Complain, Complain, Complain . . . Do!

There is a lot of complaining going on in the Tennis World – from players, from coaches, from parents, from tournament directors, from journalists – I hear it all the time!  And blame – WOW! – every organization is getting blamed for the demise of American tennis, from USTA to ITF to USPTA to NCAA . . . the list goes on and on.

This blog was born out of complaints that I had myself and that I heard from other tennis parents, so I get it – I’m not innocent in the Blame Game; in fact, far from it!  But, if we just continue to complain and do nothing to change the status quo, then where does that get us?

A group of brilliant tennis minds is coming together to DO SOMETHING.  There’s a brand new resource online called American Tennis Journal that y’all need to visit (click here to see it).  The Mission Statement, as published on the site is:

The mission of the American Tennis Journal is to become…

  • a source of news concerning relevant issues in American tennis
  • a platform to discuss ideas and new developments in American tennis
  • a resource for American players, parents, and coaches

The developers plan to offer forums, live chats, and other methods for tennis players, parents, and coaches to connect and share information.  And, they’re hoping to get the attention of USTA and other relevant organizations so that change can actually occur.  Best of all, the folks involved in creating the website don’t have a dog in the fight – they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by providing frank, open, honest discussion of where tennis needs to improve in order for our players – juniors, college, and pros – to reach their own highest levels.  As site creator, Brian Parrott, said, “This could become a vehicle for positive exposure to what is happening . . . the goal is to facilitate the development of American talent.”  A worthy goal, indeed!

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!

We’re in Good Hands!

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. – George Orwell

Last week was quite a whirlwind in the tennis world.  I spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling through Facebook posts and Twitter tweets trying to keep up with all the conversations involving the NCAA changes to college tennis and the USTA changes to junior tennis.  One very positive thing that came out of all this craziness was the creation of a new Facebook group that just may be the unifying force we need.

Started by two young men – Bob Van Overbeek (University of Florida) and Evan King (University of Michigan), both top D1 college players – this group grew from 0 to 8000+ members over the course of the weekend.  It’s made up of current college players – both men and women – from D1, 2, and 3 programs as well as coaches, parents, fans, past players, and aspiring junior players.

I wondered how these 2 college boys came up with the idea of using Facebook to make a statement to the NCAA about its proposed changes to the year-end Championships.  Bob told me, “Evan and I were talking about Manny Diaz‘s tweets about the NCAA changes, and then shortly after that we saw the document with all of the writing and official changes on it. We started out sort of joking that we should do something about it. The joking led to us actually deciding to make the group and spreading it to everyone we knew. Our only goal was to simply share the information because sometimes the NCAA does these sorts of things and it gets swept under the rug. I think once people learned about what the changes were it got a lot of people angry so the word spread quickly.”

Boy, did it!  Not only were these guys able to organize a “Twitter Rampage” on Saturday, causing the #SaveCollegeTennis topic to trend several times throughout the weekend, but they’ve also tapped into the group’s resources to create an online petition (which now has more than 3000 signatures in only 2 days) asking NCAA to reverse the changes .  And, the mainstream media is certainly paying attention.  The boys’ efforts have been written about in USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times.

These two young men have turned their passion into action, and it’s been absolutely amazing to watch the explosion.  They are obviously intelligent guys given their educational institutions, but, more than that, they are wise beyond their years .

I decided to take advantage of their wisdom and get some advice.  I asked Bob if he had any advice for junior players who want to play college tennis.  His answer:  “The most important piece, something I tell everybody I meet, is to take every visit you possibly can. Every school will feel awesome when you are there, so make sure you see as many as possible. The second is don’t choose a school based on how good they are because teams can be great and then awful within a year or two. Make sure you choose based on the feel of the people who will be your teammates (people your age also looking at school), the coaches, and overall the city is something you can see being a lot of fun for four years because school and tennis can get stressful, but as long as you enjoy where you are and what you are doing, it will all be so much easier.”

And his advice for us parents?  “First, check to see if playing tennis is really what THE PLAYER wants to be doing, not what the parent wants the player to be doing. If the player is only playing because the parents want him/her to, then I would suggest getting out of tennis ASAP. But, if the player truly wants to play and loves it, then the second step is to back off as much as possible. If it is something that the player truly loves, the player will make all the effort needed and will learn by making the mistakes on their own. Obviously the parents need to give their support, but  all too often, tennis parents will get way too involved on and off the court. I see parents watching matches and freaking out, assuming that this match is the match that will solidify their child’s place in a college or at top 10 in the ranking. Parents have to remember, just as players do, that 1 match is only that, one match, and it is not life or death.”

Wise words from one who knows.

Tennis Parent/Non-Tennis Parent – It Takes Two!

If you’ve watched any professional tennis in the past couple of years, no doubt you’ve noticed Novak Djokovic’s parents in the stands during his matches – they are the ones cheering loudly, wearing their son’s image on their shirts, standing and fist-pumping after every winning shot.  Rumor has it that the King of Decorum, Roger Federer, once told them to be quiet (not the words he used!) during a match with their son.  They are the epitome of the hard-core Tennis Parent.

In most junior tennis families, though, typically there is one parent in charge of all-things-tennis and one parent who is less involved.  Even in families where the parents are no longer living in the same household, I’ve seen this distinction develop.  There is one parent who you see at pretty much every tournament though every now and then the other will make an appearance.

The role of the All-Things-Tennis parent are pretty clear – and I think I’ve covered them sufficiently in previous posts (click here and here) – but what, exactly, is the role of the Non-Tennis parent?

I actually posted this exact question on a Facebook group that I frequent consisting of former junior tennis champions who are now Tennis Parents, coaches, or otherwise still involved in the Tennis World.  One response I received was, “If I get this question right, what you will have is a non-tennis parent who becomes totally disenchanted with the behavior of the tennis parent. He/she voices their opinion to said tennis parent who immediately tells the non-tennis parent that they have no clue what the heck they are talking about and stay out of anything that has to do with Jr’s sports. ”

According to David Benzel, founder of Growing Champions For Life, in a family where one parent is “NOT the tennis parent”, the opportunity exists for this parent to provide the voice of balance for both the spouse and child who are immersed in the tennis culture. It’s important that tennis occupy the appropriate amount of space, time and energy for the health of any family.  However this is a tricky role to play because this parent may come to feel alienated from the tennis two-some and their dedication to the sport. Therefore, the ideal scenario may actually be when two parents alternate with each other in playing “tennis-parent” with all its travel, time, and emotional demands.  This facilitates an equal sharing of the tennis experience with the child and keeps both parents on the family team, not just the tennis team, in the eyes of the child.

In our family, my husband is the Non-Tennis parent (duh!), and his role ranges from earning the money to pay for our son’s sport of choice to reigning in the All-Things-Tennis parent (Moi!) when she gets out of hand.  Though we have definitely had our share of moments like the one described in the paragraph above, I think we have done a pretty good job of finding the balance and working TOGETHER to keep our son’s tennis in perspective.  While I’m typically the parent who goes to the tournaments and communicates with our son’s coach, my husband does do Tournament Duty a few times a year and does get involved when there’s a Big Issue to discuss.  I’m always grateful for that break, and our son is definitely grateful to have Guy Time with his dad.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my Tennis Parent role for anything – it has given me the chance to spend some high-quality time with my son and to meet some wonderful people.  What is your role and how do you keep balance in your family?