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.

Privates vs. Squads

The following article was written by Graeme Brimblecombe and is reprinted with permission from LifeTime Tennis of Australia’s website (you can find the original article here). I found it incredibly detailed and enlightening in regards to how junior players should be spending their on-court time and how we parents should be spending our training dollars. I hope you feel the same way. Enjoy!

Dear Parents and Players,

Over the past year there has been a significant spike in parents and players wanting more and more private lessons and after talking to parents and players about their reason I want to dispel a lot of the myths that surround an increased dependence that seems attached to having a “Private Coach”.

The first part of all this is that a private coach is necessary in terms of setting the scene for what players should be doing over the rest of the week or short term. There should be a discussion and work done on the areas of a player’s game that they should be working on over the next few days/ weeks. This “Private Lesson” should be as much a goal setting session as it is an on court session and in fact if the coach didn’t hit a ball or stood on the court the value should be no less.

In that lies the problem. Some players and parents are not willing to take responsibility in their own development and work on areas of their games in the other times they are on court. This means that the only time a player is likely to improve is when a coach is on court with them. If a player is unable to work and improve independently it is unlikely they will ascend to a very high level of the game and at times when things get a little harder to improve ( which happens to every player) they are likely to take the easy option and give up. They have not invested in their own development. Here’s a phrase I used to use a lot when I was working with TA and its various subsidiaries.

AS A PLAYER YOU MUST BE AN ACTIVE PARTICIPATANT IN YOUR OWN DEVELOPMENT.

Meaning that Players who want to be successful and play at a high standard have to be significantly more invested in their development than what a coach or parent is.

Here’s some simple tests. Ask yourself the following.

When was the last time my child asked me to:

  1. Get to training early so he / she could warm up and prepare before going on court.
  2. Asked if they could go to the courts and hit some serves.
  3. Rang another player and asked for a hit.
  4. Organised some practice sets.
  5. Did extra physical work at home. Stretching / running / movement / strength
  6. Watched tennis matches on TV
  7. Stayed behind after losing in a tournament to “Watch” more matches.
  8. Wrote down or did an evaluation of their tennis goals

Now ask yourself where the motivation is?

If it is not with the player there is only 2 other possible motivations. Either the parent or the coach. It should be neither.

THIS NEEDS TO BE PLAYER DRIVEN.

Here’s a few other attitudes to be aware of.

Does your child ever come off from training:

  1. Down in the dumps, whinging, sooking, looking for attention because they have lost or not played well.
  2. Do you or your child put more importance on performance or on results?
  3. Do you or your child place the blame for a loss on opponent, coach, parent or other outside factors for that outcome?
  4. Are you or your child more focused on who they are playing or training against than performance?
  5. Does your child train / play unconditionally no matter what else may be going on outside of tennis or do you / they make excuses for their performance?
  6. Does your child ask you not to watch their matches?
  7. How often do you or your child cancel a tennis session for an extra – curricular school activity?
  8. As a parent do I send my child off to a coach or squad because the person or players in the squad motivate him or her?
  9. Does my child motivate the other players he or she is training with?

Ask your child 1 simple question. WHO DO YOU REALLY PLAY FOR? Be careful parents the answer may be a bit of a surprise. If the answer is themselves, does their actions meet their answer.

I’ve been coaching for 30 years and have working with a world number 1 and various other top 10, grand slam, Davis and Fed cup players and managed / coached a Junior Davis Cup Championship Team. As time goes by more and more tennis parents and players are turning to the coaches to perform some kind of magic on their tennis careers.

From my experience you are all looking in the wrong place. Players need to take a look in the mirror. As that is where the magic is. It lies within and what you as a player is prepared to do.

If you think private lessons are the most important part of your players program you are facilitating the very attitude that that gives your child less chance and not more of being successful in this game.

The squad lessons need to be the single most important sessions each player participates in throughout a week. They offer an opportunity to work on so much of what tennis is really all about. However, often parents and players prefer to miss squads in preference of privates. This attitude feeds the beast that will prevent the most important learning opportunities being, accountability and ownership of their own development.

If players would like to be success at this game from the age of 12 they will need to be on court for the majority 5 – 6 days a week.

A balanced on court program will include all of the below.

  1. 1 Private lesson per week (preferable bi weekly) and doesn’t have to be hitting.
  2. 3 Squad sessions per week.
  3. 1 – 2 hitting session per week. – with a player of a similar standard
  4. 1 – 2 set play match play session per week – with a player of a similar standard

These sessions that are self – directed and offer self – ownership are the sessions that players need the most. Develop independence and ownership in your players.

Parents stay out of it, do not get involved in those sessions. They are not your training sessions.

The first part of this is to understand where the feeling or need for private lessons are driven from. After speaking to a number of parents and coaches these seem to be the main points.

From a parents perspective the following were common messages:

  1. There seems to be the desire to receive personal tuition and more focused lesson with the players
  2. The players received more technical attention.

From a coaches point of view:

  1. Coaches generally love private lessons because it fills up more on court time.
  2. To get over a technical hurdle that a player is struggling with
  3. Set the scene with players for the rest of the week

Think about this, if private lessons are so important why is it that the Tennis Australia National Academy programs consist almost entirely of squad lessons and they generally farm the private lessons back to the private enterprise coaches. If private lessons were so important why would they not want to do them themselves.

Over the past 30 years in the industry I can’t think back of a single successful player that I have worked with or seen working that has had a big focus on private lessons.

  • 5 years at Tennis QLD and barely conducted a one on one lesson, all squads.
  • 3 Years as AIS men’s coach and barely conducted a private lesson.
  • 2 Years as NSWIS and TNSW Head coach and didn’t do a private lesson.

These programs have all produced world class tennis players and yet private lessons were an absolute rarity.

Our best players for as long back as I can think did very little one on one lessons with a coach. However the players who have been successful have been those who have been able to put the time in on court throughout their developing years.

Parents I urge you to change your mind set in this space and look to balance out your child’s on court program.

Now the challenge is to get the children to be accountable by focussing on the things they are being asking to work on by the coach while they are not with a coach. When they start to do this then you may start to see where the magic really is.

From my point of view there are a range of benefits that squad session can give that private lessons do not.

  1. The simple volume of work players can get in squad.
  2. Players can and should be working on their technic at all times which should be reinforced by the coaches in squads.
  3. Players get the opportunity to work on more tactical outcomes which drive the technic they use.
  4. Players generally have to be more aware (and are aligned to the match play) of the decision making process and the way in which they cope with different situations.
  5. There are much more live ball activities teaching a greater variety of options and choices available.
  6. There is in most cases more movement and physical activities involved in squad sessions.
  7. There is much more Serve and ROS activities involved in squads again creating a more realistic outcome.

When you ask your coach to do more sessions and he says you are better off doing more squads and more hitting, set play or serves and ROS he is really someone who cares about you. The coach that says let’s do a private lesson or another private lesson is probably someone who cares more about himself.

We get a heck of a lot of people coming along talking about wanting their kids to become better tennis players. I can understand them pulling out if they are sick or injured however the majority of our squad cancellations are now other extra – curricular activities that have nothing to do with tennis.

The frustration for us is that the attitude is that we want you to make our kids better but they don’t want to make a commitment to that. They want to pick and choose and do a portion of the work required and still get a great outcome. I’m here to say parents that is not going to happen.

Have a think about it from this perspective. Why do kids go to school 5 days a week 38 – 40 weeks of the year and 12 years to develop the skills required for university or to go into the workforce?  Why do you think it is ok to look at tennis any different?

The MAGIC is in the dedication and discipline. They are the 2 most important personal qualities required to be successful. By the time your child is playing at a top 20 level in his or her age group in the state everyone playing at this level has talent. Talent WILL NOT be enough. What is going to give your child a COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE from this point forward. I don’t think it exists in more private lessons. What do you think?

The 12’s and 14’s Tennis Superstar Curse

Image courtesy of http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/
Image courtesy of http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/

Today’s Guest Post is written by Coach Todd Widom.

We have all seen it.  We go to a junior tennis tournament and there is a young kid playing and everyone is just in awe of this player.  They win so much and it seems like they are unbeatable at such a young age.  They may in fact be on a great path to becoming a great player or unfortunately they may not be.  Sometimes I even look at a particular young superstar and think when they get older, they are going to be in trouble, or I may think they are on the right path to do great things in tennis.  No one can really tell until the player is older; however, from a coaching perspective, a good coach can tell if they have the proper techniques, game style, brain, and physicality.  You can get away with many subpar attributes at a young age, but it will catch up to you if you are not doing things properly.  Remember that habits are formed very early on in the development process, so if the habits are not good habits, it is much tougher to fix them in the latter stages of the junior tennis players’ career.

For example, some children go through puberty at a younger age than others and they are so much more physically developed and can overpower their opponents.  This obviously will not last forever, as the late developing children will catch up with height and strength.  What you often see is that this strong young player struggles when they get older because they cannot overpower the players they used to overpower, and they only have that one dimension of power.  Their techniques may also be off because they could muscle the ball around the court instead of using the proper muscles to generate pace and heaviness on the ball.

Another type of player that falls under the category of someone who is a young cursed superstar is just a player who has been on a court at an earlier age than most and has gotten more repetitions in.  They are usually very seasoned and know how to win matches at an early age.  Once again, the competition catches up and they are usually scratching their heads and not handling the losses very well.  Burnout can also be a major factor as this type of child gets older.  There needs to be a very good balance of winning but also losing.  You learn a lot more when you lose.  If the player is winning too much in one division they should be moved up to the next division to have that balance of winning and losing.

The last case of a young player that may be in trouble in the latter years of their junior development is the moonballer or strictly defensive player that has no ambition to be aggressive and take the match to the other player.  Like I have said in  previous articles,  this type of player, coach, or parent are obviously very results based and not process based, which is going to destroy the players career, because you can only get so far playing the wrong way when the competition is training and developing their skills for the future.  Usually these types of players fizzle out when they realize that the 12’s and 14’s type game that they possess does not work in the 16’s and 18’s, where it matters most for college opportunities or the professional tour.

In conclusion, many of these 12’s and 14’s superstars are not developing their games for the future and are very short sighted.  In these younger divisions it is crucial to be learning all the basic fundamentals of technique, movement, strategy, how to train properly, and also how to compete properly.  If the main goal from either the player, parent, or coach is to win and dominate these divisions, the development of the player may take a backseat, and one day all you will talk about is what happened to that young superstar that you thought was a can’t miss prospect.