My son is at an interesting place in terms of his tennis development. As I’ve mentioned, he’s now playing up in the 18s even though he could still play another year in the 16s. But, because of his July birthday, and because of his goal to play at Kalamazoo (which is the first week of August) next summer, he had to start working on his 18s ranking a year early. That means he is often 2 years younger than his opponent, 2 years behind developmentally-speaking, 2 years behind growth-wise, and 2 years behind in the maturation process.
His goal during tournaments is still to win matches, of course, because he needs to get his 18s ranking to a place where he has a chance of getting into the National Hardcourts. And, to that end, we look for tournaments for him to play where (A) he can get in and (B) he can, hopefully, win a few matches.
However, he also has another, equally (more?) important, goal: to gauge his skill on the court against boys who are already playing the big national events and who are heading off to top college programs next year. He needs to be able to see in black and white how his game holds up against more experienced players. He needs to see where his strengths lie and where he still needs work. He needs to see what specific developmental steps he has to take over the next 2+ years.
We were at a Southern Level 3 tournament in Hilton Head this past weekend. First round, my son had the opportunity to play the 1 seed, a young man who recently committed to play at Clemson next Fall. After the match, which my son lost 1 and 4, we all went to lunch together – my son, his opponent, his opponent’s dad, my husband, and me – and the boys talked about their match and about playing college tennis. My son asked the young man for an honest evaluation of the match, and the young man told him that he made him work much harder than he anticipated and that my son is way ahead of where he was as a 10th grader. I could see the smile peeking out from behind my son’s eyes! Then, much to my surprise, my son asked his opponent if he would mention my son to the Clemson coach in hopes that the coach would take a look at him. The boys went on to discuss the recruiting process and the things my son needs to be doing this year to get the ball rolling. Mind you, it wasn’t anything that I haven’t been telling him for the past several months, but you know how it is with teenagers – they often don’t hear it until it comes from a peer!
The next morning, my son played another high school senior in his 2nd backdraw match and won. It was a great boost confidence-wise for him to see that he had the goods to claim a victory over a solid player two years older and 124 ranking spots ahead of him.
Even though my son wasn’t playing his best tennis during the tournament, he found a way to eke out strong victories over two very experienced players and earn those precious ranking points. He had the privilege of playing against someone heading off to the same post-junior-tennis life my son hopes to have and of putting his skills to a real test. Developmentally, my son is still two years behind these guys – he still has two years to figure it out – but he needs to keep testing himself against these older players to monitor his progress. As he has more opportunities to play these high-level guys at USTA, ITF, and ITA events, he’ll be able to keep a running tally of where he’s making strides and where he still needs work. He and his coach will keep tweaking the training plan to help my son get where he wants to go. And my husband and I will keep being the supportive Tennis Parents.