Recap of the Boys 16’s and 18’s Clay Courts

Clay Courts

I hope you enjoy this latest contribution from Coach Todd Widom.

I truly enjoyed my time going around to the best clubs in Boca Raton and Delray Beach watching some of my students compete in one of the most prestigious events that is played in my own backyard. It brought back memories of when I played the 18’s Clay Courts. It was also nice catching up with many of the men that I competed with throughout my junior, college, and professional tennis career, as well as, catching up with the college coaches that were coaching college tennis when I was in college. Most of these men who have stayed in the tennis business after their college or professional career became college coaches. I have noticed that not many have gone into junior development, but both jobs have their challenges.

What I would like to speak about is how your son or daughter is going to impress the college coaches so that they can attend one of these fine colleges and have a great four years as a student athlete. First, the college coaches were coming from junior Wimbledon so that already shows you that your son or daughter is competing against the best juniors in the world for these spots on college tennis teams. The reality of the situation is, and I am sorry to tell you, is that these coaches are not traveling to Europe to recruit American players. You may be thinking how can my child make it to one of these good universities and be a starter in the lineup, when they are competing with the best juniors in the world for these starting lineup spots.

Before I get into any discussion about hitting a tennis ball, let’s speak about movement and the physicality of what it takes to be successful, not only on a clay surface, but on any surface. I am seeing kids that do not have any understanding of how to move, court positioning, and use of their lower body to load and explode into a ground stroke. At this tournament, sliding into a shot so you can recover is imperative. Your child’s understanding of the difference between offense, neutral, and defensive positions is crucial to what shot they are going to hit to break down their opponent across the net. For example, if you are eight feet behind the baseline and you hit the ball like you do when you are three feet behind the baseline, the ball will land short and you will not get out of a defensive position. Most likely, you will be running at the fence because you defended poorly. A sign of a high level player is one that can be put on defense and turn that defense into offense during the point. This is what you are seeing with the best tennis players in the world on television, especially with the men’s game. The women’s game has some first strike players like Jelena Ostapenko who know they struggle with mobility so they have to get that first big strike in to start the point. Roger Federer, James Blake, Novak Djokovic, and Andre Agassi are some of the men that can or did take the ball so much earlier than any other players. If you think your son or daughter has this type of eye hand coordination and timing, they are a one in a million tennis player. We need more of these type players in the United States.

Is your son or daughter able to adapt their game to be able to play on the slow clay courts? I am seeing junior players not adapting their game styles and just banging a ball and running. They are also banging a ball at targets on the court that does not really do much. At this level, placement of a shot on a proper target with moderate pace is far more valuable than ripping a ball that hits a foot past the service line. If you watch closely, what targets are the juniors hitting and how many quality shots does it take for one of the players to be dominating the middle of the court because they have a short ball.

I would like to touch on what I am seeing with the junior tennis players as it pertains to their strokes. I am seeing tight and hitchy type strokes that have trouble generating power. It is unnatural. There is no feeling in the hands and wrists. The player should be able to swing and hit, but instead there are multiple complicated steps for hitting a groundstroke. To generate power, the power comes from your core and lower body, and wrist acceleration. Instead, I am seeing unnatural strokes, and chances are that your son or daughter have taken all these super complex tennis lessons and cannot produce a solid, powerfully hit tennis ball.

Lastly, many kids have only one game plan and if that plan is not working that day, they will have an unhappy car ride back to their hotel room. Great tennis players have multiple game plans based on how they are playing that day, plus they have to take into consideration how their opponent is playing that day. For example, in my quarterfinal match at the 18’s Clay Courts, I was playing a player who was ranked about 30 in the world in junior tennis. I started the match great and was hitting behind him a lot during the rallies because he had trouble moving on clay and was slipping and sliding all over the place. The second set came around and he started getting his footing and started dominating some of the rallies. We split sets and it rained. In the third set, I decided to start taking the ball a bit earlier and start taking time away and come into the net more. I took his second serve and hit the return and came into the net which I had practiced many times. I ended up winning the match and was fortunate enough to win the Super National Clay Courts Tournament a few days later, but the point to the story is that if you have a failing game plan, you must make adjustments to get through that day with a win. Now understanding when to change game plans is a different story and that is taught by an experienced and knowledgeable coach so you are able to have a complete game to get through a long tournament. Best of luck to your son or daughter the next time they play Super National Clays Courts or any other clay court tournament.

Does Your Child Lack Confidence

Another guest post from coach Todd Widom . . .

This article was prompted by numerous parents calling me over the years about their child lacking confidence.  Some of the questions I receive are around developing confidence and being nervous in tournaments. I explain that their child is nervous in tournaments because they are unsure of what the outcome will be and they are looking into the future when they have not even struck the first ball in the warm-up.  Let’s look at this at a deeper level.

How does a junior tennis player build confidence in themselves? The easy answer is that they go play a bunch of tournaments and hopefully they win more matches.  They will then be more confident in themselves.  No one does well on an important test in school without learning and studying the material.  Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.  Junior tennis players do not just get lucky to have better results.  Your homework is your training and your exam is the tournament.

Your child cannot hide when they are in tournaments and results never lie.  Building confidence is as easy as preparing so well that your child is sure they are ready to perform at a good level in tournaments.  When I speak to parents about confidence, one of my first questions is, does your child feel proud of what they are accomplishing on a daily basis at practice?  A junior tennis player knows and feels if they are improving, and the way to improve is to have a disciplined plan on how that particular player is going to reach higher levels of tennis.  Then you must work towards that plan on a daily basis.  A one-hour lesson is not what I am speaking about, but rather training and working on the plan for hours on a daily basis.  Your child must get off the court and feel proud of what they worked on in that session and if they do not feel proud after that session, then it was not productive.  No productivity means no progress.  From a coaching standpoint, you can tell when the student is working on the proper things and improving because they are usually happy because they are seeing the results, and feeling the results on the court.

Another question I am frequently asked is what does my child need to work on to become a more confident player? Each student is different and so are their techniques.  No two players are alike.  In my experience, some of the players I have trained have needed some form of cleaning up on the technical side, but almost all of the kids have little or no understanding of how to properly move and balance themselves on a tennis court, as well as how to construct a proper point strategically.  The players have taken a bunch of tennis lessons where the coach has fed or hand fed balls to them.  This is not wrong, but this is strictly technical tennis teaching, and is only one piece of what your child needs.  This is not teaching your child how to learn the game and how to apply their game to be able to win more matches.

I also receive phone calls from parents wondering why their child is struggling in tournaments when they are taking many tennis lessons.  The parents thought process is, if my child is taking a bunch of tennis lessons, then my child should be winning more, and as a result should be becoming more confident in themselves.  This is incorrect.  When your child is trained to understand what they are good at, and how to break down other opponents due to being smarter and more disciplined with their tennis, they will as a result win more matches and become more confident.

In closing, I am repeatedly seeing tennis players with the same deficiencies.  If you would like to have a more confident junior tennis player, that confidence will come with a greater understanding of the game as well as of their own game.  A lesson is great, but that is just one little piece of the puzzle.  Understanding how to compete, understanding your game, and understanding how you are going to break down the opponents game is how you will have better results.  Productivity, purpose, and understanding why you are working on a specific skill is how you are going to see results.  Keep in mind that you must work on these aspects all the time so they become ingrained habits.  When your child does not need to think about these aspects in tournaments, it means the habits are ingrained and they should be on their way to winning more, and as a result, becoming more confident.

Breaking the Streak

My son went into this past weekend’s tournament on a 7-match losing streak.  He had been “rounded” in singles in the past two tourneys plus had lost his final high school match of the season in the semis of the state playoffs, and his confidence was lower than I had seen it in a long time.

This tournament was a state level 3 tournament, located about a half hour from our house, meaning that it really wasn’t going to draw the top top players, but it was a good opportunity for my kid to play up in the 18s, build some confidence, and get more of a jump-start on his 18s ranking.  The draw was only 16 players, so, at most, he was going to play 4 matches (or 5 if he moved into the back draw) over the two days.

When the draws were posted on Friday, it turned out that my son was playing a boy he had played on 3 prior occasions – my son was 1 and 2 against him, his one win coming in their last meeting in the Fall.  Given my son’s lagging confidence – plus another mom’s helpful (NOT!) statement that this other boy had recently switched academies and was playing really well – I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling too good about my son’s chances.  I chose to sit well away from the match court – close enough to see clearly but not close enough to hear any negative mutterings that might come out of my kid’s mouth.  My son ended up playing a really strong match, beating the other boy 6-1, 6-1, putting a solid end to the losing streak.  Whew!

Next up was the top seed in the tourney, an 18-year-old who is heading to play tennis at LSU (a big D1 program) in the Fall.  My son was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to play this kid just to see how his game would stack up.  He didn’t necessarily have high hopes of winning the match though he did go into it feeling strong and ready to do battle.  Turns out my son held his own out there, forcing the other player into several errors at the net as well as on his serve.  My son lost the match 6-4, 6-2, but the other boy came off the court and proceeded to tell my husband and me how impressed he was with our son’s game – just what every tennis parent loves to hear!

And, even though he lost that second match, it turned out to be a real confidence booster for him.  He had pushed a college-bound guy – one who probably had at least 50 pounds and 4 inches on him – to play outside his comfort zone.  He had broken the guy’s massive serve twice.  He had kept the guy guessing and forced him to go for better shots than he would normally have done.

Really, that was the goal of the weekend . . . to overcome the bad juju, to play some quality tennis, and to prove to himself that he belonged out there with the Big Boys.  Mission accomplished.