By Robert Solomon
OAKHURST – People are looking for ways to get exercise. Their lives are fast-paced and their schedules are packed. The decision of which activity a person chooses to dedicate his/her time to is an important one. Many have thought long and hard before making this important decision. Jersey Sporting News publisher Francesca Attardi is no different. She chose tennis and has never looked back.
Attardi considers herself athletic. She was a cheerleader at Long Branch High School and went on to become a Raiderette, a professional cheerleader with the Los Angeles Raiders football team. She presently does yoga, but she always wanted to learn tennis. “I always thought it was an amazing sport.  It is something I always wanted to do,” she said. Attardi also explained that she thought it would not only be a good cardio work-out but also help to keep her in shape.
Like most people, Attardi has a busy schedule but carves out time for her tennis lessons. “It is difficult. I have to make time to fit that hour in,” she explained.
The next step was to find a tennis coach. Coincidentally, one day Attardi was on her way to the Park Avenue Tennis Center in Oakhurst for business. She was in the parking lot and asked a man to direct her to the front door. Ironically that man, Robert Bednar, was a tennis instructor.
“We talked about lessons,” said Bednar.  He gave Attardi his business card.
Bednar is a resident of Matawan and has been playing tennis for about 50 years. “My mom was a college tennis player. I followed her and my dad out to the courts and retrieved balls for them,” he said. “I enjoyed the game and being around it.”
Although his high school did not have a tennis team, he became a successful tennis player at Mercer County Community College before going to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to play. “I was a Satellite level player which is equivalent to AA minor league baseball,” explained Bednar. He had a chance to turn pro but ligament damage to his ankle caused him to give that up.
Coaching tennis has always been his dream job. “I always dreamed of being able to grow the game and teach it as a professional,” Bednar said.  Thirty years later he is still doing what he loves.
He teaches all age levels, but he especially likes teaching students 10 and under. “I can teach them proper fundamentals and form first.” He explained that if he was the first to teach a student he wouldn’t have to re-teach them if they learned anything incorrectly.
“I try to stay consistent with my teaching methods regardless of the age of my students,” said Bednar. He stated that since some students are more sensitive than others, regardless of age, he had to take that into account when coaching them.  However, once he became familiar with his students, they usually took his direction and instruction very well.
Bednar’s coaching philosophy goes beyond the tennis court. “I use tennis as a vehicle to teach them (his students) about life,” he said. He continued by explaining how teaching behavior and etiquette on the court helps his students learn how important character is off the court.
Attardi has been Bednar’s student for approximately six months. She normally sees him once a week when they are able to play outside. They did play inside at the beginning, but Attardi explained that they were very lucky with the weather.  “It is a totally different experience when you play outside,” said Attardi.
Bednar likes to start all his students off with fundamentals and Attardi was no different. “She was a beginner and needed to learn the proper form and techniques,” said Bednar. “She had to learn the basics.”
“I had zero experience. All I knew was you use a racquet and a ball and hit it over the net,” she said. “Rob is a great coach and he did a lot of beginner drills working on form and technique before we ‘played tennis.’” She could not emphasize enough how great Bednar was setting up a progression building up from one step to the next from the very beginning.
“The fact that she was having a good time while she was learning and getting a lot of joy out of the game made her a great student.” said Bednar. “I can see her enthusiasm for the game and her falling in love with it.”
Attardi felt she was a good student.  “I was very attentive and into having the proper form. I listened to him completely,” she said.
It was these aspects and the fact that Attardi is a quick study that contributed to her great progress. Bednar stated that Attardi went from a beginner to a strong intermediate player since she began lessons with him. “She improved significantly.  She has the techniques down and can go out and rally with someone who is much more experienced and feel confident doing so,” said Bednar.
“I thought I could learn and pick up the sport. I have good hand-eye coordination,” said Attardi. “After about six months of lessons with Bednar, I felt a lot more confident. I feel like I will be able to play the sport into the future. I thought it would take a lot longer.”
Bednar describes their student-teacher relationship as fantastic. “One of the great things is her enthusiasm and that she wants to improve,” he explained. “She pays attention to what I show her and tries to do it.  She is very receptive to my ideas. She is the perfect student.”
Attardi was impressed with Bednar’s professionalism, but also commented on how much fun he makes it. “He makes the experience not only learning but also having a great time,” she said.
“I come from a sports newspaper and I interact with many coaches. I recognized immediately by his personality that he would be great,” said Attardi.  She explained that due to her experiences with coaches and players over her 25 years with the Jersey Sporting News she could tell after a few lessons that he is one of the best. “I knew I found my long-term coach.
“He is amazingly patient,” said Attardi. Bednar also gives out a lot of compliments for encouragement. “He is confident and extremely knowledgeable.  He sets up an individualized training plan. He makes it specific to you and your needs to progress,” she explained. “I would absolutely recommend Rob (Bednar) as a coach!”
Not only is Bednar an excellent coach now, he wants to continue that excellence by growing with the sport. “I think the most challenging part of coaching is remaining flexible and always open to new ideas. I want to continue to move forward to the changing game. I want to be open-minded and eager to learn as a teacher,” he explained.  With this attitude, he will continue to be an excellent coach for many years to come.
When asked if she would be continuing her lessons Attardi exclaimed, “Absolutely! He is amazing. Every time we get together I could see improvement.”  She mentioned that Bednar has taught her skills she never thought possible. “I thought I would never be able to recognize the spin on the ball and adjust my stroke to it.”
When asked about her goal, Attardi said, “I want to be able to hold my own on the court. I don’t want to be the best in the world, but just to enjoy the game.”
It seems that between her enthusiasm for the sport and Bednar’s excellent coaching, her goal is well within reach.