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So When Are We Going To Start Seeing Some Results?!?


"So we've (i.e. Junior) been playing tennis for a couple of years now. Are we ready to start playing and winning some tournaments?! We know that so-and-so is taking her kids to this tournament or that and getting all these points. We just want to make sure that we're not wasting our time."

Sound familiar? Without a doubt, at one point or another, all parents have had this conversation - or something along the same lines - with their child's coach. It is normal to express these feelings given that tennis is one of the most expensive and time consuming extracurricular activities that a child can engage in. If done right, it is also one of the most worthwhile endeavors to follow. As some of our Q&A segments have shown, good players have the ability to get their schooling paid for, travel the world, meet interesting people from all over and, for the lucky few, earn a very good living from the game. Nevertheless, it is possible that by overemphasizing results at one end of the learning process, the outcomes could be jeopardized at the other end... the important end of the spectrum where results actually matter. This process all starts innocently enough. Initially, Junior is introduced to tennis at the local park, through kids' clinics at the local club or even lessons with the country club pro. This is where things are loose, fun and stress free. Invariably, however, the family unit decides to take things to the next level. This is where things start to get interesting. 



Take a look at the chart above. That, in a nutshell, is TENNIS. Take a good look at it. This is the information that most decent coaches attempt to convey to their students. Are you sure that you (parents and player) are ready for this type of involvement and commitment? We have sought to break the information down into the basic components and make it as understandable to "lay persons" as possible. Unfortunately, tennis is complicated. Unlike other sports where the skills are more limited, tennis encompasses numerous components including athletic ability, intellect and, most importantly, skill (all sides of your body). For every stroke, a student has to learn the proper grip, preparation, movement, stroke, follow-through and recovery. Such components must be practiced thousands of times before they are fully understood and capable of being recalled at will (and under pressing conditions). In addition, these decisions have to be made in the context of a "live" point. There are no time outs, no options to dribble or hold on to the ball and no opportunity to pass the ball (and responsibility) to someone else. It's all you, all the time. No matter what everyone else says, tennis is the most difficult sport there is. All students must master a variety of shots and they must be executed in a limited period of time. There is no caddy reading your greens, no team captain to pass the ball to and there's no coach calling time-outs.

In addition, minor changes in one component end up having consequences in all parts of the game. For example, you can't just switch between grips without switching the stroke that goes along with it. A "western" grip leads to one particular path/swing of the racket. Conversely, a continental or eastern grip leads to a completely different swing. This minor change affects not only what you do with the ball but how you play...the strategies that you are capable of implementing and, consequently, the type of player you can be. One stroke leads to one positioning where another stroke may lead to something completely different. In other words, specific shots are tailored to particular game-styles. Making a minor change in one and it could affect the player's entire game.

Playing too many tournaments before the student has had the opportunity to learn (and ingrain) some of the basic components can be detrimental to the player's game. A coach may work on the player's strokes in proportion to the player's size and body type (e.g., feeding balls low and soft) so that the player grasps the concept more easily and understands what will be expected of him in 10 years' time. Match opponents do not operate under the same restrictions - they hit moon balls, they hit hard or away and sometimes with funky spins. Accordingly, strokes OFTEN change when playing a tournament - sometimes the players, inadvertently, copy each others' outlandish strokes. It happens at the college level and even in the pros but it happens more often before the payer has had the opportunity to master the game and have the shots "gel" into her system. This puts coaches in the awkward position of having to constantly perform "clean up" duty as opposed to focusing on new concepts and incorporating them into the overall game. This is also a good opportunity to revisit the 10,000 hour rule. If things get shifted around too much, the initial investment of hours (and $$$$) may have been for naught. Such skills may in fact have to be forgotten (it's much easier to learn something right than have to unlearn and then relearn).

Unfortunately, a lot of parents feel stressed by the financial, temporal and emotional investment and rush their children into too many tournaments, too soon. Perhaps it's because they want to validate their actions as parents...to make sure that they are doing a "good job." In this regard, they often override the coaches' wishes and advice when it comes to tournaments. Where the coach, normally, advises the family unit to refrain from too many matches and focusing on results, parents often times pay only lip service to such information.

For best results, the ideal time for playing tournaments and the level of tournaments should be left to a knowledgeable coach. There are times when the player should play some tournaments to achieve specific objectives (e.g., learning how to keep score, learning how to be competitive or figuring out how to deal with other personalities). However, there are periods of time during a player's development when tournaments should be avoided like the plague. These are times when the player is working on specific components where premature match-implementation can lead to shaken confidence. For example, when the player changes strokes or is working on specific game-styles, it's often best to take a break from tournaments in order to allow that concept to sink in and become entrenched. At such times, as difficult as it may be, parents should remember to not pay attention to peer pressure. Forget what everyone else is doing; forget the national points that everyone else are chasing. Your child is working on something specific so s/he needs to follow a path that is tailor-made for him/her.

At the end of the day, everyone is different. Some players thrive on competition; others may be more reserved and analytical. But one of the long-term detrimental effects of competing "too soon" is that the player is not given the opportunity to properly learn a shot to the exclusion of all the "bad" shots. In other words, it's not enough that the player grasps the concept of a particular stroke. That stroke must be the ONLY one that the player reproduces. In effect, the new shots/concepts must be learned and the old ones must be forgotten. It's not efficient (or effective) if the player hits 50 shots one way; 35 a different way and 10 shots another way altogether. The "proper" shot must be the only one that comes out - whether in regular rallies or under pressure (with adjustments, of course) at all times. That, and NOT THE AMOUNT OF MONEY OR NUMBER OF LESSONS, is usually a good indicator that the player is ready to mix things up with some tournaments.

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Reader Comments (2)

great advice. but, here's the big question - who makes the decision about when it's time to play tourneys? the coach? the player? the parent? if it's the coach, then parents need to be able to rely on getting that information in a timely manner. in my experience, where the coach has so many kids he's working with, it's been up to the player and parent to create the tourney schedule, choose which tourneys to play and when, etc. in an ideal world, it would be great if it were one coach:one player, but that's not the reality in my world, so the onus is on me (the parent) to learn as much as i can and help guide the process. and more times than not, i'm having to learn from my own mistakes. tough situation to be sure.

November 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa S

We think that the coach should have the ultimate say...always. Obviously, this requires communication between the parties. At the very least the parent should ask "we are thinking about signing up for tournament X. Is there any reason why you think that we shouldn't play it? Would it interfere with you short/mid/long term plans for the player?" if you have selected a good coach s/he will do what's best for the player.

November 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterCAtennis

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