Since I’m not yet at the 2017 US Open, I thought I would throw things back to my last trip to our Home Slam and my conversation with Tennis Parents Extraordinaire: Wayne Bryan (father of Bob & Mike, the Bryan Brothers), Steve Johnson (father of Stevie who passed away earlier this year), and Melanie Rubin (mom of Noah). These three have so much knowledge and great advice to share to those of us coming up behind them. I hope you enjoy hearing from them.
I plan on releasing another episode later this week directly from the 2017 US Open, so please keep an eye out for it. The US Open Juniors tournament is now underway, and the Collegiate Invitational starts Thursday, both of which will provide lots of great content for another podcast!
If you aren’t following ParentingAces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, you should go ahead and do so before I get to New York! I hope to do some live broadcasts on Facebook and/or YouTube while I’m at the Open, and if you follow us then you’ll get a notification when I’m online. Of course, if you’re at the Open this week, too, I’d love to meet up with you – who knows, maybe we can do a live broadcast together?!?!
This week, the world lost a great man, a great supporter of tennis, and the Tennis Parent I aspired to be when Steve Johnson, Sr. passed away.
I first met Steve at the NCAA Championships in Athens, GA when he was on a panel for parents and high school-age players who were interested in learning more about college tennis. After the panel discussion, my husband and I spoke with Steve and thanked him for his candor. I never guessed that would be the beginning of a friendship that would find us together at the US Open, Indian Wells, the Easter Bowl, and at a variety of college matches in Southern California.
Whenever I traveled to SoCal, I would always let Steve know I was coming to “his coast” in hopes that we would have a chance to meet up and catch up. If he wasn’t too busy teaching tennis lessons or spending time with his family, he would make the effort to find a way to come to wherever I was and say hello. The last time was at the Boise State-UC Irvine match just a few weeks ago.
I will miss Steve’s friendship and his council. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Michelle, and his two well-loved children, Alison and Stevie. Godspeed, my friend.
This podcast was originally recorded in December of 2012. To read an interview between Steve and Frank Giampaolo, click here. For two other interviews I did with Steve, click here and here.
The 2017 Australian Open is underway. For fans in the US, it’s one of the tougher Majors to follow due to the massive time difference between Melbourne and pretty much anywhere in the States. Thankfully, both the Tennis Channel and ESPN will provide coverage of the matches (click here for the 10sballs.com article on when and where you can watch), so there are plenty of opportunities to see your favorite players in action. The Australian Open app (click here for Apple and here for Android) is also a great way to stay up to date on matches and results Down Under.
Why should your junior players be watching these matches? What can they learn by seeing the world’s top players compete? I wrote an article on this topic a while back (click here) but figured it was time for an updated view on what juniors can take away from watching the pros.
Says Johan Kriek, 2-time Australian Open Champion and current junior coach, “I always tell kids to look at the footwork: when do they hit open stance and when do they hit closed stance? Watch their body language. Court management – meaning when do they hit hard, when do they hit softer, when do they lob – is also important to note. The stats on winners hit vs unforced errors can help juniors understand that even the world’s best make mistakes which can help young players manage expectations regarding their own play.”
Australia native and current WTA coach Sarah Jane Stone (no relation!) shares, “Most kids don’t watch enough tennis. It’s really important for them to become students of the game. By watching professional matches they can learn so much about tennis. The way players act between points, the routines that they keep, and how they construct points – these are all important lessons that juniors can learn by simply watching the pros compete.”
According to Steve Johnson, father of US player Stevie Johnson and highly-respected developmental coach, “I usually like to tell people to watch one person, especially their footwork, and figure out what they are trying to do to win points. What patterns are successful/not successful. We all tend to just watch the ball. The other advice is to be level headed on court. Easier said than done but what a difference it makes. So far this year, Stevie has been really good about moving on when he has break points and doesn’t win them. That’s a very big step toward reaching his potential.”
So, the takeaway here is that watching the pros on tv is a great way for junior players to improve not only the technical side of their game but also the tactical and mental sides. Encourage your kids to take some time over the next couple of weeks to study the game and to really learn something from their favorite players. It will pay off in future success, both on and off the court.
Be sure to take a listen to today’s radio show with Wayne Bryan, Steve Johnson, and Melanie Rubin as they discuss their sons’ preparation for the 2014 US Open. They share some great advice and insights on developing young tennis players to the highest level.
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.”
It is so interesting to talk to the parents (and family members) of the top junior players as well as the pros – while they all have a different take on things, there are definitely some common threads among them. You may have already listened to some of these interviews in previous posts, but I wanted to group them together on one page for convenience. I hope you enjoy learning from them as I did!
Lawrence Roddick – dad of young junior boy
Judy Murray – mom of Andy
Lynne & George Opelka – parents of top-level junior boy
Karen Isner – mom of John
Guy Fritz – dad of top-level junior boy
Anita Schneider – mom of top-level junior boy
Shelia Townsend – mom of top-level junior girl
Steve & Michelle Johnson – mom of Steve
Geoff Grant – dad of young players as well as collegiate players (he and his wife have 6 children!)
Melanie & Jessie Rubin – mom and sister of top-level junior boy
Steve and Michelle Johnson are the parents of 4-time NCAA champion Stevie Johnson who is playing in the US Open again this year. They share some unique perspectives on parenting a junior player all the way to the pros. Enjoy!