TeamUSA Forum on College Tennis

Logo courtesy of USTA
Logo courtesy of USTA

 

Earlier this week, the TeamUSA division of USTA Player Development held its 3rd quarter online forum entitled “College Tennis: A Pathway to the Pros”, and I was able to sit in for the entire session hosted by USTA National Coach Kent Kinnear.

Speakers for the webinar included UCLA Women’s Head Coach, Stella Sampras-Webster, USC Men’s Head Coach, Peter Smith, and USTA’s head of collegiate tennis, Stephen Amritraj. You can click here to watch the forum in its entirety, but here are some of the highlights that I tweeted out yesterday:

From Stella Sampras-Webster:

  • Coachability & being willing to do what’s best for the team are key factors in recruiting.
  • Coaches have to be careful when signing athletes because most have a 4-year scholarship agreement. Editor’s Note: This is NOT a widespread practice, except for the very top recruits.
  • College coaches have to put pro events on the calendar now so their best players have an opportunity to play pro events in between college events and schoolwork.
  • There is now pressure on college coaches to sell the fact that their program can help players transition to the pro tour.

From Peter Smith:

  • How does a player treat his parents? This is an important factor during the recruiting process.
  • Recruiting is a very inexact science.
  • “A complete person makes a great pro. A complete athlete makes a great pro.”
  • Recommended reading for all parents: CHANGING THE GAME by John O’Sullivan
  • Tennis is tennis. Playing college tourneys is just as valuable as playing pro tourneys for overall development.
  • Tennis is a brutal, tragic personal sport. Players need to learn how to lose, especially if they are planning to turn pro.
  • There really aren’t many recruiting rules for kids. Coaches are the ones who have rules to follow. Kids should be reaching out to coaches!
  • The NCAA limits practice to 4 hours/day. Smith says kids have to do additional work on their own if they want to reach the next level.

From Stephen Amritraj:

  • The increased cost of pro tennis changes way we need to approach turning pro.
  • If you’re not financially ready to take on the cost of the pro tour, then college is right path.
  • Players have to go through the proper progression. There’s no easy way to the top.
  • The Collegiate National Team is a great transition opportunity for college players to get pro experience during the summers.
  • The new USTA Pro Circuit Series offers a cost-effective way for college players to dip their toe in the pro pool during the late summer/early fall.
  • USTA has put together an 18-month transition program for players meeting excellence grant criteria that includes coaching, strength/conditioning, and physio services.
  • USTA has put together a 3-part webinar to aid in the transition to the pro tour. Click here for the link.

The next forum is scheduled for Wednesday, November 9th, 8pm ET, and will focus on Mental Skills. All of the TeamUSA Forums are appropriate for parents and coaches to attend. Click here to register.

Steve Johnson, Sr: Tennis Parent & Tennis Coach

Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson
Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson

The following interview originally appeared in print on Frank Giampaolo’s website. He asked me if I’d share it with y’all, so, of course, I said yes! I’ve also included my interviews with Steve Johnson both on the ParentingAces radio show and at the 2013 US Open. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Frank’s Interview with Steve Johnson, Sr

Tell the readers about your background as a tennis parent & full time tennis coach?

I feel privileged to have a beautiful family and a career that I love- I have been teaching tennis for 33 years throughout Southern California-  making my tennis home in San Clemente, California at the Rancho San Clemente Tennis Club running the Steve Johnson Tennis Academy .  I am living my dream- I am married to my high school sweetheart, we have two beautiful children and I have made a career out of my love for tennis.  My parental goal was simple- love and enjoy my children!

 

Tell us about Stevie’s junior career?   

  • At what age did Stevie begin to play tennis?     As a parent, I was constantly playing with Stevie. He was interested in anything that involved a ball. At age two, I put a Mickey Mouse tennis racquet in Stevie’s hand and showed him how to hit a beach ball with it.  He played beach ball tennis throughout the house all day long. “Stevie was a natural competitor warrior. He competed at everything.”
  • By the age of 4, Stevie could rally on the tennis court.  I would take him with me to local tournaments to watch my players and he couldn’t wait to compete. One day he begged to play a tournament- so I told him if he wanted to compete, he would first have to learn how to keep score (He had to learn to play a real match versus just rallying.) and then I would let him play a tournament. So Stevie took on the challenge and learned how to keep score on the practice court with my wife.
  • By age of 5, Stevie could keep score and so we entered him into his first event- 10 and Under Satellite Tournament. He lost 6, 0- 6, 1.
  • By the age of 6, Stevie could win rounds in the Satellite Tournaments- loving to compete.
  • By the age of 7, Stevie won the local 10 & Under Satellite Tournament. A few weeks after that, we entered him into a local Boys 12’s Satellite Event and he won it- at age 7!      FUN FACT: Some juniors enter the game for fun and then later develop the competitive fire. Others enter into the sport with their competitive flames fully raging.  Some children have to spend many hours learning how to cope with their fear of competition, lack of competitive fire, fear of gamesmanship…
  • What other sports did Stevie play? Stevie played every sport with a ball.  He was innately competitive from a very young age.  He even needed to compete during his tennis lessons- just rallying back and forth was too boring for him. He wanted to know how he could win.  His practice needed to be structured so that he could compete – even if it was against himself.
  • When did the family decide to have Stevie focus exclusively on tennis? Stevie was such a natural at the game of tennis and because it was my business, it was easy to focus his efforts at playing tennis.  His mother and I never had to bother him to practice- he wanted to play tennis from the time he held his first (Mickey Mouse) racquet. Tennis was his sport.


What are your thoughts regarding the 10& under campaign?  

I teach strokes for a lifetime. I don’t teach 10 & Under Tennis.  Ideally, it would be great if every 10 year old had their strokes established so their tennis game could be developed.

 

10’s through 14’s: What is your primary focus? 

My primary lesson goals for the age groups 10-14 stresses techniques and doubles strategy.

  • Techniques:  In my lessons, I focus first on defensive skills because I believe the best ball to hit is based on where the player is on the court. So I teach players both fundamental and secondary shots based on court position.  I teach how to hit rollers, slices and transitional shots- such as and how to get out of the corners.  I also teach girls or boys the same.
  • Doubles:  Many tennis parents don’t support playing doubles- whether they believe doubles practice takes valuable lesson time away from singles or because doubles requires more time be spent at tournament sites, it is the players that are missing out.  Doubles teaches many essential tennis skills, especially for college. I suggest doubles be played before all single events to encourage more players to get involve- especially because the parents can’t back out if they have to play doubles before singles …


16’s through 18’s: What is your primary focus? 

I believe fitness is the most important game component as players reach their late teens. Especially because most college coaches begin making their recruit pick at ages 16 and 17. So it is essential physical training begin by at least age sixteen.  The game has changed and fitness is huge!  To quote a Division I Level Coach, “Most junior players cannot even make through the first day of College Tennis practice because they are unfit!”   

Stevie’s junior tennis success may have even been greater if he had been fitter sooner. His slightly skewed winning Gold Ball ratio of 1singles title to 10 doubles titles was likely due to his lack of adequate fitness. Stevie lost many matches just before the finals because he was out of energy. When Stevie was 16, I was told Stevie was very talented but not fit enough.  So we (Stevie and his team of coaches and trainers) began including fitness into his tennis training regime.  Stevie trained 1 hour off court to 3 hours of on court from the age of 16 ½ on.

Even though Stevie had started off court training from the age of 16 ½ – Division I College fitness was a whole different level-  Stevie lost 20 pounds the first semester in college.    By age 18, extreme physical fitness is mandatory. Stevie’s commitment to fitness in college afforded him huge success at USC.  He is still working even harder to get even fitter as a professional- loving it along the way. Now as a Pro, Stevie trains 1 hour off court, 2 hours on court hitting, lunch, 2 hours hitting and 2 hours training and stretching off court.  Of course during tournaments, Stevie’s off court training is adjusted (periodization).

 

What would you tell other parents about their child’s gamesmanship tolerance/ competitive nature?

As a coach, I have always been very honest with parents with respect to their child’s tennis aptitude.  Some players are just not competitive by nature and I tell their parents that the sport is going to be a little more difficult for them. Tennis is as mental and emotional as it is physical.I coach the players to play the game of tennis and that may require their tennis lessons to include a variety of teaching techniques – such as ball machine drills, playing points with other player etc. Some parents only want see  X number of ball baskets emptied during a lesson but that is not what tennis development is … So to those parents, it is their choice to choose a coach that just wants to feed balls- but that is not how to develop a full game- in my opinion.

 

What would you share with parents about playing their children up, as opposed to keeping them in their own age division? 

The method I used with Stevie is not a blueprint for all players, but I believe tennis teaches responsibility and leadership.  It is very important for players to compete against their own age group and to learn to be “The Big Dog” – which is a very different kind of pressure that builds character.  “Playing up before they have won consistently in their own division sends the message that losing is acceptable.” Stevie played in his own division until he reached #1 and then he stayed in that division for 6 months- building character along the way.

 

Do you have a win/loss percentage you recommend players follow before moving up to higher division? 

Ideally a player should have a win /loss record of 3: 1 or 4: 1 before moving up to the next level.  (I would recommend at least a 50/50 win/loss record.)  A natural progression would be to attain a winning percentage in satellites tournaments, then open tournaments, then designated tournaments and then on to Nationals…As I said previously, encouraging your child to only play up teaches them that losing is okay.  Note:  Different USTA divisions may have different names for their tournament levels.

 

Can you share with the reader’s insight and/or advice regarding the tennis parent’s role?  

Tennis is a full time parental job if you want your child to be good.  This means a player that wants to be good should be playing sets, clinics, privates, hitting serve after practice, lessons etc.  It is the parent’s role to support the child with these activities.  In other words: “Tennis must go on the calendar first and then life goes in later.”

 

What is your emotional communication strategy?

With regard to the emotional components of tennis, I was always very calm. I tried to make tennis fun so that Stevie would continue to love the game as I did.  Before a tournament, I would tell Stevie, “Whether you win or lose your match today, we are not done working on your game. Come Monday, I will take you to school and after school Mom will bring you to the club and we will continue training your game”… I wanted to take the pressure of winning off of Stevie and keep his focus on improving.

“Parents and coaches make tennis events such a big deal that they often sabotage any real chances of success.”

Pat Harrison: Choosing College vs Choosing Pros

pat harrison

 

Pat Harrison is no stranger to college tennis. In fact, he played four years himself before turning to coaching full-time. That said, when his two sons – Ryan and Christian – were fairly young, Pat knew they were headed for a life on the professional tour, trading a college education for the school of life instead.

Pat’s youngest, a daughter named Madison, is a different story. Madison announced earlier this Spring that she is headed to the University of Kansas to be a Jayhawk and to play for coach Todd Chapman in Lawrence. Choosing the college route over professional tennis was the right decision for Madison, according to her dad. Hear why when Pat chatted with me at the NCAAs this week.

 

Counting Down in Mallorca

My son’s Mallorcan Adventure is coming to an end very soon. He’s returning home next Friday after spending a great month at Global. Once he’s been home a while, I’m hoping he’ll be able to reflect on his time in Spain and share some insights with me. For now, all I know is that it’s been tough – very tough – from a physical standpoint as well as a mental and emotional one. Training at Global is different from what he’s used to at home. There, they are training players for the pro tour, to be The Best in the World. That type of training looks and feels a lot different than how he’s been training here.

My son has been in regular contact with his coach here during this whole process. That’s a good thing. Julius has encouraged him to stay tough, to stay focused, to soak up as much as he can, to enjoy the local culture, and to come back ready to keep moving forward in his training. I’m excited to see how things progress, both on and off the court, over the next several months.

One thing I realized that makes things so different at Global is the mere fact that my son is there on his own – his momma isn’t there to feel badly for him after a hard day on the courts or to talk to the coach to find out more detail when things aren’t going well. It’s up to him to dig deep inside himself and find the fortitude to keep working, to avoid complaining, to go back out there the next day even though his hands are blistered and his muscles are screaming. You know, it’s interesting . . . my son has always said he doesn’t respond well to coaches who are overly critical, who don’t offer praise, who get angry and yell when he doesn’t perform up to their standards. Turns out, maybe he was wrong. To his credit, he’s learned how to take the criticism and use it to get stronger. And the coaches at Global have noticed and have let us know they are pleased with him for it. I don’t think it’s part of their philosophy to share that pleasure with my son, though – it’s just different there – so my husband and I have respected that philosophy and kept their words of praise to ourselves. Still, as a parent, it’s nice to hear that the coaches do see a change in his attitude. In my mind, that means there’s been a step forward in the maturation process, which is exactly what my husband and I hoped would happen. Like I said in my first post about his adventure, this was never just about the tennis.