Is There A Way to Make Junior Development Less Costly?

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We’ve all seen the estimates of how much it costs to take a junior player from beginner all the way to college or the pro tour (click here for a thorough breakdown). Upwards of $300,000. That’s insane!

What if there were a way to significantly reduce that number? After having gone through this journey myself, I have some concrete ideas that could make tennis more affordable without jeopardizing the quality of training and development. I welcome you to add your suggestions in the Comments below, too. Developing a junior tennis player should not – and need not – require an annual investment of what amounts to an average adult salary.

  • For a beginning player, invest in private lessons (once or twice a week depending on the age and interest level of the player) with a top developmental coach to instill technically-sound strokes and movement from the get-go. Balance the private lessons with group drills and/or hitting sessions to keep the game fun. How do you find a top developmental coach? Do your homework! Talk to parents of successful players, talk to the people in your local tennis shop, call your USTA section office and speak with the head of junior competition to ask for suggestions. It may take some work, but it will be worth it when your child winds up with technically-sound strokes and healthy movement on the court.
  • Hire a local college player to hit with your child between lessons or group drills. It’s a great way for your child to get turned onto college tennis, start to form relationships with local college programs, and get some great training at a much lower cost than academy coaches charge.
  • Take your child to watch local high school and college tennis matches. These matches are usually free of charge and are a great learning experience, especially for younger players.
  • Don’t let your child specialize in tennis too early. The science now supports waiting until age 13 or 14 to play a single sport, both in terms of developing the complete athlete and avoiding injury and burnout. Team sports, especially at the beginner level, tend to be less expensive, so let your child find a balance between tennis and the other sports he or she enjoys.
  • Parents, educate yourselves! Read Friend At Court  and make sure you have a working knowledge of all the sections that apply to junior tennis. Also, make sure your child knows the rules of the game before he or she starts playing tournaments. You want your child to play as many matches as available when you travel to a tournament. Don’t let your child lose a match simply because he or she doesn’t know the rules.
  • If you have a local tennis shop, get to know the salespeople and make sure you’re on any lists to be notified when there’s a sale on your child’s preferred clothing, shoes, and equipment. Take advantage of the many shoe warranty programs that exist so you’re not paying full price for new shoes every 6-8 weeks.
  • Invest in a quality stringing machine and teach your child how to string his or her own racquets (YouTube has some great how-to videos if you’d like to learn how to string). If you buy string by the reel then string yourself, you will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars each year depending on how often your child goes through strings. An average packet of string costs about $20. Add to that a $25 stringing fee, and you can see how quickly this line-item blows up over the course of a year. As your child becomes more proficient, he/she can start stringing racquets for friends to earn extra money and offset some of the costs of playing the game.
  • Talk to other Tennis Parents to find out about free or low-cost options for training opportunities. Form a network of tennis families and organize no-cost practice round-robins with kids of similar levels. For the older kids, encourage them to call or text each other to set up their own hitting sessions and practice matches. I’ve just created a Facebook group (click here) to help facilitate this type of play. Once the kids start playing tournaments, expand that network and trade off taking the kids to tournaments so you can share the cost of travel, hotel, etc. You can even form a hand-me-down network for outgrown shoes and clothing.
  • Speaking of tournaments, stick close to home until your child is beating everyone in the area. Follow the Wayne Bryan approach to competition: become the best on your block, then the best in your neighborhood, then the best in your town. Only then might it become necessary to travel for tournaments. But, even at that point, seek out older players – including college players – to play matches and save the cost of traveling for tournaments.
  • Once your child is ready to travel for competition, choose one or two hotel and rental car reward programs and build up your points so you can earn free travel benefits. Hint: the tournament hotels don’t always have the lowest room rates so shop around.
  • Instead of paying a coach to attend every tournament and watch every match, invest in a video camera and fence mount, tape your child’s matches, then offer to pay the coach to analyze the matches. That way, the coach is seeing your child in the stressful setting of match play and can adapt training to address those areas where your child needs to do better. You’ll still want the coach to be there in person at least once a quarter, but by using video you can still be sure the coach is on top of what’s happening in your child’s matches without relying solely on your subjective interpretation.
  • If your child is progressing and is ranked among the top players in your section, seek out sponsorships for free or discounted racquets, clothing, shoes, string, grips, and any other items your child uses on a regular basis.
  • Make sure your child’s coach understands and uses the concept of periodization in your child’s training. Over-training can lead to injuries which can be very costly. Those costs may include visits to a physician, X-rays or MRIs, physical therapy, massage, chiropractic care, and medication.
  • Don’t get sucked into the idea that your child has to play a tournament every week! Sit down with your child’s coach (or do it yourself if the coach isn’t willing or knowledgeable which may be a red flag that it’s time to find a new coach) at the beginning of each quarter or 6-month period and map out a schedule of tournaments. One coach told me he sits down with each player at the beginning of the school year and looks at the school calendar, the family’s holiday and social calendar, and the tournament calendar to create a schedule that will accommodate that player’s needs. Make sure to build in blocks of time for your child to work on any aspects of his/her game outside of tournament play that need attention. It’s very hard to groove a new forehand or cement a new tactic during the stress of a tournament. Let your child have plenty of time between events so that development continues to progress.

I’m sure y’all have some other great cost-saving ideas to share! I look forward to reading them as you post in the Comments below.