Advice to Parents of Young Players

advice

Here is another article written by Andy Brandi for the USTA Player Development website and reprinted here with his permission. Coach Brandi served as a partner of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute since 2007 before joining the USTA staff in August 2010. From 2001-06, Brandi was Director of Tennis for IMG at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, and from 1984-2001, he was the head coach of the University of Florida women’s team. During his career, Brandi has worked with top professionals, including Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, Maria Kirilenko, Lisa Raymond, Ryan Sweeting and Jesse Levine. While at the University of Florida, he led the Gators to three NCAA Division I Team titles, coached four NCAA women’s singles champions and four NCAA doubles champions. Brandi will be returning to college tennis as the Head Coach of the LSU men’s team this Fall.

Consistency in coaching is essential. Avoiding going from one coach to another keeps the process and development going. There has to be trust amongst the team – player, coach and parent all have to be on the same page. Changing coaches is like restarting the process. Coaches have different styles, systems and philosophies. Your job is to find one that best fits your child.

Try any program for about a week before you commit to that program. Do research! Be sure there is a plan when you start. A developmental plan, two areas of focus and a tournament schedule is essential in the planning. The two areas of focus are to be evaluated every two months and then replaced if they have been achieved.

Be supportive and patient with the coach. If you have issues with him or her, discuss them without the child present. Understand where the coach is coming from and why he is doing things a certain way. Give the coach a chance.

Parents who are the coaches need to be patient and should not get so consumed that the child only lives, sleeps and eats tennis. Seek help in areas where you might feel you are weak in your knowledge or expertise. I coached my son until he was 15. At 15, I wanted to be his father and not his coach. My role was to give him advice and support when he was training under a new coach. His job was to learn to make decisions and be responsible and accountable for his tennis. Good tennis players are independent thinkers. He now asks, “Why did you not make me do this or that?” My answer is, “I gave you choices; you made the decisions.”

Tennis has to be left at the club or courts, not brought home every day. At home, let them have a normal life. They need friends. They need to develop their social skills. They need to build good character. They need to be good students in school. Provide a balance of tennis, a social life and academics. Remember, 99 percent of all players go to COLLEGE!!!! In the process, be sure you do not try to skip steps or cut corners. There are no shortcuts!!!! It takes time! It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice and dedication by you and them. Set goals and keep the training fresh to keep them engaged and to prevent burnout.

A few things to keep in mind:

Kids do not always need to practice with someone better. They do not always need to play up in age groups. The ratio of practice should be 25-50-25, meaning 25 percent with weaker players, 50 percent with players of their own ability and 25 percent with players better than them. Does Roger Federer practice with someone better than him all the time? No! He practices with young pros, juniors or college players!!!!!! And 50 percent of the time, they need to experience the pressure of playing with and against their own peers.

When choosing to play up, they need to have a 65 percent winning record or better in their age group to justify it. Keeping track of match counts is very important. We do not want them playing 130 matches a year at 12, 13 or 14! It is not the number of tournaments but the match count that matters! Burnout and injuries will occur if you overplay them.

One area that we tend to neglect in their training is off-season breaks. Pros take 4-6 weeks at the end of each year to set a fitness base and improve on specific areas. They will follow up with a couple of weeks off before the clay season and a couple of weeks off after Wimbledon. They build in regeneration, fitness, cleaning their games out to be sharp, fit and healthy. In the junior schedule, we could build this in after Winter Nationals, after Easter Bowl and finally after Hard Courts.

The pros in the off season at the end of the year do not touch their racquets for a couple of weeks. They focus on physical fitness and mental conditioning. Then comes the tennis. Our ‘99s recently did a six-week-off season where they did not play tennis for two weeks. Jez Green, who was Andy Murray’s fitness coach, supervised the six weeks. His comment was that our juniors are 16-18 months behind in fitness than the Europeans. Why? Because we do not do this! We have to play, play, play! We are very short-minded and short-sighted!

Give them responsibility and accountability in their game and preparation. Let them get their tennis bag organized. Let them get their own water, bars and snacks. Let them carry their own tennis bag! We want to facilitate, not incapacitate. Remember, they have to be able to be independent thinkers. They have to be able to take care of themselves out there. They have to learn to survive in the heat of battle. They have to learn to compete and love it. Doing minor tasks builds their confidence and self-esteem.

Lastly, be supportive. We tend to forget that they are the ones competing. We forget what it is like to compete. It is the team that gets them prepared, and they are the ones who are playing and competing. We are not playing! We are part of their support group.

When they play, we tend to get too emotionally involved. Stay calm and control your emotions. I got too nervous watching my son. My wife was the one who went to tournaments with him. As I used to tell my wife, figure it out. I can sit through a Grand Slam final and not get nervous but cannot stay calm watching him! They will react to you and how you react! They will feel your emotions and nervousness. Stay level-headed and even keel! Show them support, winning or losing.

It is easy to criticize from outside. Things are crystal clear when you are outside the ropes. Being in the heat of battle clouds your reasoning and how you perceive things. After matches, give them time to settle down, and yourself, too, before you start discussing the match. Ask questions. Point out things that they did well and things that they need to work on in future matches. Do not be just negative! Give them positive feedback! Let them give you their perspective of what happened out there. They have to be aware of what happened and how they can control that the next time. Win or lose, love them for who they are – your child!

Like building a house, we need a good foundation. You build the outside of the house, followed by the inside. It takes time to build a house. It takes a long time to develop a tennis player. Good luck with the journey!

The Gift of A Mentor

Christian HarrisA couple of years ago, we were at a designated tournament in Mobile, Alabama, and my son struck up a conversation with a young man from South Carolina who was 2 years ahead of him in school. That conversation was the beginning of what was to become a really important relationship for my son.

The young man, Christian Harris, is now a freshman playing tennis for Clemson University. He and my son have stayed in regular contact, even playing each other in a sectional tournament last year, and Christian has become one of my son’s mentors in terms of college recruiting.

When my son was ready to begin contacting college coaches, the first person he reached out to was Christian, asking him the best things to say in that introductory email and getting his input on which coaches and programs to approach. Christian has checked in with – and guided – my son along the way, offering suggestions and support.

This weekend, the Southern Intercollegiate Championships was played in Athens, Georgia, a short 75-minute drive from our house. Christian texted my son to let him know he would be playing and would love for my son to come watch and have the chance to meet his coach and teammates. What a great opportunity! We headed over to Athens on Saturday, arriving about 30 minutes before Christian’s scheduled match time. I left my son to hang out with his friend/mentor and indulged myself in some pretty exciting tennis around the UGA complex. Christian talked to my son about how things are going at Clemson so far – balancing tennis and academics, finding time for a social life (a tough challenge for these student-athletes, for sure!), and trying to stay healthy through it all.

After Christian’s match, I had the chance to chat with him for a minute about what it means to be a mentor. Here’s what he had to say:

What was so interesting to me was to hear that Christian had had his own mentor, Harrison Kennedy, who has also been a valuable friend and resource to us, and is now paying it forward to my son. If your junior is lucky enough to find an older player who can help him/her navigate the various intricacies of tennis, be grateful! It is truly a gift, one that I hope each of our own children will pay forward to those coming up behind them.

Interviews at the US Open – College Coaches

I had the opportunity to chat with several of the college coaches who were on site staking out the 2013 crop of top juniors from around the world. Rather than post a separate article for each interview, I thought it might be easier for y’all if I put them all in one article. Hope you learn as much as I did about what these coaches are looking for when watching juniors compete at the highest level!

lisawithramseysmith  Ramsey Smith – Duke University

 

 

 

 

 

lisawithmannydiaz Manuel Diaz – University of Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

lisa&roddickbros John Roddick – University of Oklahoma

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6128 Bryan Shelton – University of Florida

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6115 Steve Denton – Texas A&M

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1695 Rob Gurden – Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1590 Danny Bryan – LSU

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1591  Mark Dickson – University of Miami

 

 

 

Life as a Tiger

lsuI have heard from several parents, coaches, and college recruiters that – now that my son is a high school sophomore – we should be combining tournament travel with college campus visits, either official or unofficial, so my son can start to get a feel for what he likes and doesn’t like about various types of schools.  This past weekend, we finally did just that.

We were in Baton Rouge for our Designated (Bullfrog) tournament.  A couple of days before the tournament, my son emailed the LSU coach, Jeff Brown, to let him know we’d be in town in case he was available to meet or come watch my son play.  And, it just so happens that a friend of my son’s, Harrison Kennedy, is a freshman on the LSU men’s tennis team, and it just so happens that the team was scheduled to play at home, so we took the opportunity to spend some time with Harrison picking his brain about life as an LSU Tiger.

Harrison graciously spent about 2 hours with us, showing us his apartment in the athletes’ housing quad and walking us all over the campus.  We saw the dining hall, various athletic facilities, the student union, and the very cool building where Harrison takes his business classes.  Harrison talked to us about a typical day and a typical week, stressing repeatedly how full his schedule is and how much tougher his training is as a college player versus during his junior tennis days.  He also talked about how great it is being part of a team and the challenges of working his way into the lineup as a Freshman player.  When he got to the part about the team’s track training – doing sprints and running the stadium – I could see the expression of horror on my son’s face!  I don’t think he realized how intensely these athletes train day in and day out, even though he had certainly read about it on the Twitter feeds of the college players he follows there.  There’s something about standing at the track, seeing how big it truly is, then looking up at the stadium and seeing its massive size, too, then hearing from a guy who’s doing it, to make you realize how tough it can be.

Harrison also talked about the academic requirements of being a student-athlete.  He showed my son a couple of lecture halls and a couple of smaller classrooms and told him how the professors don’t care whether or not you show up for class.  But, he added, the Athletic Director DOES care and has “classroom checkers” monitoring the athletes’ attendance.  Harrison then explained the mandatory study hours and about the tutors available to help.  He emphasized that the coaches WANT their athletes to be successful academically and will do their best to provide whatever assistance is necessary to achieve that goal.

Shortly after returning to our hotel, I saw a quote on the JBMThinks Twitter feed: “Obstacles are put in your way to see if what you want is really worth fighting for.”  How timely!  I couldn’t help but think that hearing about how tough college tennis life can be would give my son pause, would make him really stop and think about whether or not this is truly what he wants.  My husband and I have always told our son that where he takes his tennis is 100% up to him.  If he wants to play in college, great!  If he doesn’t want to play in college, great!  If he wants to try playing professionally, we’ll support that choice, too.  But, we want him to make his decisions having as much knowledge and information as possible then committing completely to the path.  Of course, if he changes his mind and chooses another path after giving it a fair shot, then we’re okay with that.  We just want him to go into it with his eyes wide open.

The next day, I spent some time chatting with a junior coach at the tournament site about the training he does with his players.  He invited my son to join them for some track and stadium training back in Atlanta.  When I mentioned it to my son later that night, I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get – would he take the coach up on his offer and see how he handles the challenge or would he say no thanks and leave it at that?  I was relieved and happy to hear my son say, “Cool!  Sure, I’d love to go!”  Looks like he’s up for the fight!