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 Academy & Tennis Coach Hopper

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Today’s Guest Post is from Coach Todd Widom:

I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but where I train my students in South Florida, there is an overabundance of tennis coaches and academies.  One month a particular player is with one coach and a month later they are with a different coach or even at a different academy.  They just cannot stay put and they bounce around to multiple coaches or academies.  This is a sure way to not have your child progress in tennis.

I was blessed to have the same coach from when I was 6 years old to the time I retired at 26 from the ATP Tour.  That’s right, I started as a beginner and I stayed with the same coach for 20 years.  You are most likely saying to yourself that you think that it is extremely rare for this to ever happen and you would be right.  This is rare.

When you watch a true tennis coaching professional, they can teach all aspects of the game to help that particular player achieve their goals and dreams.  When you find this person, you do not switch coaches.  It is very rare to find a coach that can teach proper technique, movements, discipline, etc.  Just ask Rafael Nadal, James Blake and many others.  You will see it is also crucial to have a bond with your coach.  This is where the true development takes place because there is a strong trust between both student and professional.

I can definitely understand why a student and parent would want to leave their current coaching situation.  There could be crucial aspects that are not being or have not been addressed and this particular player could be stalling in their tennis development or regressing in their tennis development.  If you would like your child to be a high level tennis player, you cannot go through periods where the child is not getting what they need as there is no time to waste.

As a parent, you must do your research into who is going to guide you and your child to achieving their goals and dreams.  You will be investing many hours and money into this process and there should be no time wasted to be making uneducated or uninformed decisions into who is going to be guiding your child to their goals and dreams.  Just know that anyone can make a website, get a bucket of balls, find a tennis court, and coach tennis.  That is how easy it is to coach tennis in this country.  You will know a true professional when you see it, as they will be a role model, design a plan for how your child will achieve their goals and dreams, and help you the parent through this tennis process of development through many levels and years.  The professional will show up every day ready to help your child improve their tennis skills over many years.

Multiple coaches do not work, whether you have multiple coaches at your academy or you hop around to different coaches in your area.  Many coaches can look at players and know how to cure some issues in the student’s game, but all it takes is different terminology to confuse and destroy that particular player’s progress.  To become great at tennis it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and consistency, day in and day out, with the same person if you want steady progression.  You cannot get this with multiple coaches and multiple coaches working on different aspects of your tennis game.

Poor habits are difficult to break for any player at any level.  It takes a tremendous amount of structure, discipline, and repetition to break poor habits in one’s tennis game.  For example, if a player needs something significantly  fixed in their game from a technical perspective, I can tell you from experience that it will take somewhere  between six months to a year to fix that certain stroke.  Also keep in mind that it can take this amount of time and you must work on it every day with the same coach until the stroke becomes a good habit.  The way you can tell if the stroke is fixed is if the child can bring it out in a tournament and trust it under that type of stress in a tournament situation.  This is just one example of why having instability in your child’s tennis training will be instrumental in generating poor results.  It does not matter how established these multiple coaches are, your child will not progress at the rate they should, or even at all, if there is not one voice in the players tennis career.

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.

How To Use Ratings & Rankings

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I get a lot of emails asking about the various ratings and rankings used in Junior Tennis, so let me try to explain the differences between USTA rankings, Tennis Recruiting Star ratings, Tennis Recruiting rankings, and Universal Tennis ratings and how best to use each one. I have been talking extensively with people at each organization about what their numbers mean, how they are derived, how college coaches use them, and why they are relevant. Since TennisRecruiting.net is in the midst of its Star Rating Period, and since high school juniors and seniors are in the throes of college recruiting, it seems like the right time to present this information again.

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between a ranking and a rating. A ranking is an ordered list of players from best (#1 or top-ranked) to worst. You can look at a ranking list and see exactly where a particular player falls among his or her peers. Typically, in head-to-head competition, the better-ranked player is expected to win, and it is considered an upset when a player ranked several spots below gets the victory. A rating, on the other hand, identifies and groups together players of similar levels of skill and/or competitiveness. You can use ratings to find practice partners and opponents at a similar level regardless of age or gender, and some tournaments (see the New Balance High School Tennis Championships) are now using ratings as a selection and seeding tool to ensure more competitive matches. Depending on the system, you can predict who will win a particular match based on the range of difference between the players’ ratings.

Let’s start with the Points Per Round (PPR) ranking system since it’s been around the longest and is the one used by USTA (a similar system is used by ITF) to determine selection into sanctioned tournaments. With PPR, a player earns ranking points in his/her current age group (as well as older age groups if the player chooses to “play up”) based on the level of the tournament played as well as which round the player reaches in that tournament. Moving forward in a tournament draw, whether by an actual match win or by a default or walkover, is all that matters in this ranking system. Main draw matches count for more points than do backdraw matches. USTA takes the player’s top 6 singles tournament results plus the top 6 doubles results (doubles only counts at 25%) within the previous 12-month period to determine his/her ranking at the local, sectional, and national level. The only time an opponent’s ranking is considered is in determining whether to award Bonus Points for a particular match win. Rankings are typically updated weekly. The actual points awarded by tournament level and by round changes slightly each year and varies by section, so be sure to look on your section’s website for the latest information.

Tennis Recruiting (TRN) publishes both rankings and Star Ratings based on a player’s high school graduation year. Rankings are updated each Tuesday and Star Ratings are updated twice per year. Unlike PPR, players are not rated or ranked by age group but rather by recruiting class. Head-to-head results definitely factor into both the ratings and the rankings on TRN though the algorithms they use are way too complicated for me to understand or explain (click here for my 2012 article on the intricacies of TRN)! TRN counts only singles matches (doubles are not included) that actually start, even if one player retires during the match. An exception would be a match in which a player plays one (or just a few) points to avoid Suspension Points by USTA. Dallas Oliver of TRN told me, “In our system, winning always helps – although wins over players rated far below do not help much. Losing badly always hurts (close losses can actually help in our predictive rankings which use scores) – although losses to players rated far above do not hurt much. So it’s all about competition – and the back draw gives you the chance to play more matches.” TRN uses both USTA junior tournaments and ITF tournaments to calculate its ratings and rankings. At this time, high school and ITA matches are not included.

Universal Tennis (UTR) publishes ratings based solely on actual matches played. They look at a player’s 30 most recent singles match results (doubles are not included), apply their proprietary algorithm, then rate the player on a scale from 1-16.5 to provide a snapshot of where a particular player is in comparison to other players in a given week. Gender is not a consideration. Neither is age nor country of origin. All players world-wide are rated together on the same scale. Only matches that are actually played are included. Walkovers or defaults are not counted. And, UTR pulls match results from a wide variety of sources including USTA junior tournaments, USTA adult tournaments, high school matches, ITF tournaments, ITA tournaments, and college dual matches among others. According to the UTR guiding principles, any two players within a 1.0 rating differential should have a competitive match, and if a player rated more than 1.0 below the opponent wins the match, that is considered an upset. For more information, click here and here.

Lately, there has been a lot of conversation around “gaming” these various systems, especially in terms of avoiding lower-ranked/rated opponents in order to manipulate the numbers. Rest assured that the brains behind TRN and UTR are constantly on the lookout for the “gamers” as are college coaches. With PPR, it’s a bit easier to get an inflated ranking just by scouring draws and traveling to weaker tournaments to earn points. With UTR and TRN, that simply doesn’t work since each opponent’s rating and ranking are taken into consideration. As Bruce Waschuk at UTR explained to me, “If a player ducks too many matches, they could end up with an unreliable UTR, at which point tournament organizers will no longer use their rating for seedings or selections. Some college coaches do check actual draws to see if a prospective recruit demonstrates chronic match withdrawal characteristics. Being too clever with respect to matches played in an effort to ‘game’ rankings or ratings could hurt a junior in the end, if their goal is to play college tennis.”

Now that you understand how the various numbers are calculated, what’s the best way to use these indicators?

For entry-level players who are just starting to play tournaments, PPR is probably the most important number since it determines your USTA ranking and whether you will be selected for certain tournaments as well as whether you will be seeded in those events (for players just starting on the ITF circuit, PPR is useful there as well). There’s a great website called MyTennisNetwork that allows you to search for tournaments and view the USTA rankings of players who have entered each tournament so you can tell if your ranking will earn you a spot in the draw and/or a seeding. I highly recommend this site for anyone new to tournaments as a way to keep track of entry deadlines and to search for the appropriate level tournaments in your area.

Once a player is entrenched in the junior competition structure and has played close to 30 matches, UTR becomes very valuable as a way to find appropriate tournaments (you can copy and paste the entry list from USTA and ITF tournaments into UTR to determine where your player falls in the field) and practice partners. The free account provides enough basic information to get started. But, for those juniors hoping to play college tennis, a Premium or Premium Plus Account is definitely worth the small cost. UTR is incredibly helpful in choosing schools to contact since you can pull up the UTRs of all the players on a particular team or even a particular conference to figure out whether you would be a desirable addition to the team.UTR

TRN typically starts rating and ranking players beginning in their 6th grade year, so it’s good to go ahead and set up a free account once you hit that point in school. As you enter your sophomore or junior year of high school, it may be worthwhile to sign up for a Recruiting Advantage Account so you can see which college coaches are viewing your profile, add more details like photos and videos, and update your GPA and test scores (click here to find out what college coaches can see on TRN). For a complete description of the various features available on TRN, click here.

Speaking of college coaches, I have heard from many of them that they are using all three of these indicators – USTA, TRN, and UTR – in addition to other more subjective factors when deciding whether or not to recruit a particular player.

Rather than worrying too much about ratings and rankings, a junior player’s best approach is to continue working on his/her game, playing matches against a variety of opponents, and – if college tennis is the goal – making sure to have a high enough GPA and SAT/ACT score to ensure admission into a desirable school. Stressing out over the incremental changes that may occur week to week doesn’t serve anyone. College coaches look at trends – are a player’s ratings and rankings moving up or down over time? – and tend to ignore little hiccups that may show up if a player has a bad week or two on the courts. While it’s nice to have a current picture of where you stand against your peers, I sometimes think the once-per-year rankings we had when I was playing juniors was a saner approach to the game. Regardless, these indicators are here to stay, so please use them in the manner in which they’re intended: to help you reach your highest potential as you go through the Junior Tennis Journey.

10 & Under Pathway for Florida Players

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USTA Florida just announced its new pathway for 10-and-under tournament players in the section. The pathway was developed with solicited input from coaches and parents throughout Florida and utilizes the red, orange, and green balls based on age and skill level.

Tournaments are designed to fit the level of the players. For example, red ball events are half-day and don’t track results. The pathway includes a grandfather clause for players who turn 11 during the 2015 competition year and who have the ability to play on a full court with yellow balls.

A link to the full announcement of the pathway can be found by clicking here. A link to a visual illustration of the pathway can be found by clicking here.

If you are a parent in the Florida section with a junior age 10 or under, I would love to hear your input on this new specific pathway. If you live in another section, how are tournaments and development for these young players handled where you are?

What A Difference 2 Years Make!

Image courtesy of www.ITFtennis.com
Image courtesy of www.ITFtennis.com

Almost exactly two years ago, my son played in his very first Junior ITF tournament in Waco, Texas. While it was an excellent learning experience for him to understand what he needed to do to reach the next level, it was also a very quick experience in that he lost his first qualifying match pretty handily. A couple of weeks later, he played in his second Junior ITF tournament near our home in Atlanta. That time, he got through the first round of qualies but came up against a very talented player from the midwest in the next round and went down fighting.

Fast forward to last weekend, my son’s next experience playing a Junior ITF event, once again in Atlanta. He was on the alternate list for the qualies when he went to check in for the tournament but found out that he had indeed made it into the qualifying draw. He was set to play the 6 seed, a young man from Canada, in his first round qualies match . . . not the best draw one could ask for!

But, my son, unbeknownst to me, had set a goal for himself to achieve an ITF Junior ranking before the end of 2014 (when he ages out of the ITF Juniors), so he was determined to get through the qualies and into the Main Draw Round of 16 to earn those elusive ranking points (click here for a detailed look at the ITF ranking point tables). He took care of business in his first match, dropping only 1 game. He had a second match later that day and again took care of business. The following morning, he was slated to play the 10 seed, a high school freshman from the DC area who trains at the JTCC. My son was definitely feeling the pressure going into that match. Not only was he trying to make it into the Main Draw with the win, but he was also facing a much younger – though very accomplished – opponent. Once again, my son stepped up, stuck to his game plan, and overcame the pressure to reach the next stage of the tournament winning 7-5, 6-2.

In his first Main Draw match, my son again faced a seeded player, this time the 7 seed from Florida. Again, the pressure was on, but my son handled it beautifully, losing only 3 games in his straight-set victory. The next round, though, was where the real pressure set in.

For boys playing ITF Grade 2-5s with a 64-draw, they only receive ranking points by reaching the Round of 16. That meant my son HAD to win this next match in order to achieve his goal. I later found out also that TennisRecruiting.net only counts ITF match wins if the player makes it into the Main Draw.

My son’s 2nd round opponent was a familiar one, an 8th grade Blue Chip who my son used to train with in Atlanta. So now, not only was my son feeling the pressure of winning to earn the ranking, but he was also feeling the pressure of playing a MUCH YOUNGER opponent who he was, of course, expected to beat. That said, this younger player had also fought his way through the qualies and had won his first-round Main Draw match, so it wasn’t going to be an easy match in any way, shape, or form.

Let me say that I very rarely get nervous before my son’s matches. I figure it’s him out there on the court, and he’ll give it his best effort, and, win or lose, hopefully learn something to help him in the next match. This time was different though. I was a nervous wreck! And so was my son!

My nerves, though, stemmed solely from the knowledge that if my son lost to this younger player, he would be a nightmare to deal with for at least several hours (if not several days). He knew he was expected to win, and he had to find a way to stay calm and focused in order to make that happen. It wasn’t going to be easy. The pressure was all on him, very little on the other guy because a 13 year old isn’t expected to beat an 18 year old, right?

We didn’t talk about the match beforehand. Not the night before, not on the ride to the tournament site, not at all. The car ride was all about listening to music – we spoke very little – and once we arrived, I left my son alone to do his pre-match preparation while I drank my coffee (and tried to keep down the little breakfast I managed to choke down!). Once my son went on court, I found a place to sit where I could see the match but not be within earshot. The opponent’s mom, who is a friend of mine, sat elsewhere.

The match started off well for my son. He broke his opponent’s serve then went on to hold and go up 2-0. He knew his opponent’s game style very well and found a way to stay on top of the score line throughout the match, eventually winning 6-1, 6-1.

It was a victory unlike any he had had before. Yes, he had won and earned an ITF Junior ranking, and that was critically important to him. But also, he had withstood the pressure in a series of matches and had stuck to his game plan in each one, maintaining his focus and finding a way to win even when he was the underdog and even when he was the favorite – two very different types of pressure, for sure.

The next day, my son played the 11 seed, the same boy he had lost to in the 2nd round of qualies 2 years before. This boy is now a senior in high school and has committed to play for Duke University next Fall. He’s come a long way, developmentally, in the last 2 years. But so has my son. It was going to be a good match.

Due to expected rain, all matches were moved indoors for the Round of 16. The boys went on court as scheduled, and my son went up a break right away. After several more games, the score evened out, and my son wound up losing that match 6-3, 6-3.

What did he take away from that last match? He learned that he can compete well against the top players in his class. He learned that he has the ability and skill set to create opportunities to win points and games and matches. He learned that he can adapt quickly to a change of court surface. He learned that he is strong enough and fit enough to go deep into a tournament. He learned that he is continuing to develop as a player. He learned that he’s almost ready for the next step: college tennis.

 

Rebecca Donaldson Discusses Her Son’s Tennis Pathway

Rebecca Donaldson

Jared Donaldson is a 17-year-old tennis player who has followed his own pathway to professional tennis. Yes, it included some USTA tournaments along the way, like the very prestigious Kalamazoo, but, mostly, Jared has played the ITF circuit around the world. At an age when most junior players are thinking about which college they might like to attend, Jared is focusing solely on how to keep competing with the “Big Boys” on the pro tour. Just a few days ago, he was playing his first main draw US Open match against France’s Gael Monfils on the Grandstand at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. This week, he’s playing on some of the slightly smaller outer courts in the US Open Juniors (though today’s second round match will be on the Grandstand once again).

I had a chance to chat with his mom, Rebecca, about Jared’s decision to turn pro. Click on the arrow in the box below to hear what she had to say.

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Why Would You Want Your Kids to Play Tennis?

Please click on the link below to read a guest post from Javier Palenque. Thank you to Javier for sharing with ParentingAces!

Why would you want your kids to play tennis

Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments below.

 

 

 

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!