Tennis Tuesday is a content series curated by the New York Empire that will feature some of the game’s greats and New York’s finest tennis coaches, administrators, and fans. This week, we speak with Mike Silverman, Director of Sports for City Parks Foundation (CPF).
1. Tell us about how you first got involved working for City Parks Foundation.
Prior to joining City Parks Foundation I was the director of tennis for the NYC Parks Department, which ran a citywide beginner program in parks similar to ours today. In 1991 hundreds of city employees, including myself, were laid off due to extensive city budget cuts. It could have spelled the end of the program, but City Parks Foundation, a relatively new non-profit organization at the time, soon hired me as Director of Sports and provided the support to keep the program going as CityParks Tennis. The program has expanded significantly since then, thanks to various public/private partnerships, and it now serves over 6,000 NYC kids with free tennis instruction annually. CityParks Tennis is the largest of City Parks Foundation’s free youth sports programs, which also includes CityParks Golf, CityParks Track & Field and CityParks Soccer, among others.
2. Your tennis programming benefits many local children. How do you think tennis can help impact their lives in a positive way?
Tennis has so many positive benefits for kids at any level. It’s fun, great exercise and a sport they can play (and make new friends through) their entire life – especially here in NYC, where there are over 700 public courts throughout the five boroughs. As kids get better and start to compete they learn important life skills such as perseverance and good sportsmanship. There is also the ongoing “problem-solving” skills kids learn when playing tennis, whether they are learning to just get the ball over the net or deciding how to move their opponent around the court or change tactics to win a match. I think the constant thinking and movement that tennis requires separates it from many other sports, and can be beneficial for kids.
3. You’ve established a long-time bond with Billie Jean King, who grew up playing in public parks. How has she helped support your programming throughout the years
No one has had a more positive impact on the CityParks Tennis program over the years than Billie Jean, who fortunately lives in New York and values free parks tennis programs like ours. I’ve been so blessed to have her friendship and support, starting with her helping me organize recreational World TeamTennis (WTT) clinics in the mid 1990s. In 1998 Billie Jean established a benefit at the US Open for City Parks Foundation that to this day remains a key source of funding each year for the CityParks Tennis program. And of course last year City Parks Foundation was honored to be selected as the charity partner for the NY Empire. To have one of the sport’s greatest champions “championing” our efforts all these years is very special and something we don’t take for granted! Her enthusiasm and commitment to City Parks Foundation’s mission is remarkable.
4. Where do you hope to see the program go in the next 5-10 years?
As always, I’m sure we’ll be looking for ways to expand our beginner programming, which we currently offer in 38 NYC parks, to kids in other underserved communities where free tennis opportunities might not exist. We also look to provide more educational opportunities off the court for our more dedicated juniors, who receive advanced year-round training through our Fondation Lacoste Junior Tennis Academy and BNP Paribas Aces Tennis Program . One example of that is our new CityParks Play internship program that provides vital college and job readiness training, as well as exposure to the sports industry. Last summer thanks to our relationship with WTT one of our interns assisted at the NY Empire matches, which proved to be a rewarding experience for her.
5. As the charity partner of the NY Empire last season, many of your students were able to attend some of our matches. What do you think are the main benefits of seeing pro tennis for your students?
When it comes to motivating kids to try to play tennis, nothing beats being able to see pro players in action, especially if it’s their first time, as was the case for many last summer. The accessibility of the pros is also a big plus, such as when some of our kids had the unique opportunity to meet Genie Bouchard. All in all, the NY Empire venue and format proved to be the perfect way for kids to have a fun and memorable pro tennis experience.