Laurel Springs Alejandro Arcila Wins International Boys’ 14s Jr. Orange Bowl Tennis Competition
When Alejandro “Alejo” Arcila first started playing tennis he was three years old, holding a huge wooden racket and fielding tennis balls from his dad on the neighborhood basketball court. When he was four, he was still considered too young and too small to play on any local teams in his home country of Colombia. He attempted other sports at that young age: swimming, basketball, soccer, but nothing compared to his love of tennis. Every day, Alejo and his father practiced together on that court. It may have been built for another sport, but for Alejo, it became his very first training ground.
Eventually, Alejo’s parents, Maria and Juan, decided he needed a tennis coach. They recognized their son had a desire to learn more about tennis than they could provide. Their only connection to tennis was simply watching the sport together as a family.
When he was connected with a coach, Alejo’s potential became very clear—he had innate talent and a drive that is only natural in competitive athletes. He went from playing on that basketball court as a four-year-old to playing on the international stage in less than a decade. In December 2021, he won the Boys’ Junior Orange Bowl for 14s in Miami. He was the first Colombian to win this tournament, beating fellow Laurel Springs School student and friend Darwin Branch in the final match.
“Tennis is the first passion I had in my life,” Alejo says. “I’ve just kept going. I am blessed to have one more day enjoying myself on the court.”
Alejandro Arcila’s rapid rise from a pre-schooler with talent to teenage international tennis champion
Alejo’s journey with tennis is intertwined with his academic journey. With the help of his coach, Alejo rapidly honed his skills to begin competitive play at the time most children are in kindergarten. He started with local matches at age six, national matches at age eight, and international matches by age 11. His competitions have taken him throughout South America, Europe, North America and Central America.
In the midst of his athletic development, his parents, especially Maria, emphasized the importance of learning and education. Starting in third grade, Alejo began asking his mom how “people in our country can play more.” He wondered how he could balance his love of tennis and his desire to continue to excel in the sport with his desire to learn.
In 2015, Alejo traveled to the United States to train for a few weeks as part of an athletic academy partnered with an online school to ensure their student-athletes' education was not disrupted during their training. That online school is Laurel Springs.
We understood then how kids got on the court,” Maria says.
After Alejo returned home from the academy, he was eager to continue studying online, as he recognized the self-paced, flexible format of Laurel Springs allowed for him to learn AND play tennis at the level he needed to in order to be competitive. He didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
Maria says Alejo was persistent, asking what he needed to do to continue learning asynchronously. Maria remembers telling him no at the time, believing traditional brick-and-mortar school was the way to learn and succeed.
Soon, Alejo’s tennis competitions in the United States became more frequent. Juan, like his son, also felt it was time to look at alternate educational opportunities. Maria continued to say no for a while, finally relenting and making father and son this deal: she would look at Colombian options similar to Laurel Springs. She found one, which surprised her.
For more than a year, Alejo attended the Colombian online school. Maria, however, saw his English was not where she had hoped it would be, even after his initial introduction to learning English at his prior school. She saw the value in the asynchronous model Alejo had benefitted from through Laurel Springs. So she returned to researching online education options.
Networking and research leads Alejo and his parents back to Laurel Springs
Maria connected with Laurel Springs parents through their tennis network. Speaking with them and conducting her own research, Maria her questions were answered, and the answers she was receiving continually led her back to Laurel Springs. And she says she had lots of questions!
“Education is important to me,” Maria says. “I didn’t want to mess it up.”
She didn’t mess it up. Alejo started fifth grade at Laurel Springs in 2018. The flexibility allows Alejo the opportunity to continue to train for the sport he loves in Colombia and even Australia. The family rents homes near training facilities to keep commutes under 15 minutes. And Alejo enjoys a flexible schedule with quality education, with Maria to support his learning.
Some misunderstand online school and think it is ‘lazy,’” Maria says. “That’s not the case.”
Lessons on and off the court
Alejo’s journey to the Junior Orange Bowl 14s win was not an easy one. It brought with it lessons applicable in sport, in school, and in life.
Alejo was a runner-up in his age group (12s) in 2019. He describes the loss as hard for both himself and his coach. But it helped define what he wanted his goal to be: Focus on his training and win the next tournament. To make this possible, Alejo knew he needed to move beyond the disappointment of the loss. With the help of his coach, he worked toward developing a positive mental focus. He lived by this mantra: “No excuses. We fight every match. We fight every ball.”
Alejo says he “attacks” his school work the same way—a direct translation of his mentality from tennis into his academics.
When COVID-19 shut down so much in Alejo’s world of tennis, he was desperate to find a court where he could continue to practice. For two months, during the most restrictive COVID parameters in Colombia, he stayed in their home focusing on physical training trying to find the silver lining, and warding off negative thoughts of the way lack of play could impact his ability to meet his goal. When the courts opened back up, he was “hungry to train” and compete. He prepared and was ready when the tournament began.
Alejo went into the 2021 Junior Orange Bowl with a “no pressure” mentality, at least as far as the overall outcome was concerned. He told himself it was just seven matches. He focused only on the upcoming round as he worked his way through the competition. It’s a strategy Alejo says works in tennis, as well as with school: When he’s well prepared, he can give his energy and mindpower to what is before him, leading him to prepare for the next step in the progression. That way, each step toward a goal is defined, and each outcome is valuable.
Maria says she’s grateful Alejo has the opportunity to nurture and balance tennis and education, finding the immense value in both, rather than having to choose between them. She says she is grateful Laurel Springs gives her son a chance to do what he loves without sacrificing his education. He has also learned to manage his time for studying, training, and the moments dedicated to simply being a 14-year-old kid.
Alejo’s days are full—each day he balances five to six hours of school with four hours of training. With his mom’s help, he sets his schedule for the week each Sunday, putting classes and assignment deadlines as well as training commitments on the calendar.
He has found this process helps him stay focused and organized, challenging himself to study, train, and even relax as he works to “take advantage of every second.” When he looks ahead to the future, Alejo sees himself continuing to compete internationally throughout his upper school years, and beyond that, he hopes to pursue tennis through either professional or college opportunities.
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