Ever since my son arrived home from his stint in SoCal, he’s been arranging hitting sessions and practice matches for himself. He’s built up a nice network of hitting partners around Atlanta, and they meet up at a public park or neighborhood courts for a no-cost training session that keeps both players match-tough and in top physical shape. After 10+ years of paying for drills, lessons, and tournaments, I can tell you my bank account has greatly appreciated the break (see my last post for more $-saving ideas)!
Now, I realize my son is 19 and has a cell phone and a driver’s license, and that this type of match play might be tougher for younger players to organize, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
To make things a bit easier, I created a new group on Facebook called Tennis Match Play (click here to take a look). The group is “closed” which means all posts are private and visible only to members. New members have to be approved by an Admin (that’s me, for now!).
My hope is that junior players (and parents, especially for the younger kids) will use this Facebook group to set up hitting sessions and practice matches. Ross Greenstein suggested a great idea to me a few months ago: (1) get a group of 4 kids together with 2 courts; (2) on Saturday, have the kids play one match in the morning, break for lunch (provided by the parents), then play a doubles match in the afternoon; (3) on Sunday, have the kids rotate opponents to play another singles match, break for lunch, then switch partners and play another doubles match in the afternoon. They could play full matches, one set, or a pro set depending on the age and fitness level (and time restrictions) of the kids. What a great and inexpensive way to get in quality match play without having to travel or commit to a tournament!
According to legendary Notre Dame coach Bobby Bayliss, match play is crucial to junior development. “The biggest thing juniors need is competition. There needs to be a way for them to agree to meet periodically at a site with low or no cost and simply compete against one another.” Junior players can use these practice matches to develop the skill of analyzing and understanding what’s happening in a match situation. By sitting down with their practice partner after the set or match and telling each other,”when you do ABC against me, it really hurts and bothers me; and here’s what I’m trying to do against you,” the kids will become smarter and more effective on the court. This is a skill that even the youngest players can practice. Most of the time kids don’t even realize what they’re doing on the court to hurt their opponent. In a tournament situation, knowing how to recognize the things that are bothering an opponent, and knowing how to recognize what an opponent is doing to bother you, is a tremendous asset.
Bayliss goes on to suggest, “Perhaps local CTAs could create such a vehicle. All too often, kids play only at one club or park, partially because pros don’t allow interaction with other programs.”
The Tennis Match Play group aims to keep teaching pros out of the equation and shift the match-play burden to the players themselves (with parental assistance). I hope you’ll all take a look at the group page, share it with your junior players and other tennis parents, and encourage these kids to take ownership of their development and to get out and play!