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

Clay Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Your Child Lack Confidence

Another guest post from coach Todd Widom . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bridging The Gap

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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 Amazon.com (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.

http://www.usta.com/About-USTA/Player-Development/first_team_usa_forum_held/?CategoryId=12660&Year=2014

 

April Showers

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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!