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After more than a decade of coaching in New York City, Jason Speirs moved back to his hometown of Rochester, NY, to open the Empire Tennis Academy in 2016. His facility features three indoor and five outdoor hard courts, with a Universal Tennis Digital Club of more than 450+ members.
In a new series, Universal Tennis is spotlighting Empire Tennis Academy as the Club of the Month.
Since 2018, Speirs has relied on Universal Tennis software to manage all of his adult and junior programming and host more than 250 events. Coaches like Speirs use UTR Rating to create draws for events, teams for tournaments, and matchups for leagues.
“We've had a lot of success using UTR Rating for matchplay, and our programs continue to move down the direction of competition as the best way for our players to test their skills," Spiers said.
Players (including juniors and adults) are motivated to compete more often to move up program levels, which are grouped based on UTR Rating.
"They have to compete if they want to be in our most competitive programs," Spiers said. "Universal Tennis has been pivotal. The ratings fluctuate, which I think give it a nice little edge. When kids come to us and are like, 'I just can't break that 2.5 UTR ceiling!' or, "How come my rating went down?' In my eyes, I'm like, 'You looked?' It's great; they're into it. It's been great for us and we've been able to sell a lot of court time as well."
Junior Development at Empire Tennis
One of Empire’s most successful junior events is called “Game N Play,” which is where players compete in two short set matches. In between matches, players participate in singles and doubles drills. The sessions are arranged based on UTR Rating (i.e. Unrated-3.0), and the goal is to get players accurately rated while providing level-based matchplay.
“With the short format, you play two matches in an allotted period of time," Spiers said. "It’s important that the juniors and adults alike get multiple matches.”
Adult Matches at Empire Tennis
Since 2018, among many other events and programs, Empire has been hosting Adult Game Arranging, where players ages 16 and over get two hours of singles and doubles competition on Saturday mornings. The Unverified UTR Rating matches are a combination of singles and doubles in 25-30 minute timed rounds.
"It has really been the outlet for our adults that want to play first thing in the morning on the weekends," Spiers said. "It's essentially a timed event. We've been using it so adults can come meet other adults."
Taking place across their five outdoor courts, 14 players can be on the court at the same time.
“The idea is to get out and test their skills," Spiers said. "Let's see if they can play a match the same way they play in practice. We make it very social and light. Some players want a rating, and these matches will get them started.”
Empire Tennis and UTR Rating
The Rochester tennis community is small, so being able to track progress with a rating that isn’t impacted by age or gender has helped Empire build a competitive program structure with clear paths to the next levels. Players could stop wondering if they were the best player on the courts, and actually be motivated to compete and establish themselves.
“We built up a matchplay system, and the next step we took was to apply UTR Rating to our group lessons," Spiers said. "The only players that can get out of the intermediate class have to be a UTR 3.0 or above. The next group would be UTR 3.0-5.0, and to get into our most advanced group, you have to be a UTR 5.0 or above. We've been using UTR Rating as a motivator, and it’s an easy way for us to separate our groups.”
The success and growth of Empire Tennis Academy is extremely important to Spiers, who grew up playing at the very same courts. Then known as the Dave Strebel Tennis Academy, Strebel was a life-long mentor for Spiers, guiding him to the nearby college-prep Harley School. Spiers would go on to attend Assumption University before getting a job at Roosevelt Island Racquet Club and moving his way up to director before opportunity came calling from back home.
"I bought the tennis program from my coach growing up, so it's very near and dear to me," Spiers said. "Coming back home is a little more personal than most people would take on. We really had a rebrand the program, implement matchplay, and foster a competitive culture."