Seasoned pro talks importance of tennis at LHISD benefit tourney
By Lance Catchings
There were many tennis organizations and players in attendance at the LHISD benefit tennis tournament last week, but possibly none more popular than seasoned tennis pro Fernando Velasco, who is the Executive Director of the Capital Area Tennis Association in Austin.
“Our job is to promote racquet sports in the Austin area communities,” Velasco said. “This is including Austin, Pflugerville, Dripping Springs and Williamson County. We have a large radius that we cover and try to present tennis as the sport of a lifetime.”
When Velasco got wind of the tournament benefiting teachers in Liberty Hill, he wanted his organization to be supportive.
“It was a great cause to give the teachers an opportunity to have better supplies and go to school,” he said. “It was great to get to know them and be available to help them whether they need equipment, racquets, shoes, balls or windscreens for their high school. We wanted to come and help promote the sport of tennis at the high school and middle school level in both the entertainment and competitive world.”
Velasco, 76, has been on tennis courts around the world since the age of 15 when an accident sent him from the water to the tennis court.
“I started playing tennis back in Bolivia in South America and it was caused by a diving accident,” he said. “I couldn’t dive and swim anymore, so I had to change sports at the age of 15. I decided to play tennis and I started with just hitting the ball against the wall. At the age of 17, I got a scholarship to come to America. Out of 200 students three of us were chosen. I ended up in Mile City, Montana, which was a town of about 12,000 people. I played tennis for the junior college because I didn’t have any money. I moved to Eastern Illinois University and played soccer, gymnastics and tennis and became a three-year letterman. After I graduated from college, I taught high school for four years coaching soccer, gymnastics and tennis. I then turned into a professional teaching pro and I have been teaching tennis for over 48 years.”
When teaching Velasco believes the most important thing a mentor can do is show the player how to fall in love with the game.
“I didn’t know how good of a teacher I was until people came and told me,” he said. “First I taught them how to love the game and then I taught them how to play the game. After the first lesson I didn’t care how they hit the ball because they went home sweating, laughing and excited to come to the next lesson. I believe it came as a gift God gave me and watching some of the great tennis coaches at that time. I picked up many things from those coaches, but the most important was that tennis must be fun. Following the fun of the game then it must be competitive. If you want to become some of the best in the world then you must give a lot and you must sacrifice a lot.”
As Velasco looked around the LHHS tennis courts and saw a range of players from old to young, parents, siblings and friends, he echoed that this is what the true nature of the sport is about.
“The laughter, the joking — not swearing, screaming or yelling — is what we want,” he said.
“They are learning that tennis can be fun at this type of event. We all want to be competitive but when we are off the court, we are friends. We play a match, become friends off the court and next thing you know you have a friend for a lifetime. Right now, they have put the seed in the ground in Liberty Hill. We are now watering that seed and every time we can be a resource to each other that seed grows a little bit bigger. Whether they need balls, racquets or coaching each step is growing that seed. With supporting this event everyone in the community can remember on July 23 we went out to the tennis courts and had a great time. It was fun for the family; we had some pizza, and everyone went home with something. That draws the interest from the kids and then they are asking their parents can they go play tennis or play junior team tennis.”
With the growth of tennis popularity over the last 40 years Velasco has seen the game change and he believes now is a great time for players taking an interest in the sport.
“The game has changed so much over the years it is now easier for new players to learn the game,” he said.
“We have red, orange, green and then the regular yellow ball so now players can learn in a progression. In the old days we only had yellow balls and the kids did not learn as much. The repetition is what is important being able to hit the ball 30-40 times in a row and now younger players can do that using the progression balls, which can be lighter and softer for learning.”
The LHISD Back to School Tennis tournament wielded great success and Velasco believes that things in Liberty Hill are moving in the right direction.
“Today we had people on the court with the beginners teaching them how to keep score and play the game,” he said. “They will go home tonight and tell their parents ‘that was fun I’d like to continue doing it’ and that is our goal. If we are going to grow the game of tennis in Liberty Hill, we want to create the scenario where people are willing to come to the facility and play. We did not become what we are today without seeking advice and listening to other people.”