Health First, Then Tennis: Head Coach Leon Calleja Approaches Season with Empathy and Optimism

Boys Tennis Head Coach Leon Calleja began his tennis career at nine years old in the footsteps of his older brother. Now as a coach, Calleja works to ensure that every player on the nine-person team has a space conducive to growth and inclusion. 

“I like to try to motivate them by showing how much I love the game and trying also to motivate what I think are their strengths as players are. The great thing about tennis is that the players have so many different strengths as a team and as individuals, and I think I’m trying to emphasize those on an individual basis. That’s something I do, particularly during match play,” said Calleja.

According to Kevin Niu ’25, Calleja prioritizes his players’ health above anything else. By allowing players to focus on their well-being, Calleja prevents overtraining. 

“He’s above all, just a good person. You can always ask him. If you’re really stressed with a test, he’ll let you maybe skip a practice or leave early. He always cares about your physical and mental health. You need to go to the trainer, he’ll never force you to play at all. If you really can’t travel three hours, he’ll let you rest. So he’s really understanding,” said Niu. 

During matches, Calleja encourages his players to be in the moment and to only control aspects of the game that they can control, according to Kian Burt ’24. Through Calleja’s advice, Burt has found it easier to maintain an optimistic mindset during matches.

“A lot of times it’s easy to get wrapped up in the point you played previously, the shot you played previously. But [you need to be] able to recognize your strengths and impose your game. So recognizing your strength and focusing on yourself when you’re playing a match, not necessarily what the opponent is doing,” said Burt. 

According to Chase Burke ’25, Calleja brings out the best in his players. Burke has observed Calleja providing the support needed to take a player’s game to the next level. 

“Coach Calleja is a very inspiring person himself, when he takes the court he offers to hit with people. He’s very encouraging to players during practices and during matches and offers great advice. He’s always great at supporting players during matches. He’s a very motivating person,” said Burke.

In the first few weeks of the season, Calleja is focused on building team culture and chemistry. By promoting camaraderie within the team, he hopes to provide his players with a chance to alleviate the individual pressures of the sport. 

“This weekend we went to Connecticut, and it was really a good team bonding experience even though we were sort of squeezed into a rally wagon together and had some difficult matches, really tough matches. Tennis is a sport where you can get really down on yourself very quickly, and you can be in your head. I think the team aspect of the game helps you to get over that,” said Calleja. 

Editor’s Note: Kevin Niu ’25 is a Digital Editor for The Phillipian