Bonus podcast episode with Mark and Trey Hilderbrand:
I hope you enjoy this Bonus Episode of the podcast, live from the US Open!
Seventeen year old Trey Hilderbrand and his father, Mark, joined me in the interview room at the US Open to discuss his incredible run at this year’s US Open Juniors event. Mark and I have been Facebook friends for several years, but this is the first time we met in person. It was eye-opening for me to sit courtside in Trey’s match and watch the now-legal interaction (at least for this event) between father and son, player and coach. This duo shares details about Trey’s tennis development and his plans for the future.
I have had a great week at the Open and have had the opportunity to interview several of the junior and college players participating in this year’s events. Stay tuned for more content coming over the next few days!
We appreciate the support for our podcast. If you are interested in sponsoring one or more episodes, please click here.
The following article was written by Javier Palenque and is reprinted here, unedited, with his permission.
In the past thirty years American tennis has seen a 73% decline in the amount of top 100 players in the ATP tour. This alarming number basically tells us that we lose every decade 25% of our players in the higher echelon of worlds’ tennis. What then will happen in the next ten years with the new massive investment by the USTA in Lake Nona and the new crop of American stars who seem to be on the rise? Will this change the clear trend line that the sport is basically slowly dying for America at the professional level? When you talk to the people at the USTA, they will tell you that things could not be better and that the new crop of players will reverse the disappearing number of Americans. Of the current top 100 stars, we will lose the older players and replace them with the younger players. Essentially this will mean that over a 40 year period we managed to keep our declining rate at 73%.
In my opinion here is how the top 100 will look like for the next decade.
We will lose the players in Yellow and replace them with the players in green. These new kids are truly remarkable as breaking the top 200 at such a young age, truly means that they are very, very talented. However the number of players in the top 100 still remains low, for the largest and richest country on earth. This makes me want to learn further more about the way these new group of young stars came up through the system here in the US?
So, I wanted to see if there is some sort of pattern to figure out of a career path that these guys have taken, so we can try to replicate it and have instead of 8 new stars 80.
The first thing that comes to mind as I read these names is how close to tennis (having a tennisfamily or coaches as parents, or ex. playersis so significant) Escobedo, Fritz, Koslov, Tiafoe, Mmoh, Rubin (father had tennis knowledge). This in essence means that of the eight future American stars 75% have a solid tennis family tradition. The reason this number is important is because then it stands to reason that if you as a current 18U player do not have this tradition, if you thought the odds of becoming a pro were low, I can tell you with a 75% chance of being right that in three out of four kids if your parents don’t have years of knowledge of the sport the chance for you to make it as a pro is even worse than you think. What about the other 25% the other two players? Reilly Opelka has the physical advantage of size (like Isner) and the last kid Jared Donaldson, took 2 years of training on clay in Argentina, a surface that here in America we don’t play in. Ok, got it so what does that mean to me as a parent? Why should I invest in this sport? The hours, the trips, the never ending tournaments, the rankings, the way the tournaments are governed and award points, the way the sport is targeted for who can afford it and not who is most likely to be a pro. While on the surface this looks like a great reversal of fortune of American tennis. In essence I think it reveals the exact opposite, I know, I will get a lot of mail, telling me how incorrect I am. But, follow me, I may be able to present my case to you. Who knows you may end up agreeing with me.
The data reveals three important things that are at the core of tennis in America that remain flawed and only enable the further destruction of American tennis supported by system in place and the governing body structure.
1) Tennis is simply not reaching the very people who will make it grow.
2) Coaches and academies in general must not be that good if for 75% of the future top players the coaches are the parents coaches of the stars who have years of knowledge of the sport by being regular coaches. The other 12.5% Opelka is a big guy who was coached very well, but his size is his differentiator (though he was lucky to train with a well-known coach) and Donaldson the other 12.5% trained for two years on clay. In summary, if you have a coach-parent you are most likely to be in the highway to become a pro, if you are not (which means 99.99 of the population, you are out of luck). Then your only option is to have good coaches around where you live, but who can tell if they are good or not if you don’t know tennis?
3) The tournament and competition structure does not bring up tennis stars. Let me show you my arguments for these three key issues:
TENNIS IS NOT REACHING THE MASS OF PEOPLE WHO CAN GROW THE GAME
There are roughly 9.9 Million (*) core tennis participants (that play more than 10 times a year in the US that is only 3.1% of the 318.9 million population. This number is extremely low if you consider that of 75% of our next stars come from people who played, coach or had been for a lifetime in tennis in this small group. Please realize that maybe there are 100,000 tennis coaches in the US (this number is very high only for calculation purposes). This number represents 1% of the tennis population. This effectively means that about 99.9% of the population remain separated from tennis and with no way of connecting, much less to aspire to be a professional athlete? As the pool of players is so small, the vast majority of possible tennis people is simply not reached. What is the USTA’s plan to reach 99.9% of the population if week in and week out, it plays under a competition system and ranking system that feeds the impossible numbers?
Within the US population there are ethnic groups that are growing at a faster rate than the rest; Hispanic and Asians. Yet these ethnic groups are not known for being physically big and the same USTA states that the future of tennis is for the bigger sized players given the new equipment and speed of courts. What to do?
Another aspect is the cost of playing as a junior. We all know that tennis is an elite sport, given its costs and years of training it requires. So, from a financial point of view tennis is not only played by only 3.1% of the population, it is so expensive that it excludes the masses of people who cannot afford it. Yet, the number of the future pros and their own financial backgrounds tell us that it not need be so expensive as for 6 of the 8 new players for the next decade come from modest background and modest income.Being a coach is not a high income profession.
A big part of being a pro prospect is about the proximity to good tennis knowledge, and passion for tennis.
What is the USTA doing to address this? What is the governing body doing to supply the market with exactly that: the proper tennis knowledge? This void and market reality clearly reveals that who tennis currently attracts and gets to travel and compete every week are the same very people that have the lowest chance of being a pro, even though they may be highly ranked, or under the current system attended a high number of tournaments and therefore acquired the rankings with cash. This makes no sense, yet the sense that the USTA conveys is as if these kids were under a pro path and nothing can back that up in the last twenty years. Nothing.
Finally, if we know that there is a direct correlation for 75% of the new stars of having a tennis coach and family, the key group to target then are adults ages 25 -40 who are the vehicle for growth of tennis in America. This means these are the parents to be that need the fun and excitement to enroll their kids in tennis. What is the USTA doing about them? Nothing.
THE KNOWLEDGE LEVEL OF THE AVERAGE COACH IN THE US IS UNABLE TO PRODUCE PRO- PROSPECTS
If you then consider that of the next stars: Fritz, Escobedo, Koslov, (all parent coaches), Mmoh (dad a pro), Tiafoe (he lived at the facility in Maryland- 24 hr. tennis exposure) and Rubin (McEnroe Academy and dad high school player). Where does that leave the vast amount of kids that are left along the way who with the best intentions and support but who are never with the proper professionals. Here the weakness of tennis in America is the poor level of coaching and the lack of a standard basic USTA driven certification system to validate coaches and facilities. For the 99.9% of parents who want the services, yet do not have the knowledge of who they are hiring. So, in a marketplace where it is driven by no standards, we have the suppliers of the service with no real knowledge of what is a world class forehand is and the country’s governing body certifies no facilities or coaches, So, ignorant parents (the core of the future for tennis ) waste time, money and dreams. The result, nothing is achieved. Nothing is tied together, the coaching, the kids, the USTA, the parents, each work on their own and everyone loses. Why would anyone in a leadership position at the USTA allow this? This weakness revealed and the initiatives the USTA takes show how it does not understand what are the root problems of tennis in America are and how it has no plan to address the problem. I live in Miami, sun 90% of the time, warm weather 95% of the time. Yet the providers of tennis services is extremely weak. Imagine how it is in other parts of the country where there is not a tennis court in every neighborhood or park or condo, or where the weather does not cooperate?. Unless something is done to address this, the next decade will produce the same poor results we have been for the last two decades even with all the investments, and hoopla. This is a tragedy and mismanagement of tennis.
TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE DOES NOT ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION
The current structure and system of competition makes the pool of participants smaller and smaller as the kids get older. All one has to do is see the pool of players from ages 8-12, 12-16, and 16+. Tennis needs to have a complete change of shape.
Do any of you reading this disagree with the suggestion?
The way to do this is to grow the game, to create competitive environments and competitions that are “out of the box”. Not the century old tournament structure and point allocation that is giving us results that are low under any parameter and only shrink the pool of players:
One day Tournaments Round Robin by level
USTA camps for the masses in each age group, not the top players. Good education.
Training for local coaches who may have great prospects but not a competitive program
Some form of match play for all
Promote competitive team tennis locally
Allow tournaments where coaching is allowed
Create a structure to increase the appeal of tennis as opposed to the current structure that only encourages individual participation. (remember this individual participation is boring, has produced the best results 30 years ago, it is dead, yet the structure and results we get continue to be the same)
Other ideas and input from players and parents
Pricing structure revisit, ex, two tournaments a month cost $100 for 4 matches. In other words to play a match in the US we need to pay $25.00. This is absurd. We need thousands of match play hours that need to be FREE, In South America and Europe kids play match play every day at no cost. Here in the richest country on earth that produces the least amount of tennis players and pays the most amount of money we have the fewest hours of match play? How does this make sense?
Working together is the key, we don’t as a common group work together as parents, kids and coaches.
It is the failure of vision and leadership at the USTA that creates this void and poor results.
The next decade of men’s pro tennis has clear data as to where the kids will come from. They will come from tennis parents and coaches with kids. So, if you are a parent whose kids love tennis and you know little about it, you are out of luck. Why do we make this so hard, so exclusive of the very people who will grow the game and so expensive that it allows the people with hunger and attitude to be excluded and the people with resources and not attitude to endure the journey and both with poor results.
Why are we continually doing this? Who can answer that?
We need critical analytical thinking of business people for the benefit of tennis in America. The way it is, it is announcing its death. The worst part is that it will be our fault. We will have watched it die and changed nothing. We need fresh thinking from outside the walls of what now is the USTA. Count me in for help.
I wish the USTA leadership would open its mind and hear other perspectives because from where I stand I only see what will never happen, change. Expecting different results from doing the same things is the definition of insanity. Can anyone tell me why we put up with this?
I can be reached at @palenquej or email@example.com
The article below originally appeared on the Universal Tennis Rating website and is reprinted here with permission.
Youth tennis today is a staggeringly expensive chaos. Globally, hundreds of tennis tribes speak scores of different languages, with no shared way to determine who is actually good at the game–or how good–outside of a couple thousand men and women on the pro tours. Chasing points to beef up “rankings” teaches kids to game the system, seeking out weaker tournaments and opponents to crush. Developing a top junior player can now cost families more than $100,000 per year and mean “attending” an online high school, plus seeing teenagers move away from home. The junior tournament circuit has become an unfair, discouraging, and dysfunctional grind that disheartens thousands of young players. Their natural love for the sport is getting buried under a well-intended system that, unfortunately, just takes the fun out of the game.
In the United States, the status quo has been turning off young tennis players at an alarming rate. A telling statistic is the “churn rate”: in a given year, 38 percent of those who play one USTA-sanctioned tournament quit and don’t play any more. Why not? Maybe they got killed in the match and felt discouraged. Or won but had such a weak opponent that it was no fun. Many junior players who have played multiple events are burning out—and dropping out. Perhaps they tired of jumping through hoops to advance, or their parents became weary of spending buckets of cash and seeing their children miss school to enter tennis events.
What’s needed is a welcoming, supportive structure that keeps young athletes—and experienced adults—engaged with the game, rather than driving them out of it. There is a solution, but first we need to understand what isn’t working now.
Rankings and “Points per Round”
Worldwide, most all competitive tennis gets organized around rankingsystems, from juniors to Intercollegiate Tennis Association events to the professional tours. First of all, we must understand that rankings are notratings. Rankings merely place things in order—first, second, third—relative to each other. We can rank the top 10 ski slopes in Malaysia, but that doesn’t mean any of them are good places to ski. A rating system, on the other hand, is pegged to a verifiable scale. When Consumer Reportspublishes its ratings of 25 dishwashers, the numbers reflect measurements made by extensive testing of the machines. Rankings are simply a pecking order, while ratings reflect an actual metric, a single scale that has a meaning independent of the items rated.
Hence, being a highly ranked tennis player in some regions of the world may not translate into a whole lot of tennis skill: you might be tennis’s version of the best ski slope in Malaysia. Meanwhile, even the 41st-best ski trail in Switzerland could offer some excellent downhill.
Rankings of tennis players nearly always derive from a “points per round” (PPR) computation. PPR is the currency of competitive tennis. Whatever organization is doing the ranking—and there are many—decides to award certain numbers of points for reaching certain rounds of certain tournaments. In general, there’ll be more points for surviving to later rounds, and more points at stake in stronger tournaments. However, tournaments awarding the same numbers of points can still vary widely among themselves in strength.
Therefore, to maximize your cache of PPR and attain a high ranking, your incentive is to find weaker tournaments where you’ll face lesser competition and so have a better chance of reaching a later round. Making it to those weak tourneys, though, may require travel—sometimes lengthy, expensive travel—so chasing PPR can become a costly project. Nonetheless, it propels those who can afford it to higher rankings than their tennis skill might warrant. In theory, tennis ranking and bank account should not be correlated, but in practice, they often are.
Note, too, that chasing points runs contrary to the time-tested path for developing tennis talent: playing challenging matches and events that test your game and stretch its limits. The athletes at the top of the sport on the ATP and WTA tours are there for many reasons—and one important one is that they immerse themselves daily in this kind of challenging environment, whether in demanding practice sessions or tough matches.
Tournaments typically use PPR-based rankings to select their draws and perform seedings. Yet, since PPR is such a shaky index of actual tennis ability, such selections and seedings often tend to be inaccurate and unfair.
Separating Tennis Players by Age and Gender
The USTA’s junior tournament program divides young players into four major age categories, for boys and girls aged 12, 14, 16, and 18 years or younger. The intentions are good: have kids play other kids their own age, and we should get fairly even matches, since everyone will be at a similar level of physical development, and all have had a chance to play the game for about the same length of time, as they share similar “dates of manufacture.”
Sounds good, but unfortunately this breaks down in practice, as children develop physically and athletically at vastly different rates. Two 12-year-olds can have less in common as tennis players than do a 12- and a 16-year old. Consider the following anecdote.
In 1983, a talented 17-year-old Southern California boy reached the quarterfinals of an 18-and-under tennis tournament in Los Angeles. He was startled when a curly-haired 12-year-old walked out to play him. It was a kid named Pete Sampras. Sampras turned out to be a human backboard who got everything back, and defeated his much older, much bigger adversary. The next year, at the same tournament, a 13-year-old Sampras again beat the same player (who later played varsity tennis in the Ivy League). Clearly, the two lads’ tennis skills were unrelated to their chronological ages.
An extreme case? Yes. But it begs the question: is separating players by age really the best way to organize a youth tennis tournament? Research has shown that it does little, if anything, to produce competitive matches. What the age-graded system does do is make it difficult for kids to find good matches, since it rules out all of humanity except those within two years of one’s own age, in most cases. Imagine the problems an adult player would face if she decided to play only women between 35 and 37.
Gender barriers do something similar: they make it harder to find a good match. At the pro level and in college tennis, males clearly have larger, more powerful bodies: they hit harder and move faster. But in most of junior and adult tennis, size and strength are only two factors. There are so many variables that affect someone’s level of play, and his or her sex is only one of them. Most any adult man can bring to mind at least one woman who is his equal or better on the court (if stumped, think Serena Williams). And talented girls who live in areas that are not tennis hotbeds can have a real problem finding good competition when restricted to girls of their own age.
Tennis pro Calin Mateas of the Weymouth Club in Weymouth, Massachusetts, is the father of an excellent junior girl, Maria Mateas(UTR 11.72), who at 16 years of age ranks among the top 50 18-and-under females in the world. “It’s very tough to find people for Maria to train with, especially girls,” he says. “Maria trains with boys. USTA New England has helped me in trying to find girls for her to hit with. That’s good, but sometimes they live far away. It can be easier to drive a short ways and play with college boys. But NCAA rules forbid college players to play against high-school players in an organized practice. So you have to arrange something outside of official practices.”
In March, Maria traveled with her father to Porto Alegre, Brazil, where she was the #5 seed at the Juvenil de Tenis de Porto Alegre, an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Grade A event. Although the trip cost more than $2,500, playing there was important to maintaining Maria’s high ITF ranking. “You have got to play these tournaments to stay in the top 50 in the world,” her father explains. “That ranking is what assures you entry to the junior Grand Slams.” Maria reached the quarterfinals in Brazil before losing to the #2 seed, Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine. A worthwhile tournament, but aside from the expense, such travel makes regular high school impossible; Maria studies at the online Laurel Springs School.
Benefits of Level-Based Play
1. Greatly reduced travel costs. Level-based play dramatically lowers the cost of playing high-octane tennis. Strong players—in fact, any players—can find a challenging match in their own city or local region by entering the UTR system. Doing so slashes the travel budget—airfare, hotels, meals, ground transportation—for tournaments staged at a distance from home. Instead, athletes can thrive at local events organized around similar UTRs, like the UTR Boston Open in Boston. Between tournaments, they can easily set up challenging matches that stretch their games.
Consider again the case of Maria Mateas. In the Boston area, where the Mateas family lives, there are plenty of players who could give her a strong match: they just aren’t girls aged 15 or 16. (Or, for that matter, 17 or 18.) But at the second annual UTR Boston Open last fall, Maria defeated a secondary-school boy, Ryan Nguy (10.41), before losing to Brian Yeung(13.09), a Harvard junior and varsity player.
If age and sex barriers were removed, she could practice daily with tennis peers and compete frequently in metropolitan Boston, driving 20 miles and spending a few dollars instead of flying 5,000 miles and spending thousands. The UTR system could easily pair her with many suitable partners, with the match scores feeding Maria’s UTR.
2. Accelerating the “tennis maturation” of young players’ games. The development of a junior like Maria Mateas would likely accelerate due to the variety of opponents that level-based play opens up. She would face not only young athletes of both sexes but older women and men with years of court experience and tennis savvy. Level-based play re-integrates the tennis world, bringing seasoned adults back onto the court with rising juniors of any age or gender.
In his paper, “The Need for a USTA/ITA Player Rating System,” Harvard men’s coach Dave Fish notes that 13- and 14-year-olds do not learn the subtleties of the game as quickly from peers with similar styles as they would, for instance, from playing the club champion who looks like a hack but never misses. Contrast this with a comment from a collegiate player who had grown up in the French rating system: “As a 12-year-old, I was good enough in French tournaments to play with adults and older juniors. They sliced me; drop-shotted me, hooked me, pushed me around, and always tried to intimidate me. By the time I was 15, I had seen it all and knew how to play tennis.” —Damien Lacombe, former Virginia Commonwealth University player.
3. Keeping families and communities together. Level-based play via UTR also lets junior players live at home with parents, siblings, and friends—and go to school in their local communities. The current practice of uprooting young athletes to cultivate their tennis games is not necessarily efficient or effective. Worse, it disrupts family and social bonds that are crucial to a teenager’s coming of age. Class time (if any) and schoolwork become secondary to tennis training—if they aren’t derailed completely. Moving away from home also disconnects young athletes from their local teaching professionals, who have often successfully mentored them for years. Meanwhile, it’s expensive, physically draining, and time-consuming.
4. Democratizing tennis. The enormous financial savings of level-based play could revolutionize the future of the game. With few exceptions, turning promising kids into high-level players has become a pursuit limited to wealthy families. Imagine the vast impact of using UTR to create easy access to competitive matches for thousands, even millions, of young people currently shut out of this world because their families have only modest means.
Athletic talent is actually quite a democratic thing—it’s evenly distributed across all strata of society, from the underclass to the wealthiest. Reduce the cost of competing to 5 or 10 percent of current levels, and watch what happens. In a diverse country like the United States, armies of young players from Latino, African American, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all manner of European and global immigrant cultures would join middle-class, working-class, and impoverished Anglo girls and boys on the tennis courts. In one generation, tennis participation would explode, from recreational games all the way to the pro tours. This isn’t mere speculation, but an evidence-based forecast based on what has happened elsewhere. In France, for example, where level-based play prevails, the number of players and the development of excellent athletes has, on a per-capita basis, far outstripped the United States. The prevailing system in France is producing 12 times as many junior tennis players per capita as the age-based American system. The French are simply getting a much bigger bang for their buck (or Euro) than the Americans are.
5. Incentives that build tenacity. Won-lost records are a crude and often misleading way to evaluate players.There is a vast difference, for example, between winning a best-of-three match 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, versus 6-0, 6-0. Yes, on rare occasions, a 6-0 set can actually be a closely fought battle of six deuce games. But in general, three tiebreakers indicates a far closer match, and the player who loses it deserves more credit than the one who surrendered 12 straight games. The UTR system provides a more sensitive barometer, because the losing player gets credit for every game won, rather than simply a “loss.” Thus, if you are down, say, 6-1, 4-1, you still have ample incentive to keep fighting for every game, as each addition to your games-won column will enhance your rating. The UTR system cultivates tenacity by rewarding it.
6. Removing incentives to manipulate the system. Building a UTR from match scores against specific, rated opponents gives a more precise, accurate, and honest index of tennis skill than accumulations of PPR. UTR rewards good play rather than the notorious practice of “gaming the system” to artificially inflate one’s ranking. Such gaming undermines player development by encouraging practices—like seeking out weaker draws—that actually impede improvement at tennis. Furthermore, such incentives reinforce undesirable personality traits like manipulative behavior. Chasing points by finding “soft” tournaments and feeble opponents siphons off time, energy, and even money from building one’s tennis game. This, too, hinders improvement. Chasing points often becomes an exorbitantly expensive practice that means traveling a lot and playing more tournaments, rather than playing better ball.
These are a few benefits of level-based play. There are many more. Finding ways to foster level-based play globally could revolutionize the game of tennis—dramatically, and in very positive ways. The simple, accessible tool of UTR is a lever that can do so—expanding participation, cultivating skilled players more quickly and easily, and bringing more fun to the court for all. Level-based play works. The data are in on this, and you don’t even have to take our word. Just ask the French.
We’ve all seen the estimates of how much it costs to take a junior player from beginner all the way to college or the pro tour (click here for a thorough breakdown). Upwards of $300,000. That’s insane!
What if there were a way to significantly reduce that number? After having gone through this journey myself, I have some concrete ideas that could make tennis more affordable without jeopardizing the quality of training and development. I welcome you to add your suggestions in the Comments below, too. Developing a junior tennis player should not – and need not – require an annual investment of what amounts to an average adult salary.
For a beginning player, invest in private lessons (once or twice a week depending on the age and interest level of the player) with a top developmental coach to instill technically-sound strokes and movement from the get-go. Balance the private lessons with group drills and/or hitting sessions to keep the game fun. How do you find a top developmental coach? Do your homework! Talk to parents of successful players, talk to the people in your local tennis shop, call your USTA section office and speak with the head of junior competition to ask for suggestions. It may take some work, but it will be worth it when your child winds up with technically-sound strokes and healthy movement on the court.
Hire a local college player to hit with your child between lessons or group drills. It’s a great way for your child to get turned onto college tennis, start to form relationships with local college programs, and get some great training at a much lower cost than academy coaches charge.
Take your child to watch local high school and college tennis matches. These matches are usually free of charge and are a great learning experience, especially for younger players.
Don’t let your child specialize in tennis too early. The science now supports waiting until age 13 or 14 to play a single sport, both in terms of developing the complete athlete and avoiding injury and burnout. Team sports, especially at the beginner level, tend to be less expensive, so let your child find a balance between tennis and the other sports he or she enjoys.
Parents, educate yourselves! Read Friend At Courtand make sure you have a working knowledge of all the sections that apply to junior tennis. Also, make sure your child knows the rules of the game before he or she starts playing tournaments. You want your child to play as many matches as available when you travel to a tournament. Don’t let your child lose a match simply because he or she doesn’t know the rules.
If you have a local tennis shop, get to know the salespeople and make sure you’re on any lists to be notified when there’s a sale on your child’s preferred clothing, shoes, and equipment. Take advantage of the many shoe warranty programs that exist so you’re not paying full price for new shoes every 6-8 weeks.
Invest in a quality stringing machine and teach your child how to string his or her own racquets (YouTube has some great how-to videos if you’d like to learn how to string). If you buy string by the reel then string yourself, you will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars each year depending on how often your child goes through strings. An average packet of string costs about $20. Add to that a $25 stringing fee, and you can see how quickly this line-item blows up over the course of a year. As your child becomes more proficient, he/she can start stringing racquets for friends to earn extra money and offset some of the costs of playing the game.
Talk to other Tennis Parents to find out about free or low-cost options for training opportunities. Form a network of tennis families and organize no-cost practice round-robins with kids of similar levels. For the older kids, encourage them to call or text each other to set up their own hitting sessions and practice matches. I’ve just created a Facebook group (click here) to help facilitate this type of play. Once the kids start playing tournaments, expand that network and trade off taking the kids to tournaments so you can share the cost of travel, hotel, etc. You can even form a hand-me-down network for outgrown shoes and clothing.
Speaking of tournaments, stick close to home until your child is beating everyone in the area. Follow the Wayne Bryan approach to competition: become the best on your block, then the best in your neighborhood, then the best in your town. Only then might it become necessary to travel for tournaments. But, even at that point, seek out older players – including college players – to play matches and save the cost of traveling for tournaments.
Once your child is ready to travel for competition, choose one or two hotel and rental car reward programs and build up your points so you can earn free travel benefits. Hint: the tournament hotels don’t always have the lowest room rates so shop around.
Instead of paying a coach to attend every tournament and watch every match, invest in a video camera and fence mount, tape your child’s matches, then offer to pay the coach to analyze the matches. That way, the coach is seeing your child in the stressful setting of match play and can adapt training to address those areas where your child needs to do better. You’ll still want the coach to be there in person at least once a quarter, but by using video you can still be sure the coach is on top of what’s happening in your child’s matches without relying solely on your subjective interpretation.
If your child is progressing and is ranked among the top players in your section, seek out sponsorships for free or discounted racquets, clothing, shoes, string, grips, and any other items your child uses on a regular basis.
Make sure your child’s coach understands and uses the concept of periodization in your child’s training. Over-training can lead to injuries which can be very costly. Those costs may include visits to a physician, X-rays or MRIs, physical therapy, massage, chiropractic care, and medication.
Don’t get sucked into the idea that your child has to play a tournament every week! Sit down with your child’s coach (or do it yourself if the coach isn’t willing or knowledgeable which may be a red flag that it’s time to find a new coach) at the beginning of each quarter or 6-month period and map out a schedule of tournaments. One coach told me he sits down with each player at the beginning of the school year and looks at the school calendar, the family’s holiday and social calendar, and the tournament calendar to create a schedule that will accommodate that player’s needs. Make sure to build in blocks of time for your child to work on any aspects of his/her game outside of tournament play that need attention. It’s very hard to groove a new forehand or cement a new tactic during the stress of a tournament. Let your child have plenty of time between events so that development continues to progress.
I’m sure y’all have some other great cost-saving ideas to share! I look forward to reading them as you post in the Comments below.