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Finding a tennis niche in the Corner

LAKEVILLE — Now that the rain has stopped, or at least slowed to a manageable level, area athletes are getting out their sneakers and beginning to indulge in their favorite outdoor summer sports. Tennis remains a popular activity here, with many adult and youth programs and workshops in addition to social play.

New on the scene are the classes offered by Edgar Giffenig and his teaching team at the courts at The Hotchkiss School every day except Monday. A former national coach for the tennis federations of Mexico, Germany and the United States (and a former ranked junior player in Mexico, where he grew up), Giffenig came to the Northwest Corner three years ago to serve as private coach for a student at Hotchkiss. He liked it here and decided to stay, and to bring his teaching method to players in New England.

One advantage to coaching in this region: the weather.

“It’s much cooler in summer than in Arizona or Florida,†he pointed out. Even the rain hasn’t been a problem; when it’s inclement, the workshops move to the indoor courts at Hotchkiss.

The cost of the classes is fairly high (from $25 a session for 4-to-6-year-olds, to $65 a session for tournament-level teens) but Giffenig and his staff provide training that is similar to what is offered at elite tennis academies such as Nick Bollettieri in Florida. Students of all ages (including adults) learn more than just the rudiments of the forehand and backhand. The teaching is more holistic, and includes everything from fitness drills to game strategy.

“But it always has to be fun,†Giffenig said firmly.

“If it isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you’re just not going to keep playing,†agreed his wife and business partner, Lyndell Giffenig.

As the head coach for top junior players in three countries, Giffenig developed a method that he described as “very structured, and that moves players quickly from one level to the next. We focus on technique, tactics and physical development. The idea is to develop the players’ athleticism, and teach them to play the game — and always to make it fun.â€

Even novices begin playing games from their first lesson.

During a recent weekend session for competition-level teens, a group of boys raced each other back and forth between orange cones on two courts. There are all kinds of colorful aids to learning arrayed at the side of the court, including hula hoops (hit the ball into the hoop), a cloth “ladder†(for agility drills) and brightly colored balls in several sizes.

“They’re spongey balls,†Giffenig explained. New players work first at getting their racquet on the larger, slower balls and then progress to the faster-moving standard-sized spheres. They learn to serve by throwing a ball overhand, before trying to connect with a racket.

“This isn’t your standard system, where you’re standing in line with the other students while someone hits balls at you,†Giffenig said.

Giffenig, who is also the head pro at the Sharon Country Club, is not always on hand, but he doesn’t have to be. He has several instructors, all trained in his method, including several young pros from the Giffenig Academy in Mexico. There are now five schools teaching the Giffenig Method.

“And our goal is to keep growing,†Giffenig said.

Workshops for adult players are offered everyday except Monday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and are $40. There are programs for children as young as 4. Teens ages 8 to 17 who want to play but not compete can join the Fun Tennis program (10 to 11:30 a.m.); the competition program meets from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  For a complete list of workshops and costs, go online to giffenigtennis.com, or call 860-435-9691.

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