Watching Amy Borden work with youngsters, either at South Towns Tennis Center during the indoor season or at the Eagle Ridge Tennis and Swim Club during the summer, is a joy.
The 29-year-old tennis teaching pro shows great patience, exuberance and attention to detail with children ages 4-8. It is evident that she has an excellent teaching background.
"When I played first singles at the University at Buffalo I had two excellent role models in Russ Crispell and Kathy Twist, the men's and women's tennis coaches, respectively," Borden said.
She stresses that her coaches taught her to have patience, how to work with all types and ages of students, how to plan each lesson, and how to modify her lessons to fit the needs of each individual or group.
However, there is so much more to Borden's success. When she teaches her students, they are having so much fun that they don't even realize they are learning at the same time.
"You have to realize that one-hour lessons can be a long time for youngsters because of their short attention span," she said. "I make sure that there is consistency and a routine to each lesson. Each child knows what to expect. I demonstrate everything that I want them to do.
"I also run and jump with the kids just like they do when we do our drills during the hour."
Borden's patience with the youngsters is unbelievable. She makes them feel at home by asking them how their day has been. Even though she is working with age 4-8 youngsters in each group, she still talks to them one-on-one, and makes each child feel he or she is the most important person in the lesson.
Borden stresses to parents that their children should have rackets sized to fit them. Rackets used by parents or older siblings are not appropriate. Local sporting, department, and tennis specialty shops sell rackets for youngsters for as little as $10.
Borden starts the children by having them hit the balloons in the air and then over the net. The balloons stay in play for a long time and are easier for the children to hit. Tennis balls are a bit too heavy and aren't brought into the program until the children have learned some basic skills.
Borden also uses lightweight foam balls, which get the children used to the feel of hitting an actual ball. The children drop the balls on the racket and hit up on them to get a "feel" for the ball. She also has the children push the balls along the ground with their rackets to get the feeling of moving the balls forward.
The children also do agility drills without their rackets. Borden tosses them tennis balls that they catch on a bounce and then in the air. This helps to improve their hand-eye coordination and stresses to them to keep their eyes on the ball.
One of the children's favorite activities is to use small or medium cones, such as the ones you see in work zones. They run forward and backward in an area marked by the cones to catch balls in the air. This is a great drill for improving footwork.
When the children finally start hitting forehands and backhands, Borden has them stand in a series of hula hoops in two lines until it is their turn to hit. One line is for forehands and the other line is for backhands. The kids love this. More important, it's a great safety feature because the kids cannot move from the hula hoop until it's their turn.
Borden likes to place tennis balls on bigger cones so the children can practice their strokes hitting off of them. This is the tennis equivalent of T-ball.
From there, the kids proceed to the net where Borden feeds them easy volleys and overheads with soft tennis balls. Each child stands in a hula hoop awaiting his or her turn.
Serving drills are started from the service lines, where the children are taught to hit up and over the net. Children are moved back towards the baseline to hit their serves. However, it's a gradual process because many youngsters do not have the arm strength to hit their serves from the baseline. It's evident that Borden is an outstanding instructor (she also teaches in the Board of Cooperative Educational Services school system) who is organized and has a great amount of enthusiasm.
Todd Miller, the local tester for the National Professional Tennis Registry, isn't surprised.
"Amy scored one of the highest marks when she took her professional teaching test," Miller said. "She has a wonderful way with youngsters and adults alike. She has a great affinity with keeping everyone busy, regardless of how many children or adults there are in a group. This isn't an easy thing to do."
"Amy is wonderful with the youngsters," said Lisa Driscoll, whose daughter, Brooke, takes lessons from Borden. "She has such a warm personality and is able to transmit her love and knowledge of the game to the youngsters. Brooke and the other youngsters in her groups absolutely adore her."
Zimmy ages well
Reinhart Zimmerman, affectionately known as "Zimmy," was the star of the recent Western New York Racquetball Championships. The 51-year-old won the Open Singles title over John Miosi and the doubles title with Roger Rusch, over Miosi and his wife, Cheryl.
Zimmerman is one of the top players in the country in the 50-over division and has won state, regional and national championships.