Mom’s Magic Mirror

Before this past weekend’s local tournament even started, my son told me that I wasn’t “allowed” to post any pictures or status updates on Facebook about it.  I asked him why.  He told me, “Because it’s just a Georgia Level 4, Mom.  It’s no big deal.”  I, of course, respected his wishes.  (He never said anything about keeping it off my blog!)

As I thought more about my son’s request, I realized just how far he has come tennis-wise and maturity-wise in the last year.  He played this same tournament last Fall (except he played in the 16s instead of the 18s as he did this year).  When he entered the tournament a year ago, he hadn’t won a single tournament since he was in the 10s . . . not a single one!  And, last year, he won this tournament, just a few weeks after aging up from the 14s to the 16s, and it was a VERY BIG DEAL.  He was so proud of that trophy, his first Champion trophy since he was 10 years old!  It got a special place in his room where it would stand out among all the clutter on his shelves.

Now, a year later, he was feeling a little embarrassed by the fact that he was even playing a local Level 4 tournament, even though he was playing up in the 18s.  All of his buddies were at the Bullfrog (Designated) tournament in North Carolina, but we had missed the entry deadline, so he was “stuck” playing a lower level event close to home.

Eight boys were signed up to play in the 18s of this local event with two of them seeded – neither of whom was my son.  And, as luck would have it, my kid had to play the top seed in his first round match on Saturday.  He figured if he got through that match, he had a very good chance to win the tournament.  Both boys fought hard, playing some high-quality tennis.  Several other players and parents stopped to watch them banging the ball, running down dropshots, and hitting amazing passing shots.  I overheard two boys around my son’s age talking about my son and how good he was – I was beaming!  [Remember, this was a local tournament and most of the area’s top players were at the Bullfrog.]  My son wound up winning the match after almost 3 hours and came off the court very relieved to have gotten through to the next round.  His next match was much easier, thankfully, and was over pretty quickly.  It was time to go home and rest up for the next morning’s Final versus the 2 seed.

Right before my son was called on court for the Final, he caught me composing a tweet about having butterflies about his match.  He said, “Really, Mom?  You’re nervous about this match?”  I smiled sheepishly and said, “Aren’t you?”  “No,” he laughed, “it’s going to be fine.  I’ve got this.”  And he did.  He won 6-0, 6-0 in about 40 minutes but didn’t seem all that excited about the victory.  I wanted to take a picture of him receiving the trophy from the tournament director.  He asked me not to.  I insisted that he let me capture the moment so I could at least text it to my husband who was out of town – he relented.  But, he again made me promise I wouldn’t post anything on Facebook or Twitter.

On the car ride home, I asked my son if he had called his coach to let him know the outcome of the weekend.  He said no, that his coach didn’t care about a local level 4 tournament.  I knew that wasn’t true, and I didn’t respond but simply held up my proverbial Magic Mirror in hopes that it would reflect the importance of this tournament victory back to him.

We talked about the weekend and about how efficiently my son had played.  We talked about how the goal of the weekend was to earn ranking points in the 18s so he could improve his chances of getting into some of the higher-level events.  We talked about the lessons he had learned in Waco and how he applied them in his matches this weekend.  We talked about the fact that, but for the first match versus the 1 seed, my son had won his matches without dropping a single game.  We talked about how the 2nd and 3rd matches combined took less time than the first set of his first-round match.  We talked about how he dominated the final match and hit an ace to close it out.  We talked about those boys from the day before who were in awe of his ability.  We talked about how thrilled he had been just a year ago about winning this tournament and how he should take equal pride in this victory, especially since he had played up and still won.

I don’t know if any of it sunk in – only time will tell – but I’m hoping that my son was able to shift his view of his weekend accomplishment and feel good about the win.  It wasn’t the fact that he won the tournament that was such a big deal but that he won in such a dominating fashion, taking care of business quickly, dealing with the pressure of being the better player, and closing out the matches while controlling the pace and style of play.  These are all things he’s been working on, and his hard work paid off.

I hope my son looked hard at his reflection in my Magic Mirror and now realizes how far he’s come.  Of course, he still has a lot of work to do to reach his goals, but it’s crucial that he take at least a few minutes to revel in the small victories and accomplishments so he has the motivation to keep pushing and moving forward.  I’m very proud of the effort he put forth this past weekend.  I hope my Magic Mirror helped him feel some of that same self-pride, too.

Holabird-Adidas Recap

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!

To Sum It All Up . . .

It’s been a crazy week in the world of junior tennis!  In case you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am, I thought I’d summarize what’s going on and my recommended action items.

  • USTA has adopted changes to its Junior Competition calendar that will become effective in 2014. If you haven’t yet seen it, the new 2014 tournament calendar is here. Some interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study, have created an online petition and are seeking signatures. If you would like to view and/or sign this petition, click here.
  • NCAA has passed new rules affecting its year-end Championships effective September 1, 2012, for the Spring 2013 tournament.  The rules are purported to be in the interest of bringing additional fans to the sport and garnering tv coverage.  To read the new rules, click here.  To their credit, USTA is partnering with ITA to write a joint opposition letter to the rule changes.
  • A group of current and former collegiate players have formed a Facebook group to try to get NCAA to reconsider the rule changes.  They have created an event to organize a Twitter rampage on Saturday at Noon EDT.  To learn more, click here.  They have also created an online petition to overturn the changes.  To read and/or sign it, click here.
  • Sunday’s ParentingAces radio show will feature a discussion of the NCAA rule changes and what we as tennis parents can do to help preserve the integrity of the college system for our kids.  Tune in live at 6:30pm EDT by clicking here then call in with your questions and/or comments at 714-583-6853.  If you miss the live broadcast, you can hear the podcast by clicking on the Radio Show tab in the menu bar above.

Holabird Sports-Adidas “All-In” Junior Tennis Challenge

With the various changes that USTA is implementing throughout the junior competition calendar, several forward-thinking individuals and companies are stepping in to offer players and their families alternative ways to maximize their tournament experiences.  The Holabird Sports-Adidas All-In Junior Tennis Challenge is one such event.  I had the opportunity to speak with the tournament’s creator, Sol Schwartz, and to ask him a few questions:

ParentingAces: Why did you decide to create this tournament?

Sol Schwartz: The tournament was created for a few different reasons, the main one being that it will create an atmosphere that is going to be totally unique for the junior tennis player.  Our event has a variety of rules components that players very well may face as they move on to the collegiate and maybe professional levels.  It is also a contradiction to many of the new rules that are being, or have been, instituted into junior tennis.  First difference will be that all third sets will be played out.  No tie breakers.  A second difference is that all net cords will be in play.  A third difference is that coaching on changeovers will be allowed.  A fourth difference is that there is only one draw for the boys and one for the girls – all ages will be put together and will compete against each other.  Finally, and most importantly, is that the winner of each of the draws will receive an Adidas footwear and apparel sponsorship package.  Details of the package can be found in the link for the event.  We also have a runner-up package for the 2nd place finisher in each event.

PA: What are the specifics of registering for the tournament?

SS: Registration for the tournament can be done directly through the link that is on the Holabird Sports website, www.holabirdsports.com.  The cost of entry is $100, and the deadline to enter is August 16th at 11:59pm.  Entry will be limited to the top 32 boys and girls that enter each of the events.  The criteria for entry acceptance and seeding information is online.  It can also be found on the USTA website in their list of non-sanctioned events.  There is no housing provided for the event, but special event rates have been secured at hotels that are within  5 minutes of the host site, McDonogh School.

PA: How did you decide on Adidas as the sponsor?  What’s in it for them?

SS: There are several reasons that Adidas was chosen to be the lead co-sponsor with Holabird Sports in this event.   Going with a prize package that included shoes and clothing immediately brought them to mind.  Right now, there is really no bigger company in that side of the business than Adidas.  On a bigger picture front, there is going to be a huge blow out for the weekend of the tennis event at McDonogh.  On the Sunday of the final, August 26th, Holabird Sports and Adidas will also be holding The Coach Jerry Martin Memorial XC Run.  This race is a tribute to a legendary track and field coach from the Baltimore County School System whom I also had the honor of having as part of my retail staff at Holabird for many years.  Several of the people that are with Adidas in the tennis and running divisions have a great relationship with us, and many have had the experience of knowing Coach  Martin.  It just made this a perfect match.  These events will enable Adidas to get a lot of exposure in more of  a grassroots type of setting.  They will be blowing out their brand there throughout the whole weekend.  They will have products on display. They will have their  Mi Cell and Mi Coach training systems out there for the players to experiment with as well.

PA: What do you say to the players and parents who ask why they should play if it won’t help their ranking?

SS: My reasons for keeping this tournament unsanctioned, at least for the first year, are kind of selfish.  I did not want any outside influences coming in and trying to dictate how I should run the event.  I wanted this to be a different type of experience for the kids that gain entry, and I didn’t need or want any outside organizations getting in our way, or for that matter, capitalizing on my vision for what this event can and hopefully will be.  Being able to expose your child to the type of atmosphere that this tournament will create – along with the rules of play that are being implemented – should be exciting for all that enter.  These kids are used to playing under sets of rules that are contrary to what the game of tennis should be about.  Our event bucks that trend.  Why should they play if it won’t help their ranking?  From the kid’s view, it is to compete in a totally different atmosphere than at any event they play.  To get a good taste of what it is like to compete at the next levels of the game.  As a parent, I simply look at the prize package.  A lot of these players will have some sort of racket sponsorship, but they often can’t attain footwear and clothing.  The package that is being awarded to the winners of the event will help offset some of the largest expenses that add up throughout the course of the tennis calendar.

PA: Do you think this type of non-sanctioned tourney will survive and thrive when facing the competition from USTA/ITF events?  What can the tennis community do to ensure the survival of these alternative events?

SS: When I sit back and look at this event, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is in competition with any USTA or ITF events.  What it is is a totally different type of event than those put on by other organizations.  Just because the event is not a sanctioned event does not mean that it never will be.  This event is designed to be different.  It is designed to create an atmosphere that is a celebration of what is great about different areas of our sport.  This event is a model of a vision that I have as to what could potentially grow into a larger series of events down the road.  There is a ton of negativity that exists in the tennis community across our country.  This negativity comes at every single level and a lot has to do with the overall structure of the junior tennis tournaments and changes that have been made or are going to be made in the near future.  Everybody has a view on the issues from the coaches to the parents to the kids themselves.  I listen to these conversations and engage myself in a lot of them because both myself and my company have a vested interest in the success of the game of tennis.  We at Holabird Sports, in conjunction with Adidas, have put this event out there to create some new excitement in the junior tennis world.  The Holabird Sports- adidas “all-in” Junior Tennis Challenge will take place the weekend of August 24th-26th.  Hopefully it provides a bit of a positive kick back to tennis and creates some excitement.  When that happens, who knows where we may take this in the years to come?  It’s in the hands of the tennis community to promote these types of events and bring non-tennis people in.  There needs to be an all-out attack by players, coaches, parents, and supporters to bring more people to the game.  We need to show others that tennis is a great game to be enjoyed by anyone who can hold a racket.

My son and I will be in Baltimore for this exciting tournament – hope to see you there!