If you have signed up your children or yourself for Long Beach Parks and Recreation and Marine tennis classes, you have likely met the instructor, Richard Nguyen. You have probably also noticed that he has a real knack for teaching, always makes up for rained-out classes and has a wonderful, charming personality. He is usually smiling even while balls fly at him from beginning tennis players. Richard instructs all ages and all levels and whether he is teaching a child or adult, you will probably end up playing games called: jail break, fruit salad, war, ping pong or musical chairs. I had the opportunity to take his cardio tennis class and it was definitely a highlight of my week.
The idea of the cardio tennis class is to have a total body workout; a little skill, a little competition and some good music for added enjoyment. I came to this class not really knowing what it was, but definitely left wanting more. The ping pong game was one of my favorites. We had a class of six, so two players on each side start the game with the third player being behind the baseline. As soon as someone hits the ball from your side of the court, you run up to take their place. So as soon as you hit the ball, you need to get out of the way and get ready to run back for possibly the very next shot. I found it to be a total mental challenge (you have no time to admire or curse your shot) and physically demanding as well. Richard feeds the balls to start off so there is no serving which really keeps you moving.
When Richard said we were going to play musical chairs, I got nervous and asked if I could guard my chair and he said the strategy I could use might be the same. In this game, four players (two each side) are hitting the ball until someone has a miss and then the other two have to race to grab that person’s spot. As it turned out, I lost every race to the spot against my opponent but couldn’t have been a happier participant.
We also did agility work, some strength work and even a little stretching. I felt so energized the entire time as we were constantly moving but had a lot of laughs. As Richard said, ‘the time goes quickly with the emphasis on fun, getting a workout and camaraderie.” Richard believes this class can meet the needs of both the competitive and recreational player and I could see how that would be true.
Patch: I know you teach children and adults and have a lot of beginner classes. Do you prefer beginners? How did you get so good at teaching beginners?
Richard Nguyen: I don’t have a preference for one level but I do enjoy beginners because you can teach them all the way from hitting, to rallies, to games to competition.
Richard has seen some of his players go all the way from their very first day onto playing for their high school.
P: What age do you think children should start tennis?
RN: People ask me that and I don’t believe there is a set age. Some are ready at 3 which is amazing and others are not ready to listen to tennis instruction until they are 8 or 10. It completely depends on the student.
P: How can you help your child improve in tennis if you are not able to hit the balls to them consistently?
RN: A good way to help with kids is by throwing them balls (rather than hitting to them) and be sure to bring a lot of balls so you don’t have to keep picking them up every few hits.
P: What is your background? Tell me a little about yourself. How long have you been playing tennis?
Richard said he has been playing for more than 20 years. He went on to say he is a Long Beach native who played for Poly High School and Orange Coast College. These days, most of his court time is spent teaching and his free time is spent, surfing, which he does regularly, competing in marathons and his newest sport is cycling where he plans to cycle in an AIDS fundraiser for San Francisco AIDS foundation and AIDS Services in Los Angeles. In June they will ride 545 miles in 7 days. He also does yoga and works out at the gym and recommends that all athletes should do a well-rounded workout with endurance and weight work.
Richard offers private lessons as well as lessons through Parks and Rec. He currently teaches cardio tennis on a group by group (if he gets 5-6 people together he forms groups) basis while there are other instructors currently teaching it for Parks and Rec., and Richard plans to add his own class to the books for the summer schedule.
To find the current Parks and Rec. classes go to http://www.longbeach.gov/park/downloads.asp