Zeze de Moura’s enthusiastic embrace of the QuickStart concept of teaching tennis to youngsters has earned him the SuperStar Award from the Club Corporation of America. The club’s head of player development and only 140 others out of 20,000 employees in the worldwide organization received the honor this year.
De Moura, a native of Brazil and a top ten junior there, runs the summer and after-school program for kids five and up. He is the third Houston City Club employee to earn the SuperStar Award. Greg Vinbladh, director of tennis for the club, won in 2005, and Bob Lahti, tennis program coordinator, earned it in 2008.
“Our main goal is for the kids to have fun,” de Moura said. “But we teach them the proper techniques, like hitting from the side, not using a baseball or scoop swing and learning to toss the ball. We want them to start hitting the ball and rallying as soon as they can, so they won’t feel like the game is too difficult and get bored.”
The QuickStart program, a format introduced by the United States Tennis Association, uses smaller racquets, lower nets, smaller courts and softer balls to allow the kids to keep the ball in play.
Beginners start learning with slower moving “red” balls on a 36-foot court and advance to a faster moving “orange” ball on a 60-foot court. When the kids can sustain a rally from the baseline, they begin playing on a regulation size 78-foot court with a “green dot” ball that is faster than an orange ball but not as fast as a regular ball. HCC has painted additional lines on four of its courts to indicate the smaller area of play.
“It’s difficult to keep the attention of a five-year-old,” de Moura said. “We have to entertain them or lose them. Our junior program is a team effort. Our pros—Greg (Vinbladh), Chris (Jackson) and Greg Davis all pitch in to give the kids a lot of one-on-one attention. Each is experienced and works really well with the kids. Even our helpers have gone through certification training.”
Lillyiya Kades, whose 7-year-old daughter Margot will participate in her second year of summer camp in June, has tried several junior programs at different clubs.
“Zeze is amazing with kids, very patient,” Kades said. “He makes a game out of it, not just giving boring instructions. And the facilities are great. I take my computer with me and work while I am waiting.”
Diana Khera has three children in the program — son Shiv, 4, and daughters Nadia, 6, and Dalia, 7.
“Zeze and all the coaches are great,” Khera said. “They give such positive reinforcement to the kids and make them feel so comfortable.”
De Moura thoroughly enjoys teaching the children.
“They are adorable and fun to be with,” de Moura said. “It’s a joy to see how excited they are when they hit the ball correctly. We give them a high five and tell them to keep it up. I want the kids to enjoy the game. Some may have the potential to become a good high school or college player, but our main goal is to give them a good experience and learn a sport they can play forever. My dad is 81 years old and plays two or three times a week.”
De Moura joined the Houston City Club in 1998. Prior to moving to Houston he attended Indian River Community College in Florida on a full tennis scholarship and played the Satellite Circuit for two years. He taught at several other Houston clubs before joining HCC.