Digging Deep for the Positives

In the spirit of sharing my experiences in hopes of helping others, here are some musings from this past weekend’s Bullfrog tournament in Clemson, South Carolina . . .

  • Taking 5 weeks off from tournament play can (notice I said “CAN”) be detrimental.  My son just wasn’t at his normal competitive level at this tournament, and I could see his confidence waning throughout his matches.  Given his school schedule and our family’s schedule, along with his high school team practice and match schedule, I’m not sure that we could’ve avoided the situation, but maybe playing a local tournament as his first one back would’ve been a better move?
  • Ask and ye shall receive!  After a rain delay on Friday evening, my son’s first round doubles match didn’t end up finishing until 10:15pm.  He was scheduled to play his first round of singles at 8am the next morning.  Since we hadn’t eaten dinner or checked into our hotel yet, I sweetly asked the tournament desk if there was any way they could push his match to a later time.  They agreed to let him play at 9:30am instead.  I love it when the tournament officials keep the best interests of the players at the forefront!
  • By the 16s, I really feel that the players should be responsible for arranging doubles partners for tournaments without parental interference.  My son asked one of his buddies to play doubles in next weekend’s Southern Closed.  The boy said he had to ask his dad whether it was okay for him to play with my son.  Next thing we know, this boy is signed up to play with my son’s current doubles partner.  NOT COOL!
  • I was sitting in the stands, biding time before my son’s next match, when I overheard a dad saying the most awful things about his son’s performance on court.  The dad was talking to another mom, saying things (loudly enough for his son to hear) like, “How do you expect to win when you play like crap?” and “Oh yeah, that was a great forehand!” with great sarcasm as his son hit a ball into the net.  Needless to say, I got up and moved – that guy was giving me a stomach ache!
  • I saw and heard a dad go off on the tournament desk about the fact that they moved his 13 year old daughter’s match to a different facility in order to get the matches back on schedule after some rain delays.  He was yelling at them, saying things like, “She’s just a little girl!  What are you doing to her????”  I wanted to remind him that it was HIS choice to put her in a 16s tournament instead of having her play in her own age group and that the officials have different expectations of the older players and their ability to be flexible, especially at a higher-level tournament.  Besides which, it is a much better tactic to befriend the folks at the tournament desk – you never know when you might need to ask them for a little favor.  Sheesh!
  • Be wary of coaches who talk negatively about their former players.  I was watching my son’s doubles match alongside his partner’s mom when a coach came up and started watching, too.  He asked me where my son went to school then started trash-talking several of the boys who play on the team with him, saying he used to coach them and criticizing their tennis skills as well as their mental toughness.  I politely (!) disagreed with him then stepped away.
  • Sometimes, a player just has a bad tournament.  Period.  As the parent, you have to dig deep to find the positives in that experience.  I faced that challenge on the drive home this weekend.  I took the good advice of another tennis parent and waited for my son to start the conversation.  Once he did, saying over and over how he was so embarrassed by his performance, we talked about how it stinks to feel that way and how he can use that feeling to motivate himself during practices this week.  Then, we talked about what he could’ve done differently to prepare for his matches.  It turns out that he really did do everything right – it was just an off tournament for him.  The conversation then turned to the fact that he’s got another big tournament next weekend and that he needs to put this one in the past and really buckle down during practice this week to get himself ready to compete again.  I kept reminding him that he is a strong competitor, that he has what it takes to do better next week, that he now has some specific things to work on with his coach, that we all have bad days but it’s how we rebound from them that defines our character.

And tomorrow’s another day . . .

Quick Guide to the USTA Website

Even the Higher-Ups at USTA will admit that their website is difficult to navigate.  Well, really, that’s an understatement.  USTA has gone to great lengths to put some very helpful information on their site – the problem is that the average visitor can’t find it!  So, in the name of identify-problem-create-solution, below is a list of links to some of the information I’ve found to be useful in navigating the world of Junior Tennis.  You might want to print out this list and keep it handy then add to it as you discover more sub-pages.  If you have found any other useful articles at USTA.com, please add them in the Comments section below.

USTA Section Pages: www.usta.com

Click on the Find Your Section box in the top right corner of the homepage to determine in which section you live, then click on the appropriate link below.  Your section page will likely have a tab at the top titled “Juniors” or “Junior Players” – click there to get information on Rules, Points Per Round (for ranking purposes), Tournament Schedules, Junior Team Tennis, and more.

USTA Junior Competition Page: www.usta.com/juniorcompetition

All of the information listed below can be found under the Players & Parents Link on the Junior Competition page:

  • Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/USTA JrComp

Twitter: @USTAJrComp

USTA College Tennis page: http://www.usta.com/collegetennis

You can find the American college rankings at the bottom of this page—kind of fun to keep an eye on!

Going to College or Turning Pro: Making an Informed Decision (10/2010): http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/USTA%20College%20Varsity%20Analysis%20of%20College%20vs%20Pro%20FAQ.pdf

International Player Study & FAQ (4/2010): http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/USTA_Intl_SA_FAQ_FINAL_CLEAN.pdf

      • Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/USTAPDCollegeTennis

Twitter: @ustacollege10s

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/ustacollege10s

An Inspiration

Today’s Q&A is with Jerry Hendrick.  For more than 20 years, Jerry has been a college professor, college tennis coach,  and father. He has three children and all of them have grown up on the court.  As a result of a family health crisis, Jerry is now also an author [please see I Love You (But You Should Have Won!)].

Jerry’s oldest child, Ashley, was diagnosed with bone cancer (osteo sarcoma) when she was 16, and this led to a year-long battle as an in-patient at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids Michigan. As a result of her illness and the family’s desire to improve her likelihood of surviving, they chose to have Ashley’s left leg amputated above the knee.  Ashley ultimately survived this surgery and the treatment of her illness and has returned to tennis with a prosthetic leg. She is currently playing #3 doubles on her college team and has a winning record.

ParentingAces:  What is your background in terms of tennis and coaching, including your own tennis playing history as well as that of your kids?

Hendrick:  I played #1 singles and doubles for Spring Arbor University (class of 86). I have taught tennis at various private clubs/resorts and have also coached both boys and girls. My first coaching experience was when I was hired as the head girls tennis coach at Lumen Christi High School. I coached the girls varsity and JV team for two years and the varsity went undefeated both years. I have been the head coach at Aquinas College (men) for 21 seasons. Our teams have been ranked among the top 25 in the US (NAIA) each of the past 14 years. This year’s team stands at 21-1 and is ranked #13 in the US. Most remarkable is that our top six consists of entirely US players. My all-time record as a coach at Aquinas is 379-119. My wife Beth also played college tennis (Olivet Nazarene) and our three children all play as well. My daughter Ashley is about two weeks from graduation and will play her last match as a member of the Aquinas women’s team one week from Friday. After surviving cancer and the amputation of her left leg she was able to return to tennis and make it into her high school and college line-up using a prosthetic. My son Aaron was a Top 20 USTA Region player. He was also the Michigan High School State Champion at #1 singles. Last year as a freshman at Aquinas he played #1 singles and doubles and set a school record for wins in one season. Aaron was honored as an All-American and was voted the ITA National Rookie of the Year. He is now a sophomore and is ranked #23 in the nation in singles and #7 in doubles. My youngest son Austin is a sophomore in high school. He plays #1 singles for his team and was voted all-conference this past season.

PA:  In your book, you talk about The Beast.  Please tell me more about how you arrived at that description – was it something that happened to you personally or something you saw from other sports parents?

JH:  The Beast is something I know and experience personally but I have also witnessed it in many other tennis parents. It is essentially the pride we all have in our children that has been allowed to warp and distort our perspective. We begin to think about our child differently based on how he or she plays. We then find ourselves treating our child differently based on his or her last performance. In the beginning we want our kid to win for his or her sake. We assume the win will be good for their self-esteem and will provide a reward for their hard work and incentive to keep practicing. Over time however as our child moves up the ranks, we as the parent start to internalize the wins and losses and start seeing them as more of a reflection of ourselves. He’s my son (or daughter), and he’s making me look bad as his dad when he plays so poorly. That’s how the beast affects our thinking.

PA:  How do you keep your own Beast under control, both as a coach and as a parent?

JH:  It’s easier as a coach as I do not feel the same obligation to primarily love and support my player as I do as a father. As a coach we emphasize winning and most of what we do in practice and in our matches is intended to help the guys accomplish this task. While we do care about many of the same things a parent cares about with regard to our players, there is no doubt that the emphasis is different. With parenting it is harder. The article I sent you in my previous email [click here to read it] includes a few suggestions taken from my book for helping a parent tame their beast. Most successful strategies require at least some level of disengagement, or detachment on the parent’s part regarding their child’s competition.

PA:  How did your family’s experience dealing with the scare of Ashley’s cancer affect your behavior as both a sports parent and as a coach?

JH:  The year my family spent dealing with cancer was the most significant year of my life. Everything was changed on the day Ashley’s cancer diagnosis was made. None of us cared about tennis anymore, even though it had accounted for such a great portion of our lives. All we cared about was doing whatever we could to see our daughter live. We wanted her to get better. We wanted her to be healthy again. We wanted her to be happy. We hoped she’d get to live a long and wonderful life. Tennis never entered into the equation until we were out of treatment and able to start moving beyond all of those greater fears. It was then that we started thinking about helping her return to the courts. Once she made that decision, she went after it full time and the two of us began the slow and sometimes discouraging journey back. After she was able to return to her team the feelings were quite mixed to be honest. Sometimes when I watched her play I was moved at how far she had come and I felt an overwhelming thankfulness to God for bringing her so far. Other times when I watched her play I felt depressed and even angry. It hurt to see her struggle physically to get to balls. It also hurt to see how poorly she played and moved compared to how well she had played and moved before she was sick. These negative feelings and emotions have decreased a lot over the months and years since she completed her treatment, but I would be lying if I told you they have completely left me.

PA:  Finally, what should other parents and players take from Ashley’s experience?  What are you hoping your book will teach the rest of us?

JH:  My desire is to help parents appreciate their children more and to understand that their child’s athletic (or other) accomplishments are really not all that important in the greater scheme of life. I want to help parents better love and support their children so that they are able to cultivate a relationship that will last the rest of their lives as opposed to a relationship that is built upon a child’s athletic participation. I want to help parents learn some of the things that I have learned without having to go through everything I have gone through. That’s really all I want.

For more information on Jerry and his family’s experience, visit the following links:

WZZM Channel 13 News

Sports Illustrated

MLive Blog Post on Ashley Hendrick

MLive Blog Post on Small Colleges

“We” Won

I am very proud of my son.

In the Region 5AAAAA Final yesterday, my son’s team arrived at the courts ready to warm up with each other before playing their opponents.  The weather, however, had a different plan in mind, so the official asked both teams to go ahead and start their matches with a 5-minute warm-up in hopes of finishing before the thunderstorms arrived.

Our #1 singles player, Danny, had been sidelined most of the season with a neck and shoulder issue.  He had played the last couple of matches, but yesterday he had a follow-up appointment with his doctor and wasn’t yet at the courts.  So, the coach moved everyone up a spot in the lineup, putting my son in at #3 singles.

The boys went on court, began their warmup, then, before anyone played their first point, lightening struck.  Literally.

The rule in our county is that play must be suspended for 30 minutes following a lightening strike within 3 miles of the facility, so we all spent the next hour (yes, there was another strike just as they were heading back out to play!) huddled together inside one of the school buildings as we all checked the weather radar on our various smartphones, trying to predict whether the kids would actually get to play.

During the lightening delay, Danny arrived, reporting that he had been cleared by his doctor to play.  Since the matches hadn’t officially begun, our coach had the option of putting Danny back in the lineup . . . which he did.  That meant my son was going to be part of the cheering section instead of getting to play.  Disappointing, to be sure.

However, when the coach announced that Danny would be playing (and my son would not), my son just smiled and wished his teammates good luck.  He stood nearby and cheered for each and every match.  He encouraged the guys when they needed it and kept his game face on throughout the afternoon.  And, at the end of the day, when the final match was won and the championship trophy was in hand, he stood with his team, proud to share the victory (that’s him – with Danny’s hand around his shoulder – holding the trophy in the team picture above)!

My son, upon hearing he wouldn’t be playing in the championship match, could’ve argued with his coach.  He could’ve griped and sulked.  He could’ve stood alone.

But he didn’t.  He realized that it was in the best interest of the team to have their best player in the lineup at #1, even if it meant he didn’t get to play.  It was all about the “we” – there was no “I” out there.

I am very proud of my son.

Help Yourself!

Have you noticed all the medical time-outs and trainer visits the pros seem to be having during their matches in recent years?  Sometimes they’re necessary,  but sometimes they’re a strategic move on the part of the player to shift the momentum of the match or take a time-out to regroup after a rough patch.  In either case, I think it’s time for professional tennis to take a lesson from the juniors and teach the players how to care for themselves court-side or just resign themselves to the fact that the fitter, healthier player is going to win that day.

Very few junior tournaments have medical trainers on staff – it’s just too expensive for the tournament directors – so it’s really important that your junior player understands how to take care of any minor (let me stress the minor part) ailments or injuries on court.  What constitutes a “minor” ailment or injury?  Of course, this is a very individual thing, but things like blisters, muscle aches, slight muscle cramps, a scraped knee, or a headache can probably be handled by the player at the side change as long as he is prepared.  If there is any question regarding the severity of an injury or illness, the player should seek IMMEDIATE medical attention.

Part of being prepared is making sure your player has the proper first aid components in his tennis bag.  A few things that my son always keeps on-hand are BandAids of varying shapes and sizes (including the special blister-relief ones), first aid tape and scissors, Super Glue (great for blisters!), Advil, Tiger’s Balm, and an old tennis ball for massaging tight or cramping muscles.  During tournaments, he also brings plenty of water and PowerAde as well as pretzels and either grape tomatoes or blueberries to stay hydrated and keep his sodium levels within a safe range to help prevent cramping.  A Frogg Togg Chilly Pad towel is a necessity during the hot and humid summer months – keeping it in a cooler with ice really helps it do the job of bringing down your player’s body temperature on those brutal days.

If you think an injury might warrant a visit to the doctor, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine/Spine Specialist, Carl Goodman, offers this advice:  “Stay fit and stay strong has been my mantra for preventing and treating most tennis ailments.  Lower back pain and shoulder problems are the primary complaints I hear in my orthopedic practice- light exercise will usually resolve these problems and allow you to continue your tennis activities. Complete rest is a no-no for me if you want to get well fast!”

He goes on to say that, for junior players, “lower back pain that does not resolve after 2 weeks may represent a stress fracture in the spine. Consultation with an orthopedic doctor is advised at that time.”

When it comes down to it, it really is your child’s responsibility to take care of himself while on court.  Whether it’s taping up a blister or rolling out a tight muscle, knowing how to “treat” those minor ailments during a match could be the difference between getting to play another round or going home.  That said, no match is worth risking a long-term injury or illness, so knowing when to say, “Sorry, but I need to retire!” is vital, too.

There’s No “I” in T-E-A-M

UGA Men's Tennis Team - 2007 NCAA Champions

Jim Courier, Bob Bryan, John Isner, Mike Bryan, Ryan Harrison

I know I’ve written a lot lately about high school and college tennis, but it’s just where I am right now, so please indulge me one more time!

I watched this past weekend’s Davis Cup matches with great interest, not only because my childhood friend’s son was playing for the US but also because our #1 singles player, John Isner, was a 4-year member of the University of Georgia men’s tennis team (Go Dawgs!).

As I watched World #11 Isner play against World #6 Jo Wilfred Tsonga, in what turned out to be the clinching match, I couldn’t help but wonder how Isner’s experience at UGA shaped his ability to close out such a decisive match on Sunday or how it affected his ability to close versus Roger Federer in the previous Davis Cup tie.

In John Isner’s own words (via Twitter), “That’s the beauty of team tennis, Coach!! Lay it all out there!!!”

Laying it all out there is exactly what John did to help lead the US team to victory versus Switzerland then versus France, coming in as the underdogs in both ties, being forced to play on what has been considered the US team’s weakest surface, red clay.  But, as a Georgia Bulldog, John had lots of experience in coming from behind and using the sideline energy of his teammates to push him to victory.

UGA Head Coach, Manny Diaz, told me that John was always a great team player. “I believe that playing a team sport at an early age (basketball) plays a big part.”

Coach Diaz went on to say, “I think that we [UGA] emphasize the ‘team’ concept very strongly. I feel that it helps develop closeness and it teaches them that even when you do not feel your best you play a very important part of what happens each day in practice. It’s much easier to just go through the motions when you are tired. But if you have a close team, you do not want to let the others down.”

There are many, many high-performance coaches out there who will tell you that high school tennis is a waste of time.  There are many, many high-performance coaches out there who will tell you that college tennis is NOT the proper path to the pros.

According to Coach Diaz, Isner is one of the greatest competitors and leaders his UGA team has ever had. In college, he was always at his best when others were counting on him. He would never let down the team by giving less than 100%, and when his teammates needed a win from him, he would raise his level to meet that need.  Now that Isner is on the ATP tour and playing Davis Cup, he seems to have carried that never-say-die attitude with him and is quickly becoming the go-to guy for Davis Cup coach Jim Courier.

I do realize that John Isner is an exception, that as Andy Roddick said, “You can’t teach 6-9!”  But, I can’t help but feel that, but for Isner’s 4 years under the tutelage of Coach Manny Diaz, he might never have developed into the kind of player who can withstand and thrive under the pressure of Davis Cup, especially the “away” matches with thousands of fans cheering against him.  If you’ve ever had the chance to watch your favorite college team play live, you know the kind of noise the home team can make.  Davis Cup fans have NOTHIN’ on college fans, especially in the SEC!

Here’s the thing . . . the odds are stacked waaaay against any junior player hoping to find success at the professional level.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s just the way it is.  So, why not advise your child to take at least a year or two (or four!) to mature, develop, and educate before making the decision to go on the tour?  Your child could be the next Davis Cup hero!

How To Find A Qualified Fitness Trainer

Today’s article was contributed by our friends at the International Tennis Performance AssociationResearch continues to support the need for outside fitness training for athletes, especially those who are specializing in one sport and one sport only.  While there is an on-going debate regarding the “right” age to start training, the consensus is that junior athletes need to do work in the gym each week in order to keep their growing bodies in balance.  When you have time, be sure to look at ITPA’s website, blog, and Facebook page for more information regarding tennis-specific certifications for fitness trainers and coaches looking to have a better understanding of all the physical aspects of tennis.  

Finding certified, competent, qualified fitness trainers to work with your tennis-playing child is one of the most important decisions you will make as a tennis parent. Finding the right fitness trainer (also called a tennis performance specialist) could be the difference between the success or failure of your child as he or she develops through the tournament tennis journey. These individuals may have a background as a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer or physical trainer, but the most important component that they need to have is an understanding of the sport of tennis and also an understanding of growth and development issues as children progress through pre-puberty, during puberty and post-puberty.

When interviewing potential tennis performance specialists, it is important to take into account the following major areas:

Work Experience And Area Of Specialization

Ask how many years of experience the individual has working with athletes, but specifically working with tennis athletes. There are many great professionals who do not have tennis experience, but with the right education could become great tennis performance specialists because they have a strong background training athletes in other sports. Do they have experience working with young athletes at different stages of puberty?  Do they have appropriate certifications? In the fitness industry, many certifications exist. Some are very good, while others are very limited. In general the base certifications include the following major organizations (in no specific order):

National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

International Fitness Professional Association (IFPA)

National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

All these organizations have different goals and objectives in their certification programs. The NSCA is aimed at certifying individuals who will predominantly train athletes. ACSM is an organization focused on education and training for individuals who will be working with the general population and major or minor chronic diseases. The other organizations fall along a spectrum between these two industry leading associations.

Although all these organizations provide a good base certification for a personal trainer, they do not go into the specifics needed to train tennis athletes. The International Tennis Performance Association (ITPA) has the only internationally-recognized tennis-specific performance enhancement and injury prevention certification. The educational program involves a tennis-focused curriculum which assesses an individual’s knowledge in 20 tennis-specific competencies framed in three broad areas:

1)       Tennis-specific performance enhancement

2)       Tennis-specific injury prevention

3)       Tennis-specific leadership/communication

Education

While a base fitness certification from one of the organizations listed above is vital, it is also important to look for an individual with a college degree in exercise science (kinesiology) or a related field. A master’s degree is definitely a bonus. This lets you know that your future hire has a solid educational foundation in exercise program design.

Ask For References

Ask the individual for names, phone numbers and even testimonials of other clients he/she has worked with, particularly those who share similar traits and goals. If available, call previous clients to see if they were satisfied with their training experience and results. Inquire whether the individual was professional, punctual and prepared, and performed a very high level of service.

Talk To The Tennis Performance Specialist

Developing a personal, yet professional relationship with your tennis performance specialist is very important. Trust your instincts. Ask yourself if you think you could get along well with the trainer personality wise, but also from a philosophy and training standpoint. It is important that the communication between the tennis performance specialist and the tennis parent is outstanding. The physical training of a tennis player is not an isolated occurrence. The work that occurs during training sessions carries over onto the court and seamless integration among the parent, coach and tennis performance specialist is paramount to success.

Summary

Hiring a competent tennis performance specialist to work on all aspects of physical training for your tennis playing child (or children) is important and requires an appropriate vetting process. Spending time making sure that the person has the right background to work with young tennis players is a very important decision and hopefully this article has provided some simple tips to help you make a great choice when deciding on your tennis performance specialist.