Commitment

Morgan TRN page

 

It’s been a long and often grueling process, but – in case you’ve missed all my posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (!) – I’m thrilled to announce that my son has committed to attend and play tennis for Santa Clara University beginning next Fall!

He has been dead-set on attending school in California for quite a while now. Yes, there were a couple of schools in Florida on his list, but Cali won his heart last December when he first set foot on the courts of the LA Tennis Center on the UCLA campus. The weather, the energy, the level of competition, the access to professional players – all of it felt like home to him.

The only part of California we were really familiar with was the SoCal area. My husband was born and raised in Los Angeles. He and I both went to college (and he also went to law school) there. Our first two children were born there. And our oldest daughter wound up moving there for college and has since made her home there. So, naturally, my son’s college search focused on the schools in and around LA.

About 2 months ago, though, it became apparent that things weren’t moving forward with the SoCal schools as we had hoped. While my son was getting offers from schools near our home in Atlanta, those weren’t schools he was interested in attending. He was focused 100% on getting to California, so it was time to expand the search northward.

He reached out to Ross Greenstein, who has been an unbelievable resource for all of us, to get suggestions of other schools to contact. He also reached out to Grant Chen, another unbelievable resource, for input. Between the two, they sparked an interest in University of the Pacific and Santa Clara University, both about an hour from San Francisco. My son emailed the two head coaches asking for a time to talk by phone and wound up having great conversations with each of them. They each invited him to come on an official visit, which he took last week right before Thanksgiving (click here to read my post on that).

My son arrived home from NorCal late Monday night completely exhausted from his trip. He had spent 48 hours on each campus, meeting the coaches and hanging out with the team. He went to a class at Pacific, went to parties at both schools, and managed to squeeze in some tennis in between since he was getting himself ready for the National Selection L2 starting the day after Thanksgiving. It was a lot, and he was feeling the effects.

As I had promised myself, I resisted the urge to ask a lot of questions the night he got home. The next night, though, we sat down as a family and talked about his experiences at each school, what he liked and didn’t like, and came up with a few more questions that needed answers.

I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the mature approach my son was taking to this entire process. Without my prodding, he had already written thank-you notes to both coaches. He had also come up with a list of pros and cons for each school which he discussed with us. But, he was still struggling over making a choice between the two.

The next day was pretty low-key. My son was on Thanksgiving break from school, so he arranged some match play for the morning while I spent my time in the kitchen preparing our early Thanksgiving dinner. Throughout the day, though, my son would come in to share a text exchange he was having with Ross or Grant and to discuss more details about his visits. He was hashing through his thoughts and feelings in a way that showed me he was up to the challenge of reaching the right decision without too much input from me or my husband. He simply needed us to be patient and supportive, so that’s what we tried to be.

On Thursday, my son and I packed up the car and headed to Alabama for the tournament. He talked and I listened. And listened. And listened. That night at dinner, he talked some more. I listened some more. And then I had an AHA! moment.

While he loved both schools, there were a few big differences between them, and one stood out above the rest. At Pacific, my son would be going in with a possibility of playing in the top half of the lineup; at Santa Clara, he would be fighting for a spot altogether. In my mind, why wouldn’t he want to go where he knew with certainty that he’d be playing? He’s been saying through this whole process that he didn’t want to go to a school and sit on the bench. I figured he was going to choose Pacific, no question.

Here’s where my son truly surprised me . . . he chose Santa Clara, knowing full well he’s going to have to work his tail off to earn the right to play. He wants to have to prove himself. He wants to work hard. He wants to show the coach and his teammates what he’s made of.

At first, I didn’t get it. Why make life harder for yourself? Why not choose the school where you know you’ll be a valuable addition from Day One?

Then it hit me. My son has always been the kid who had to work harder than his peers. He’s never been the coach’s pet or the star of the academy. He thrives on the challenge of overcoming underestimation.

So, Santa Clara it is. He’s going to be a Bronco. And he’s going to have to work harder than ever to earn his spot in the top 6. He’ll be one of 6 American freshmen on the team next Fall, all of whom are hungry to play, and all of whom will be competing against the 3 remaining Bronco upperclassmen for that privilege.

For now, he’s focusing on getting through his senior year of high school and becoming a better competitor. He’s reaching out to his fellow recruits and starting to form those bonds that will take him through his college tennis years and beyond. And he’s already ordered loads of Bronco gear so he can start representing Santa Clara University with pride.

And me? Well, I’m reaching out to people I know in and around Santa Clara to make sure I have a place to stay and people to sit with when I go cheer on the team. I’m researching local restaurants and shopping spots. I’m plotting how to finagle a trip to the Wine Country on one of my visits. And I’m reveling in Parental Pride over how my son handled himself during this crazy stressful recruiting process.

A couple of years ago, Ross told me things would work out the way they’re supposed to IF I could just let go and let the process unfold. I didn’t believe him at first. I wanted to stay in control. Looking back now, I’m so glad I trusted him and his advice. My son has grown and matured in ways I never could have imagined. I’ve done some growing, too. This growth should serve us both very well.

Go Broncos!

Twelve Days in LA

We’re back at home after almost a month of straight travel – it’s been an amazing summer, one that is ending too soon since my son goes back to school on Monday.

I know I haven’t written much about our time in Florida, and I promise to get to that, too, but I want to share with y’all our experiences in SoCal while they’re still fresh in my memory (those of you who know me, know that is a very big deal, lol).

The planning for our SoCal excursion really began back in April when Craig Cignarelli and Lester Cook spoke to my son about spending time with them over the summer. My son was really excited about working with them and some of the college players they train, so we devised a summer tournament schedule that would allow for him to have plenty of time with them. However, things don’t always work out as planned, and our 12 days in SoCal wound up looking very different that what we envisioned.

We arrived at LAX early afternoon on a Thursday. My son had reached out to Craig and Lester to arrange time on the court, but neither of them were available until the following Monday. Okay. Time for Plan B.

Steve Bellamy, creator of the Tennis Channel and owner of the Palisades Tennis Center, came to my son’s rescue! He invited my son over to the tennis center to hit with one of his sons and some of the other kids training there. It was the perfect way for my son to jump-start the trip and to make some new tennis friends (and collect their phone numbers for future hits) in the area. The next day, the Bellamys invited us to their house for my son to hit with their son again. The boys played a couple of sets while the parents chatted – it was great! Afterward, we headed back to my mother-in-law’s house for a quick shower before heading down to Venice Beach to walk around and grab some lunch to celebrate my son’s 18th birthday. Of course, the weather was absolutely spectacular, and we had a ball people-watching down there!

Saturday morning was my son’s first taste of LiveBall at the Palisades Tennis Center (click here to read my post about that experience). He wound up spending the rest of the day hanging out with his cousin, Ethan, at the Third Street Promenade, walking around and doing whatever it is teenage boys like to do (I’ve learned NOT to ask too many questions!).

The next day, it was back to Pacific Palisades and the Bellamys for my son to hit with their oldest, Robbie, who plays for USC. My son later admitted that he was a little nervous about whether or not he would be able to hang with Robbie, but after a couple of minutes, both boys got into a groove and were smacking balls back and forth, running each other like crazy. While the boys played, the parents talked, and both Steve and his wife, Beth, shared some very valuable insights with us about the college recruiting process. Basically, as I’ve said before, these kids have to be proactive with the college coaches in order to get and stay on their radar. It’s a lesson my son seems to be learning pretty well so far, thankfully.

We found out later that afternoon that neither Craig nor Lester were going to be able to work with my son while we were there. It was okay, though, because they gave my son the phone numbers for several college players who were available to hit with him each day, so my son started texting them to set up his schedule for the week.

On Monday, we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara to see the UCSB campus and to meet with the head coach, Marty Davis. Omigosh, what a gorgeous place! Coach Davis spent almost two hours with us, taking us around the campus, showing us the tennis facilities, and explaining how he runs his program. It was a very productive day since it was the first of the California schools outside of LA that my son had visited. We were all very impressed.

We decided to sleep in Tuesday morning then headed to Playa del Rey for a quick visit to the Loyola Marymount University campus. The coach was running tennis camp so wasn’t available to meet, but we saw the courts and the gorgeous campus. Afterward, we drove to Marina del Rey to walk around before heading back to the Palisades Tennis Center for a quick hit with the kids preparing for National Hardcourts. Then it was a short drive to UCLA and the LA Tennis Center for my son to hit with team member Ryoto Tachi. Ryoto is one of the hardest working young men I’ve ever met! His parents live in Moscow, but the family is originally from Japan, and Ryoto moved to California by himself while in high school to train and prepare for college. He and my son spent a lot of time together over the next few days, hitting and talking about college and tennis and life in SoCal. Ryoto’s mom was in town visiting, so we all had dinner together Tuesday night at Sugarfish, a sushi restaurant highly recommended by UCLA Assistant Coach Grant Chen – it was delicious!

In keeping with our theme of college campus visits, Wednesday found us on the Pepperdine campus for my son to hit with team member Alex “Sasha” Solonin. Every time I step foot on that campus, I’m in awe of its beauty. It’s situated atop a hillside in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Because summer tennis camp was in session, the boys wound up playing on the lower courts while we sat on the steps staring at the water in the background. Wow! I actually left for a bit and went for a walk on the beach in hopes of catching a glimpse of the ocean-sides of some of the Malibu beach houses, but there’s a giant fence blocking access. Oh well. Late that afternoon, my son met Ryoto on the UCLA campus to work out at the gym while I visited with head coach Billy Martin back at the tennis center.

Thursday was another hit with Ryoto at UCLA. The boys started on the main courts but wound up moving to another set of courts near the dorms, so it was a great opportunity for my son to see another area of the campus. They played a couple of sets while Ryoto’s mom and I chatted about the challenges of having your child on the other side of the world. She comes to the States at least twice a year to visit him, and Ryoto gets home to Moscow and Tokyo once a year, but still – it’s a long way from home! I asked her how Ryoto decided to move to California to train and go to school, and she told me that it’s very difficult for athletes in Japan to develop in their sport while achieving academically – they typically have to choose between their sport or their education. The American college system offers a great opportunity to do both.

We headed back to the UCLA courts on Friday morning for one last hitting session with Ryoto. While the boys were on court, my husband and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather and went for a long walk around our alma mater. There have definitely been some changes on campus over the past 29 years! That night, we met up with Steve Bellamy for a late dinner in Malibu at Nobu and enjoyed some amazing food while overlooking the ocean – heaven!

The ITA Summer Circuit tournament at Cal State LA started on Saturday morning. Since my son didn’t really know anyone playing in the tourney, he was struggling to find a warm-up partner, but Steve came through for him and set up an early morning hit at his courts with Katie LaFrance who was there from Arkansas training at the tennis center. Apparently, Katie did a great job of getting my son ready for his match because he pulled out a tight one over the 7 seed in the first round then went on to win his second match 0 & 0! All the practice matches he had played during the week prepared him so well for his tournament opponents. He was definitely in Fight Mode out there! Those first two matches were played at Azusa Pacific University, about an hour northeast of where we were staying. The weather in the desert is much different than what we had been experiencing all week – it was incredibly hot (over 100 degrees on court) and dry with very little breeze and zero shade on the courts.

One of the highlights of Saturday was the fact that my son had a sizeable cheering section for his first match. My Facebook (and, now, real life) friend, Karl Rosenstock, was there to shoot some photos and videos of the tournament. Another Facebook friend and fellow tennis parent, Bobby Chacoin, brought his daughter Izzy out to watch, too. And my brother brought his two kids out as well. It was great to see everyone and for my son to hear their support throughout a tough first round.

The next day, my son had an early warmup at Cal State for his 3rd round match against the middle son of USC head coach Peter Smith. Unfortunately, Riley got the better of my kid that morning, but there were some very valuable take-aways from the match. Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes was at the tournament and watched my son play. Afterward, he and my son went out for lunch to discuss the match, some things my son can work on over the next few months, and the progress my son is making with his tennis and his college recruiting.

We were scheduled to fly home Monday afternoon but still had a couple of things to accomplish before we headed to the airport. We made one last drive up PCH to Malibu for my son to check in with Craig Cignarelli. We then hopped over to Pepperdine for my son to meet with newly-appointed head coach Marcelo Ferreira. Did I mention how gorgeous that campus is?!?!? Then, off to LAX for our flight home.

It was an incredible trip, one in which my son learned and grew as a player and a man. Each time we take one of these excursions, I realize how much tennis is giving him and how much it is helping him learn the lessons that will serve him so well the rest of his life.

Enjoy the photos!

 

College Recruiting Information

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Those of you who have been following ParentingAces for a while have probably heard me mention Ross Greenstein and Scholarship for Athletes, right? Well, Ross’s sister company, SchollyLife, has created the SchollyGuide, an online video series for the college recruiting process. The SchollyGuide is available for purchase at www.schollylife.com for $300; however, SchollyLIfe is offering the SchollyGuide free to ParentingAces subscribers.

Use the coupon code ParentingAces at checkout to get this amazing free deal. There is a lot of valuable information that will allow you to educate yourself, your child, and your child’s coach on the entire recruiting process.

Instructions

Step 1: Go to SchollyLife.com
Step 2: Click the SIGN UP button and enter your information
Step 3: Go to BUY NOW
Step 4: Select All Videos and Type ParentingAces into the coupon code box

 

I hope you decide to take advantage of this generous offer! Ross and his team have put together some very useful information that will help you tremendously – I can vouch personally for these guys and how helpful their information truly is!

 

 

My Son Said the “F” Word

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Tennis is a game. Games are supposed to be fun. Ergo, tennis is supposed to be fun. However, as many of us Tennis Parents know, junior tournaments by their very nature can suck the fun right out of things. So, imagine my surprise and delight when my son said the “F” word in relation to a junior tennis event this past week!

We left very cold and very windy weather in Atlanta Thursday afternoon to travel to Naples, Florida for the ITA Coaches Convention Junior Showcase, a one-day event being held at the Naples Waldorf-Astoria for high school players to strut their stuff in front of a wide variety of college coaches. The event was co-sponsored by USTA’s Collegiate Tennis department which offered a one-hour parent information session on the college recruiting process. For those juniors who play mostly within their own section and don’t get a chance to play in front of coaches from other parts of the country (like my son), this was a fantastic opportunity!

We arrived in Florida around 5pm on Thursday, drove from the Ft. Meyers airport with the sunroof and windows open in our rented Chevy Impala, and arrived at the hotel about 45 minutes later. My son changed into his tennis gear, and we headed over to Pelican Bay Community Park for him to get in a hit with one of the local boys who would also be at the next day’s Showcase (a huge thank-you to coach Chuck Breger for setting it up). IMG_1917The boys played while I sat nearby and watched. Even though the kids were working hard, they seemed to be having a great time knocking the ball around and getting to know each other a bit during their water breaks.

The next morning, we walked over to the Waldorf courts for check-in. FYI, the cost to participate in the Showcase was $20, quite a bargain. My son didn’t know anyone there other than Alan (the boy he hit with the night before), but he walked out to the practice courts and found some guys to warm up with while I headed back to the lobby for a meeting. After about an hour, he texted me letting me know he was all set and would meet me back in the lobby to pick up some water and Powerade before the matches started.

My meeting happened to be with another Naples-area coach named Brett Hobden – we were discussing Brett’s coaching philosophy and his ideas for developing players. Once my son came in, Brett gave him some excellent advice. Brett told my son that the college coaches wouldn’t be concerned with wins and losses in this event; in fact, if they were watching a match, they probably wouldn’t even look at the score. The coaches would be looking for attitude, for technique, and for fight. They wanted to see players with a love for the game who could be coached and who wouldn’t be high-maintenance, behavior-wise. He advised my son to “play big,” to go for his shots even if he missed them, to brush off errors and move onto the next point with determination and positive focus. My son shook Brett’s hand, thanked him for the advice, and we walked back out to the courts.

After a brief players meeting, the 32 participating boys walked across the parking lot to “their side” of the facility to get their court assignments. At check-in, the kids had been asked to create a cardboard sign with their last name and the color of their clothing which they would attach to the fence during their matches so the coaches could identify them.IMG_1921 Each player would play 3 matches against 3 different opponents – the matches themselves consisted of one set to 6 with a tiebreaker played at 5-all. They would have 30-45 minutes between matches to rest and refuel with all matches expected to finish by 4pm (plenty of time for us to get back to the Ft. Myers airport for our 6:30 flight!).

I can’t speak to what went on on the girls’ side, but the boys’ matches all seemed to go off without a hitch. There were no loud “C’mons” or thrown racquets or arguments. The feeling I had as an observer was that these kids were all there to help each other shine in front of the coaches. I only saw a couple of questioned calls, but even those were resolved without any yelling or accusations. It was as if all the players took an unspoken oath at the beginning of the day to be on their best behavior.

Throughout the day, my son kept checking in with the boys he had met to see how their matches were going. I kept my distance, giving my son the space he needed in this new environment. I wandered around the courts, talking to other parents and to some of the college coaches, learning as much as I could about the various schools represented there. For the most part, the parents stayed calm and quiet. Again, a nice change from the typical junior tournament atmosphere.

After he came off the court from his final match, and after a 45-minute impromptu Life Lessons session with former NCAA champion Peter Rennert in the parking lot, I asked my son what he thought about the Showcase. He replied, “Mom, this was really great! Thank you for bringing me. It was fun!”

Fun? FUN? I hadn’t heard him use that word in relation to his tennis in a very long time. I asked him what – specifically – was fun about it. Was it the format? Was it getting to play in the warm weather in the middle of December? Was it simply coming to a new place?

He answered that it was nice not having to think about how many ranking points he would get for a win or who his next opponent would be or being out of the tournament early due to a loss. He liked playing all new guys. He liked that the tournament was over for everyone at the same time. He liked the experience of playing in front of college coaches and seeing them watch him in action. He liked the supportive atmosphere, the feeling that they were all in this together.

If your child is in high school and playing college tennis is a goal, please consider taking him or her to a future Showcase event. You can get dates and other information from the USTA’s College Tennis page and on TennisRecruiting.net. There are several private companies that host college showcases as well, such as Donovan Tennis Strategies and Ed Krass College Tennis Academy. And, Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes is another a great resource for getting exposure to a variety of college coaches.

My son and I both came away from this experience feeling good, feeling excited, feeling hopeful. On the flight home, my son thanked me several more times for taking him down to Naples. He spent much of the flight talking tennis with me, discussing his thoughts on college and how he could get himself where he wants to be. He asked me tennis-related questions and was genuinely interested in my answers. Please understand this is NOT how we typically spend the ride home from a tournament!

That day, I saw a new maturity in my son, both on the tennis court and off. He was composed yet energized, outgoing and polite, inquisitive and receptive. I know he didn’t just wake up that morning a changed young man, that this maturity was a result of all the work he has put in over his 17 years on this planet, but it all seemed to come together on Friday the 13th. And in big part because of the “F” word.

When College Coaches Are Watching

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As if competing in a tennis tournament weren’t tough enough, how does a junior player handle the added pressure of playing when he/she knows a college coach is watching?

Now that my son is finishing his sophomore year of high school, he’s going to be facing these situations the remainder of his junior tennis career.  Even if the coach is there to watch his opponent and not necessarily him, my son still needs to be prepared to handle that extra piece of the puzzle.  In hopes of giving him the tools he needs, I spoke with Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes and asked him to share his wisdom and knowledge about what coaches look for out there.  I also spoke with University of Maryland Baltimore County Head Tennis Coach, Rob Hubbard, to get information straight from the source (if you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to my radio show featuring Coach Hubbard – click here for the link to the podcast).

Ross and Coach Rob both told me that it’s about more than just forehands and backhands.  If a player has been accepted into a tournament where a coach is watching, then the coach already knows that player has the requisite tennis skills to compete at the collegiate level in some way, shape, or form.  Coaches are looking for more than simply whether your child uses a Continental or Semi-Western grip or whether he/she wins or loses a particular junior match.

It all starts before the match is even played.  Is your kid respectful of tournament officials, refs, and desk people?  Is he friendly with the other parents and players?  What is she doing to get ready for her match?  Is she jumping rope and getting focused or is she simply socializing and just hanging out but not really getting physically and mentally ready to compete?

And, parents, coaches are also watching us!  They want to see how involved we are in our kid’s pre- and post-match activities.  Do we get them ice, water, and energy bars or do we instruct our kid to take care of his/her own needs?  Do we carry their bag or water jug for them?  I have heard on several occasions that college coaches do NOT look favorably on these hovering-type behaviors.  Coaches want to see a self-sufficient kid, not one whose parents do everything for him.

Once your child is on the court, the coaches’ focus changes.  They are looking to see presence on the court – is the player having fun, smiling, fighting for every point OR moping, being negative, using negative self-talk, questioning every line call?  Coaches don’t want to see negative behavior or kids who look miserable.  And, according to Ross, kids just don’t seem to get that – that their non-tennis behavior on and off court are so important to coaches.

Coach Rob concurs.  “First and foremost I am watching to make sure the player has a passion for the game.  Win or lose are they willing to compete?  If they are not playing well or struggling with their match are they willing to fight to try and figure out a way to win?  Basically are they a competitor no matter the conditions?  Most coaches are aware that their appearance at a match may create a bit of nerves and look to see how the prospective student athlete responds.”

Other tennis-related things a coach might look for include the upside of the junior’s game and the potential his/her game may or may not have.  Does she have more than one dimension to her game?  That might include playing aggressive tennis, serving and volleying, attacking short balls, and fighting for every point.  Does he have experience in doubles?  If not, can his game transition to doubles?  Is she or he physically fit?

Ross goes on to say that kids need to look and act professional.  They need to “get a sweat on” before each match, stretch before & after the match, stay focused on the task before them.  Then, after a match, the player needs to thank the coach for watching and introduce him/herself – most kids don’t do that.  Either they’re scared or intimidated or their parents do it for them – but, it’s really important for the player to do it.  Kids, introduce yourself, shake the coach’s hand, and, for goodness sake, look them in the eye!

The reality is that the first official signing date is in November of a player’s senior year of high school, 14 months before they will ever play their first college dual match! College coaches have no idea how hard these kids work, they typically don’t know these kids other than via phone calls and emails, so it’s crucial for juniors to keep playing, keep improving, keep working on their game.

Coach Rob shares these words of wisdom:  “The prospective student-athlete has recorded a significant number of results leading up to the competition the coach is there to observe.  Those results usually bring the coach out, and the result that day most times does not affect any decisions.  Coaches are there to get a little better feel for the athlete, his personality, his passion for the game, and other competitive intangibles that can only come from a face to face exposure.”

Ross told me a story about one prospective college player – let’s call her Sarah just for the sake of ease! – he worked with last year.  There was a college coach watching Sarah play at a big event.  During her match, Sarah called her opponent’s ball out and was then immediately asked if she was sure.  Sarah confirmed her call but went on to tell her opponent, “If you think it was good and you’re absolutely sure about it, then take the point.”  The opponent said she was sure and did take the point.  Sarah then moved on, continued to play aggressively, but wound up losing the match.  The college coach who was there told Ross that Sarah had been his #5 recruit but just moved up to #1 on the list after that on-court performance.  The coach said he loved seeing that Sarah was out there for the love of the game, that she didn’t put too much importance on one single point, and that she was able to brush off the set-back and continue competing at a high level until the very last point.  It’s a great lesson for all our juniors to learn.

ADDENDUM (posted May 1, 2013 7:47pm)

Here is some additional information shared by other coaches, parents, and observers . . .

In terms of the player’s on- and off-court behavior at tournaments, this should be part of what the player is learning from the junior coach.  If the coach is not with the player at a tournament, the player should still know exactly what to do before, during, and after a match; and if the player doesn’t know, then she is not ready for match play.  It is the junior coach’s job to get the players ready for tournaments and make sure they know how to behave and prepare for each match.  As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children how to behave in general.  For junior coaches, the expectation is that they will be responsible for teaching our children how to behave tennis-wise.

Another point I neglected to include in the original article is that many of the coaches pay particular attention to the back draw and how a player performs there, sometimes even more than the main draw. It shows the player’s resolve, determination, and fight. How do they handle adversity? How do they bounce back from a defeat and disappointment? Even though back draw matches don’t award as many ranking points, the message a player sends to a coach by sticking with the back draw and performing well there is invaluable.  Ross Greenstein confirmed for me that coaches hate kids defaulting back draws – another match is another opportunity to get better.  Kids who do well in back draws show they are tough and want to get better.  As UGA Head Men’s Coach Manny Diaz told me, “It doesn’t make the main draw results any less important, but it certainly doesn’t give a good impression when you see so many kids walking out of the back draw. I can tell you for sure the kids that see it all the way through, giving it their all, earn some definite points.”  Ross goes on to say that the perception among coaches is that it also shows a complete lack of respect to the parents who pay all that money to go to the event and then the player is a little injured or tired or sore so they go home.  Perception isn’t always reality, but still . . .

A Great Fix

I recently met with Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes to talk about various aspects of junior and college tennis.  Ross grew up playing junior tennis and went on to play at the University of Florida.  He now works with junior players and their families to navigate the college recruiting process, so I trust him as a reliable resource on matters having to do with junior tennis and college.

He asked me to give him the down-and-dirty rundown on what’s going on with the USTA’s proposed changes to the junior competition schedule and the feedback I’ve been hearing from other parents as well as coaches.  Then, he shared with me what I consider a brilliant solution . . .

Instead of making the draws smaller at the big national tournaments (Winter Nationals, National Clay Courts, and National Hard Courts), taking away the opportunity for many junior players to have the experience of playing at these events, why not have 2 equal-sized draws of 128 each where the players ranked 1-128 play in one draw and the players ranked 129-256 play in the other?  There would be a modified feed-in consolation for each draw, so players would either be guaranteed 2 or 3 matches (that detail can be worked out later).  The two separate draws could have a staggered start-date so that court availability wouldn’t be an issue, and play would continue on a daily basis so no player would have a day off, needlessly spending money on a hotel and meals and rental car.

What made Ross come up with such a format?  He says, “I was looking at how many matches are uncompetitive at our national events.  I looked at Hard Courts and Clay Courts in the 18’s for boys and girls this summer, and over 20% of all main draws matches are not competitive.  I would define that as one of the players not getting even 3 games in either set.  6-2, 6-2 is not competitive.”

From the tournament directors’ perspective, this approach is a win-win.  More players means more income from entry fees.  More players also means more revenue for the host community in terms of hotel rooms, restaurants, rental cars, shopping, etc. which makes the event an easier “sell” to potential sponsors.

From the college coaches’ perspective, it’s a win-win.  The coaches from the top D1 schools could focus their time watching Players 1-128, those most likely to be candidates for their programs.  The coaches from the 2nd tier D1 and the D2 and D3 schools could focus their time watching Players 129-256, those most likely to be candidates for their programs.  This format would attract more coaches from a variety of schools, which would give the players and their families a chance to speak to those coaches face-to-face and learn more about the individual programs.

I asked University of Georgia’s Men’s Head Coach, Manny Diaz, what he thought of the proposal.  He says, “I like the idea. In the context of keeping more kids involved in the highest levels of our sport, I would also think having a 64 qualifying draw with 8 qualifiers into a 128 draw would be a good consideration.”  Not a bad addition to the plan, Coach!

From the players’ perspective, it’s a win-win.  More kids get to play in the most prestigious American junior tennis tournaments.  They have the opportunity to play more competitive matches from the get-go since the draws will be separated by ranking, which should avoid that dreaded 0&0 “triple crown” effect that Lew Brewer alluded to when I spoke to him about the smaller draw sizes.  More players have the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with coaches who will be interested in, and have the possibility of, recruiting them.  For those players in the 129-256 draw who aspire to play at a higher-level D1 school, getting their ranking into that top 128 so those coaches will watch them play gives them a concrete goal to work toward for the next year.  For those who say it’s too expensive to travel to these national events, this proposed format would reduce the amount of time you would have to stay at the event by ensuring play (barring weather delays) on consecutive days.  Of course, whether or not a family chooses to travel for a child’s tennis is completely their own decision, but if the child’s goal is to compete on the national level and eventually play college tennis, why not provide a scenario that gives them the best chance of getting into the tournament and playing some good competitive matches while there, not to mention the best chance of being seen by the appropriate college coaches?

And, unlike the “waterfall draws” of our current Southern Level 3 tournaments, under this proposed format the top kids would get the chance to compete against one another, driving each other to get better.  Ross told me the story of a player he worked with a few years ago.  He asked me, “Do you remember when Federer was #1, Nadal was #2, and Djokovic was #3?  Do you know how many times Djokovic played Federer and Nadal that year?  Thirteen times!”  Ross talked about how much Djokovic improved that year, how playing the top two guys drove him to work harder to figure out how to beat them.  He then went on to tell me about his player, ranked #3 in the country, a very strong recruit.  “Do you know how many times my player got to play the #1 and #2 players during his junior year?  Zero!”  That is one of the often-overlooked flaws in our current tournament system.  We need rivalries at the top.  That’s what fuels hard work, ambition, and a hunger to get better.  And it’s one of the reasons we see many college players at the top programs develop to the next level – that daily competition against their peers.

To summarize . . .
Benefits:
  • Better match play for all participants
  • Better for athletes and parents in the recruiting process
  • Better for college coaches in the recruiting process
  • Better for the host city and the tournament director
  • Gives more kids a chance to play the big national events
  • Gives kids concrete goals to shoot for
Negatives:
  • I just don’t see any.  Do you?  If so, please share in the Comments below.