We were delighted to speak with Coach Bob Spigner, a seasoned tennis player and junior tennis instructor with the New York Junior Tennis League (NYJTL). In our interview, Spigner spoke about how he got his start, raising a family of tennis players, the current landscape of youth tennis with regard to diversity and inclusion, and his advice for playing tennis with your own children.
Born in Harlem and raised in Brooklyn, Coach Bob Spigner started out as a basketball player but turned to tennis around the age of 21. His wife, Geri, was enrolled in a tennis class at Brooklyn College, which he would frequently visit and was eventually invited by the instructor to participate in. Not long after, he developed a newfound passion for the sport, and it soon became his and Geri’s favorite weekend activity.
By the late 1970s/early 1980s, the Spigners had instilled their love for tennis within their three children: Simone, Brian, and Danielle. It was during this time that New York City began to experience a tennis boom. Spigner recalls that, during this period, nearly every tennis court in the city would be frequented by extremely talented players, many of whom were people of color. In terms of diversity in tennis, however, Spigner has noticed little improvement since then.
When he would take his children to national tournaments around this time, he recalled seeing only one or two other Black families at these events. Now, when he travels to national tournaments with his grandson, DJ, there are still very few families of color. Spigner considers the cost to be one of the main prohibitive factors to account for this disparity. Between the room & board and entry fees as well as various travel costs, letting a child/children participate in tennis tournaments can really take a financial toll on a family.
As for how he would like to see this change, Spigner believes that tournaments should be free for all participants–especially junior players. The United States Tennis Association, for one, absolutely has the means to invest in junior players and cover all participation costs, so it’s upsetting to know that so many players miss out on the opportunity to participate in these tournaments simply because of their financial status.
Spigner fondly recalls playing tennis as a family while his children were younger. As they grew up, they were able to travel for tournaments and eventually all earned scholarships to play college tennis. The aptitude and passion for tennis has since been passed down to the next generation of Spigners: Simone’s children Shayna and DJ. And then in 2013, USTA Eastern recognized the Spigner family as Tennis Family of The Year.
Today, Coach Bob is involved with the NYJTL, working with children and teens throughout New York City and providing training and trips. Having been with the NYJTL for quite some time now, he considers this to be his way of giving back and investing in the development of junior players.
Now if you're an avid tennis player and are thinking about coaching your child, Spigner’s #1 piece of advice is to keep it fun! Kids want to spend time with their parents and have fun while doing it, and that will never happen if you have to drag your child to the court every day and implement excessive discipline.
For a child to improve their skill, it all depends on the amount of work they put in and their dedication to making progress. You can still teach your child valuable tennis skills and help them hone their game without making the lessons too structured and rigid. As long as your child genuinely enjoys playing tennis and is enthusiastic about hitting the court, they will definitely see considerable improvement and will have a great time while doing so.