If you walk by the gated tennis courts at Cooper Park on Saturday afternoons, you’ll likely hear the sounds of children laughing and tennis balls bouncing. Inside, Mountain View High School sophomore Sophia Zhang and senior Alyssa Ong are standing by silver baskets full of balls, tossing them one at a time to expectant elementary schoolers standing at the white service line painted on the ground.
They aren’t the only ones. Around the same time, other high schoolers are teaching tennis at locations like Los Altos High School, Gunn High School and even schools in Sacramento. Each one of them has something in common: they’re all coaches at JAMMA Tennis.
Named after its original founders, the nonprofit organization was created in 2021 by five teenagers — the majority of whom were students at Mountain View High. It was inspired by a shared tennis coach, Francois Chan, who was forced to retire due to Parkinson’s disease but remains an integral part of the tennis community.
“We started this clinic in his honor to continue sharing his love for tennis,” said Co-Founder Jason Zhang, a freshman at Stanford University.
After graduating from Mountain View High, Jason now serves on the JAMMA advisory board along with most of the graduated members, answering any questions the current leaders may have.
The founders felt that Chan’s retirement created a gaping hole in the community and wanted to maintain the strong tennis foundation he created, said Co-Founder Pedram Bayat, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. They wanted to create a space where they could provide other students with the same opportunities they had, he said.
JAMMA donates the majority of its proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding Parkinson’s research with the goal of finding a cure, Jason said. Bayat said that the amount of money donated is nearing $100,000, and growing every day.
Since its inception, the clinic has grown exponentially, now boasting over 250 signups, 70 active students and 13 clinics in six different locations.
“Word of mouth spread really quickly,” Jason said. “In our first couple months, we grew from just 12 signups to 60 signups with dozens of active students.”
Currently, JAMMA has over 50 coaches — high school students from all around the county and beyond — allowing them to continuously expand their reach.
Sophia said that each clinic, or class, is made up of three coaches and a loosely-capped maximum of 10 kids. The clinics are divided up mainly by age group, translating to beginner, intermediate and advanced clinics, and take place on both Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5 p.m.
JAMMA coach and executive team member Adeline Shen, a sophomore at Mountain View High, said class content varies depending on the level of the students.
At the beginner level, coaches mostly teach fundamental groundstrokes, like the forehand and backhand, Shen said. As students progress in skill and ability, they move on to serving and rallying in intermediate clinics, then faster-paced point play in advanced clinics.
“The majority of JAMMA clinics just focus on introducing these kids to tennis,” Bayat said. “It’s very important that the first exposure for these kids to tennis be a very positive and uplifting one, while still being educational.”
Co-Founder Alex Wong, a senior at Mountain View High, said that although it can “get a little bit crazy” when dealing with the younger students, it’s important to just go along with their energy.
“At the end of the day, they’re not going to remember the lessons, but how they felt during those lessons,” Wong said. “I tell a lot of the coaches that ‘It’s impossible for the students to enjoy the clinic if you’re not enjoying [it].’”
Shen said that when she’s coaching, something she tries to keep in mind is to be patient with her students, in order to have the best chance at growing their passion for the sport.
“Obviously improving is important, but it’s also important that their love for tennis is growing,” Shen said. “You don’t want to get better, but also end up hating the sport.”
Most of the JAMMA coaches play on their respective high school varsity tennis teams, but having a lot of experience with the sport doesn’t necessarily make an individual a good coach, Bayat said.
“One of the most important things that Francois taught us back then was how to be a good athlete, how to be a well-respected athlete and a well-respected person,” Bayat said. “That is one of the most important things we try to teach to our students.”
He said that ideally, a good JAMMA coach would be someone who’s patient, and has a vision for what they want their students to achieve. Jason said one of the main things that he looks for in a potential coach is passion.
“We look for people who are genuinely passionate about what we do and passionate about using JAMMA as an opportunity to not [just] develop their tennis coaching skills,” Jason said.
Aside from solely coaching, coaches at JAMMA can join the business team, which works on marketing and social media, funding, graphic design and more.
“We have a lot of opportunities for coaches to pursue what they might be interested in,” Jason said.
While teaching students the basics of tennis, planning curriculum and organizing profit are some of the more of the time-consuming focuses of the organization, JAMMA staff also also find time to plan bonding activities and socials to foster closer relationships between each other, Ong said.
Socials are planned for both pods — specific groups of coaches for each clinic — and the entirety of the JAMMA staff, ranging from going to the beach, to simply gathering for dinner at someone’s house.
“Our staff is pretty close because we all share [the] same interest [in] tennis,” Sophia said. “JAMMA really focuses on having a tight-knit community [because] you’re able to work together and collaborate better when you’re more comfortable around each other.”
JAMMA clinics are the only tennis clinics run by high schoolers in the local area, allowing for better connections with students and a different type of relationship than what would be possible with adult coaches.
“[My] students tell me about all the things that are going on in elementary school, and I get to play tennis with them,” Bayat said. “There’s nothing better than that.”
Many of the coaches shared the same sentiment: they’re lucky to be surrounded by a community of individuals who are as passionate about tennis, and as committed to JAMMA as they are.
“I think my favorite part was being able to grow alongside my peers,” Jason said. “Even just as a coach or pod leader, you’re able to help a lot of people that you consider your close friends to really chase after their dreams.”
The biggest goal for JAMMA is to see the program continue raising new generations of leaders, coaches and skilled tennis players, Jason said.
“The very long-term dream … is being able to come back sometime in the future when I’m married, when I have kids, and to see JAMMA’s still here,” Wong said.