Mom’s Magic Mirror

Before this past weekend’s local tournament even started, my son told me that I wasn’t “allowed” to post any pictures or status updates on Facebook about it.  I asked him why.  He told me, “Because it’s just a Georgia Level 4, Mom.  It’s no big deal.”  I, of course, respected his wishes.  (He never said anything about keeping it off my blog!)

As I thought more about my son’s request, I realized just how far he has come tennis-wise and maturity-wise in the last year.  He played this same tournament last Fall (except he played in the 16s instead of the 18s as he did this year).  When he entered the tournament a year ago, he hadn’t won a single tournament since he was in the 10s . . . not a single one!  And, last year, he won this tournament, just a few weeks after aging up from the 14s to the 16s, and it was a VERY BIG DEAL.  He was so proud of that trophy, his first Champion trophy since he was 10 years old!  It got a special place in his room where it would stand out among all the clutter on his shelves.

Now, a year later, he was feeling a little embarrassed by the fact that he was even playing a local Level 4 tournament, even though he was playing up in the 18s.  All of his buddies were at the Bullfrog (Designated) tournament in North Carolina, but we had missed the entry deadline, so he was “stuck” playing a lower level event close to home.

Eight boys were signed up to play in the 18s of this local event with two of them seeded – neither of whom was my son.  And, as luck would have it, my kid had to play the top seed in his first round match on Saturday.  He figured if he got through that match, he had a very good chance to win the tournament.  Both boys fought hard, playing some high-quality tennis.  Several other players and parents stopped to watch them banging the ball, running down dropshots, and hitting amazing passing shots.  I overheard two boys around my son’s age talking about my son and how good he was – I was beaming!  [Remember, this was a local tournament and most of the area’s top players were at the Bullfrog.]  My son wound up winning the match after almost 3 hours and came off the court very relieved to have gotten through to the next round.  His next match was much easier, thankfully, and was over pretty quickly.  It was time to go home and rest up for the next morning’s Final versus the 2 seed.

Right before my son was called on court for the Final, he caught me composing a tweet about having butterflies about his match.  He said, “Really, Mom?  You’re nervous about this match?”  I smiled sheepishly and said, “Aren’t you?”  “No,” he laughed, “it’s going to be fine.  I’ve got this.”  And he did.  He won 6-0, 6-0 in about 40 minutes but didn’t seem all that excited about the victory.  I wanted to take a picture of him receiving the trophy from the tournament director.  He asked me not to.  I insisted that he let me capture the moment so I could at least text it to my husband who was out of town – he relented.  But, he again made me promise I wouldn’t post anything on Facebook or Twitter.

On the car ride home, I asked my son if he had called his coach to let him know the outcome of the weekend.  He said no, that his coach didn’t care about a local level 4 tournament.  I knew that wasn’t true, and I didn’t respond but simply held up my proverbial Magic Mirror in hopes that it would reflect the importance of this tournament victory back to him.

We talked about the weekend and about how efficiently my son had played.  We talked about how the goal of the weekend was to earn ranking points in the 18s so he could improve his chances of getting into some of the higher-level events.  We talked about the lessons he had learned in Waco and how he applied them in his matches this weekend.  We talked about the fact that, but for the first match versus the 1 seed, my son had won his matches without dropping a single game.  We talked about how the 2nd and 3rd matches combined took less time than the first set of his first-round match.  We talked about how he dominated the final match and hit an ace to close it out.  We talked about those boys from the day before who were in awe of his ability.  We talked about how thrilled he had been just a year ago about winning this tournament and how he should take equal pride in this victory, especially since he had played up and still won.

I don’t know if any of it sunk in – only time will tell – but I’m hoping that my son was able to shift his view of his weekend accomplishment and feel good about the win.  It wasn’t the fact that he won the tournament that was such a big deal but that he won in such a dominating fashion, taking care of business quickly, dealing with the pressure of being the better player, and closing out the matches while controlling the pace and style of play.  These are all things he’s been working on, and his hard work paid off.

I hope my son looked hard at his reflection in my Magic Mirror and now realizes how far he’s come.  Of course, he still has a lot of work to do to reach his goals, but it’s crucial that he take at least a few minutes to revel in the small victories and accomplishments so he has the motivation to keep pushing and moving forward.  I’m very proud of the effort he put forth this past weekend.  I hope my Magic Mirror helped him feel some of that same self-pride, too.

College Players Soar at US Open

With all the proposed changes NCAA is trying to make, you would think there was a problem with US college tennis.  This first week of the US Open is proving otherwise.

We have seen some incredible wins by our young guns in Flushing.  Stanford’s Mallory Burdette took out Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland in her first round match in straight sets then did similar work against Lucie Hradecka (you may recognize this name as one of the silver medal doubles winners at last month’s London Olympics) of the Czech Republic in Round 2.

On the men’s side, USC’s Steve Johnson (NCAA Singles Champion in 2011 and 2012) beat former University of Illinois player Rajeev Ram in the first round then partnered with Jack Sock to oust the top seeds in the Men’s Doubles draw.  Stanford’s Bradley Klahn had an incredible 5-set win over Jurgen Melzer – I’m guessing playing out those tight 3rd sets during the college season was instrumental in helping him get the W yesterday!  And UCLA’s Dennis Novikov, who is also the 2012 Kalamazoo champ, won a hard-fought battle against Jerzy Janowicz in his first round match.  Our best-known college player and former Georgia Bulldog, John Isner (this year’s 9 seed), had an uneventful first round win over Belgium’s Xavier Malisse.

Both the men and women are having success in the doubles as well.  Besides Johnson and Sock’s win, Ram partnered with Belmont College coach and Comeback Kid Brian Baker to beat Emmrick and Sijsling in the first round.  Novikov partnered with fellow junior player Michael Redlicki to get a win over veteran Americans Bobby Reynolds (former Vanderbilt standout) and Michael Russell (1997 NCAA Rookie of the Year at University of Miami).  And former Georgia Tech star, Irina Falconi, partnered with former USC standout, Maria Sanchez, to win their first match versus Cadantu and Johansson.

To be fair, not all of our college players fared so well.  University of Tennessee grad, Rhyne Williams, had a very tough match, drawing Andy Roddick in the first round.  Williams put up a good fight and definitely made Roddick earn the win.  And Jesse Levine, a former Florida Gator, fell in 5 sets to 14 seed Ukranian player Alexandr Dolgopolov.

It would seem that the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is applicable here.  The young men and women mentioned above are living the dream of countless junior players – going to college, getting a degree, improving their tennis, then parlaying all those skills into success at the professional level.  While I realize that a first- or second-round win doesn’t prove that college tennis is a viable stepping stone to the pro circuit, it certainly shows that a young player can take that path and have positive results.

Good luck to our players as they move on to Round 2 and beyond!

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.

To Sum It All Up . . .

It’s been a crazy week in the world of junior tennis!  In case you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am, I thought I’d summarize what’s going on and my recommended action items.

  • USTA has adopted changes to its Junior Competition calendar that will become effective in 2014. If you haven’t yet seen it, the new 2014 tournament calendar is here. Some interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study, have created an online petition and are seeking signatures. If you would like to view and/or sign this petition, click here.
  • NCAA has passed new rules affecting its year-end Championships effective September 1, 2012, for the Spring 2013 tournament.  The rules are purported to be in the interest of bringing additional fans to the sport and garnering tv coverage.  To read the new rules, click here.  To their credit, USTA is partnering with ITA to write a joint opposition letter to the rule changes.
  • A group of current and former collegiate players have formed a Facebook group to try to get NCAA to reconsider the rule changes.  They have created an event to organize a Twitter rampage on Saturday at Noon EDT.  To learn more, click here.  They have also created an online petition to overturn the changes.  To read and/or sign it, click here.
  • Sunday’s ParentingAces radio show will feature a discussion of the NCAA rule changes and what we as tennis parents can do to help preserve the integrity of the college system for our kids.  Tune in live at 6:30pm EDT by clicking here then call in with your questions and/or comments at 714-583-6853.  If you miss the live broadcast, you can hear the podcast by clicking on the Radio Show tab in the menu bar above.

USTA Steps Up

I received the following from USTA this morning:

USTA Statement on Proposed NCAA Changes to Collegiate Tennis

The USTA is aware of the proposed format changes being made by the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee to the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships.  Working with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), the USTA is preparing a joint opposition letter to these changes.  The letter will be distributed to the committee in advance of its Monday, August 20th meeting.

NCAA Changes

When we are confronted by challenges, we have a choice:  sit back and accept them (glass half empty approach) OR take action and attempt to turn them into something positive (glass half full approach).  Concerning this week’s announcement by the NCAA that it is changing the format of the Division 1 year-end tennis tournament, I’m choosing to join several of the current, future, and recently-graduated players and take action.

In a nutshell, NCAA has decided that, during its year-end tourney, (1) players will have no on-court warmup; (2) the six singles matches will play first and will play a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a third set; (3) changeovers will last 60 seconds instead of the current 90; (4) the three doubles matches will be played after a 5-minute break; and (5) doubles matches will be one 6-game set with a 7-point tiebreaker played at 6-all.  These changes go into effect beginning September 1, 2012, for the 2013 Championships.  To read the complete report from the July NCAA meeting, click here.  The report includes a list of the committee members in attendance along with their university affiliation.

Hayley Carter, a high school senior who recently committed to play for UNC, emailed me the following:  “Although I sincerely appreciate all the NCAA does for us in providing us with scholarships to play the sport we love, I do not agree with the new rules they have put in place. My plans are to use college tennis as a stepping-stone into professional tennis. Looking at the WTA success of former college players, such as Irina Falconi and more recently Mallory Burdette, I have no doubt that I can use the experience of college tennis to help me make it on the pro tour, but with the recent rule changes it will make it that much more difficult.”

Hayley goes on:  “No matter if it results in a win or a loss, third sets are times when players give everything they have when they have no energy left, when they learn to fight and compete for every point no matter the adversity, and when, most importantly, they grow as a player. In my opinion, the change to a 10-point tiebreaker greatly diminishes all of the things that are learned through a hard-fought third set. Skill and hard work become more easily replaced with luck, when just a few points can have such a big impact on determining the outcome of a match.”

Hayley’s sentiments are echoed by many of her tennis compadres as evidenced by the number of members (over 2400 after less than one day) and posts on the *OFFICIAL* Against the changes to NCAA tennis Facebook group.  These young players are outraged by the seemingly revenue-driven changes to the sport they have devoted over half their lives learning and mastering, all for the chance to play at the collegiate – and maybe professional – level.  All the NCAA is doing is “dumbing down” our sport, eliminating the fitness factor for players, and making college tennis a less attractive option for our juniors.

Wise words from another collegiate player:  “The bottom line is in tennis you are either going to have fans or you aren’t. Don’t keep using that excuse as a way to change the rules. Fans will stay whether the matches are two hours or ten hours. Those who aren’t fans don’t show up anyway. Tennis is one of the few sports that doesn’t have a clock involved and that is what makes it special. Do you think the matches between Nadal and Djokovic, Federer and Nadal would have been as inspiring if they played a 10 point breaker for the 5th set?”

I hope you’ll join me on Sunday’s radio show to discuss these changes and what, if anything, we tennis parents can do to convince NCAA to overturn them before any long-term damage is done to junior tennis in the U.S.  My guests on Sunday’s show are Drake Bernstein, Assistant Women’s Tennis Coach at the University of Georgia, and Colette Lewis, tennis journalist and creator of ZooTennis.com.  Please plan to tune in and call in (714-583-6853) so we can try to figure out the next step.