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.

Has Your Child Outgrown His/Her Training Environment?

training environmentThe following article is the latest contribution from coach Todd Widom. Enjoy!

A catastrophic mistake parents and junior tennis players make is that when they become the best player at their academy or current training arena, they feel like they have outgrown that environment. This is where the problems begin. First, you should never change a winning formula and this goes for your strategy during a match or your current coaching situation. It is great your child has become the best player where they train, and it may mean your coaches are doing a great job.

What I am seeing and hearing is that once a player reaches the level where they are the best at their current training environment, it is time to move on. This is incorrect thinking as the player is having good or even great results in tournaments. All this particular player may need is just some tougher match play situations once or twice a week, but you should not change training environments.

The reasoning behind this is because it takes quite some time to connect with a new coach and have them understand how that student clicks with many different ways of communication. Every child is different and the cookie cutter mold does not work for every student. How one learns may be completely different from how another learns. I have learned that you may need to adapt the communication depending on each student. I believe the job of the coach is to try to get the best out of each student, no matter what it takes.

I was very fortunate from a very young age to be trained at an extremely high level from two coaches who produced tennis champions. Because of this training, I achieved a good level of play through my early teenage years, but my game really took off when I was about 16. At this point, I started to get my feet wet in professional tennis. I was playing at a high national level, and I was, and had been the best player where I trained for years. I never thought for a split second to change my tennis training environment. I wanted to be a champion, and my coach had been producing champions for many years. I kept having better results without training with anyone better than me. I was determined to be a professional tennis player.

I was trained from day one to learn how to be disciplined with my tennis and how to have tunnel vision concentration. All practices were very productive no matter who was across the net. I had a plan on what I was working on and it was work every single day. You have a plan and you work towards it every day. If you are not executing the plan well, you stay after normal practice hours and keep working on it until you are happy with what you have accomplished that day. This is how you get better.

One of the boys I played against regularly was an excellent player. He was one of the top players in the country and played at a top Division I college in Florida. One weekend we decided to play some practice matches against each other. On Saturday, we played and I won 6-0 6-0. Was the practice match beneficial? Absolutely. I worked on all the aspects I had been working on and I executed them well. We came back on Sunday and I beat him again 6-0 6-0. Once again, it was an extremely productive practice. I was able to follow my plan, execute what I was working on, and do it in such a discipline manner. I never made silly mistakes, which would be a lack of discipline and concentration. To beat someone 6-0 6-0 takes a lot of concentration to not give away any free points. This boy was an accomplished player and a top nationally ranked player, so it showed me I could sustain a high level of tennis for a long period. It was a test of my brain and I passed the test twice that weekend. It was up to me to make the practice productive and it was very productive because it gave me confidence to know I did not have any mental lapses.

Soon after this weekend, I won the boys 18’s Super National Clay Courts. I had many 6-0 sets in that tournament and only lost one set enroute to winning the tournament. My brain was trained to sustain a certain level. It is all about what your child wants to put into the practice and what they want to take out of the practice, not who is across the net.

Assessment Could Save Your Child’s Tennis


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.

Bridging The Gap


I am a published author – how cool is that?!?!?!

USPTA/PTR coach Bill Patton and I have co-authored an eBook based on interviews each of us did with the other concerning the communication gap between junior tennis coaches and the parents of the players they teach. Our hope is that our conversations will help our readers do better in their respective roles which will strengthen the Player-Parent-Coach triangle.

So, how can you get your copy of this cutting-edge material? I’m glad you asked!

Click here to go to (or click on the book’s image on the right sidebar of this page). If you already have a Kindle e-reader or the Kindle app on your tablet or computer, then simply click on the Buy Now button on the right side of the page. If you need to download the FREE Kindle app, enter either your email address or mobile phone number in the box in the center of the page. You will quickly receive a link to click to install the app on your device. Then, you’ll need to go back to the Amazon page and order the book.

As a special offer, the eBook is priced at $.99 through midnight ET on Monday. The price will increase to $2.99 after that time.

I hope you enjoy this first attempt on my part. If you do, Bill and I would both greatly appreciate you taking a few minutes to write a detailed review on the Amazon page.

I have plans for additional books throughout 2015, so if there are specific topics you’d like me to tackle, please add them in the Comments below.

Thank you so much for your support!

Team USA

Image courtesy of USTA
Image courtesy of USTA


Several weeks ago, I got a call from USTA’s media department informing me of – and inviting me to – an upcoming (July 29, 2014) webinar on its new initiative, Team USA. I was unable to tune into the webinar live, but I did take the time to listen to the recorded version and wanted to share it with all of you.

The webinar was hosted by USTA General Manager of Player Development, Patrick McEnroe, and USTA Director of Coaching, Jose Higueras. According to the invitation I received, the Team USA initiative is an effort to create a structure that includes personal coaches, USTA Sections, and USTA Player Development working closer together to create the next wave of world-class American players. During the webinar, Patrick and Jose provided information on the initiative while gathering feedback via instant polls from those coaches and parents online with them.

I urge you all to listen to the webinar at the link below, especially in light of the recent events concerning USTA’s Player Development. It may shed some light on the direction USTA is heading in terms of our junior players.

If you were online during the live version, please share your thoughts in the Comments below. If, after listening to the recorded webinar, you have feedback to share, I’d love to hear from you, too.


April Showers


April showers bring May flowers. What they DON’T bring is outdoor tennis.

I live in the Atlanta suburbs. It rains here. A lot. Especially during the month of April. And there are several tournaments scheduled this month throughout our Southern section which means getting on the court and working on your game is kind of necessary.

But what happens when it’s raining 2 or 3 days a week, the place you train has no indoor or covered courts, and you have a tournament coming up? How do you prepare to compete?

There aren’t many coaches around here who have Rain Day lesson plans. It’s surprising to me, especially given the cost of drills and private lessons in our area. To those coaches who simply cancel for the day if the courts are wet, I would like to offer some suggestions of things you can do with the players to ensure they’re staying Match Ready.

1. Watch and review and analyze video. Don’t have any video on-hand of your players? YouTube is chock full of tennis videos free for the taking. Sit your players down in front of a tv or laptop or iPad and actively watch what’s happening in each point. Take note of shot selection, spin, what the players do between points and on changeovers. What do the players eat or drink when they go to the bench? What happens on a break point or a set point or a match point? How do the players handle a double-fault? These are just a few things to look for, but you get my point. There is so much to learn from watching yourself and others play this game, and watching on video allows for pauses and rewinds as you get your young players thinking about what’s happening between the lines and between the ears.

2. Throw in some extra fitness training. Coaches, if this isn’t your forte, there are again several videos on YouTube illustrating various footwork and fitness drills that you can do in an enclosed space with little to no equipment. You could also bring in a fitness professional for the afternoon to work with the players, maybe even someone to teach them yoga.

3. Have a strategy session. Throw out various point scenarios and ask the juniors what shot they would choose and why. Get them thinking about the court in terms of angles as opposed to straight lines. Help them understand the geometry of the court so they can make better decisions during match play.

4. Teach them to play chess. This goes along with #3. Thinking 2 or 3 steps ahead is crucial in chess. It is in tennis, too. If you don’t know how to play chess or how to teach it, our old friend YouTube can come to the rescue.

5. Work on shadow swings. If you have read about the Russian training center Spartak, you know the coaches there didn’t even allow the young players to use a tennis ball for several months. All the work was done with shadow swings until the technique of the various strokes was perfected. It never hurts to revisit technique, even with older players. It’s amazing how quickly someone can retrain his/her brain just by slowing down the motion of the stroke and making small corrections along the path of the racquet.

6. Practice Mental skills. Do some visualization. Have the players come up with and write down the steps they’ll take between points, on changeovers, and between sets. Discuss them and hone them and then practice them so more. Bring in a guest speaker to help the juniors understand why the mental side of the game is so crucial.

I would love to hear from y’all about other creative ways to spend rainy days. Of course, sometimes a rain day is the perfect excuse for a day off, a day to let the body rest and recover. But when you’re faced with rain more often than not, especially right before a tournament, it’s important to use that time to prepare, even if it means doing so off the court.

REMINDER: If you would like more junior tennis information than the couple of articles I post each week, be sure to “Like” us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (links on the sidebar on the right side of this page). There are some great discussions happening online!


High School Tennis & Ranking Points


If you follow ParentingAces on Facebook and/or Twitter, you may have seen the article I posted last week – Tennis May Reward Top Players To Play For High Schools – from Bonnie Vona, Manager of Competitive Tennis for USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section, told the publication that “there is a movement toward ultimately awarding USTA ranking points for high school matches.”

I spoke to Bonnie a few days ago to find out how far along in the process USTA actually is. It turns out, not very.

While Bonnie told me that the intent is to entice more high-level juniors to play for their schools while at the same time encouraging high-school-only players to try their hand at USTA sanctioned and non-sanctioned tournament play – both of which are very good intentions in my book – it turns out that the underlying impetus may actually have more to do with boosting USTA membership numbers, thereby increasing her section’s quota for national junior tournaments under the 2014 rule changes. That’s a great outside-the-box way to help the Mid-Atlantic section’s juniors who are trying to make the cut at the national level, and I applaud Bonnie for finding a tactic to help her section’s bottom line while also bringing more young athletes to the game long-term AND helping the top junior players get into the national tournaments.

However, when I spoke with Tim Curry in USTA’s media office, I learned that what USTA is actually looking toward is implementing a rating system for high school tennis which might look like a mix of the current NTRP and the Universal Tennis Rating systems. Tim told me that USTA is not looking at adjusting its Points Per Round tables to include high school play at this time but rather is trying to find a way to better involve these high school players in tennis outside of school play. USTA is hoping that a rating system would allow for these kids to compare themselves to other junior players who might be currently playing in leagues or tournaments and inspire them to join in once their high school season is complete. But, Tim insisted, this rating system is only in the preliminary discussion phase and quite a way from being ready for public consumption.

So, while it would be great to incentivize current high level juniors to join their high school teams by offering ranking points as an enticement, and while it would be great to get those current high school players more involved in tennis outside of school, it doesn’t look like either is coming any time soon, at least not from a national perspective.

To understand why I’ve taken such an interest in this issue, below is a Q&A I did with a friend of mine whose son plays for his high school in addition to playing sectional USTA tournaments. She and I have had several conversations about the benefits of high school tennis, and her answers below may shed some light for those of you still on the fence.

ParentingAces: What role has high school tennis played in your son’s overall tennis development?

Julie Brown: It has given him more confidence in himself as a player. He was chosen by the coach last year to play the deciding line, if needed, in the playoffs.  As it turns out, it was needed, both in the quarter and semi-final matches. Had he not won either of those matches, the team would not have gone on to eventually win the state championship. He has played some of his best tennis for his high school team.

It has also helped his focus to be able to play his game and not drop down to his opponent’s level, if they happen to be playing against a weaker team.  (There are those schools that are lucky if they can recruit enough players to field a team, often getting football players to play so they can earn another letter)  This isn’t always easy for a tournament player to do; you want to play the match at your level and not let it drop.  David played a “golden set” his sophomore year and said, “well, the kid wasn’t very good” , which was true, but David also had to play perfect tennis, no double faults, no over hitting, no missing winners; not always that easy.

I think he has also discovered that he has some leadership abilities that he might not have discovered had he not played on his high school team.

PA: Was his private coach supportive of his decision to play for his school? Why or why not?

JB: Haha, NO, his private coach, like MOST private coaches, was NOT supportive of any of the academy kids playing for their school.  Our academy was located around the corner from the school, so we were fortunate to be able to have players that were tournament players on the high school team.  The matches were taking time away from training, since they were on weekday afternoons.  Plus, in the coach’s mind, they weren’t “real” matches that challenged the kids as players, or so he thought.   This certainly didn’t have any effect on the kids’ decision to play!   It wasn’t until the team won their first state championship and the high school coach wrote an email to our academy coach thanking him for all the work he had done with the kids, that he was supportive.  It was even put it on the academy website and, after the team won their 2nd state championship, they acknowledged that the starting line-up was composed of all academy players.

I’ve never understood why private and academy coaches are so against players being on a tennis team, whether it’s USTA, ALTA or high school.  There are so many life-lessons to be learned from being part of a team, plus, it gets them on the court, regardless of their opponents’ ability.

PA: Would the opportunity to earn USTA ranking points have affected the coach’s perspective? Would it have made it easier or harder for your son to decide to play for his school?

JB: It definitely would have gotten the coach on board sooner, but it would not have changed David’s mind about playing; he has wanted to be a Brookwood varsity tennis player since middle school, maybe earlier!

PA: What is the impact of winning a state championship-twice!-on your son and his commitment to tennis?

JB: Well, he comes off those wins feeling energized and excited about tennis, going to the banquet, seeing his team mates sign to play for colleges, ordering rings.  It usually carries over into the summer, and he’ll play some of his best tournament tennis then.  After school starts back, the grind of getting up early, staying up late to finish homework after training or having to deal with the private coach getting upset that he missed training for some school related activity, gets to be a struggle and there is usually a slump in tournament play and rankings.  He’s experiencing some of that now, along with a slight shoulder injury.  The stress of looking at colleges and filling out applications, keeping up grades and enjoying senior year and its activities make it hard to keep up the training necessary to play and win at the top tournaments.  I think as the high school season approaches (he’s a captain this year), the excitement and hunger for another winning season will get him back to training and, hopefully, winning again.

PA: We hear time and again that college coaches don’t care if kids play high school tennis-they just care about USTA/ITF events.  Do you think having the ability to earn ranking points would change that? How?

JB: I think any coach, private, academy or college, that thinks high school tennis is a waste of a player’s time needs to come watch some of the state semi-final and final matches.  At least in our bracket here in Georgia, which is the largest and, arguably, the most competitive, you have 3, 4 and 5 star players, some college tennis signees and some freshman, all playing full 3 set matches (singles and doubles play full 3 sets), none of that ridiculous 8-game pro-set or 10 point match tie-break crap that you see in those wonderful USTA events!  I have never witnessed a player in a tournament refuse to give up a match due to cramping; they just quit, default, no big deal. But I have seen a senior, playing for his high school team, trying to get them to a state championship match, refuse to quit the match but is cramping so badly that he falls to the court after a shot, not once but several times.  His coach finally had to FORCE him to retire the match. He then had to be carried off the court and taken by ambulance to the hospital for I.V. fluids.  That’s what makes high school tennis so great; that emotion, that love for your school and your team, that idea that you can’t let them down, is something that coaches, ESPECIALLY college coaches, should want from their players.  I don’t think that is something you will EVER find at any tournament, except at the professional level, and even then, they retire and go get treatment in the locker room.  I think this player would have literally died to get his team that chance to win a state championship, it was that important to him.  If getting ranking points will get private and college coaches on the high school tennis bandwagon, then that would be great!  Something needs to get them out there because that is where the kids play for something greater than themselves; they play for their team, and isn’t that what a college coach wants?