Getting your body in peak shape for college with Dave Mullins

peak shape

Dave Mullins comes from an extensive tennis background, both as a player and as a coach. He is originally from Dublin, Ireland, and came to the US to play college tennis. He wound up in the world of college coaching, having a stellar career at the University of Oklahoma as the head women’s coach.

A couple of years ago, Dave retired from coaching and returned with his wife and two children to Dublin where he is now working at the same club where he grew up playing. He is also devoting a good amount of time to helping families navigate through the tennis development process.

In this week’s podcast, Dave and I talk about how rising college freshmen, as well as current college players, should be spending their summers. Should they be playing tournaments? Should they take an internship? Should they have a paying job? Should they take time off and relax?

Of course, there’s not one answer that is best for every player, but Dave backs up his answers with what he’s learned in his years as a player and as a coach. He shares very important information as we move into the summer season.

To find Dave online, visit his website at You can also reach him via email at

Entries for the 2nd annual Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tennis Tournament are now open. For the Atlanta tournament (July 17-19) go to For the Baltimore tournament (August 12-13) go to

Also, registration for the ITA Summer Circuit is now open. Go to for information.

Listen to our latest podcast episode here!

The More Things Change . . .


While I was away on vacation, I received an email from the office manager at the club where my son trains.  It seems the head coach of the tennis program has sold his ownership in the club to my son’s primary coach and one of the other coaches there.  I assume he decided it was time to move on to the next phase of his life, to attend to some health matters, and to spend more of his time fishing and enjoying his grandchildren – after all, he has been at this tennis thing for many, many years, helping hundreds of young players reach their goals both on and off the court.  There may be more to the story than that, but, frankly, it’s of little consequence to anyone except those directly impacted.

But, this new wrinkle means it’s once again time to evaluate my son’s coaching and training situation, and, given the timing (summer vacation and all that), it seems the best course of action, at least for now, is to wait and see.  Wait and see where the other players land.  Wait and see what coaching staff is added (or not).  Wait and see what changes the new owners will implement.

My son is heading down to South Florida for a week of tennis camp after the July 4th holiday.  Then, it looks like more travel is in his immediate future (I’ll elaborate in a future post).  That means we don’t have to make any decisions right now.  We can let the dust settle a bit over these next several weeks, and, in the meantime, my son can keep hitting with his coach and the other players who are in town, continuing to work on his game and his fitness.

Once my son is back in town for a while, we’ll need to ask some tough questions of ourselves and of the coach.  I’m hoping that these next few weeks will give all of us time to devise those questions and come up with some answers.  We’re hoping the answers lead us right back to Olde Towne and Coach Julius – as I’ve written many times before, my son (and his parents) loves his current coach and would really like to keep things as they are now.  For those of you who have been through a recent coaching change with your child, I would love to hear the questions YOU asked – please share them in the Comments box below.

New Strings, New Racquet or Both?

For the past few years, my son has been playing with the Babolat Aero Pro Drive Plus racquet, the one that looks like Rafa’s only a half-inch longer.  He’s been stringing his racquets with RPM Blast string, and, until very recently, was happy with his tennis equipment.

Since he first started using this particular racquet and string, my son has grown about 8 inches in height and put on more than 25 pounds, most of it in the last year.  Needless to say, that growth has necessitated making some changes in the way he trains, the way he moves around the court, the way he constructs and plays points, and the way he adjusts his body to be in the proper position to make his shots.  And, recently, he noticed that he seems to be “shanking” balls more often which is usually an indicator of poor positioning in relation to the ball.  So, he’s been working with his coach on his footwork and timing to see if he can figure out how to adjust his taller frame, longer arms and legs, and bigger feet to hit the ball on the strings rather than the expensive part of the racquet!

One of the first things my son and his coach picked up on was that his strings seemed to be losing tension rather quickly, perhaps contributing to the timing issue.  He played around with the tension setting on his stringer to see if that would help.  It didn’t.  He then started doing a little research on the different strings on the market and tried a few different ones to see if they made a difference.  They didn’t.

The next step was to look at the possibility of going back to a standard length racquet instead of the “plus” he was currently using.  One of his buddies let him hit with his racquet for a couple of days, which he really liked.  He felt like it gave him more power while still being able to generate enough spin to control his shots.  He went over to our local tennis shop to check out a demo racquet and tried it out for a few days.

I called his coach in a panic.  The idea of spending $500 or more on new racquets was NOT appealing.  Did I mention that all this racquet-changing talk was going on at the same time as the Waco discussion?  I asked if he (the coach) thought a racquet change was necessary or would make a significant difference in my son’s play.  He said that my son had come up with the idea but that after seeing him hit with the demo racquets, he did feel that my son would benefit from a change.  He assured me that changing racquets would be a slow, deliberate process and that he wouldn’t let my son make a final decision without lots of hitting time, match play, and in-depth evaluation by the coach.

After swapping between different racquets over a 2-week period, the time had come to make a decision between the last two contenders.  The day before the demo racquets were due back to the shop, my son had another lesson with his coach, the sole purpose of which was to gauge the effectiveness of each racquet across several different drills and live-ball rallies.  Not only was his coach looking at the power and spin and control of each ball coming off my son’s racquet, but he was also rating the feel of my son’s ball coming off his own racquet as well.  They did each drill with my son alternating between the demo racquets, and after each one the coach chose a “winner” and kept a running tally of the results.  By the end of the lesson, the coach had a clear picture about which racquet was better for my son and his particular style of play.

But, my son still wasn’t convinced!  He scheduled a practice match for the following day just to be sure he was making the right choice.  After playing 3 sets over 4 hours, he finally knew which racquet was going to be his new racquet, and, it turns out, it’s the same one his coach had deemed the right one, too.

So, thanks to our friends at Your Serve and Holabird Sports, my son is now the proud owner of three new Head YouTek IG Radical MP racquets and a matching bag.  The Babolats were great while they lasted – anyone in the market for some lovingly-used Aero Pro Drive Pluses???

High(er) Anxiety

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook about our local public high school, the one my son attends and from which my daughters graduated.  The article is about 5 years old – and a bit lengthy – but many of the student observations and quotes are still very applicable today.  And, re-reading it now that my son is in his sophomore year is really making me think about the path he is on and the path I am on with him as he gets further into his high school career and closer to the end of his Junior Tennis Journey.

If you want to take the time to read the article, I promise it will make you think, or re-think, about how you interact with your child(ren).  And, if it doesn’t, it should.  We are raising our children in an era of very high anxiety, very high pressure, very high expectations.  For student-athletes pursuing a college scholarship, the pressure is magnified.  Is it any wonder many families choose virtual school or home school as an alternative to this mishigas (i.e. craziness for my non-Yiddish-speaking readers)?  Read the excerpt below and tell me you don’t recognize your child or someone you know here:

A 17-year-old should not have to spend a week in the hospital for exhaustion.  Students shouldn’t have to drag themselves through each and every school week on 28 hours of sleep or take a handful of Advil to get through soccer practice or calculus class. It may not seem like it, but we’re tired.  Everything doesn’t have to be a lesson or lecture. A kid can’t just strike out anymore and get on with his life. Yes, we know to keep our eye on the ball, you’ve told us 4 million times. Head down on the golf swing—we know. So we slip. We forget.  We’re not gonna go, like, rob banks because we shank a few Titleists off into the Chattahoochee.  Sometimes we get so much pressure from so many angles we get dizzy. We juggle so many things all day every day it almost seems silly to come home and have you nag us to do our homework. We know we have homework; we’re the ones who lugged it home like pack mules. Did it ever occur to you that what you and the teachers call procrastination is just our way of taking two seconds to, like, think?  Some of us need pushing, but there’s such a thing as pushing too hard.

As I prepare to write yet another note saying my son was absent due to illness, I have to ask myself why I allow myself to compromise my own morals when in fact I am 100% in favor of my son missing a day of school here and there (as long as he stays on top of his school work) in order to pursue his passion.  Of course, one answer is because I don’t want to see my son punished academically – teachers do not allow students to make up work or tests missed due to an Unexcused Absence – when his particular sport isn’t one offered year-round by his school.  And, I believe 100% that pursuing one’s passion is the best antidote to the stress that our society breeds.  Unless the pursuit of the passion adds stress and anxiety instead of relieving it.  So the challenge, as always, is striving for a healthy balance between hard work, dedication, and commitment as well as lightness and fun.  It’s a big ask.  I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers.

A friend of mine who happens to be a licensed social worker and also has a 16 year old son says, “And not too much is said about the incredible changes and pressures for parents as we navigate all this wonderful progressive technology that makes it harder for families to connect. I’m exhausted with all the efficiency.”  It’s so true!   How are the rest of you Tennis Parents coping with this challenge?  How are you helping your tennis players find the balance?  I look forward to reading your comments.

K12 and NCAA

A ParentingAces reader messaged me this morning to tell me that K12‘s online schools have recently been put on “Extended Review” by the NCAA.  She went on to say, “It’s throwing quite a lot of us parents into a panic! So many tennis players, athletes, actors, musicians, etc. use the K12 programs (especially the free state charter school pathways), so this is insane!”

As a former K12 parent, naturally I was curious to find out what was going on.  I contacted K12 through its Facebook page to see what I could learn.  I got a very quick reply from them accompanied by a phone call from Jeff Kwitowski,  K12’s Senior Vice-President of Public Policy.

First of all, it’s important to understand that K12 has never had any of its courses rejected by the NCAA for failure to comply to its standards of rigor.  There has been NO VIOLATION by K12 to date.  Apparently, the NCAA is under increased scrutiny to ensure that incoming college student-athletes have the necessary academic knowledge and experience to survive and thrive at the university level – that’s a good thing in my opinion. They have changed their education standards for all high schools, not just virtual schools such as K12.  Click here to read the NCAA Homeschool Information sheet and click here to read the NCAA Homeschool FAQ (which also applies to virtual schools such as K12).

And, as of last week, the NCAA has put K12 under a 2-year Extended Review that could require students to demonstrate that a specific course (or courses) provided adequate engagement by the student and the teacher, and that the student achieved “college readiness” as a result of taking the course.  Please note, though, that this Extended Review only applies to students who are seeking eligibility from the NCAA to play a Division 1 or Division 2 varsity sport in college – it does not apply to Division 3, NAIA, or junior colleges, nor does it apply to non-athletes seeking admission to a college through regular (non-sport) channels.

K12’s official stance on the review is as follows:

“K12 courses have met the NCAA standards for years and, we believe, K12 courses continue to meet these standards.  However, during this extended review period, individual K12 courses completed by students will need to be reviewed by the NCCA Eligibility Center.

Our K12 counselors, advisors, and school leaders are prepared to work closely with every family to ensure all necessary information and documentation on K12 courses are provided to demonstrate they meet the eligibility requirements.

While we are confident K12 courses meet eligibility standards, the final decision will be made by NCAA on a case by case basis.   Therefore, we cannot guarantee that every course successfully completed by a student will be accepted by NCAA.”

If your child is currently enrolled in a K12 high school program, please contact your particular school’s administration to find out what steps you and your child need to take in order to ensure NCAA eligibility.  The administrators are all well-trained in helping families overcome this hiccup in the college application process.

I have emailed Mark Emmert, current President of NCAA, to ask for clarification on the potential impact this “extended review” could have on current and future K12 students.  I will update this post once I hear back from him or someone in the Eligibility Department, so stay tuned . . .

Our Impact On Our Children’s Development

The passages below are excerpts from a rather lengthy email I received this morning from sports psychologist, Dr. Jorge Valverde.  I am reprinting them with his permission.

Our responsibility as parents is like a mountain:  the bigger the mountain to climb, the stronger we must become, and our strength must come from wisdom and inspiration.

Dealing with discipline issues

–       Establish boundaries and natural consequences and follow them closely
–       Present one front as parents, avoiding the bad/good cop paradigm
–       Change behaviors and attitudes with extended metaphors/stories
–       Spend quality time with each child separate and together
–       Avoid comparison between your children
–       Acknowledge their good behaviors by describing what they are doing well right at the moment when it takes place
–       Use the Eight-to-One rule (see * below)

Motivational strategies that produce the best results

–       Interpret the innocent eyes of your children as saying: “Caution! Handle me with Care! Love me. Protect me! Give me a place in your heart.”
–       Expose your child to a collage of experiences
–       Observe carefully their gifts without judgment
–       Facilitate the development of their gifts
–       Focus on fun versus work at the beginning and slowly find the best coaches and mentors
–       Plan activities with your children that emphasize each one’s interest and individuality apart from their identity within the group. The one most in need of that distinction is often the kid in the middle. Remember, love is giving somebody your undivided attention.
–       Be reasonable, smart and fully awake: help children with homework, ask them about the day, let them cry if need be, support them when they’re down, help them to see options, teach them to handle guns safely if you have them, reward good behavior, provide meaningful consequences for unacceptable behavior, make reasonable demands, express moral expectations, talk to their teachers, hug them every chance you get. Don’t ask them to be like adults when they are just little kids, but model the importance of self-control.

Perfectionist approach:

Perfectionists act based on an illusion that you can do things perfectly. This tendency brings their attention to what is missing, so regardless of how well their children perform or act, they will always find something that was not done perfectly and point it out, usually without mentioning what was done well. This constant dissatisfaction with their children’s performance sends a clear message: “You are not good enough”. And since the majority of children want to make their parents proud, they will work very hard to please them but with a great deal of tension and anxiety. Eventually, children internalize their parents’ approach and become obsessive about insignificant details when performing a task, overlooking the forest by focusing too much on the trees, easily losing perspective of what really matters about the task at hand and life. Their tendency is to think too much when performing which impairs their ability to get into the “zone”.  Tension easily turns into negative anger which is the biggest obstacle preventing happiness and high performance. As a consequence, children of perfectionist parents find it difficult to find peace of mind, relaxation and enjoyment in life regardless of their success. I usually ask these kids a simple question: “How do you feel when your parent focuses on the mistakes you made?” Their answer is always the same: “Not good!” An irony, isn’t it, their parents making them feel bad so they would become good!

Pursuit of Excellence Approach:

The pursuit of excellence approach focuses on conquering the inner battle between fear and total belief in oneself. Parents systematically pay close attention to building their children’s self-confidence. They prepare their children to handle any situation in life. They focus on their children’s gifts and develop them without judgment and without preconceived ideas of what their children “should” do in life. They teach the core values by example, such as integrity, positive expectancy, respect, belief and spirituality, enjoyment, appreciation, gratitude, priorities, perspective, perseverance, passion etc. They teach their children the importance of preparation and giving 100% effort when facing a challenge, and to let go and let God handle the rest, the unpredictable circumstances. *When observing and giving feedback to their kids, they focus on finding the good first, in a ratio of eight to one. They first acknowledge eight things that their children did well and with great effort, and only then they mention one aspect that needs attention or more effort. This is a powerful formula for children to create drive and total focus on their inner positive forces in life and it is one of the keys to building self-confidence.

When focusing on your children’s gifts without judgment, reinforce their excitement and interests with the attitude of a silent witness. Logistically help them channel their enthusiasm. The first spark or excitement doesn’t necessarily translate directly into one’s call or vocation, but serves as a vehicle to develop trust in the inner voice that gives direction and purpose to one’s life. When I was a child I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was fascinated by animals of all kinds. My parents gave me a puppy that became my companion for 13 years. I called him “Happy.” For several years, I was around animals, taking care of them and playing with them. Eventually, my father gave me a book about animal behavior and how to train dogs. I spent countless hours training dogs on how to do tricks of all kinds. Without realizing, my parents were developing in me key traits that are very useful today in my profession as a psychologist, but, most importantly, they were teaching me to follow my inner spark. Later, when I decided to change from studying economics to psychology only six months before graduation, I did it with great confidence even though only a bachelor’s degree was offered at that time in my country.

For more information on Dr. Valverde and his programs, be sure to visit his website, The Valverde System.

Random Thoughts on Hannity vs. USTA

I’m guessing you’ve all read Sean Hannity’s blog post regarding the changes to the national junior comp schedule that will become effective in 2014.  I’m guessing you’ve all read Patrick McEnroe’s and Tim Russell’s replies, too, as well as Mr. Hannity’s rebuttal.  I’ve read endless commentary on this heated debate on the various blogs and Facebook groups and message boards I frequent and tried to process everything written – it’s a lot to take in!

Given that my son isn’t yet playing at the national level and, therefore, isn’t immediately affected by these changes, I’m not sure anyone really cares what I have to say on the subject.  However, in the name of research, I did have two rather lengthy phone conversations with Tim Russell and also reached out to Sean Hannity via a comment on his blog that included my contact information – I haven’t gotten a response from him yet.

Here are some of my thoughts – take them for what they’re worth!

  • I do feel that USTA is trying to grow the game of tennis via its 10-and-Under initiative.  While I don’t agree with the mandated tournament rules for this age group, I do think it’s a great learning tool for beginning players of any age.
  • I think there’s a big difference between “growing the game” and “developing world champions” and one may have very little to do with the other.  Finding another Agassi or Capriati or Sampras or Williams is one of those things that will (or will not) just happen – I don’t believe it’s system-related.  Yes, I agree that introducing more kids to tennis is a key to identifying champion-caliber players, but if you look at the paths that the players mentioned above took to reach #1, you’ll see that they’re all very different.  That’s the thing about tennis – there are so many options available and so many ways to find success in the game that it’s difficult to say that one system is better than another.
  • Not every child needs to play top-level national tournaments.  I whole-heartedly agree with Tim Russell when he says that players need to work and earn their way into the Easter Bowl or Kalamazoo or the National Clay Court Championships.  Just because your child wants to play at that level – and just because you can afford to travel all over the place – doesn’t mean he or she necessarily deserves to.  The top tournaments should be reserved for the top players.  If a kid wants to play in them, then he needs to work hard to develop his game to a point where he can play with the Big Boys.  Talk to your child’s coach.  Take Tim Russell up on his offer to speak with him (I have, twice!).  Call your section’s head of junior competition.  If your child truly wants to get to the top level, then work with his coach and your section to help him devise a plan to get there.  There are incredible resources available to all of us tennis parents – my advice is to use as many of them as it takes to help your child reach his goals.
  • When I spoke with Tim Russell, I told him that I’ve heard lots of grumbling among tournament parents about the fact that USTA doesn’t seem to reach out to those of us in the trenches before it makes sweeping changes that affect our kids.  I also told him that USTA does a very poor job of communicating those changes to its constituency and that there’s no excuse for poor communication in this age of email, texting, Twitter, and Facebook.  He agreed.  He said they need to do better and will do better.  Let’s hold them accountable for that statement.  If you feel that you’re not being informed in a timely manner about changes that affect your child, contact your section head and/or Tim – his email address is
  • I also suggested that USTA include a sampling of parents on the panel of its national meeting next month during the US Open.  I think it’s important that the higher-ups at USTA hear directly from us regarding our concerns and past experiences.  We need to have a voice at the national level.  We need to be included in the discussions of policies that will impact our children.  USTA needs to know, first-hand, what’s happening at the grassroots level from those of us who live and breathe there.  Tim agreed and said he’d pass along my suggestion.  I’ll keep you posted!

Your thoughts???