Life moves at a different pace in Wyoming. Thanks to the altitude, the tennis there does, too.
“Everything is first-strike tennis here in Wyoming,” USPTA Professional Josh Cossitt (Intermountain) said. “Especially on our courts. Rallies don’t go beyond five, six balls with the speed of the court.”
The ball cuts through the thin air quickly in Cheyenne, over 6,000 feet above sea level. With such short rallies, Cossitt found his players didn’t know “how to grind points,” so he got creative.
As opposed to using traditional yellow tennis balls, Cossitt at times uses green dot balls, which are less pressurized and typically for kids 10 and under.
“With the green dot ball, we can force ourselves to create and build points because you can’t put anyone away,” Cossitt said.
“We’ve gotten pretty creative to stay competitive, for sure. That’s one thing about Wyoming, we’re very adaptive and resourceful.”
In Cheyenne, adaptation is even on the calendar. During the summer months, Cossitt can take his players on the hard courts at Holliday Park. But from October to May, they move indoors to the Frontier Park Family Tennis Center – a converted rodeo stadium with dropdown sport courts.
Resourcefulness, meanwhile, comes in many forms.
Cossitt is the only full-time tennis professional at Frontier Park. There used to be more, but the other full-timer abruptly retired recently. Instead of racing to bring someone in, Cossitt turned to his students.
“We had some excellent kids that were already coaching, so we put them to work,” he said.
They’re local high schoolers and kids home from college. He charges them with running the 10U and red, orange and green ball programs. They’ve been through Net Generation training and will complete the Tennis Essentials 1 clinic in Denver in January, preparing to eventually join the USPTA.
“They’re kids you can trust with a set of keys,” he said.
But they’re also kids that have come through his program, so they know the expectations; they helped build the culture. They bring energy and excitement, and the kids they coach feed off that.
Having them there frees up time for Cossitt, who takes care of the high-performance and adult recreational lessons. USPTA tester Ginger Phillips also goes up from Colorado once a month to run some lessons. Even with all the help, he estimates he’s on-court 36 hours a week, with another 30 hours in the facility managing an extensive slate of programming.
In addition to ROGY ball progressions and adult and junior team tennis, Cossitt has added non-elimination tournaments and team competitions to create more excitement. They also give kids an opportunity to play against new players and to get more than one guaranteed match, which is important considering some players live five hours away.
He also runs an adaptive tennis program that serves seven kids year-round. It started when a young girl with thrombocytopenia absent radius syndrome wanted to manage one of the teams.
“I said, ‘You’re not going to manage, you’re going to play,’” Cossitt said. “We got a custom racquet made by Trent Aaron out of Natural Tennis with two handles on it. She ended up winning the 2018 USPTA Intermountain Division Nikos Ridle Award for exemplifying the spirit of tennis on and off the court.”
In a state where the “tennis population is maybe 700 players,” efforts like that go a long way towards getting new players involved, growing programing and creating a culture. They are lengths Cossitt goes to every day.
“The other day I was on the court with two kids doing a performance lesson,” Cossitt said. “I look down and my 17-year-old had 11 kids show up for a red ball, 36-foot class. I’m like, it’s going to be total chaos. It was organized. I was like, Emily’s killing it.
“It is really rewarding because you know that your passion translated to those kids and they’ll hopefully translate their passion on to future generations.”