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Quote from the Neighborhood Tennis websiteNeighborhood Tennis began in 2013. Our team brings tennis education to schools and neighborhoods in Miami. Our main goal is to introduce tennis to people around our community, and share our love for the sport!

 

We strive to inspire players! So our coaches teach them to appreciate the game with fun recreational competitions. We work to introduce tennis as an individual sport. But we also keep a team environment that promotes collaboration. As a result, this helps us promote team spirit and build our community around tennis. 

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HIGH-IMPACT TENNIS PROGRAM FOR MIAMI COMMUNITIES

By Rich Neher

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I connected with Cristina Valladares on LinkedIn about a year ago and always wanted to look her up in Miami. Finally, it happened in February at her 6-court Coral Gables facility at the Coral Gables Athletic Club.

Cristina is an immigrant from Spain who found a new life and lots of success in Florida.

I was amazed to learn about Cristina's 80% retention rate for both juniors and adults. Most interesting: the large number of daily classes Monday through Friday where players just drop in without having to register.

QUESTIONS FOR CRISTINA VALLADARES

TCB: Cristina, what town in Spain are you from?

CV: I’m originally from Sevilla, a city in southern Spain. I lived there until 2009 when I moved to the U.S.

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TCB: How old were you when you started with tennis and who got you into the sport?

CV: My earliest memory of tennis is playing when I was 3 or 4 years old in Spain. I would accompany my parents to the court where they’d play each other, and I’d practice against the wall. A few years later, I started taking tennis lessons at my local club in Sevilla. I was so fortunate to have such great coaches who not only taught me the basics but also introduced me to the sport that would change my life forever.

TCB: How did your tennis develop through school?

CV: Something about tennis sparked a desire to challenge myself everyday. I felt that I had a new goal every morning when I woke up, and I soon decided that’s what I wanted to work for. When I turned 10, my family moved to a house next to a tennis club, so it was close enough for me to walk over by myself. Suddenly, I had an unlimited training opportunity, and I was there all day, every day.

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I played my first WTA tournament when I was 14, and ranked among the top national players between 14-16 y.o. Becoming a professional tennis player was my dream.

Unfortunately, I couldn't keep up with school because of all the traveling and training hours. Eventually, my family decided I needed a break from tennis to focus on graduating from high school.

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TCB: What made you come to the USA? What year?

CV: When I finished high school, I had not played tennis for almost two years. I was very lost in terms of what my future was going to look like. But another idea came to life -- When I was 12, I had met a girl from Sevilla who had received a scholarship to study and play tennis at an American university. She would come to my club and train with me while she’d visit her family in Spain. And suddenly, I had a plan: Follow her steps and follow my dream. I moved to the U.S. in 2009, full of energy and ready for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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TCB: How were those college years for you playing tennis?

CV: My college years were difficult. The agency that organized my first experience as a student-athlete sent me to Laredo Community College in August of 2009. It was not quite the idea I had of an American college, and I soon realized the huge difference between my expectations and reality. At first, I wanted to go back to Sevilla, but Laredo was the only way for me to keep my student visa and continue my adventure of playing and studying abroad. So I stuck it out throughout the first semester and then transferred to Fresno Pacific University.

 

At Fresno, my experiences of being a college student far from home while also being an immigrant clashed: I was confused about most things, from food to language, religion to friendships. The one constant in my life at the time was tennis, and I held onto that to make it through. I relied on my tennis team and my training to stay confident and was able to bond with other players from different countries. In 2010, I played the final at the NAIA National Championship in Mobile, Alabama. It was an incredible experience -- I had never felt so strong holding a racquet, and I was named Freshman of the year for All American.

 

Later in 2012, I transferred to Barry University in Miami. I joined the National Champion Team Division II, and one of the best tennis programs in the nation. By then, my English was somehow fluent and I had grown to feel comfortable around other cultures and environments. I felt I had found my place in the world.  By the time I finished my degree in Finance and Business Administration in 2014, I was already teaching tennis around my neighborhood.

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TCB: Fresh out of college you founded Neighborhood Tennis in Miami. How did this come about? 

CV: After graduation, like many other foreign students, I didn’t have a lot of job opportunities. I needed a job that would help me obtain a work visa. I founded Neighborhood Tennis out of pure survival instinct, effectively creating a job and a visa for myself to stay in Miami and begin my teaching journey. I focused on creating a community around tennis, bringing people together around a shared love for the sport, and it allowed me to meet new people and continue my own development both as a tennis player and a business manager.

TCB: Can you give us a little introduction to Neighborhood Tennis? Is there a mission?

CV: Neighborhood Tennis is a tennis academy based in Miami, FL, USA. It opened in 2013 with services of private and personalized tennis classes at home. In 2019 it expanded and opened its headquarters in downtown Coral Gables. Neighborhood Tennis's team of professionals is dedicated to bringing tennis education to the entire Miami area, from children's programs in schools to community programs in Miami's neighborhoods.

 

Neighborhood Tennis's mission is to introduce tennis to people, specializing in first-time or entry-level players, both adults, and children. Thus they seek to share each teacher's love for the sport, generating new groups and communities in each neighborhood.

 

The differentiating factor is the Neighborhood Tennis method and the services that focus on inspiring players of all levels to improve and balance individual sport with team spirit.

 

Today, Neighborhood Tennis offers group tennis programs and private lessons in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne, Brickell, and Downtown Miami.

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TCB: How many tennis professionals work at Neighborhood Tennis?

CV: We are still growing, and our team has been evolving after our expansion and the reopening after the pandemic. At this time, we are a team of 15-20 coaches, organized by location with a Head Coach/Program Coordinator at each one. We also bring specialists during special seasons such as our annual Summer Camps.

 

We value experience but also look for self-motivated professionals, who bring their energy to every class and share their passion with our players. As we grow now, we focus on communication and fine-tuning our current workflows and schedules. We believe in constant innovation and improvement in our team, the job is never done. It could always be better.

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TCB: What are your future plans with Neighborhood Tennis? Where do you want to take it?

CV: My future plans are always changing because I always keep an eye open for opportunities. I’ve now found my footing as Director of Neighborhood Tennis and club manager for Neighborhood Tennis Coral Gables. I truly feel like I’ve found my home.

 

In the future, our goal is to stay consistent, to keep offering approachable programs for players of different levels, maintaining our high standards for tennis education. We hope our Coral Gables location can be an example of our work, and expand in the future to other Miami and South Florida neighborhoods in need of our teaching method and our dedicated team. Every neighborhood can benefit from our programming and our continuous efforts to bond and create a collaborative local community.

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TCB: Have you played pickleball? Do you like it? Are you planning to incorporate it in Neighborhood Tennis?

CV: I have not played pickleball, but I do play paddle. Our Coral Gables club can’t accommodate this activity at this time, but when we reach a new location, we do hope to develop other sports such as paddle, soccer, swimming, and basketball. Sports have the ability to bring people together, and that’s always our ultimate goal.

TCB: What is your tennis racquet of choice?

CV: I currently like Babolat to compete and Wilson to teach. I’ve always been interested in testing and adapting to different racquets, styles, and weights. I try a new racquet every month, and I later share my experience with my coaches and players.

TCB: Thank you, Cristina.

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Through my school years, all I wanted was to compete and train. All I could think of during school was the tournament that I was playing that weekend. My junior years as a tennis player were the best years of my life. Since my family had no performance expectations, there was no pressure to win or improve from them. I had to beat my own expectations and work hard for my own recognition. I think that was the key to my growth: always pushing my own bar a little bit higher.

Spending many hours on the court, I got to meet people from all over the world, and travel to play tournaments around Spain. It was a great experience.