Why Every Junior Should Attend Tennis Camp

My son just spent the past 5 days in Athens, Georgia, at UGA’s tennis camp as he has done each of the last 7 years.  It is typically the highlight of his summer.  The boys stay in the dorms, order late-night takeout, and spend literally all day on the tennis courts hitting with each other and the UGA team members and coaches.  What a life, right?

Some will argue that tennis camp is a waste of time for high-level players, that their time would be better spent in drills or playing practice sets or at actual tournaments.  I respectfully disagree.

Here’s what my son has gotten out of seven years of tennis camp (so far):

  • A realization that he really really really wants to play college tennis
  • An understanding of what it takes to progress as a junior player
  • The opportunity to talk to real-life college players and hear firsthand what’s involved in playing for your school
  • Understanding the importance of tradition:  we have our annual photos with the coach and assistant coach, our annual lunch at the same restaurant (The Varsity), our file of camp evaluations – you get the picture!
  • Developing a relationship with a coach and his team which gives my son some go-to people as we navigate the college recruiting process

I’m sure there are many, many more benefits that my son could list, not counting improving his tennis playing skills over that 5-day period.  But, that’s not the point.  The point is that there’s so much more to this junior tennis stuff than just hitting fuzzy yellow balls across the net in order to win trophies and ranking points.  And spending a few days away from home with other players who also love the sport is a great way to learn how tennis figures into the Big Picture.

So, if you’re looking for a camp for your child to attend this summer, it’s not too late.  I just googled “tennis camp” and came up with over 50 pages of results.  There are plenty of camps available, and I’m sure there are several that would be a great fit for your player.

If your child has attended a camp, I would love to hear about his/her experiences there.  Please share them in the Comments box below.

Tennis Parent/Non-Tennis Parent – It Takes Two!

If you’ve watched any professional tennis in the past couple of years, no doubt you’ve noticed Novak Djokovic’s parents in the stands during his matches – they are the ones cheering loudly, wearing their son’s image on their shirts, standing and fist-pumping after every winning shot.  Rumor has it that the King of Decorum, Roger Federer, once told them to be quiet (not the words he used!) during a match with their son.  They are the epitome of the hard-core Tennis Parent.

In most junior tennis families, though, typically there is one parent in charge of all-things-tennis and one parent who is less involved.  Even in families where the parents are no longer living in the same household, I’ve seen this distinction develop.  There is one parent who you see at pretty much every tournament though every now and then the other will make an appearance.

The role of the All-Things-Tennis parent are pretty clear – and I think I’ve covered them sufficiently in previous posts (click here and here) – but what, exactly, is the role of the Non-Tennis parent?

I actually posted this exact question on a Facebook group that I frequent consisting of former junior tennis champions who are now Tennis Parents, coaches, or otherwise still involved in the Tennis World.  One response I received was, “If I get this question right, what you will have is a non-tennis parent who becomes totally disenchanted with the behavior of the tennis parent. He/she voices their opinion to said tennis parent who immediately tells the non-tennis parent that they have no clue what the heck they are talking about and stay out of anything that has to do with Jr’s sports. ”

According to David Benzel, founder of Growing Champions For Life, in a family where one parent is “NOT the tennis parent”, the opportunity exists for this parent to provide the voice of balance for both the spouse and child who are immersed in the tennis culture. It’s important that tennis occupy the appropriate amount of space, time and energy for the health of any family.  However this is a tricky role to play because this parent may come to feel alienated from the tennis two-some and their dedication to the sport. Therefore, the ideal scenario may actually be when two parents alternate with each other in playing “tennis-parent” with all its travel, time, and emotional demands.  This facilitates an equal sharing of the tennis experience with the child and keeps both parents on the family team, not just the tennis team, in the eyes of the child.

In our family, my husband is the Non-Tennis parent (duh!), and his role ranges from earning the money to pay for our son’s sport of choice to reigning in the All-Things-Tennis parent (Moi!) when she gets out of hand.  Though we have definitely had our share of moments like the one described in the paragraph above, I think we have done a pretty good job of finding the balance and working TOGETHER to keep our son’s tennis in perspective.  While I’m typically the parent who goes to the tournaments and communicates with our son’s coach, my husband does do Tournament Duty a few times a year and does get involved when there’s a Big Issue to discuss.  I’m always grateful for that break, and our son is definitely grateful to have Guy Time with his dad.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my Tennis Parent role for anything – it has given me the chance to spend some high-quality time with my son and to meet some wonderful people.  What is your role and how do you keep balance in your family?

Pusher or Grinder?

The word PUSHER is often uttered with disdain and a snarl among junior tennis players.  It is the supreme insult to hurl at another player, as in, “I can’t believe I lost to a pusher!  I must totally stink at tennis!”

But, really, what is a pusher?  And is it such a bad thing to be called one?

According to coach Don Petrine, pushing is a style that one encounters in developmental tennis (and perhaps senior and club tennis).  “A pusher uses all your pace on the ball, never generating their own pace, parasitic in nature, and uses it against you. A pusher never tries to end the point with an offensive shot; they just use your pace and hit high percentage shots until you hang yourself, go insane, or make an unforced error. They are usually fast and love to run and have the personality of a barnacle – you have to grind and scrape them away.”  The bottom line, Don says, is “Pusher” is just a name for someone steadier than you are.  But, he feels that Pushers are the best learning experiences for young players because playing against such steadiness forces kids to learn how to develop points.

A GRINDER on the other hand is a player who stays in the point as long as necessary, hitting the ball with varying pace and spin, moving his opponent around the court, waiting for the opportunity to finish it with a winner, then executing that winning shot with confidence and precision.  Grinders have learned how to work the point then go for the winner on the right ball.  They will have practiced that moment thousands of times before; they will have missed plenty, but they will have executed more times than not. They carry that memory with them so when faced with the opportunity to hit a winner in a match situation, they deliver.

Coach Chuck Tomlin says, “If a player can know how to grind without pushing, then execute when his grinding opens up opportunities, then he can be special!”

What’s really the difference between the two?   Tennis Dad and former soccer professional, Phil Wright, says that in tennis in general, whatever the age of the player, “a pusher is a player with poor technique who flat/dead rackets balls back, high and mostly deep but without playing a proper shot. They feed off the pace of their opponent not because they want to but because it is the only thing they can do. They are sometimes clever tactically but they take zero risk and never go for winners. They can be any age but in junior tennis and in club tennis it gets results. In elite tennis it gets stuffed.”

Coach Tomlin offers this advice to juniors who are facing a so-called pusher across the net:  (1) expect to work your patterns all the way thru to the finish, since the pusher won’t miss halfway thru the pattern like most opponents; and (2) they are not as likely to hurt you with their shots, so you don’t need to be as aggressive with pace or placement to keep them from taking control of the point. Use the pace and targeting that is very comfortable for YOU.  Chuck feels that “every player should be able to grind when needed, and it should be the foundation of their game really.”

So, since most tennis matches are won by getting one more ball in the court than your opponent, the next time you hear a kid refer to the player who just beat him as a pusher, remind him that the pusher found a way to win and move onto the next round!  And, maybe that pusher is, in reality, just a really effective grinder.

The Ins & Outs of TennisRecruiting.Net

By now, most of my readers are probably very familiar with the TennisRecruiting.net website.  Well, I recently discovered that the creators of the site, Julie and Doug Wrege, live about a mile and half from my house (!), so I figured I would pick their brains a bit about how the site came into existence as well as the way parents and players should be using the information available on the site to their best advantage.

The first thing to note is that Julie and Doug are not now, nor have they ever been, Tennis Parents; that is to say, none of their children played tournament tennis.  However, Julie is a very accomplished player and college coach in her own right – she started the very successful women’s tennis program at Georgia Tech – and Doug is an internet technology guru – he wrote the very first tennis-related software, Tournament Management System, in the 1980s and was the first to put tournament draws on the Web.  As a result of Julie’s extensive college coaching experience, she knew what the coaches needed to see in terms of player records and rankings, and she wanted to create something better for them to use.  In 2004, with Doug’s help, TennisRecruiting.net was born!

Now, the basics of TRN and its Star Rating System . . .

The TRN ratings, done by graduating class, go from Blue Chip (highest) to 1 star (lowest) as follows:

Blue Chip:  top 25 players in the class

5-Star:  players ranked 26-75

4-Star:  players ranked 76-200

3-Star:  players ranked 201-400

2-Star:  players ranked 401 up to a number based on a percentage of the size of that class

1-Star:  a player with any qualifying ranking

TRN looks at 6th graders through 12th graders and ranks 16,000 boys each year out of the approximately 34,000 male junior players currently playing and competing.  They rank about the same number of girls.  Therefore, even a 1-Star player is better than more than half the juniors currently playing tournaments.  Ratings are based solely upon a player’s position within his own high school graduating class year; for example, a 14-year-old high school freshman would be rated independently of a 14-year-old 8th grader even though they are both eligible to play in the 14-and-under age division.

In order to be ranked on TRN, a junior must play in a minimum of 3 TRN-eligible tournaments and win a minimum of 3 matches (2 of which must be over other eligible players). Ratings happen twice a year – at the end of February and the Tuesday after Labor Day in September. Ratings are preceded by an 8-week rating period. The player’s highest ranking during the 8-week rating period will determine that player’s Star Rating per the chart above.

All matches from TRN-eligible events in a one year window are used to compute a player’s ranking, independent of age division or class of the players. In addition, TRN looks at a player’s 8 best wins during that period, averages them, then uses that as one of several complicated (understatement of the year!) mathematical components to determine the final ranking. Ratings, age, and graduation year of a player’s opponents are not used in the calculation. Previous rankings are not used to determine current rankings – TRN starts from scratch for each week’s ranking. It is important to note that wins never hurt a player’s ranking and losses never help it.  Also, “retirement” of a match counts as a loss but a “walkover” does not.

Matches are weighed according to when they were played.  A win today counts more than a win against the same opponent six months ago.  This is one way that TRN makes it very difficult to “play” their rating system or “buy” rankings.  For your player to improve his ranking on TRN, he should be sure to enter tournaments where he can win some matches but NOT where he is, by far, the best player in the draw.  As Doug says, “Winning makes you feel good.  Losing makes you learn something.”  Because of the extensive analysis that goes into the TRN rankings, college coaches consider them to be a better predictor of player quality and who’s going to beat whom in head-to-head competition.

How should players and parents use TRN?  During the Middle School years, TRN is just another tool at players’ fingertips to track their progress and that of their peers.  Parents should check their child’s profile using the Free Account option and make sure all the information is correct – if it’s not, then you can either make the corrections yourself or contact TRN if you have any questions or problems.  There are also some very useful articles on the TRN site written by experts in the junior tennis world – take advantage of this free tool to educate yourself and your child during these important developmental years.

Once a player enters High School, you might want to consider buying a TRN Recruiting Advantage membership so you can see which college coaches are looking at your child’s Player Profile.  The membership also allows you to upload gallery photos, videos, and article references mentioning your child.  It is well worth the $49.95 annual fee!  But, here’s a great tip from Doug:  if you have multiple tennis players in your family or are on a limited budget, pay only for a membership for your oldest child then use that account to do everything on the website for all of your children except see the coach visits and upload the photos, videos, and articles.  Once the oldest graduates high school, cancel the account and get one for the next child.  Another great tip from Doug is that you can buy a monthly membership (which renews automatically), load all the information you want during that first month, then cancel the account.  The information will stay on your child’s profile, but you will no longer be paying the monthly membership fee.  To cancel the account, simply click on the Member Services link at the top of the page then un-check the “Auto Renew” option.  Voila!

Given that Doug is giving away these money-saving tips, let me share how TennisRecruiting.net generates its revenue.  Initially, TRN’s biggest source of income came from players signing up for an enriched profile with the Recruiting Advantage membership.  On top of that, the college coaches pay TRN to have access to the player information.  Very recently, however, TRN started selling advertising on its website, which has now become its largest source of revenue.  If you’re a user of TRN, please consider using the advertiser links on the site in order to help TRN continue to offer its free services!

I want to emphasize that TRN is about much more than player rankings.  Doug and Julie are working tirelessly in the junior tennis community to ensure that more kids have the opportunity for cross-sectional play and that they have the opportunity to play college tennis if that’s their goal.  With the recent changes in the USTA National Tournament Schedule and smaller draw sizes, the Wreges have their work cut out for them.  They are currently working with tournament directors around the US to encourage more open events, even if it won’t impact the player’s USTA ranking, by designating tournaments as “Historically Strong” so that the players have an opportunity to improve their TRN ranking and become a TRN “National Player” (one who has won a match in a USTA National Level 1-3 event or other event that counts toward a USTA national ranking).  The upcoming Georgia State Junior Open will be the first of these tournaments – information on that tourney is online here.

This is a lot of information to digest – I know! – but please do yourself and your child a favor and do some poking around on the TRN site.  Familiarize yourself with their ratings and rankings.  Read the articles, especially the Q&As with the different college coaches if that’s your child’s goal.  Make sure your child’s information and player record are correct.  If your child is in high school, upgrade to the paid membership, at least for a period of time.  It will be time and money well-spent.

Time Off for Bad Behavior

School isn’t the only place – the Junior Tennis World will give you time off for bad behavior, too!  And, yes, I do speak from personal experience.

I haven’t really addressed the whole area of conduct and suspension points on ParentingAces yet, so I figure now is as good a time as any given that my kid just avoided a very close call with a 3-month tournament suspension.  I suspect there are junior tennis players who will get through their entire tournament career without ever receiving a code violation or suspension point, but my kid isn’t one of them.

Let me advise you once again that if you and your child have NOT yet read the USTA publication FRIEND AT COURT, do so immediately!  It is crucial that you and your child are both familiar with the Code of Conduct (Part 2 of the Friend At Court beginning on Page 45 of the pdf file) and understand which behaviors are permitted and which are not as well as the possible consequences.  While most tournament officials are well-trained and well-intentioned, every now and then you’ll run across one who is not, and it is imperative that your child understands his “rights” in terms of warnings, code violations, suspension points, and appeals (see page 180 of the Friend At Court).  Also, many of the guidelines for assessing penalties are left up to the discretion of the official (see Table 17 on page 124); therefore, it is best for players to avoid completely ANY behaviors that might be punishable by loss of a point.  Please note that it is within the discretion of the officials to immediately disqualify a player, without warning, who exhibits a single act of flagrant unsportsmanlike behavior.

As with most things USTA-related, each state or section may have its own rules regarding suspension.  In Georgia, “the Point Penalty System is linked to a Suspension Point System [see page 17 of the 2012 Junior Rules & Regulations], whereby players are suspended from all USTA play for a period of 3 months if they accumulate ten (10) Suspension Points in a twelve (12) month period.”  The Point Penalty System applies to violations during the warm-up as well as the match as follows:
• During all matches (main draw, compass draw, consolation, qualifying and doubles);
• During tournament activities;
• At tournament facilities;
• At facilities, such as hotels, dormitories, and homes where players stay.

Here’s what our Georgia Juniors need to know:

  •  Every effort will be made by USTA Georgia to notify any player who has accumulated six (6) or more suspension points that s/he is more than half-way to a suspension. Timing sometimes makes this impossible. Absence of such notification in no way alters the validity of suspension points assessed.
  •  The player will be notified using the contact information on file with USTA Membership when he/she reaches ten (10) or more Junior Suspension Points. The player will have one week to submit a written appeal to the USTA Georgia office – attention Grievance Committee. If the suspension is deemed appropriate after the appeal process, the suspension from any USTA Georgia sanctioned event will immediately be effective for a minimum period of three (3) months.
  • After serving the suspension these ten (10) Junior Suspension Points will be cleared from the player’s record. All other suspension points, if any, shall remain on the player’s record and count toward a second suspension.
  • All Tournament Directors and the USTA Southern office will be notified of each suspension.
  • Suspensions apply to all USTA Sanctioned programs and tournaments, including Adult League, Junior TeamTennis, Adult tournaments and Junior tournaments in other sections.
  • Repercussions from suspension will include elimination of selection for any special programs sponsored by USTA Georgia such as Junior Southern Cup, USTA Tennis Player Development Programs, USTA Competition Training Center programs, USTA Southern Training Camps, USTA Georgia Training Camps, etc.
  • Players whose suspensions extend up to the sanctioned start date of the Georgia State Junior Closed Qualifying Championship or through the Georgia State Junior Closed Qualifying Championship are not eligible to request a Waiver for the USTA Southern Closed Junior Championship.
  • If a violation leading to a suspension (3 months or longer) occurs thirty (30) days prior to or during the Level 1 Georgia State Junior Closed Qualifying Championship, the player will not be endorsed to the USTA Southern Closed Junior Championship.
  • A suspension with onset during the Georgia State Junior Closed Qualifying Championship cannot be appealed to the USTA Georgia Grievance Committee.

My son went into this year’s Georgia Qualifying Championship with 9 suspension points on his record, most of which came during a particularly stressful period last summer.  In addition to the pressure of trying to qualify for the Southern Closed, my son was also dealing with the pressure of having to be on his absolute best behavior so as to avoid having his summer tournament plans go out the window.  Believe me, this is NOT a situation my kid ever wants to be in again, nor is it a situation that his coach (or his parents!) want him to replicate.

By reading and learning the Code, we parents can help our kids avoid situations like my son’s.  By instilling our own personal Code in our kids and enforcing it from the beginning of their tennis-playing years, we can help them learn to manage their emotions more effectively even when in the heat of battle.  My husband and I didn’t do such a great job at that, but we’ve learned our lesson . . . and so has our son.

Beyond Winning & Losing

Our state qualifier for the Southern Closed was this past week.  For the first time ever, my son knew when he applied for entry to the tournament that he would get in – he had worked hard all year to move his state ranking into a proper position.  Now the challenge was getting far enough in the Qualifier to secure a spot in the Closed.

The Tennis Gods smiled upon him with his draw, but it was still up to him to capitalize on some great opportunities to get to the Round of 16 (or further) and get that guaranteed entry into the sectional tourney.  It was going to be a challenge, for sure.  His track record with “gifts” in the draw wasn’t all that great – in the past, he had often lost to players with much lower rankings than his own, so he was going to have to draw on all the training he had been doing with his coach to stay focused and get the job done.

After winning his first match in less-than-ideal weather conditions, he got to play his second round on center court at the main tournament site with several of his friends and other coaches standing around and periodically watching him.  He won the first set 6-0 in about 12 minutes, absolutely crushing his opponent at every opportunity.  But, old habits die hard, and he wound up falling behind 0-4 in the 2nd set before fighting back a bit then losing it 4-6.  Thank goodness for the 10-minute break after splitting sets!  I have no idea what my son’s coach told him on the phone, but he came into that 3rd set swinging away, jumping to a 5-0 lead before finally closing out the set and the match 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.  He had made it to the Round of 16 and had his spot in the Closed!

The next morning, he was slated to play the 2 seed, a boy who he had never played before, a boy who is a 5-star rated player, a boy who wins big tournaments on a regular basis.  This was my son’s chance to test his game against the Big Boys, to see how he held up and where he needed work.  What an opportunity!  He went on court ready to do battle.  He pushed the 2 seed hard in the first set, making him work for every point and every game.  My son lost that set 4-6, but he proved to himself that he could compete at this level, that he has what it takes to keep moving forward with his development.  The next set didn’t go quite as well, but, still, my son walked off the court with his head held high, knowing he had left everything he had out there.

Day 3 brought the Back Draw and another opportunity to play a 5-star player in the day’s second match.  By this point, my son was exhausted – mentally and physically – and the match ended quickly though not in my son’s favor.  The tournament was now over for him, and it was time to reflect:

  • He reached his goal of qualifying for the Southern Closed.
  • One of his favorite college coaches saw him play and crush his opponent then congratulated him afterward on the great win.
  • His former coach saw him play the 2 seed and commented on how far he’s come in the last year.
  • After playing the 2 seed, he immediately got a text from another player asking him to play doubles in the Southern Closed – his Tennis Clout jumped about 100 places as a result of his effort in that match.
  • His current coach watched his first back draw match and got the opportunity to coach him during a rain delay following a sloppy first set.  My son went back on court and did exactly what his coach told him,  winning the match at his first opportunity.  His coach was beaming!
  • His tennis peers told him repeatedly over the course of the tournament how well he was playing – that does a teenage ego good!
  • He used his mental toughness training and stayed calm throughout each match – you have no idea how huge that is!!!!
  • He saw what he needs to work on between now and the Closed and is ready to put in the hard yards.  The next level is finally within his reach.