Reflections from a tournament . . .

Overheard and overseen at junior tournaments . . .

  • Mom of 2 junior players: That ball was on the line.  She should’ve called it out!
  • When the official left the court to attend to a medical time-out during a particularly contentious match involving a notorious cheater, and the other player refused to play without an official on the court . . . On-Court referee:  The Code says play must be continuous.  Player:  The Code also says I’m entitled to a line judge!
  • Tennis Mom’s complaint to the tournament director after her (seeded) son lost to a non-seeded, formerly top-20-in-the-nation-but-returning-from-injury player in the first round:  This isn’t fair!  We traveled all Fall so my son could improve his ranking so he would be seeded in this tournament!
  • An on-court official, who wasn’t watching the match, over-ruled a line call even after the player showed her the precise mark on the court.  The official’s call stood because she’s the official.  When the player protested, the official stood her ground.  When the player got frustrated with the official and lost his temper, the official gave him a code violation.
  • A player admittedly “tanked” a match against the top seed because he didn’t feel like he was playing well that morning.  The parent (NOT the player’s parent) who was responsible for the player that day was agonizing over how to handle this with the player’s parent – should he tell the parent that her child tanked on purpose?  Should he just hope that she hears about it from the other kids and parents?  Should he tell the coach?  What would you do in this situation?
  • After a player lost his match, he slumped his way back to the car.  His dad followed him, verbally berating him the entire way.  Once inside the car, the dad continued to shout at his son – so loudly that those of us in the parking lot could hear even though the car doors were closed – then began physically abusing him.
  • Dad (regarding cheating son):  I hate that my son cheats.  Somebody needs to do something about him and his cheating.  <Note to dad:  I think that’s YOUR job!>

I would love to hear your tournament stories – we all have some good ones, right?

Kid vs. Parent – Who Wins?

I’m reading a really great book for my book club (The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, in case you’re curious) and came across a passage that struck a nerve with me:

[Daughter] Madeleine had been trying to beat [Father] Alton her entire life without success.  This was even more infuriating because she was better than he was, at this point.  But whenever she took a set from Alton he started intimidating her, acting mean, disputing calls, and her game fell apart.  Madeleine was worried that there was something paradigmatic in this, that she was destined to go through life being cowed by less capable men.  As a result, Madeleine’s tennis matches against Alton had assumed such outsize personal significance for her that she got tight whenever she played him, with predictable results.  And Alton still gloated when he won, still got all rosy and jiggly, as if he’d bested her by sheer talent.

What is it about parents and kids and competition?

I used to play sets with my son.  But, instead of focusing on the moment and trying to play my best tennis, I was always thinking in the back of my mind about whether it was better for him to beat me or better for me to beat him.  Whenever we played right before one of his tournaments, my subconscious would take over and cause me to make silly errors so that he would win.  Somehow, I reasoned, this was good for his confidence.  I realize now how misplaced my logic was.  Victory is only sweet when you’ve earned it.

Soon enough, though, my son started beating me all on his own, 6-0, repeatedly.  And I was okay with that.  More than okay, actually.  I wanted my son to progress to the point where he was beating me on a regular basis.  He was working hard on his tennis – much harder than I ever did – and beating his mother was part of the natural order of the tennis universe (see From Generation to Generation).

So, what is up with the Alton character in my book?  Don’t we all want our children to achieve more than we did?  Don’t we all want them to be successful?  Don’t we all – when push comes to shove – want our kids to be better than us?

Click here to take the USTA/USA Tennis Parent Behavior Assessment

When I read the passage in Eugenides’ book, I realized that the answer to all those questions is NO.  Some parents can’t handle their children out-pacing them.  Some parents always want to be The Best, no matter what.  Some parents will constantly belittle or berate their children in order to keep them down.  I wonder if they think about how that affects their child in the long run?  I wonder how it DOES affect their child in the long run?

According to the USTA-funded study, Understanding the Role Parents Play in
Junior Tennis Success
, “one does not have to be a pushy, overbearing parent to
facilitate tennis talent development and several cases showed that doing so, while leading to a high level of performance, results in a damaged parent-child relationship, psychological issues with the player and, ironically, motivation and performance issues.”

Further, as we would expect, a 2004 study by Eccles found that children who perceive parental involvement as encouraging and supportive are more likely to have a positive attitude toward sport and perceive themselves as more competent. On the other hand, children who perceive parental involvement as negative may have lower perceptions of competence and lose interest in sports.

I think about Madeleine’s character, and I feel so sad that her dad, the guy who is supposed to love her unconditionally and shape her future relationships with men, felt the need to exert his macho in such a negative way on the tennis court which ruined her ability to enjoy this great sport of ours.

Playing with our kids is supposed to be fun, joyful, positive.  And when our child progresses to the point of surpassing our own skills . . . well, to me, that’s sublime!  I suspect that most, if not all, of you feel the same way.  What a loss for those who don’t . . .

This will be my last post until after the holidays.  Wishing you a very Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Q&A with Coach Tracy Houk

Over the next several months, I will be publishing Q&As with tennis coaches from around the globe.  I hope you will find these articles useful as you navigate the world of junior tennis.  For me, it’s helpful to hear how other coaches do things and what their philosophies are regarding competing, training, parental involvement, college, the pro tour, etc.  Each coach is so different and has a different set of experiences to share with our children and with us.

Tracy Houk

Today, I’m so pleased to introduce Tracy Houk.  A San Francisco native, Tracy grew up playing tennis on the courts in Golden Gate Park. Her playing experience started in the junior 12s division playing tournaments all over Northern California through the 18s extending her play to the National level. Tracy played Junior College tennis before going on the Women’s Professional Tour, reaching a ranking of #324 in singles, before injuries kept her from continuing. She started teaching at the San Francisco Tennis Club then started playing tournaments on the National Senior Women’s tour.  Tracy has currently won over 15 National titles in singles, doubles, and mixed-doubles. She also has two ITF World Championship Titles and held the # 1 World ranking in Women’s 35 singles.  She was inducted into the Northern California Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006.  A big thank you to Tracy for taking time out of her busy life to share her thoughts with ParentingAces!

 PA:  What is your current role in the Tennis World?

TH:  I am a tennis professional at Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club in San Francisco, CA. I work with adults and kids of all ages and levels. I also take juniors to tournaments where I chart and videotape their matches. I work on the mental/strategy part of their game. I also speak and run clinics at other clubs for leagues interested in learning to be better doubles team players.

PA: What is your philosophy on coaching juniors?

TH:  Be a good listener. Build trust. Communication. These all lead to a healthy relationship for both teacher and student.

PA:   How, specifically, do you build trust and communication with the kids you train?

TH:  I sit them down and have a heart to heart talk with them, going over their goals and our expectations as a team. I make myself available to them for any questions they have or answers they need.

PA:  If you could tell tennis parents one thing, what would it be?

TH: As long as your child wants to keep playing, love them, support them, have patience with them. And let me do the rest !!

Again, a big thank you to Tracy!  If you have questions you’d like to ask, please put them in the Comments box below – I will be happy to forward them to her.


If you think good nutrition doesn’t play a major factor in success on the tennis court, think again!

I have spent this weekend at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff tournament where 8 American men and 8 American women competed for a spot in the main draw of  next month’s Australian Open.  In the first round of the tourney, after winning the first set then losing the second in a heart-breaking tie-breaker, Jack Sock found himself up a break in the 3rd set against long-time rival Dennis Kudla.  Instead of closing out the match, earning himself a spot in the semifinals the next day, Jack had to retire because of cramping.

Cramping?  Indoors?  In December?

First of all, Jack Sock is 19 years old and looks to be in great physical condition.  He’s a big boy – 6’1″ and 180 lbs according to the ATP website – and hits a big ball and moves well around the court.  Cramping?  Really?

I later found out from the medical trainer working the tournament that the reason for Jack’s cramping was not due to heat (duh since we were indoors) but rather due to dehydration.  You would think that players (and those who work with them) at this level would know and understand the need to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after their matches, right?  Well, apparently, that’s not always the case.

Jack had flown into Atlanta on Wednesday – a dehydrating experience as anyone who has flown on a commercial plane knows.  On top of that, he was taking cold medication, which can also cause dehydration.  If you read the package of any over-the-counter decongestant or antihistamine, you will see that you are directed to drink plenty of fluids when taking this type of drug.

Jack’s retirement due to cramping was totally preventable.  He lost an incredible opportunity to win this tournament and have a chance to play in the main draw of another Major event (remember, he played in the main draw of the US Open this year as the winner of the Boys 18 Nationals and won the 2011 US Open Mixed Doubles title with Melanie Oudin).  In 2010, Jack lost the Aussie Open playoff final to Ryan Harrison, so this was a chance for redemption.

It was sad to see one of our young American hopefuls squander this great chance to try his hand on a major stage.  We need to make sure our players know and understand the need to fuel their bodies – their MACHINES – properly in order to maximize their potential.  There are tons of nutrition experts out there.  There are numerous nutrition websites and articles out there.  There is NO EXCUSE for not educating yourself and your child about what, how much, and when to eat and drink, especially before a major tournament or competition.

Q&A with Coach Roy Coopersmith

Over the next several months, I will be doing Q&As with tennis coaches from around the globe.  I hope you will find these articles useful as you navigate the world of junior tennis.  For me, it’s helpful to hear how other coaches do things and what their philosophies are regarding competing, training, parental involvement, college, the pro tour, etc.  Each coach is so different and has a different set of experiences to share with our children and with us.

Today, I’m so pleased to introduce Roy Coopersmith.  Roy played tennis in junior college – spots 1, 2, and 3.   He  played professionally while stationed in Europe in the Army, having two very impressive wins over the number 25 and 38 ranked ATP players.  He was also on the All Army team for 7 years, winning the interservice tournament.  Roy was ranked #1 in the Middle States USTA section in singles and doubles 35-and-overs and ranked 21 nationally after playing only 3 tournaments.  He has coached many top WTA players, including Christina Singer (who lost 6-3 in the 3rd set in the Wimbledon quarterfinals to Chris Evert), former world #1 Jelena Jankovic, and Jamea Jackson, as well as many ATP players ranked 100-200.  Roy also coached ATP player Phillip Kohlschreiber when he was in the juniors.  He gave up coaching on the WTA and ATP tours to settle down as the Tennis Director at Pine Bluff Country Club in Arkansas.  He now coaches his daughter, a top USTA junior, as well as other aspiring young players.  A big thank you to Roy for taking the time to share his thoughts with ParentingAces!

Roy with Jelena Jankovic

PA:  How do you think junior tennis training and development in the US compares to that in other countries where you’ve coached?

RC:  The major difference between USA and Europe and Asia where I have lived (Spain, Germany, Croatia,Turkey, India, Vietnam, Philippines) is college scholarships are secondary to trying to become a pro player.  Training in Europe is much more demanding and much more physical.

PA:  What are some of the worst parental behavior faux-pas you’ve seen and where were they?

RC:  The worst?  In Asia I saw a boy beaten with a belt and in the head with a belt buckle [see photo below].  My friend had to pull one dad away from beating his son with wire while I was coaching in India.  In the USA it’s more just parents showing displeasure when their child loses or plays badly.  I have seen a few fisticuffs here though.  I saw a dad take his son to the doctor and the doctor told the dad the 14 year old boy shouldn’t play tennis for 4 weeks.   So the dad made the doctor give the boy 2 cortisone shots just to play an adult tournament.  Needless to say, this put the boy out for more than 4 weeks.

Welts from being beaten with a belt and belt buckle

PA: What is your biggest challenge being both Dad and Coach to your daughter?

RC:  Hmmm . . . Biggest challenge?  I guess making sure I get back in time to pick up Niki when her match finishes and still ask the right coaching questions about her game and her thoughts on how she played and what happened.  This is because I let her play her match all by herself and leave the facility.  Niki and I discussed how she likes me to observe, and we decided best to let her play free without judgement – meaning her coach is not watching and neither is her dad, so she doesn’t have to worry about what either of them is thinking when she is playing.  Then I revert to Dad role and drop tennis talk and go get a Sonic shake.  Niki loves the whipped cream on the top.  At home I “try” never to talk tennis with Niki unless we study it on the computer.  My wife, a former top 100 WTA player, has to remember Niki has one coach and my wife’s role is as a sparring partner for Niki only.  We prefer she only reminds Niki what I have said.  Too many voices can confuse a player, so we try to keep it to only my voice.  Although our son who is 4 and loves tennis will yell out coaching tips as well!

PAIf there is one thing you want tennis parents to know, what is it?

RC:  I want to educate the parents of kids I coach about technique and tactics.  I tell them what to look for and what to tell their child if a tournament match goes 3 sets because they are allowed to coach during the break.  I explain that I cannot nor will I be at all their child’s matches but they probably will.  This being said, I do request parents not to coach their child while their child is on court with me.  They parrot my coaching phrases without a clue as to why or when I use them.  So best to let the coach coach, and I will allow the parent to parent.

Again, a big thank you to Roy!  If you have questions you’d like to ask, please put them in the Comments box below – I will be happy to forward them to him.

Sweet Victories

There’s something really special about seeing your child develop such that he’s suddenly beating players that he had routinely lost to in the younger age groups – seeing the process in action, so to speak.  Those victories are especially sweet when your child is just coming back from an injury.  My son had one such victory this past weekend.

In the semifinals, my son had to play a boy he had lost to in his first year – first month! – of the 14s.  That 14s match was extremely contentious, so much so that my son ended up getting a point penalty in the third set on his opponent’s match point after the boys had argued repeatedly over line calls and let calls.  It was a horrible match to watch.  My son’s behavior, as well as that of his opponent, was atrocious.  Both boys were acting like total jerks out there.  The opponent’s younger brother (who was also playing in the tournament) was sitting next to me during the match, trash-talking my son the entire time, which only added fuel to the fire.  Truth be told, I was relieved when the official ended the match, even if it meant my son got a suspension point – I just wanted to get the heck outta there!

Fast forward 2 1/2 years to this past weekend . . . my son had won his quarterfinal match earlier in the day and was not looking forward to playing this boy again.  I went into Mom Mode and offered up words of encouragement like, “Maybe he’s matured since y’all last played?” and “Your focus is so much stronger now.  You’ll be fine out there!”  You know, stuff like that.  To make things worse, the boys were playing at the facility where the other boy now trains, and the boy’s coach was running the tournament desk, so my son’s biggest concern became making sure he got a fair shake if either of them decided to get an official during the match.  Again, going into Mom Mode, I suggested that my son just go out there and play his game – the other stuff would work itself out.

The first set lasted all of 19 minutes – my son won it 6-0.  There were no disputes, no questionable calls, and no need for an official.  Both boys, it seemed, had indeed matured since their first meeting in the 14s.  Thirty-four minutes later, the match was over.  The boys shook hands in a gentlemanly fashion at the net and made their way off the court.  My son had won 6-0, 6-2 and was now poised to play the younger brother in the final the next morning.

The final match started off pretty rough.  Neither boy could hold serve in the first three games.  Finally, my son held to go up 3-1, then 4-2, then 5-2 but was broken when serving for the first set.  Thankfully, he broke back to close out the set 6-3 and then went on a complete and total rampage.

Something happened on my son’s side of the net in that second set, and he just couldn’t miss.  He was hitting winner after winner, driving his opponent nuts – you could see the frustration as his opponent threw up his hands after my son hit a particularly blazing forehand pass on the run, closing out the match in just 53 minutes, 6-3, 6-0.  It’s the best set of tennis I’ve ever seen him play – he hit 9 winners in that set (to his opponent’s zero) and only had 3 unforced errors (to his opponent’s 6).  I was beaming and so was my son!

The match wasn’t completely free of gamesmanship, though.  There were some misplaced “C’mons” from his opponent – like when my son netted a serve return or made an unforced forehand error – but, overall, both boys behaved themselves on court.  It seems the younger brother has matured, too.  The boys walked off the court together, talking about whatever teenage boys talk about at the end of a good battle.

Sweet victory.  Sweet victories.  That trophy is going in a special place on the shelf!

By the Numbers

About a year ago, I got an iPod Touch which, for someone without a Smart Phone, is kind of the next best thing.  And then I discovered the world of Apps, specifically tennis apps.

My favorite is one I happened to download for free called TennisStats.  It allows me to track my son’s matches in terms of first and second serve percentages, winners and errors, percentage of net points won, and aggressive margin.  And, it tracks the stats for both players so you develop a player history and profile of opponents.  Mostly, though, it gives me something useful to focus on while my son is on court.

This past weekend my son played in his first tourney in 8 weeks.  Before the tourney, his coach emailed me and asked me to report back on my son’s performance.  There were three things, in particular, that he wanted to know:

1. How well is he competing?
2. 1st serve percentage?
3. Any obvious or significant visible weaknesses?

The first and third item are subjective.  They required me to pay close attention during each match and watch my son’s body language, movement, and facial expressions.  The second item, though, is entirely objective, and my little stats app came in quite handy.

After each match, my son asked to see his stats so he could see where he performed well and what needed work in his next match.  I emailed the stats to his coach who was able to text my son with any necessary tips or advice.

The stats programs are pretty simple to use once you get the hang of them.  For me, it’s helpful to be able to focus on the objective elements of my son’s matches so I don’t get caught up in the subjective ones.  If you have a favorite stats app that you use, please share in the Comments box below.  If you haven’t tried keeping stats yet, I highly recommend it – it’s healthier than Xanax!

And, p.s., my son won the tourney!