Today’s Guest Post is written by Coach Todd Widom.
We have all seen it. We go to a junior tennis tournament and there is a young kid playing and everyone is just in awe of this player. They win so much and it seems like they are unbeatable at such a young age. They may in fact be on a great path to becoming a great player or unfortunately they may not be. Sometimes I even look at a particular young superstar and think when they get older, they are going to be in trouble, or I may think they are on the right path to do great things in tennis. No one can really tell until the player is older; however, from a coaching perspective, a good coach can tell if they have the proper techniques, game style, brain, and physicality. You can get away with many subpar attributes at a young age, but it will catch up to you if you are not doing things properly. Remember that habits are formed very early on in the development process, so if the habits are not good habits, it is much tougher to fix them in the latter stages of the junior tennis players’ career.
For example, some children go through puberty at a younger age than others and they are so much more physically developed and can overpower their opponents. This obviously will not last forever, as the late developing children will catch up with height and strength. What you often see is that this strong young player struggles when they get older because they cannot overpower the players they used to overpower, and they only have that one dimension of power. Their techniques may also be off because they could muscle the ball around the court instead of using the proper muscles to generate pace and heaviness on the ball.
Another type of player that falls under the category of someone who is a young cursed superstar is just a player who has been on a court at an earlier age than most and has gotten more repetitions in. They are usually very seasoned and know how to win matches at an early age. Once again, the competition catches up and they are usually scratching their heads and not handling the losses very well. Burnout can also be a major factor as this type of child gets older. There needs to be a very good balance of winning but also losing. You learn a lot more when you lose. If the player is winning too much in one division they should be moved up to the next division to have that balance of winning and losing.
The last case of a young player that may be in trouble in the latter years of their junior development is the moonballer or strictly defensive player that has no ambition to be aggressive and take the match to the other player. Like I have said in previous articles, this type of player, coach, or parent are obviously very results based and not process based, which is going to destroy the players career, because you can only get so far playing the wrong way when the competition is training and developing their skills for the future. Usually these types of players fizzle out when they realize that the 12’s and 14’s type game that they possess does not work in the 16’s and 18’s, where it matters most for college opportunities or the professional tour.
In conclusion, many of these 12’s and 14’s superstars are not developing their games for the future and are very short sighted. In these younger divisions it is crucial to be learning all the basic fundamentals of technique, movement, strategy, how to train properly, and also how to compete properly. If the main goal from either the player, parent, or coach is to win and dominate these divisions, the development of the player may take a backseat, and one day all you will talk about is what happened to that young superstar that you thought was a can’t miss prospect.