Tennis Parent Re-Education

Tennis Parents

Navigating the world of junior tennis is tough – we can all agree on that, I think. And, once we Tennis Parents figure out a system that works for us, we tend to get comfortable and poo-poo any suggestions to change how we’re doing things.

I’m here to tell you, though, that the world of junior tennis is changing, and we Tennis Parents have to change, too, if we hope to keep up. There are a couple of specific changes that I want to address in this article in hopes of helping you shift your mindset just a teeny tiny bit.

The first thing is the way you search for tournaments for your junior player(s). Most parents start with TennisLink to find tournaments of a certain level or in a certain time period or area of the country. You go to the Find A Tournament page, select the gender, age group, USTA section, and date then click the Search button to see what comes up.

Others of you may also use the ITF Juniors website to search for events. You may use the UTR Events site, too. And these are all great resources to find junior tournaments. But, I’m sure you see that this is a bit problematic in that you have to go to all these different websites to find the available events for your players. What if you could find every single junior tournament in one place?

Well, good news! You can!

The Match!Tennis app (click here to listen to my podcast with its creators) now contains not only every USTA tournament but also all ITF (coming soon!) and UTR events, including the ITA Summer Circuit. You can go to one place and search for tournaments to your heart’s content. You can search by type of tournament, age group, geographic area, and date. You can flag the tournaments to add them to your personal calendar and to send you an email reminder when the entry deadline is approaching. You can also use the app to find a doubles partner which definitely makes life easier. And, bonus: the ParentingAces community gets a free 30-day trial plus a 20% discount if you sign up by July 15th. Just click here to try it out for FREE.

The second change I’d love to see Tennis Parents make is the way you sign up for tournaments.

The typical MO is to decide you want your child to play in a specific tournament then go to the Applicants list to see who has already entered, do a little mental rankings calculation, then wait until one minute before the entry deadline to sign up your player. Hey, I’m not judging – I did the exact same thing when my son was in the Juniors. I wanted to see who else was signed up so I could figure out if he would make it into the tournament or have any opportunity to go far enough in the draw to impact his USTA ranking.

Now, with UTR making such big inroads into the junior tournament landscape, and with more and more college coaches explicitly saying they rely on UTR for recruiting purposes, the most important thing you can do for your child is simply to make sure he or she is playing matches on a regular basis, whether it’s tournament matches, high school matches, or league matches. They all count equally toward a player’s UTR.

So, once you decide a tournament is a good fit for your player and your family in terms of level, date, and location, just go ahead and register.

With UTR Events and many other events using UTR for selection and seeding there is no need to shop for tournaments looking for a strong draw, weak draw, points per round considerations, etc. There is no rationale in waiting to sign up and find out who else may decide to play. Your placement in a level-based draw will be based on your UTR. You will get a set number of matches in a draw that will increase the likelihood that you have matches both good for your development and good for your opportunity to improve your UTR. In the event that there are not enough players within a near enough UTR range for this to be possible, then the Tournament Director will not place you in a draw that isn’t good for you. If it’s a UTR event, your fees will be refunded. If everyone is waiting on the sideline to see who else enters then nobody ends up entering.

I know. This is a new way of thinking.

If you want your junior to play in a specific tournament, then register with confidence and without regard for who else is playing. Again, the Tournament Director – if he/she follows the guidelines suggested by UTR – will not allow players to be placed in draws that are not beneficial for the player.

So, Tennis Parents, let’s practice what we preach to our kids. Let’s have a growth mindset when it comes to our kids’ competition.

For years our only choice for junior competition was USTA tournaments but now there are several options available. Let’s embrace a new way of doing business now that we have the option to do so. Our children will benefit and so will we.

 

Are Junior Tennis Tournaments a Social Gathering?

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

I find it quite amusing when I attend junior tennis tournaments and see the teenagers huddled around each other either socializing or trying to snap a photo to put on social media. Then all of a sudden, their name is called and they need to rush to the court to play a tennis match. They may win or lose, but if they do not perform up to their parent’s standard that they have set for their child, it will be a rough car ride home or back to the hotel. The “cool” kids that love tournaments so they can see their friends usually do not do well. Their mentality and preparation is wrong. For the serious kids, socializing is for outside the tennis facility. When you are at the tournament, the serious kids are there to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to win. Everything else is secondary.

For all the parents reading this article, the next time you attend a junior tennis event, just take a step back and see who is hanging around at the courts all day with no purpose. It is going to be the vast majority of kids, but also keep in mind that the vast majority of kids do not have goals and a purpose for why they play tennis. There will be a couple of kids sprinkled around the event away from everyone else warming up properly, stretching, re-gripping their rackets, and maybe listening to music in a quiet secluded setting. They are not around many other kids socializing and listening to all the noise around them. These teenagers are there at this event and they have a purpose.

For many of you who have read my previous articles, you know that my tennis background was training with a couple of Argentine disciplinarian coaches who produced some of the best amateurs and professionals in the United States. I trained with these phenomenal coaches from when I was 6 years old all the way to 26 years old. As I reflect on how I was and what went through my mind preparing for a tournament, it went something like this. Tennis for me was a blast from day one. I was obsessed with everything about it. I grew up and played with the best players in the country and in the world since I was 6 years old. I had two main coaches that truly cared for the students. They trained you multiple hours every day. You did not just take a lesson and then spend no time with them the following days. They were truly there for you to produce you into a champion. They were not running a lesson factory away from the other students. Tennis for me was a way to better my life. What this means is that if I could hit that tennis ball better than most, I could find a way to better my life in something I truly enjoyed doing. I felt the love from my coaches because they knew I would run through a wall to win a point or perform the drill properly. When there is this mutual desire by both parties to go the extra mile, there was no way I could not be a serious prepared tennis player at a tournament. To goof off at a tournament meant to me that I did not respect what they were doing for me, and what my mother was doing for me since there were tremendous sacrifices to see how good I could be. I was a reflection of their phenomenal teachings and I would not let them down if I could avoid it. You see, I was striving to be a top notch amateur and then professional, but I felt that they cared so much and wanted it for me as well, so we were in this process together working our tails off.

Playing junior tennis in Florida in my generation was very difficult. The talent pool was large. If you did not prepare well in practice or in the tournament arena for your matches, you were not going to be successful. I would watch some of the top players and I knew that to ever beat them, things had to be done properly. I was also a top-notch player, but I knew that if something was off, it would be a quick match and I would not win. These players would be away from the rest of the competition at events and you know they were getting ready for a prize fight. There was no socializing for these players. They were there for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win. I was not the only one trying to better my life by hitting a yellow ball better than the rest. When I went to tournaments, I rarely stayed at the tournament hotel because for me the competition took place on the courts and I did not want to spend time or socialize with the competition outside the “boxing arena.”

In closing, if you ever wonder how you fulfill your potential in this game, it is to perform many aspects of preparation well, but to have the proper guidance so that your goals can become a reality. I am not saying that your child should not socialize, but what I am saying is that the tennis facility is there for tennis. The socializing for the serious children is outside of the tennis facility. It is very easy to see who these focused children are at a tennis tournament. What many children and parents need to realize is that tennis can open countless doors and the skills they learn on the tennis court can be lifelong. Many of these skills are not taught by studying out of a book in school. From very early on, I had a dream of playing professionally, and I knew tennis was the one thing I was best at, so when you have those thoughts of bettering the future of your life through tennis, you are going to have to do things better than most people. There are kids all over the globe trying to get college scholarships or make it on the ATP Tour. What separates your child from the rest? Remember, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

 

Familiarize Yourself With the 2017 Junior Competition Changes

Note from Lisa: I am reposting this article with the addition of information on changes to doubles format in national tournaments. Please read this entire article and click on the links to see the USTA documents detailing the changes. Be informed!

A tournament director, a coach, and a Tennis Parent walk into a room . . .

What happens when you get a group of tennis folks together and charge them with coming up with a world-class junior competition structure? Two years and countless meetings later, you get the 2017 USTA Junior Competitive Structure (click here)!

USTA’s Junior Competition Committee is staffed by Bill Mountford and consists of members from a range of tennis backgrounds and involvement. The list includes at least one tennis parent, a couple of long-time tournament directors, several coaches, and others who have a lifetime of experience in the sport. They have worked long and hard to come up with a system of tournaments to meet the needs of junior players of all ages and levels.

It’s crucial that parents (and coaches) understand these changes and what they mean in terms of planning your junior’s training and tournament blocks in the coming year.

One major change that has been a source of debate for many years now is the dilemma juniors face when aging up to the next age group. Prior to January 1, 2017, when a player aged up, all of his/her ranking points in the lower age group just went away. The only way a player could age up AND maintain a ranking in the higher age group was to play up and win matches. Now, though, USTA has made a provision for the lower-age-group ranking points to count at a rate of 20% in the higher age group which should allow players aging up to qualify into higher-level tournaments as soon as they reach the new age division. While some committee members fought for a higher percentage based on what’s allowed in other federations, the 20% seems to be a decent compromise that will take care of most juniors as they move through the various age groups. For more on this new policy, click here. I haven’t been able to find the Points Per Round table for 2017 but will add the link as soon as it is available.

It’s important to understand this new “points counting up” policy in order to fully understand how selection will work for national tournaments moving forward. According to USTA, “the first National Standings Lists of 2017 will look significantly different than the last lists of 2016 because all of the next-younger division players will be appearing on the next-older division lists with 20% of their points. This also means that next-younger division results will be a part of the selection process for all national junior tournaments that use National Standing Lists, including for the first time all USTA National Championships.” The link above shows an example of how the points system will work – I encourage you to do the math for your child(ren) before year-end so you can plan accordingly.

USTA is also introducing additional national tournaments in 2017 to give more juniors the opportunity to play at this high level. These include:

◊ USTA National Indoor Championships, to be held in late November, in support of the vast number of players that play and train indoors during the winter months and in recognition of the prevalence and importance of indoor play. It also will expose players who play less frequently on this surface to one that is widely used in college tennis and provide a college recruiting opportunity just after the mid-November signing deadline when coaches learn whether they have openings in their lineups.

◊ USTA National Spring Championships as a National Level 1 Gold Ball tournament. For many years the “Easter Bowl” has been one of the strongest tournaments on the national schedule, and this designation returns the event to the highest-level national ranking status. The BG18 tournament will continue to be an ITF tournament, governed by ITF Regulations, but the top finishers will receive Gold, Silver, and Bronze Balls.

◊ USTA National Level 3 Tournaments which will be sanctioned up to 6 times per year in each division. One or more tournaments will be held in these date blocks with up to 192 total draw spot offerings in each division.

◊ Split of USTA National Spring Team Championships, creating a separate tournament for 18/16/14 division players and 12 division players. The split will create a more age-appropriate event for 12 division players that includes more in this division able to compete (96 boys and 96 girls). It will also permit both events to have a tournament format that mirrors the college tennis dual match format.

With the addition of these events, USTA has decided to eliminate the Level 4 regional tournaments and to replace them with National Level 3 Tournaments that are held on weekends that have no other concurrent national tournaments. The USTA’s reasoning behind eliminating the L4s is explained here: “While concurrent National Selection and Regional Tournaments were intended to give players that could not make it into the National Selection Tournaments an opportunity to earn their way to a higher level, the pathway wasn’t perceived as a reality and introduced one of the most complex aspects of the previous structure – entering multiple tournaments and the Freeze Deadline – the date by which a player must decide whether to remain on the alternate list of the higher-level tournament, or commit to the lower level tournament.”

The 2017 National Junior Tournament Schedule offers more date blocks on which national tournaments are held, particularly National Level 3 Ranking Tournaments. The Committee has concluded that more options for play on the calendar will permit players to choose a schedule of national tournaments that best meets the varying academic demands, work schedules, and Sectional requirements that are different for every player and family. The intent is to provide a menu of options that allows players to make customized decisions about their development. I urge you all to study the new schedule below and make the appropriate choices for your junior.

Beginning on Page 3 of the document located here, you can learn about the format, selection criteria, section quotas, and various levels of national tournaments being presented in 2017. Take a close look at the selection process for each level of tournament – they are different, and you need to have a clear understanding of how players will be chosen to participate.

USTA has also taken this opportunity to make some recommendations to Sections on how to create and run junior tournaments. I was most excited to read the last bullet point about educating parents, an issue I’ve been asking – begging! – for since my son started playing tournaments. I’m hopeful the sections will take advantage of the resources available and put on more parent-education events. Let me go on record that they are welcome to use anything I have posted or published on ParentingAces (as long as they ask me first)!

• Commit to fully adopting the alignment principles of the USTA’s Youth Player Progression, entry-level tournaments that are non-elimination and non-ranking and permit non-members to participate, and all aspects of competition (tournaments, USTA Junior Team Tennis, and Play Days) that utilize right-sized equipment, courts and balls.

• Sanction more tournaments, with an emphasis on increasingly localized play at the lower levels in all age divisions.

• Experiment with different tournament formats for younger players and lower level tournaments, including most importantly events that can take place during one day and a half-day periods.

• Experiment with ROG match formats at entry-level Yellow Ball and higher tournaments. • Incorporate and emphasize team competitions, not just in the USTA Junior Team Tennis arena. This includes promotion of participation on Zonals teams, sanctioning inter- and intra-sectional team competitions that model a collegiate dual match and count for rankings, and holding competitions on college campuses.

• With the assistance of USTA Player Development and USTA Youth Play, educate parents and coaches on the pathway, as well as the optimum amount of match play, training, participation in other sports, and rest.

The final change I want to point out is the relocation of several national tournaments. Winter nationals for the boys and girls 16s and 18s will move to the new USTA mega-facility at Lake Nona (FL) beginning in 2017. And rather than splitting the boys 12s and 14s national hardcourts between Texas and Arkansas, they will now both take place in Mobile, AL. There have been rumors about moving other major tournaments to Lake Nona as well, but there have been no official announcements so far other than these.

I know this is a lot to digest, but I really do encourage you to take some time and read through all the information carefully. You might be able to avoid some unnecessary travel and spending if you plan well and mix in some of the new UTR events along the way (click here for their schedule of tournaments). Please remember that this is a journey, one that needs to be mapped out well in order to steer clear of roadblocks. If you have any questions or need clarification on any of these changes, please post them in the Comments below, and I will do my best to address them.

NOTE: There has also been a change to the doubles format used in many national tournaments – they will now be echoing the format used in Division I college tennis matches, one 6-game set using no-ad scoring. This is a change that many predicted when the NCAA and ITA approved the doubles format modification in 2015. I fear this will have a negative impact on doubles development for our juniors. Click here to see the entire document (doubles changes are in Table 2 on Page 6): NtlJrTournRegulations-asof01012017

Editor’s note: Here is a list of the 2017-18 USTA Junior Competition Committee members

Baron, Ivan S. (tournament director) Florida
Bey, Mark (coach) Midwest
Boyer, Christopher (parent) Southern California
Boyer, Scott Northern
Chamberlain, Michael Peel Southern
Ehlers, Ellen (tournament director) Southern California
Grant, Geofrey (parent) Florida
Lawson, Tracy Southwest
Lebedevs, Peter (Chair) (parent, tourney director) Southern
MacDonald, Paul (coach) Midwest
Minihan, Lisa Missouri Valley
Notis, Brian Eric (coach) Texas
Pant, Ajay Mid-Atlantic
Roth, Claire (long-time USTA volunteer) Intermountain
Rothstein, Jeff Eastern
Sasseville, Robert (tournament director) Southern
Walker, Thomas S (tournament director) Midwest

Editor’s Note: For those interested, here is a list of the people who served as volunteers on the Junior Competition Committee in 2015-16, the one responsible for creating the current (2017) Junior Competition structure (with their tennis role in parenthesis):

  • Andrea Norman (Committee Chair, tournament director & long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Peter Lebedevs (Committee Vice-Chair, tournament director)
  • Robert Sasseville (tournament director)
  • Geoff Grant (tennis parent)
  • Mitch Alpert (long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Ellen Ehlers (tournament director & long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Paul MacDonald (former college & pro player, current coach)
  • Maria Cercone (tennis parent, coach)
  • Rick Meyers (former college & pro player, coach, USTA volunteer)
  • Claire Roth (long-time USTA volunteer, long-time ITA volunteer)
  • Sally Grabham (tournament director)
  • Ignacio Hirigoyen (former college & pro player, college coach)
  • Larry Newton (coach)
  • Andi Brandi (coach)
  • Mark Bey (coach)

Check Out This Tournament!

imageUTR is on a roll with their tournament schedule, and I couldn’t be happier.

For those of you new to the junior tournament scene, all I can say is you should be very grateful that the folks at Universal Tennis have worked so hard to offer up a real alternative to the traditional junior competition model. I’m just sorry this wasn’t around when my kid was still competing at the junior level.

Take a look at the Flagler College UTR coming up October 8-9 in St. Augustine, FL, for example. Like #TheSol, selection and seeding will be done using UTR, on-court coaching is allowed, and the tournament will provide a healthy lunch to the players. What sets this tournament apart is that juniors and college players regardless of gender will potentially be in the same draw, depending on the UTR of those entered.

Here is some more information:

  • 3-match guarantee.
  • Level-Based Draws guarantee matches are of value by playing others at your UTR level, giving you the opportunity to be competitive and positively impact your UTR.
  • College Players and Juniors could be in the same draw.  Draws will be completely based on level and, as such, College players and Juniors will be in the same draws when they are of similar UTRs.  To date, colleges that are sending some or all of their team are Flagler, Armstrong State, and UNF as well as a few more pending confirmation.
  • Like College Tennis, coaching will be allowed.
  • Being level-based instead of age/gender based, you will likely play against players that you have not often or ever player in the past.
  • Lunch will be served Saturday, good stuff, not junk.
  • Of course, all matches will count toward a player’s UTR.

Interestingly, the Tournament Director for the Flagler event is George Opelka, a Tennis Parent (Reilly’s dad) who has been very vocal about the need for change in the US junior competitive structure. George asserts, “The Flagler UTR tournament is a testament that UTR’s level-based play initiative is catching on in America. As of today (Tuesday), several players representing 3 different colleges have registered for the event in St. Augustine – now that’s exciting!  Thanks to level-based play, the Flagler UTR may even spin up a few Billie Jean – Bobby Riggs matches. Stay tuned!”george-tweet

I’m really excited to see what George and UTR bring to the table for this event! I love the fact that it is being held on a college campus (#SaveCollegeTennis) and that juniors and college players will be in the same draw à la the ITA Summer Circuit events. I also love the on-court coaching aspect – if college players can have coaching, why not juniors who are still developing, right? And, for those of you who are going to argue about juniors needing to learn how to problem-solve on their own during a match, please understand that the coaching is optional, so you don’t have to feel obligated to provide it for your player.

UTR is committed to bringing more of these types of tournaments to juniors around the US and around the world. You can see their entire schedule of events by clicking here. Parents and coaches, I encourage you to bookmark the UTR Tournaments page and check it often. These are exactly the types of tournaments our juniors should be playing in order to help maximize their potential and get prepared for the next step in their tennis journey.

A Few Updates

latest-updatesI know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new – my apologies! My laptop died about 2 weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of the One Love Atlanta Open women’s tournament, and I’m just now getting up to speed on my new one. For the full results of the Atlanta tourney, click here.

For those of you with high school juniors and seniors, I know you’re in the throes of college recruiting. At the request of one fellow Tennis Parent, I’m researching upcoming college showcases, including the one held during the ITA Coaches Convention in Florida in early December. Interestingly, Tennis Recruiting is going to be running that showcase this year and will be posting an article on TennisRecruiting.net very shortly. I will share the link once it goes live. If you’re planning to attend – or have already attended – any showcases with your junior, I’d love to hear about your experience – please share in the Comments below.

Speaking of college recruiting, one of the most-anticipated recruits in recent months has been CiCi Bellis. She announced earlier this year that she had verbally committed to play for Stanford beginning Fall 2017. However, after her great run at this year’s US Open, she decided to forego the college experience and turn pro with representation from IMG. You can read more about CiCi’s decision in this article by Colette Lewis. I was really hoping she would give Stanford at least a year, but I certainly understand her decision and wish her all the best as she follows her dream!

The Fall tournament season is underway for the college bunch with multiple events happening in various cities around the US. Bobby Knight is keeping all of us updated with results on his website here. He’s really good about tweeting scores, too, so be sure to follow him @College10s2day.

In just a couple of weeks, I will be heading out to the West Coast to cover the Oracle/ITA Junior Masters tournament. In addition to covering the juniors, I will also be doing a little work for the ITA on the collegiate event running simultaneously at the Malibu Racquet Club. This is one of the only events – maybe even THE only event – where juniors have the chance to compete alongside college players in parallel tournaments, and I can’t think of a more beautiful place to host it than in Malibu! FloTennis, an ITA partner organization, will be livestreaming the matches at www.flotennis.com/.

In terms of junior tennis news, the only thing I have to report is that Katrina Adams was just named to a 2nd term as USTA president. As far as I know, this is an unprecedented move by the USTA. With the new Lake Nona facility nearing completion, maybe USTA felt it would be in everyone’s best interest to have some continuity of leadership. I hope this turns out to be a good move for our sport. I have been very impressed with Martin Blackman’s work as the head of Player Development since he began in June 2015 and am hopeful that he will stay on for a while.

There are several new podcasts on the ParentingAces YouTube channel, so please be sure to check them out. This week’s guest is still TBD, but stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for updates.

That’s it for now. More to come later in the week.

 

Hello Parents, Are You Ready To Let Go?

Elkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls 12s Hardcourts Live From ATL

golden-tennis-ball-white-30500350Coach Craig Cignarelli recently relocated from SoCal to Atlanta – if you’re in the Atlanta area, you need to RUN to Windward Lake Club ASAP and schedule time for your junior to work with this amazing coach! – and has offered to cover the Girls 12s National Hardcourts for ParentingAces. I always look forward to reading Craig’s pieces, and I hope you enjoy his witty insights, too, over the next several days!

The USTA girls 12-and-Under nationals takes place at Windward Lake Club in Atlanta, Georgia. As national champion, the winner will receive a gold ball. At present, there are 128 pre-teen females grunting and screaming as they hit mach speeds with the loosest arms since Geppetto built his little puppet.

During yesterday’s warm-up, before the pre-tournament practice, one father went ballistic, screaming out to his daughter’s opponent “Stop cheating! You can’t cheat my daughter,” to which his own child replied, “Dad, will you shut up!” Several competitors shook their heads knowingly. In preparation for day one of the event, several children spent more than six hours hitting in the 90+% humidity. Many of them complained of fatigue as stink-eyed parents glared their disapproval. There are very dark circles under eyes here.

While opening day was about camaraderie – girls took photos, smiled, laughed, and connected with old (relatively) friends – Day One of competition was different. 8am competitors arrive with crusted eyes and sheet-seamed cheeks and work into a sweaty lather before sun rises. As dawn ends, slugged-tennis-ball echoes resound across the morning sky. At 7:45 the players rush through Windward’s trees and green grass to the tournament desk for check-in. With a twenty-acre facility, including waterslides, four pools and a marina, Windward provides a scenic and expansive the venue for parents and kids.

Last year’s winner, Nikki Yanez is the number one seed and she begins play at 8am. Her first set ends at 8:14am. On her opponent’s face, the thrashing is noticeable. When they compete, twelve year old girls take on the countenance of Scottish warriors.

Each court has scoreboards atop the net posts and atop each of the scoreboards are numbers to display the set score. The biggest frustration for most kids is finding a way to reach the numbers to change the score. There’ve been some pretty creative efforts, but for most it’s like King Kong on the Empire State building. Nikki makes sure to change the score with a violent shove after every game, which is sort of like Warren Buffet fist-pumping after each line of a negotiation.

At least four college coaches are here and you get the sense they’re already plotting scholarships six years out. With raised eyebrows, hard exhales and excessive drooling over the shotmaking, things grow uncomfortable. Nikki finishes before the sun heats up and trods off the court holding the used tennis balls which all winners carry to the tournament desk.

Aside from the on-court battles, there appear to be several other wars being waged via the parentals. As they boast about who has the youngest kid here (one argument got down to the hour born in the hospital – seriously!) and which kids practice the least, you can feel the genetic trees shaking their competitive roots. Many of these same parents wrap arms around their kids’ shoulders and whisper endless advice into the kids’ ears as they walk out to the court. The children roll their eyes and drop jawlines with uncommon regularity. Adolescence, after all, frequently floats away beneath the winds of helicopter parents.

More to come tomorrow.