James McGee & His Quest for Success

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Last week, Irish pro, James McGee, was in town working with one of the coaches (Joseph O’Dwyer) at the club where my son trains. James was getting ready for the upcoming Sacramento Challenger tournament (livestreaming of the matches is online at http://www.usta.com/Pro-Tennis/Pro-Circuit/pro_circuit_live/) in Northern California where he will attempt to earn as many ATP points as possible, thereby improving his ranking and, hopefully, catching the attention of potential financial sponsors. If you’ve read any of James’s blog, you’ll understand why this is such an important piece of the puzzle.

I knew James was in town thanks to Twitter, and I immediately reached out to him to see if he would have any time to chat with me. Gracious young man that he is, he let me know his practice schedule and offered to sit down with me between sessions.

The scene: The Olde Towne Athletic Club pub, dinner-time, Dmitry Tursunov vs. Stanislas Wawrinka at the Kuala Lumpur ATP 250 event on the big screens surrounding us, James’s eyes moving between the tvs and me, 2 plates of food in front of him.

Some background info: 26-year-old James is the #1 player in Ireland and is currently ranked 246 on the ATP World Tour. He has played for the Irish Davis Cup Team but has otherwise received no financial support from the Irish Tennis Federation (the equivalent of our USTA). He travels the world by himself 70-80% of the time – no coach or family for moral support – and arranges all of his own flights, accommodations, meals, hitting/training sessions, racquet stringing, etc. While he was in Atlanta, for example, he stayed in the home of a club member and relied on the coach and public transportation (which is very limited in Atlanta!) to get around. He’s been doing this since he was 18 years old and has no intention of stopping any time soon.

I asked James about his life growing up as a tennis player in Ireland. He shared with me that his parents were probably the perfect Tennis Parents. His mom has extensive experience in the tennis world, both as a club player and a coach; his dad doesn’t play but is a big fan, especially of his son. James started playing when he was about 7 years old and quickly developed a passion for the game. However, he continued to attend regular school and viewed that as a huge advantage as it gave him something other than tennis to focus on, leaving him more well-balanced overall. As he explained, “School gave me a break from thinking about tennis. I had to concentrate on my classes, and I had the distraction of my school mates, which was a good thing. By the time my studies were completed for the day, I was so hungry to get to the courts and play!”

The only conflict James can recall having with his parents was when he announced, at the age of 17, that he was pursuing a professional tennis career. His parents were supportive of his decision, however they were concerned about him turning pro at 17 as they knew it was such a significant and important decision in his life. James simply said, “This is what I have to do,” and that was the end of the discussion. Unfortunately, a serious injury side-tracked him for more than a year, and so James did decide to give the US college system a try. Since he had been off the tour for an extended period of time and had no current results to show, the recruiting process was a challenge. James wound up at NC State where his team made a run to the quarterfinals at the 2007 NCAA Year-End Tournament in Athens, GA. Because James posted such great results during his 2 years at NC State, he was able to transition back onto the pro tour and begin anew his quest for ranking points.

Since then, his biggest struggle has been finance-related. When you’re not inside the top 100 on the men’s side, it’s tough to earn enough prize money to cover the cost of training and travel. Most players in James’s situation are constantly on the lookout for sponsors, both for equipment/clothing and for the money to keep competing on tour. If the results come, so does the money. But if a player is sidelined with an injury for any period of time, then it’s tough to convince the sponsors to keep writing those checks.

So, what keeps James on his quest? Why does he keep working and traveling?

It’s all about love of the game.

James doesn’t sugar-coat things. He flat-out told me that, yes, he would love to have a wife and a family someday. But, his current lifestyle and lack of funds prevents him from pursuing that aspect of his dreams at this time. He talked a bit about players like Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic who are at the top of the game, who can afford to take their girlfriends with them on tour and stay at the fanciest hotels and eat nice meals and travel in luxury. But, he added, for a player at his level, there’s nothing luxurious about this lifestyle. It’s a grind. It’s sleeping on people’s floors. It’s eating ramen noodles meal after meal because that’s all you can afford. It’s hoping someone somewhere will find it in their heart to let you use their stringing machine or donate court time so you can practice.

We talked a bit about mentors, and I mentioned to James that I’d love for him to spend some time hitting and talking with my son next time he’s in Atlanta. He said he absolutely would love to! He told me that when he was 13 or 14, a mentor came into his life that really changed his perspective on things and that he would love the opportunity to do that for someone else. He sees himself becoming a mentor to as many players as possible once his time on the tour is done.

I asked James how long he was willing to chase his dream, how many more years would he devote to professional tennis, and did he have a set goal in mind. He told me that he would play until one of two things happens: he is permanently derailed by injury or he meets the girl of his dreams and decides to marry her and settle into family life. Otherwise, he said, there is no end-date in site. He doesn’t want to set a ranking goal for himself – say, top 50 or top 10 in the world – because what if he reaches it? Would that mean it was okay to quit? Or, what if he never reaches it? Does that mean he has failed in his quest? However high the ranking he eventually reaches, James went on, he won’t be satisfied if he doesn’t feel he’s given tennis his all. Tennis is what fuels him, what makes him get out of bed each morning, what drives him to work and to fight each and every day to get better. When I asked him what he saw himself doing once the tennis is finished, he really didn’t have an answer other than it would likely be something in the tennis world, though it could just as likely be in business or some other area. At this point, there is no Plan B. Just Plan A: to continue working as hard as possible, to stay healthy, and to keep earning those ranking points, one tournament at a time.

 

What’s in YOUR Bag?

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Show us what you’ve got . . . in your tennis bag, that is! We are partnering with Holabird Sports to bring you a fun contest during the 2013 US Open. Here’s the scoop:

  • Using Instagram, record a 15-second Bag Check video (click here for an example)
  • Post it using hashtags #usopenaces and #holabirdsports
  • Share the video to Twitter using hashtags #usopenaces and #holabirdsports

All video submissions will be entered into the drawing for the Grand Prize, a Wilson US Open tennis bag and Wilson tennis racquet of your choice, courtesy of Holabird.

The contest runs Monday, August 26, 2013 – Monday, September 9, 2013. The deadline for video submissions is September 9, 2013, 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time. The winner will be announced on Monday, September 16, 2013.

The contest is open to entrants of all ages, so Tennis Parents, we hope you’ll get in on the fun, too!

And, if you see me or my sidekick, Melanie Rubin, around the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, please stop and say hi. We’ll be the ones sporting the ParentingAces gear!

My First Major As Media

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In case you missed my announcement several weeks ago, I was approved as Media for the upcoming US Open. This is a HUGE DEAL! I am beyond excited! And just a little nervous. I’ve never had media credentials at a big event like this (truth be told, I’ve only ever had credentials once, and that was at the end of last year at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff in Atlanta). I have no idea what to expect. I’m just hoping I get at least one opportunity to be in the press room when Rafa is there!

Seriously, though, ever since I got word that my application was accepted, I’ve been asking questions and doing research and trying to come up with ideas that will make my experience at the Open worthy of sharing with you via this blog and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and the radio show. I think I’ve come up with some good stories to tell. The challenge will be getting in front of the folks who can help me tell the stories by sharing their own stories with me. The parents, the players, their coaches – both at the junior level and professional – those who have been-there-done-that and are willing to talk about it. Melanie Rubin will be helping me, too – she did such an amazing job with her interviews at Kalamazoo – and I’m looking forward to sharing much more of her insights as her son competes at the Open (in case you missed the news, Noah received a Wild Card into the US Open qualifying tournament which starts Tuesday!).

Lucky for me, I’ve come in contact with so many experienced people since I started ParentingAces a little over a year and a half ago, people who are generous and gracious with their knowledge.  They are helping me formulate a plan for my week at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. They are sharing their contacts with me and making introductions. They are offering to show me the ropes and hold my hand as I learn. I owe each of them an enormous debt of gratitude.

I will be in New York from August 27th through September 3rd. I will be at the Open every one of those days, soaking up as much tennis and media savvy as possible. Be sure you’re following ParentingAces on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so you don’t miss anything! If you’re there during that same week, please let me know where we can meet and chat. You have stories to share, too, and I want to include each and every one of them in my first foray as US Open Media!

2014: What Are Our Options?

There seems to be some (a lot!) confusion about USTA’s governance procedure as it relates to the 2014 changes.  After reading through the USTA by-laws in their entirety, I can tell you that I’m not any closer to understanding the intricacies of how this terribly complicated organization operates.  I have asked some people who have been involved with USTA for way longer than I have to please explain to me what our options are moving forward.  Here’s what they have told me.

At next week’s meeting (see my email exchange with Lew Brewer for more info), the Sections will discuss then vote on whether to approve the Proposed Changes to the already-approved 2014 Junior Competition Calendar.

  1. If approved, the Board will vote on the Proposed Changes at its April meeting.  If approved by the Board at that meeting, the Proposed Changes will go into effect January 1, 2014.
  2. If not approved, the original 2014 Junior Competition Calendar will go into effect January 1, 2014.

However, a third possible scenario – one that has not been mentioned by the Commenters on my previous posts – is that the Sections can combine efforts to garner at least 30% of the vote and can propose a “call item” to ask for a pause on the 2014 changes.  This “call item” would then go to a Board vote, I’m assuming at the April meeting.  If approved, we could see the Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee go back to work to develop a world class junior competition schedule with a competitive structure that:

  • Is fair to all the sections
  • Allows for a logical progression from sectional to national to super-national play
  • Results in the best players competing against the best players in the country
  • Is accessible, easy to understand, and cost-effective
  • Provides choices to families and parents in allowing them to build a tennis schedule that suits their individual needs
  • Most importantly, promotes true earned advancement

I have spoken to someone in my section’s (Southern) leadership and am hopeful that they will work with some of the other sections to harness enough support for a “call item” to be proposed.  If you are in favor of a pause, I urge you to speak with your section leadership as well to gauge their stance.  Each section should vote in such a way that benefits its own junior players – that’s why these sections exist, after all.  However, I suspect there is some political pressure from the National office for the sections to support the stance of the President and Board, so it’s important that we constituents put some pressure on our representatives to support what’s in the best interest of our kids.

Quota Comparison Between 2012 & 2014

The link below is to an Excel spreadsheet comparing Boys 18 entries by section between the actual 2012 Winter Nationals tournament and what the numbers will look like if the proposed 2014 changes are approved.  The numbers for SoCal and NorCal may be off by one or two as there was some confusion as to which of the two sections certain players were from.  Please take some time to read and understand the differences and feel free to comment below.

2012 Winter National Boys 18 Compared to Proposed New Quotas

Amended 2014 Changes – Just A Proposal At This Point

Please refer to my post from earlier today to understand how the process will work going forward.  In the meantime, here’s the 28-page document outlining the changes to the 2014 Junior Competition Schedule as well as the shorter 5-page summary version along with the new proposed national schedule.  I haven’t taken the time yet to analyze it fully but I plan to do so over the next couple of days.  If any of you would like to offer your opinion, the Comments box below is open!

Changes to 2014 Jr Comp Structure

Summary of 2014 National Jr Comp Structure

2014 Proposed National Schedule By Month