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Facilitating Match Play


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!





11 thoughts on “Facilitating Match Play

  1. I love practice matches but my goodness the competitiveness makes this very difficult, at times, to setup. We know parents who refuse to let their child play our child out of fear that learnings in practice matches will be brought to the court in tournaments.

  2. For players in the Atlanta area, there is the ALTA challenge ladder for junior tournament players from 10-18. If you are in the Atlanta area (or primarily the northern suburbs), and you have not heard of it before, check out Registration ends tomorrow 8/28. My son started playing on the ladder when he was 10 and had only played a couple local tournaments. This will be his 7th year on the ladder. There is a variety of levels of girls and boys on the ladder from local tournament players, to high school varsity players, to national/sectional tournament players. Trent Bryde played on it a year or two.

    If you dont live in Atlanta but your city has rec leagues, you can read about the challenge ladder and see if it is something you can set up in your metro area: The ALTA challenge ladder also hosts doubles round robins for juniors which are a lot of fun.

  3. It is really sad that parents feel that practice matches will give away tendencies that will lose tournament matches. If the kid or parent is afraid to lose practice matches, the kid will never learn to battle, and will never be good. I see a lot of kids who just want to drill, or play ground games. Battles with peers in practices matches can really simulate tournament conditions, and allow kids to become match tough. I set up my own matches when I was 14.

  4. Great site Lisa,

    One thing I would say to young players is that you can get a great practice match in against a weaker player if you play to their strengths. I would play a practice match and hit every ball to a weaker players forehand, hit only second serves, work on serve and volley….

  5. Alex H – That’s a very under utilized strategy. So many players want only to work on their strengths, that they wind up with a weakness that not only doesn’t improve, but atrophies to become an even more lopsided negative in their game.

    About 5-years ago, I watched Shilin Xu (recent ITF #1) playing a Florida Sectional event, where she was so far above her opponent that she could have won 0&0 easily. Instead, on every serve, she would serve-and-volly. It was obvious that she would get frustrated when she lost a point, and you could see her have to force herself to go back to work and do it again on the next point, regardless of the outcome. She won 2&2, so there wasn’t any risk of losing, but she had to tolerate the inevitable questions about “What happened? How did she get 4 games off you?”

    I don’t know if it was her idea, or a coach, but I was very impressed, and immediately brought that into my player’s game-plan against significantly weaker opponents. We were fortunate to already have a coach who made a point of forcing his students to practice as much on their weaknesses as their strengths, so there wasn’t an ingrained resistance to improving those areas that needed it. However, doing it in competition is harder, as you don’t want to lose even one point. Especially to a player who is several skill-levels below you.

    This really becomes important when your “A” game isn’t working, and you have to incorporate shots and tactics that aren’t your strength. If you don’t have experience doing it in competition, you lose confidence when you need it most.

  6. How often do Roger and Novak play practice matches against each other? Or Rafa and Andy? Or Serena and Maria? At a certain level the top players are not going to play practice matches against each other. This applies to juniors just as it applies to the pros.

  7. David – at the level of player you cite i.e top 5, they are in direct competition for huge money in tournaments and endorsements. Of course they will not practice with each other. Who wants to reveal a weakness to a player who is hunting your revenue stream?

    That changes in Davis/Fed/Hopman Cup play. Who do you think those players practice with?

    In the top junior realm, there is the ego of the players, as well as the parents and coaches that prevents them from working together. Coaches also have a financial interest to protect. They don’t want their cash-cow to see another coach’s success with a player and siphon off their students. Parents want to believe their kid is the very best, so they won’t put their player in a position to damage their reputation by losing to someone else.

    Until players can drive themselves to practice, they are at the mercy of parents and coaches. By the time they can drive, the bias of their parents and coaches has been instilled, so they continue the same model.

    Many times I have been told to stop running video of my player’s matches, by parents who say they don’t want me to use the video for future strategy against their player. There is always so much to fix or improve with my player, that I don’t spend any time strategizing against their kid. It was a foreign concept to them, that people would focus on improving themselves, instead of attacking their player.

  8. I had a lot of trouble arranging practice matches with the parents of junior players, so my son started to play on the ladder with adults at our local recreational club. He is 12 now and sets up his own matches a couple of times a week and often gets there by bus. Even when he plays against guys he regularly beats, I still think it is good practice. For example, my son may have better strokes but the adults have stronger serves and it gives him the chance to practice returning a powerful serve. Plus it reminds him that tennis is a hobby – something people do for fun and fitness – not a job!

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