I know I say this a lot, and please indulge my gushy-ness here, but sometimes it’s about so much more than just the tennis.
My son and I spent this past weekend in Baltimore at the Holabird Sports-adidas All In Junior Tennis Challenge. The event was like no other tennis tournament my son has ever played. First of all, it was an open draw which meant that any player age 18 and under could play. Secondly, on-court coaching was allowed during changeovers which gave the players a chance to hear suggestions as to how they could tweak their game plan and, hopefully, improve their outcomes. Also, service lets were played, adding a college-tennis twist to the matches – for some players, it took several lets before they got in the habit of playing those balls. Finally, because it was an unsanctioned event, it wasn’t about ranking points or a trophy – the winner of the boys and girls draws each took home a one-year sponsorship from Adidas.
But, beyond all that, what my son will take away from his time in Baltimore is more than just what happened on the court. And the more I reflect on our weekend, the more emotional I get – it’s exactly these types of experiences that you hope your child gets to have during his or her Tennis Journey.
The tournament’s creator, Sol Schwartz, went above and beyond to make our weekend special. One of Sol’s players, Justin (who happened to be the top seed and eventual tournament champ), spent his practice time with my son from the moment we got to town. The boys hit Thursday night then went to dinner together, sharing music, YouTube videos, and lots of laughs. They hit again Friday morning and made arrangements to warm up together before their first matches on Saturday. After they both played (and won!) their first rounds, my son went with Justin and his family to the UMBC campus to help Justin move into his dorm – Justin starts his freshman year this week and will be a vital member of the UMBC men’s tennis team.
When I called my husband to tell him about our son’s new buddy and what an exceptional young man he is, my husband’s response was, “That’s worth the price of the trip up there regardless of how the tennis part goes.” Bingo! Finding a player who is willing to mentor a younger guy, share his experiences, and help the younger one achieve his goals is a rare occurrence. And, the best part is that my son recognized the gift he had been given almost immediately and spent the entire weekend with a smile on his face (those of you with teenage boys know what a rarity that is!).
My son wound up losing in the semis to the #2 seed. But, here’s the cool thing: rather than coming right off the court feeling disappointed about the loss, my son sat there for about 45 minutes after the match with his surrogate coach for the weekend, UMBC Head Coach Rob Hubbard, dissecting what went well and what could’ve gone better. Coach Rob told him that he’s on the right track, that he needs to keep working hard, and that he’s “got game” but still has some maturing to do. Coach Rob spent a long time talking to me after the match, too, helping me better understand what college tennis is all about at the mid-major level.
As Sol shared with me after the event ended, “I think the players that played walked away very happy on all levels. One way or another, I think every single player in the event was able to benefit, whether in being able to play against players of a level that they don’t usually get to compete. Being able to get some matches in to prepare for another event. Being able to experience on court coaching while playing something meaningful, not just a practice set. I heard a lot of different things that the kids and parents had to say. Nobody left the event empty handed. Players, coaches, parents, or people watching. ”
The most telling comment I heard, especially in light of USTA’s recent explanation for shrinking the draws for its National Hardcourt Championships in 2014, came from the very wise young man my son played in the first round. “I’m just glad I got to be on the court with these really good players. Where I live, we don’t have guys who are this good. I learned so much from playing against them and can now see what I need to do to get better. I’ll definitely be back next year!” For the record, this young man only won 2 games in the entire tournament, but he came off the court feeling encouraged rather than discouraged. USTA, please take note!
For those of you who didn’t make the event this year, please consider adding it to your child’s tournament schedule in 2013. You will not be disappointed!