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Entries in Junior Tennis (46)


Bruce Tarran: Mini Tennis – How a Good Idea Got Complicated

In the next few weeks, CAtennis.com will host a discussion regarding the Pros and Cons of the implementation of Quickstart/ROG [i.e. red, orange and green balls] in the United States. Coaches with decades of experience in the field of early tennis development will share some of their thoughts on the subject. As CAtennis.com doesn't take a particular stance on the subject, we hope that, for everyone's benefit, the truth will be synthesized or distilled through a civilized discussion. In the meantime, we are proud to present the following article (reproduced with the permission of the author) by Mr. Bruce Tarran. If you are a fan of clever, British humor we suggest that, in addition to reading Mr. Tarran's thoughts, you watch the linked videos below. We would like to extend our gratitude to Mr. Tarran for sharing his experiences and allowing us to utilize the article and videos enclosed herein. 

Bruce's background: Bruce Tarran is an LTA Licensed Professional Tennis Coach. He is currently Head Coach at Leicestershire Lawn Tennis Club, an 18-court members club in Leicester, England. He was a county and regional coach for many years, and individual coach to a large number of county and national juniors. His last two clubs were awarded LTA performance status. He believes that there are few pleasures in life like watching children learn to love tennis. For more information, please visit www.tarrantennis.co.uk or http://www.youtube.com/user/Tarrantennis.


A few months ago I put some videos about the negative effects of the current British mini tennis structure on youtube. They have now had around 15,000 views. Just over 100 British tennis coaches wrote to me about them. 6 disagreed completely, 3 said the problems lay elsewhere, and the rest either strongly or broadly agreed with the videos. It can’t be taken as a representativesurvey, of course, (although my experience is that people are more likely to write when they disagree!) but it would seem that the majority of working British tennis coaches have, to put it mildly, some reservations about aspects of our mini tennis structure.

As elements of this structure are now being rolled out around the world, it seems that the experience of British coaches who have worked under this system should be taken into account. Let me say straight away that I believe low compression balls and appropriately sized racquets and equipment are superb teaching tools when used appropriately. The problem isn’t the balls; it’s the complex system which has been constructed around them.

Good teaching demands progression. It must allow for children to be grouped together by standard as well as age. The mini tennis competition structure insists that players are grouped together by age only, so, according to their date of birth an 8 year old cannot play with a 9 year old who cannot play with a 10 year old who cannot play with an 11 year old. Each age must play with a different ball on a different sized court, without mixing and regardless of their standard or rate of improvement. It is not the transition balls that are bad, it is the prescription placed around them.

In competition different ages are not allowed to mix. There is a passport system where players can supposedly move up (from red to orange, for instance). But in practice because of the number of competitive matches required in a short space of time, this happens in a minimum of cases. Most British juniors compete in their designated colour throughout, whatever their standard, and whatever their ability or skill level.

Because each colour covers a single year this reduces the size of competitions. This particularly affects girls who generally much prefer, at a young age, to play against other girls. Instead, because fewer girls than boys play tennis anyway, they are forced to compete primarily against boys and this has decimated girl’s competition in some areas at a young age.

About 1% of tennis courts in Britain are indoors, yet mini tennis is often marketed as an indoor game. Certainly indoor mini tennis, particularly with the sponge balls for starting reds, is superb, but the vast majority of junior tennis in Britain is played outdoors and adapting mini tennis to the British weather is rarely discussed.

In general I have had a wonderful response to these videos, in Britain and across the world. I am very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to write to me and show an interest, whatever their point of view. I believe that discussion and debate are good – prescription and inflexibility are bad. In my opinion it is a mistake to put a complex, prescriptive structure around what is basically a superb teaching tool. Using the appropriate low compression balls with appropriate sized racquets can bring fast progress, but this progress may then demand the flexibility to move the child on. Good teaching demands flexibility – and therefore striving for a less prescriptive and rigid system is essential in the best interests of the child.




Active Tennis Watching

How many of you like to watch tennis? Do you prefer to watch it live or on TV? How many of you watch tennis "with a purpose"? In other words, rather than people-watching and oohing and aahing about someone's monster serve or impossible gets, do you watch tennis to learn and improve your own game? I have found that most people, even crazy tennis players such as ourselves, don't watch tennis with the right attitude. We watch to be entertained but not to improve our own level of play.

Given the current state of technology, we find this to be incredibly tragic. If you care about learning the game - becoming a student of the sport - make active tennis watching one of your top priorities. Remember, you might not end up playing against Federer (or Serena) but you will, most likely, end up playing against someone who is idolizing him and emulating their game after his. Therefore, by knowing the pros you will end up knowing your opponent. 

Here are some tips for becoming a better player by watching tennis with a purpose:

1. Freeze frame the serve. In the picture above, can you guess where Tomic is serving? Can you guess given the score? What about the coiling of the body? Toss? 

2. Spot the patterns. Also in the picture above, I have used two strips of white athletic tape and placed them on the screen so that they would be coordinated with the fixed camera angle on the screen. Try this and see how many shots are hit around the service line. You will begin to notice how hard the players try to keep the ball away from the middle of the court. They are consciously trying to work the point and get an opening through well-placed, high-percentage shots. 

3. Get in on the action. Rather than sitting on the couch and kicking your feet up, stand up, grab a racket in hand and "live" the point. As soon as you hear the ball being struck by one of the players, change your grip to the recipient's groundstroke. Train yourself so that the response is automatic. This is particularly helpful when one of the players is serving. Learn to read the server's motion and see if you can anticipate where the ball will be going. 

4. Match analysis. The stats put on the screen regarding 1st serve percentage and unforced errors are often useless. The numbers will not tell you where the player was serving, what were the circumstances that caused a miss, how the point was set up for a winner. Without this additional information, the stats can be confusing or open to interpretation. Therefore, keep track of the stats but add a comment section further explaining the information. For example, did a player miss 22 forehands? Well that's bad. Oh, wait, did he miss them all from 3 feet behind the service line (i.e., he was in an aggressive position)? Well, that's certainly something that's worth noting. The same concept would apply for serves. For example, if a player is hitting 25 double faults in a match but hits them all at 40-0 or 40-15, the basic statistic is incomplete and possible irrelevant. 

5. Write impressions. During ever changeover, write a quick one- or two-sentence impression concerning the games so far. If you were a coach, what would you tell the players about what's going on? What strategy would you suggest? How is "your" player winning and losing? If it helps you, tweet it or facebook the status. 

6. Rewind. It's OK to rewind even the most mundane points and see if you've missed things the first time around. Build your "rolodex of plays" by actively trying to figure out what exactly is happening on the court. 

After you've watched tennis with a purpose, you will never watch a match the same way again. Furthermore, your whole outlook of the game will change and you will be in a better position to take an active role in your development. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add your comments below. 



Stroking Felt With: Boris Bosnjakovic

Our first Q&A of the year is with Boris Bosnjakovic. I first met Boris while playing SoCal Open tournaments and I was quickly impressed by his massive game - which resembled Boris Becker in every sense of the world - as well as agility, finesse, great attitude and lively sense of humor. One could easily see why he dominated the open circuit and also performed quite well at the D-1 level. 

Quick Bio: I was born and raised in Novi Sad, Serbia (former Yugoslavia).  Grew up practicing with Monica Seles at the same tennis club.  Yugoslavian Junior Champion under 18s.  Named to Yugoslavian Davis Cup in 1992.  Moved to the U.S. in 1992 at the age of 18, ranked top 50 junior ITF in the world. Played No.1 at Brigham Young University for all 4 years and graduated in 1997. On the ATP Tour from 1997-2000, with best ranking at 740 in the world in singles. Coached on the ATP and WTA tours from 2000 to present.  Coached 3 women ranked in top 100 in the world.  Also worked with several top 200 ATP pros and now coaching current World Champions, the Serbian Davis Cup Team (including world No.1 Novak Djokovic).

1. When did you start playing tennis?

I started playing at the age of 9, which is according to today's standards considered late. These days the kids start as early as 3 years old.

2. What first attracted you to the sport?

To be honest, when I was young I loved soccer, since my dad was a professional soccer player, but then one of my best friends took up tennis and couldn't stop talking about it. I was very competitive, so I wanted to start learning tennis to be able to beat him, and eventually I fell in love with tennis.

3. What were the conditions like when you started (economic, political, etc.)? Also, who were some of your contemporaries (e.g., Dusan Vemic) and how did you match up against them in the juniors?

The conditions were actually pretty good. My club (T.C.Vojvodina) had enough funds to pay for most of my traveling and coaching expenses. Life in Yugoslavia in late 70's and 80's was good. Since, I was two years older then Dusan Vemic and Nenad Zimonjic, I was a bit of their elder and used to kick their butts back then. But, we all got along great and traveled together to many junior tournaments around the world.

4. If you had to generalize the Serbian approach or mentality when it comes to tennis, how would you describe it?

Well, in general I think Serbians are fighters, especially the kids that started playing tennis in the 90's, when the civil war started in former Yugoslavia and the times were tough. The kids realized that tennis could be their way out of the war-torn country, so they played for a lot more then most kids in the western world. Therefore, they became a bit tougher mentally as well and in general very hard workers.

5. Who was your tennis idol growing up? Why?

I really enjoyed the way Boris Becker and Pete Sampras played. I tried to tailor my game after theirs and play a very offensive and aggressive tennis. Even though I didn't come to the net quite as much as them, I did play have a very aggressive style with a big serve and powerful forehand.

6. What was your favorite thing to work on in practice? For example, drills, points, patterns, mix?

I always enjoyed competing, so doing drills was fun, but only if some kind of a game was involved. In general I found that playing lots of tournaments worked well for me. Then I would go and drill and work on my game a bit, but would get back out to play matches as soon as possible.

7. From recollection, you moved to Los Angeles and dominated the junior and open divisions before playing #1 for BYU and establishing a great college career there. What are your thoughts on college tennis and your overall experience?

Yes, you are correct. Domination, is how I like to remember my first few years in Los Angeles. I'm joking. First of all, my college experience was not a typical American college experience since I went to a very religious school. However, that was probably good for my tennis career, since there were not too many distractions. People at BYU took good care of me. We had a great coach (Jim Osborne), also I played #1 in both singles and doubles and therefore got to play against all the best players in college tennis. I recommend college tennis to most junior player, since the level of play is very high and it is a good stepping stone for those players who eventually want to turn pro.

8. Knowing what you know now and having the benefit of your current experience and lifestyle, what advice would you give yourself as a 15year old (i.e., if you could go back in time)?

Great question. I would certainly take a much better care of my body. Not only be in better shape then I was and work harder, but also tailor a specific diet for myself and work a lot more on the mental toughness through meditation, yoga and specific breathing exercises. I am a strong believer that a proper diet, stretching, and most importantly being able to control your mind and emotions makes a complete athlete. A fact that is really surprising to me is that most players, even in the very top of the game don't work enough on these aspects. I had a chance to witness this theory put in play when Novak Djokovic hired Dr. Igor Cetojevic in 2010 to help him on all these aspect of his game. At that time (in early 2011) I was replacing Novak's coach Marian Vajda at a few tournaments and I learned a lot from Dr. Igor's work with Novak. This guru was able to help Novak put all the puzzle pieces together and become No.1 in the world in a very dominating fashion. Ever since then became good friends with Dr. Igor and I've been working closely with him, learning all of his secrets.

9. You are the coach for the Serbian Davis Cup Team and have been instrumental in your country's success. At the same time, you have worked with players at all levels. How does coaching at the highest level differ from the rest of the game? For example, more fitness, mental, strategy, technique, etc.

The Serbian Davis Cup captain Bogdan Obradovic put me in charge of coaching our Davis Cup Team in 2010, and I was lucky enough to be a part of the championship team that year, since we were able to capture the Davis Cup Trophy for the very first time in Serbian history that year. Coaching tennis at all levels made me aware that there are so many great players all over the world in all the categories and that tennis is a very tough and competitive game. So, it made me appreciate the guys that are in the very top. Needless to say that they are all extremely good, but why are the some players consistently better then others, when they all can slug the ball so well?

I know it's a cliche that they are mentally tougher, but it really is true. Mental toughness, however is not only what happens on court. It starts when you are a kid practicing against the wall and with your friends, and it continues with your support system (your family, coaches) and the amount of practice you put in growing up. This is where the real confidence comes from, knowing that you put in the work and you had the experience required to put away that forehand to win Wimbledon one day. The important thing is to have your whole life in balance when you are out there competing against the whole world. The happiness in your personal life gives you that balance and strength to succeed. What makes you personal life complete is your support system, which for example could be your significant other, your coach, your parents, your trainer, your best friend, and all the people that help you on your journey. All these little things put together create a champion.

10. What is your best tennis experience so far? This could be tournament won, being alongside the DC team while they're crushing their competitors, rankings achieved, helping students?

I have to say that winning the Davis Cup Trophy with the Serbian Team was really an amazing experience. But, that was a team effort, which is very different when compared to winning matches and tournament in my playing career. It really is hard to point out one experience, but a few of them include becoming the best junior in my country, winning my frist ITF World Junior tournament in 1992, qualifying for the NCAA singles Championships in 1997, beating Michael Joyce which was my first win over a top 100 ATP player.

11. Davis Cup seems to be of higher importance overseas (Europe, S. America and Australia) than in the US. To what do you attribute this factor?

I am not entirely sure why that is, but it's possibly because there are so many more popular team sports in the U.S. It's is unfortunate that it is so, because Davis Cup competition creates a team sport experience out of an individual sport, which is very unique.

12. CAtennis.com has a magic wand that has the power to transform you into the commissioner of tennis (worldwide). What are some of the things that you would change in order for tennis to be a better experience for fans, players, coaches, tournament, parents, etc.?

I like that title, can I keep it? As far as the fans are concerned, I believe that it would benefit them to spend more time watching lower level tennis tournaments, such as college tennis, pro challengers and futures. There are some very good and exciting matches there and the atmosphere is much more interactive and lively. Also, that would allow them to appreciate the quality of those guys and of course the brilliance world's top players

The parents, coaches and players would all benefit if we all realized that it's just a game. In the last 20 years or so, since big money was introduced to the top players, the game has become too much of a business and a lot of the times it's taken too seriously. Young players should learn to practice in groups, socialize more and have fun, and that is why college tennis is very helpful.

13. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I ask myself that every morning. I hope to be in a position to educate young tennis players, other athletes and general public about the importance of a balanced life in order to be happy and successful. The majority of us in the western world have forgotten what's important in life and we are involved in a race for irrelevant and a lot of the times unobtainable things and we tend to neglect our health and well being. This is also very important for young tennis players to know in order to have a good foundation for a successful career.

14. What is one thing that you wish that more Americans should know about Serbia?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I wish that more Americans would visit Serbia to get to know the great hospitality and the fun people. Oh yeah and great Serbian food.

15. Given your countrymen's current success, have you seen an explosion in tennis interest over the last couple of years in Serbia?

Yes, it's very apparent. When I was a kid you would see everyone walking around with a soccer ball or a basketball in their hand. Nowadays most kids have a Djokovic t-shirt on and walking around with a tennis racket. We had only two tennis clubs in my hometown when I started playing, now there are numerous clubs all over the place. [Editor's Note: WATCH OUT!!!!]

Boris, we thank you for you time and wonderful insights and wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors


The Fate of the Child is in the Hands of his/her Parents

“Every child grows; everything depends on the teacher” - Shin'ichi Suzuki

We would like to start off this beautiful New Year's day with a discussion about early childhood education from the point of view of someone who has been indispensable in developing thousands of musicians worldwide. His name is Shin'ichi Suzuki and he is best known for developing the Suzuki Method or what he referred to as "Talent Education." Briefly, the Suzuki Method is based on the principle that all children possess ability and that this ability can be developed and enhanced through a nurturing environment. Although Mr. Suzuki was speaking from the point of view of a music teacher, we believe that a number of the concepts are equally applicable to sports. If you have time, there are a number of books that we encourage you to read including: Studying Suzuki Piano -- More Than Music: A Handbook for Teachers, Parents, and Students; Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education; and Ability Development from Age Zero.

1. Talent is not inborn. Inborn greatness or mediocrity does not exist. No person is born uninteresting. Mediocrity is trained. Every child grows in the same way as he is brought up. Early education (between birth and kindergarten) is very important in the child's development. This is the "seed" stage, where the plant needs to get the highest quality attention. TENNIS: How many times have made excuses for their children that they are simply not as talented as their peers?

2. Emphasis on talent (or lack thereof) is misguided. "Inborn talent" seems to be used too quickly, too easily, to often. People we regard as talented have been nurtured in that way to the age of five or six. Why is that all Japanese children speak Japanese? By all account, Japanese is  a difficult language to learn and master for a Westerner yet all Japanese children speak it. Why is that? Is it perhaps that they have been immersed in the language from an early age? TENNIS: Everyone has a talent that can be applied to tennis. Just like a child can learn to speak Japanese if he is immersed in the culture, so can the same child learn to play tennis and master the sport.

3. Ability breeds ability. Development doesn't just mean learning but also building the ability to learn. Concepts shouldn't be learned only in bits and pieces but must be developed comprehensively. If you rely on talent to bring out the best qualities of the child you are really admitting that you possess poor nurturing methods. Saying that "my child has no talent" is the same as saying "I did not educate my child properly". TENNIS: instruction should not just be focused on learning the basics but also on nurturing the child's ability to learn the game further. 

4. Immerse the child in beautiful works from birth. In terms of music, let him listen to records of famous and enjoyable pieces. The child will be physiologically conditioned to absorb the information. Have him learn the activity from teachers who are passionate about the subject and who are interested in developing beautiful human being through the subject. TENNIS: how many times is your young child watching tennis matches played by inspiring competitors? How many times do you take him out to a pro match or a college competition?

5. The goal is to build the child's personality and refine her abilities. Unless the seedlings are well cared for, beautiful flowers cannot be expected. Setting the child aside until it has reached elementary school age is like ignoring a plant for the first couple of seasons and expecting it to thrive and be fruitful thereafter. Failing to nurture the child's abilities from birth is like binding the child's right hand for 4 years and then expecting him to be right-handed. Success depends on a number of factors and the only thing that the parents' goal should be on developing wonderful human beings. Whether the child "becomes something or someone" depends on him. Let him make his own way. TENNIS: tennis a tool for learning about life. The goal is to develop the human being through the sport and all the lessons that it has to offer. 

6. Ability cannot be developed without training. The more complex the task, the more training is required. In addition, the circumstances surrounding the training should be happy and be without much fuss. In this way, the child is relaxed and the endeavor is enjoyable. The child begins to absorb the information more quickly and looks forward to additional practices. TENNIS: this goes is fairly self-explanatory. The higher the level of play, the more tools are required in order to orchestrate the components. 

7. The child does what the parents do. If the child sees the parents learning to play a musical instrument then the child will WANT to learnt o play as well. This is different that the parent telling the child to learn something without doing it himself. Children will do what they dislike if they are being told to do it but they will become resentful and the activity will not develop into an ability. It's like holding a seed in your hand and ordering it to "SPROUT!" Also, the home environment should be analyzed to determine whether it is conducive to the child's development. Is it hectic, is it stressful, is it anti-social, angry or hateful? The child will absorb the actions of the parents and project it through his own activities. TENNIS: have you noticed how a lot of the more successful players have tennis-playing parents? They don't have to be good players but it helps for them to be passionate about the sport themselves. If the parents don't care enough about tennis to play or learn it themselves, the child is, most likely going to follow suit. 

8. Aim for more challenging things. Don't allow the child to do something that's easy just because she feels good about herself by accomplishing it. Just like in mathematical exercises, the child should be pushed - little by little - to grasp more complex components. Challenging the child with develop her ability and alleviate restlessness allowing her to concentrate on more difficult tax completely on her own and for a longer period of time. The child will become absorbed by the activity and the learning process will become fun. An unlimited amount of ability can be developed when the parents and child have a good relationship and when they are having fun together. TENNIS: don't let the player's progress become stagnant by repeating the same workouts. Challenge the player with new concepts and show him the many dimensions of the game. 

9. With difficult cases, children can be tricked into learning. This doesn't necessarily mean that the child is stupid, but that he learns in a completely different way. For example, a child that may have problem with basis math, can be taught the concepts through board games, cards or dice games. In this regard, it is important for the teachers and parents to see the world through the eyes of the child and not look at it from their own perspective. TENNIS: pros shouldn't teach all players in the same way and expect the same results. Players have different ways of learning so it's important for coaches - if they are interested in developing as opposed to merely collecting a paycheck - go beyond the routine and experiment with new teaching methods.

10. Treat the child as an equal human being. The human being is simply in the stages of development but use logic and calm voice as opposed to subjective orders. A child who is browbeaten will grow up to be rebellious and disrespectful in their own way. Spend some time understanding the child and the world form his point of view. There are no two people exactly alike and just because the older child is one way, doesn't mean that the youngest child will respond in exactly the same way to development methods. Environmental factors and all kinds of learning situations play a role in the child's development. TENNIS: how many times have you told a player "hit like this because I told you so" (or something along those lines)? It's important for coaches to explain the rationale behind the training in a way that the player can understand. Otherwise, the players will feel like they are not important and will become resentful. 

11. Start early. Talent education begins at birth and it is an ongoing process thereafter. The earlier the process is started the easier the child will learn and the greater skill she will acquire. Unfortunately, parents often do not have a plan for what the child will do in her life and allow her to be battered by the storms for a few years until she finds out what she really likes. Many children will develop bad attitudes because the parents are no actively engaged in nurturing the child's good attitudes. Often times there is a rift between the parents with respect to how the child will be reared. TENNIS: although it's easier for a child to listen to music as a baby than to watch a tennis match, if the goal is for the child to become a tennis player then simple methods (e.g. hanging a tennis ball over a crib) can be incorporated in order to start developing the tennis-player brain. 

12. Truth, goodness, beauty and love. These are universal concepts that all human beings (and some animals) desire. The primary responsibility for educating the children in these concepts is at home. Social functions and other obligations should not trump the responsibility of child rearing. Don't expect others to do the work for you. Own up to this obligation and immerse yourself in the process. TENNIS: these are the qualities that all tennis players should strive to develop. Results are secondary. 

Best 2nd Serve Returners of All-Time

Most coaches will make you feel inferior if you don't step into your returns, as if you don't understand the essence of hitting a great second serve return.  Maybe you are always feeling awkward being in "no-mans land" after making contact with a big kicker well inside the baseline, leaving you vulnerable on your next shot.  Or maybe you are making too many errors trying to play aggressive tennis.  Maybe you aren't wired to take risks, so you are fighting internally with yourself.   

There is nothing wrong with "cutting off the angle" or "taking the ball earlier."  All great advice.  By all means, if you can do it, I highly recommend stepping into the return.  However, judging from the stats taken straight off the ATP website, I notice a different breed of players.  Atleast half of these players are risk-averse players who like to hang back well behind the baseline and give the forehand a heavy ride (granted these stats could be inflated from claycourt play).  With servers generating massive kick and height after the bounce, taking the ball early isn't as easy as it sounds.  For starters, you need to be well inside the court, potentially leaving you in a weird part of the court if you don't do enough with the return.  Secondly, you might give away too many free points doing something that isn't comfortable for you under pressure. 

Judge for yourself, but the proof is in the pudding.  One can never underestimate the value of putting one more ball into the court.  See what works better for you.  It might not be pretty or efficient, but atleast you increased your odds of winning!  That's the only thing that matters at the end of the day, stop being so dogmatic and perfect!  Most coaches can't hit a heavy kicker inside the court, it's not that easy!  Take some pressure of yourself and let the shot develop and give the ball a ride.  One possibility is using a hybrid of staying back and picking opportune times to step in.  Plant the seed inside the servers mind for those moments deep in the set or match at 4-4 deuce or 5-5 30-all.  Those are the little chinks in the armor that change matches and tip a rookie player over the cliff.