Santa Monica Tennis Collective - NJTL Profile - USTA Southern California
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Santa Monica Tennis Collective – NJTL Profile

When thinking about communities around Los Angeles that need greater access to tennis for children, Santa Monica may not be the first city that comes to mind. However, like a lot of cities across Southern California, Santa Monica lacks easy access to public tennis facilities and opportunities. It’s an issue faced by Debbie Mahdessian, who started the Santa Monica Tennis Collective (SMTC) in 2017 as a targeted effort to give more kids the chance to enjoy tennis.

The unique nature of Santa Monica makes it ripe for a program like SMTC, due to the diversity in its residents, despite it being perceived as a very affluent community. “It’s actually a community that has a lot of socioeconomic and ethnic diversity,” explained Debbie. “And so it is a really good place to create community tennis because you have both those who can support you, as well as those who need the support.”

Santa Monica Tennis Collective has a number of different programs to cater to its community. SMTC offers individual and group instruction for all levels of players ages 6 and up. Their programming includes clinics, community classes, USTA adult and junior tournaments, UTR match play and flex league. Based out of Santa Monica High School, all of SMTC’s classes and programs are made as affordable as possible.

Within its array of programming, SMTC currently offers Palisades High School seniors an opportunity to help out at SMTC practices and train with their coaches, giving the players both paid and volunteer opportunities to impact the community. Debbie and SMTC are also keen on integrating playing tennis with greater involvement in the community, with hopes of creating community service and internship opportunities for kids involved with the organization.

Santa Monica Tennis Collective has some high goals, eager to increase the types of programming that they offer, especially for wheelchair adaptive players. “I’ve been trying to find out how many kids we have in Santa Monica elementary schools in wheelchairs,” said Mahdessian. “Of those kids, how many of them have been given the opportunity to play tennis? That’s one goal. And I would love to be expanding this kind of programming beyond community classes!” To increase the variety and types of programming, one of the issues that Mahdessian has faced is the availability of court space, as well as a lack of lights at the tennis courts at Santa Monica High School.

The quality and maintenance of courts is generally a hurdle for SMTC as the organization has been cleaning and maintaining the courts at Santa Monica High School themselves, and recently convinced the school to resurface the courts to improve their playability. The parents of children involved in these programs as well as the coaches who work with SMTC are continually voicing their need for more support from the high school and city council, highlighting the impact that SMTC is making.

“Santa Monica had a pretty storied history of tennis,” said Mahdessian. “My goal would be to create a comprehensive tennis community, that bridges socioeconomic and physical ability, offering opportunities beyond just winning a tournament.”

More than creating tennis players, the Santa Monica Tennis Collective has a higher propensity to build a community of kids who are united by a common interest in tennis. “I’m not about creating champions,” she said. “It’s about creating a community that embraces everything that’s great about tennis. That can span from just playing to becoming a vocational tool.”