Jim Harp Discusses Coaching the Tennis Journey

Jim HarpThis week’s podcast:

High-performance coach Jim Harp has been around a few years, more than 30 to be exact, and he knows his stuff! He makes it his mission to learn something new every day so he can better coach the junior players under his care. He works with all levels of juniors – from the very beginners to the D-1 college bound and everything in between.

In this week’s podcast, Jim and I discuss his coaching philosophy as well as his new role as an advisor to TennisMentors.net. He has a lot of wisdom to impart to Tennis Parents and is more than happy to answer your questions if you’d like to reach out to him. You can find him online at HarpTennis.com or via email at Jim@harptennis.com

To learn more about Tennis Mentors, listen to last week’s podcast here.

Check out our latest podcast!

2017 NCAA Championships Slideshow

I had a ball covering the 2017 NCAA Tennis Championships! In addition to the slideshow below, click here to read my post on the Championships, and here and here to listen to my podcasts recorded during the Championships.

Building Tennis IQ

Coach Jorge Capestany does these amazing videos on his YouTube channel, many of which I’ve shared on the ParentingAces Facebook page over the years.

His latest video is actually a livestream presentation that Jorge gave at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida. Thankfully, the USTA recorded the stream and has posted it online for all of us to watch.

In this presentation, Jorge explains why simply having the best strokes doesn’t necessarily produce wins in tennis. It’s more important to understand where and how you’re hitting the ball and what your opponent is likely to do in return, much like playing a game of chess. Awareness is the key word here. Jorge illustrates how to teach these concepts by having 2 junior players demonstrate them throughout the presentation.

If you want to watch the Tennis IQ presentation please click here. Jorge says, ‘You should move forward in the video to the 11:30 mark because that is when we started!”

This is a great presentation for players and coaches, as well as Tennis Parents, to watch. Some coaches are actually carving out time during training to show it to their players as a group. You know how much I love that idea!

I hope you enjoy it. It’s almost 2 hours long (!), so find some time in your busy schedule and get started.

Again, thanks to the USTA for sharing the footage. Watch it HERE!

Q&A with College Coaches

Auburn Women's Tennis Coach Lauren Spencer-2016-12-01
Photo courtesy of ITATennis.com

As those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter already know, I have been writing some really fun pieces for the ITA website. These pieces are question-and-answer articles with coaches outside of the “power” schools, coaches whose programs are maybe a little less well-known. The goal of these pieces is not only to share these coaches’ philosophies with their peers but also to bring more exposure to those college tennis teams that aren’t written about as much, teams that are strong and competitive and that offer amazing opportunities to their players both on and off the court.

Here’s my first piece, an interview with Auburn Women’s Coach Lauren Spencer. I hope you’ll take the time to read the various interviews and maybe add some of these schools to your child’s list as they begin to look at colleges.

Lauren Spencer, Auburn University Women’s Tennis head coach, grew up in a small Texas town 30 minutes east of Waco. When it was time for her to look at colleges, she wanted to stay in state, close to home, but her father had other ideas.

Spencer discusses her own recruiting process as well as how she uses that experience now that she’s in the position to recruit players herself for one of the top women’s programs in the SEC.

Question: What was your recruiting process like when you started looking at colleges?

Answer: Back then, recruiting looked quite a bit different than it does now. Everywhere I went for junior tournaments, my parents and I would go look at the colleges in the area. We had email (I don’t want to make it seem like I’m that old!), but regular mail was the main way coaches and players communicated with each other. Also, most people didn’t decide where they were going to go to college until their senior year, either in the Fall or, for many of my friends, not until that Spring.

Because almost everyone went to regular school as opposed to homeschooling or doing school online, we didn’t play that many national tournaments – you just didn’t have the freedom to travel and miss school plus there weren’t as many national events at that time. So how you performed in your state was drastically more important than it is now. The recruiting rules were more lax back then, too, which meant we had more interaction at tournaments with college coaches. They would come watch you play at tournaments, then you’d go on official visits.

I was very tennis oriented during my recruiting process and didn’t really look at the academics of the schools – my focus was on the tennis and whether or not I liked the school. I realize now that there has to be a checklist of priorities – recruits have to make sure their desired colleges at least have a strong education component. If I could’ve done things differently, I would have a different perspective on what to look for in terms of coaching because a coach’s personality is magnified for players. If you don’t like the coach, you can’t just switch to a new coach like in the juniors. The coach is the number one resource for players at the university.

Q: You chose Louisiana Tech for college. How did you wind up there?

A: Most of my high school classmates ended up at Texas A&M. Because my father insisted that I look at options beyond Texas so I could spread my wings, I decided to look for a medium-sized school outside of Texas but still within driving distance of home. I knew a big state school wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like I would fit into a big city – it wasn’t what I was used to, and I didn’t really know how to function in that type of environment. Louisiana Tech was a great starting point for my life away from my parents. It’s in a college town, and it’s in the South, six hours from where I grew up, just far enough to keep me from being tempted to go home every weekend.

Q: How do you approach recruiting at Auburn?

A: Because we have a lot of players coming from out of state – or even out of the U.S. – I view my role with the parents as very important. I have to reassure these parents that their daughters will be safe at my school. Because I’m a mother myself (Lauren is expecting her second son any day now!) I understand how concerned the parents are when they send their child to a school far from home. It’s my job to make sure the parents understand that I will be taking care of their daughters, that I will help them learn time management skills, that I will do my best to keep them safe, and that I will do my best to keep them healthy both physically and emotionally.

With the players, I try to prepare them as best I can for what they will face as an Auburn student-athlete. I ask them to consider whether our school and our coaches fit in with what they want personality-wise, tennis-wise, and academically. I also look at a recruit’s birth order in their family to help me understand their personality and actions. First-born daughters have very different traits than middle- and youngest children, and I consider that when forming my recruiting class and my team as a whole.

Q: How does your role as Head Coach impact your overall coaching success?

A: When you come to play for me, you are family; you don’t get out of it. Auburn is very family-oriented. Once you come into our program, you are my child, my baby. My goal with each of my players is to raise an adult. When I send these young women out into the world, they are better tennis players, and they are prepared to go out and be self-sufficient, not return to mom and dad. We have to continue what their parents are doing and raise adults.

My personal life and my work life are very much blended. We call our team dinners “Family dinners” because we always eat our meals together. That’s very important to me. When you go to battle or war with another team, having a close bond and trust with the players helps propel the team to being confident in themselves as well as what the team is doing on and off the court. At Auburn, the coaches care as much about our players as individuals as we do about how they hit tennis balls. I believe that approach is especially important when coaching females.

Q: What advice would you give to other college tennis coaches?

A: Number one, we’re all here because of the student-athletes. There are certain times they will test us just like our own kids do. We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect them, especially in the world we live in right now. We have to make sure the student-athlete’s welfare is protected, whether that means resting them, making sure they’re mentally and physically healthy, making sure you teach them proper life lessons. Sometimes you have to use tough love, but as long as you do it to provide the ability for the student-athlete to grow as a tennis player and a person, making sure the student-athlete comes first, that’s a big deal. Coaches in major conferences have a lot of stress around winning and losing, but you don’t want to put that in front of student-athlete welfare.

Number two, enjoy the job. When I get stressed out, I look down at my feet and see I’m wearing tennis shoes. I get to wear sweats and tennis shoes to work! I get to work outside!

My SID (Sports Information Director), Josh (Wetzel), is a military veteran and lost both of his legs in battle. One day he came into my office, took a look at my face, sat down, and asked, “What’s wrong?” I started complaining about all the stuff that was going badly at work. Josh started giggling, put his titanium leg up on my desk and said “Yeah, one day I had a really bad day at work, too.”

We have really great careers, this is really fun, we get to mentor these really awesome kids – we coaches need to keep things in perspective. Don’t let the stress of winning and losing be your only focus and priority and just enjoy this experience we have.

I learned very early: always surround yourself with good people because they’re going to make you better. My Associate Coach, Chris Hooshyar, played at SMU when I coached there. I’ve known him since he was just a kid! Chris’s wife is the head recruiting coordinator for Auburn. My dad is our volunteer assistant. It’s just a big family thing for me at Auburn. But I haven’t surrounded myself with “yes” people – these folks tell me when I’m wrong and keep me grounded and humble. And that’s what has led to our team’s success.

The Academy & Tennis Coach Hopper


Today’s Guest Post is from Coach Todd Widom:

I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but where I train my students in South Florida, there is an overabundance of tennis coaches and academies.  One month a particular player is with one coach and a month later they are with a different coach or even at a different academy.  They just cannot stay put and they bounce around to multiple coaches or academies.  This is a sure way to not have your child progress in tennis.

I was blessed to have the same coach from when I was 6 years old to the time I retired at 26 from the ATP Tour.  That’s right, I started as a beginner and I stayed with the same coach for 20 years.  You are most likely saying to yourself that you think that it is extremely rare for this to ever happen and you would be right.  This is rare.

When you watch a true tennis coaching professional, they can teach all aspects of the game to help that particular player achieve their goals and dreams.  When you find this person, you do not switch coaches.  It is very rare to find a coach that can teach proper technique, movements, discipline, etc.  Just ask Rafael Nadal, James Blake and many others.  You will see it is also crucial to have a bond with your coach.  This is where the true development takes place because there is a strong trust between both student and professional.

I can definitely understand why a student and parent would want to leave their current coaching situation.  There could be crucial aspects that are not being or have not been addressed and this particular player could be stalling in their tennis development or regressing in their tennis development.  If you would like your child to be a high level tennis player, you cannot go through periods where the child is not getting what they need as there is no time to waste.

As a parent, you must do your research into who is going to guide you and your child to achieving their goals and dreams.  You will be investing many hours and money into this process and there should be no time wasted to be making uneducated or uninformed decisions into who is going to be guiding your child to their goals and dreams.  Just know that anyone can make a website, get a bucket of balls, find a tennis court, and coach tennis.  That is how easy it is to coach tennis in this country.  You will know a true professional when you see it, as they will be a role model, design a plan for how your child will achieve their goals and dreams, and help you the parent through this tennis process of development through many levels and years.  The professional will show up every day ready to help your child improve their tennis skills over many years.

Multiple coaches do not work, whether you have multiple coaches at your academy or you hop around to different coaches in your area.  Many coaches can look at players and know how to cure some issues in the student’s game, but all it takes is different terminology to confuse and destroy that particular player’s progress.  To become great at tennis it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and consistency, day in and day out, with the same person if you want steady progression.  You cannot get this with multiple coaches and multiple coaches working on different aspects of your tennis game.

Poor habits are difficult to break for any player at any level.  It takes a tremendous amount of structure, discipline, and repetition to break poor habits in one’s tennis game.  For example, if a player needs something significantly  fixed in their game from a technical perspective, I can tell you from experience that it will take somewhere  between six months to a year to fix that certain stroke.  Also keep in mind that it can take this amount of time and you must work on it every day with the same coach until the stroke becomes a good habit.  The way you can tell if the stroke is fixed is if the child can bring it out in a tournament and trust it under that type of stress in a tournament situation.  This is just one example of why having instability in your child’s tennis training will be instrumental in generating poor results.  It does not matter how established these multiple coaches are, your child will not progress at the rate they should, or even at all, if there is not one voice in the players tennis career.

Taylor Dent’s Many Hats

taylor dent

At last year’s US Open, I had the chance to meet and speak with former tour player Taylor Dent (click here to hear that interview). Shortly after the Open, Taylor emailed me to let me know he was embarking on a new journey: coaching aspiring junior player, Jared Donaldson (click here to hear my interview with Jared’s mom).

Fast forward one year. Jared decided to turn pro. He received a wildcard into the singles main draw of the 2014 US Open where he faced Gael Montaylor & lisafils in his first round match. He received a wildcard into the doubles main draw where he partnered with veteran Michael Russell and had the opportunity to play Mike & Bob Bryan in the second round. He is the 3 seed in the Junior US Open and has only dropped 5 games in his first two matches. This coaching arrangement, it seems, is working out pretty well so far.

Taylor graciously eeked out some time from his crazy busy schedule to sit down with me again this year to discuss his coaching philosophy, his parenting philosophy, and his advice to tennis parents. Click on the arrow in the box below to hear my interview with Taylor Dent.




USTA Junior Tournaments Survey

Image courtesy of USTA
Image courtesy of USTA

To all Tennis Parents, junior coaches, and junior players: USTA has posted an online survey on junior tournaments, the current structure, and what changes (if any) people would like to see. It is crucial that as many of us as possible take the time to answer the survey questions, giving thought and care to our answers, as I suspect the Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee will rely heavily on the responses to formulate a junior competition structure and schedule for the coming years.

For those who are happy with the current system, this is your opportunity to speak out in support of it.

For those who are unhappy with the current system, this is your opportunity to say so and to offer suggestions as to how to make things better.

The survey is a bit long and will likely require 20-30 minutes of your time to complete. Please invest that time. For convenience, you can save your answers and come back later to complete the survey.

There is a place at the end of the survey to include your name and contact information. It is optional to do so. If you are uncomfortable lending your name to your answers, that’s fine. But, if you’re willing to go on record with your responses and have the Committee potentially reach out to you for further elaboration, then please include your contact information.

The survey is online at https://www.snapsurveys.com/wh/s.asp?k=140137846815 – the deadline to respond is August 18th, so please click the link today and then forward this to your junior tennis friends and colleagues. USTA is making the effort to reach out to us. We need to take advantage and give them our input.

P.S. Since it was brought up in the Comments below, can you please comment and let me know (a) if you received the survey via email; and (b) if you received it directly from USTA or from some other source? Thanks!