Universal Tennis School: ICL Academy Provides Online Education Solution for Juniors

Universal Tennis School: ICL Academy Provides Online Education Solution for Juniors

5 min read

Kirk Spahn grew up playing competitive junior tennis, and like many young talented players, he dreamed of pursuing a professional career in tennis. Spahn briefly trained alongside the likes of Tommy Haas at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but his family insisted he receive a quality education over tennis training at the academy. Spahn left behind his pro tennis dreams to attend a traditional private school.

Academics is important to everyone, especially in Sphan's family as his father, Stephen, is chancellor of the Dwight School, a prestigious international private school based out of New York City.

Spahn would go on to play tennis at Dartmouth College and receive a Master’s Degree from Columbia. In 2014, started Dwight Global, an online private school for grades 7-12. In 2015, he founded the Institute for Civic Leadership (ICL) Academy, an innovative, accredited online school that combines college prep with character development, leadership skills, and mentorship from world champions and coaches.

ICL Academy is a sister school of Dwight Global, the No. 2-ranked online school in the nation. Teaming up with Universal Tennis, Universal Tennis School: ICL Academy offers scholarships for players based on UTR Rating.

“ICL academics are college-style, and delivered super efficiently,” Spahn said. “With great teachers, live seminars, and the Socratic method, we deepen your understanding of the subject matter and prepare you for college and beyond with flexibility.”

Mike Bryan (right) with his twin brother Bob retired in 2020 after setting many records together.
Mike Bryan (right) joined Kirk Spahn for a Universal Tennis: ICL Academy webinar. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Students can learn anytime from anywhere in the world thanks to high-tech video software and open-minded teachers.

“We have a concept at ICL which says respect tradition and embrace tomorrow,” Spahn said. “We respect traditional teachers and the classrooms, but embrace tomorrow’s technology. We can use the internet, and video conferencing with an advanced model of Zoom to create a classroom setting with deep learning and community.”

What’s different about Universal Tennis School: ICL Academy is that students will get to know their teachers and peers, take part in a curriculum catered to their interests (like learning physics by studying Roger Federer’s serve), and have their achievements on the court celebrated instead of scrutinized for missing classes. Unlike other online schools, ICL Academy has small class sizes that are led by real teachers, and have a sense of community.

“Students learn the foundation and apply it to tennis, so we're all about application,” Spahn said. “We integrate tennis into the fabric of what you're doing in the classroom.”


Online schooling has become more popular, but that doesn’t mean teachers at public online programs understand the demands of full-time tennis training on a student’s time. Spahn has set out to change all of that.

“Our teachers are at the center of everything we do; I can't fathom how you can run a school without teachers,” Spahn said. “A great teacher inspires you—anyone can go read a textbook. I still want to make the teacher the center of the universe.”

At Universal Tennis School: ICL Academy, teachers genuinely understand what it takes to be an elite athlete.

“You get that personalized touch with teacher and student interaction in your seminars and projects,” Spahn said. “And then you also get the flexibility of doing it on your own time because 80 percent of the curriculum is set to your own pace.”

Character and leadership development is at the forefront of the ICL Academy. Students get to hear from mentors like Novak Djokovic, Monica Seles, Tommy Haas, Bob and Mike Bryan, and Grigor Dimitrov.

“We work on the mental side, not just the tennis game but also improving your leadership skills,” Spahn said. “That includes mindfulness, empathy, self-awareness, and teamwork. So you're going to be doing MindUp Mondays, which is a partnership with ICL and the Goldie Hawn Foundation for mental training.”

Ultimately, Spahn’s mission alongside Universal Tennis provides elite, flexible online higher education for elite student-athletes, so no aspiring player has to ever give up one for the other again.

To learn more about Universal Tennis School: ICL Academy and to register, click here.

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