Trey Hilderbrand’s Run at US Open Juniors

Trey Hilderbrand

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.

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Jim Harp Discusses Coaching the Tennis Journey

Jim HarpThis week’s podcast:

High-performance coach Jim Harp has been around a few years, more than 30 to be exact, and he knows his stuff! He makes it his mission to learn something new every day so he can better coach the junior players under his care. He works with all levels of juniors – from the very beginners to the D-1 college bound and everything in between.

In this week’s podcast, Jim and I discuss his coaching philosophy as well as his new role as an advisor to TennisMentors.net. He has a lot of wisdom to impart to Tennis Parents and is more than happy to answer your questions if you’d like to reach out to him. You can find him online at HarpTennis.com or via email at Jim@harptennis.com

To learn more about Tennis Mentors, listen to last week’s podcast here.

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Assessment Could Save Your Child’s Tennis

assessment

The following was written by Todd Widom and reprinted with his permission.

This article was prompted by an increasing number of parents over the years contacting me for a truthful assessment of their child’s tennis. It is not so easy to receive the truth for some so I am here to give you the truth. Many parents get very excited when their 12 or 14 year old is obtaining excellent results. Does it mean that the child will go on to do great things in tennis? Maybe, but in many cases the real answer is no. The strategy of spending money is easy, because as long as your child is winning everyone is happy. However, you may not be so happy in the later stages of your child’s junior career when they need to peak to get into a great school.

The essence of what I am getting at is if you think your child is having great results, be prepared that you are going to keep investing in his or her playing career. The issue is that you want your child to peak when he or she is 16 to 18 years old and what you must face is the reality that your child is going to require the necessary tools to attend a great university or maybe play professional tennis. Just because your child is winning, does not mean that they have the necessary foundation and tools to play great tennis in their last couple of years of junior tennis, which is when it matters most.

The younger divisions of junior tennis are for learning and developing your game for when you are older. What parents must understand, is that your child should be learning how to train, compete, construct points, have a great attitude, and be mentally prepared. There is no time to be trying various strategies, or going from academy to academy. You will lose precious time and no child has that luxury. Certainly, if an academy or coach is not working out then a change is required, but due diligence and research is required to find the right coach.

When a person gets an opinion from a doctor that they need surgery, they should get a second opinion. The same holds true in tennis. When a student is looking for a new coach or to improve on something in their game, they should interview coaches, obtain a second opinion, and select the one they feel like will get them to the best place in their game.

In addition, when your child is figuring out what college they would like to attend, they should have a list of schools, research them and visit them. I counsel many kids and their parents on these issues. You are making a financial investment in your child’s tennis, and your child is making a commitment to tennis. In addition, the coach is making an investment in your child and their tennis career. What I keep seeing over and over again are junior tennis players not peaking from sixteen to eighteen years old and this is not only a very significant problem, but this is also a costly mistake the parents absorb financially and the player absorbs physically, mentally and educationally. Even though each case is different, what I can tell you is that the majority of kids do not have the solid foundation required to play at higher levels of tennis. As a coach, mentor, friend, and teacher to my students, I make sure that all aspects of what creates a strong and solid foundation are set into motion from day one. This is the only way I know how to do it, and I am not merely a coach. My business actually started this way as parents were panicking that they have spent all this time, effort and money, and at the most important juncture of their child’s junior tennis career, their child is faltering, their foundation is cracking and their dreams are quickly dissolving into thin air. Do yourself a favor and get your child assessed by someone experienced so that you will save yourself major headaches in the upcoming years.

Data Tells the Story

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:

Suggestions:

  •  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.

Conclusions:

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 jpalenque@yahoo.com

What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Building a growth mindset

yet-butterfly

The following article is the third in the series by Paul K. Ainsworth, a Tennis Parent in the UK
(click here to go to his blog) and author of six education books who has given me permission to reprint the series here. Click here to follow him on Twitter.Media preview

Developing a growth a mindset in our children is an aim for many parents. Children with a growth mindset will be more able to cope with setbacks and when things go wrong they are less likely to lose focus. A child with a growth mindset may even find losses motivating and give them a fresh impetus to practice an element of their game. A child with a very strong growth mindset will find success in their learning or their training. So rather than winning a match it is what they have improved on that is the most important driver. (A key tenet of ‘The inner game of tennis’)

growth-mindset-wordallIf we know what mindsets are and we can recognise where our children are on the mindset continuum, then one of our challenges is to consider what we can do to develop a growth mindset in our child. However it is important before we begin that we must never criticise our child for showing a fixed mindset. If our child has played a match and is displaying fixed mindset language we should only encourage, however hard that may be. If we think about our own lives, one negative comment can often be worth 50 positive ones.

You can ask your child questions to try and help develop their growth mindset.

General QuestionsTennis Questions
What did you today that made you think hard?What did you practice today that made you think or work hard?
What happened today that made you keep going on?When you were practising your kick serve what made you keep trying?
What strategy are you going to try now?When you next practice what do you want to work on?
What will you do to challenge yourself today?What do you want to practice or work on today?
What will you do to solve this problem?In this match what are you going to try? What else could you try?

How you talk to and praise your child can also move your child towards either a fixed mindset. Think about what you are saying and whether unintentionally your comments suggest that your child has permanent traits and you are judging them rather than giving the message that they are developing themselves and you are interested in their development.

mindsets-one-question-wrong

When you praise them, try not to praise them for their intelligence or their talent. Its very easy to say when they’ve done a piece of homework, you’re really clever or when they’ve won a tennis match, you’re great player. We want to build their confidence up but actually at the same time we are reinforcing a fixed mindset, that talent and intelligence are predetermined. Instead what we need to try and praise is their strategies, their efforts or their choices.

praise-the-effort-not-the-ability-growth-mindset-kindergartenchaos-com_-1024x1024Growth mindset praise could sound like this:

  • You worked really hard today.
  • I could really see what you’ve been practicing on in that match.
  • I liked it when you got into a long rally and kept going.
  • I was impressed that you kept going for your winners.
  • I’m really proud of you for trying so hard.
  • You deserved to win because of all your practice and how hard you’ve been working.

The final aspect of developing a growth mindset is making use of the power of ‘yet’. If you are really working towards a growth mindset, you are saying that if you keep working you will keep improving. When your child says they can’t do something, you turn it around with yet.

yet-butterfly

Child saysYou reply
I can’t hit a backhand volleyYou’re not making your backhand volleys yet.
I’ve never won a competition.You’ve not won a competition yet.
I’ll never be able kick serve.You’re not hitting your kick serves yet

I hope these three blogs have you given you some food for thought and some ideas on how you can develop a growth mindset in your child. If you want to find out more; I’d suggest reading ‘Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential’ by Carol S. Dweck.

Finally I am not saying that Mindsets have all the answers nor is it an easy process to follow but I do believe it is another useful set of ideas for you to use as a parent and a tennis parent.

Want Tennis Results? Educate the Parents

waringToday’s post comes from an email I received from Frank Giampaolo, author of The Tennis Parent’s Bible and creator of the Maximizing Tennis Potential website, and is reprinted here with his permission. It illustrates the incredible family commitment necessary to develop a young player who wants to be a top professional. I have been reading and hearing about Isa for several years now, so it’s interesting to read about the specifics involved in her training. Please understand: this is a child who has shown that she has the X Factor – I do not feel this type of lifestyle and training is necessary or even appropriate for the majority of junior players. Frank’s approach, on the other hand, can be valuable for any junior, regardless of his/her goals. Please go back and listen to some of my podcasts with various Tennis Parents (click here) for more insights. 

This special report from Barcelona, Spain is a must read.  Jana & Jordan Waring agreed to share with you their daughter, Isa’s, actual monthly progress report. Monthly accountability and guidance is an essential part of their developmental plan.

Two years ago, I traveled to Barcelona and worked with this wonderful family in developing a deliberate customized training plan. Working as a team, the parents decided to become educated about the process of raising a champion. Within two short years, Isa bypassed the masses and reached the top ten nationally.

“Parents educated about the athletic developmental process are the ship’s motor… Parents uneducated about the athletic developmental process are the ship’s anchor.”

The below email is a monthly report sent by Jana (Isa’s mom) regarding Isa’s current tennis efficiencies and deficiencies.

Parents, it would be wise if you’re truly interested in maximizing your child’s potential at the quickest rate, to begin with a detailed, customized evaluation session. I am home in Southern California two weeks a month in 2017.

Contact me direct at FGSA@earthlink.net  or (949)933-8163.

All the Best,

Frank Giampaolo

Subject: Hello from Barcelona
Isa’s Monthly Progress Report

Date: November 6, 2016

Age: 10 years old

Ranking: 8th Nationally in U10

We have been with her new coach for nearly three months. I am still aiding in the training regime with feeding balls for two hours each day, hiring/firing/supervising hitting partners, physio, fitness coaches, organizing practice matches, tournaments, driving, stretching, massaging, shopping ….

Like you said, it is no laughing matter being a tennis parent.

After a brief two months of fixing a LOT of technical flaws, which you have seen some videos, we are seeing some progress. The following is Isa’s Monthly Progress Report.

TECHNICAL:

  • Shortening the forehand back swing (lower, on the side side)
  • Starting from fantastic legs – keep low, stay low, move through each shot
  • Bounce-hit” – taking the ball on the rise
  • More closed stance, less open stance and if that is inevitable, load the outside leg and move through the shot
  • Loads more secondary shots (includes constant asking which shot does/did the moment demand)
  • Fixing her grip on first serve (more backhand) and second serve (more backhand), pinpointing, closing her hips and keeping sideways, more explosiveness, covering the top of the ball with nice racquet head acceleration
  • Adding a slider serve
  • Being able to serve reliable wide and T on both sides, also jam the returner (very handy as she has a mean jamming serve)
  • Cleaning up the volleys – proper grip, turn with the body, firm elbow, wrist low and move through diagonally 

TACTICAL:

  • Differentiate between a dangerous ball (learn to defend), neutral ball (open up the court) and attackable ball (don’t wait, go get it). This was tricky, the tendency is still to let the short balls drop (though not as much as they used to) and try to do something with a deep ball (I often tell her to just send it back where it came from with a nice acceleration)
  • Hit deep – number one cause of errors, wait for the right ball, we train her favorite three patterns (deep and attack, deep and cross-court low slice, deep and drop shot).
  • Train baseline patters – her favorite- use an inside out forehand to backhand deep, followed by an inside out forehand wide, and finish it off with either and inside in or backhand to the opposite side
  • Play behind – she loves this one
  • Train steady patterns for serve (out wide – opposite side, she can do this one on the dime
  • Attack second serves

 We spend a lot of time playing practice points, sets and matches with various people and analyze and plan and analyze some more… Very helpful!

MOVEMENT

  • Hired a fitness coach who trains explosive movements and overall general athleticism
  • Strengthen core
  • Loads and loads of injury prevention and stretching

MENTAL

After the last two months of cleaning up and no tournaments, she started competing again. Rough start, some of the routines were difficult to reincorporate for both of us. The training of the patterns and practice matches (rehearsals) help, but she still tends to deviate a bit.

This gets me to the last, and the trickiest …

EMOTIONAL: 

This goes hand in hand with nutrition, hydration, sleep, match preparation, and overall state of mind. I find that early morning matches are always more difficult for her, I believe the glycogen stores haven’t ben refilled and so the brain runs on fumes. She is not a morning person, so a match at 8am on an empty stomach equals flailing arms, choking, panicking, tapping a racquet and a far more difficult match than it should. I have recently started giving her some pure fructose to take on changeovers which does help IF she remembers to eat it.

She has been winning so much in the spring and summer that she only plays up now, which is trickier but she still keeps a good ratio. Oddly enough, it is it the weaker opponents that she has the hardest time with, it is almost as if she knew she should beat them easily and thus starting doing the “hotshot” tennis and then gets frustrated. In the evenly matched or outplayed matches she generally sticks to her patterns and performs much better. She is not such a head case as she used to be but she does panic and choke once in a while.

This is about it. Hope all is well and wishing you a lovely Sunday. Jana

Hello Parents, Are You Ready To Let Go?

Elkin

At sixteen years old I was one of the top juniors in the United States.  My dream from when I was a young boy was to be a professional tennis player.  I had dreams of playing in front of big crowds on television and on the best stages in the world.  I was starting to grow and I was getting stronger due to some very intense physical and tennis training that I was doing on a daily basis.

In 1999 I was preparing for an important junior tournament, I booked my airline ticket, a rental car for my mom or coach to drive and a hotel room.  In 1999 you signed up for tournaments by sending your entry fee and entry form either by mail or occasionally by fax with a payment to follow.  Nowadays, the tournament entry system is simple as you just click a couple of buttons on your computer or phone and you are signed up.  When the entry list came out for the tournament my name was not on the list and I started to panic.  I called the tournament director and they said they did not receive my entry form.  I was devastated.  What you must remember is that when I was growing up through USTA tournaments, the children in my generation played a fraction of the tournaments that the children play today.  I would spend a couple of months training for one particular big tournament.  Some juniors today play as many tournaments as I did when I was a professional player.

I sat down with Pierre Arnold, my coach, my father figure, and my mentor and he said that I’m going to go to Elkin, North Carolina and play a $15,000 professional futures tournament since I could not go to the junior tournament.  To save precious funds, I was also going to drive there from South Florida since I had been driving for a couple of months and I had a reliable car.  When I was fifteen with my drivers permit I was driving myself and my mother around daily to tennis practices that were thirty minutes from our house or tennis tournaments on the weekends, so I had logged many hours of driving by the time I got my license.  I was very mature as a young man due to certain circumstances growing up in my family, so Pierre and my mother trusted me in driving solo for twelve hours to North Carolina.

I had no cell phone, but my mother did and she gave me her cell phone which if you remember probably weighed five pounds and could barely fit in your pocket.  Her cell phone only worked in the state of Florida, so the second I got into Georgia the phone no longer worked and I would have to use a calling card at a pay phone to let her know I was all right.

I packed my bags, stringing machine, and a bunch of CD’s that my brother had made for me and  the trek in my Volkswagen Jetta five speed manual with crank windows.  The only thing electric in this car was a button that you could press that would pop the trunk open.  My mom called me every hour while I was in the state of Florida and when I got out of Florida, every time I would stop for gas I would call her on a pay phone to let her know I was ok.  At this time, there were no GPS units as I had a TripTik from the AAA.  At one point I actually thought I was in North Carolina, but in actuality I was in South Carolina which meant I had another ninety minutes to drive.  Finally after twelve hours of driving, I made it to Elkin, North Carolina and met up with some tennis buddies from South Florida.  The only two establishments in Elkin at this time were a Cracker Barrel and a movie theater, along with a park that had 20 – 30 hard courts.

It rained for a couple of days straight and my buddies and I were bored out of our minds.  We passed the time by doing a bunch of fitness exercises and tried to stay busy during these boring rainy days.  It was okay because I was excited to just hang around all these great players and coaches.  I was always trying to pick up great tips and better ways to improve my skills.  I would warm anyone up and just spend all day at the courts watching matches and trying to learn.  I ended up losing in the third round of qualifying to a French guy ranked about 500 in the world in a close competitive match.

As I was planning the drive home, I actually found another player who lost in the same round as me and we drove back to South Florida together.  We left the day after we lost at 5am so I could make it back home for dinner.  We split the cost of gas which we both thought was fair and we drove the twelve hours back home.  I obviously called my mom a lot when I got into Florida but looking back on this trip, it makes you think what kind of parenting and coaching that I had throughout my adolescence.

It was made very clear at a young age that if I wanted to be successful in tennis or in life in general, I was going to have to be very mature for my age and rely on no one to hold my hand throughout my life.  It was preached that no one was going to do anything for me, and if someone did do something for me, I was very lucky.  I was going to have to take the initiative on many things in my life and learn as I go along because many times I could not have my mom or coach travel with me to tournaments.  I hung around the courts all day and hit with anyone that needed to hit whether it was a pro or a kid, and I studied matches at the courts.  I knew that one day I would be doing this full time for a living so I needed to be a sponge and be around successful coaches and players.  Now I get to share my  knowledge with the young people that I train on a daily basis, which I find  very rewarding when you start to see improvements in not only their tennis game, but also their maturity and how they carry themselves as a young adult.  These life skills that are acquired through tennis and discipline will stick with these young people for the rest of their lives.  I know they did for me.

The article above is another wonderful contribution from coach Todd Widom. His story is reminiscent of a post I wrote about my son’s first tournament on his own – click here!