Community

The tennis community is truly something special.  If you haven’t experienced it yet, just wait . . . you will.  Whether it’s a coach inviting your child to join his academy’s warmup at a tournament or a parent offering a protein bar to your child when he forgot to pack one or a child comforting your child after a tough loss, the community is there and it’s there en force.

And, when a challenge or a tragedy strikes our tennis community, we rally.  We speak out.  We show up.  We stand together in support.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the support coming out for one of our top junior players, Sean Karl.  I wrote about Sean‘s recent diagnosis of Ewings Sarcoma a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, the Facebook group created by a group of his tennis friends has grown to over 1500 members posting daily words of support.  A couple of tennis parents joined forces to create a logo, merchandise, and website to raise money to help offset Sean’s medical expenses. Roger Federer posted a video on YouTube encouraging Sean to keep fighting.  Babolat sent Sean a racquet autographed by Rafael Nadal.  The tennis teams at several universities have written Sean’s initials on the backs of their shoes, showing their support for his battle.

And, this is only one example of our amazing community.  If you think it ends when your child is done with junior tennis, you’d be wrong!  A new-found adult tennis friend of mine lost his father suddenly to leukemia last week.  His local – and global – tennis community showed its support by sending emails, cards, phone calls, Facebook posts, and, most importantly, by coming to his father’s funeral.  One attendee called the funeral a “virtual who’s who” of local tennis coming out to pay their last respects.  They were all people that my friend had met through his years of playing and coaching tennis.  He is now an adult.  His tennis community is still there for him and will be probably forever.

Now I’m seeing my son create his own tennis community.  Thanks to the Maccabi Games, ITF, USTA, and summer tennis camps, his community extends around the world.  And thanks to Facebook and Twitter and FaceTime, my son and his community can stay in touch anytime, anywhere.  And, they do!  These kids are learning incredibly valuable lessons about friendship and healthy competition and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself.

The amazing thing to me about this community is that you may lose track of it for a while – even a long while, as I did – but it will still be there when you want or need it.  After 30+ years away from my tennis community, I reconnected thanks to my son.  I have re-established friendships with my former tennis buddies whose kids are also now playing and traveling to tournaments.  We ask each other for help with warm-up courts, or local restaurants, or a place to stay.  We check in with each other to see how the latest tournament went.  We keep up with each other’s non-tennis lives, too, also thanks to Facebook and Twitter, and support each other when needed.

If you think tennis is just about what happens between the lines, think again.  The relationships your child – and YOU – is forging now will be there for years to come.  The tennis community is truly something special.

Hug Your Kids

In the past week, I have learned of two families dealing with devastating issues involving their teenage sons:  one a tennis family, the other a football family.  In both cases, the issue surfaced seemingly from nowhere to turn the families upside down and inside out.  The road to recovery will be long for both of them.  It will involve anger, frustration, perseverance, and, above all, belief.  My heart is breaking for both of them.

First the football story . . . At a prominent private school here in Atlanta, a 17-year-old member of the high school’s varsity football team was arrested and is being held without bail for sexually assaulting a classmate in the gym shower.  He is from a “good” family.  I have friends who are friends with his parents – they are just like the rest of us, doing the best job they can at this parenting thing.  Their son, in the company of some teammates, made a grave – GRAVE – error in judgement.  The victim is going to be okay physically, but may never recover emotionally.  According to our local newspaper, the charge against this young man is one of the more serious criminal offenses under Georgia law, one of the so-called “seven deadly sins” for which there is no parole unless the sentence is life.  A conviction carries a punishment of 25 years to life in prison.  In other words, if convicted – and even if NOT convicted – this young man’s life as he knows it is over.  This incident will follow him and his family the rest of their lives.

And the tennis story . . . In Tennessee, a 17-year-old 5-Star high school senior who had recently committed to play at the University of Tennessee next year was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  He had been complaining of back pain, and once it got too severe to tolerate, was admitted to the hospital for testing.  Sadly, the tests confirmed that he had cancer.  His first course of chemotherapy is underway and will last 29 weeks.  Thanks to the power of social media, his story has been shared and his family is receiving support from all over the world.  His mom reported that he got a signed autographed picture of Andy Roddick from Babolat that is hanging above his bed, reminding him of how important the “grind game” will be.  He is literally now fighting for his life.

I share these stories with you not because I’m trying to scare you but because sometimes we all need a reminder to hug our kids.  To appreciate them.  To shower them with love.  To support their goals and dreams.  To laugh with them.  To cry with them.  To tell them how much we love them.

Life is short.  Tragedy can strike at any time.  We have to savor our time with our children, giving them a foundation of strength.  Just.  In.  Case.

As the mother of the Tennessee boy shared on the family’s CaringBridge page, “Even though I have moaned and groaned over the years about the time, energy and $ we have spent on junior tennis, Sean will totally reap the rewards of this experience now.   He will have to have goals, overcome adversity, learn to be coached (the Dr.’s), be mentally strong, and fight his pants off…all the while staying positive.  So, I am now totally grateful of our tennis experience and wouldn’t change it for the world.  The life skills learned in junior tennis will prove to be invaluable.”

Please join me in sending prayers, healing thoughts, and positive energy to these two families.  Both are battling.  Both will continue to battle for quite some time.  There, but for the grace of God . . .

Please.  Don’t forget to hug your kids.

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???