Last week, I shared a post from another blog on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It was yet another attempt to explain what’s wrong with American tennis. The article generated some interesting comments from parents and coaches alike, each blaming the other for what ails us all. [Note: Like and Follow ParentingAces on Facebook and Twitter to see the comments]
It’s the same old story. Coaches blame lazy players and overbearing parents. Parents blame unmotivated and under-trained coaches. Players blame governing bodies. Governing bodies blame everyone.
What if we all stopped blaming and just started focusing on what we can each do to be better? What if we all stopped assuming the worst about others and just started focusing on how we can work together to be better as a whole? What if, instead of viewing each other as opponents we just started viewing each other as allies working toward a common goal? Wouldn’t that be a giant step in the right direction?
I realize the only person I can control in all this is myself, so I’m going to start with a personal mind-shift. I’m going to focus my efforts with ParentingAces on finding the good stuff going on in the Junior Tennis World. I’m going to write about and talk about those people and events that are making our sport better, that are making our kids better human beings, and that are making us better sports parents. I’m going to assume less and question more. I’m going to look for ways to shine a light on the people and organizations and programs that are making a positive difference for us all. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
I know, I know. Y’all are sick to death of hearing about my week at the 2013 US Open. This will be my last article about it, PROMISE! So, please indulge me one more time as I share with you (and record for my own purposes) the things I learned at the Open.
First and foremost, I learned that Tennis Parents are Tennis Parents, whether our children are playing a tournament at the local public park for a plastic trophy or in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for a $2.6 million paycheck. We all have a hard time not showing emotion while our child is battling on the tennis court. We all do our best to stay focused on the process and not the result, and we all know a win is much more fun for everyone involved than is a loss. It’s that way in the juniors; it’s that way in college; and it’s that way at the highest level of the professional game. We all strive to show our children that we love them no matter the outcome. We all strive to instill a love and passion in them for this sport they’ve chosen to pursue. We all strive to surround them with knowledgeable, smart, caring coaches who can help them reach their potential.
Secondly, I learned that it truly does take a deep-seated love of the game in order to reach the highest levels in our sport. Achievements in tennis, for most, come slowly and over a very long period of time. They take incredibly hard work and dedication. If the love isn’t there, the success is unlikely to be there regardless of the talent level of the individual player.
I learned that tv commentators aren’t as unbiased as they may seem. Spending time in the CBS booth on Ashe, I had the opportunity to chat with some of the announcers between matches. Turns out, just like us, they have their favorite players and secretly root for them to win. Who knew?
I learned that having media credentials at an event like the US Open opens doors. Big doors. Fun doors. Doors that allow you to walk next to your favorite athletes and their parents and their coaches. Doors that allow you to go up and start a conversation with these folks and makes them want to engage with you in that conversation. However, the bolts on those doors shut tight when you just want to take a photo with the guy who will likely win – who won – the tournament. Just sayin’.
I learned that every top-level player grew up hitting against a backboard. They used that time to practice various shots and styles, pretending to be their favorite pros as they honed their skills. They created games to play with their peers, using the wall as an impartial 3rd player. They have fond memories of those hours spent hitting against their toughest opponent, the one that always got one more ball back.
I learned that it’s really nice to make friends early in the tournament so you have people to sit with during meals and hang out with during rain delays or bum a ride “home” from late at night. I learned that the folks who hang out in the media room are all pretty nice and willing to help out a fledgling newbie trying to learn the ropes.
I learned that riding the train out to Larchmont at 2am is really pretty safe, and that there are taxis waiting at the station even at that ungodly hour. I also learned that chivalry still exists in the world as evidenced by the young man who gave up his seat in said taxi so I wouldn’t have to wait alone at the station so late at night (early in the morning?).
I learned that a $20 food allowance can go a long way, even at the US Open. It takes some creativity and willingness to adjust your eating habits, but it can be done! I also learned that coffee is free in Media Dining. All day and all night. That helped a lot.
I learned that I want to see my son succeed in tennis, NOT because I care about rankings or where he goes to college or whether he turns pro so much as because I’ve met some incredible people through my own association to the sport, and I want him to get to spend time around those same folks. This sport is chock-full of junior coaches who know their stuff, of college coaches who embrace the challenge of taking 18 year old children and helping them grow into 22 or 23 year old incredible adults, of journalists who take a personal interest in the players they follow, of former top players who want to give back to the game that gave them so much. Who wouldn’t want their child to be in the company of these amazing human beings?
I learned that I really and truly love the game of tennis. I love being around the players and the coaches and the parents and the photographers and the writers and the commentators and the statisticians and the manufacturers and the stringers and the fans. I love being able to see behind the proverbial curtain into the inner-workings of this sport and learn what makes everything tick. I hope to have many more opportunities to see more, to learn more, and to share it with those of you patient enough to get all the way through my ramblings.
Before I close, I absolutely have to give a huge shout-out to Melanie Rubin, Meredith Corsillo, Colette Lewis, Sandra Hewitt, Marcia Frost, Pat Mitsch and, most of all, Sol Schwartz who suggested I apply for media credentials in the first place. All of these people taught me and supported me through my very first foray into sports reporting, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude! And, to my husband, of course, who supports me every single day in everything I do.
Okay, that sounded a little like an Oscar acceptance speech – sorry!
I hope you enjoyed my reports from Flushing Meadows as much as I enjoyed preparing them for you. Now, as they say on tv, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
In case you haven’t picked up on this just yet, I am a HUGE fan of Rafael Nadal. I have been following his career since my son first started playing tennis seriously about 8 years ago, and he is one of those special athletes whose appeal, for me, extends far beyond the confines of a tennis court.
I have had the chance to see him play live several times and never cease to be amazed by the energy he brings to every match. The way he fights on the tennis court has been compared to a gladiator. Rafa himself uses the word “suffer” quite often to describe the experience of competing.
Yesterday, I saw Rafa’s name on the night schedule for Arthur Ashe Stadium and knew I was going to be in for a long day and night of tennis. With my media credential, I am allowed to be in the press room during the player interviews, and I am allowed to ask questions. There was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see and hear this young man up close!
I missed the beginning of his match versus the Brazilian, Rogerio Dutra Silva. I suspected it would be a pretty quick match on Rafa’s part, so I stayed in Louis Armstrong Stadium to watch John Isner take on Gael Monfils. Once John was up 2 sets, I decided to head over to Ashe to catch the last set of the Rafa match. On my way over there, I ran into a friend of mine from the Atlanta US Open Series tournament who does stats for IDS. She invited me to come watch with her in the ESPN booth – what a treat that was! We had a birds-eye view of the court from right behind the players – it was incredible!
Once Rafa won, I headed back to the Media Center to gather myself before going into the press conference. When I walked into the room, there were only a couple other media people present, so I parked myself in the center of the front row, right in front of where Rafa would be sitting. He came into the room a few minutes later, all smiles and full of that positive energy he exudes.
The moderator asked for questions in English first, to be followed by questions in Spanish. The first question had to do with his performance during this last match. In typical fashion, Rafa answered very modestly that he started a little bit too slow but played better as the match progressed.
Then it was my turn to ask a question. I asked, “If you could give advice to parents whose children want to be like you (professional tennis players), what would you tell them?” Here is his thoughtful response:
“To be like me or not, that’s something if I did, probably a lot of people can do it because I feel like I am a really normal person. But I think is important to have good people around you. Parents have to be a little bit away and support the kid. But at the end is negative when the parents want to be too much involved on the things. For any reason there is a coach there that knows much more about tennis than the parents. At the end the most important thing is the guy and the kid needs to have a good physical and mental conditions to be ready for the competition and then find a kid that is ready to work.”
Great input from a great champion!
The link below is a recording of part of the press conference – some in English, some in Spanish. I thought y’all might enjoy hearing it. (Just click on the link below to download the audio file then click to open with your computer’s audio player)
As predicted, I don’t have a whole lot of information to share about my son’s first week at Global Tennis Team in Mallorca. I have successfully resisted the urge to contact anyone at Global to check in on him, and I have successfully resisted the urge to ask probing questions of my son when we text. I figure (I hope!) he’ll eventually decide to share some of the details of his life in Spain.
That said, it sounds like he’s working very hard and at a much higher intensity than he is used to at home. He developed a pretty nasty blister on the palm of his right hand (he’s right-handed) about mid-week and texted me asking for advice. I replied that there really wasn’t anything I could do from here and that he should ask the Global coaches for help. Then, I didn’t mention it again. But, my husband found out from our son that one of the coaches picked up some treatments from the local pharmacy, and he figured out he needs to start wearing sweatbands to keep his hands dry while the blister heals. It must’ve worked because he played some sort of competitive match on Sunday at a facility about 30 minutes from Global – I’m still not clear on what type of competition it was! – and was just fine.
He has told me that the food is good (and he’s eating well – last night’s dinner included pasta with pesto and cheese, meat and potatoes, and yogurt with fruit), and he’s getting along well with his roommates. After tennis on Saturday, one of the coaches took 6 of the players to the beach then to a tapas restaurant for what looked like a really yummy lunch. Apparently, 2 Italian players arrived today, one older and one younger than my kid. I don’t know if they’re boys, girls, or one of each. Also today, after tennis, my son went to the supermarket and to some shop where he was able to buy more sweatbands. Oh, and he had some racquets re-strung.
That’s it! That’s all I’ve got so far!
A fellow parent suggested I ask my son to tell me one non-tennis thing he does each day. That may be asking too much. I’ve asked for 3 times a week. We’ll see what I get.
I feel very lucky to have fellow Tennis Parent, Melanie Rubin, reporting from the 2013 USTA National Hardcourts in Kalamazoo. She is interviewing players, parents, coaches, and tournament personnel on various topics that I hope will be of interest to ParentingAces readers. Bookmark this post and check back over the next week – I will add interviews as Melanie sends them to me. She will be joining me on the ParentingAces Radio Show on Monday, August 12th, at Noon ET as well.
Just click on the names below to download the audio files then click on the downloaded file to hear the brief interviews in your designated audio software (iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.). The interviews are listed in the order in which I received them from Melanie.
If you or your child is at the Kalamazoo tournament this week, please seek out Melanie and ask her to interview you, too! It’s great hearing from everyone about their experiences at one of the country’s most prestigious junior tennis events. If you have photos you’d like to share, please email them to me so I can upload them – scroll down to see the ones I’ve gotten so far.
And, for detailed daily coverage of Kalamazoo, as well as the other national hardcourt events, be sure to subscribe to Colette Lewis’s ZooTennis.com blog. A new Facebook group, US Tennis, is also reporting results and other related information. To see the draws and follow the action, go to the tournament’s website. For a wrap-up of the week in Kalamazoo, be sure to listen to the ParentingAces Radio Show podcast from August 12, 2013 (click here to listen).
My son leaves in less than two weeks to travel, alone, to Mallorca, Spain. He will be staying there for a month – maybe longer – to live and train at Global Tennis Team (click here to read my trip report about my lesson at Global in June). This is his first trip to Europe. This is his first trip outside the US without his parents. This is a big, brave step.
And, this is not – I repeat, NOT – simply about him having a chance to become a better tennis player. While that will hopefully be a perk of his trip, my husband’s and my decision to offer him this opportunity has much more to do with him having the chance to become a better human being.
If you had the chance to listen to this week’s radio show with my guest, Barbara Tipple, you heard about the changes she has seen in her son since he has been living and training at Global. Yes, his tennis has improved, and he has become more committed to putting in the hard work in order to get better. But, it’s more than that. He’s matured, grown up, learned to take personal responsibility for his words and his actions, learned to honor his commitments.
Sometimes, our children develop those traits and skills on their own while doing what other kids their age are doing – living at home, going to school, playing an instrument and/or a sport, or holding down a part-time job or doing community volunteer work. But, sometimes our children need to get away from the protective cocoon of their parents and siblings and social group in order to spread their wings and break free. My son fits into that latter category.
I know there are some of you who will read this post and think, “This woman is totally nuts!” I’m willing to risk that because I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do for my son at this point in his young life. My husband and I are very lucky that we have the resources to offer this amazing gift to our son. In our family (as I suspect in most of yours) our son learning and playing tennis has become about much more than hitting fuzzy yellow balls over a net between some painted lines. It’s about translating how he reacts to what happens on the court into how he reacts to what happens off the court. It’s about making choices and decisions that can shape the adult he will eventually become. It’s about learning discipline and respect and following through on commitments. All of these are works in progress for my almost-17-year-old. And they are all things that I hope he improves on during his time at Global.
Will I miss him while he’s there? Of course! Will he miss home? I certainly hope so! I suspect that the young man who returns at the end of August will be different from the one who gets on that plane on July 29th – maybe a bit more mature, maybe a bit more appreciative, maybe a bit more focused, maybe a bit taller (!). Change can be a good thing.
He is my youngest, my baby, and part of me is resisting letting him go, letting him grow. Maybe my son isn’t the only one taking a big, brave step . . .
However, due to some ridiculous eligibility rule changes by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), my son did not play for his school team this year. It was HIS choice, don’t get me wrong, but, basically, our state governing body made it very unattractive for any high-level players to join their high school teams this year – to summarize, the rule said that a player lost eligibility if he or she trained for his/her sport during stated school hours. For my son and many other tennis players, their school hours are modified in such a way as to include “zero period” and online classes so they can get to the courts earlier in the afternoons for training. In other words, they get out of school an hour or two earlier than the rest of the student body. Under the new GHSA rule, that modified schedule and their extra training made them ineligible to play.
That said, there were still many talented high-schoolers who played this season as evidenced by the tight matches during this past weekend’s State Finals. And, there is hope for the rest of the players as I recently heard GHSA reversed that eligibility rule for the 2013-14 school year.
And now, especially in light of what recently happened at UGA with its number 1 singles player on the men’s side, it seems to me that high school tennis needs to take on a bigger role in preparing our juniors for tennis at the collegiate level.
A fellow tennis mom feels exactly the same way. “I’m so tired of hearing ‘nobody cares about high school tennis’. In light of the recent events [sic], shouldn’t college coaches reconsider the high school player? These kids play for the sheer joy and camaraderie that they get from being a member of a team and representing their school (and they don’t get paid to do it)! They give up individual opportunities to earn tournament points and improve their rankings so they can play and practice with their team. Isn’t that exactly what college coaches are or should be looking for?”
I would love to see high school tennis become a training ground for college. Unfortunately, at least where we are, the level of coaching the high school teams receive is pretty amateurish. Often times, a teacher or coach from another sport are recruited to coach tennis even though they may have little or no knowledge about the sport. It makes it a very tough decision for a kid who is used to training at a high level to take a step backward in order to play for his or her school team. Add to that the fact that many college coaches and recruiting consultants have said over and over that they don’t care whether a kid plays for his school; they simply care about tournament performance and ranking/rating. Is it wonder that many top-level juniors are opting out of high school tennis?