Complain, Complain, Complain . . . Do!

There is a lot of complaining going on in the Tennis World – from players, from coaches, from parents, from tournament directors, from journalists – I hear it all the time!  And blame – WOW! – every organization is getting blamed for the demise of American tennis, from USTA to ITF to USPTA to NCAA . . . the list goes on and on.

This blog was born out of complaints that I had myself and that I heard from other tennis parents, so I get it – I’m not innocent in the Blame Game; in fact, far from it!  But, if we just continue to complain and do nothing to change the status quo, then where does that get us?

A group of brilliant tennis minds is coming together to DO SOMETHING.  There’s a brand new resource online called American Tennis Journal that y’all need to visit (click here to see it).  The Mission Statement, as published on the site is:

The mission of the American Tennis Journal is to become…

  • a source of news concerning relevant issues in American tennis
  • a platform to discuss ideas and new developments in American tennis
  • a resource for American players, parents, and coaches

The developers plan to offer forums, live chats, and other methods for tennis players, parents, and coaches to connect and share information.  And, they’re hoping to get the attention of USTA and other relevant organizations so that change can actually occur.  Best of all, the folks involved in creating the website don’t have a dog in the fight – they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by providing frank, open, honest discussion of where tennis needs to improve in order for our players – juniors, college, and pros – to reach their own highest levels.  As site creator, Brian Parrott, said, “This could become a vehicle for positive exposure to what is happening . . . the goal is to facilitate the development of American talent.”  A worthy goal, indeed!

Waco ITF – The Outcome

Day 1 of Qualies, ITF Tournament 1, Waco, Texas

Coach Julius (via text message to me): Game on!

Me: What’s that mean????

Coach: He just started.

Me: Ah, thanks!  Keep me posted!

Coach: Very rough start.  Nerves.  Lots of unforced errors.  0-4.

Me: Uh oh

Coach: 0-6.  Playing scared.  Poor shot selection and too many short balls off his forehand and backhand.

Me: Hmmm . . . hope he can pull it together for the 2nd . . .

Coach: 1-1 in 2nd

Me:  Calming down?

Coach: Not yet

Me: Hmmmm

Coach: 1-4

Coach (10 minutes later): 0-6, 1-6.  I’m speechless.

Me: Will be interested to hear from both of you after you have time to reflect.  How’s he doing???

Coach: Having a tough time.

Me: 🙁

__________

Son: I lost.

Husband: Sorry to hear that.  We’ll talk a little later.

Me: Will call you in a bit.  Love you.

Son (6 hours later): Just got done hitting with Slovakian kid.

Me: Call me – wanna hear!

Son: Nah

Me: Why?  How did it go?

Son: It was good.  I played well.  Won the set 6-3.

Me:  That’s good.  What’s on tap for tonight and tomorrow?

Hubby: Nice. Call me back.

Son: Don’t feel like talking on phone guys.  Going back to hotel right now to shower and recover – it’s hot as heck.  Then tomorrow I’m gonna hit with Slovakian kid and Sam.

Me: Sounds good!  Have fun!

Day 2

(Coach texted a photo of my son on court)

Me: Thanks! How’s it going???

Coach: Good.  We watched a lot of tennis this morning.  The guy he lost to ended up qualifying.  I worked him out for an hour earlier this afternoon, and now he is hitting with a Slovakian kid.  Will be playing some sets in a bit.

Me: Sounds like a great day!

(3 hours later . . .)

Coach: Just lost a 3 hour 3 set grinder against the Slovakian kid.  Good lessons learned.

Me: Good to hear.  How’s he feeling mentally?

Coach: A little beat up but competing like crazy.

Me: That’s a good sign.  I love a good fight!!!  More tennis tomorrow?

Coach: Planning on watching some 1st round main draw matches and a possible hit before leaving town.

Me: Sounds good! Despite the first round loss, sounds like a successful trip.

Coach: I believe it was a successful trip, but the next few weeks of practice will be the true measure of this trip’s success.

Me: Yes, true.  You’ll have to keep me posted on how he’s doing.  🙂

Coach: Will do.

Me: Thanks for being such an amazing coach and mentor to him!

Coach: I’m just happy to be able to contribute.

Me: Well, we appreciate you more than you know!  I hope M shows you that through his actions on and off the court!

____________

All in all, I think it was a good decision to send him to Waco.  Yes, he lost his very first qualifying match, but he bounced back and took the opportunity to learn from the loss.  The match was against a boy from Mexico who he never would’ve had the chance to play in a sectional tournament.  His practice sessions were with a boy from Slovakia – again, a boy he would never come across in our section.  He watched one of the top juniors in the country play in the main draw and figured out what sets this boy apart.  He now has something concrete to work toward.  Like Coach Julius said, these next few weeks will be a true test of the trip’s success and my son’s commitment to reaching the next level.  It will be interesting to watch and to analyze and to see if my son is willing to put in the even harder work to get there.

USTA 2014 Jr Comp Update, Part 2

ZooTennis.com posted the following email sent from the outgoing and incoming USTA presidents to Tim Russell and others involved in the Junior Competition Committee and Player Development – it confirms my wariness (click here for the link to the full email):

USTA 2014 Jr Comp Update

Yesterday afternoon, I received a link from the folks at TennisRecruiting.net to the following article on their website:

This week, a group of people concerned with junior tennis – Steve Bellamy, Robert Sasseville and Kevin Kempin – were able to spend several hours speaking with USTA leadership (i.e., Dave Haggerty, Gordon Smith, Kurt Kamperman) about the planned upcoming changes to USTA Junior Competition. That group is pleased to say that there was a very open and candid exchange of ideas.

The group shared many, if not all, of its concerns about the proposed new competitive structure, and the USTA definitely listened. The group also got a better understanding of the USTA’s long-term objectives for making these changes. Long story short, the group requested that the USTA hit the “pause button” for the 2013-2014 junior comp changes before instituting them. That approach would obviously come with some procedural challenges for the USTA, but the USTA was open to the recommendation and said they will discuss it internally and give it full consideration.

In addition, the USTA acknowledged that, moving forward, they wanted to seek input from a broader group of constituents, i.e. parents, college coaches, and tournament directors. To that end, the USTA will be getting back to the group with some suggestions. All in all, the feeling is that the meetings with the USTA were very productive, and the group believes that everyone should hit the “pause button” for a short time to allow the USTA to come back with their plans for moving forward. Recognizing that time is of the essence, the group expects to hear back from the USTA within the next two weeks.

Just so you know who the players are in this saga, Steve Bellamy is the creator of the Tennis Channel and the father of high-performance tennis playing sons, one of whom is under the watchful eye of USTA Player Development.  He also created the interactive website, TennisInsiders, for tennis coaches, parents, and others to voice and share opinions and information.  Robert Sasseville is a long-time tournament director and USTA referee in Georgia.  Kevin Kempin is the CEO of Head, Inc.  Dave Haggerty is the First Vice President and incoming President of USTA.  Gordon Smith is the Executive Director and CEO of USTA.  Kurt Kamperman is USTA’s Chief Executive of Community Tennis.

While I am hopeful that USTA will, indeed, hit the “pause button” and seek input from those directly affected by the upcoming changes to the junior competition schedule, I am a bit wary since Lew Brewer, USTA’s Director of Junior Competition for USTA Player Development, told me a few weeks ago that this is a “done deal” and that no further changes to the plan will be considered before 2014.  Maybe Lew and his cohorts have reconsidered their position and have realized it may be in the best interest of US tennis to seek input from the players, parents, and coaches?  Maybe.  I urge all of you concerned to keep an eye on things and to talk to your section heads to see how you might become one of those whose input is sought after by USTA.  I also urge you to read today’s ZooTennis posting regarding how the national tournament climate has changed in very recent years – it is eye-opening.

Stay tuned . . .

New Strings, New Racquet or Both?

For the past few years, my son has been playing with the Babolat Aero Pro Drive Plus racquet, the one that looks like Rafa’s only a half-inch longer.  He’s been stringing his racquets with RPM Blast string, and, until very recently, was happy with his tennis equipment.

Since he first started using this particular racquet and string, my son has grown about 8 inches in height and put on more than 25 pounds, most of it in the last year.  Needless to say, that growth has necessitated making some changes in the way he trains, the way he moves around the court, the way he constructs and plays points, and the way he adjusts his body to be in the proper position to make his shots.  And, recently, he noticed that he seems to be “shanking” balls more often which is usually an indicator of poor positioning in relation to the ball.  So, he’s been working with his coach on his footwork and timing to see if he can figure out how to adjust his taller frame, longer arms and legs, and bigger feet to hit the ball on the strings rather than the expensive part of the racquet!

One of the first things my son and his coach picked up on was that his strings seemed to be losing tension rather quickly, perhaps contributing to the timing issue.  He played around with the tension setting on his stringer to see if that would help.  It didn’t.  He then started doing a little research on the different strings on the market and tried a few different ones to see if they made a difference.  They didn’t.

The next step was to look at the possibility of going back to a standard length racquet instead of the “plus” he was currently using.  One of his buddies let him hit with his racquet for a couple of days, which he really liked.  He felt like it gave him more power while still being able to generate enough spin to control his shots.  He went over to our local tennis shop to check out a demo racquet and tried it out for a few days.

I called his coach in a panic.  The idea of spending $500 or more on new racquets was NOT appealing.  Did I mention that all this racquet-changing talk was going on at the same time as the Waco discussion?  I asked if he (the coach) thought a racquet change was necessary or would make a significant difference in my son’s play.  He said that my son had come up with the idea but that after seeing him hit with the demo racquets, he did feel that my son would benefit from a change.  He assured me that changing racquets would be a slow, deliberate process and that he wouldn’t let my son make a final decision without lots of hitting time, match play, and in-depth evaluation by the coach.

After swapping between different racquets over a 2-week period, the time had come to make a decision between the last two contenders.  The day before the demo racquets were due back to the shop, my son had another lesson with his coach, the sole purpose of which was to gauge the effectiveness of each racquet across several different drills and live-ball rallies.  Not only was his coach looking at the power and spin and control of each ball coming off my son’s racquet, but he was also rating the feel of my son’s ball coming off his own racquet as well.  They did each drill with my son alternating between the demo racquets, and after each one the coach chose a “winner” and kept a running tally of the results.  By the end of the lesson, the coach had a clear picture about which racquet was better for my son and his particular style of play.

But, my son still wasn’t convinced!  He scheduled a practice match for the following day just to be sure he was making the right choice.  After playing 3 sets over 4 hours, he finally knew which racquet was going to be his new racquet, and, it turns out, it’s the same one his coach had deemed the right one, too.

So, thanks to our friends at Your Serve and Holabird Sports, my son is now the proud owner of three new Head YouTek IG Radical MP racquets and a matching bag.  The Babolats were great while they lasted – anyone in the market for some lovingly-used Aero Pro Drive Pluses???

Waco ITF – The Decision

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to comment here or via Twitter or via Facebook or via email – I knew y’all would have some great suggestions for me!  I love hearing about your experiences with these different tournaments and how you weigh cost vs. value.  As I keep saying, it’s not just about the tennis here – sometimes it’s about the Life Lessons learned.

Here’s what we finally decided to do regarding next week’s ITF tournament in Waco . . .

I sat down and figured out what the total cost was going to be for the tournament, expecting that my son will make it through a couple of qualifying matches and maybe, just maybe, into the main draw:  flight, hotel, rental car, gas, meals, and his coach’s daily fee.  A conservative estimate was $2500 – OUCH!  For our family, that’s a lot to spend on one tournament, especially since our son is only guaranteed one match (remember: there is no back draw in these tourneys!).  On top of that, we had to consider the possible missed school days and how he was going to stay on top of his work.

I asked my son how badly he wanted to play in this tournament.  He said, “Really badly, Mom!”  I asked if he wanted to play badly enough that he’d be willing to spend some of his savings to help off-set the cost.  He thought about it for a minute then said yes.  So, that’s what’s happening.  He’s going to pay for part of the tournament, and we’re going to cover the rest.  We figured this was a good use of his savings plus it would give him added accountability for his preparation and performance in Waco.  When I say “performance”, I don’t mean whether he wins or loses matches.  What I mean is that he competes well, fights hard, maintains a positive attitude, and absorbs the lessons he’s sure to learn.

Once we’d made the decision to let him go, it was time to make all the travel arrangements.  One of my friends/readers suggested we use Priceline to book the trip – she thought we’d be able to cut the total cost (air, hotel, and rental car) by about 50%, which would be fantastic!  The problem is that it’s waaaaaay cheaper to fly into Dallas (about 90 miles from Waco) instead of directly to Waco, and I could never figure out how to get Priceline to do airline tickets and rental car in one city but hotel in another, so that didn’t work.  But, Southwest Airlines now flies from Atlanta to Dallas AND offers online fares with no change fee (!), so I signed my son up for their frequent flier program and started booking the trip.  My son’s coach suggested I book the return flight for late afternoon on Monday – if my son is still in the tournament at that point, we can always change the date.  If he’s out of the tournament before then, his coach is going to arrange practice matches with some of the other players (thanks to another reader for that great suggestion!) to take full advantage of being in a new area of the country with some different boys.  It turns out that Southwest also has a bundling deal where, if you book air, hotel, and rental car through their website, you get a discount plus frequent flier points on everything – great deal, right?  I ended up saving about $125 by bundling which should cover food for one of the days.

So now everything is booked, my son is working really hard to get ready for the tourney, and his coach feels like this is going to be a great learning experience for him.  I think we made the right decision to let him go but also to ask him to contribute financially to this opportunity.  It gives him more ownership in the whole thing which my husband and I both feel is important – we don’t ever want our son to take his tennis or our financial support of it for granted.  I’ll let y’all know how it goes!

Days of Awe

I know this is supposed to be a blog about tennis parenting, but as my most sacred religious holidays approach, I felt it fitting to share the following article by Rabbi Marshal Klaven, Director of Rabbinic Services for the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.  Just as many of the lessons our children learn on the tennis court can be applied to their Real Life, I found many Real Life messages in this article that my son and I can apply to our Tennis Life, too.  Hope you find the same!
“Red-light; Green-light.” Four words that tend to tell a nearly entire tale of some fun-filled childhood game in which all the participating youth – save one – stood in line at the far edge of some field, leaving the remaining child to stand alone at its other end. Every time this child turned his/her back, he/she would say: “green-light,” setting the rest of the children in motion across the field. Then, with a quick turn and the words “red-light,” everyone would come to a dead stop… or, at least, they tried. Those who successfully stayed their forward progress stayed put to do this routine over and over again until, at last, they reached their desired destination: the finish line, where the single child stood. Those who could not arrest their motion were, in a way, arrested, sent back to the starting line to start over again, now severely behind the group.
Though easily ranked among the most enjoyable playground games of all time,[i] “Red-light; Green-light” – like many childhood games – came with a hefty helping of real lessons on life: its many stops and its countless starts, its anticipated set-backs and its much appreciated do-overs, its blessed rewards and its cursed punishments, its relentless “hurry-up and wait” nature. Yet, even with all this, “Red-light; Green-light” lacked one thing: the Yellow-light. Likely an intentional oversight to keep things exciting (as, one can imagine, life without the Yellow-light would do that); one may also say that the Yellow-light was left out because the signal itself is just plain confusing… for youth as well as adults, with regards to both those real traffic signals as well as all those metaphorical ones, marking cautionary moments along the miles of our year.
These Days of Awe are one such moment. “Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur,” teaches our tradition, “beg us caution.” They were placed along the course of our year to grab our attention, to arouse us, to turn us, to focus us on where we are so that we may better understand where we ought to go, directing ourselves accordingly. For, there is no other driver in the vehicle of the self, just a reliable Navigator (a GPS: God’s Positioning System, a.k.a. the Torah), attempting to steer us in the right direction. As it is advised there: “Be careful then, and do as the Lord your God has commanded you. Do not turn aside to the right or to the left: follow only the path that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you, so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you.” (Deuteronomy 5:29-30).
Much has been made of these biblical directions, which are repeated throughout the Torah. One, we may wish that our modern GPS units came with the same assurances, for surely then we would have avoided some awkward turns in our lives. Two, God seems to be an independent when it comes to politics, as the Eternal desires us to turn neither to the right nor to the left. And finally, in all seriousness, the sages acknowledge through these verses that at every moment, including these sacred High Holy Days, we stand at a crossroads.[ii] Therefore, one of the biggest factors in determining how the path ahead will go, whether it will be for a blessing or for a curse, whether it will be for peace and prosperity or for privation and instability, is how we will approach this intersection, especially now as the light therein has turned yellow.
I suppose we can do what so many do when they see a yellow light… slam down on the accelerator and plunge forward with the hope, with the prayer they’ll get across safely before – like the childhood game – the light turns red. In the context of our life’s road, especially at this intersection of the High Holy Days, this approach can be compared to those who see that Rosh HaShanah has arrived and now realize it’s only a matter of moments before the forgiving light of yellow turns red on Yom Kippur. So, what do they do? They too plunge forward, putting their apologies into overdrive. And the vehicle for this approach is often the internet, as these individuals ask for forgiveness via mass e-mails. “For the sin I have committed against you, dear friend, by (fill in the blank of my transgression),” literally read one such e-mail, “I am sorry.”
And, it’s not just with the High Holy Days. Enumerable are the intersections of our lives where we only decide to cross at the last possible moment: in our school and professional work, in our family responsibilities, in our own self-care. This rush forward is not necessarily a bad thing, for – at the very least – we are still staying the course, turning – as God advised – “neither to the right nor to the left.” And, given the fullness of all of our days, part of this last minute push across the line may even make sense. But, as we know from real intersections, there is a risk to such hasty crossings: accidents. Some will be minor: a misplaced item here, a neglected item there. Others will be more serious, resulting in failed tests, lost jobs, diminished value by those we love, and a broken vehicle of the self, severely threatening our ability to move forward.
That being said, some will still take on these risks in light of what they believe will be gained in moving forward. But the reality is, in these hurried approaches, so much more is lost, including the brief but beneficial break. Think about it. What’s the first thing we do when coming to a full and complete stop at an intersection. Likely, we turn and look at the neighboring cars, gauging their progress in relation to our own, knowing we do not travel these roads alone. Second, we likely turn inward. We check our time in relation to our schedule: until now, have I accomplished all that I needed to? We check our fuel in relation to our destination: what energy do I require to move forward? Finally, we check our cargo in relationship to our responsibilities: do I have everything I need to be a success upon my arrival?
In these brief breaks, we consciously or unconsciously check in with ourselves, asking and answering critical questions which make for success when setting out. Danny, a devoted Jew and psychotherapist from New York, was reminded of this the hard way not too long ago. As Danny put it, “After twelve years of marriage, my wife Marti and I simply grew apart. She had her things, and I had mine.”
One of Danny’s things was running. Every morning, he’d leave his wife sleeping in bed to make his way around a small section of the city. On one particular morning, Danny jogged the usual streets and turned a corner to face an old man, wearing a black hat and a long, black coat. “We need a tenth!” cried the old man. “For a minyan, we need a tenth!” Rather than stopping to consider the request, Danny breathlessly mumbled, “I can’t today,” and continued on.
All day, Danny was bothered. He could not focus on his work, or anything that came in front of him. Cancelling his afternoon appointments, he went over to his synagogue and asked to speak with the rabbi. Danny struggled to begin, not really believing what had transpired nor understanding why it bothered him so. But, eventually the story poured out, ending in a long silence. “Perhaps this is all a great parable,” began the rabbi. Danny bristled in his seat.
“Yes,” continued the rabbi, “a message from On High. And, if so, what do you think the message was?” Danny felt a little annoyed by the rabbi’s question, having heard so many like it before from his own mouth. Nonetheless, the rabbi’s words hit home. “The old man…” Danny said slowly, “was trying to tell me: ‘I see, you’re in the midst of moving forward right now. But, I’m sorry; I need you to stop. I need your help.’ And, callously, I ran right by his words.”
“Maybe not,” replied the rabbi. “Like all good parables, it’s not the subject of the story who needs the reply, but ourselves; we are the ones who must wrestle with its message.” “What do you mean?” asked Danny in bewilderment. “What I mean is that maybe it wasn’t the stranger who needs you. Maybe it’s someone much closer,” answered the rabbi, as he reached across to tap Danny on his chest just above his heart.
Danny could not remember his drive home from the synagogue that day. Nor, could he remember parking the car or running through the house to Marti’s ceramic studio. All he could recall is finding himself standing in her doorway, as she looked up from her wheel, smiling. Danny saw the sweet vulnerability and the tender compassion he had unintentionally left behind in his drive to run constantly forward, priceless things Danny tried to hold onto that night as he fell asleep.
The next morning, Marti woke up with her husband still in bed, right beside her. Concerned, Marti woke Danny and asked: “Are you okay? Is everything alright? Why aren’t you running?” “My dear, I think that’s part of the problem. I think I’ve been running too much, unintentionally creating greater and greater distance from you. I think I’d like to slow down a little. Would you be willing to do this with me? Rather than a run, can we walk together this morning?
With tears streaming down her checks, Marti threw her arms around Danny. “I’ve been waiting to walk with you for a long time,” she said. “Can we also stop a bit to sit in the park?” “Of course,” Danny said, feeling as if just then he was answering both his wife as well as the old man, who had asked him the day before to please stop and help out for just a bit.[iii]
That’s also the question facing us right now, as we collectively approach this intersection of our year. In the yellow-light of Rosh HaShanah, do we “hurry-up and go” or do we “slow-down and stop?” For the sake of our loved ones and our neighbors, for our world as well as ourselves, may it be more of the latter and less of the former. May we resolve in all such cautionary moments along the miles of our lives to put on the breaks and administer a self-check, what Judaism refers to as a cheshbon hanefesh (literally, “an accounting of one’s soul”). For only when we adequately know who and where we are, can we more soundly, more smoothly, more successfully move to where we want to go: forward. May that be this case in this coming year as the light turns from yellow to red, back to green. L’shanah tovah!

[i] It’s up there with such unforgettables as hop-scotch and double-dutch, four square and red-rover!
[ii] For example: “There are crossroads where you choose not only your future, but your past as well. Take one path, and your past becomes but a silly, useless dream that might as well never have happened. Take another road, and your past becomes a magnificent frame for a glorious moment of life: the moment now, the moment for which your soul was formed.” Padah b’Shalom, 5738; based on the writings and sermons of Rabbi M. M. Schneerson.
[iii] Adapted from HaNoch McCarty’s “To Make a Minyan” in Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul: Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Soul, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, eds. Health Communications, Inc.: Deerfield Beach, 2001. pp. 318-322