When Erick Garcia’s mom was working as a cook at a local tennis club in Mexico, she would take her son with her.
Erick, who was only 7 years old, would work as a ball boy during matches and tennis lessons at the club.
He would listen carefully to the tips that pros were giving to the players, and then while he waited for his mother, would practice as much as he could against the tennis wall at the club, trying to apply some of the lessons he heard.
Tennis paved the way for him to move to Canada as a teenager and to a playing career at Niagara University and eventually the school’s head coaching job for men’s and women’s tennis. Garcia has been at Niagara since 2017. Last summer, he joined the coaching staff at the Village Glen Tennis Club and also still teaches at the Niagara Academy of Tennis in Vineland, Ont., where he has spent nearly two decades.
“Why do I love to coach?” he said. “I love helping people and see them improve. I try to make them more confident in their game, and it has always been fun coaching them.”
Garcia teaches players of all ages and has been able to identify young talent, just as he was picked out as a young player. When he moved from hitting the ball against the wall at the club In Mexico to matches, it was evident that he was a star in the making.
As young as age 10, he would fill in for members who needed another player to have a foursome. The members would often give him tips that greatly helped accelerate his game and would become the top-ranked 12-year-old in the state of Oaxaca and the top 12-and-under player in the southern section of the country.
The local tennis association provided him with new shoes, rackets, clothing and money to travel to local tournaments.
When Garcia was 14, the local club brought in one of the top national coaches, Guido Lorandi, to lead a clinic. When he observed how well Garcia played, he invited Garcia to join. He played against a 14-year-old who was the national 16-and-under singles champion in Mexico. Garcia played superbly and lost, 7-6, 7-5, but his talent impressed Lorandi.
Lorandi gave Garcia a full tennis scholarship to the Puebla Tennis Center, which was equivalent to going to the Evert Tennis Academy or IMG Academy with Nick Bollettieri.
At 15, he moved to the Guido Lorandi Tennis Academy.
"I thought I was really good,” Garcia said. “However, at the academy I was competing against 5.0 and 5.5 players who would go on to play tournaments and some pro events."
His teaching career began at age 15 and for three years, he taught players of all ages while continuing to play. He was ranked in the top in the 18-and-under division in Mexico.
While many of his friends were receiving college scholarships for tennis all over the United States, he remained in Mexico because he could not speak English.
He moved to Ontario and started teaching tennis at the Niagara Academy of Tennis. He learned to speak English, scored well on his SATs and earned a partial scholarship to Niagara University, attending classes and playing tennis while working about 30 hours per week at the academy.
He played third singles as a freshman. As a sophomore, he played second singles behind his brother, Walter. He continued playing second singles as a junior and senior. He had 69 singles wins and 63 doubles victories from 2003 to ’07 for the Purple Eagles.
Garcia’s game was relentless and he was thrilled to be traveling to many different places to play.
“I never had it so good,” he said. “I had food to eat, a place to stay and the opportunity to travel to different cities.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2006 and his master’s in international business in 2008, all while still working at the academy in various capacities and as a touring coach.
In 2017, he was hired and tasked with helping build the program that he once starred for as a player and the men’s and women’s teams have improved since his arrival.
“I feel that the tennis program is up and coming and has one of the best tennis programs in the Northeast,” he said. “Our goal is to contend for the MAAC Championship every year and make the NCAAs."
Last summer, he added the Village Glen to his resume.
“The club feels like a big family and everyone supports each other,” he said. “There is a lot of potential to develop players of all levels; locally, nationally and internationally.”
Rob Gregoire, the Village Glen executive director, said, “Garcia deals with all phases of tennis. He is an excellent technical tennis coach. He has great rapport with his students, is a great motivator, and is very good with teaching strategy. He is very humble, great with the staff, and gets along with everyone."
Garcia has found a home in Western New York.
“Buffalo is a great tennis community,” he said.