Steven Rochkind, local tennis enthusiast, shares his admiration for the sport while reflecting on strategy, improvement and lessons learned.
Despite having casually played the sport as a teenager and into adulthood, Steven Rochkind did not fully “fall in love” with tennis until he turned 50. Fast forward nearly two decades and Rochkind finds himself growing more deeply infatuated with the sport every day.
“I’m a way better tennis player now than I was twenty years ago. I’m way better now than I was five years ago. I just love that you can improve, even as you get older,” Rochkind said.
And improve he has: from a humble beginning marked with losses, to his current positions of leadership, Rochkind now serves as a varsity high school tennis coach and president of the Eno Community Tennis Association. His leadership role within the 501(c)(3) nonprofit involves oversight, fiduciary and political responsibilities, among other duties.
Rochkind’s journey as an athlete first took off with another love of his—soccer. Upon recognizing the physical toll the sport had on him after 36 years of playing and coaching, Rochkind felt gravitated toward tennis and began to play the latter sport more seriously.
“The first three years I played...I didn’t win a single set,” Rochkind said. It wasn’t until he started to compete with, and against, a group of men roughly 20 years older than himself that Rochkind felt he had considerable potential.
“They were willing to teach me. That’s one of the cool things about tennis. People are always willing to teach you,” Rochkind said.
Perhaps his early learning experiences during this period initiated Rochkind’s own path to coaching. He attributes much of his appreciation for tennis to the teaching and learning component that is so fundamental to the sport. Receiving the occasional lesson remains a regular part of Rochkind’s improvement strategy.
“Teaching helps me be a better player because I can’t teach something that I can’t do,” Rochkind said. Coaching has rewarded him on a deeper level, allowing him to share his love of the sport with younger players whom he describes as intelligent and “a pleasure to be around.”
Rochkind’s approach to further developing his technical and mental skills includes discipline and persistence. He stresses the importance of strength training, claiming it is a grossly underrated element of successful match preparation.
“I try to hit with people who are better than me,” Rochkind said, praising this strategy as simple, yet highly valuable, to players of all skill sets. He also spends time watching professional and non-professional matches, noting the techniques others employ to enhance his own game. His favorite professional players to watch and learn from today include Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka.
Having learned from past mistakes, Rochkind warns against underestimating an opponent’s abilities.
“It was a 10 a.m. Saturday match and this guy came to the court with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other,” Rochkind said, recounting an instance in which he let a “superior attitude” cost him a tournament match.
In a separate experience, Rochkind miscalculated the skill set of a differently abled opponent. After realizing his opponent’s inventive, one-handed serving strategy was more than efficient, he promptly lost the match, getting booted from the tournament in the process.
Rochkind similarly warns against underestimating the sport as a whole.
“Tennis is a sport that looks deceptively easy,” Rochkind said. “It’s not. To do well in it, it requires effort,” effort that Rochkind looks forward to putting into the game for many years to come: teaching, learning and improving at each step along the way.