As the U.S. Open gets under way at nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium, youngsters with a love of tennis, ranging from 6-15 years old, have been taking to the courts at St. John’s University, participating in the summer session of a year-round camp/clinic program.
The program is run by the university’s men’s tennis head coach Eric Rebhuhn, who sees the game as a metaphor for life.
“Tennis teaches you what it takes to dedicate yourself to be accomplished at anything,” he said. “It pushes you to go beyond your capabilities, to improve yourself, to learn how to overcome difficult situations.”
Rebhuhn was introduced to the sport at the age of 9 by his father, Ron, who is ranked as a master professional by the USPTA, the oldest association of tennis-teaching professionals.
As a child, the son showed an interest in various sports, but got more involved in tennis in high school.
He attended Concordia College on a tennis scholarship, winning more than 150 matches, and receiving a bachelor of science degree in behavioral sciences, with a minor in English.
He earned a master’s degree in Sports Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa, where he served as head coach of both the men’s and women’s tennis programs.
Rebhuhn participated in “10 to 15 USTA Futures,” considered the minor league of professional tennis and proving ground for top-ranked juniors, college players and professionals at the beginning of their careers.
He continues to compete, and has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the east in the 25-and-over and 30-and-over divisions the last five years.
Head coach at St. John’s since 2001, he started the youth program five years ago to coincide with the completion of new courts on campus.
The year-round program, for which individual participants pay tuition, resumes for the 10-week fall session on Sept. 9, followed by a 26-week indoor season and eight- to 10-week spring season.
During the school year, the program runs from 4 to 7 p.m.
All levels of players are welcome to join. “There are some nationally-ranked kids in the program,” Rebhuhn said, “as well as local community kids who just want to improve their game.”
As of now, Rebhuhn estimates that nearly two dozen youngsters attend all four seasons.
“I have a passion for tennis,” he said. “I like to share the knowledge that has been passed down from my father.”
His philosophy is to “combine the classical game of the ’70s, which developed all aspects of the game, and the new game of the ’90s, which emphasizes a huge serve, huge forehand and aggressiveness.”
According to Rebhuhn, several characteristics are essential for one to excel in tennis. “You need to be extremely patient, work hard and have a great deal of independence,” he said.
Primarily an individual sport, it requires, Rebhuhn explained, “belief in yourself. You’re out there alone. You have to take your bruises and go back to the drawing board.”
An admirer of tennis greats Roger Federer (“He’s such a magician”) and Rafael Nadal (“He has such passion for the game”), Rebhuhn views coaching as “a craft. I’m very dedicated to my craft. I’m constantly improving myself. I analyze the game.”
As a coach, he “tries to get involved in the community. I like to bring kids onto the campus and working with kids gets me into the community. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
To join the program, one needs only to have “a desire to be a better player. I like people who are passionate about the game,” Rebhuhn said.
For further information about the program, call (718) 990-5549.