Tennis Parent Re-Education

Tennis Parents

Navigating the world of junior tennis is tough – we can all agree on that, I think. And, once we Tennis Parents figure out a system that works for us, we tend to get comfortable and poo-poo any suggestions to change how we’re doing things.

I’m here to tell you, though, that the world of junior tennis is changing, and we Tennis Parents have to change, too, if we hope to keep up. There are a couple of specific changes that I want to address in this article in hopes of helping you shift your mindset just a teeny tiny bit.

The first thing is the way you search for tournaments for your junior player(s). Most parents start with TennisLink to find tournaments of a certain level or in a certain time period or area of the country. You go to the Find A Tournament page, select the gender, age group, USTA section, and date then click the Search button to see what comes up.

Others of you may also use the ITF Juniors website to search for events. You may use the UTR Events site, too. And these are all great resources to find junior tournaments. But, I’m sure you see that this is a bit problematic in that you have to go to all these different websites to find the available events for your players. What if you could find every single junior tournament in one place?

Well, good news! You can!

The Match!Tennis app (click here to listen to my podcast with its creators) now contains not only every USTA tournament but also all ITF (coming soon!) and UTR events, including the ITA Summer Circuit. You can go to one place and search for tournaments to your heart’s content. You can search by type of tournament, age group, geographic area, and date. You can flag the tournaments to add them to your personal calendar and to send you an email reminder when the entry deadline is approaching. You can also use the app to find a doubles partner which definitely makes life easier. And, bonus: the ParentingAces community gets a free 30-day trial plus a 20% discount if you sign up by July 15th. Just click here to try it out for FREE.

The second change I’d love to see Tennis Parents make is the way you sign up for tournaments.

The typical MO is to decide you want your child to play in a specific tournament then go to the Applicants list to see who has already entered, do a little mental rankings calculation, then wait until one minute before the entry deadline to sign up your player. Hey, I’m not judging – I did the exact same thing when my son was in the Juniors. I wanted to see who else was signed up so I could figure out if he would make it into the tournament or have any opportunity to go far enough in the draw to impact his USTA ranking.

Now, with UTR making such big inroads into the junior tournament landscape, and with more and more college coaches explicitly saying they rely on UTR for recruiting purposes, the most important thing you can do for your child is simply to make sure he or she is playing matches on a regular basis, whether it’s tournament matches, high school matches, or league matches. They all count equally toward a player’s UTR.

So, once you decide a tournament is a good fit for your player and your family in terms of level, date, and location, just go ahead and register.

With UTR Events and many other events using UTR for selection and seeding there is no need to shop for tournaments looking for a strong draw, weak draw, points per round considerations, etc. There is no rationale in waiting to sign up and find out who else may decide to play. Your placement in a level-based draw will be based on your UTR. You will get a set number of matches in a draw that will increase the likelihood that you have matches both good for your development and good for your opportunity to improve your UTR. In the event that there are not enough players within a near enough UTR range for this to be possible, then the Tournament Director will not place you in a draw that isn’t good for you. If it’s a UTR event, your fees will be refunded. If everyone is waiting on the sideline to see who else enters then nobody ends up entering.

I know. This is a new way of thinking.

If you want your junior to play in a specific tournament, then register with confidence and without regard for who else is playing. Again, the Tournament Director – if he/she follows the guidelines suggested by UTR – will not allow players to be placed in draws that are not beneficial for the player.

So, Tennis Parents, let’s practice what we preach to our kids. Let’s have a growth mindset when it comes to our kids’ competition.

For years our only choice for junior competition was USTA tournaments but now there are several options available. Let’s embrace a new way of doing business now that we have the option to do so. Our children will benefit and so will we.

 

The Luke Siegel Story

SiegelAs I referenced in my earlier article on Team Luke (click here), former college coach Tony Minnis produced a documentary telling more fully the story of Luke Siegel and his father, former Texas Tech coach Tim Siegel’s, work to turn tragedy into service.

After airing several times on Fox Sports, the documentary is now available for viewing on YouTube. I hope you will take the time to watch the video then listen to my podcast with Tim. Then go hug your kids. Extra tight.

Documentary (click on PLAYLIST in top left corner then scroll down to Pray for Luke Documentary and click on it to start watching)

 

Podcast

For more information on the Team Luke Foundation and/or to make a donation, click here.

Data Tells the Story

The following article was written by Javier Palenque and is reprinted here, unedited, with his permission.

In the past thirty years American tennis has seen a 73% decline in the amount of top 100 players in the ATP tour. This alarming number basically tells us that we lose every decade 25% of our players in the higher echelon of worlds’ tennis. What then will happen in the next ten years with the new massive investment by the USTA in Lake Nona and the new crop of American stars who seem to be on the rise? Will this change the clear trend line that the sport is basically slowly dying for America at the professional level? When you talk to the people at the USTA, they will tell you that things could not be better and that the new crop of players will reverse the disappearing number of Americans. Of the current top 100 stars, we will lose the older players and replace them with the younger players. Essentially this will mean that over a 40 year period we managed to keep our declining rate at 73%.

In my opinion here is how the top 100 will look like for the next decade.

We will lose the players in Yellow and replace them with the players in green. These new kids are truly remarkable as breaking the top 200 at such a young age, truly means that they are very, very talented. However the number of players in the top 100 still remains low, for the largest and richest country on earth. This makes me want to learn further more about the way these new group of young stars came up through the system here in the US?

So, I wanted to see if there is some sort of pattern to figure out of a career path that these guys have taken, so we can try to replicate it and have instead of 8 new stars 80.

The first thing that comes to mind as I read these names is how close to tennis (having a tennisfamily or coaches as parents, or ex. playersis so significant) Escobedo, Fritz, Koslov, Tiafoe, Mmoh, Rubin (father had tennis knowledge). This in essence means that of the eight future American stars 75% have a solid tennis family tradition. The reason this number is important is because then it stands to reason that if you as a current 18U player do not have this tradition, if you thought the odds of becoming a pro were low, I can tell you with a 75% chance of being right that in three out of four kids if your parents don’t have years of knowledge of the sport the chance for you to make it as a pro is even worse than you think. What about the other 25% the other two players? Reilly Opelka has the physical advantage of size (like Isner) and the last kid Jared Donaldson, took 2 years of training on clay in Argentina, a surface that here in America we don’t play in. Ok, got it so what does that mean to me as a parent? Why should I invest in this sport? The hours, the trips, the never ending tournaments, the rankings, the way the tournaments are governed and award points, the way the sport is targeted for who can afford it and not who is most likely to be a pro. While on the surface this looks like a great reversal of fortune of American tennis. In essence I think it reveals the exact opposite, I know, I will get a lot of mail, telling me how incorrect I am. But, follow me, I may be able to present my case to you. Who knows you may end up agreeing with me.

The data reveals three important things that are at the core of tennis in America that remain flawed and only enable the further destruction of American tennis supported by system in place and the governing body structure.

1) Tennis is simply not reaching the very people who will make it grow.

2) Coaches and academies in general must not be that good if for 75% of the future top players the coaches are the parents coaches of the stars who have years of knowledge of the sport by being regular coaches. The other 12.5% Opelka is a big guy who was coached very well, but his size is his differentiator (though he was lucky to train with a well-known coach) and Donaldson the other 12.5% trained for two years on clay. In summary, if you have a coach-parent you are most likely to be in the highway to become a pro, if you are not (which means 99.99 of the population, you are out of luck). Then your only option is to have good coaches around where you live, but who can tell if they are good or not if you don’t know tennis?

3) The tournament and competition structure does not bring up tennis stars. Let me show you my arguments for these three key issues:

TENNIS IS NOT REACHING THE MASS OF PEOPLE WHO CAN GROW THE GAME

There are roughly 9.9 Million (*) core tennis participants (that play more than 10 times a year in the US that is only 3.1% of the 318.9 million population. This number is extremely low if you consider that of 75% of our next stars come from people who played, coach or had been for a lifetime in tennis in this small group. Please realize that maybe there are 100,000 tennis coaches in the US (this number is very high only for calculation purposes). This number represents 1% of the tennis population. This effectively means that about 99.9% of the population remain separated from tennis and with no way of connecting, much less to aspire to be a professional athlete? As the pool of players is so small, the vast majority of possible tennis people is simply not reached. What is the USTA’s plan to reach 99.9% of the population if week in and week out, it plays under a competition system and ranking system that feeds the impossible numbers?

Within the US population there are ethnic groups that are growing at a faster rate than the rest; Hispanic and Asians. Yet these ethnic groups are not known for being physically big and the same USTA states that the future of tennis is for the bigger sized players given the new equipment and speed of courts. What to do?

Another aspect is the cost of playing as a junior. We all know that tennis is an elite sport, given its costs and years of training it requires. So, from a financial point of view tennis is not only played by only 3.1% of the population, it is so expensive that it excludes the masses of people who cannot afford it. Yet, the number of the future pros and their own financial backgrounds tell us that it not need be so expensive as for 6 of the 8 new players for the next decade come from modest background and modest income. Being a coach is not a high income profession.

A big part of being a pro prospect is about the proximity to good tennis knowledge, and passion for tennis.

What is the USTA doing to address this? What is the governing body doing to supply the market with exactly that: the proper tennis knowledge? This void and market reality clearly reveals that who tennis currently attracts and gets to travel and compete every week are the same very people that have the lowest chance of being a pro, even though they may be highly ranked, or under the current system attended a high number of tournaments and therefore acquired the rankings with cash. This makes no sense, yet the sense that the USTA conveys is as if these kids were under a pro path and nothing can back that up in the last twenty years. Nothing.

Finally, if we know that there is a direct correlation for 75% of the new stars of having a tennis coach and family, the key group to target then are adults ages 25 -40 who are the vehicle for growth of tennis in America. This means these are the parents to be that need the fun and excitement to enroll their kids in tennis. What is the USTA doing about them? Nothing.

THE KNOWLEDGE LEVEL OF THE AVERAGE COACH IN THE US IS UNABLE TO PRODUCE PRO- PROSPECTS

If you then consider that of the next stars: Fritz, Escobedo, Koslov, (all parent coaches), Mmoh (dad a pro), Tiafoe (he lived at the facility in Maryland- 24 hr. tennis exposure) and Rubin (McEnroe Academy and dad high school player). Where does that leave the vast amount of kids that are left along the way who with the best intentions and support but who are never with the proper professionals. Here the weakness of tennis in America is the poor level of coaching and the lack of a standard basic USTA driven certification system to validate coaches and facilities. For the 99.9% of parents who want the services, yet do not have the knowledge of who they are hiring. So, in a marketplace where it is driven by no standards, we have the suppliers of the service with no real knowledge of what is a world class forehand is and the country’s governing body certifies no facilities or coaches, So, ignorant parents (the core of the future for tennis ) waste time, money and dreams. The result, nothing is achieved. Nothing is tied together, the coaching, the kids, the USTA, the parents, each work on their own and everyone loses. Why would anyone in a leadership position at the USTA allow this? This weakness revealed and the initiatives the USTA takes show how it does not understand what are the root problems of tennis in America are and how it has no plan to address the problem. I live in Miami, sun 90% of the time, warm weather 95% of the time. Yet the providers of tennis services is extremely weak. Imagine how it is in other parts of the country where there is not a tennis court in every neighborhood or park or condo, or where the weather does not cooperate?. Unless something is done to address this, the next decade will produce the same poor results we have been for the last two decades even with all the investments, and hoopla. This is a tragedy and mismanagement of tennis.

TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE DOES NOT ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION

The current structure and system of competition makes the pool of participants smaller and smaller as the kids get older. All one has to do is see the pool of players from ages 8-12, 12-16, and 16+. Tennis needs to have a complete change of shape.

Do any of you reading this disagree with the suggestion?

The way to do this is to grow the game, to create competitive environments and competitions that are “out of the box”. Not the century old tournament structure and point allocation that is giving us results that are low under any parameter and only shrink the pool of players:

Suggestions:

  •  One day Tournaments Round Robin by level
  • USTA camps for the masses in each age group, not the top players. Good education.
  • Training for local coaches who may have great prospects but not a competitive program
  • Some form of match play for all
  • Promote competitive team tennis locally
  • Allow tournaments where coaching is allowed
  • Create a structure to increase the appeal of tennis as opposed to the current structure that only encourages individual participation. (remember this individual participation is boring, has produced the best results 30 years ago, it is dead, yet the structure and results we get continue to be the same)
  • Other ideas and input from players and parents
  • Pricing structure revisit, ex, two tournaments a month cost $100 for 4 matches. In other words to play a match in the US we need to pay $25.00. This is absurd. We need thousands of match play hours that need to be FREE, In South America and Europe kids play match play every day at no cost. Here in the richest country on earth that produces the least amount of tennis players and pays the most amount of money we have the fewest hours of match play? How does this make sense?
  • Working together is the key, we don’t as a common group work together as parents, kids and coaches.
It is the failure of vision and leadership at the USTA that creates this void and poor results.

Conclusions:

The next decade of men’s pro tennis has clear data as to where the kids will come from. They will come from tennis parents and coaches with kids. So, if you are a parent whose kids love tennis and you know little about it, you are out of luck. Why do we make this so hard, so exclusive of the very people who will grow the game and so expensive that it allows the people with hunger and attitude to be excluded and the people with resources and not attitude to endure the journey and both with poor results.

Why are we continually doing this? Who can answer that?

We need critical analytical thinking of business people for the benefit of tennis in America. The way it is, it is announcing its death. The worst part is that it will be our fault. We will have watched it die and changed nothing. We need fresh thinking from outside the walls of what now is the USTA. Count me in for help.

I wish the USTA leadership would open its mind and hear other perspectives because from where I stand I only see what will never happen, change. Expecting different results from doing the same things is the definition of insanity. Can anyone tell me why we put up with this?

I can be reached at @palenquej or jpalenque@yahoo.com

The Podcast

Photo courtesy of www.lifechurchlancaster.org

My main goal with ParentingAces has always been to help Tennis Parents avoid some of the pitfalls that my family encountered during the Junior Tennis Journey. In addition to the articles I post here, I am also constantly scouring the internet for information that will further the mission of ParentingAces then posting it on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ pages, so I hope you’re following ParentingAces on those platforms, too. Another good way to keep up with the happenings is to subscribe to our e-newsletter (click here to sign up) for updates that come right to your inbox.

Perhaps my favorite part of the ParentingAces online presence is our podcasts. I have interviewed some incredible people over the years, and I feel like that’s where I can really dig deep into what it means to be part of the junior and college tennis world. A huge thank-you goes out to our 2017 sponsor, 10sballs.com, for believing in the ParentingAces mission and giving us a boost so we can keep growing and improving!

If you haven’t ever heard one of my podcasts, I hope you’ll check them out then share them with your tennis community. There are several ways to listen, but perhaps the easiest way is via the iTunes Podcast app where you can download the episodes then listen at your convenience (click here to go to the iTunes podcast subscription page). One of my followers told me he listens during his daily commute to work; another listens while on the treadmill at the gym. However you choose to tune in, I would love to hear your feedback on the guests, the interviews, and who you’d like me to invite for future podcasts.

Of course, if you do like what you hear, I would greatly appreciate it if you would leave a review and rate the podcast on iTunes. Click here for a step-by-step of how to do that.

Thank you for continuing to help me promote ParentingAces to bring our content to a wider audience. The better educated we parents are, the better the tennis experience for our children. It’s a long, tough journey, but it can be a little less tough when we all work together.

USTA Website Gets Much-Needed Makeover

I received the latest e-newsletter from USTA Southwest this morning, and it contained some really useful information on the recent USTA website makeover. Take some time to click around the various links included below and see what you think. I’d love to hear your feedback in the Comments below. Thank you to Nicole Fintell and the rest of the USTA Southwest staff for the great work!

Couple of important points to note if you’re looking for Southwest (or any other section’s) Junior Information on the usta.com site:

1) Each time you visit the site, you MUST enable the location settings. Otherwise, if you do not enable the location, the information that you will see will be National-specific information.

2) Most, if not all of the junior information formerly contained on the old site, can be found by following this path: PLAY->PLAY AS A MEMBER->JUNIOR TOURNAMENTS

3) Also, much of the information is in the annual JUNIOR PLAYER HANDBOOK.

A new junior website has also been launched, called Net Generation. The website is located at https://netgeneration.usta.com/. This will be a new portal of all things junior tennis for junior players and parents.

Both sites have just recently launched, so take a little time and play around on the new sites.

Endorsement Information

‘Endorsement’ is the Section’s approval of a junior player to play National Events (such as team events and the Hard/Clay Court National Championships) based on a player’s ranking during a particular time period.

We (USTA Southwest) have spring, summer and winter endorsement periods. This may differ for other sections.

Endorsement information
Complete the Endorsement Info Sheet

USTA Player Development Library

Dartfish TVThe USTA Player Development Library is a repository of great information and resources for parents, coaches, and players including presentations, interviews, and drills.

Take a look and you just might take away some valuable information!

Visit the USTA Player Development Library HERE.

Don’t forget to follow them on Twitter and Instagram as well.

10 and Under Youth Tennis Progression

2017 tagged Youth Progression Tournaments

2017 Youth Progression Tournament Calendar

 

 

 

 

 

National Junior Tennis

And, I’ve posted this before, but here is the info on the National schedule for 2017:

2017 Junior Competitive Structure

2017 JR National tournament Schedule

A Week of Memories

Last week was one of remembering and reminiscing.

It all started when I decided to make the 90-minute drive down to Columbus to visit my former doubles partner who moved there almost 2 years ago. She’s been up to Atlanta to visit several times since her move, but I had yet to go see her in her new habitat. It was time to remedy that situation.

I arrived late Monday afternoon, just in time for us to do a little catching up on her back deck overlooking the lake before getting dinner on the table. We talked about our kids, our husbands, and our tennis. It was good to get up to speed on what we had missed in each other’s lives. When we both lived in the same neighborhood, we talked pretty much daily. Now, not so much. But that didn’t matter a bit. Our friendship is holding up just fine even with the geographic distance between us.

Tuesday morning we headed to the Cooper Creek Tennis Center so I could meet some of her new tennis buddies and play a little doubles. During one of the set breaks, we were standing courtside, and all of a sudden I got really choked up recounting the hours I had spent at Cooper 13403260_10154287984318628_1887116689279504486_oCreek during my son’s junior tennis years. As I looked around the facility, every match he had played there came back to me. I saw myself sitting on the metal bleachers watching him play across the bank of 6 courts. I saw myself sitting in my folding chair under a tree to stay out of the blistering sun while he played on a nearby court. I saw myself sitting under the awning waiting for his name to be called to play his next match. Cooper Creek, like so many other tennis facilities, holds a childhood full of memories and emotions.

And, then, Friday I attended the Celebration of Life of a fellow tennis parent, one taken way too early from this life.

Angela and I knew each other from tennis. We met when our boys were just starting their junior tennis journeys and bonded right away. Our boys played with and against each other several times over the years, so we had lots of opportunities to share our stories.

When I heard she had died, I was shocked. This was a woman who was so full of life force. She was small in stature but sure made up for it in heart. Angela was a fitness fiend – and that’s 13307350_10209494179902571_7080162757827323954_ncoming from a person who exercises pretty much daily – and utterly devoted to not only to her children’s tennis development but also her own. She loved sports and could usually be seen donning some form of ‘Bama attire in support of her alma mater.

Angela’s son and my son couldn’t have been more different – from their physical appearance to their playing styles (think Roger vs. Rafa!) – but somehow they connected and became friends. I remember one tournament in particular down in Hilton Head. My son and I were staying at a hotel pretty far from the host facility, but Angela and her son had found a place walking distance to the courts. My son had gone through all of his clothing – have you ever been to Hilton Head in the middle of summer? – and we needed to find somewhere to do laundry. Angela invited us to come hang out at their place, have something to eat, and get my son some clean clothes to wear. The two boys hung out in the living room laughing over goodness-knows-what while Angela and I chatted over cold drinks in the kitchen.

We talked tennis, of course, but we also talked about our families and our lives away from the courts. Angela had been an accomplished CPA in her Life Before Kids. I guess that explains her penchant for list-making, whether it was related to packing for a tournament, preparing for an evening with friends, or guiding her son and daughter through their childhoods. Her love for her family, and theirs for her, could never be questioned, that’s for sure.

Over the last 2 years or so, Angela and I only stayed in touch through Facebook. Our sons had decided to take different paths, tennis-wise, so we no longer ran into each other at tournaments, but we did keep up as best we could. Our connection and memories through our sons and through junior tennis were more than enough to sustain our friendship. I would periodically get a Facebook Message from her or send one her way, but I had no idea she had gotten sick. And I had no idea her life was quickly coming to an end.

As I sat at Angela’s Celebration of Life service on Friday afternoon, I had time to reflect. I wasn’t sure if I’d see anyone at the service that I knew, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Tennis World, after all, is pretty small. I wound up sitting with two young men who had also gone through junior tennis with both our sons. We had a few minutes to catch up, and they shared how their freshman year at their respective colleges had gone. It was good to see them. They have grown up well.

At the end of the service, I found my husband waiting for me in the lobby of the church. He wasn’t able to be there for the service due to a work commitment, but he knew how Angela’s passing had affected me, knew the role she and her son had played in our son’s childhood, and wanted to be there to pay his condolences. We made our way through the long receiving line to Angela’s son and then to her husband. We expressed our sadness at their loss and recalled the joyful times we had spent together.

After talking to both Q and Dan, I know they are going to be okay. They are strong in their faith and have an incredible network of family and friends to lean on. Q, like his tennis buddies, has grown up well. I suspect his sister will too. Just to be sure, Angela left them plenty of her infamous lists to keep them on track.

NOTE: In keeping with Angela’s love of tennis, she and her family have asked friends and family to consider a gift to Sandy Springs Tennis Association where a scholarship has been established in Angela’s name so that underserved children can learn the game of tennis and other life skills (www.sandyspringstennis.org). Kids-Luv-Tennis was the cause where Angela intended to devote her time and resources.

 

Tribute to a Gentle Man

Tourney creator, Sol, with my son
Sol with my son

Yesterday, I received the devastating news that my friend, Sol Schwartz, had died suddenly due to unknown causes. He was 46 years old. He was a husband, a father of two, a son, a brother, an uncle, a coach, a mentor, and a friend.

And here is where I could put on my “Journalist” hat and go through all of Sol’s accomplishments – both personal and professional – while pontificating on a life cut short.

But I can’t go that route. My heart is hurting too badly, and I need to share the Sol I knew and loved. Love.

I first “met” Sol in the way I “meet” so many people these days: via Facebook. He and I were both members of a tennis-themed group and both posted regularly, I about tennis parenting and he about college tennis. I guess it was our passion for the sport that first drew us toward each other. Sol began tuning into my weekly radio shows and calling in to ask questions and share his opinions on a regular basis. Soon, he and I started talking on the phone, discussing what we could each do to improve our sport.

In the spring of 2012, Sol came up with the idea of hosting a non-sanctioned open-age-group tournament with the winner receiving a one-year sponsorship from Adidas. He worked with his employer, Holabird Sports, and his contacts at Adidas to bring the tournament to life. He then invited me and my son to participate. How could we say no? Rather than telling you about our experience here, I urge you to read this piece so you can get a feel for what this tournament meant to my son and the other players.

That Holabird-Adidas tournament was the first time I actually met Sol in person. But when he picked us up at our hotel to take my son for a practice hit, it was like being picked up by an old friend. There was no awkwardness, no moment of hesitation, simply a connection that was already established because of our extensive phone calls and Facebook interactions. This man was genuine and good-hearted and took us into his city and into his home and made us an immediate part of his family.

We spent that weekend with Sol, his wife, his kids, his in-laws, his co-workers, and countless others who had the good luck to be impacted by this gentle man on a regular basis. Our friendship was forever sealed.

Sol became my biggest cheerleader. He would text me encouraging messages and post things like “Rockstar Tennis Mom” on my Facebook page. By that point, I knew what a big heart he had, but it wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern coast of New York that I got a real sense of what his big heart could do.

As soon as he heard about the devastation, especially to the area’s public and private tennis facilities, Sol initiated a fundraising campaign through Holabird to get the local coaches back on their feet. He solicited donations from all his industry contacts for things like cases of balls and hoppers so the coaches could get back to work. He took to social media and posted daily on the various tennis groups asking for donations of time, money, and equipment. He connected with the local USTA office so he could stay on top of their needs. When they asked for something . . . ANYTHING . . . Sol delivered. He was their angel during a time of real crisis.

It was during that crisis that Sol was introduced to Melanie Rubin (Noah’s mom) and decided that she and I needed to meet. He put us in touch with each other, and we became fast friends, talking on the phone at least weekly over the next several months.

When my 50th birthday rolled around a couple of months later – which also happened to be Sol’s 43rd birthday (how could we have NOT been friends when we shared the same birthday?!?!?) – I got a huge package in the mail postmarked from Baltimore. Sol remembered how much I had LOVED the area crabcakes when we were there for the Holabird tournament, so he had a case of them shipped to me. I think it was at that point that my husband truly understood why my son and I had become so close to this sweet man.

A few weeks later Sol called me up and suggested something waaaaay outside the box. He told me I needed to apply for media credentials at the

Sol's caption: At the opening with the ladies of ParentingAces fame #usopen2014 — with Lisa Goodman Stone and Melanie Siegel Rubin.
Sol’s caption: At the opening with the ladies of ParentingAces fame #usopen2014 — with Lisa Goodman Stone and Melanie Siegel Rubin.

upcoming US Open and have Melanie there as my assistant, two Tennis Moms sharing their experience through ParentingAces, me as a spectator and Melanie as the parent of one of the players. Never in a million years did I envision ParentingAces opening THAT door for me, and it NEVER would’ve happened without Sol’s belief and encouragement. That was his gift, though – seeing things in people that they wouldn’t dare dream of seeing in themselves. And it fostered a deep friendship that will live on, only with Sol smiling down from above instead of standing right there beside us.

Throughout the end of my son’s junior tennis years and college recruiting, Sol was there as a sounding board, not just for me but also for my son. He would check in with both of us on a regular basis to see if we needed anything. And periodically we would get little surprises tucked into our Holabird orders – t-shirts, hats, socks –  Sol took care of us on so many levels. He had a sixth sense alerting him to call or text me at precisely the times I needed to hear from him. And his words of encouragement always did the trick.

For my son, Sol acted as a mentor. He would ask the right questions or just listen if that’s what was needed. And my son was but one of many young people who had this type of relationship with Sol. Just ask the kids who play on the UMBC team (which Sol fought so hard to save when it was announced both the men’s and women’s teams would be cut after this year). Or the kids who train at the local indoor courts. Or the kids who come into the Holabird headquarters. Or, I suspect, the kids who play sports with Sol’s own children.

My heart is breaking. For myself, yes, but especially for Sol’s amazing wife, daughter, and son who have to find a way to honor his memory as they continue to live life without their rock. If I know Sol, he will come up with ways of

Sol, Dori, Evan, Ilene
Sol, Dori, Evan, Ilene

encouraging them to be the best versions of themselves, whether appearing in their dreams or on the wind or as a voice in their hearts.

Sol, my friend, I will miss our conversations. I will miss our debates. I will miss my little surprise packages. I will miss your passion for our sport. I will miss you.

I keep picturing you, tennis racquet in your hand, backward cap on your head, fighting the good fight from above. I would tell you to rest peacefully, but I know “rest” isn’t part of your vocabulary. Trust those of us you left behind to continue the good work you have started. It is how we can best honor the man, the gentle man, that is Sol Schwartz.