Riverside Parks Summer Tennis Instructor Sara Heath

Sara Heath, a native of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and a current student at Elon University, is a tennis instructor at The Riverside Clay Tennis Association’s annual summer camp. The camp is run in partnership with the Riverside Park Conservancy. Camp for children ages 4 to 8 is held at the 102nd street playground on mini-courts appropriate and children ages 8 to 16 at the RCTA’s red-clay along the Hudson River in Riverside Park near 98th street. The Riverside Parks Conservancy also runs a summer baseball camp in partnership with Kids of Summer, a soccer camp with Carlos Oliveira Soccer Academy and offers a multi-sports camp with that has added flag football, tee ball and futsal this summer.

Tell us a little about your background 

I was born and raised in Manhattan, New York. I attended Trevor Day School for my primary and secondary education and currently attend Elon University in North Carolina. At Elon, I study Elementary Education and plan to teach after graduation.

In high school I was a three-sport athlete. I was on the cross-country team, the indoor track team and, of course, the tennis team. I was the varsity captain of my cross country team my senior year and acted as the varsity tennis team caption for four consecutive years.

As exemplified above: I love children, I love sports, and I love New York City (particularly Riverside Park); thus, working at the RCTA tennis camp was the perfect job for me!

What exactly is the RCTA camp and how does it teach tennis?

The Riverside Park Camp and Tennis Association is a summer tennis camp located in the heart of Riverside Park. The camp offers tennis instruction to children from four to 16 years old. Depending on age and ability, the instructors spilt up the children accordingly and proceed to develop and improve tennis skills.

Before coming to camp, a lot of our campers have never even picked up a tennis racquet before. Our goal is to develop a love for the game by building on fundamental skills. The morning part of the day is focused on skill building and more drill based activities; whereas, the second half of the day is more game based. We want our campers to love tennis and love camp; so, all of our activities are focused around having fun!

What attracted you to be a counselor at the RCTA camp?

I never attended the camp because I was already too old to be a camper when the camp started. So, instead, I worked as a counselor the first year of camp. Growing on the Upper West Side, I lived just five short avenues away from the red clay courts and I participated regularly in RCTA tournaments and some RCTA programs. Additionally, I would often play with my father (who’s a huge tennis enthusiast) and our favorite spot to play was always the red clay courts. I was able to build a relationship and become familiar with both the RTCA and the Riverside Park Conservancy. I’ve always loved Riverside Park and all the incredible things it has to offer and I am so fortunate to be able to work there.

What is special about the RCTA camp and those red clay courts?

First of all, the location of our red clay courts is unbeatable. Located right along the Hudson River. Is the perfect escape from the hectic and crazy New York City (especially, during the summer when it is so hot and humid)!

More importantly, however, the RCTA is so unique and special because it fosters a community. Our staff is filled with people who have grown up on the red clay courts and participating in RCTA programming. Not only do they play there, but their parents do too and it creates this really close-knit community that makes working with the RCTA so special and rewarding.

Additionally, we are really concerned with our campers having fun. I’ve been to some very rigid and intense tennis camps myself and I believe that intensity can be detrimental. Yes, we want our campers to improve their tennis skills (of course) but we also want them to feel free to laugh and have fun. Grow their character as well as their tennis game.

How has the landscape of youth tennis in NYC changed since you were younger and how has the RCTA camp evolved to meet those changes?

I know from growing up in the city, it can be difficult to find convenient and affordable tennis courts. One of the great thing about the red clay courts in Riverside Park is they are super accessible. We are able to accommodate so many New Yorkers as you can easily hop off the subway and enter the park. This is a huge relief to a lot of our parents and staff.

How does playing tennis fit in with all the other sports and activities that NYC youth participate in these days?

I believe it is important that children are exposed to all sports especially when they are younger. It is important that children are active, outside, and just having fun. Tennis is a great sport because it builds on a young athlete’s fine motor and agility skills. These skills are essential for all sports and improving and developing them by playing tennis can only be beneficial.

You must have lots of great stories from your years working with kids. Tell us about one that inspired you.

Over the years I have had so many incredible experiences working with kids. I absolutely love working with kids and that is why I want to be teacher. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing a kid succeed. I remember I was once taking a group to the bathroom and when I came back this camper was screaming my name because he wanted to show me something. He was so excited to show me that he finally was able to bounce the ball on his racquet 10 times in a row. I was so happy to see him feel so accomplished and I was even happier that he wanted to share the moment with me.

What was the best advice you got from a coach? Look at someone in the eye when you are shaking his or her hand.

What is your most treasured sports possession? My cross-country medals.           

What is your favorite sports venue in New York City and why? Love Citi Field (Go Mets!)

Favorite sports movie? Rudy

Best sports memory? Senior Year Sports Banquet

See more New York Sports Connection articles

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