The Things That Really Matter


The following was emailed to me by Tom Walker.  . .

Changes were passed by a small number of misguided bureaucrats to the National Junior Tournament schedule. Unchallenged these will go into effect in 2014. Developmental coaches predict that these measures will negatively diminish junior tennis. Why are we so enlightened? What do we understand that they do not? Today, I was reminded in the briefest of moments why reversing this course is so imperative. Please indulge me and read on….

I was out on a marathon training run. Dusk was bleak and the temperature was a bone chilling 18 degrees. My course skirted by the local university. Wearily on mile twelve I fought with myself whether to push and continue onward. It was at that moment a simple yet extraordinary event occurred. Passing me in the opposite direction were two young college athletes. On my approach… one of two fist bumped the other and then unexpectedly reached up to offer me their hand as we passed. The gesture was a clear act of admiration and encouragement between athletes. It did not matter that I was easily 25 years their senior, nor that they did not know me. In that moment we shared a common bond. As our hands slapped in passing, I marveled at the unplanned and uplifting nature of this gesture. As the next six miles flew by I vividly recalled all the junior events I had coached at over the years. The lessons learned by so many athletes over time were once again brought into the sharpest of focus.

Magic or inspirational moments occur in the blink of an eye. As a son of a teacher I grew to understanding this. Such things are unscripted. Regrettably, those that seek to change our current tennis system fail to understand this. Their actions will reduce the environment that these moments live within. If more developmental coaches had been part of the process a different direction would have been pursued.

Youth tournaments are not really about who won and who lost. They are instead opportunities for players, coaches and parents to spend time learning and growing from each other. Competition of course …but also to lift one another beyond what the individual is singularly capable of. Whether on the courts, or simply spending time together the ability to inspire or learn is ever present. The size and level of the event increases the number of players who these gifts are bestowed upon.

Our decision makers are disturbingly unaware of these occurrences. They are neither teachers nor developers. The desire to share a common interest or bond is unmistakably the same force that drives millions of people each year to attend conventions. The powers that be have forgotten this. So has the national coach that bemoans an extra day away. Each no longer sees extra matches or obtainable goals as instruments of inspiration. Rather, they view them as a waste of time and money. Such is a selfish and narcissistic attitude and not a value I teach my athletes. Such attitudes have the power to destroy USA junior tennis. It is incumbent upon us to always extend a hand up. Players must be taught to appreciate assistance by freely willing to offer it.

Those that voted on these changes simply did not understand sharing and transmittal of hopes and dreams. The misguided desire to reduce these occurrences destroys the light and joy of youth involved in tennis. Why is it so hard to find the real value the players receive from these gatherings? Doesn’t the bureaucrat enjoy their time together at the US Open? Yes, unfortunately there is a financial cost in all things. While not everyone can afford each and every national junior tennis tournament, our goal must still be to allow as many as possible to share these wonderful moments…eliminating them serves no one.

In closing, I submit that we use the remaining time this year to develop and revamp the junior system. The 2014 changes should never be implemented! They were put together with a faulty premise by a group that was not representative of the junior tennis community. Simply putting events back will not fix the overall problems. Please contact your tennis representatives to demand that a new council is formed to undertake these issues correctly and together.

Tom Walker
Kalamazoo, Michigan

It’s Signing Week

This is the week when high school tennis players (and all high school athletes for that matter) can first sign on the proverbial dotted line to commit to playing their sport at the collegiate level.  There are press conferences, lots of picture-taking, and lots of hype surrounding the top players – TennisRecruiting devotes a ton of bandwidth to Signing Week and where the Blue Chips and 5-Stars are headed next Fall.  It’s a pretty big deal!

We are still two years away from Signing Week in our house, thank goodness.  And, I know to my son that seems like an eternity.  But for me, I’m realizing that it’s right around the corner.  Two years can pass in the blink of an eye.

I’m trying to urge him – nudge him gently – to start taking bolder steps in his college recruiting journey.  I forward him the articles on TennisRecruiting that address the essential parts of the process.  I casually mention tips I’ve heard from coaches and consultants that might help him.  I post videos on his Facebook wall showing college teams in action in hopes of inspiring him to take action.

Ultimately, I have to let him drive the bus.  This has to be his thing.  I can’t do it for him, as much as I might want to.  It’s tough for me to sit back and twiddle my thumbs – that’s not really my personality at all – while I wait for him to act, but I’m going to do it.  I’m going to let this come from him because it has to come from him.  I will guide.  I will support.  But I will not do.

And, in two years, when Signing Week has a direct impact on my family, I am confident that I will have some good news to report.  My son has worked hard.  He will continue to work hard.  He will do what he needs to do to reach his goal of playing college tennis.  Because that’s how we’ve raised him.  And that’s the expectation he has of himself.  And he wants to sign on that dotted line.