This Father’s Day we bring you the story of tennis coach, dad and tennis mentor Tom Anderson, from Chesapeake Va. Tom recently shared with us his insights on being a tennis coach and a tennis dad and what really matters on the court. Anderson’s philosophy epitomizes what we at USTA Mid-Atlantic believe – that tennis can help kids develop invaluable personal qualities that deliver lifelong benefits.
The typical tennis dad: hanging on every close call, cringing at a missed backhand, and feeling a sense of accomplishment after a tournament victory that he had little to do with are all sights you could catch a hold of at a court near you. The highs, the lows, the tennis dad feels them all.
Then there’s Tom Anderson. His 11-year old son, Cort, — he’s really Thomas IV but everybody calls him Cort — is among the top juniors in the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic Section. Nobody roots harder for the pint-sized rising sixth-grader than Dad, and yet. . .
“I’m a weirdo,” Anderson admitted. “I almost want him to face adversity and see bad things because I know it’ll help him learn and develop down the road.”
You see for Anderson, USTA Mid-Atlantic Community Outreach Award winner in 2014 from Chesapeake, Virginia, tennis is a metaphor for life. Every struck ball reflects a decision. You and only you are accountable. No coaching allowed.
“The adversity that a tennis match brings is unique from other sports,” he said. One break can cost a set. A net cord can be demoralizing. Disagreeing with an opponent’s out call can tilt a match.
“I used to be whether it is win or lose, but now I am much more concerned with how my kids play and how they handle the adversity,” he said. “Parents watching their kids play tennis seem to get so upset over a bad call. If they really want their kids to develop in the long run, they have to deal with those tough situations themselves so they’re better prepared down the road; either as a tennis player or a professional.”
Anderson pushes life lessons on and off the court.
“The main thing he has taught me is how to be a gentleman and to always keep fighting,” said Cort.
Anderson’s always done that, dating back to his own days playing tennis at Western Branch High School where he was a doubles champion and part of a team that advanced to the state semifinals.
The senior director for investments for a Virginia Beach firm is all business when it comes to stocks and trades until the market closes at 4 p.m. Then he sheds the suit and tie for shorts and his customized Coach Anderson tennis hat he wears at Western Branch High School, where he runs one of the most successful public school tennis programs in the state. While he likes his Bruins to win, he’s more concerned with his players’ demeanor on court.
“We had just lost 5-1 to First Colonial to end our season but Coach saw it differently,” said Ben Holtzclaw, the team’s senior captain who played No. 1 singles and doubles for the last three years for the Bruins. “He told us it was the proudest he had been all year due to the late comebacks in sets. We left it all on the court and he saw that.”
Cort is a regular at Western Branch practice, too, along with his siblings Alice, 9, Smith, 8, and Ruthie, 6; oldest daughter, Kate, 18, is the only Anderson who shies away from the racquet (The Andersons were named the USTA Mid-Atlanic’s Family of the Year in 2014). One day the boys will play for their dad, but until then, they’ve soaked up being among the giants.
“Being around all the high school guys and the team really got me hooked. Everyone was really nice to me and I just wanted to keep coming and my love for the game just kept growing and growing,” said Cort, who will spend the next month at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Florida.
As good as Western Branch, Cort and the Anderson crew are at forehands and backhands, Anderson harps more on how the lessons of tennis translate to everyday life.
“Ten years of coaching now and I would put the GPA, colleges attended, and success after college way above the norm for the school population in general,” Anderson said. “I’m not necessarily focused on the next match as much as I am looking out a few years down the road.”
He’s excited about a junior development program he’s just started that he hopes will introduce youth to the game. He’s running a tournament in Chesapeake that he hopes will grow into one of the largest in the state.
“I believe that kids who learn tennis in their youth have an increased probability to be successful in life. If I am able to get more kids in our community to play tennis – that is a great accomplishment, right there. Starting with my own family, I see my children beginning to love the game and I know the benefits that will come from that, all good things”
Harry Holtzclaw is an intern with USTA Mid-Atlantic. Holtzclaw played at court one for Coach Anderson and the Western Branch Bruins from 2013-15. Harry is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sports and Recreation Management from James Madison University.