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

Q&A with Coach Lisa Dodson

This next Q&A is with Lisa Dodson.  Lisa currently lives and teaches in Northern California.  She is a certified USPTA Pro 1 and PTR coach with over 30 years of teaching experience.  She was also a ranked player on the WTA tour.  As you will read below, Lisa is a passionate coach who has much to offer in the way of player development.  Enjoy!

ParentingAcesWhat was your junior tennis experience like? Did you go straight from junior to the pros or did you play college tennis?

Lisa Dodson:  My junior tennis experience was pretty unusual in today’s terms of developing players. I was the youngest in a tennis playing family so I don’t really remember the first time I held a racket but I do know that it was heavy and wooden! I played primarily at the club we belonged to in Chappaqua, NY and really had little formal instruction as we know it today. Being the local “tomboy” I played every sport with all of the boys in our neighborhood so tennis was just one of the things I participated in but I loved it.  I played only one tournament in 12 & under and I didn’t like it. I had no idea what I was
getting into, what the people were like and the competition level. My most vivid recollection is of the mothers on the sideline (in the ’60’s Moms went to matches as Dads were at work). To a 12 year old they seemed “mean” and the tension was heavy.  I had a close match which I lost against Stephanie Matthews. Clearly the experience was powerful enough for me to remember her name! I did get revenge later in my tennis life!

After winning high school Sectional tournaments for several years and practicing with a “tournament” group I decided to try a few Eastern 18 & under events. This time I had a lot more experience but substantially less than my opponents. Much to everyone’s surprise I played through to the semis of The Empire State Tournament on Long Island, NY handily beating ranked girls who were “better” than I was. Mary Carillo quickly put me in my place in the semis but my eyes were now open. The best thing was that I had no idea how good I was, I just played tennis and had a great time. I wasn’t groomed to be a great player so just loved the process, felt little pressure and started getting lots of recognition.

I was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and sports did help my entrance there. I was recruited for Volleyball (I played on the Eastern US Team in high school) but ended up becoming a “walk-on” for Tennis and Basketball ( I went to Olympic trials for basketball in high school, too). So, my freshman year was pretty crazy: fall tennis, winter basketball, spring tennis with some practice schedules overlapping with both practices on the same day. Oh yeah, I had school too.

Tennis took over as “the” sport at this point so Sophomore year was all tennis and school. I was in the top 6 for UNC and excelled in doubles. My entrance into the pros didn’t come until 3 years after graduation. That’s another story.

Revenge came during my college years against my first and only 12 & under opponent.  As it turns out, Stephanie played for arch nemesis Duke and we were matched up more than once. One thing that I started to learn: tennis is a small world. Everything comes around. Tennis shapes one’s life and behavior. Be a fierce competitor but always fair, honest and forgiving.

PAWhat is your current role in the tennis world?

LD:  Currently I’m specializing in teaching the serve, the most difficult, misunderstood and under practiced stroke in the game. I’m attempting to reach all players and pros possible to help make the serve a dominant force in the women’s and junior’s game in particular. I was a serve and volleyer which is non-existent in these days for a variety of reasons. One reason is that women just don’t spend the time on learning the techniques properly. They need to learn to throw (ball/football). Throwing better will quickly give them more efficiency and power on the service and overhead motions.  Throwing a football for 15 minutes a day will do tons more than hitting the same old
serve daily with no new elements for success.  I have become the “inventor” of the teaching tool The Total Serve and I have been traveling for the past year attempting to spread the word. Women’s and junior tennis have become so one dimensional. Yes, they all need great groundstrokes but what if someone had a SERVE to set them apart by creating “cheap points”, lesser returns and hopefully the ability to serve and volley on occasion. Sam Stosur got smart. How about that serve? She gets cheap points and dismantles the best return in the game (Serena Williams). Stosur and Williams are the only 2 in the women’s game that has a serve that can damage. Certainly others are capable.  Before skipping directly to the top players in the world we need to give girls at beginning stages a good “throwing” foundation. Without that their serves will just fall into the masses of inefficient and attackable serves in the women’s game.  I’m on a mission to get pros to understand how easy it really can be to form great serve technique at all levels. More time needs to be spent on the various components of the serve and it needs to be broken down and addressed not put to the side and neglected.  Unfortunately this falls on a lot of deaf ears. Pros just don’t expect much of a women’s serve which is a major part of the problem.

PAWhat made you invent The Total Serve? What benefits have you seen from the product?

LD:  Like a lot of pros I taught with a tube sock with 3 balls in it to help people “feel” the serve. It helped so many people because players only do what they do. They don’t really “feel” anything they just go through the motions automatically. Unfortunately most of us do it automatically incorrectly. We’re looking for efficiency.  Tennis is a kinesthetic sport so our best learning tools and “AhHa” moments come from FEELING, copying and reproducing a stroke. Pros, including myself, all use the show and tell method. Everyone learns differently but FEELING is by far the most powerful tool that we can give our students.  One day a lifelong 3.5 woman student (with a really funky service motion) used the sock and started seeing immediate results. She said “you should do something with this and make a product”. I took it seriously and set about making a prototype in my garage out of all sorts of balls, stockings, cords, handles and weights. This was really fun! To make a very long story short I did focus groups, found a manufacturer and did the hundreds of other things needed to create a viable product.  What I knew for sure was this: If a sock and some balls can create fast and positive change on the serve then a well thought out and tested product with all components was really needed!  Lots of pros and players don’t get it (this really makes me wonder about the pro). It’s a simple tool that reinforces the correct GRIP to form great throwing technique and enable players to incorporate all movements of the service motion. The main reasons for developing this tool?
1. Grip is essential but players “cheat” and pros let it slip. Women and children in particular can’t get the ball to go forward because their body doesn’t understand what it is supposed to be doing. Using The Total Serve initially as a tool to get the shoulder, arm and wrist to unconsciously understand HOW to act in combination with other body movements (tossing arm, legs, etc)
2. Take the ball out of the equation. Making change takes time and progress can be slow. Changes happen by taking components of a stroke, breaking them down and repeating. Take the ball out of the equation and you have no negative feedback. The biggest deterrent to someone trying to make serve changes are bad results: the ball goes into the ground, the net and into the side fence as the grip is corrected. These results are GREAT! They are on the right track but since the feedback is negative the person quits. I see it every day.
3. Practice time: The Total Serve allows practice anywhere, anytime. The biggest deterrent to improving the serve in the general tennis pool of recreational, league and tournament players is practice time. Everyone loves to get out and hit groundstrokes but they don’t make time for the serve. Even when it is practiced the player is typically just reinforcing flawed technique. Using The Total Serve corrects, develops and reinforces great technique that can be practiced as much as desired.
4. Pros: it’s so simple to teach with. Your students will love you. It’s new, fun, easy and gets results. Send all of your students home with one in their bag and have them practice what you have taught them. You’ll see results. By the way, you can make money on it too.

In the last year The Total Serve has demonstrated to me an thousands of others that fast and easy progress can be made on the serve. I have had so many AhHa! moments! The consistent incredulous response is “that’s what it’s supposed to feel like? Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to feel like so do it again and if you’re really good I’ll let you actually hit a ball.

PAIf you could tell tennis parents one thing what would it be?

LD:  Encourage your kids to play other sports. Cross training in team sports is fantastic for physical, emotional and mental development. Playing big court or field sports (soccer, basketball, baseball) develops the brain to “see the whole picture” of what’s going on at all times and develop the geometry skills needed for tennis. When transitioning to a smaller tennis court a kid has already developed some major mental skills. Throwing, running, jumping and fast feet are developed in varying sports. Let them learn to work together with a team and have that fun and excitement as a way to get better results on the tennis court. Don’t pigeon hole them or they are likely to be unhappy and unfulfilled
youngsters which carries over into the rest of their lives. Worried that they may love another sport more than tennis? It’s about them not you. Let them choose otherwise it’s a no win for both child and parent.

Again, a big thank you to Lisa!  If you have any additional questions for her, please put them in the Comments box below – I will be happy to forward them.

Q&A with Coach Tracy Houk

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

Tracy Houk

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

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

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

PA: What is your philosophy on coaching juniors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with Coach Roy Coopersmith

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

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

Roy with Jelena Jankovic

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

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

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

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

Welts from being beaten with a belt and belt buckle

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with Coach Yvonne Gallop

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

For my first foray into the Q&A world, I’m so pleased to introduce Yvonne Gallop.  She is a USPTA/USPTR certified high performance coach who works in the San Mateo, California, area.  Yvonne competed on the women’s pro tour from 1975-1980 and currently competes on the senior tour.  Her specialty is teaching proper bio-mechanics and technique to players ranging from beginners to pros.  She taught at the Evert Academy in Florida before moving to Northern California.  I had the pleasure of  speaking with Yvonne at length about her coaching philosophy and her background – her immense passion for the sport of tennis shines through in everything she says and does!  A big thank you to Yvonne for taking time out of her busy coaching and law school schedule to share her thoughts with ParentingAces!

 PA:  When you were playing tennis as a junior, what do you remember about your parent’s involvement?  Did they take you to practices?  Come watch your matches?

YG:  As a junior, by the grace of God, my mother KNEW NOTHING!!!!! Of tennis that is. I was discovered by a college player who began perfecting and fine-tuning my strokes. My Mom would take me to tournaments but did not know enough to get involved. She watched many of my $7.50 an hour lessons from Andrea so only knew enough to say things like, “It didn’t seem like you were bending your legs very much,” or “You were not loading or preparing as Andrea had suggested.”  That was about it. When it came to practice she NEVER watched. She dropped me off at the courts in Coral Gables and would pick me up at the end of the day. She would have to beg me and yell at me to get off the courts to go home. When she would take me to the courts, I would bring my lunch etc…and stay all day. I would hit with ANYBODY that was willing to hit with me. So obviously I had a love and passion for this game beyond ANY possible imagination!!!

PA:  What is your philosophy on coaching junior players?

YG:  My philosophy about teaching AND coaching are similar. First off, you can NOT coach what has NOT been taught. So I will give a child 150% of my time and energy but the child must match it. Now that does NOT mean I will not teach the child if they do not give the same thing. It just means that the relationship will be a bit different.  I take the child OUT of the sight-line of the parent, and the child must look into my eyes and convince me how badly he/she wants to learn, otherwise he/she is only learning for Mommy and Daddy. Again the amount of energy I put out depends on this issue.  When I get tunnel vision (which every pro in the world does, despite their denial), I give a few suggestions as to where to go to another pro, for that one particular thing (forehand, backhand slice, etc.). Usually I personally take my students (the tournament competitors) to my coach, Mary Hill, to insure that I am in fact on track with this player. She will teach and coach them for a 2 hour block while I video and take notes. So she is helping me to help them. I am always open to hearing other perspectives that I may have overlooked.  The Pro should try to build an entire young man/woman, develop the whole person through tennis. Through tennis these kids learn life skills.

PA: What is one thing you would like today’s tennis parents to know?

YG:  Keeping this simple – PARENTS STAY OUT OF IT!!!!  The parents watch some lessons, some many hours and some very little, and all of a sudden think they know it all. It is always easier said than done so stay out of it … OUT OUT OUT. Stop babying the kid. Because of the parent, more often than not, these kids change teachers and coaches like they change their underwear. If the Pro really cares about the child you will know.  Parents…. STOP buying into the pros telling you that your kid could play pro tennis!  One out of every 5+ thousand make it. It is a grueling lifestyle. No one except those of us that have done and do it know that. Never sleeping in your own bed or eating your own foods. There is so much to be said about familiarity. Different courts every week etc.  GIVE your child the Myers-Briggs Personality test! It will tell you what kind of a player they could be as well as what type of passions they have. Buy the book called Please Understand Me. In my humble opinion, it will help for EVERYTHING!!!  College tennis all the way……Unless they are No.1 in the WORLD in ITFs by the time they are in the 16s.  At dinner one night I had a debate with [golfer] Lee Trevino as to which sport was the most difficult to play in the world! BARRING NONE … it is in fact tennis!!! Give your kid kudos for even trying to do this.  If through all of the development the child turns out to have something special, which you will know by the time they are about 16-17, then great, they can start college and then the USTA will jump in. Let the children decide for themselves, but do NOT shut down their dream.  If the kid wants to go pro, here is a suggestion – take that kid to one of the big academies for 2-3 weeks straight. Tell the Academy Director what the kid wants, and if you trust that person and they are willing to put the kid through the ringer, then the kid gets a real taste of what it is like.

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