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In his writings, Daniel Coyle often refers to “ignition” – that spark that ignites the passion to pursue excellence. A couple of weeks ago, I was given the gift of seeing ignition in action.

My oldest daughter, Emma, lives in LA. Over Winter Break, the rest of us went out to visit her and spend some time in what we figured would be warmer and sunnier weather. Of course, my son brought his tennis gear with him in hopes of getting in a few quality hitting sessions before returning home for our sectional closed tournament.

As I’ve mentioned many times, a giant perk of this website and radio show is all the phenomenal people I’ve come in contact with, both in real life and virtually. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the tennis community is pretty protective of its own and is usually willing to do you a favor if you just ask. While we were planning our trip to LA, I asked.


UCLA campus at the top of Janss Steps

I’m pretty active (!) on Facebook and Twitter, so I posted something about being at the Atlanta airport headed for LAX. I received a Tweet back from UCLA men’s tennis assistant coach Grant Chen saying he’d love to meet me and why didn’t I bring my family over and take a little tour of the campus while we’re in town. Um, okay! I had my son email him to arrange a day and time to get together.

We met Grant on campus to tour not only the tennis facilities but the academic areas as well. As an alum, it sure was fun seeing our old stomping grounds again! After the tour, Grant took us back to the tennis office where he and head coach Billy Martin spent close to an hour talking to my son about his post-high-school plans and dreams – these guys are awesome! They gave my son some specific things to work on over the next 18 months (grades and fitness were the main ones) and encouraged him to keep training hard so he would have options come next year. Suffice it to say that meeting with the coaches, seeing the tennis facilities, and experiencing first-hand what 70-degrees-and-sunny in December feels like were all great incentives to step it up a notch!

The next day, we took a drive up to Malibu to check out the Pepperdine campus. Talk about gorgeous! Holy cow! The campus is situated above the Pacific Coast Highway overlooking the ocean. Even the tennis courts have a view. Unfortunately for us, it was Winter Break and most of the students as well as the tennis coaches had already left for the holidays, so we didn’t get a real tour or to meet Coach Adam Steinberg as we had hoped, but now we have an excuse for another trip.


My son with Lester Cook – Malibu Racquet Club

For a 17 year old kid traveling to a city where the only people he knows are connected by DNA, finding a hitting partner can be challenging. My son asked me to reach out and see if any of my ParentingAces contacts might know someone. I went through my list of past radio show guests, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers, and was able to arrange hits for him at none other than the prestigious Malibu Racquet Club, owned by Oracle founder and Indian Wells tournament owner Larry Ellison. Lucky for us, the head pro at the Club is Craig Cignarelli,  IMG_1957and one of Craig’s disciples is former touring pro Lester Cook. You’ll just have to take my word for the fact that hitting with a former pro on pristine courts overlooking the Pacific Ocean doesn’t stink! Couple that with the fact that, while you’re waiting for your time on court, you get to watch 2 top collegiate players duke it out while Lester looks on and offers words of advice. Again, it doesn’t stink!

So, between Coach Billy, Coach Grant, Coach Craig, and Coach Lester, my son was privileged to have an opportunity to learn from some of the greats face-to-face. I can’t put into words the impact this has had on him. On our flight back to Atlanta – not a Red-Eye but pretty close to it! – my son and I were the only ones of our group awake. We were sitting across the aisle from each other when my son signaled for me to come sit in the empty seat next to him. He told me that he couldn’t stop thinking about the experiences he had in Los Angeles, the conversations, and the insights. He told me that THIS is what he wants, to work hard so he has the chance to play at a great school under great coaches. He told me that he really feels he hasn’t reached his peak yet, that it’s coming in his college years, that he hopes a coach will recognize that and give him the chance to prove it. Yes, he had been exhilarated after participating in the ITA Coaches Showcase earlier in the month, but I hadn’t seen him this pumped up and passionate over tennis in a long time – it warmed my Tennis Parent heart.

Now we’re back home where the weather has been anything but ideal for playing tennis outdoors and where school is back in session and where there are lots of distractions competing for my son’s attention. Now is the true test. How badly does he want it? How hard is he really willing to work? Will all those coaches’ words of wisdom stick with him and drive him to achieve his potential? How do I continue to feed that fire I saw on the airplane? I can’t answer any of those questions yet. Check back with me in a year.



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