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CAtennis is a passionate discussion for serious tennis players, parents and coaches looking for something different. No talk about technique, no talk about useless theory, no gimmicks; just practical advice from first-hand experience on how to improve your tennis. Kick back, drink the content, bounce ideas, and pitch articles (or friend us on Facebook).

Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!


Entries in Planning (24)


How Much Should You Practice: The 10,000 Hours Rule

"10,000,000 balls!" That was the answers that my dad gave me when I first asked him how much I needed to hit before I became as good as Ivan Lendl. During the Cold War, we didn't have access to too much tennis on TV (the tennis that we did see was often smuggled into the country on Betamax tapes) but whenever we did get a chance to watch some high-level tennis, Ivan Lendl was one of the favorites (his Slovak counter-part, Miloslav Mecir, was a close second). As much as he was disliked in the West, Lendl was adored in the East. Where Americans seem(ed) to idolize McEnroe-talent and Connors-brashness, the Eastern bloc was all about work-ethic and pure, mechanical determination - characteristics that were embodied by Lendl. From an early age, it was hammered into us, that single-minded determination and hard work are the keys to success...in whatever field you happen to specialize.

It was nice then to see the afore-mentioned rule of thumb being validated in modern press. In books such as Outliers: The Story of Success, Talent is Overrated, Bounce, This is Your Brain on Music and The Talent Code, the writers seem to indepentely arrive at the same conclusion: that if you want to master a particular endeavor - be it sports, music, computer programming or even a profession such as law or medicine - you need to dedicate TEN THOUSAND HOURS (quality hours, that is) to the activity. As stated in This is Your Brain on Music (by Daniel Levitin):

"...ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years."

Where natural ability may be a factor at an earlier age - allowing the player to grasp certain concepts with less effort - it, more or less, becomes insignificant (or wholly irrelevant) down the road. In many ways, superior natural talent may be an obstacle because, if something's too easy, the player will lose focus or end up spending less time on court (thereby failing to improve stamina, muscle memory, strength and concentration). See, for example, page 66 of The Dynamic Path (Citrin, James M.) ("[a]t the extreme it [talent] can become a hindrance"). Of course, there are some talented individuals who are also DRIVEN to succeed and PASSIONATE about the activity. They are the lucky ones. Such players are able to pick up things relatively quickly and also have the ability to pour blood, sweat and tears into their practices and matches. But that doesn't mean that you cannot make it if you're not "talented". As long as you're PASSIONATE about the sport and willing to put in the hours, you have an even chance.

With the foregoing in mind, if you hit 1000 balls per hour and you play tennis for 10,000 hours, you will have hit 10,000,000 balls. Obviously, as an 8, 9 or 10 year old, you might not have the ability to his 1000 balls an hour. However, as you get older - be it 14, 15, or 16 - you should be in a better position to make up the balls (and hours). Sometimes, you can go out there and crank 1500-2000 balls in an hour on the ball machine. Other times, you will be able to hit 4-5000 volleys against the backboard or 1000 serves in an hour. The key is to have intense practices where you are focusing on specific objectives and endeavor to repeat the work until "you get it".

Before you think that a young tennis player is incapable of this type of work, please read up on Budhia Singh. As a 4 year old boy, Budhia Singh was picked up from poverty by a judo coach who trained him to run marathon races. By 5 years old, Budhia had run 48 complete marathons!!! Think about that feat for a second: 48 marathons at 5 years of age. He has also run a 60 kilometers course (37 miles) in around 6 hours. Did I mention that the temperatures ranged around 93 degrees Fahrenheit during these runs?! Needless to say, this type of behavior borders on child abuse - and his former coach has been accused of exactly that by the Indian state government and child protection services - but it goes to show WHAT the human body can accomplish - even at an early age - as long as there's determination and motivation. All of a sudden, hitting 1-2000 balls an hour seems like a cake walk, doesn't it?! You think that hitting a couple side-to-sides or 200 serves per day is tough?! Well drop the racket and pick up a newspaper 'cause you ain't gonna make it in this sport.

Unfortunately, there are a number of parents and players who believe that, since the family has spent X Dollars (or Euros) so far on development, Junior should be winning Wibledon titles any day now. From a coach's point of view, such mindset is comical at best, frustrating at worst. As a family unit, you're either (a) all in, (b) all out, or (c) pursuing tennis as a diversion only (i.e., playing tennis for pleasure - in which case you need to relax and have more realistic expectations). Time and again, the studies have shown that, unless the player has clocked numerous AND (here's the key) quality hours, she will not be in a position to master the game. And by mastering the game, we mean mastering not just the shots and movement, but also the strategy as well as the physical and mental aspect of the sport.

Notwithstanding the evidence, many continue to believe that they know of a better, quicker way; the "practice, practice, practice" concept seems to be lost on tennis players - particularly those from affluent backgrounds. Certain people seem to think that results will come with money spent rather than time spent on court (i.e. buying success v. earning it). There are even some instances where people believe that spending $800/hour to take ONE lesson from some name-brand coach is a good investment. Well, as the saying goes, "it's immoral to let a sucker keep his money" (and some coaches have certainly adopted this mindest). If lessons are what you're after, the simple fact is that, in the above example, the money could be better spent on taking 16 lessons with a coach who's just as good (or better). It's all about consistent repetition; forget the short-cuts. Your personal savior him/her/itself will not be able to give you the keys to tennis in a one hour lesson.

What's even more peculiar is that some parents (particularly in the United States) seem to think that one can combine tennis with other sports and somehow become phenomenal at everything. Although some exceptions exist, you have to objectively analyze your child and determine whether he's the exception or the rule. If it takes 10,000 hours to master just one thing (e.g. tennis), how is he going to get those 3 hours a day (see quote, above) when mixing it up with perfoming arts (dance, drama), soccer, martial arts, music, videogames, playdates and academics? Does your day (and, by extension, your child's) contain more hours than everyone else's?! And let's assume that you and the athlete are super-organized (you have a colorful day-planner and everything), is the player capable of shifting focus from activity to activity throughout the day?! Remember, it's not just the number of hours but also the quality of hours. Well, if s/he fails to achieve mastery of any one subject, you will have your reason in no time.

So be it tennis, school or martial arts, the key to success and mastery seems to be focused practice for 10,000 hours (10 Million balls). If the goal is to simply be a well-rounded person, than this concept might not be for you. However, if the goal is to stand out at tennis, then this is the road that you should consider following. Another way of looking at it is to "PLAY YOUR AGE PER WEEK". That is, if you're 7 years old, play 7 hours per week; if you're 8 years old, play 8 hours per week; if you're 15 years old, play 15 hours per week; and so on. Following this model, if you start at 7, you will be racking at least 9,828 hours before you reach your 21 birthday. Obviously, if you start late (or tennis becomes a focused objective only later in life) you have some catching up to do. No magic...no snake oil...no gadgets, training software, high-priced academies, lessons with name-brand coaches, or exclusive offers on DVDs. Just hard, lengthy work.


Dream Big

The following contribution comes from Richard Johnson. I first met Richard when he would come out to the desert in order to visit his brother David. Richard's always had a huge game that was supported by a solid foundation and a top-notch attitude. Playing points against him is never easy. He will make you work hard for every point and, with a relentless attacking game, you need to come up with a lot of good returns and passing shots just to get close. It goes to show the positive impact of developing solid fundamentals early and continuing to polish them through the development stages. Here's a quick bio (please check the upwards progression through the rankings): 

Quick Bio: #1127 ATP in 2008; Played #2-4 singles senior year and # 1 doubles as captain at Pepperdine; Member of 2006 Division 1 NCAA championship team; 12's: top 150 in nation, top 5 in Intermountain section, #1 in colorado; 14's: top 70 in nation, top 3 in intermountain, #1 in Colorado; 16's: top 30 in nation, # 1 in intermountain section and in colorado; 18's: top 10 in nation, # 1 in intermountain section (round of 16 of Kalamazoo supernational). 


Dream big and keep your goals in mind. After the novelty of tennis and travelling a little wears off, you need a dream and goals to do the amount of training and get through long and tedious practices. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a famous pro. I think that too many kids and parents are afraid to admit their true goals because they are afraid of being ridiculed for having unrealistic plans. Who cares if it is  unfashionable to want to be great at something?!

Becoming a great tennis player and being educated and successful at other things are not exclusive. The higher your goals are, the better tennis player you are likely to become. The better tennis player you become, the better your fallback options will be. If you try to go pro but can't quite make it, your consolation will be a full scholarship to your choice of top universities.

If you dream, have high goals, and are serious about those goals, the rest will follow. No one knows which 10-16 year old is going to “make it” until they are already winning ATP level matches. The two most successful players from my generation were John Isner and Sam Querrey. They were not the “chosen ones.” My point is that you need to keep working and have a long term vision that isn’t thrown off by every loss or frustration. You don't know when things will click, how your body will develop, and what opportunities will come your way. The players who end up being successful keep working for as long as they played tennis.

Your goals need to be front and center in your tennis. You need to decide on them and think about them often, because if you step on the court or go to a tournament without the motivation that comes with wanting to achieve these goals, it is too hard to practice right and it is a waste of time. If you keep working while being serious about your goals, you will train right and play right. If you are serious about your high goals and keep them in mind, there is no way you will tank matches, get pissed, or waste time on court because you will realize there is no time for that.

Think about the physical aspects of the game. You can't control their mind. You can't will the ball to do anything, and "trying harder" isn't specific enough. Try harder to do specific things like getting split for every ball, increasing your racket head speed,  and analyzing what is working. Focus on the things that you are told every day but take years to master. Once you do everything right, do it every point, relax and don’t let anyone tell you you aren't trying hard enough. 

Richard, we thank you for your contribution and great words of advice and wish you the best in all your future legal and tennis endeavors. 


Junior Tennis: National Points vs Who You Beat

Before Y2K, the junior landscape for gaining entry into Sectionals and Nationals was very different from what it is today. Currently, the USTA has implemented the point system which rewards players for reaching certain rounds in certain tournaments. The further you go, the more points you get.

Before the USTA implemented the point system, the junior ranking system consisted of your wins and losses. Players were required to fill out their "Player Record Forms" to submit to tournament directors, sectional offices, and the USTA for ranking and seeding purposes (you had to send it before the entry deadline through snail mail). It was all about who you beat and who you lost to. You were penalized for losing to poor players (you couldn't have a bad day all year) and you were also penalized for taking an injury default during a match (eliminated the mental shenanigans for weak players). The combination of your wins and losses determined your ranking.

Furthermore, in big sections like the South or Midwest, one had to qualify from parts of their state to make it to sectionals. For instance, Chicago might take 15 of the top players to go to Sectionals for a 128 draw. You had to qualify, no silly exemptions, everyone had to play. Whether you were Jack Sock or #533 in Chicago, you had to go through the avenue to get to Sectionals. Then to get to Nationals (Clays, Hards, Indoors), one had to be in the top 15 in the Section of the Midwest Section. The draw size was not 192, it was a smaller 128 draw with clear cut quota spots for each section.

The competition was viscious and everyone had to go through this pipeline. Nobody could duck competition, everyone had to face the music and display guts. The best tennis players were rewarded and it promoted a certain amount of toughness. The mentally weak were weeded out and the sneaky parents couldn't buy their way to the national tournaments (abuse of point system today). Kids were tougher and college coaches could rely on that stats the ranking system spit out. Today, college coaches have a harder time deciphering who is the real deal when the system is all about points, skipping levels, ducking tournaments, playing ITFs, playing Pro Circuit Events, and such.

Back in the day, only the top 10 players from SoCal would be able to attend Nationals. Think about how viscious the competition was? Think about how good it was for the kids to experience this type of pressure, year and year, multiple times per year? It allowed amazing players to develop and nobody was allowed to cut corners. People who were left behind had to fight that much harder, there was no other way to Kalamazoo!

Parents: Next time you whip out the credit card to travel 1000 miles to a tournament to get his/her ranking up, save your money. It's not money well spent. A better option is to play a local tournament at his/her level (don't play up) and make them prove time and time again, they can handle the pressure of winning. All college coaches will not be fooled by points, they will first check how they did against the top players and who they lost to. It all comes down to wins and losses.


Q&A: Stroking Felt With Robert Steckley

At CAtennis.com, our primary goal is to provide juniors with practical tips and suggestions to develop their tennis game. One such avenue will be to obtain advice and insight from current and former players who have managed to achieve great success in our sport. Our first Q&A is with Robert Steckley of Toronto, Canada. I first met Robert when he was a 16 year old hot shot who was starting to make his way up the ATP ranks. Rob breathed confidence in everything involving tennis. He was fast, hit the ball clean, hard and steady (and listened to music that was way too loud).

Quick Bio: Canadian Davis Cup member; Main Draw Rogers Cup competitor; Top 260 ATP; Buffalo Future Tour Winner; Australia Future 15k Tour Winner; Thailand Future Tour Winner; Texas Future 15k Tour Winner; Ecuador Satellite Tour Winner; NCAA National Champion Division II; Canadian Men’s Open National Champion; 3 Time Junior Canadian National Champion; Junior US Open and Australian Open Quarter Finalist. Coached: Frank Dancevic; Aleksandria Wozniak; Sania Mirza (through 2011); Lucie Safarova and Edina Gallovits (in 2012). Website: www.robsteckley.com

1. At what age did you start playing tennis?

I started late, picked up a raquet at 12 and literally started playing tourneys a half year into it.

2. When did you start taking tennis seriously?

I never truly enjoyed, until I realized that because I was so called "talented" it gave me extra attention from people thus giving me motivation to work a bit and within a year I made my first semi's and from that point on, that's when it sparked my interest. I gave all other sports up at 14 and committed myself to tennis solely.

3. How did your workouts change once you decided that you wanted to be a tennis player?

After I made the transition from an "all sport athlete" to strictly tennis, my coaches started to design tennis specific training regimens. Agility, lower body strength, core, and HUGE emphasis on court speed work and hand eye drills. I think the earlier you put the focus on those last two, the better the player will be able to adapt to explosive drills and tennis game later.

4. If you've had to guess, how many hours on the court do you think you've spent between picking up the racket and turning pro?

I'd have to say I've logged close to 20,000 hrs on court up to date. Let's multiply that by 500 balls min per hour. {Editor's note: that's at least 10,000 hours between time when he picked up racket and turned pro}

5. Who influenced you most as an athlete?

The biggest influence I had as an athlete would have to have been, Andre Agassi while growing up. He played a huge role in the player I became. I modeled my game brick for brick after him. My mother was the driving force behind me starting and really continuing, She had an obsession for me achieving goals and really burned that into me from a young age.

6. If you had the chance to go back in time and talk to yourself as a 15year old, what tennis-advice would you give yourself?

If I had a chance to go back in time, I'd definitely tell myself to believe more and just keep focused at the distractions that lie ahead.

7. What is your favorite drill/thing to practice?

My favourite drill as of right now would have to be side to side, to help burn off those d&^*ed extra calories from a lazy sun, but when I was playing, I LOVED down the line stuff, which helped me open up the court right away. That's something I stand by in my coaching now, that has helped all of my players on tour make huge leaps, fast. Not only to be able to hit it, but understanding when and why, and believing in it even when you miss a few.

8. What is the major difference between top college players (D-1) and the guys on the pro tour?

I'd say the top college players are very close in level to any of the top 50-100 player on tour. The major difference I find from seeing fresh college players coming onto tour, is the lack of experience in understanding how important it is to just KEEP THE BALL IN! When to go for certain shots, and being able to capitalize on those tiny opportunities they have created.

9. What made you choose Univerity of South Carolina as a school?

I chose USC because an ex coach of mine had played there. They had a top 5 team at the time, and the schooling was a bit more forgiving, rather when I came to visit with you in Cali. I would much rather go back in time and have chosen Pep[perdine]! {Editor's note: somehow I think that Rob may have been a tad bit too wild for Pepperdine}

10. Your highest singles ranking was 410 and you played Davis Cup for Canada. What were your top wins and what lessons would you take away from those matches?

I'd have to say my first Canadian national title U16 gave me the confidence to be undefeated for the rest of my canadian career nationally, which ultimately led to me to believing I was good enough to compete on tour. I think i might have beaten you in a game up to five once?! Highlight of my career for sure! {Editor's note: I think that it was more than one game and I recall sleeping on the floor for a few nights because of that}

Rob, we thank you for your time and insight and wish you best of luck in the upcoming season.

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