New Strings, New Racquet or Both?

For the past few years, my son has been playing with the Babolat Aero Pro Drive Plus racquet, the one that looks like Rafa’s only a half-inch longer.  He’s been stringing his racquets with RPM Blast string, and, until very recently, was happy with his tennis equipment.

Since he first started using this particular racquet and string, my son has grown about 8 inches in height and put on more than 25 pounds, most of it in the last year.  Needless to say, that growth has necessitated making some changes in the way he trains, the way he moves around the court, the way he constructs and plays points, and the way he adjusts his body to be in the proper position to make his shots.  And, recently, he noticed that he seems to be “shanking” balls more often which is usually an indicator of poor positioning in relation to the ball.  So, he’s been working with his coach on his footwork and timing to see if he can figure out how to adjust his taller frame, longer arms and legs, and bigger feet to hit the ball on the strings rather than the expensive part of the racquet!

One of the first things my son and his coach picked up on was that his strings seemed to be losing tension rather quickly, perhaps contributing to the timing issue.  He played around with the tension setting on his stringer to see if that would help.  It didn’t.  He then started doing a little research on the different strings on the market and tried a few different ones to see if they made a difference.  They didn’t.

The next step was to look at the possibility of going back to a standard length racquet instead of the “plus” he was currently using.  One of his buddies let him hit with his racquet for a couple of days, which he really liked.  He felt like it gave him more power while still being able to generate enough spin to control his shots.  He went over to our local tennis shop to check out a demo racquet and tried it out for a few days.

I called his coach in a panic.  The idea of spending $500 or more on new racquets was NOT appealing.  Did I mention that all this racquet-changing talk was going on at the same time as the Waco discussion?  I asked if he (the coach) thought a racquet change was necessary or would make a significant difference in my son’s play.  He said that my son had come up with the idea but that after seeing him hit with the demo racquets, he did feel that my son would benefit from a change.  He assured me that changing racquets would be a slow, deliberate process and that he wouldn’t let my son make a final decision without lots of hitting time, match play, and in-depth evaluation by the coach.

After swapping between different racquets over a 2-week period, the time had come to make a decision between the last two contenders.  The day before the demo racquets were due back to the shop, my son had another lesson with his coach, the sole purpose of which was to gauge the effectiveness of each racquet across several different drills and live-ball rallies.  Not only was his coach looking at the power and spin and control of each ball coming off my son’s racquet, but he was also rating the feel of my son’s ball coming off his own racquet as well.  They did each drill with my son alternating between the demo racquets, and after each one the coach chose a “winner” and kept a running tally of the results.  By the end of the lesson, the coach had a clear picture about which racquet was better for my son and his particular style of play.

But, my son still wasn’t convinced!  He scheduled a practice match for the following day just to be sure he was making the right choice.  After playing 3 sets over 4 hours, he finally knew which racquet was going to be his new racquet, and, it turns out, it’s the same one his coach had deemed the right one, too.

So, thanks to our friends at Your Serve and Holabird Sports, my son is now the proud owner of three new Head YouTek IG Radical MP racquets and a matching bag.  The Babolats were great while they lasted – anyone in the market for some lovingly-used Aero Pro Drive Pluses???

K12 and NCAA

A ParentingAces reader messaged me this morning to tell me that K12‘s online schools have recently been put on “Extended Review” by the NCAA.  She went on to say, “It’s throwing quite a lot of us parents into a panic! So many tennis players, athletes, actors, musicians, etc. use the K12 programs (especially the free state charter school pathways), so this is insane!”

As a former K12 parent, naturally I was curious to find out what was going on.  I contacted K12 through its Facebook page to see what I could learn.  I got a very quick reply from them accompanied by a phone call from Jeff Kwitowski,  K12’s Senior Vice-President of Public Policy.

First of all, it’s important to understand that K12 has never had any of its courses rejected by the NCAA for failure to comply to its standards of rigor.  There has been NO VIOLATION by K12 to date.  Apparently, the NCAA is under increased scrutiny to ensure that incoming college student-athletes have the necessary academic knowledge and experience to survive and thrive at the university level – that’s a good thing in my opinion. They have changed their education standards for all high schools, not just virtual schools such as K12.  Click here to read the NCAA Homeschool Information sheet and click here to read the NCAA Homeschool FAQ (which also applies to virtual schools such as K12).

And, as of last week, the NCAA has put K12 under a 2-year Extended Review that could require students to demonstrate that a specific course (or courses) provided adequate engagement by the student and the teacher, and that the student achieved “college readiness” as a result of taking the course.  Please note, though, that this Extended Review only applies to students who are seeking eligibility from the NCAA to play a Division 1 or Division 2 varsity sport in college – it does not apply to Division 3, NAIA, or junior colleges, nor does it apply to non-athletes seeking admission to a college through regular (non-sport) channels.

K12’s official stance on the review is as follows:

“K12 courses have met the NCAA standards for years and, we believe, K12 courses continue to meet these standards.  However, during this extended review period, individual K12 courses completed by students will need to be reviewed by the NCCA Eligibility Center.

Our K12 counselors, advisors, and school leaders are prepared to work closely with every family to ensure all necessary information and documentation on K12 courses are provided to demonstrate they meet the eligibility requirements.

While we are confident K12 courses meet eligibility standards, the final decision will be made by NCAA on a case by case basis.   Therefore, we cannot guarantee that every course successfully completed by a student will be accepted by NCAA.”

If your child is currently enrolled in a K12 high school program, please contact your particular school’s administration to find out what steps you and your child need to take in order to ensure NCAA eligibility.  The administrators are all well-trained in helping families overcome this hiccup in the college application process.

I have emailed Mark Emmert, current President of NCAA, to ask for clarification on the potential impact this “extended review” could have on current and future K12 students.  I will update this post once I hear back from him or someone in the Eligibility Department, so stay tuned . . .

Dreams vs. Goals

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward achieving it” – Anonymous

My son started his sophomore year of high school today.  For me, it’s been a day of reflection because I’m realizing how quickly these next three years are going to go by and how soon my son’s years of dreaming about playing college tennis are going to either become his reality or not.  I’ve got to admit it’s kind-of taking my breath away.

Lately, I’ve been talking to several different people about my son and his tennis goals.  I’ve been listening to lots of different advice about the best way for him to achieve those goals.  I’ve been trying to reconcile the advice with our time and money constraints to come up with a Plan (yes, with a capital “P”).

One of my son’s goals is to play Kalamazoo before he exits the juniors.  When I shared that goal with a higher-up at USTA, I was told that playing Kalamazoo is a dream NOT a goal because my son has no control over the performance and rankings of the other boys in his age group and, therefore, can’t control whether or not he gets into the draw.  This person told me that goals are things you can control; dreams are the same as wishes and are not within your own control.  Hmmmm . . .

I beg to differ.  As the quote above states, once you begin taking steps toward achieving your dream, it becomes a goal.  And, my son is taking very specific steps toward Kalamazoo.  He has added another fitness component to his workouts.  He has tweaked his tournament schedule so that he’s playing higher-level and stronger opponents in preparation for The Zoo.  He has altered his school schedule slightly to allow him more flexibility in terms of on-court time.  He maintains an on-going dialogue with his coaches so that they’re all on the same page about where my son is in his preparation and where he needs to amp up his training.  My son has a Plan.

Of course, we won’t know until next summer whether or not the Plan has been successful.  But, there will almost certainly be checkpoints along the way that will let my son know if he’s on track.  And, if he’s not, he and his coaches will need to revamp and to refocus to get back on track.  And, if this one doesn’t work, then he’s got another year to try a different Plan.

But, if it DOES work, wow!  That feeling of achieving a long-term goal is amazing.  It’s one I hope all my children get to experience over and over again in their lives.  But, really, what I hope they experience is the jubilation over seeing hard work pay off, of seeing commitment to a goal or a purpose yield dividends beyond their wildest imagination.  Didn’t someone once say that tennis is a metaphor for life?  I would have to agree.