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Entries in Parenting (48)


Do You Hear The Words That Are Coming Out Of My Mouth?!

"But that's NOT what I said!!!" Have you ever had a discussion with your coach or your child's coach that has ended or included a statement along the lines of the above? Chances are that, if you've been around this game long enough, you have been exposed to these sentiments on more than one occasion. You see, communication is often an imperfect endeavor. What I think, is not necessarily what I put into words; what I put into words is not always what you hear; what you hear is not always what your brain translates. Therefore, it is imperative for both player and coach to choose their words wisely and use some critical thinking skills (along with patience) in order to synthesize and grasp the message. 

Here are some examples of actual discussions that we have had with players (high level) over the past week:

1. Does "play aggressive" mean that you have to "attack"? Does it mean to "hit winners"? 

2. Does "lift" mean the same thing as "top-spin"?

3. Does "open up the court with a cross-court" mean "play cross-court"?

4. Is "coming in" limited to "serve and volleying", "chip and charging" or through a "powerful ground-stroke"? Can one come in off a heavy topspin lob? A drop-shot?

5. Does "make adjustments" mean "change your game"? 

6. Does "patience" mean "push"?

7. Does "touch" mean "drop shots"?

8. Does "play your game" mean that you shouldn't take all factors into consideration and fine-tune it given the opponent's particular game-style?

9. Does "pound the returns down the middle" mean that you can't take some chances when the opportunity arises?

10. Does "never hit a drop shot from behind the baseline" mean that it's "always a bad play"?

The reality is that a lot of players are looking for firm rules in order to simplify their on-court existence. But tennis is an imperfect science. You not only have to deal with your personal issues but also the actors thrown your way by the conditions and your opponent. The "always" and "nevers" come with numerous exceptions. Accordingly, it is imperative for coaches to select the appropriate words and for the players to take some time in order to analyze the message before jumping to conclusions which could result in friction, distrust and, too many times, a parting of the relationship. 


How Many Transfers From a College Program?

When your son or daughter starts to consider college tennis and the different coaches/programs available, one of the telltale factors about a coach is the amount of transfers in the past 5-10 years. Before making an emotional decision, be sure to do your research on seeking how the roster has changed year to year. It is very easy to get caught up in an emotional decision based on a number of factors relating to the time of year you visited, the charming girls on the team, the best foot forward by a coach, the facilities, the location- so many factors can influence and cloud your judgement.

Most programs will have a transfer from time to time. This is normal because naturally random events happen where mutually both the coach and player are unhappy with the status quo. Your best bet is to analyze how the rosters have changed year to year. How many freshman have transferred in the past 5 years, how many sophomores? Were they unhappy and why? Talk to players- current, former, transfers. Do your research.

It is very hard to discern who is genuine about your own goals and interests. Everyone has an agenda, coaches need to produce results to keep their jobs and impress their Athletic Directors. Coaches will always put their best foot forward and hide the baggage in the closet. Most parents are misinformed and do not know what are the right questions to ask.

Why is this important information to potentially seek out? Simply it shares information about the integrity of the coach. From the coaches perspective, it is an imperfect science (frankly a lot of luck) in picking the right kids to fill the scholarships. Coaches will make big errors that they will need to live with for 4 years. For the most part, college coaches are people of extremely high character and will do their best by the kid. What you want to be careful with is a program that has high turnover and why is that?

Once a child reaches college, the balance of power has shifted strongly towards the coach. The coach has an enormous amount of power over the kid. If a coach wanted to, it would not take much to make a child feel unhappy about their current situation if things weren't working out. Now one could argue, "but yes, the coach needs to win, push the kid, and weed out the weak." Sure that is one way to look at it and it is an easy way to cover up poor recruiting choices and upgrade your squad.

The appropriate way to look at it is to understand the coach holds all the power. Is this the type of coach who will do his or her best by your child- through good and bad? The coach has a duty to coach (definition of a coach is to move forward) and to help the child turn into an adult. Is winning at all costs the most important thing? 99 percent of these NCAA players will be professional in something other than tennis- do you really want someone who is going to give up everytime he or she doesn't agree with? A coach of great integrity is one who is true to his word, character, and integrity- preparing this person not only for tennis, but the long road ahead in the real world. Think about it and please do your research. You will quickly start to sort through the fluff and see the light.


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.




Biomechanics and Stroke Mechanics

The tennis development process is an interesting animal. Just as there are countless players one can easily find numerous coaches - all with their individual outlook regarding the game. Some coaches are great at fundamentals; others are awesome at the mental aspect; some may be better at strategy and tactics; then there are those who are wonderful at stroke development; a great deal of coaches possess (or like to think of themselves as possessing) a mix of all these attributes.

It is coaches in the latter group - the ones who specialize in technique - who are the focus of this article. I like to call these coaches "stroke mechanics." Some are wonderful of cleaning up even the biggest biomechanical faults in the players' games. They really have an eye for figuring out how the player can hit the "proper" shot and, a small percentage, can skillfully instruct the player to model their game after a variety of top players (suiting their pupil's body type, interests, mental attitude, etc.). Obviously, these types of coaches should be highly-regarder and well-respected for their keen vision, their fearlessness in taking charge of their students' technical side, and ability to mold the player to hit cosmetically-appealing strokes. However, is there a danger in sticking with these coaches for "too long"? We believe that a danger is very much present. You see, as the player develops and his/her physical characteristics change, the strokes will be affected. If you don't believe me, try touching your nose on your kneecaps or sticking your feet in your mouth. These are things that were routine as a baby but, as your muscles and ligaments grew stronger and, you became a whole lot less limber. So things that were routine as a child are a practical impossibility as an adult. 

The same concept applies when it comes to tennis and strokes. The strokes that you have as a child (or are expected to have) will shift, adjust and modify as you get bigger, faster stronger. Many coaches, however, find themselves (intentionally or inadvertently) on a mythical quest to find the picture perfect strokes for their students; strokes that will remain unchange from age 8 to 18 and later. Although well intentioned, coaches who limit their expertise - and how the game is won and lost - to technique are doing their charges a great disservice. Yes, players should always seek to perfect their strokes. But as we said in the past, tennis is more than just about groundstrokes. The entire game - mental, physical, emotional, tactical - must be developed alongside the strokes. By obsessing over strokes, the players fail to develop these other areas along with their peers. They may end up having the cleanest, most picture-perfect strokes but might not know how and when to use them. Strokes themselves are only the tools of the game; players must understand - just like mechanics - how to use them in order to obtain a desired result. If collecting tools is all you do, you will end up being the tennis-equivalent of a suburban garage mechanic. You'll have the nicest set of tools but you will not know how to use them. The issue being that one could always improve even the best and cleanest shots... even Federer's forehand can be more penetrating, be better placed, or more effective. Therefore, the best developmental coach would be the one who not only shows you the proper technique but also develops it in context thereby allowing you to grow the game. In other words, if the components of the game can be broken down into bars (each indicating a different field: strokes, footwork, strategy, mental, emotional management, physical, motivation, etc.) on a music volume analyzer display (above), the best coach would try to raise all the bars (sometimes at the same time; other times separately) and not leave certain portions of the game unattended. This will ensure that the player grows with and into the game and, as a result, will be in a better position to launch an attack towards the top of the rankings when it matters. 


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