Recap of the Boys 16’s and 18’s Clay Courts

Clay Courts

I hope you enjoy this latest contribution from Coach Todd Widom.

I truly enjoyed my time going around to the best clubs in Boca Raton and Delray Beach watching some of my students compete in one of the most prestigious events that is played in my own backyard. It brought back memories of when I played the 18’s Clay Courts. It was also nice catching up with many of the men that I competed with throughout my junior, college, and professional tennis career, as well as, catching up with the college coaches that were coaching college tennis when I was in college. Most of these men who have stayed in the tennis business after their college or professional career became college coaches. I have noticed that not many have gone into junior development, but both jobs have their challenges.

What I would like to speak about is how your son or daughter is going to impress the college coaches so that they can attend one of these fine colleges and have a great four years as a student athlete. First, the college coaches were coming from junior Wimbledon so that already shows you that your son or daughter is competing against the best juniors in the world for these spots on college tennis teams. The reality of the situation is, and I am sorry to tell you, is that these coaches are not traveling to Europe to recruit American players. You may be thinking how can my child make it to one of these good universities and be a starter in the lineup, when they are competing with the best juniors in the world for these starting lineup spots.

Before I get into any discussion about hitting a tennis ball, let’s speak about movement and the physicality of what it takes to be successful, not only on a clay surface, but on any surface. I am seeing kids that do not have any understanding of how to move, court positioning, and use of their lower body to load and explode into a ground stroke. At this tournament, sliding into a shot so you can recover is imperative. Your child’s understanding of the difference between offense, neutral, and defensive positions is crucial to what shot they are going to hit to break down their opponent across the net. For example, if you are eight feet behind the baseline and you hit the ball like you do when you are three feet behind the baseline, the ball will land short and you will not get out of a defensive position. Most likely, you will be running at the fence because you defended poorly. A sign of a high level player is one that can be put on defense and turn that defense into offense during the point. This is what you are seeing with the best tennis players in the world on television, especially with the men’s game. The women’s game has some first strike players like Jelena Ostapenko who know they struggle with mobility so they have to get that first big strike in to start the point. Roger Federer, James Blake, Novak Djokovic, and Andre Agassi are some of the men that can or did take the ball so much earlier than any other players. If you think your son or daughter has this type of eye hand coordination and timing, they are a one in a million tennis player. We need more of these type players in the United States.

Is your son or daughter able to adapt their game to be able to play on the slow clay courts? I am seeing junior players not adapting their game styles and just banging a ball and running. They are also banging a ball at targets on the court that does not really do much. At this level, placement of a shot on a proper target with moderate pace is far more valuable than ripping a ball that hits a foot past the service line. If you watch closely, what targets are the juniors hitting and how many quality shots does it take for one of the players to be dominating the middle of the court because they have a short ball.

I would like to touch on what I am seeing with the junior tennis players as it pertains to their strokes. I am seeing tight and hitchy type strokes that have trouble generating power. It is unnatural. There is no feeling in the hands and wrists. The player should be able to swing and hit, but instead there are multiple complicated steps for hitting a groundstroke. To generate power, the power comes from your core and lower body, and wrist acceleration. Instead, I am seeing unnatural strokes, and chances are that your son or daughter have taken all these super complex tennis lessons and cannot produce a solid, powerfully hit tennis ball.

Lastly, many kids have only one game plan and if that plan is not working that day, they will have an unhappy car ride back to their hotel room. Great tennis players have multiple game plans based on how they are playing that day, plus they have to take into consideration how their opponent is playing that day. For example, in my quarterfinal match at the 18’s Clay Courts, I was playing a player who was ranked about 30 in the world in junior tennis. I started the match great and was hitting behind him a lot during the rallies because he had trouble moving on clay and was slipping and sliding all over the place. The second set came around and he started getting his footing and started dominating some of the rallies. We split sets and it rained. In the third set, I decided to start taking the ball a bit earlier and start taking time away and come into the net more. I took his second serve and hit the return and came into the net which I had practiced many times. I ended up winning the match and was fortunate enough to win the Super National Clay Courts Tournament a few days later, but the point to the story is that if you have a failing game plan, you must make adjustments to get through that day with a win. Now understanding when to change game plans is a different story and that is taught by an experienced and knowledgeable coach so you are able to have a complete game to get through a long tournament. Best of luck to your son or daughter the next time they play Super National Clays Courts or any other clay court tournament.

Does Your Child Lack Confidence

Another guest post from coach Todd Widom . . .

This article was prompted by numerous parents calling me over the years about their child lacking confidence.  Some of the questions I receive are around developing confidence and being nervous in tournaments. I explain that their child is nervous in tournaments because they are unsure of what the outcome will be and they are looking into the future when they have not even struck the first ball in the warm-up.  Let’s look at this at a deeper level.

How does a junior tennis player build confidence in themselves? The easy answer is that they go play a bunch of tournaments and hopefully they win more matches.  They will then be more confident in themselves.  No one does well on an important test in school without learning and studying the material.  Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.  Junior tennis players do not just get lucky to have better results.  Your homework is your training and your exam is the tournament.

Your child cannot hide when they are in tournaments and results never lie.  Building confidence is as easy as preparing so well that your child is sure they are ready to perform at a good level in tournaments.  When I speak to parents about confidence, one of my first questions is, does your child feel proud of what they are accomplishing on a daily basis at practice?  A junior tennis player knows and feels if they are improving, and the way to improve is to have a disciplined plan on how that particular player is going to reach higher levels of tennis.  Then you must work towards that plan on a daily basis.  A one-hour lesson is not what I am speaking about, but rather training and working on the plan for hours on a daily basis.  Your child must get off the court and feel proud of what they worked on in that session and if they do not feel proud after that session, then it was not productive.  No productivity means no progress.  From a coaching standpoint, you can tell when the student is working on the proper things and improving because they are usually happy because they are seeing the results, and feeling the results on the court.

Another question I am frequently asked is what does my child need to work on to become a more confident player? Each student is different and so are their techniques.  No two players are alike.  In my experience, some of the players I have trained have needed some form of cleaning up on the technical side, but almost all of the kids have little or no understanding of how to properly move and balance themselves on a tennis court, as well as how to construct a proper point strategically.  The players have taken a bunch of tennis lessons where the coach has fed or hand fed balls to them.  This is not wrong, but this is strictly technical tennis teaching, and is only one piece of what your child needs.  This is not teaching your child how to learn the game and how to apply their game to be able to win more matches.

I also receive phone calls from parents wondering why their child is struggling in tournaments when they are taking many tennis lessons.  The parents thought process is, if my child is taking a bunch of tennis lessons, then my child should be winning more, and as a result should be becoming more confident in themselves.  This is incorrect.  When your child is trained to understand what they are good at, and how to break down other opponents due to being smarter and more disciplined with their tennis, they will as a result win more matches and become more confident.

In closing, I am repeatedly seeing tennis players with the same deficiencies.  If you would like to have a more confident junior tennis player, that confidence will come with a greater understanding of the game as well as of their own game.  A lesson is great, but that is just one little piece of the puzzle.  Understanding how to compete, understanding your game, and understanding how you are going to break down the opponents game is how you will have better results.  Productivity, purpose, and understanding why you are working on a specific skill is how you are going to see results.  Keep in mind that you must work on these aspects all the time so they become ingrained habits.  When your child does not need to think about these aspects in tournaments, it means the habits are ingrained and they should be on their way to winning more, and as a result, becoming more confident.

Has Your Child Outgrown His/Her Training Environment?

training environmentThe following article is the latest contribution from coach Todd Widom. Enjoy!

A catastrophic mistake parents and junior tennis players make is that when they become the best player at their academy or current training arena, they feel like they have outgrown that environment. This is where the problems begin. First, you should never change a winning formula and this goes for your strategy during a match or your current coaching situation. It is great your child has become the best player where they train, and it may mean your coaches are doing a great job.

What I am seeing and hearing is that once a player reaches the level where they are the best at their current training environment, it is time to move on. This is incorrect thinking as the player is having good or even great results in tournaments. All this particular player may need is just some tougher match play situations once or twice a week, but you should not change training environments.

The reasoning behind this is because it takes quite some time to connect with a new coach and have them understand how that student clicks with many different ways of communication. Every child is different and the cookie cutter mold does not work for every student. How one learns may be completely different from how another learns. I have learned that you may need to adapt the communication depending on each student. I believe the job of the coach is to try to get the best out of each student, no matter what it takes.

I was very fortunate from a very young age to be trained at an extremely high level from two coaches who produced tennis champions. Because of this training, I achieved a good level of play through my early teenage years, but my game really took off when I was about 16. At this point, I started to get my feet wet in professional tennis. I was playing at a high national level, and I was, and had been the best player where I trained for years. I never thought for a split second to change my tennis training environment. I wanted to be a champion, and my coach had been producing champions for many years. I kept having better results without training with anyone better than me. I was determined to be a professional tennis player.

I was trained from day one to learn how to be disciplined with my tennis and how to have tunnel vision concentration. All practices were very productive no matter who was across the net. I had a plan on what I was working on and it was work every single day. You have a plan and you work towards it every day. If you are not executing the plan well, you stay after normal practice hours and keep working on it until you are happy with what you have accomplished that day. This is how you get better.

One of the boys I played against regularly was an excellent player. He was one of the top players in the country and played at a top Division I college in Florida. One weekend we decided to play some practice matches against each other. On Saturday, we played and I won 6-0 6-0. Was the practice match beneficial? Absolutely. I worked on all the aspects I had been working on and I executed them well. We came back on Sunday and I beat him again 6-0 6-0. Once again, it was an extremely productive practice. I was able to follow my plan, execute what I was working on, and do it in such a discipline manner. I never made silly mistakes, which would be a lack of discipline and concentration. To beat someone 6-0 6-0 takes a lot of concentration to not give away any free points. This boy was an accomplished player and a top nationally ranked player, so it showed me I could sustain a high level of tennis for a long period. It was a test of my brain and I passed the test twice that weekend. It was up to me to make the practice productive and it was very productive because it gave me confidence to know I did not have any mental lapses.

Soon after this weekend, I won the boys 18’s Super National Clay Courts. I had many 6-0 sets in that tournament and only lost one set enroute to winning the tournament. My brain was trained to sustain a certain level. It is all about what your child wants to put into the practice and what they want to take out of the practice, not who is across the net.

Assessment Could Save Your Child’s Tennis

assessment

The following was written by Todd Widom and reprinted with his permission.

This article was prompted by an increasing number of parents over the years contacting me for a truthful assessment of their child’s tennis. It is not so easy to receive the truth for some so I am here to give you the truth. Many parents get very excited when their 12 or 14 year old is obtaining excellent results. Does it mean that the child will go on to do great things in tennis? Maybe, but in many cases the real answer is no. The strategy of spending money is easy, because as long as your child is winning everyone is happy. However, you may not be so happy in the later stages of your child’s junior career when they need to peak to get into a great school.

The essence of what I am getting at is if you think your child is having great results, be prepared that you are going to keep investing in his or her playing career. The issue is that you want your child to peak when he or she is 16 to 18 years old and what you must face is the reality that your child is going to require the necessary tools to attend a great university or maybe play professional tennis. Just because your child is winning, does not mean that they have the necessary foundation and tools to play great tennis in their last couple of years of junior tennis, which is when it matters most.

The younger divisions of junior tennis are for learning and developing your game for when you are older. What parents must understand, is that your child should be learning how to train, compete, construct points, have a great attitude, and be mentally prepared. There is no time to be trying various strategies, or going from academy to academy. You will lose precious time and no child has that luxury. Certainly, if an academy or coach is not working out then a change is required, but due diligence and research is required to find the right coach.

When a person gets an opinion from a doctor that they need surgery, they should get a second opinion. The same holds true in tennis. When a student is looking for a new coach or to improve on something in their game, they should interview coaches, obtain a second opinion, and select the one they feel like will get them to the best place in their game.

In addition, when your child is figuring out what college they would like to attend, they should have a list of schools, research them and visit them. I counsel many kids and their parents on these issues. You are making a financial investment in your child’s tennis, and your child is making a commitment to tennis. In addition, the coach is making an investment in your child and their tennis career. What I keep seeing over and over again are junior tennis players not peaking from sixteen to eighteen years old and this is not only a very significant problem, but this is also a costly mistake the parents absorb financially and the player absorbs physically, mentally and educationally. Even though each case is different, what I can tell you is that the majority of kids do not have the solid foundation required to play at higher levels of tennis. As a coach, mentor, friend, and teacher to my students, I make sure that all aspects of what creates a strong and solid foundation are set into motion from day one. This is the only way I know how to do it, and I am not merely a coach. My business actually started this way as parents were panicking that they have spent all this time, effort and money, and at the most important juncture of their child’s junior tennis career, their child is faltering, their foundation is cracking and their dreams are quickly dissolving into thin air. Do yourself a favor and get your child assessed by someone experienced so that you will save yourself major headaches in the upcoming years.

Are Junior Tennis Tournaments a Social Gathering?

The following article is the latest contribution from coach Todd Widom. Enjoy!

I find it quite amusing when I attend junior tennis tournaments and see the teenagers huddled around each other either socializing or trying to snap a photo to put on social media. Then all of a sudden, their name is called and they need to rush to the court to play a tennis match. They may win or lose, but if they do not perform up to their parent’s standard that they have set for their child, it will be a rough car ride home or back to the hotel. The “cool” kids that love tournaments so they can see their friends usually do not do well. Their mentality and preparation is wrong. For the serious kids, socializing is for outside the tennis facility. When you are at the tournament, the serious kids are there to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to win. Everything else is secondary.

For all the parents reading this article, the next time you attend a junior tennis event, just take a step back and see who is hanging around at the courts all day with no purpose. It is going to be the vast majority of kids, but also keep in mind that the vast majority of kids do not have goals and a purpose for why they play tennis. There will be a couple of kids sprinkled around the event away from everyone else warming up properly, stretching, re-gripping their rackets, and maybe listening to music in a quiet secluded setting. They are not around many other kids socializing and listening to all the noise around them. These teenagers are there at this event and they have a purpose.

For many of you who have read my previous articles, you know that my tennis background was training with a couple of Argentine disciplinarian coaches who produced some of the best amateurs and professionals in the United States. I trained with these phenomenal coaches from when I was 6 years old all the way to 26 years old. As I reflect on how I was and what went through my mind preparing for a tournament, it went something like this. Tennis for me was a blast from day one. I was obsessed with everything about it. I grew up and played with the best players in the country and in the world since I was 6 years old. I had two main coaches that truly cared for the students. They trained you multiple hours every day. You did not just take a lesson and then spend no time with them the following days. They were truly there for you to produce you into a champion. They were not running a lesson factory away from the other students. Tennis for me was a way to better my life. What this means is that if I could hit that tennis ball better than most, I could find a way to better my life in something I truly enjoyed doing. I felt the love from my coaches because they knew I would run through a wall to win a point or perform the drill properly. When there is this mutual desire by both parties to go the extra mile, there was no way I could not be a serious prepared tennis player at a tournament. To goof off at a tournament meant to me that I did not respect what they were doing for me, and what my mother was doing for me since there were tremendous sacrifices to see how good I could be. I was a reflection of their phenomenal teachings and I would not let them down if I could avoid it. You see, I was striving to be a top notch amateur and then professional, but I felt that they cared so much and wanted it for me as well, so we were in this process together working our tails off.

Playing junior tennis in Florida in my generation was very difficult. The talent pool was large. If you did not prepare well in practice or in the tournament arena for your matches, you were not going to be successful. I would watch some of the top players and I knew that to ever beat them, things had to be done properly. I was also a top-notch player, but I knew that if something was off, it would be a quick match and I would not win. These players would be away from the rest of the competition at events and you know they were getting ready for a prize fight. There was no socializing for these players. They were there for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win. I was not the only one trying to better my life by hitting a yellow ball better than the rest. When I went to tournaments, I rarely stayed at the tournament hotel because for me the competition took place on the courts and I did not want to spend time or socialize with the competition outside the “boxing arena.”

In closing, if you ever wonder how you fulfill your potential in this game, it is to perform many aspects of preparation well, but to have the proper guidance so that your goals can become a reality. I am not saying that your child should not socialize, but what I am saying is that the tennis facility is there for tennis. The socializing for the serious children is outside of the tennis facility. It is very easy to see who these focused children are at a tennis tournament. What many children and parents need to realize is that tennis can open countless doors and the skills they learn on the tennis court can be lifelong. Many of these skills are not taught by studying out of a book in school. From very early on, I had a dream of playing professionally, and I knew tennis was the one thing I was best at, so when you have those thoughts of bettering the future of your life through tennis, you are going to have to do things better than most people. There are kids all over the globe trying to get college scholarships or make it on the ATP Tour. What separates your child from the rest? Remember, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

 

Fitness During Tournaments for Tennis Players Trying to be Elite

Courtesy of Todd Widom
Courtesy of Todd Widom

Here is another helpful article from coach Todd Widom on one way elite players set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

This past December I had a discussion with a young touring professional  who was having trouble sustaining his level of fitness during matches on the ATP tour.  He had some very good chances to win matches against good players, but he would run out of gas and not be able to sustain his level of play.  After telling me his physical issues during his matches, he asked me if he should be doing fitness during tournaments.  My quick response was of course.

The vast majority of your children are not going to do what this article is discussing.  To be elite in this sport, you have to be different than the rest, and it is the small things that make the biggest difference if you want to be special.  If you do not go above and beyond the call of duty, you will be like the rest.  It all depends what your child wants out of their tennis.

Included in this article is information on fitness for those who are trying to become elite junior tennis players.  The norm for a junior tennis player is to warm up for their match, play their match, maybe stretch 5 to10 minutes, get food, maybe play another match or go to the movies, or hang out with their tennis friends for the rest of the day.  If the junior tennis player trains well for a tournament, they should be physically fit entering each and every tournament.  The reality is that if this player does not keep up their level of fitness during tournaments, they will be out of shape when they come back to train once their tournament is complete.  For every day they skip doing some physical fitness during a tournament, they will lose a bit of their physical conditioning, which will have to be boosted up again when they come home to train.

Doing fitness during a tournament will help maintain one’s fitness level and it is not about becoming more fit or stronger.  You want to try your best to maintain your level of fitness so that when you get home to train, you are not starting from scratch, and you can keep progressing to becoming more fit and stronger.  From a parental perspective I know what you are thinking:  I do not want my child to be tired for their next match the next day, I want them fresh.  If your child has been training well and is fit, doing 30 minutes of exercises is going to keep them sharp, because they should be used to doing lots of tough physical work at home.  If your child has two tough matches in a day at a tournament, then doing anything strenuous is not too smart, but if your child has some easy matches or one easy match, I would highly recommend them doing some very sport specific exercises to keep them sharp at tournaments.

This comes down to common sense.  For example, if your child has an easy match or two in one day, they definitely should proceed to do fitness for at least 20 to30 minutes.  They should do tennis specific movements to keep their fast twitch muscles firing for the matches the next day.  They could also do some body weight exercises, core or band work for some upper body strength.  If your child had a brutal day at a tournament and is tired, they should have a very good cool down session and recover well for the next match.  This may consist of a light jog or bike ride to flush out all the lactic acid that developed in their muscles.  Then you need a great recovery plan to make sure your child wakes up the next day with a fresh body so that they are able to compete again.  I will discuss the recovery plan in a future article.

As I discussed earlier in the article, most kids are not going to do this without someone helping them, and if they do this on their own, you have a very special mature young person on your hands.  Tennis is becoming a more physical game and the ball is going faster generation after generation.  I can tell you that many injuries come from improper training.  Also, tennis players who have become out of shape and then trying to push their bodies to higher levels of fitness or tennis when their bodies cannot handle that type of training at that moment, is a recipe for injuries.  When a player is at a tournament, it is all about trying to maintain your level of fitness so that when you come home to train, you are not out of shape and having to start from zero.  I always tell the players I train on a daily basis, that if you think your matches at tennis tournaments are very tough physically, then you are not fit enough.  Your training should always be tougher physically than your tournament matches, and if this is not the case, then you need to train tougher physically.  Best of luck and remember that going to tournaments are fun, but you also need to keep up with your fitness if you want to keep progressing physically.

The Serbian Tennis Monster Janko Tipsarevic

TipsaravicHere is another contribution from Coach Todd Widom. Enjoy!

In 1999 I had a good Easter Bowl finish in the boys 16 and under division.  Due to my results, I was invited by the USTA to go on a trip for three weeks to Europe and play some of the best 16 and under European tournaments on red clay.  I was very excited to say the least.  These players in the draw of these three tournaments were mostly from Europe and they were very good, especially on red clay.  I thought I was great on clay because I grew up on clay in south Florida and I was coached by Argentine coaches my whole life.  Being good on green clay in the United States and being good on European red clay are two very different things.

Some of the kids that I saw on that trip would be my competition on the ATP Tour a couple of years later, but there was one kid who caught my eye at the first tournament in Torino, Italy.  I did not know who he was, but I knew that if I played him, I may not have gotten games off of him.  He was that good and not only that, he was a year younger than me.  This guy was built like a monster from his upper body to his legs and he was sliding on these red clay courts like no other fifteen year old I had ever seen.  I thought I was pretty good at sixteen years old.  I was top five in the United States in the 16 and under division and already had some low level professional experience.

The boy’s name was Janko Tipsarevic from Serbia and thank goodness I did not play him on this trip because I was very certain this guy was much better than me.  I ended up taking a beating my second week in Milan, Italy from a guy from Switzerland (not Roger).  I lost 6-1, 6-1 to this guy and I thought I played well.  I was sliding well on the red clay and ripping the ball heavy and I got a lesson in about an hour.  This was my “ah ha” moment, that I needed to become much better if I had any chance of playing against the best players in the world on the ATP Tour.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2001 and many tough hours of training later plus a semester of college tennis at the University of Miami.  I met Janko in the second round of the Orange Bowl boys 18 and under, played on Key Biscayne, where the Miami Open aka the Sony Ericsson professional tournament is played.  I knew who he was but he had no idea who I was.  He was the number two junior player in the world and at seventeen years old he already had extensive professional experience.  I had little to no world junior ranking because that was an area I never pursued.  I was one of the top juniors in the United States and I had a little bit of professional experience, but not much.  On paper, he should have smoked me and he probably believed that he should have.  We start our five minute warm-up and he is warming up with his shoes untied.  Talk about no respect for me!  I looked at his shoes and then him, and it gave me more determination to beat him, which I did in a long tough three set match.

The moral of the story is that you should never underestimate anyone, even if you have never heard of them or seen them.  There are players that are phenomenal all around the world and they are very good, but if you put in the extremely hard yards and train focused you could be a top player.  There is no one right way to get there except by training hard and with a purpose.  We had two totally different paths between our junior careers and professional careers, but I guarantee he was working his tail off in Serbia trying to make it on the ATP Tour.  I ended up playing Janko in a challenger in California when he was ranked around 140 on the ATP Tour and I beat him again.  His shoes were tied this time in the warm-up.