching curriculum that combines the fundamentals of tennis with personal growth.

Volunteers are required to attend a minimum of two classes per month—a total monthly commitment of five hours—for our season that runs through September 26. Classes begin at 12:30 PM and end at 3:00 PM each Saturday.

Although we are primarily looking for on-court volunteers to mentor our students, we also welcome any interest to dedicate your Event Planning, Social Media, Administrative, Web Development, Publicity, Photography or Videography skills to KCTL.

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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: Fitness & Nutrition

This week for our off-court talk, we focused on Fitness & Nutrition. We discussed what are healthy foods, and what is consider not healthy for them. We also talked about how many meals per day we should eat each, and how the size of the portions we eat also matters in maintaining good health. We talked about the effects drinking plenty of water verses drinking countless cans of soda or sugary juices, and how water with every meal helps their complexion and helps cleanse their body. We discussed hydration verses dehydration and the effects of each. At Tompkins, we provided bananas and carrots to the students as part of the discussion on nutrition--as well as hummus, which many of the students were willing to try!

Regarding the Fitness discussion, we found out that many of our students are very active in one way or another... many mentioned that they exercise with family members and play other sports. This topic was one that the students really enjoyed expressing their views about, so much, that we'll likely revisit it again next week.

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Off-Court Talk: The Environment

Our Off-Court discussion this week was about the Environment/Recycling. We talked about ways we can help protect the environment, and we discussed recycling.

We asked our students what they knew about the subject recycling... many of them knew a lot about recycling! We discussed the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. We discussed littering and the harmful effects it has on the environment. We talked about how the trees and plants help the environment by producing clean oxygen. I asked our students what they knew about landfills. Most of the older students knew what a landfill was.

We talked about air pollution. Mainly about how all the cars in NYC pollute the air, and what we could do to reduce air pollution. Our kids stated that walking was a great way to reduce air pollution (and a great way to stay in shape!) or to ride a bike or travel using mass transit.

We're asking all of the students to bring in an item that was recyclable and one that isn't. Lafayette Garden students can bring their items to Candice and Marcy students can bring their items to Gary. A prize for the winner will be determined by Michael.

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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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