By Gavin Menu
For Phil Williamson, who recently became the new head coach of the Ross School Tennis Academy, teaching is all about balance.
“The priority is academics,” said Williamson, a resident of Sag Harbor and a former pro who was once ranked as one of the top 300 players in the world. “We have a zillion guys that can teach tennis, but it’s to do it and keep the academic component just as high that really matters. That’s what this program is all about.”
According to its website, the Ross School Tennis Academy (RSTA) is “an unusual and dynamic program for national and international junior players that combines an engaging, global curriculum with the highest level of competitive tennis training available.”
Currently players come from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Mexico, with some local talent as well.
Williamson had been coaching nationally ranked juniors at the Grand Slam Tennis Center in Bedford, New York where he served as senior head pro. Since 2001, he also worked as a staff coach for the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program.
But now he has turned to what he called a unique tennis program, one that emphasizes tennis at the highest levels but also a strict focus on academics. In that sense, Williamson’s new role at RSTA will combine being a coach and, in some ways, a parent, especially considering the majority of his pupils are boarding students from across the globe.
“They will have to commit to more tennis, it’s a commitment to tournaments, which involves travel and to focus on making the transition to playing in college,” said Williamson, who is only in his third week with the program. “Literally they’re on a tight schedule and it’s part of my job to manage their time management and help them stay on top of their athletic and academic schedules.”
As a player in college, Williamson led the Columbia University team to two Ivy League titles and achieved a rank of 31 in one national tennis poll. He placed in the United States Open four times, twice at Wimbledon, and once in the Australian Open. He achieved an ATP singles ranking of 294 and 133 for doubles.
“I am excited to have Phil be a part of the team and head coach of RSTA,” Ross School Tennis Director Vinicius Carmo said. “Phil was an accomplished player. His results as a professional tennis player are extraordinary, and I believe that to be a tennis coach you have to go thorough the process of being a good tennis player. The student athletes from the RSTA are very lucky to have Phil on their side.”
Williamson said there are currently 14 students enrolled in the tennis academy, 10 of who are boarding at the Ross School. Four locals, Sabrina Re and Ben Snow from Sag Harbor, and Abby Okin and Julian Macgurn from East Hampton, also train at RSTA.
Williamson said he has plenty of experience with young players who made tennis the center of their life, something that often led to burnout and an unbalanced life. He said student athletes at RSTA would keep the school’s overall philosophy of “whole learning” at the heart of their endeavors.
“You want their mental development to be as normal as possible even though they are focusing intensely on academics and tennis,” said Williamson, adding that his biggest challenge will be developing a program that addresses each student athlete’s individual needs.
“It’s really about understanding that not everyone is going to write the same way, but we are going to use the same alphabet,” he said. “And then you bring a little creatively to it with as much real life as possible.”