As a youngster, Russ Tringali took tennis lessons from the legendary Rauno Suominen.
Suominen had played second singles for the Finland Davis Cup team and competed all over the world before moving to Buffalo to teach tennis.
Tringali gives him much of the credit for the success he has attained as a player and coach.
After 38 years of teaching, including nearly 30 at Village Glen Tennis Club, Tringali still values the relationship between student and teacher.
“I have been a player and then became a coach and a teacher, but I am learning more as a friend and mentor to everyone I teach,” he said. “I loved playing high school and college tennis. However, teaching and coaching is my forte.”
Tringali starred for Sweet Home High School, one of the greatest high school tennis teams in Western New York. He then went on to play first singles at the University at Buffalo for four years from 1981 to 1984 and was the state SUNY champion in 1981 and doubles champion in 1982 and 1983.
After college and teaching tennis at Amherst Hills Tennis Club for eight years, Tringali competed locally and throughout New York State. During his playing career, he defeated in tournament play all-time greats such as the Rev. Bob Hetherington, Todd Miller, Rich Rocchio, Ken White, Jeff Boychuk and Peter Braun. All are in the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame.
Tringali, whose title is director of adult development and tournament director at the Village Glen, recently spoke with The News about his career and teaching philosophy:
Buffalo News: How did you manage to accomplish great wins as a player while teaching so many hours a week?
Russ Tringali: I was very fortunate to have been able to participate in both venues until I was 27 years old. I taught eight years at Amherst Hills and at that point decided to become a full-time tennis pro.
BN: What have you liked best about teaching tennis?
RT: I love teaching and coaching tennis. I started to also learn the tennis business and was able to work with players at all different levels. For example, we use a universal program called Tiny Tots for these kids, who are ages 4 to 6. There are four different types of tennis balls that the kids use that are different sizes and pressures. They usually start out with a red ball. It is a larger version of a tennis ball and is pressure-less. As the children improve, we go to an orange tennis ball; then to a green dot ball. There is also a regular golden-colored ball. The court size changes for each ball as the children progress.
BN: Describe the challenge of teaching upper-level students.
RT: In order to teach tennis players at this level, I was fortunate to have competed against players of their ability earlier in my tennis career. This allowed me to use some of the strategies that I used as a player to help the advanced players at Village Glen with different aspects of their games.
BN: Was there any one local tennis coach who was instrumental in helping you work with the elite players?
RT: Tom LaPenna had an old school way of teaching tennis and was a no-nonsense tennis coach at the Village Glen. Through his expertise and being strict, he was highly motivated and taught many of the top kids in the area. He was a great role model for me.
BN: How do the elite students compare to students you have worked with 15-20 years ago?
RT: Kids of today are different in the way you work with them. You have to be very careful as to how you correct them. Each student has their own emotions. Approaching them to communicate with them works wonders. I feel that I am fortunate in having the respect of all of the students that I work with. The average kid wants to be a great tennis player. We, as parents, myself included, have a tendency to have them hear what we want them to hear. It is a challenge. However, we feel that our tennis program is developing outstanding players.
BN: You are in charge of the highly successful tennis tournament program. How do turnouts for your tournaments compare to when you first started at the Village Glen years ago?
RT: We have been very fortunate to have between 130-150 entries every month. The success of our tournaments is due to our Village Glen staff that helps me with every tournament. We have almost every level of play: from the novice player to the advanced player. Our beginning players are entering our tournaments at a very high rate.