What Made #TheSol So Different?

back of tshirtWe are 5 days out from the finish of the first Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tournament presented by Holabird Sports, and I can’t stop thinking about what an incredible experience I had in Baltimore!

There were many intangibles that made this particular junior tournament special, but there were also many tangible items that can be adopted by other tournaments to help improve the overall “feel” for the players as well as the parents and coaches, and that’s what I want to focus on today.

  • Tournament committee: Without a strong tournament committee (and volunteers), it’s next to impossible to put on a successful event. Involve community leaders, local business owners, and anyone else who loves tennis and is committed to making your event special.
  • On-court coaching: This is a very simple feature to add to existing tournaments that seems to have a huge impact on both the players and the parents. We all know how it feels to sit and watch our children compete, the tension building inside as we try to hide our true feelings behind forced smiles and positive body language. By allowing on-court coaching, we provide a release valve, if you will, so parents (and coaches) can say what they want to say to the players while there is still a chance for the player to act (or not) on the advice they’re given. At #TheSol, several parents and coaches took advantage of being able to – lawfully! – communicate with their player, and the overall atmosphere around the grounds was so calm compared to other junior tournaments I’ve attended.
  • Player credentials: Just like the pros get! The lanyards are pretty inexpensive, and once you get the hang of Avery’s online system, making the inserts is relatively simple.
  • On-site lunch: Secure a local restaurant sponsor and ask them to deliver lunch each day for players, parents, and coaches. I can’t tell you what a big impact this had on the overall atmosphere of #TheSol! Everyone stayed on site throughout the day. They didn’t have to scramble for something to eat and worry about being late for their next match. Plus, we were feeding the players healthy, fresh food.
  • Free water and sports drinks: Again, secure a sponsor and provide drinks on site. It sounds simple – and it is! – but it’s these little things that can make a tremendous difference in the overall tournament atmosphere.
  • Think outside the box in terms of prizes: Not every junior tournament can provide a Wilson clothing and equipment package like we did this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find alternatives to the plastic trophies awarded at most events. Again, it might mean seeking a major sponsor, but with a little effort you can find local and national businesses willing to donate items in exchange for publicity (and their name on the back of a nice dri-fit tournament shirt)!
  • Player Book: It takes a little extra work to put together a Player Book, but the kids and parents IMG_7376loved it! And, it’s another way to provide publicity for your tournament sponsors.
  • Take advantage of social media: Create Twitter and Instagram accounts for your tournament. Set up a Facebook page. Get a GeoTag for SnapChat. Then post to these social media outlets before, during, and after your tournament to maximize exposure for players and sponsors.
  • Get creative during weather delays. At #TheSol we had Noah Rubin on FaceTime doing a Q&A with our players. You could have ping pong, tables with cards and backgammon, a Karaoke machine – anything to keep the players engaged while they’re waiting to go back on court!
  • Host a Player Party: We didn’t do this at #TheSol this year, but we plan on adding it for future events. Again, find a sponsor to help cover the expense then get creative! A local amusement park, bowling alley, or restaurant party room are all great locations to bring players and parents together in a fun environment and relieve some of the tension inherent in junior tournaments.
  • Use UTR to select and seed players and put players into compass draws: What a difference it makes when juniors compete against other players at a similar level instead of getting blown out of the water (or blowing someone out of the water)! Of course, using UTR isn’t fool-proof, but it does a much better job than using traditional PPR rankings in terms of making sure every player gets competitive matches. Then, if you use a compass draw, too, players get multiple matches close to their level which is great for overall junior development. It’s a win-win!

If any of our #TheSol players and parents are reading this, please add your comments below in terms of how other tournament directors can learn from what we created in Baltimore last week. The goal is to make junior tennis more enjoyable and more valuable for everyone!

6 Comments on “What Made #TheSol So Different?”

  1. This sounds like a great event. I completely disagree about on court coaching for junior tournaments being positive. Some players with resources can afford a quality coach who can dissect a match and give quality coaching during a match, but that is not fair to those who do not have those resources. I would say that most parents are not capable of giving quality coaching adjustments during a match, and it would just make things more awkward for the parent/child tennis relationship when the parent walks onto the court during the match. All players need to figure out how to make adjustments on their own, during the match. I also think its important for players to dissect on their own after a match, to figure out what they need to improve on (not just, “I played badly”, which you hear alot). I am also against on court coaching during matches on the pro tour.

    I read a few articles when my kids were young, about how many young athletes dreaded the car ride home with their parents after games and matches, and do my best not to bring anything up. I have also learned that a pre game pep talk with my kids rarely does anything more then annoying my kids. Maybe this would be a good topic for another article.

    1. Alex, thank you for your comment! In the case of #TheSol, the on-court coaching was a positive addition. Not every player took advantage of it, and that was absolutely fine, but for those who did they commented that it was a nice feature of the event.

      I think one thing that I learned from putting on #TheSol was that the junior tournament mindset needs some time to shift away from the bad habits formed through the previous structure. When a tournament uses UTR to select and seed and uses a compass draw format, there’s no need to “draw shop” so your player can earn the maximum number of ranking points because every match counts the same way in a UTR event. There’s also less stress in planning to go to the event when you know your player will be playing at least 3 matches that all count equally. Families can plan their player’s tournament schedule, get signed up, then simply show up and enjoy the weekend.

      The points you bring up about the car ride home are valid and ones that I’ve addressed in several previous articles and podcasts. Maybe it’s time to revisit that topic, though, so thank you for the suggestion!

    2. Alex, here’s a comment I received from a coach – hope it helps clarify the reasoning behind allowing on-court coaching in some junior tourneys:

      The coaching element is about a developmental opportunity rather than a competitive advantage aimed to help win a match in the moment. It is about having moments more conducive to real learning than the coaching that typically takes place after the fact. It is not a requirement but rather an opportunity.

      Further, not every UTR Event allows coaching. The coaching aspect is something that is a part of only certain events.

      Parents that are not coaches or feel that they are not helping their child, should not feel obligated to try to coach just because the opponent is receiving coaching. There is a fine line between helpful coaching and added distraction to the player’s mindset.

      As College Tennis is the end game for many Jr. Players, to some Tournament Directors it is logical to allow coaching.

      If you prescribe to the theory that players are better served to figure it out on their own then the parent, coach and player should not feel obligated to provide any coaching.

  2. This sounds like a great event, and I think its important for juniors to play in lots of different types of events like this one that are fun and less pressure, as well as adult open tournaments. The fact that parents draw shop is totally pathetic to me. The fact that parents will travel to a lesser tournament to get points, or default to avoid a loss is just completely setting your child up for failure. I honestly have no idea why people would spend money to travel to a national 12’s tournament when they could play up locally, and put those resources into coaching and training.

    There was a great link in zoo tennis today about how difficult the relationship between Taylor Fritz and his father is due to his parenting/coaching style. It sounds like Taylor’s dad did a much better job as a coach then a farther, and Taylor has now fired him as coach as well. Taylor’s fathers dream was to build a champion, but it also sounds like because his father is so negative on his game, he doesn’t want him involved anymore.

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