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Entries in Junior Tennis (46)


The Development Spectrum


When it comes to sports, it's important to have heros...idols. They make the game look so effortless and smooth and completely within reach of us mortals. Invariably, a junior (or even dedicated adult) will, with best intentions in mind, attempt to model his game after a particular pro. When going down this road, use your best efforts to remember the relevance of proper fundamentals.

Now, CAtennis.com seeks to avoid lengthy discussions about techniques or grips. We're not here to tell you that Federer's forehand is the best (probably is); that a semi-Western is superior to an Eastern grip; or that you have to start the shot like this and finish like that. These things are best left to your on-court pro who can explain to you the various aspects and how they fit your particular body/mental type. As a matter of fact, in previous postings we have taken the position that tennis is not just about the strokes. However, this is only to emphasize the fact that tennis involves more than just strokes. One must master several other dimensions in order to become a good player.

Nevertheless, when starting out with this game, it's indispensable to understand the proper fundamentals of the game in order to have a shot down the road. Having a solid foundation, as the term entails, allows you to build upon it and develop new dimensions to the game. Unfortunately, in a rush to be the best player in the world, many players seek to emulate a particular player without first mastering some basic concepts. Sometimes, they copy a player who has a certain peculiarity (e.g., finishing a forehand swing over his head as opposed to "through the ball" in the vicinity of the left shoulder) and wonder why the same shot doesn't pan out for them...why it doesn't fit their particular physical characteristic. Unsurprisingly, a failure to grasp the basic fundamentals is many times the answer. In terms of tennis development, think of a particular pro's game as a light spectrum. It doesn't matter who it is; it could be Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Williams sisters, or anybody else for that matter. In this regard, what you see today in their game is usually not how they started out

For example, in the picture above, these top players may have started in the "blue" end of the spectrum. As they developed (got bigger, faster, stronger; got more experienced; or bodies changed a particular way) they made small adjustments towards the "green" end of the spectrum. Sometimes, they have decided to de-emphasize a component (e.g. loading) and over-emphasize another (e.g. swinging). Through this process, however, they have have understood (like a surfer mastering the long board before moving down to a 6ft board) the elements of a proper shot but made a conscious decision to modify the particular components to suit their respective, individual needs.

Nonetheless, when copying a "top" player, too many times beginners start at the "green" end of the spectrum and then make even further adjustments from there. Because the basic biomechanical and physical components are a foreign language to them, some of these players end up completely "off the reservation" in terms of their strokes. I have seen players who were willing to swear on a stack of holy manuscripts that their game resembles Nadal's, Moya's or Roddick's. Often times, the "style" is only a perversion of the original motion. The outfit is there; the shoes are there; the racket and strings are there; but the only thing that matters - the strokes - aren't anywhere near. Once you find yourself with funky shots, the road back can be daunting. Think about it: when you're young you don't have a lot of power so you can slap the ball silly and it's probably not going to fly on you; crazy swings, wide open stances, imperfect footwork and the ball still goes in. However, as you get older, power is cheap to come by - control is actually a scarce commodity. And a great deal of the control components comes from sound fundamentals. 

Accordingly, when learning the game, spend some time getting a real good understanding of the basic shot elements. Know why the grip should be in a particular range, why the footwork should look a certain way, why the torso and shoulders should be integrated in a proper chain reaction, why the swing should look and feel like this or like that, etc. For example, if you're trying hit the ball forward learn to drive through the ball in the direction of your target. I know it's hard, but learn to rely on logic and common sense. Although it's great to have idols, until you're on the right track, try to refrain from copying too much of your idol's strokes. After grasping the basics, it's OK to make small adjustments in pursuit of your ideal model. If you do the opposite - trying to copy someone too soon - you risk implementing a component in your game (something that may stand out to the untrained eye) that serves only minimal, cosmetic purpose and which could be problematic in the later stages of your development. Ideally, you should learn solid fundamentals by the time you're 14 so that, going forward, you will make only small adjustments dealing with power, placement and control.


NCAA Rules Limit Winter College Practice


College tennis is a tricky deal for the motivated coach and the unmotivated player. In junior tennis, things were easy. Distractions were limited. Parents made sure kids made curfew, ate properly, did their homework, and planned their days for them. In college tennis, things are easy when you are in the playing season. You really don't have much time between class, fitness, tennis, eating, homework, and checking your Facebook. Distractions and a lack of motivation are really not factors because your coach and team will apply enough subtle pressure on you to simply not "let go of the rope."

However, every year college coaches struggle with the time period between mid-November to early January. The NCAA wisely limited practice time to 20 hours per week during the playing season (this includes your fitness, competition, and practice sessions). When the fall and dual-season are not in action, the NCAA limits every player and coach to 2 hours of tennis skill instruction per week and 6 hours of fitness from mid-November to Thanksgiving. Only 8 hours a week! Once December 1st rolls around, coaches, fitness trainers, and players are not allowed to allowed to work with each other. The players are free to do as they wish.

Now one might wonder why the NCAA would do such a thing. The reason is to protect the kids from coaches who abuse the system (# of hours on the court). Afterall, kids are in school to pursue an education and they need to be given time to study. I'm sure in many cases, coaches in the past forced boys and girls to practice without any regard for their academics (I have no proof, but I'm sure it happened).

Now that you know the history behind these rules, the time between December 1st and January 7th is a tricky time for every college coach and player. The coach is stressed out because all the gains made during the fall could potentially be wiped out without consistent upkeep to the players game. The players are stressed out about finals and might be a little burnt out from the fall season. Let's brainstorm: What are some good ways to keep the players motivated during this time period? Tournaments are not easy to come by during this time.

In the picture above, here are some potential scenarios to how many hours you would need to practice everyday for 6 days a week for 5 weeks to accumulate close to 100 hours. Most people would be surprised how many players fail to surpass 100 hours. Parents long to see their children, spoil them with turkey and sweets, and taking vacations to warm locations. Kids want to catch up with old friends from high school. There are many forces and distractions at work which can distort your tennis priorities (did I mention New Years Partying!?!). Parents sometimes do not drive the kids as hard as they used to (maybe because of perspective or maybe because they are satisfied). Parents might see the end of the road is near, so what's the point.



Tennis Hold'Em

If the Ace of Spades is the only card you need, this article may be for you:

1. Bankroll: How much money should I invest? In tennis: If you are in it for pleasure, or just looking to have fun, don't invest any more than is fun to lose. If you're planning on making a career out of it, a more powerful bankroll may be more suitable. 

2. Blinds: Forced bets. In tennis: These are the costs associated with tennis including: lessons; entry fees; equipment; travel; etc. Parents are often blind [chuckle-chuckle] as to these hidden costs which may add up over the course of development. 

3. Draw: hoping to improve your hand with the cards that will come on the board. In tennis: hoping to improve your ranking with an easy draw. 

4. Limit Poker: a game with fixed-size bets. In tennis: amateurism restrictions (can't take more than expenses). 

6. Outs: Cards that can improve your hand. In tennis: an error by the opponent that can improve your chances of winning. 

7. Pot Odds: The odds you are getting when you are drawing. In tennis: the odds of "making it" when you're first starting out (bad news: you are closer to ZERO). 

8. Beginner Mistakes:

A. Playing too many hands. In tennis: playing too many tournaments; being involved in too many activities. 

B. Playing above your bankroll. In tennis: spending above and beyond the level of comfort so as to cause internal stress and undesired pressures. Understand your level of comfort from the get-go and know when you've reached it and what you'll be willing to do going forward. 

C. Becoming too emotional at the table. In tennis: Bad matches will happen. Losing is part of the game. Annoying opponents will have to be faced. Do not let your emotions sway your judgment. 

D. Imitating other players. In tennis: trying to follow the pack in terms of chasing points, playing specific tournaments, joining this clinic or that, cherry-picking coaches or picking up negative attitudes ("just because so-and-so is doing it")

E. Overvaluing suited hands. In tennis: overqualifying yourself and underqualifying your opponents. Expect your opponent to improve every day. Work hard even if you're the best (or think you're the best). Even if you have the best hand (strokes) don't discount physical and mental toughness of the opponent which may TRUMP your hand. 

F. Failing to keep your ego in check. In tennis: don't be naive and think you can be a guaranteed winner. Know when to walk away from a losing hand or a sport that's going nowhere. This is particularly important for parents. If you want it more for your kids than they do, then it's better to FOLD before you BUST. Don't stay in the game just because you've already spent $X, have a closet full of tennis clothes, a garage full of rackets and are hoping for a miracle. Identify losing hands (i.e., kids who simply don't want to pursue tennis and are not passionate about it) and walk away. Focus your energies elsewhere; it's really OK to not be a tennis player. 

G. Banking on luck. In the long run, luck evens out; only skill remains as a deciding factor. "Edge" is the slight advantage one player has over another through more skill, larger stack or better position. In tennis: banking on short-cuts will be a loser; hard work is the only short-cut; try to improve your skill every day through focused practices. Don't bank on one good win and ignore your 100 bad losses. You're only as good as your worst loss

H. Publicizing tells (mannerisms that reveal the true strength of a player's hand). In tennis: allowing emotions to send signals to your opponent regarding your level of comfort. 

I. Losing focus. In tennis: allowing points to slip away for no reason; failing to work hard every day. As the expression goes: "if I don't practice one day, I know it; if I don't practice two days, the orchestra knows it; if I don't practice three days, the whole world knows it.

J. Becoming fixated on the charts. In tennis: focusing on rankings and draws

9. Skills:

A. Discipline (if you want to be good, you have to approach it like a job...a fun job but a job nonetheless) 

B. Mental Toughness (both endeavors are about winning and bouncing back from losses)

C. Understanding Risk v. Rewards (understand what it takes to get somewhere, what you get when you get there and lost opportunity costs)

D. Ability to Think For yourself (don't follow the herd)

E. Ability to Grind (Doyle Brunson:Limit [Texas] Hold 'em is like a job – the more hours you work, the more money you’ll make”)

F. Patience (looking at the long-term aspects of the game)

G. Observation (watching other players, learning and reading their strategies, likes/dislikes)

H. Knowing when to play and when to quit (see 8F, above)

I. Adaptability (knowing when to be aggressive and when to be defensive)

J. Ability to avoid being predicatable

K. Bluffing (sending out signals of confidence in order to make the other player nervous). As Buddha said: "your greatest weapon is in your opponent's mind."

10. Objectives:

A. Maximize Winning and Minimize Losses

B. Having Fun


Insights: Nitty Gritty With Matt Holt


Matt Holt was kind enough to share his nitty gritty insights on the Da Vinci Code of American Tennis.  Matt Holt was formerly a top US junior, earned a scholarship to Pepperdine and Arizona, and currently shares his teachings with his students in the San Francisco area.  Very thought provoking and entertaining at the very least.  

I believe today's coaches as a general rule are extremely skilled in developing players and are very passionate. Having grown up in the 70's and 80's playing, practice sessions were amazing but coaching was relatively mediocre. I had some really wonderful coaching, but I think technology and information sharing has lead to many instructors and coaches having access to effective and accurate info. 

That being said, practices today are mediocre at best. I feel coaches are incredibly limited due to parents that can micro-manage, children that are totally overscheduled, and practice regimens that in no way represent tournament scenarios. I have parents ask me all the time what path I recommend for their child's development based on their skill level, desire, and academic/life goals. I always evaluate and give them my opinion, but in my mind I am in a state of shock. 

Growing up in the 70's/80's when tennis was at a peak (like it is hopefully growing at the moment), the path to success hit you smack in the face. There were no clinics and large group lessons. If you were lucky, you had a private lesson each week, and then you got out on the courts and played your ass off against the best players you could every week! You played kids and adults alike, and you had exposure to every style of play. The pecking order was across all players... men, women, boys, girls. You had to beat player x before player y would play you. It was incredibly competitive, but at the same time there was a ton of comraderie. We always cheered for all of the players from our club, kind of like an unofficial team. The competition built respect for one another. It was never hard to prepare for a tournament because you were playing several matches per week. Mental toughness was far more developed than is seen currently among American players. 

As a coach who obviously relies on some degree of group lessons in order to drive profitability for a department, I have always advocated for juniors to go out and play as much as possible and not attend all clinics. Save a buck and call your friends to set up matches. It is incredible to see how many of these players go take a lesson from another coach or come back to a clinic rather than going out to practice and compete against anyone. The culture is really lacking when it comes to that. I wish I could identify the root cause for this, but I know it's not the players' fault. Maybe it's that there is so much overall focus with school and sports that the clinics provide a much needed social forum. I think this is partially true, but there has to be some grit out there that can only be attained through rigorous competition. 

Sitting on boards and committees, I have heard all of the arguments for lack of American champions in recent years. While I can't deny that, I can say that almost all of the traditional countries who have dominated the sport face the same fate. It is too much hard work relative to other things to excel at the sport. In countries where standards of living are slightly lower to definitely lower, the work to aspire in any profession is significant. Hence, the drive to succeed is on par with that of many career choices. 

It will take some unique individuals to put American tennis back in the limelight. There is some really nice talent out there at the moment, and I think there will be a much deeper pool over the next 6-8 years. In any case, we are a global society and there is some awesome tennis being played out there at the moment! I haven't seen a 4-pack of men hanging in the top since Borg, Mac, Connors, Vilas. I hope we get another 2 years out of this foursome. On the ladies' side, I have been excited at all of the new faces and I feel the level of play has improved drastically over the past 18 months. WTA needs a more targeted marketing campaign. They need a top rivalry, but the product is much better than they are getting credit for.


$126,365: Cost of Junior Development?

Duke: $55,690 x 4 years = $222,760UCLA: $51,563 x 4 years = $206,252
Florida: $42,066 x 4 years = $168,264
Michigan: $50,352 x 4 years = $201,408
Texas: $46,098 x 4 years = $184,392
North Carolina: $41,140 x 4 years = $164,560
Princeton: $52,670 x 4 years = $210,680
Washington: $46,466 x 4 years = $185,864

Here are the current costs for out-of-state tuition, room, board, and fees (worst case scenario) to big time tennis programs around the country. Remember, in men's tennis there are only 4.5 scholarships to spread around towards the entire team. A very small percentage of men (even the top 10 ranked juniors nationally) are landing full scholarships in their freshman year if they are going to big time tennis programs. With six guys in the lineup, there has to be enough money to go around to keep everyone happy. In women, there are 8 scholarships, so all the women (including the women not competing) will get a full ride. Thanks to Title IX.

If you look at the University of Michigan at $201,408 for a 4-year projected scholarship, the costs are middle of the road when compared to the other public and private universities across the land. Let's do some fun math and suppose you have an 18 year old son who is currently ranked #55 on TR.net. He wants to play for a top 20 program such as Michigan, but is clearly not good enough to land a full-ride (plus he is out-of-state). The worst case scenario (offered no scholarship) using rough Present Value math calculations says his parents will have needed to save atleast $126,365 in their bank account by the time he was 10 years old (accounting for 8 years of investing with a 6% return on investment).

Let's suppose you were ahead of the ball game as parents and already saved $130,000 by the time he was 10 years old. You planned before your son was born through savings and inheritance in anticipation of the hefty sum for his future college education. Sounds great, everything is going perfectly as planned.

Then your son at the age of 10 starts to become good at tennis. He starts to travel, get invitations to training camps, partial scholarships to tennis academies, accepted into National Events, and all his friends are moving along at the same pace. Emotion starts to factor in and as a parent, you can't help but want to believe in your child (he's got the love and talent, things will just work out). You tell your wife, money is sort of tight, lets dip into that college fund of $130,000 to offset some of the costs. $5,000 here and $3,000 there, no big deal. This consistently starts to happen as the pressure starts to build. You start to drink the Kool-Aid, "boy, your son really can be a top professional someday. Don't worry, he's going to get a big time scholarship, you wait and see."

Time unfolds and your $130,000 has dwindled down to $80,000 in savings for his college education.  He is 15 years old and really seems to be making good progress.  Sitting down as parents, you decide to make the investment (gamble more like) and send him to Evert's down in Boca Raton.  After a year of training and jetting around to tournaments, you spend a cool $40,000 in hopes that your calculated investment will pay off to land bigger scholarships down the road.  Kalamazoo Under 18's comes around and once again, he does just enough to impress some coaches, but nothing spectacular...he is ranked #55 on TR.net at 18 years of age.

This is a common scenario and a really unfair scenario. In other sports like Football and Basketball, the scholarships are easier to come by, but on the same note, they have more people participating in their respective sports. The only remedy is be realistic because you can't control the rankings (no matter how much money you spend).  The message is to simply watch out for the emotion that can overtake your logical decisions as parents. College is no joke, its very expensive. You must not put all your eggs in one basket or bet the farm because very few people get full rides to the top 20 tennis programs (plus it puts so much pressure on the child, hinders their development, and makes them feel more important than they really are). Now, if you are willing to sacrifice and play on a team outside the top 60 in Division I, then yes maybe some options will open up for a full ride. So be smart and manage your money. The purpose of this website is to show that there are other ways (smarter ways) to become good at the game while not breaking your bank account.

I would argue families are spending upwards of $126,365 per year and well above a quarter of a million in junior development as a conservative estimate.  When you start to pile on the lessons, traveling as a family, tournaments, equipment, bad information (mistakes), academies- its overwhelming how costs can escalate trying to keep up with the competition around you.  Money spent does not equal better tennis players.  

Anyone want to share their costs of raising a tennis player?  Let's not forget there are costs after college if your son or daughter wants to compete on the Futures, Challengers, and Professional Circuits and this when your child needs you the most! (if you want to chase that ultimate dream).