Q&A: Net gain — A dedicated pair of Del Mar tennis coaches

Tennis team
Pictured: Matt Jones, Kyle Villeponteau, Noah Singer, Sammy Stoianov, Ted Knickrehm, Colin Palmer, Nile Ung, Blake Bothmer, Brighton Read, Carlton Schell, Anirudha Rajesh Rao, and Jesse Steinberg. Not pictured: Robert Freedman, Nelson Alapi, Donatas Chachisvilis, Zach Amendolagine, Jayson Blando, Michael Blando, Eshan Talluri, Akhil Nandhakumar, Nakul Nandhakumar, and Daniel Gardality.
(Matt Jones)

To a tennis player “love” means “nothing,” but to a lover of tennis there is nothing more exciting than a lightning fast serve, a brilliant smash, or a mesmerizing volley. Now to Matt Jones and Jesse Steinberg nothing beats their love of teaching tennis. These local kindred spirits are a perfect match, sharing a community dedication to the sport, while synergizing their skills and passions to navigate fledgling talents into the highly competitive shoals of varsity and college tennis, and as high as the professional tour.

Even though Jones had entertainment in his DNA, the son of iconic actor Sam J. Jones of “Flash Gordon” fame, and mother a professional dancer, he chose tennis as his calling at the tender age of 10 when his grandfather introduced him to the sport on his impressive Har-Tru tennis court in Westport, Connecticut. With a graphite racquet practically welded to his palm, Jones worked tirelessly, and earned a full-ride scholarship to Sacramento State where he played NCAA Division I college tennis. Post graduation he followed his true life’s mission to coach rather than to compete. In 2007, he founded the Jones Crew Academy based at the Surf & Turf Tennis Club in Del Mar to train, guide, inspire, and mentor young, dedicated tennis students to become elite players competing at top levels. Over the past decade and a half Jones has hand-delivered close to 100 varsity tennis players into local schools as well as 16 college tennis players across the country, and adds another crop of 5 to 10 players on the same winning path every couple of years, some even awarded tennis scholarships to such prominent schools as Stanford, Pepperdine, and University of Texas.

As for Steinberg, a native of Del Mar, Torrey Pines High School (TPHS) and UCSD grad (human bio/pre-med), who dabbled in professional poker, hedge fund management, and e-commerce ventures, he has always held tennis near and dear to his heart. Steinberg, who volunteers as a tennis coach at Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) in Carmel Valley, considers himself more of a motivator and strategist rather than an elite techniques coach like Jones. He has now taken on the role as marketing head at the Jones Crew Academy to help develop and integrate the business model into local schools. Together they make a winning doubles team.

Jones and Steinberg are also both juggling fatherhood with a handful of kids between them ranging in ages from eight months to eight years, all probably vying for a future spot on the pro tennis circuit.

Now, straight from the coaches’ mouths:

Q: Upon graduating, what were your goals and expectations for your tennis career?

Jones: My goals were simply to share the knowledge that I acquired as a globe-trotting player so that I could mentor and coach a new generation to greatness both on and off the courts.

Q: What is your favorite part of coaching, and your most challenging struggles?

Steinberg: My favorite part, hands down, is bringing enjoyment to the kids in a mentally challenging sport. Even the best junior players have times when they don’t want to play, whether it’s brought on by peer or parental pressure, or pressure on themselves. I need to work with them to rise above that, and to learn how to enjoy the game.

Jones: Seeing our students accomplish their dreams, and being able to remove the word “impossible” from their tennis vernacular is most rewarding. My teaching ethos can be summed up in my mantra, “Success is in the routine.” Now the most challenging struggles are getting our students to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them, and getting them to catch my exhilaration for their tennis futures.

Q: What is your vision for Del Mar tennis over the next decade?

Steinberg: Del Mar, Carmel Valley, and Solana Beach are tennis hot beds for good, young junior players. In the high schools, TPHS and CCA have contributed to well over 90 percent of the CIF tennis championships during the last few decades, thankfully sharing a close but friendly rivalry. In this area, I see the popularity of the game continuing to grow, the strength of the players improving, and the number of junior players advancing to a collegiate level and beyond swelling. One former TPHS player, Taylor Fritz, has been ranked as high as 23rd professionally in the world for Men’s Singles. More to come.

Q: What makes this area a unique breeding ground for tennis talent?

Jones: Beautiful year ‘round weather, and highly competitive families that encourage their kids to achieve lofty tennis goals.

Q: What do you hope your junior students will garner (above and beyond improving their tennis games) from their experiences with you?

Jones: Many of my students come from broken families, or struggle with depression due to the pressures and demands of family and friends. I am in a fortunate position to be able to mentor and encourage them to live productive lives. I feel very blessed that my students value and listen to my advice not only about tennis, but also about life choices, and goals during our weekly conversations. We have grown really close, like adopted family members that many have even included me in their milestone celebrations like bar mitzvahs, graduations, and even weddings.

Q: How has your friendship resulted in a coordinated effort to promote local junior tennis?

Steinberg: Matt has been my personal tennis coach for over a decade now, and what started as an on-court tennis relationship has organically grown into a close family bond that is leading us to a joint tennis venture allowing us to continue our community mentorship. We are building a support system to help guide these youths through an individual sport. Matt and I share a division of labor – while he focuses on the technical skills of the game, I am more focused on getting the kids in the right mental and emotional state to construct a strategic game plan for tackling even the most formidable opponents, while at the same time enjoying the game. Both of us are dedicated to setting up these players to succeed both on and off the courts.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

Jones: My vision is that Jones Crew Academy has a presence in all the local high schools, and possibly elementary and middle schools as well, bringing our expertise and energy onto public campuses to coach and inspire all the players that compete on their school’s tennis teams.

For additional information contact Matt Jones on his Instagram page, @Jones_Crew_ Academy or email at MJTENNIZ@aol.com