The 12’s and 14’s Tennis Superstar Curse

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Today’s Guest Post is written by Coach Todd Widom.

We have all seen it.  We go to a junior tennis tournament and there is a young kid playing and everyone is just in awe of this player.  They win so much and it seems like they are unbeatable at such a young age.  They may in fact be on a great path to becoming a great player or unfortunately they may not be.  Sometimes I even look at a particular young superstar and think when they get older, they are going to be in trouble, or I may think they are on the right path to do great things in tennis.  No one can really tell until the player is older; however, from a coaching perspective, a good coach can tell if they have the proper techniques, game style, brain, and physicality.  You can get away with many subpar attributes at a young age, but it will catch up to you if you are not doing things properly.  Remember that habits are formed very early on in the development process, so if the habits are not good habits, it is much tougher to fix them in the latter stages of the junior tennis players’ career.

For example, some children go through puberty at a younger age than others and they are so much more physically developed and can overpower their opponents.  This obviously will not last forever, as the late developing children will catch up with height and strength.  What you often see is that this strong young player struggles when they get older because they cannot overpower the players they used to overpower, and they only have that one dimension of power.  Their techniques may also be off because they could muscle the ball around the court instead of using the proper muscles to generate pace and heaviness on the ball.

Another type of player that falls under the category of someone who is a young cursed superstar is just a player who has been on a court at an earlier age than most and has gotten more repetitions in.  They are usually very seasoned and know how to win matches at an early age.  Once again, the competition catches up and they are usually scratching their heads and not handling the losses very well.  Burnout can also be a major factor as this type of child gets older.  There needs to be a very good balance of winning but also losing.  You learn a lot more when you lose.  If the player is winning too much in one division they should be moved up to the next division to have that balance of winning and losing.

The last case of a young player that may be in trouble in the latter years of their junior development is the moonballer or strictly defensive player that has no ambition to be aggressive and take the match to the other player.  Like I have said in  previous articles,  this type of player, coach, or parent are obviously very results based and not process based, which is going to destroy the players career, because you can only get so far playing the wrong way when the competition is training and developing their skills for the future.  Usually these types of players fizzle out when they realize that the 12’s and 14’s type game that they possess does not work in the 16’s and 18’s, where it matters most for college opportunities or the professional tour.

In conclusion, many of these 12’s and 14’s superstars are not developing their games for the future and are very short sighted.  In these younger divisions it is crucial to be learning all the basic fundamentals of technique, movement, strategy, how to train properly, and also how to compete properly.  If the main goal from either the player, parent, or coach is to win and dominate these divisions, the development of the player may take a backseat, and one day all you will talk about is what happened to that young superstar that you thought was a can’t miss prospect.

7 Comments on “The 12’s and 14’s Tennis Superstar Curse”

  1. Very well said … I can certainly name many players in the Southern California girls juniors who consistently took home hardware when they were 12 but can’t get past the second round now that they are 16.

    And you hit the nail on the head with the moonballers. The other players will figure that crap out over time, but the moonballer has no plan B. I’ll refrain from naming names, but there are several top junior girls in SoCal who try not to moonball when they practice. These girls get absolutely slaughtered in practice matches. So what do they do in a real match? They moonball.

  2. Teaching fundamentals and technique at an early age is encouraged but nobody is perfect. Look at Rafa’s technique as a junior. He had success in spite of his unconventional strokes.

    It’s important for parents to note and reinforce that being a moon baller doesn’t necessarily make junior a bad kid either. Some kids may have Mom or Dad as coach and you gotta play with what you got. Eventually it works itself out but playing style personalities will continue to be varied.

    Keep in mind there are different playing styles at all levels, even on the tour. That’s what makes tennis so great. Radwanska doesn’t blow people off the court, but she is an absolute defensive wizard… and she did okay last week, eh? One of my favorite players to watch on the tour is Simon and he wins without a Delpo forehand or a Gulbis backhand, but he doesn’t miss and he’s competes his butt off. Santoro, Seles, and this guy Rafa all have/had unconventional strokes in their games, all with decent results. My point is, it takes kinds all kinds.

  3. Any junior player who moons balls more than occasionally for defense is just wasting their time on court. Any parent who drives or flies hours to watch their kid moon ball is crazy, what is the point? The funny part is that kids never practice moon balling, they drive the ball in practice, than moon ball or push in matches.

    I lost a lot in early juniors, playing an aggressive game. I remember 18s sectionals when a lot of kids who were highly ranked in 14s and 16s were just getting crushed. I beat a kid in freshman year of college who beat me 6-0 6-0 in 16’s, it made the process all seem worth while.

  4. Man great article, great post, great comments. Definitely second the pusher/moonballer stuff. Here in Spain it’s the prevalent game-style of the U10s and U12 girls. We have a very competitive 9 year old (regionally number 3 and nationally number 11 in the U10s) and she plays a very complete, aggressive style and often looses to these moonball pushers who are just very consistent with the few shots they actually possess. Draw them in or move them diagonally and they are toast, but one thing they can do is take the pace off an aggressive drive and push it right back into play, hitting it so how that it “comes down with snow on it” (as my daughter’s coach says). It’s frustrating as all heck to see our daughter lose to this kind of player, but as he said in the article, losing is important and as Bolletieri himself said once “you gotta learn how to lose before you learn how to win, baby”.

Share Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.