From growing up on South Eighth Street to teaching tennis at Markward Playground, South Philadelphia Tennis Association (SPTA) President Bryan Hughes has been giving back to the community he calls home. Urging people of all ages to get off their couches and get involved in the community, Hughes has helped South Philadelphians achieve this mission with tennis.
What has your role been in the South Philadelphia Tennis Association (SPTA) over the years?
Well, at the South Philadelphia Tennis Association, our mission is to introduce teaching, competitive and social programming tennis to not only South Philadelphia but our surrounding area. We don’t go to North Philly. We don’t go to West Philly. I knew I wanted to bring what I knew and what I experienced around the world with my tennis experiences to South Philadelphia, knowing that it’s underserved in tennis.
You’ve said you’re more than a tennis coach to the players. What else are you to them?
As a tennis coach, you have to do your job as a tennis coach. But you’re not just a tennis coach, you’re a philosopher. You’re a listener. You are always in conversations with your clients that you care about and that’s where it becomes social and personal and that’s where we thrive. Yes, we’re teaching tennis. Yes, we’re helping kids get off the couch and get in better shape. We’re helping adults get off the couch and get in better shape. But, if they’re not enjoying it, they’re not going to do it.
What has your impact been on the community?
It’s huge for the community that we are a part of. Because all of these people that come out and play together. We don’t expect them to only play with us. Our hope is that they have their own community as well. That they make their own friends. They have their own fellowships. What we’re trying to do is build a community of social tennis. Tennis is the medium for a program that is, yes, teaching tennis but, like tennis, you have to achieve smaller goals to achieve bigger goals and aspirations that maybe you didn’t think you could do before. Well, that’s life. That’s what we do. It’s a confidence builder. If you can do one thing you can do another.
What is the best way to coach or mentor your players?
On our courts we have fun. We laugh. That’s the most important thing to me. And guess what? Along the way, they’re going to take tips. If they’re relaxed and enjoying themselves, they’re open to the critiquing. I get a lot of people, especially men. We don’t like critiquing. We don’t like being told what to do. But, if you’re out there with the other guys and having a laugh and having a good time, and say ‘hey, listen, by the way, if you do this and that, that shot will become better’ they’re more likely to go, ‘yeah, that makes sense.’ You’re building a bond of trust.
How has your relationship with your players in the past evolved?
Some make it back. I’ve had kids that have volunteered and worked for me to get their college credits that they need for high school to get into good colleges that they go to. They work with us. Most of the time they’re not looking for the money. They need community service and they took tennis lessons from me. They think, what better way to serve our community than teach tennis to little kids? I get my high school kids — and even my seventh and eighth graders — teaching second and third graders. Our mentoring program with our older kids is something I am extremely proud of.
How does the SPTA get funding?
We have many sponsors. They believe (in) what you are doing. The USTA Middle States, without them, and the Philadelphia Area Tennis District, without them, we would not be able to do what we’re doing. The funding from them is extremely important. I can’t emphasize that enough. We went from seven kids, three to four years ago, at a summer camp to more than 40 kids this year. That’s a pretty big number for a summer camp for tennis at one location. That’s a big deal. Every year, families tell other families.
What are your goals for this organization?
Our ultimate goal is participation and social interaction. We’re getting kids and people involved. I would rather have 100 people involved than 10 players who are doing awesome. I would take that every day. I want to see kids getting out and having fun.
– Text and images by Christopher Abruzzo and Matt Scull.