Sixty young tennis players in Shanghai ranging from seven to 18 years old are now enjoying American-style coaching at the 2009 Summer Junior Tennis Camps at Xuhui Swimming Center.
Aggressive and dynamic, the eight-week camp is held for the first time in the city by Shanghai Weil International Tennis Academy and will run through August 28.
The camp promises more than satisfying the dreams of young people wanting to become future tennis stars. It is also trying to convey the idea that tennis could be a magic key that opens doors for Chinese students to top universities in the United States.
"How can we take kids into a small pool of top universities in America when competition is so fierce? Students from all over the world, say Dubai, Cairo, Moscow, Mumbai, compete for the chances to go to US colleges," says Mark Weil, director and founder of Weil Tennis Academy based in California.
"Swimming, volleyball and tennis are popular as a plus for students to get enrolled. However, tennis is something everyone can do even if you are not tall enough," he says.
"Have hit the ball a little bit" is the minimum requirement for youngsters applying to participate in the camp.
Each week, it provides tennis training and fitness sessions of 30 hours, highlighted by tactical tennis drills and focused match play. Each Sunday is an open day for all children.
Two foreign coaches and two Chinese coaches are available all the time.
Different from teaching tennis for adults, who seek more fun, the coach for kids needs to be exceptionally enthusiastic and patient to take care of each child's progress.
James Westfall has come from California to be the chief coach looking after the camp and its programs.
"Students in Shanghai are eager to learn and look for challenges. Some may even keep practicing all day long. They can improve quickly," Westfall says. "It is great working in Shanghai. Although it is my first time here and I will fly back America after the camp finishes, I will be doomed to come back later."
Weil is now looking forward to cooperating with local elementary and high schools to build a high-level tennis education philosophy in the city.
"The tennis market in Shanghai is like a flower. It's just blossoming. It's bright and I want to be part of it," Weil says. "Our proven track record of placing students in top universities will, I believe, match perfectly with parents' goals for a better future for their children."
In 1997, Weil opened the Weil Tennis Academy, a full-time boarding tennis academy in California. Up till now, it has placed over 300 American and international students in prestigious American universities like Cornell, Yale, Brown and Stanford.
Satisfied with the kids' performance at the camp so far, it is Weil's hope to see more local students have the same exposure to Western education.
"It is true that Chinese kids are talented in using racquets, which has been proved that there are so many world champions of table tennis and badminton from China," he says.
"Tennis can build incredibly strong character in kids, which is good for their future development. They dare to lose and come back to the court again. The spirit of never giving up is vital throughout their life," Weil adds.
Zhang Tieguang, dean of Shanghai Guanghua College, advises parents and students not to overlook a child's academic performance when applying.
"US colleges will take a student's overall ability into consideration. Tennis could be a plus. But it is just an option," Zhang says.
"Homework should be done on the enrollment system of US colleges before application. Not every good university will enroll excellent young tennis players," he concludes.
(Shanghai Daily July 8, 2009)