Spring Break, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, my son has been in Los Angeles this week, spending his spring break training with Craig Cignarelli and Lester Cook. I just figured I’d update y’all on how his days are going out there . . .

Breakfast
Breakfast

Tuesday, his first full day on the West coast, started with a lesson and a coached (by Lester) match against LMFAO‘s Redfoo.

After their workout, the three guys headed into Westwood for a bite to eat where my son got to see firsthand just how popular Redfoo is with locals and tourists alike.

My son reported that Redfoo is “one of the funniest dudes I’ve ever met” and went on to share a few details about their conversation. Redfoo told my son and Lester about his latest project, “Behind the Speedo” (warning: the show is NOT G-rated!), and my son shared some thoughts on how Redfoo could use social media to get more views from teenagers and college students on YouTube. What a cool experience for a him to have!

Later that afternoon, Lester drove my son up to Malibu for his lesson with Craig. They worked out hard for about 90 minutes, then my son got to hang out and watch as Craig coached other players at the Malibu Racquet Club. It was a great opportunity for my son to soak up some coaching wisdom and techniques that he will hopefully be able to integrate into his own repertoire.

Hanging out in Westwood with Redfoo
Hanging out in Westwood with Redfoo

On Wednesday morning, Lester picked up my son in Santa Monica and took him back to the UCLA courts for another hitting session followed by more work with Craig in Malibu that afternoon. Let me just say that the work Craig is doing with him isn’t limited to the on-court stuff. Craig also spends a significant amount of time talking with my son off the court about the intricacies of tennis and how the worlds of junior tennis, college tennis, professional tennis, and tennis coaching work. He is preparing my son for the next stage of his tennis life – college (keeping fingers and toes crossed!) – and beyond.

Thursday started with another “Craig Lesson” at the Malibu Racquet Club followed by a practice match against an adult club member later in the afternoon. There’s something pretty special about playing on a court that overlooks the Pacific Ocean as the sun is going down – that guy Larry Ellison sure knew what he was doing when he picked this location for his club!

Redfoo dancing with a fan
Redfoo dancing with a fan

Today, Friday, brings another session with Craig and then the first of two opportunities to attend college matches. This afternoon, Pepperdine is playing Gonzaga, and my son will be in the stands! Tomorrow, it’s UCLA versus Stanford. He’s so excited to experience these home matches and to see how college tennis is done in SoCal. When I told him how jealous I was and how I wished I were there, too, he said, “I know, Mom, and I’m sorry you’re not here, but I think it was good for me to come out here without you this time. Thank you for the opportunity.”

What a great kid! He really gets that he’s getting to do something pretty special over this Spring Break. While I’m sure he would’ve had a great time down in Florida with his school friends, I’m grateful that he took advantage of the chance to work with Craig and Lester again, to show himself that he can navigate meals and laundry and rides and meetings without his mom’s help, and to be part of two different colleges’ home matches, too. I have a feeling this is a Spring Break he won’t soon forget.

 

High School Tennis Revisited

State Champs

Last year, about this time, I was writing regularly about my son’s experience on his high school tennis team – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

However, due to some ridiculous eligibility rule changes by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), my son did not play for his school team this year.  It was HIS choice, don’t get me wrong, but, basically, our state governing body made it very unattractive for any high-level players to join their high school teams this year – to summarize, the rule said that a player lost eligibility if he or she trained for his/her sport during stated school hours.  For my son and many other tennis players, their school hours are modified in such a way as to include “zero period” and online classes so they can get to the courts earlier in the afternoons for training.  In other words, they get out of school an hour or two earlier than the rest of the student body.  Under the new GHSA rule, that modified schedule and their extra training made them ineligible to play.

That said, there were still many talented high-schoolers who played this season as evidenced by the tight matches during this past weekend’s State Finals.  And, there is hope for the rest of the players as I recently heard GHSA reversed that eligibility rule for the 2013-14 school year.

And now, especially in light of what recently happened at UGA with its number 1 singles player on the men’s side, it seems to me that high school tennis needs to take on a bigger role in preparing our juniors for tennis at the collegiate level.

A fellow tennis mom feels exactly the same way.  “I’m so tired of hearing ‘nobody cares about high school tennis’. In light of the recent events [sic], shouldn’t college coaches reconsider the high school player? These kids play for the sheer joy and camaraderie that they get from being a member of a team and representing their school (and they don’t get paid to do it)! They give up individual opportunities to earn tournament points and improve their rankings so they can play and practice with their team. Isn’t that exactly what college coaches are or should be looking for?”

I would love to see high school tennis become a training ground for college.  Unfortunately, at least where we are, the level of coaching the high school teams receive is pretty amateurish.  Often times, a teacher or coach from another sport are recruited to coach tennis even though they may have little or no knowledge about the sport.  It makes it a very tough decision for a kid who is used to training at a high level to take a step backward in order to play for his or her school team.  Add to that the fact that many college coaches and recruiting consultants have said over and over that they don’t care whether a kid plays for his school; they simply care about tournament performance and ranking/rating.  Is it wonder that many top-level juniors are opting out of high school tennis?

 

 

New Rules in GA for U10s & U12s

gasquetaschild

Why, you might ask, is there a French magazine cover pictured at the top of this post?  Well, 2 reasons . . . first of all, because I want everyone to notice that it features French pro, Richard Gasquet, at the age of 9, playing tennis using a yellow ball.  Second of all, because in just a few weeks I’ll be at Roland Garros watching a couple of days of phenomenal tennis at the French Open and am pretty darn excited!  (P.S. Anyone who wants to hook me up with courtside seats, you know how to reach me!)

Some of you may have gotten wind of the changes happening across the country with 10-and-under tennis and the mandated use of the ROG balls in tournament play.  What you may not know is that ROG is now infiltrating the 12s, too.

The state of Georgia implemented a new competition structure for the 12-and-under crowd this year, and more changes are coming in 2014.  I spent some time on the phone with Rick Davison, USTA Georgia’s Director of Junior & Adult Competition, to find out what’s new, what’s coming, and the reason behind the changes.

As of today, all Georgia sanctioned 10-and-under tournaments use an orange ball on a 60 foot court.  For the 12s, in local Georgia sanctioned tournament levels 4 and 5 only, players use the Stage 1 green ball on a full-size court; at the higher level local tournaments, the 12s use a yellow ball.

What does that mean?  It means that a child who is under the age of 13 who wants to compete in a local tournament on a full-size court with yellow balls must play in the 14-and-under age division.  So, if your child is 9 years old (or 10 or 11 or 12), practicing each day with a yellow ball on a regular court because you and the coach feel the child is ready, and wants to compete under those same conditions, you must put him or her in the 14s in order to play a local event.

Take a close look at this photo:

IMG_0026

The player on the left is my son, age 11, playing at a local Georgia tournament in the 12-and-under division.  The player on the right is his opponent, also age 11.  Please note the physical size difference between the 2 boys.  Now, imagine that, in order to play with regular balls on a regular court, my son had to play in the 14s . . . and my son was already 11 in this picture!  He would’ve gotten crushed!

I asked Rick why Georgia decided to implement these new rules for the 12s.  He told me that the talented 12-and-under players have historically always played up in the 14s anyway at the local events, so this change won’t impact them.  The target audience for this change is the 10-and-under player who is transitioning from the orange ball.  Georgia felt that it would make an easier transition for the players if they have a stint with the green ball on the way to the yellow ball.  So far, Rick says, the Georgia kids are transitioning well in the Southern section, and the level of play in the 12s is getting better.

One other change that happened in the 10s this year was the shift to 4-game sets.  Rick says that he was initially opposed to this change but quickly realized that the parents were in favor due to the much longer rallies with the orange balls – matches that were 2 out of 3 6-game sets were lasting much too long.

For 2014, Georgia is making some additional changes in terms of the match and tournament format.  For the 10-and-unders only, since matches are the best of 3 4-game sets, tournament fees will be reduced and tournaments will most likely be compressed into one-day events.  Rick acknowledged the fact that parents are unhappy about traveling to a tournament, having to spend money on a hotel and restaurant meals, for their child to play these short sets.  Georgia’s answer is to shorten the tournament for these young players so parents can avoid most of the travel expenses.

In case you were wondering, Georgia isn’t the only place seeing these types of changes.  Texas has been under an even more-complicated system for the last year with more changes going into effect this month (click here to read the new rules).  The NorCal section recently introduced its Junior Development Pathway illustrating the progression of a young player from the red to the orange to the green and, finally, to the yellow ball.  Please note that in both Texas and NorCal, progression from one level to the next is absolutely mandated by the section itself – a player may not jump to the appropriate level based on their own personal development but rather must go through each painstaking step in order to move to the yellow ball in competition.  I’ve recently heard that the Midwest section is looking to adopt similar mandates for its 10s and 12s, too.  To hear more about what’s going on around the US, listen to the podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick and others by clicking on this link: ParentingAces Radio Show

If your child is ready to move on, developmentally-speaking, be assured that alternative opportunities are popping up across the country.  Take a look at the events I have listed on our 10-and-Under Tourneys page above – I will continue to add to the list as more events are created so please check back regularly for updates.

I also want to direct you to the complaint that Ray Brown filed with the US Olympic Committee regarding the 10-and-under initiative.  You can click here to read the complaint and all subsequent responses on Ray’s website.

And for those who missed my recent Facebook post/Tweet, proof positive that kids younger than 13 can train and play with a yellow ball:

Pete Sampras Age 10

 

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Now What?

The 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar are all but a done deal.  The Powers That Be at USTA, despite our best efforts, have decided they (not parents, not coaches, not the players themselves) know what’s best for our young players and have slashed competitive opportunities at the national level by a huge margin.  So, now what?

Add to the mix the fact that several USTA sections have also adopted a rather Draconian policy for the 10-and-unders and 12-and-unders, forcing them onto the ROG path, making it so they have to play all the way up in the 14s if they want to play with a yellow ball on a full-size court.  If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to the free podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick (Andy’s older brother) about what’s happening in the Texas section and what’s coming in Southern and Midwest and NorCal.  Later this week, I’ll post the changes coming in Georgia in 2014.

What’s a tennis parent to do???

I think many of us are frustrated and stumped and just plain angry over all these changes – I know I am.  I feel like decisions are being made by executives who are so far removed from our World of Junior Tennis that they just plain don’t get it.  They still don’t acknowledge how many parents and coaches and players are opposed to what they’re mandating out of White Plains.  When asked about how they can still say that the opposition is small, they throw out the fact that only 160 some odd people emailed the LetUsKnow@usta.com address even though almost 4000 joined a Facebook group in opposition and almost 1000 signed a petition to stop the 2014 changes.  How do those numbers NOT make you sit up and take notice???

I would love to hear from y’all about how you’re planning to navigate starting in 2014.  What changes will you make to your child’s tournament schedule?  Will you add more ITF events, more non-sanctioned events, or have them play adult events instead?  What’s your plan?  I’m still working with my son’s coaches on figuring out the best path for him, but you can be sure I’ll report back once we come up with something concrete.

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“We” Won

I am very proud of my son.

In the Region 5AAAAA Final yesterday, my son’s team arrived at the courts ready to warm up with each other before playing their opponents.  The weather, however, had a different plan in mind, so the official asked both teams to go ahead and start their matches with a 5-minute warm-up in hopes of finishing before the thunderstorms arrived.

Our #1 singles player, Danny, had been sidelined most of the season with a neck and shoulder issue.  He had played the last couple of matches, but yesterday he had a follow-up appointment with his doctor and wasn’t yet at the courts.  So, the coach moved everyone up a spot in the lineup, putting my son in at #3 singles.

The boys went on court, began their warmup, then, before anyone played their first point, lightening struck.  Literally.

The rule in our county is that play must be suspended for 30 minutes following a lightening strike within 3 miles of the facility, so we all spent the next hour (yes, there was another strike just as they were heading back out to play!) huddled together inside one of the school buildings as we all checked the weather radar on our various smartphones, trying to predict whether the kids would actually get to play.

During the lightening delay, Danny arrived, reporting that he had been cleared by his doctor to play.  Since the matches hadn’t officially begun, our coach had the option of putting Danny back in the lineup . . . which he did.  That meant my son was going to be part of the cheering section instead of getting to play.  Disappointing, to be sure.

However, when the coach announced that Danny would be playing (and my son would not), my son just smiled and wished his teammates good luck.  He stood nearby and cheered for each and every match.  He encouraged the guys when they needed it and kept his game face on throughout the afternoon.  And, at the end of the day, when the final match was won and the championship trophy was in hand, he stood with his team, proud to share the victory (that’s him – with Danny’s hand around his shoulder – holding the trophy in the team picture above)!

My son, upon hearing he wouldn’t be playing in the championship match, could’ve argued with his coach.  He could’ve griped and sulked.  He could’ve stood alone.

But he didn’t.  He realized that it was in the best interest of the team to have their best player in the lineup at #1, even if it meant he didn’t get to play.  It was all about the “we” – there was no “I” out there.

I am very proud of my son.

A Matter of Fitness

AUSSIE OPEN SEMIFINAL MATCH SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

If you don’t want to know the outcome of the Djokovic-Murray semifinal match, stop reading now!

I watched that match with great interest, especially as it moved into the 5th set.  Both players were looking a bit fatigued, and it was obvious that this match was going to come down to who was the most fit – both physically and mentally.  While Djokovic has traditionally been plagued with physical ailments which caused him to either retire matches or lose them outright, Murray has been plagued with fatigue of the mental sort but has always been a beast physically.  Today was different.  Murray seemed to lose his legs early in the final set, struggling to stay in points long enough to do damage to his opponent.  Somehow, he found a last burst of energy to come back from a 2-5 deficit, but, eventually, Djokovic had a little more in the tank and was able to close out the match 7-5 in the 5th.

Why is this important to note?  Because our junior players are no longer being pushed to their physical limits in tournament play.  Many tournaments, even those at the highest national level, have gone to playing a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a 3rd set and to playing short sets in the case of weather delays.  When our American kids are across the net from their European or South American or Asian counterparts, are they going to be able to withstand the physical – and mental – pressure of playing for three full sets?

And, it’s not just the length of the match that is in question – it’s also the style of play our kids are being taught.  As Greek coach Chris Karageorgiades told me,  “The game in Europe is more physical because their philosophy is different. In the US it has traditionally been about developing players with big weapons (namely serve and forehand). This is changing in order for players to better prepare for what has become a more physical game which is played from the back of the court.  Whether this is a good or bad decision for the future of American tennis remains to be seen.”   If you watched any of the Djokovic-Murray match, you saw some incredible points that involved 20+ shots moving the ball side-to-side and front-to-back.  To stay in that type of point – over and over again for an entire match – takes incredible leg strength, stamina, and fitness.  I’m concerned that our American juniors are not being adequately prepared for this type of protracted battle.

Two-time Australian Open Champion and current junior coach Johan Kriek shared with me the following:  “May I say, that growing up in S[outh] A[frica] on a farm with no TV, no X-box, no video games was a huge plus in my future physical make-up…today’s kids are digital…they need to be pushed, and push I do …the good ones will excel, the wimps will bail!”  Johan puts his players through fitness training every day:  the older kids working out in the gym, the younger ones working with resistance bands.  His biggest worry is that mediocrity is being accepted as normal, which he views as a societal ill that he just doesn’t tolerate with his players.

I know there’s been a lot of talk on the part of USTA about having the junior players train and compete more on clay, taking a page out of the Spanish book.  But, I’ve also heard that our American green clay is very different from the red dirt and that it doesn’t provide for the same type of movement and long points as the red stuff.  If that’s the case, are we wasting our time?  What can we do better?

Johan goes on to say that “Murray and Djokovic are fit, but that does not mean that the mind fatigues as well, and that has equal input in the body not functioning, the two are hugely connected. If you believe you can win ,the mind will push the body beyond human capacities, we see that in tennis and people that had to use enormous courage to survive near death etc, it is not the body that controls the mind, it is the mind that controls the body.  That is what separates the good players from the awesome players, not the strokes, they are all great! But the ‘head’.”

This is not only about being competitive on the professional level because, let’s face it, most of our kids aren’t on that path.  It’s also about positioning our kids to be competitive when it comes to playing college tennis.  They are up against foreign players again and again for scholarships and spots on college teams.  If they don’t have the physical and/or mental fitness skills to fight through long points and matches, how are they going to convince college coaches to give them one of a very few coveted spots on the team?

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.