Showcases, Combines, & Camps . . .Oh, My!

If your junior has his or her sites set on playing college tennis, you’ve likely been investigating the various showcases, combines, and camps available for your child to get seen by a variety of college coaches. As summer approaches, there are quite a few of these events cropping up in the coming weeks, so let’s take a look at what’s available. Hopefully, this will help you choose the right event(s) and spend your money wisely.

USTA All-American Combine

The latest offering in the college exposure space is USTA’s All-American Combine (click here for the entry form on TennisLink). This first-time event will be held June 14-16, 2017 at the new USTA National Campus in Orlando. It is open to any American junior player age 13-18. The entry fee is $349.88 (food, lodging, and transportation not included).

Per the description from USTA, the All-American Combine is designed to give American juniors recruiting exposure and knowledge of college tennis programs around the nation. Participants will engage in a number of on- and off-court evaluations over the two days, including match play in front of college tennis coaches and presentations from industry experts such as Mark Kovacs. The players’ results will count toward each player’s Universal Tennis Rating (UTR). This event will be considered a Tennis Recruiting “National Showcase” for the purposes of ratings on Tennis Recruiting (TRN). At the conclusion of the event the overall boy’s and girl’s winner will receive a main draw wild card into a USTA Pro Circuit $15,000 event.

As of today’s date (April 14, 2017), I have not seen a list of attending colleges or coaches. Stephen Amritraj told me that as they get a finalized list of coaches in conjunction with the ITA, they will be posting it – I’m assuming it will be posted on both the USTA website as well as on the combine’s TennisLink page. I will update this article as more information becomes available. In the meantime, be sure to listen to my podcast with Stephen here.

Collegiate Exposure Camps

These privately-offered 3-, 4- or 5-day camps immerse prospective student-athletes into a simulated atmosphere of what it means to be a college tennis player, including on- and off-court training plus classroom time. They are geared toward players entering grades 8-12 and are held on college campuses staffed with variety of college coaches who work with the players in groups and individually. Participants can either come each day or stay overnight. The cost ranges from $850 to $1400 (plus an additional $100 for overnight campers) depending on the length of the camp. Enrollment is limited to a maximum of 5 players per court and is done on a first-come first-served basis. The 2017 dates are as follows:

  • June 16-19,  June 23-25, June 23-27 University of Pennsylvania
  • July 10-12 Yale University

Coaches attend from almost every level of college tennis who are not only there to help the campers but who are also looking to recruit players.  Since the recruiting process now starts as early as 9th grade, the opportunity to begin exploring and thinking about the college process and college tennis is invaluable for both older and younger players. The camp is a great tool for coaches to get to know your player’s personality, see how he/she interacts with peers, and how he/she trains and competes.

For more information, click here to go to the website and click here to listen to my podcast with the founder, Tarek Merchant – be sure to listen all the way to the end for a special discount offer on Collegiate Exposure Camps for the ParentingAces community!

Ed Krass Collegiate Exposure Camps

Another highly-recommended exposure camp is the series offered by Ed Krass (click here), now in its 29th year. These camps are open to players age 14-18 and are held at UVA, Lehigh, and Brandeis universities for 2017. If you register before April 30, the cost ranges from $645 to $3300 depending on the length of the camp. If you register after April 30, the price increases $50.

The Krass camps helps players:

  • Improve matchplay strategy, shot selection and shot placement
  • Achieve better results against higher ranked players
  • Improve footwork, speed and level of fitness
  • Learn about the college recruiting process and how it works
  • Learn how to conduct a college tennis search
  • Understand the various levels of college tennis
  • Identify the profiles of specific college tennis programs
  • Network with head college coaches from across the U.S.
Showcases

There are many options for college showcases around the US and abroad. The following is a list of showcases that parents have recommended along with links to their websites. Be sure to compare the dates, cost, and list of attending coaches/colleges when choosing the right showcase for your child.

  • Donovan Showcase: This year’s showcases are being held at Yale and Harvard with a showcase coming in January 2018 at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California. The cost ranges from $395 to $550 with a substantial discount for Donovan Recruiting clients. Click here to go to the website.
  • I’m Recruitable: This showcase is held between the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl tournaments in December in South Florida. For information on the 2017 showcase, click here.
  • ITA College Showcase: TennisRecruiting.net sponsored a showcase during the ITA Coaches Convention in Naples, Florida, in December 2016 (click here to read about it). Entry was limited to 32 boys and 32 girls currently in grades 9-12. According to TRN’s Julie Wrege, they are still in discussions with the ITA about doing another showcase in 2017, and I will post an update once I get more information. In the meantime, TRN is sponsoring a College Coaches Forum in conjunction with the Georgia Junior Open — the largest junior tournament in the state of Georgia – on Saturday, July 15th, at 7:30pm. This will be their 7th year conducting this forum.
  • TennisSmart: Former top British player, Sarah Borwell, offers a college showcase to her UK clients free of charge. If you live and train in the UK, you can get more information on TennisSmart by clicking here. You can also hear more from Sarah about her services in our podcast here.

If your child has already attended a camp or showcase, please share your experience in the Comments below.

Abuse of American Generosity

Image courtesy of www.wrightstuff.biz
Image courtesy of www.wrightstuff.biz

The following article was written by a Fellow Tennis Parent and shared with me to reprint here. The parent has asked to remain anonymous for fear that “a lot of people will rise up in righteous indignation, calling for the lynching of the xenophobic troglodyte who wrote this one, and I don’t need the headache”! Please feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments below.

I read a quote from a recently graduated student-athlete who is going on to try his hand on the pro tour.

Normally that would be cause for celebration, as I am a proponent of the college-to-pro progression that is being discussed more and more. Where I go sideways in this instance is in the revelation by this player that America’s institutions of higher learning are now an active target for foreign players who need free coaching. The quote is as follows:

It’s tough to find support from sponsors, so [international players] are now seeing [American] college tennis as a good option. I think people are realizing that college tennis is the way forward, whereas before, the guys at the head of my federation thought that college tennis is where good players go to die. I’m glad people are starting to realize that there’s more than one way to make it and that college tennis can be used as a stepping stone towards a professional career.”

It used to be that foreign players would try to go pro first, and if they didn’t succeed, they would default to using that professional experience to leverage a free education in the US as a means of furthering their business career. Now it appears that the ever increasing physical demands of the sport make the junior-to-pro path followed in the past unrealistic, so they need another way to hone their tennis skills and physical strength before trying to hit the pro tour. That there is a concerted effort to funnel foreign players into the US university system specifically for sport training (with the added bonus of a free diploma) is yet another nail in the coffin of American tennis.

This is really disheartening, as the USTA (even if they actually did get their act together) can only provide so many opportunities. College tennis was the last field where any volume of American juniors could have their talent sown. Now that field is being reduced to a single row amongst acres of foreign sprouts.

For full disclosure, my kid already went through junior tennis and is enjoying a full-ride at a D1 SEC school as a student-athlete. We’ve already received our reward for our financial investment and our player’s hard work and are not at risk of losing it to a wave of international athletes. However, I feel for those American players, and their parents who incur the ridiculous cost of US junior tennis, who will have significantly more competition for what is already a shrinking pool of opportunity. Men’s programs are being cut at an alarming rate, and the glut of talented players scrambling for a spot on a team is squeezing out the children of the citizens whose tax dollars are funding those remaining programs.

It will be hard to justify the $100k+ investment in building a tennis player capable of competing for a scholarship if the number of opportunities keeps shrinking. And if there is less educational incentive, there will be fewer parents who will incur the cost when there are lots of less-expensive sports to pursue. If your kid loves tennis, you can still let them play rec league and save a year’s tuition while investing your resources in advancing them in another sport which has more opportunity. There’s not a lot of foreign crew, volleyball, or lacrosse student-athletes, and the cost is 1/3 that of tennis.

I know all the arguments about how foreign players are more motivated, and in many instances, just better. And that coaches have to win to keep their jobs so they recruit players who can advance the program. And how private institutions aren’t using tax dollars so they would have an advantage if state schools were limited in the number of foreigners who could receive scholarships.

I don’t care. There, I said it. I am an American, and believe that we, as Americans, should promote our kids first. Especially if it entails the use of tax-funded facilities and scholarships. I could be wrong, and fully expect to be corrected if so, but I don’t hear about foreign universities offering athletic scholarships for American students. And even if they did, who would go? Arguably, America has the best institutions of higher learning in the world. And apparently the most lax restrictions on foreign athletes receiving public assistance.

I want American tennis to recover, not wither. And I want American kids to have more chances to receive the scholarships that their state schools make available.

If a foreign player wants to play for an American school, let them. But not for free. If they can win a place on the team, and pay full, out of state tuition, then by all means bring them in.

Lisa ran a series a while ago that touched on this issue and mentioned a group that is trying to raise awareness of the disparity of foreign-to-US player ration in college tennis. Perhaps she’ll post a link to that article here as well. [Editor’s note: click here for the referenced article]

For my part, I write my state and federal representatives in an attempt to foster a top-down initiative. To date I’ve sent 34 letters. Want to guess how many replies I’ve received? Yep… zero. Sure, I get the form letter stating how hard they are working for the people they represent, typically followed by a solicitation for a contribution. It seems fundraising is really the only thing they put effort into.

However, maybe, just maybe, if enough people write their representatives, asking that there be some restrictions on how much American tax money is given to foreign athletes in the form of scholarships, they might start thinking that it could mean votes if they do something. Other than money, votes are the only thing that motivates a politician.

So I’m not asking that you engage in the creation of a new group or committee to address the issue. Just take a few minutes to write a heartfelt letter on the issue, and send it to your state and federal senators and representatives. You can find their e-mail addresses online [Editor’s note: Click here to find your senator’s name and email. Click here to find your representative’s name and email.] and only have to change the salutation when you send to a different person.

An avalanche starts with but a single snowflake…. or email.

4th & 5th Listening Meetings at Winter Nationals

Two listening meetings were held over the past two days during the Winter Nationals in Arizona, a tournament that will, ironically, disappear from the schedule if the 2014 changes remain as is.

I received emails from attendees at both meetings, each of which had 40-50 people in attendance.  It seems that the parents, players, and industry folks (Brad Stine, Jack Sharpe, Mark Bey, Steve Bellamy, Kevin Kempin, Gordon Bellis, Timon Corwin, Tim Mayotte, Antonio Mora) who were in attendance were well-versed in the changes and had no qualms about speaking their minds to Tim Russell, Kurt Kamperman, and Dave Haggerty.  Several parents and players spoke out about how they would NOT have gotten a college scholarship under the new system.  One mother told the room that although her first son will be playing Division 1 tennis next year, she has pulled her other two sons out of tennis because she doesn’t subscribe to the format.   Russell responded with a comment that was akin to “OK.”   Kevin Kempin, CEO of Head and a member of the 2013 Junior Competition Committee, said, “I have yet to hear a single compelling argument for any of these changes and I have been listening for a long time.”

The theme of the first meeting on Wednesday night seemed to be parents pleading to not have any cuts.  Those in the know seemed to be preaching a longer pause on the changes and a fresh look at the tournament calendar.  Parents complained of just playing the same kids over and over in their section and made it clear that if that was going to be what tennis was, then they were out.  One parent said “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and if there is anything that is consistent, it is that the USTA is always changing and always frustrating players and parents.”  She continued, “You should do this right and do it once and for all.”

Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy and Tim Russell certainly had their issues in the room.  The situation climaxed when Bellamy asked Russell if he thought that 90% or more of the players, parents and coaches were against the changes.  Russell said no, and the room started to get angry.  Then Bellamy asked Russell, “If the majority of the tennis industry were against the changes, would you still be a proponent of keeping them?”  Bellamy repeatedly asked, and it was clear that Russell wasn’t going to answer the question.  One father from NorCal, Gordon Bellis, aggressively challenged Russell to answer and the evening reached a new climax.  When Bellis asked Russell what he was supposed to do with his daughter (she is 13 and won the 18 NorCal Sectionals this year) for competition now that the National schedule was slashed so deeply, Russell responded that maybe she should start playing with adults.   The room went into an uproar.

At Thursday’s meeting, led by Kurt Kamperman and Dave Haggerty, USTA finally acknowledged that parents are overwhelmingly opposed to the changes.  One gentleman who had been at Wednesday’s meeting asked for a show of hands of who was opposed, and every single hand went up.  Kamperman and Haggerty made no attempt to argue otherwise.  The same question was asked the night before in Tempe and every hand went up there as well.

Haggerty and Kamperman made it clear that they were not responsible for the changes and people were respectful, although one exclaimed, to applause and laughter, that they wished Patrick McEnroe and the people who were responsible could be there to face the fire.

Antonio Mora asked Haggerty, who was once CEO of Head, Inc., what he would do if 90% of his best customers hated a new line of products.  At that point, another  parent spoke out and said that she wanted them to say they were committed to fully restarting the process. Haggerty then said there would be substantial changes. Kamperman tried to back away from that a bit, saying that the sections needed to be on board and that we needed to get with our section presidents to vote in favor of what we want. At that point, he was interrupted and and politely told that was a bunch of bologna, that the process of approving the changes had been very political, that arms were twisted (acknowledged by them), that section presidents had ignored their constituents, that the vice-chair of the old committee who is the chair of the new one has said there will only be tweaks, and that they were now in the position to be the arm-twisters and needed to take control.

Those who attended expressed their appreciation to Haggerty and Kamperman for listening and taking the time out of their busy schedules to meet with the parents.  The attendees also made it clear that they hoped the listening would lead to action.

I urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

High(er) Anxiety

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook about our local public high school, the one my son attends and from which my daughters graduated.  The article is about 5 years old – and a bit lengthy – but many of the student observations and quotes are still very applicable today.  And, re-reading it now that my son is in his sophomore year is really making me think about the path he is on and the path I am on with him as he gets further into his high school career and closer to the end of his Junior Tennis Journey.

If you want to take the time to read the article, I promise it will make you think, or re-think, about how you interact with your child(ren).  And, if it doesn’t, it should.  We are raising our children in an era of very high anxiety, very high pressure, very high expectations.  For student-athletes pursuing a college scholarship, the pressure is magnified.  Is it any wonder many families choose virtual school or home school as an alternative to this mishigas (i.e. craziness for my non-Yiddish-speaking readers)?  Read the excerpt below and tell me you don’t recognize your child or someone you know here:

A 17-year-old should not have to spend a week in the hospital for exhaustion.  Students shouldn’t have to drag themselves through each and every school week on 28 hours of sleep or take a handful of Advil to get through soccer practice or calculus class. It may not seem like it, but we’re tired.  Everything doesn’t have to be a lesson or lecture. A kid can’t just strike out anymore and get on with his life. Yes, we know to keep our eye on the ball, you’ve told us 4 million times. Head down on the golf swing—we know. So we slip. We forget.  We’re not gonna go, like, rob banks because we shank a few Titleists off into the Chattahoochee.  Sometimes we get so much pressure from so many angles we get dizzy. We juggle so many things all day every day it almost seems silly to come home and have you nag us to do our homework. We know we have homework; we’re the ones who lugged it home like pack mules. Did it ever occur to you that what you and the teachers call procrastination is just our way of taking two seconds to, like, think?  Some of us need pushing, but there’s such a thing as pushing too hard.

As I prepare to write yet another note saying my son was absent due to illness, I have to ask myself why I allow myself to compromise my own morals when in fact I am 100% in favor of my son missing a day of school here and there (as long as he stays on top of his school work) in order to pursue his passion.  Of course, one answer is because I don’t want to see my son punished academically – teachers do not allow students to make up work or tests missed due to an Unexcused Absence – when his particular sport isn’t one offered year-round by his school.  And, I believe 100% that pursuing one’s passion is the best antidote to the stress that our society breeds.  Unless the pursuit of the passion adds stress and anxiety instead of relieving it.  So the challenge, as always, is striving for a healthy balance between hard work, dedication, and commitment as well as lightness and fun.  It’s a big ask.  I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers.

A friend of mine who happens to be a licensed social worker and also has a 16 year old son says, “And not too much is said about the incredible changes and pressures for parents as we navigate all this wonderful progressive technology that makes it harder for families to connect. I’m exhausted with all the efficiency.”  It’s so true!   How are the rest of you Tennis Parents coping with this challenge?  How are you helping your tennis players find the balance?  I look forward to reading your comments.

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?