The Beachwood coach views the sport philosophically and praises its psychological and emotional rewards because he’s experienced them. And he’s passed them on not only to his players, but to his own sons.
All four of them.
The elder Goldberg, a two-time state qualifier for the Bison in the early 1970s, views himself as more than a coach and instructor, but as a bit of a tennis prophet. The meat and potatoes of his teaching are the connections between tennis and life. Getting kids to Columbus is just gravy.
“I teach life skills and my vehicle is tennis,” he says. “It’s a sport you play alone and things don’t always go your way, just like in life. There are obstacles along the way. But it’s not what happens to you, but how you deal with it.
“Say you’re playing against a guy you’ve always beaten, but this guy is playing the best tennis of his life. Do you throw in the towel and say ‘I don’t have a chance to win this match?’ Or do you buck up and say, “What can I do to turn this thing around?’ You’re catching a guy on his best day ever and you can’t control that. But what’s important is how you deal with it. The same holds true in life. To quit in tennis is unacceptable. To quit in life is unacceptable.”
Goldberg has imparted that wisdom to his four sons, three of whom became exceptional tournament players, including 16-year-old Mark, who teamed up with Grant Aronson to reach the second round of the Division II state tournament a year ago as a mere freshman. The younger Goldberg played first singles in 2007 and lost just one match.
Mark was dragging around a racket before the age of two. His father enforced a rule with all his boys because of his strong views about the sport – they had to play club tennis as a child, then decide if they wanted to continue on to tournament tennis. Three of them did, including Mark, whose talent has taken him to United States Tennis Association (USTA) events both outside of Ohio and the United States.
That painfully early start precluded any notion of Mark competing in such traditional youth sports as baseball, football or soccer. But it caused nary a bit of embarrassment, especially considering he had embraced his father’s philosophy about tennis even at a rather tender age.
“What my dad teaches me goes through my mind all the time,” he says. “Tennis works your mind all the time, just like chess. I’m in (advanced placement) history right now. It’s one of the hardest courses at my school and I approach it like a tennis match. Most people get nervous before a test, but I use what I’ve learned through tennis and I’m fine. The results have been good so far.
“I knew I was different from the other kids. I didn’t play t-ball or basketball or football. I just focused on tennis. And the kids would talk at lunch and say things like, “I hit a huge home run in little league last night. What did you do? Oh, that’s right. You play tennis.’ I couldn’t play those other sports because tennis takes so much commitment and dedication.”
Those ideals have helped vault Goldberg into one of the top 130 16-and-under players in the country and a state championship contender, though Greg will likely team him with Aronson again in May for another shot at a doubles title before turning him loose on the singles field as a junior and senior.
The sophomore has been working particularly hard on his volleying, a prerequisite to success in doubles and in any tournament tennis beyond the high school level. Both he and his father believe he will be ready physically, mentally and emotionally when he returns to Columbus.
“My feeling was that getting to the dance in doubles allowed Mark to not have to live with that stigma of people asking him, “When are you getting to states?’” Greg explains. “I went to state twice and the first time I went it was pretty overwhelming. So getting him there as a freshman got him comfortable.”
Greg, however, rarely speaks about tennis for long without entering into philosophical rambling. And soon he was off again.
“I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my kids,” he says. “That’s a very, very special opportunity. I always know where they are and what they’re doing. A lot parents can’t say that.
“When Mark travels to play in a tournament, he’s outside his comfort zone. He’s in a new situation and he’s meeting new people. It gives him a chance to build relationships with people while competing against them. You walk inside the fence as competitors and walk outside the fence as friends. I couldn’t do that as a youngster, but Mark has done it well.”
And, by the way, 12-year old Yale Goldberg is now playing in the Super Nationals in Palm Springs and is quite likely the most talented tennis player in the family.
One thing for certain – just like his brothers, Yale has soaked in quite a bit more than just tennis skills from his father. When you’re a Goldberg, you’re destined to be a philosopher as well.