Serving Up Success in Lansing

Children are our future; it’s important to prepare them for the future by teaching them how to succeed. The Todd Martin Youth Leadership Foundation (TMF) understands that. In 1993, Todd Martin, his father and his coach decided to create a foundation that provides the youth of the greater Lansing area with a healthy outlet, giving them skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives. Tennis was chosen not only because Martin is a nationally ranked player, but because it’s a sport that can be played well into adulthood. The sport doesn’t require much to play; just a racket, a tennis ball and a net, which can be found at almost any local park. As a single player sport, it also teaches children to be independent and to have confidence in themselves. Students who participate come from a variety of backgrounds. The program was initially designed for children from low-income families. Martin wanted to give kids who would not be able to afford a membership anywhere else a low-cost and accessible option. The program has become such a hit that now even children whose parents have memberships at country clubs are coming to the TMF. However, interviews are conducted to ensure that anyone who is interested is serious about learning and is committed to being there four days of the week. The tennis program used to be the main attraction for the kids, but now that the foundation has evolved, it’s become more of a hook. Instructors rotate between three areas: tennis development, academic support and leadership and life skills. The tennis instructors are very hands-on in their teaching. They are down on the courts with the students while they are teaching them so that they are able to give ‘in-the-moment’ lessons. The instructors also provide tutoring on Saturdays during the school year and throughout the summer. Many of the tennis instructors and academic tutors are students from Michigan State University who graduated from the TMF program, and they take their jobs very seriously. All instructors must sign a contract that states what they will be doing, what they will be held accountable for and what they can expect to get out of being involved with the program. It is as much a learning experience for them as it is for the younger kids that they are helping. This experience gives instructors the opportunity to learn how to interact with children from different backgrounds and how to be cognizant of that without judging them. They learn how to keep the kids accountable for their actions and push them to reach their full potential. Because educational excellence is such an important part of the program, some of the students are entered into the Arthur Ashe Scholarship Competition. The competition is named for top tennis player, Arthur Ashe, who believed that reading and writing are essential to success. TMF teams up with the Junior Tennis Association for the competition, and participants write about what a certain quote means to them. The responses they receive are sometimes heart-wrenching, others are funny, but they are all inspiring. There are both regional and national winners; the national winners receive an all-expense paid trip to New York City and regional winners also receive awards and plaques. TMF has been able to produce four regional winners thus far. Recently, Martin accepted a position as the President and CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. It’s a time-consuming position, but he still makes it a priority to come back to see the progress of the foundation that he has built. He makes sure that the kids have everything that they need to succeed. The foundation he built continues to flourish each year that its doors are open. More children are learning to be successful and are reaching greater heights than they ever believed that they could.

Tags: children, tennis, todd martin, youth leadership

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