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My Son Said the “F” Word

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Tennis is a game. Games are supposed to be fun. Ergo, tennis is supposed to be fun. However, as many of us Tennis Parents know, junior tournaments by their very nature can suck the fun right out of things. So, imagine my surprise and delight when my son said the “F” word in relation to a junior tennis event this past week!

We left very cold and very windy weather in Atlanta Thursday afternoon to travel to Naples, Florida for theĀ ITA Coaches Convention Junior Showcase, a one-day event being held at the Naples Waldorf-Astoria for high school players to strut their stuff in front of a wide variety of college coaches. The event was co-sponsored by USTA’s Collegiate Tennis department which offered a one-hour parent information session on the college recruiting process. For those juniors who play mostly within their own section and don’t get a chance to play in front of coaches from other parts of the country (like my son), this was a fantastic opportunity!

We arrived in Florida around 5pm on Thursday, drove from the Ft. Meyers airport with the sunroof and windows open in our rented Chevy Impala, and arrived at the hotel about 45 minutes later. My son changed into his tennis gear, and we headed over to Pelican Bay Community Park for him to get in a hit with one of the local boys who would also be at the next day’s Showcase (a huge thank-you to coach Chuck Breger for setting it up). IMG_1917The boys played while I sat nearby and watched. Even though the kids were working hard, they seemed to be having a great time knocking the ball around and getting to know each other a bit during their water breaks.

The next morning, we walked over to the Waldorf courts for check-in. FYI, the cost to participate in the Showcase was $20, quite a bargain. My son didn’t know anyone there other than Alan (the boy he hit with the night before), but he walked out to the practice courts and found some guys to warm up with while I headed back to the lobby for a meeting. After about an hour, he texted me letting me know he was all set and would meet me back in the lobby to pick up some water and Powerade before the matches started.

My meeting happened to be with another Naples-area coach named Brett Hobden – we were discussing Brett’s coaching philosophy and his ideas for developing players. Once my son came in, Brett gave him some excellent advice. Brett told my son that the college coaches wouldn’t be concerned with wins and losses in this event; in fact, if they were watching a match, they probably wouldn’t even look at the score. The coaches would be looking for attitude, for technique, and for fight. They wanted to see players with a love for the game who could be coached and who wouldn’t be high-maintenance, behavior-wise. He advised my son to “play big,” to go for his shots even if he missed them, to brush off errors and move onto the next point with determination and positive focus. My son shook Brett’s hand, thanked him for the advice, and we walked back out to the courts.

After a brief players meeting, the 32 participating boys walked across the parking lot to “their side” of the facility to get their court assignments. At check-in, the kids had been asked to create a cardboard sign with their last name and the color of their clothing which they would attach to the fence during their matches so the coaches could identify them.IMG_1921 Each player would play 3 matches against 3 different opponents – the matches themselves consisted of one set to 6 with a tiebreaker played at 5-all. They would have 30-45 minutes between matches to rest and refuel with all matches expected to finish by 4pm (plenty of time for us to get back to the Ft. Myers airport for our 6:30 flight!).

I can’t speak to what went on on the girls’ side, but the boys’ matches all seemed to go off without a hitch. There were no loud “C’mons” or thrown racquets or arguments. The feeling I had as an observer was that these kids were all there to help each other shine in front of the coaches. I only saw a couple of questioned calls, but even those were resolved without any yelling or accusations. It was as if all the players took an unspoken oath at the beginning of the day to be on their best behavior.

Throughout the day, my son kept checking in with the boys he had met to see how their matches were going. I kept my distance, giving my son the space he needed in this new environment. I wandered around the courts, talking to other parents and to some of the college coaches, learning as much as I could about the various schools represented there. For the most part, the parents stayed calm and quiet. Again, a nice change from the typical junior tournament atmosphere.

After he came off the court from his final match, and after a 45-minute impromptu Life Lessons session with former NCAA champion Peter Rennert in the parking lot, I asked my son what he thought about the Showcase. He replied, “Mom, this was really great! Thank you for bringing me. It was fun!”

Fun? FUN? I hadn’t heard him use that word in relation to his tennis in a very long time. I asked him what – specifically – was fun about it. Was it the format? Was it getting to play in the warm weather in the middle of December? Was it simply coming to a new place?

He answered that it was nice not having to think about how many ranking points he would get for a win or who his next opponent would be or being out of the tournament early due to a loss. He liked playing all new guys. He liked that the tournament was over for everyone at the same time. He liked the experience of playing in front of college coaches and seeing them watch him in action. He liked the supportive atmosphere, the feeling that they were all in this together.

If your child is in high school and playing college tennis is a goal, please consider taking him or her to a future Showcase event. You can get dates and other information from the USTA’s College Tennis page and on TennisRecruiting.net. There are several private companies that host college showcases as well, such as Donovan Tennis Strategies and Ed Krass College Tennis Academy. And, Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes is another a great resource for getting exposure to a variety of college coaches.

My son and I both came away from this experience feeling good, feeling excited, feeling hopeful. On the flight home, my son thanked me several more times for taking him down to Naples. He spent much of the flight talking tennis with me, discussing his thoughts on college and how he could get himself where he wants to be. He asked me tennis-related questions and was genuinely interested in my answers. Please understand this is NOT how we typically spend the ride home from a tournament!

That day, I saw a new maturity in my son, both on the tennis court and off. He was composed yet energized, outgoing and polite, inquisitive and receptive. I know he didn’t just wake up that morning a changed young man, that this maturity was a result of all the work he has put in over his 17 years on this planet, but it all seemed to come together on Friday the 13th. And in big part because of the “F” word.

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