Collin Mika, Oliver Zinaja, and twin sisters Mya and Rya Johnson are 8 years old. They are coached by Nate Palmer with help from Todd Miller and Debbie Miller, director of the highly successful under-10 program at Miller Tennis Center. Todd and Debbie are the co-owners of Miller Tennis Center.
Like some players who got their start in the Miller Tennis Center under-10 program, Mika, Zinaja and the Johnson sisters could some day become champions in International Little Mo Championships, arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament for children in the United States. Ilija Palavesatra and Michael Antonious, who played at Miller Tennis Center, have won the prestigious tournament.
“It is a great feeling to see how much each of the aforementioned tennis players have greatly improved in a relatively short time," Palmer said. "They compete against each other almost two hours every day at Miller Tennis Center. Each one of the young players has made a great leap in their quality of play in a relatively short time and should have a great future ahead of them. They each hit against older tennis players and more then hold their own.”
Todd Miller also plays a role in the children’s development. He is well known for his 40-plus years of developing junior tennis players at Amherst Hills and Miller Tennis Center. He is a member of seven halls of fame and he has been responsible for helping many young players attain national and open tennis titles. He is only one of 51 individuals worldwide to attain the title of International Master Professional.
Watching Miller teach the young players was outstanding. His lessons are highly enthusiastic, fast paced and extremely positive. There was an emphasis on strategy, technique and the mental aspects of tennis. The instruction is not a cookie-cutter approach. Instead, individual characteristics of each student is addressed accordingly.
Palmer initiates the sessions with dynamic stretching, then a three-quarter court workout focusing on contact point, counting number of footsteps and ball control. He reviews the previous week's lessons, initiates a new skill, putting it into a cooperative situation, and then into competitive play.
For 8-year-old students, the skill level of Mika, Zinaja and the Johnsons is extraordinary. They can put away the ball and hit drop shots. They're able to handle pace. Their speed afoot and how they move to the ball is reminiscent of older players.
Zinaja tracks the ball well, hits with power and is solid at the net. His mother, Vinja, said that Oliver’s goal last year was to defeat mom and dad, Sid, in tennis. He did. Both of his parents are very proud.
“Oliver is fortunate to have excellent hand-eye coordination," Nick said. "When a shot is hit hard to him when he is stationed at the net, he returns the ball with great speed or hits a soft drop shot. His hand-eye coordination is excellent."
Mika played baseball, idolizing Ozzie Smith, before falling in love with the sport of tennis about six months ago. Since then, his game has improved by leaps and bounds. Like Zinaja's parents, Mika's parents provide a very supportive environment.
The Johnsons focus on what coaches tell them to do. They feel the harder they compete with one another, the better players they will become. And they feel they will continue to improve at Miller Tennis Center.