Help! My kid wants to play in a tournament!

For those of you just starting out in the overwhelming world that is Junior Tennis, I thought I’d give you a down-and-dirty breakdown of how the USTA tournament and ranking system works.  Hold onto your sanity because you’re in for quite an adventure!

The first step in playing a USTA tournament is getting a USTA junior membership and number for your child (see USTA’s website) – no USTA number means no tournament play!  Make sure you write down the number and keep it in a safe place until the actual membership card arrives in your mailbox – you will need this number for pretty much everything your child does in the tournament world.

Most tournaments require online registration via a service called TennisLink.  You can search for tournaments in your town or state or section by simply using the drop-down boxes on the website.  You can also search by month and year or by division (age, singles vs. doubles, all junior tournaments, etc.).  Once you find a tournament to enter, take note of the entry deadline.  Until you get to know the different tournament directors and can ask for a special favor every now and then, those deadlines are written in stone.  To enter a specific tournament, click on the name of the tournament in TennisLink which will then take you to that tournament’s webpage.  From there, it’s pretty self-explanatory – you’ll click on the online registration link and fill in the blanks.

Junior competition is broken down into age groups based on the child’s age at the time of the tournament.  The age groups are 10-and-under (10U), 12-and-under (12U), 14-and-under (14U), 16-and-under (16U), and 18-and-under (18U).  A child can play in an older age group if he chooses, but he can’t play in a younger age group.  How do you know in which age group your child should play?  When starting out, he should always play in the age group in which he falls.  For example, if your child is 11 years old, then he would be in the 12U group.  He would move up to the next age group the month he turns 13.  So, if your child’s birthday is March 6th, then March 1st would be the “aging up” date.

Once your child wins a tournament match at any level in any sanctioned USTA event, he will then have a ranking.  If he’s playing a Satellite tournament, that ranking will be in your state of residence.  If he’s playing a Championship or higher State tournament, then he may also gain a sectional ranking.  Once he starts playing the higher level Sectional tournaments, then he might be earning points toward a national ranking.  I’ll talk more about how the ranking system works in a separate post.  Please note that each USTA section has its own set of rules and guidelines – for the purposes of this blog, I’m using those set forth by the Southern Section (the light turquoise area in the map above).

For you visual learners, here’s a graphic depiction of how the tournament structure is set up  (apologies for my amateur graphics!) . . .



The layout for National Tournaments is very similar.  So, for a child playing his or her very first tournament ever, the Satellite (State Level 5) would be the appropriate starting point.  Once the child has become used to the tournament environment and IF he decides he wants to play at a higher level, then it may be time to try a State Level 4 tournament.   If he’s having good success at that level, then moving up through the system becomes pretty straightforward.  As one of my tennis go-to people puts it, though, you first want to be the best in your house, then the best on your block, then the best in your neighborhood.  In other words, winning tournaments at the lower levels should be a pre-req for moving up to the next level.

In the tournaments themselves, there are two types of draws:  the main draw and the consolation draw (aka the back draw).  For most USTA tournaments of any level, singles players are guaranteed at least two matches since, even if they lose in the first round of the main draw, they still move into the back draw to continue playing.   For doubles play, typically the tournaments are single-elimination, meaning that once a doubles team loses a match, they are done with that tournament.

I hope this helps clarify things a bit!  If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the Comments box below.  Remember, this blog is a fluid entity, and I’m certainly no expert, so please add your own experiences so we can all learn together.

Edited August 23, 2013: Once you have registered your child for a tournament, you will receive a confirmation email (as long as you entered your email address on the registration form in TennisLink). Unless something very much out of the ordinary happens, that is the last communication you will receive from the tournament. The onus is on you and your child to keep checking the tournament website to see the draws and find out your child’s match times. Be sure you look for your child’s first match time on the Main Draw as well as their next match time (if it is posted) on both the Main Draw and Consolation Draw. Note the match location, too, if multiple playing sites are being used. One last tip: be sure to check the tournament website early in the morning of each day of play, especially if weather delays could be an issue. The tournament director should update the website no later than 7am for 8am matches and will post any delays. All of this information can be found on the specific tournament’s webpage through TennisLink. If you have trouble, contact the Tournament Director or Tournament Referee – their contact information should be on the webpage as well. See What To Take With You on Tournament Day for more suggestions.

Stoking the Fire

If you’ve read any of the recent books on the talent question, you realize how important purposeful practice is in the tennis development equation. And purposeful practice requires passion, because who wants to do the same thing over and over and over again for 10,000 hours if they aren’t enjoying it? Certainly not me!

I struggle with how to help fuel the passion fire in my tennis player. I’ve always thought that if I learn as much as I can about his sport, then we can have interesting discussions together which will keep him psyched up about learning and growing as a player. So, I read – A LOT! – and I talk to other tennis parents – A LOT! – and I seek out information and knowledge from coaches and former touring pros and anyone and everyone who is willing to share what they know – A LOT! And I try to keep my own passion for tennis alive by playing the game myself, with friends, to show my son that tennis is truly a sport for a lifetime.

And, the bottom line is that, really, I can keep doing all that ’til the proverbial cows come home, but the fire and the passion and the desire can only come from one place – my son. He has to want this. He has to put in the hard time. He has to sacrifice a “normal” high school experience. He has to be willing to work on the minutiae day in and day out.

My job is to keep supporting. To keep encouraging. To keep schlepping. To keep learning.

His job is to keep growing, whether it’s as a tennis player or just as a “normal” teenage boy. Either way, I will always keep doing my ultimate job which is simply to love him.

Sometimes it’s all about ME

I know this isn’t politically correct and all that, but, dammit, sometimes it just is all about me.

For the past 22 1/2 years, I’ve been a mom.  I’ve been home for my kids – working at my own business for several years, working in an office part-time for a while, volunteering constantly – but always home and THERE for my kids.

Now, I’m down to one kid left at home, my tennis playing kid.  He decided several years ago that his goal in life is to play college tennis then turn pro.  And my husband and I have continually supported that goal every step of the way, financially and otherwise.  If you could see the list of books I’ve read in the past few years, a large percentage of them have to do with tennis, sport psychology, and the talent question.  So, I guess you could say that my son’s tennis has consumed my life, at least lately.

I know that the tennis has to be HIS choice, HIS decision, HIS desire.  But, sometimes, it’s all about ME!

Given my utter and complete devotion to helping him succeed, it makes me crazy when I see him back down or give less than 100% or just lay down his sword totally.  I’ve invested too much here.  I’m not talking about the money (well, maybe a little bit) but about the emotional investment.  Sitting at every tournament, fighting with all I’ve got to keep the negative facial expressions under control when he misses a shot, digging deep to find a positive lesson even when he’s lost to a lesser opponent, keeping the ride home cheerful and resisting the overwhelming urge to lecture.  Most of the time I’m pretty good at keeping things under control.  Most of the time.

But then something happens, like his recent back injury at a sectional tournament.  And my control goes out the window.

“Did you stretch like you’re supposed to?  Did you warm-up your shoulder?  Did you ice between matches?  No????  WHY NOT?????”

Disappointment sets in.  Realization that, even at 15 years old, he still doesn’t always do what he’s supposed to.  Frustration that all the time and money we’ve spent on fitness trainers, nutritionists, and physical therapy seem wasted when he fails to follow the prescribed regimen to stay healthy.

And now we’re back to needing MORE physical therapy and time away from the tennis court, all because of an injury he probably could’ve prevented in the first place.  And I’m angry.  I’m frustrated.  I’m disappointed.

Disappointed.  When I really think about it, the disappointment is the toughest part.  I have expectations for my son now, too.  Because HE has put those expectations in my head and has told me ad nauseum that this is what he WANTS.  I want to scream at him, “If you want it so badly, then why aren’t you doing the things you need to do to take care of the most important part of your tennis . . . YOUR BODY?????”

And then I remember . . . he’s only 15.  Only 15.  His brain is still developing.  He’s still a child.  He still needs my guidance.  He still RELIES ON my guidance.

But, I think it’s time to start the weaning process.  Put the ball 100% in his court, so to speak.  Back off.  Step away.  Let him grow up.  Let it not be about me.

Hello world!

Why do I feel the need to write yet another parenting blog?  Hmmm . . . Well, for one thing, this one is specific to tennis parents.  For another, I just can’t seem to find the all information I’m looking for anywhere else.  And, now that I’ve been doing the tennis-parent thing for 6+ years, I feel like I’ve gained some valuable knowledge that you other tennis parents might be able to use.

Here’s what’s coming in the days and weeks ahead . . . navigating the USTA, Quickstart – yay or nay, Guideposts and Benchmarks, how to evaluate a coach, where do we parents fit into the puzzle, deciphering the NCAA rules, and much more!

So, there you go.  And here I go.  I hope you’ll join me on my journey by “following” my blog, “sharing” posts with your friends, and adding your comments and tips along the way!