SPUT Alumni: Eli Freberg

Eli Freberg started his journey with SPUT in the summer of 2010 at the age of eleven. He took lessons at the Hamline University site and quickly fell in love with the sport of tennis. In 2014, Eli started playing JTT at Como Park as he began to get more serious about tennis. This coincided with his first season of competitive tennis as a freshman in high school. Eli’s involvement soon led him to the Warrior Leadership Academy, which he participated in for his last two years of high school. After graduation in 2017, he started coaching as an assistant at the Macalester College site. Eli continued coaching after his first and second years of college as a head coach at Langford Park and Edgcumbe. During these two years he was also able to coach JTT at Central High School and Como Park High School.

Eli ended his coaching career in 2019 as he started to focus on the career he wanted to pursue after college. His involvement is now defined as a supporter of the program, and potentially a WTT player. Eli is currently a rising senior at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. He will be finishing next spring with a double major in finance and supply chain as well as a minor in french studies.

What led you to start your involvement at Saint Paul Urban Tennis?

My parents were very encouraging of an active lifestyle when I was young, especially during the summer months. Before joining Saint Paul Urban Tennis, I would spend my summers at various day camps designed to engage youth in sports, art, and writing. I signed up for SPUT in 2010 on the recommendation from a couple friends, even though I had never touched a racket before.

I represent a player who followed the SPUT path all the way from the beginning, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I’ve coached high school students brand new to the sport, and I’ve hit with adult players looking for a way to stay active. No matter where you are in life, there’s a place for you at Saint Paul Urban Tennis.

What programs were you involved with at your time with SPUT?

I started with just summer programming in the mornings, then joined JTT in the afternoons. Soon after, I joined the Warrior Leadership Academy and became an early member of the Youth Council. As an employee I coached morning lessons, JTT, and was a tournament director during the All City Tournament. I also volunteered at the 2018 and 2019 luncheon benefits to support the program.

What is your favorite memory with Saint Paul Urban Tennis?

It’s really hard to pick a favorite memory because my summers have been so intertwined with SPUT for so long! As a participant of morning lessons I remember having end-of-the-summer parties where we would play games and bring food to share on the last day. These were always the best days because it was a celebration of the hard work, community with new friends, and relationships built with the coaches. I remember the competitive spirit of JTT bringing me closer to the tennis community in high school, and introducing me to some of my closest friends. I remember the personal coaching I received while in the Warrior Leadership Academy that really convinced me I could be successful in the sport, and the workshops convinced me I could be successful in a career.

As a coach my favorite memories followed a similar theme. For my last day parties I would always have a potluck and set up a game of capture the flag. There’s a certain pride that comes with those last days, seeing the community built as classes come together for games, and the improvement made by every student.

There are so many memories I will hold on to in the future, whether it’s goofing around with my assistant coaches, getting overly-hyped about JTT sections, or the amazing community of SPUT coaches, trainers, and staff that supported me from day one.

How did SPUT develop you as a leader and get you ready for your future endeavors?

Leadership can be an ambiguous concept, but I believe that the SPUT framework for youth development allows for tangible accomplishments in terms of personal leadership. Being involved in the Warrior Leadership Academy gave me an explicit path for development through workshops and volunteering. I was able to practice networking and learn better public speaking skills even before graduating high school. Working for SPUT also came with tangible leadership benefits. I was pushed by my mentors to challenge myself as a coach and I was provided with training sessions designed to prepare me to lead on court. I attribute most of my leadership development in SPUT to the culture, however.

Having explicit dialogues every summer about what it means to practice service in your community, how to persevere in tough times, what it means to lead with integrity, etc, all attributed to how I choose to live my life now.

I also gained a lot of self-confidence throughout my time with SPUT. As a participant, my coaches always knew the right amount to push me to grow as a player. Having self-confidence on the court translated really well to other challenges I encountered in school and life. This theme continued as I began to work for SPUT. As an assistant coach I was allowed to lead some drills by myself at least once a week (a practice I continued as a head coach). After that first year of coaching I didn’t think I was ready to be a head coach, but my mentors had faith in me and helped me step outside of my comfort zone. I ended having a great year as a first-time head coach which really gave me the self-confidence to push myself in college. 

What’s the biggest lesson or takeaway you learned at your time with SPUT?

My biggest takeaway was how to have fun while also working hard. Morning lessons gave me the opportunity to meet new friends and get involved in the community despite the challenges of learning a new sport. JTT challenged me physically, but left me feeling fulfilled and happy after spending time with my team. Coaching required days of training and preparation, but came with the best community you could ask for.

There is so much to be gained from SPUT programming in terms of leadership development, but my biggest takeaway will always be the great memories made and the friendships formed.

How did SPUT improve your tennis knowledge and abilities?

For as long as I’ve been involved in tennis, I’ve been involved in SPUT. Morning lessons taught me how to hit a forehand, JTT taught me how to hit topspin (although I still hit a very flat groundstroke), and the Warrior Leadership Academy taught me how to win points.

SPUT has done a lot for me besides tennis. The acronym “SPIRIT” (service, perseverance, integrity, responsibility, imagination, teamwork) is something that is so ingrained in the culture that it sticks with you on and off the court. SPUT was the vehicle behind the development of my tennis skills and leadership skills.

What makes Saint Paul Urban Tennis special to you as an Alum?

When I think back on what made SPUT such a powerful force in my development, I remember the people more than anything else. During my first year of college I was leaving Baseline Tennis Center and I saw my former coach from my first year with SPUT. The fact that I remembered my coach from a decade ago speaks measures to how much impact the people of SPUT have. It was a very full circle moment for me to think back on my first years with the program, and how it set me up for success as a college student.

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