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Like our founder, Fred Wells, we believe that the tennis court can be the site of powerful life lessons about teamwork, perseverance and discipline.  That's why tennis is at the heart of all of our programs, and why we strive to offer access to students who might not otherwise have a chance to participate. 

Our TennisWorks youth development programs reach approximately 900 youth each year in grades 3 - 12.  94% of the students who participate through our school partners qualify for the Federal free and reduced lunch program and over 90% identify as youth of color.  Through a combination of facility revenue, grants, and the generous support of individual donors, all TW programming is offered to students at no cost!

At the core of our programs is our deep commitment to provide a safe, supportive environment with caring adults who reinforce our Fort Five - Safety, Respect, Commitment, Persistence, and Kindness.  

Here at The Fort, we hook youth into our program with tennis, but we're really about life skills -- we want them to succeed on the courts but, more than that, we want them to succeed in life.

Our vision is to empower youth to be successful on and off the court.


TennisWorks Stars

Why TennisWorks?  Participation in sports by children and adolescents is associated with a range of documented physical, emotional, social and educational benefits that filter into adulthood; however, income is the number one indicator of early participation in sports.  Youth who live in households with the lowest incomes are half as likely to participate in sports compared to youth from wealthier homes ($100,000+)*.  To reach youth not traditionally exposed to tennis, we intentionally go to where young people are - in the schools!  Through strategic school partners, the TennisWorks youth development continuum begins with a focus on youth in grades 3 - 8.  To reduce transportation barriers, programming is either delivered on-site in the community, or the youth are provided with free bus or van transportation to and from The Fort.

On the court, our programs provide physical activity through tennis, a chance to be exposed to a sport that may be new to them and learn new skills, an opportunity to practice life skills in action, such as perseverance, self-regulation, and dealing with winning and losing, as well as a focus on their athletic development.  Off the court, there is a continued focus on life skills development, youth engagement in decision making, reinforcing academic concepts through an out-of-school curriculum that ties 21st Century Skills and National Standards to tennis, experiential learning, and connecting all youth to a supportive community.  

When TennisWorks students step onto the court, they're practicing more than just tennis. 

Our programs help reveal and refine the strengths students have hidden inside themselves.

As youth get older and their interest in tennis is sparked, the TennisWorks program grows with them to provide a range of relevant athletic, academic, leadership, and service opportunities.  Scholarships are provided into additional junior tennis programs for youth who are interested in taking their tennis games to the next level.  Off the court, the link between tennis and education is further fortified for Middle School youth through partnerships with Gustavus Adolphus College and Macalester College.  Providing real-life experiences on college campuses, youth participate in field trips, tennis themed science projects, and overnight retreat camps.  TennisWorks is also expanding to focus on maximizing our supportive community to offer career exploration events, on-the-job learning experiences, and leadership projects that benefit the Fort community.

By centering youth voices and bridging tennis with off-court experiences, we aim to inspire youth to define success and strive to achieve it.  

Youth Advisory Board

The Youth Advisory Board (YAB) is a group of up to 15 young people ages 14 - 19 who are passionate about tennis, leadership, service and empowering youth voice. 

The mission statement of YAB is: "We are a powerful and diverse group of young tennis players.  We co-create leadership opportunities with our community, support each other academically, mentally and physically in order to help each other to learn and succeed in life."  

YAB currently meets 2 - 3 times a month including hosting other youth from the Minneapolis and St. Paul area on every first Friday of the month for free tennis, food and fellowship. 

Fort First Fridays

Open to students from middle school through high school, Fort First Fridays connects students from around the Twin Cities to tennis and to each other.  Students engage in ice-breakers, on-the-court drills and games, and finish the evening off with pizza and conversation.  As the name implies, Fort First Fridays occur at The Fort every first Friday of the month.  No pre-registration is required.


We aim to accomplish this via the following objectives:

  1. Youth learn the game of tennis as a lifetime pursuit that fosters personal development and growth, self-confidence, a sense of mastery, and health and fitness. 
  2. Youth experience support and encouragement from trained coach-mentors of all ages, who build consistent relationships, a sense of belonging, and a welcoming community. 
  3. Youth engage in developmentally appropriate interests and challenges through a curriculum of physical activity, life-skills development and leadership opportunities, and are inspired to define and pursue success in many areas of their lives. 
  4. Youth are active partners in their own growth and development, and contribute their ideas, energy and leadership to FWTEC programs and the greater community.  

To judge how effective TennisWorks is in achieving these objectives, we measure the growth and development that our youth experience as they move through our programs via our own Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL) surveys and the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). 

For more information on TennisWorks programming or to get involved as a volunteer, please contact Christine Nickels at or 612-252-8367, ext. 102.  

*Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative -