Point Chasers - May 2018Many parents of junior tennis players may be too smart for their own good or too smart for their child’s junior tennis development.  As I have spoken about in previous articles, radio shows, and social media posts, junior tennis development has no shortcuts.  Some juniors may develop quicker than others may, but they go through the process for many years to achieve what they are trying to achieve.

It takes proper management of both the parents and juniors, and communication is key for the well- being of the junior player.  Coaches need to help with the scheduling of tournaments because they are really the ones who know if the player is ready to compete or not.  Parents should not be guessing or worrying whether their child is technically, tactically, emotionally, or physically ready to be competing in a tournament.

Chasing points around the globe or around the United States does not really do much except take some money out of your bank account.  If you are traveling around the United States trying to find the weakest draws, you may do well in some areas where the higher-level players would not like to go.  However, when you finally start playing higher-level tournaments such as the super nationals, there is nowhere to hide.  Reality may very well bite you in the butt.  If you think you are going to fool the college coaches, think again.  Their job is to find the right fit for their team, the university, and they very well know the level of player that they are recruiting.

If you have a need as a parent to chase points around the globe or country, something is drastically wrong.  The results are going to come when the training and management of the particular player is properly done.  If you are worried about your child’s tournament results, I would not try to beat the system by chasing points.  I would be more concerned with how your child is going to improve.  With improvement come results.

Growing up in South Florida was quite a proving ground as to whether or not you could hang with some top competitors.  It was very frustrating to be losing to the same players year after year.  If that is happening, the reality is that they are better then you.  It may be a tough pill to swallow, but at that point they are better then you.  It does not mean that you may not become better than them, but they are better than you if you keep losing to them.  You need to improve your skills to be able to beat them.  There is no other way.  It took me years to beat some of the players that come to mind as I am writing this article.  When you do get the upper hand and start beating these players in tournaments is when you know you have earned it and improved enough of your skills to now come out on top.  Do yourself and your child a favor and do not scour the Internet trying to find the weakest place to pick up points because it will hurt their development and show your child that you do not believe in them enough for them to be playing the competition they should be playing against.  Shortsightedness does not go far in tennis.  It is the ones who are in it for the long haul, keep developing, and not cutting corners who are the ones that succeed in the end.

Google May Be Your Worst Enemy - May 2018What is one of the first things you do when you figure out your son or daughter’s starting time for their tournament on the weekend?  You type their opponents name into google and you get to see their tennis recruiting rating and results.  You may also look up their UTR rating.  Then you may speak to your child about these ratings and numbers.  This is where the stress begins.

Do not forget that your son or daughter knows who they are playing already, what their opponent’s rating is and how they have done recently.  Do you know what all this means?  You guessed it!  Nothing.  Speaking or looking up what the rating is of the opponent is not going to help your child focus on the important details that it is going to take to perform well in a particular tennis match.  We live in a time where we can find out anything with the touch of a couple of buttons on our smart phones.  There are advantages and disadvantages to all of this information.  There should be no discussion and there should be no thinking about what the potential consequences could be if you give up a certain amount of games or loses to this level of player.  Not only is this negative thinking, your child’s brain will be thinking of how not to screw up this match, which will in turn make them very nervous and unable to perform at their best level.  I am sure many parents and juniors reading this have done this exact type of preparation for tournament matches.  In fact, I know many juniors and their parents that go through this type of preparation before every tournament and wonder why their child is so uptight when they are competing.  This will just create additional stress on the child.

Regardless of all the technology around us, there is a certain way to prepare your child to perform at their best level in a tournament, win or lose.  There should be objectives that are trying to be achieved each time your son or daughter gets ready to compete at a tournament.  Every child is different, but below are some objectives that should be monitored at a tournament.

I do not care who they play, they need to understand how to follow a game plan.  When they find out whom they play, they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of that particular player.  They may need to call a friend who may know that player.  Find out how the player plays.  If they cannot find out any information on their opponent, the warmup during the match and the first two games should be used to figure out how they are going to play their opponent, and with the game plan in their head, how long could they execute this plan for?  Many junior tennis players cannot stick to a solid game plan for extended periods.  They have mental lapses of concentration during their matches.  Top players have very short mental lapses and others have lapses that can last for games.  It comes down to how disciplined your child is in not only their tennis, but also their lives.  I have noticed that this current generation of children have short attention spans and I think it is due to their surroundings.  Everything is done quickly without taking time to think it through.  The next thing to accomplish during a match is to have a great attitude with a fighting spirit.

That is it in a nutshell; have a game plan and follow it, concentrate with your game plan, and have a great positive attitude.  Win or lose, you know what is going to happen when your tournament is over?  You are going to come back to practice and hopefully work on the things that did not go well in your tournament.  It is that simple.  Do not clog your brain with stats that do not mean much.  Prepare your brain properly and you will have more fun and enjoy competition a lot more by keeping things simple and in perspective.

NY Tennis Magazine - Kevin AndersonMany people have their opinions of how someone became so good on the ATP Tour and then there are those who played and saw the progression of how someone became such a great tennis player.  I am not sure if I was fortunate or unfortunate to have played Kevin Anderson five times on the ATP Tour.  I was 0-5 against him and most of those matches I felt coming off the court that I played an excellent match, but unfortunately lost.  You see, the margins in tennis are so slim at the professional level that one ball missed at a bad time will cost you the set.

I played Kevin between 2006 and 2009 in Champaign Illinois, Winnetka Illinois, Cincinnati Ohio, Louisville Kentucky, and Granby, Canada.  Of the 12 sets that we played in those five matches, six of the sets went to either 7-6 or 7-5.  In the Cincinnati Masters match, I already lost to Kevin twice so I knew what was coming at me.  At under six feet tall, the shorter player usually has a disadvantage in tiebreakers due to serving, but I won the first set tiebreaker and then lost the second set 6-2.  I looked up at the scoreboard and realized that Kevin had served 92% first serves that set.  I thought good luck breaking his serve.  In the third set, I had break point and had a high forehand to put away, I ripped it for a winner and it just hit the top of the net and did not go in.  Kevin played a couple of good return points in the third set tiebreaker and I went home unhappy again for the third time.  Later that year, I played Kevin in Louisville, Kentucky on a lightning fast indoor court.  I thought that this time I should try slicing returns to try and somehow get the point started on his serve.  It was a good match.  Kevin went back to his hotel with a smile on his face.  I lost 7-5 in the third set.  I played Kevin one more time, in Canada this time I lost 7-6, 7-5.

It is difficult playing someone serving 140 mph coming from a 6’8” frame.  Watching 20 aces go by you in a match is tough.  The basis of this article is about how Kevin evolved into one of the best tennis players on the planet.  When I played Kevin, I felt like from the baseline I was dominating him groundstroke for groundstroke.  His amazing serve kept him in the matches that we played against one another and it should be that way considering his size.  His groundstrokes were solid, but he was defensive from the baseline which is not normal for a guy his size.  In amateur tennis, meaning junior and college tennis, you can win many matches playing good solid tennis.  However, at the highest level of tennis, you have to apply pressure, hurt people with your weapons, and force the opponent into making errors due to the quality of your groundstrokes.  I always thought that if Kevin could take the ball earlier, play a bit closer to the baseline, and develop a great transition game coming towards the net, he could be an amazing player.  This is what you saw at the 2017 U.S. Open.  I have been seeing it for some years now, but it really came together at the biggest professional tennis tournament in the world.

Kevin was and obviously still is very professional about how he goes about his daily work.  I saw this from when we were playing because he was very disciplined about his profession.  Kevin is a great person and kudos to him for making the necessary adjustments and finding the right people to take his game all the way to the top of professional tennis.


2 - Is Tennis Teaching Turning into Golf - Image

Written by Todd Widom

For some of you who follow me on social media, you know I have a passion for golf as well as tennis. I grew up playing golf with my father at six years old and have continued to play for fun.  When I retired from the ATP Tour in 2010, I was able to compete with many high-level golf amateurs in my community, which raised my level further.  Some of the amateurs played on professional golf tours, so for me to be able to compete with them; I had to improve my skills.  This was a chance to see how good I could become and have some fun in competitive games outside of tennis.  When I was a child, golf was used as a way to spend some time with my father and to take my mind off tennis.

The basis of this article is to go over what I see all the time from junior tennis players and tennis coaches from a teaching perspective. Has tennis turned into a highly technical sport like golf?  I can tell you from experience that when you are playing golf whether you are hitting long shots or short game shots, if you are off by fractions of an inch, you are not going to hit a clean shot and you may be spraying golf balls all over the place.  This is not the case in tennis.  Tennis is too fast to be thinking about whether this or that is in position properly to produce a solid hit tennis ball.  I am seeing all these complicated steps to hit a forehand, backhand, or serve and the other shots in tennis.  This merely produces more money for your child’s coach.  That is right!  Your child is going to go through all these highly technical tennis lessons, the camera may even come out and you can hit balls for the hour trying to perfect a little technique.  The next lesson will be the same and so on after that.

I have trained juniors that have been brought up this way by their former coach and I can tell you from experience that the kids look like a bunch of stiff technical robots. Every time they miss a ball they are not sure if it was the angle of their wrist, angle of their head, or even if their right foot pinky toe was pointed correctly.  Do you understand my point?  Then, when they play a poor match, they come back to their coach and this or that was wrong technically and they go through the whole process again with all these super complex steps to hit a ball.  This equated to more money for the coach.  What this produces is a dependence on the coach that is unhealthy, because every time they miss hit a ball or something goes wrong, they need a camera and a lesson to fix the issue and it becomes a never-ending cycle of highly complex tennis lessons.  This is exactly why I constantly see juniors that have hitchy and stiff strokes.  The strokes are not natural and there are way too many thoughts going on in the junior’s brain to be playing tennis when a ball is coming at you at a fast speed.

When I start working with a player that has all these highly technical thoughts, it takes time to retool their brain. You need to teach them how simple the tennis strokes are but what you also must do is make sure they are not dependent on you.  If your child cannot think and make corrections on their own, they are not going to have much success playing this great game.  It is only them who are going to be able to win and lose on their own.

My tennis upbringing was with highly physical tennis groups and lessons that taught you swings, grips and movement all at once. It was not a salesman type lesson that taught you one certain technique, and then the next lesson the same and so forth.  These coaches were killing many birds with one stone, but they also produced champions.  The sole goal was not to make a bunch of tennis lesson money, but it was to produce high-level players.  The money will come when you are producing great players at a rapid rate and not try to sell a bunch of gimmicks to some uneducated tennis parents.

1 - Has your Child Been Bucket or Hand Fed Too Many Balls - ImageWritten by Todd Widom

Do I use hand or bucket feeding for my junior players? Absolutely.  Is it the basis of the training I do with them?  Absolutely not.  I use it to work on specific things, but the true test to know if they become proficient in what we are working on is to work in a live ball situation in practice.  Afterwards we then work on point play situations in practice and then ultimately it comes out in a tournament match, which is the true test of whether they truly understand and trust what they have been working on.

There are many coaches that only do hand or bucket feeding and it is definitely not wrong. A developing junior player requires all different aspects of training.  Each child is different so a coach needs to make sure they know what to work on and how to fix the areas that need fixing.  Do you ever wonder why your child hits the ball so well during these lessons, yet it does not translate over to match wins in tournaments?  Bucket drilling and hand feeding are unrealistic in terms of if your child can win more matches in tournaments.  Some may use the logic that more lessons should equal more match wins, but this is not always the case.  The pace of ball coming at your child in these lessons are usually very slow, so they can have many technical deficiencies and look pretty good to you as the parent.  I can feed a ball with either my hand or my racquet and put it so perfectly in your child’s strike zone that they will look like a superstar, but why don’t they have the desired results in tournaments?

So here is what I am seeing and what should be taught. When you are hitting with someone else, every single ball being hit to you is different.  The spin, the height, the pace, the trajectory, etc.  I will put down a cone three feet by three feet from the sideline and baseline and tell two students to play the rally with the same intensity trying to hit the cone as they would in a match.  The result many times is they are spraying the ball all over the place, in the middle of the court, short on the service line, long over the baseline, or even in the alley.  How can this be?  You have probably spent significant dollars with tennis lessons and groups and your child cannot hit more than one or two balls close to the cone without missing.  What I am seeing is that the kids that have been hand fed too many balls without having enough live ball practice, and cannot adjust to what is required.  They have trouble anticipating and reading what is being hit to them.  Without that skill, your child is just a good lesson taker and you are a money donor.  You do not need this skill nor do you obtain this skill in a hand fed or bucket fed situation.  Your child will have trouble moving and using their body effectively to get in position.  Since they do not understand what is being hit to them, they have trouble adapting their swing.  If the ball is coming to them slowly, then they are used to that pace because of all the hand fed and bucket fed drills.  If the ball comes fast or deep, the junior does not have an understanding on how to adapt their swing to be able to hit a clean ball on their target.  They are usually late and their racquet preparation is late because they did not see the ball coming faster or deeper at them.  They are so used to taking the same swing that they are incapable to improvise to hit a quality shot.  Seeing the ball out of your opponents racquet is so very important because you need to be able to see if the ball is coming short, in the middle, or deep in the court, so now the movement is late also and the preparation of the racquet is late and the shot will be hit in the middle of the court.  At a high level of tennis, you are going to be in big trouble.

In my opinion, the developing juniors need all different types of training; however, I am seeing too many juniors practicing and being taught in too much of a controlled environment to make the lessons worthwhile. Tennis training at a high level needs to be as realistic as possible to a tournament match so that the junior can achieve their goals.  The only way for this to happen is for the training to be in a live ball situation and for there to be specific goals that must be attained.  Many times the goals are how many balls in a row can be hit on the cone for both players before one is hit away from the cone.  That is good for starters and then you build it up to more shots as the players become more advanced.  Best of luck and remember, make the training as realistic as possible if you want tournament results.

Has Your Child Outgrown Their Current Training Environment Photo - June 2017

Written by Todd Widom

A catastrophic mistake parents and junior tennis players make is that when they become the best player at their academy or current training arena, they feel like they have outgrown that environment. This is where the problems begin.  First, you should never change a winning formula and this goes for your strategy during a match or your current coaching situation.  It is great your child has become the best player where they train, and it may mean your coaches are doing a great job.

What I am seeing and hearing is that once a player reaches the level where they are the best at their current training environment, it is time to move on. This is incorrect thinking as the player is having good or even great results in tournaments.  All this particular player may need is just some tougher match play situations once or twice a week, but you should not change training environments.

The reasoning behind this is because it takes quite some time to connect with a new coach and have them understand how that student clicks with many different ways of communication. Every child is different and the cookie cutter mold does not work for every student.  How one learns may be completely different from how another learns.  I have learned that you may need to adapt the communication depending on each student.  I believe the job of the coach is to try to get the best out of each student, no matter what it takes.

I was very fortunate from a very young age to be trained at an extremely high level from two coaches who produced tennis champions. Because of this training, I achieved a good level of play through my early teenage years, but my game really took off when I was about 16.  At this point, I started to get my feet wet in professional tennis.  I was playing at a high national level, and I was, and had been the best player where I trained for years.  I never thought for a split second to change my tennis training environment.  I wanted to be a champion, and my coach had been producing champions for many years.  I kept having better results without training with anyone better than me.  I was determined to be a professional tennis player.

I was trained from day one to learn how to be disciplined with my tennis and how to have tunnel vision concentration. All practices were very productive no matter who was across the net.  I had a plan on what I was working on and it was work every single day.  You have a plan and you work towards it every day.  If you are not executing the plan well, you stay after normal practice hours and keep working on it until you are happy with what you have accomplished that day.  This is how you get better.

One of the boys I played against regularly was an excellent player. He was one of the top players in the country and played at a top Division I college in Florida.  One weekend we decided to play some practice matches against each other.  On Saturday, we played and I won 6-0 6-0.  Was the practice match beneficial?  Absolutely.  I worked on all the aspects I had been working on and I executed them well.  We came back on Sunday and I beat him again 6-0 6-0.  Once again, it was an extremely productive practice.  I was able to follow my plan, execute what I was working on, and do it in such a discipline manner.  I never made silly mistakes, which would be a lack of discipline and concentration.  To beat someone 6-0 6-0 takes a lot of concentration to not give away any free points.  This boy was an accomplished player and a top nationally ranked player, so it showed me I could sustain a high level of tennis for a long period.  It was a test of my brain and I passed the test twice that weekend.  It was up to me to make the practice productive and it was very productive because it gave me confidence to know I did not have any mental lapses.

Soon after this weekend, I won the boys 18’s Super National Clay Courts. I had many 6-0 sets in that tournament and only lost one set enroute to winning the tournament.  My brain was trained to sustain a certain level.  It is all about what your child wants to put into the practice and what they want to take out of the practice, not who is across the net

Does your Child Lack Confidence Photo - June 2017Written by Todd Widom

This article was prompted by numerous parents calling me over the years about their child lacking confidence.  Some of the questions I receive are around developing confidence and being nervous in tournaments. I explain that their child is nervous in tournaments because they are unsure of what the outcome will be and they are looking into the future when they have not even struck the first ball in the warm-up.  Let’s look at this at a deeper level.

How does a junior tennis player build confidence in themselves? The easy answer is that they go play a bunch of tournaments and hopefully they win more matches.  They will then be more confident in themselves.  No one does well on an important test in school without learning and studying the material.  Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.  Junior tennis players do not just get lucky to have better results.  Your homework is your training and your exam is the tournament.

Your child cannot hide when they are in tournaments and results never lie.  Building confidence is as easy as preparing so well that your child is sure they are ready to perform at a good level in tournaments.  When I speak to parents about confidence, one of my first questions is, does your child feel proud of what they are accomplishing on a daily basis at practice?  A junior tennis player knows and feels if they are improving, and the way to improve is to have a disciplined plan on how that particular player is going to reach higher levels of tennis.  Then you must work towards that plan on a daily basis.  A one-hour lesson is not what I am speaking about, but rather training and working on the plan for hours on a daily basis.  Your child must get off the court and feel proud of what they worked on in that session and if they do not feel proud after that session, then it was not productive.  No productivity means no progress.  From a coaching standpoint, you can tell when the student is working on the proper things and improving because they are usually happy because they are seeing the results, and feeling the results on the court.

Another question I am frequently asked is what does my child need to work on to become a more confident player? Each student is different and so are their techniques.  No two players are alike.  In my experience, some of the players I have trained have needed some form of cleaning up on the technical side, but almost all of the kids have little or no understanding of how to properly move and balance themselves on a tennis court, as well as how to construct a proper point strategically.  The players have taken a bunch of tennis lessons where the coach has fed or hand fed balls to them.  This is not wrong, but this is strictly technical tennis teaching, and is only one piece of what your child needs.  This is not teaching your child how to learn the game and how to apply their game to be able to win more matches.

I also receive phone calls from parents wondering why their child is struggling in tournaments when they are taking many tennis lessons.  The parents thought process is, if my child is taking a bunch of tennis lessons, then my child should be winning more, and as a result should be becoming more confident in themselves.  This is incorrect.  When your child is trained to understand what they are good at, and how to break down other opponents due to being smarter and more disciplined with their tennis, they will as a result win more matches and become more confident.

In closing, I am repeatedly seeing tennis players with the same deficiencies.  If you would like to have a more confident junior tennis player, that confidence will come with a greater understanding of the game as well as of their own game.  A lesson is great, but that is just one little piece of the puzzle.  Understanding how to compete, understanding your game, and understanding how you are going to break down the opponents game is how you will have better results.  Productivity, purpose, and understanding why you are working on a specific skill is how you are going to see results.  Keep in mind that you must work on these aspects all the time so they become ingrained habits.  When your child does not need to think about these aspects in tournaments, it means the habits are ingrained and they should be on their way to winning more, and as a result, becoming more confident.

Recap of The Boys 16s and 18s Super National Clay Photo - August 2017

Written by Todd Widom

I truly enjoyed my time going around to the best clubs in Boca Raton and Delray Beach watching some of my students compete in one of the most prestigious events that is played in my own backyard. It brought back memories of when I played the 18’s Clay Courts.  It was also nice catching up with many of the men that I competed with throughout my junior, college, and professional tennis career, as well as, catching up with the college coaches that were coaching college tennis when I was in college.  Most of these men who have stayed in the tennis business after their college or professional career became college coaches.  I have noticed that not many have gone into junior development, but both jobs have their challenges.

What I would like to speak about is how your son or daughter is going to impress the college coaches so that they can attend one of these fine colleges and have a great four years as a student athlete. First, the college coaches were coming from junior Wimbledon so that already shows you that your son or daughter is competing against the best juniors in the world for these spots on college tennis teams.  The reality of the situation is, and I am sorry to tell you, is that these coaches are not traveling to Europe to recruit American players.  You may be thinking how can my child make it to one of these good universities and be a starter in the lineup, when they are competing with the best juniors in the world for these starting lineup spots.

Before I get into any discussion about hitting a tennis ball, let’s speak about movement and the physicality of what it takes to be successful, not only on a clay surface, but on any surface. I am seeing kids that do not have any understanding of how to move, court positioning, and use of their lower body to load and explode into a ground stroke.  At this tournament, sliding into a shot so you can recover is imperative.  Your child’s understanding of the difference between offense, neutral, and defensive positions is crucial to what shot they are going to hit to break down their opponent across the net.  For example, if you are eight feet behind the baseline and you hit the ball like you do when you are three feet behind the baseline, the ball will land short and you will not get out of a defensive position.  Most likely, you will be running at the fence because you defended poorly.  A sign of a high level player is one that can be put on defense and turn that defense into offense during the point.  This is what you are seeing with the best tennis players in the world on television, especially with the men’s game.  The women’s game has some first strike players like Jelena Ostapenko who know they struggle with mobility so they have to get that first big strike in to start the point.  Roger Federer, James Blake, Novak Djokovic, and Andre Agassi are some of the men that can or did take the ball so much earlier than any other players.  If you think your son or daughter has this type of eye hand coordination and timing, they are a one in a million tennis player.  We need more of these type players in the United States.

Is your son or daughter able to adapt their game to be able to play on the slow clay courts? I am seeing junior players not adapting their game styles and just banging a ball and running.  They are also banging a ball at targets on the court that does not really do much.  At this level, placement of a shot on a proper target with moderate pace is far more valuable than ripping a ball that hits a foot past the service line.  If you watch closely, what targets are the juniors hitting and how many quality shots does it take for one of the players to be dominating the middle of the court because they have a short ball.

I would like to touch on what I am seeing with the junior tennis players as it pertains to their strokes. I am seeing tight and hitchy type strokes that have trouble generating power.  It is unnatural.  There is no feeling in the hands and wrists.  The player should be able to swing and hit, but instead there are multiple complicated steps for hitting a groundstroke.  To generate power, the power comes from your core and lower body, and wrist acceleration. Instead, I am seeing unnatural strokes, and chances are that your son or daughter have taken all these super complex tennis lessons and cannot produce a solid, powerfully hit tennis ball.

Lastly, many kids have only one game plan and if that plan is not working that day, they will have an unhappy car ride back to their hotel room. Great tennis players have multiple game plans based on how they are playing that day, plus they have to take into consideration how their opponent is playing that day.  For example, in my quarterfinal match at the 18’s Clay Courts, I was playing a player who was ranked about 30 in the world in junior tennis.  I started the match great and was hitting behind him a lot during the rallies because he had trouble moving on clay and was slipping and sliding all over the place.  The second set came around and he started getting his footing and started dominating some of the rallies.  We split sets and it rained.  In the third set, I decided to start taking the ball a bit earlier and start taking time away and come into the net more.  I took his second serve and hit the return and came into the net which I had practiced many times.  I ended up winning the match and was fortunate enough to win the Super National Clay Courts Tournament a few days later, but the point to the story is that if you have a failing game plan, you must make adjustments to get through that day with a win.  Now understanding when to change game plans is a different story and that is taught by an experienced and knowledgeable coach so you are able to have a complete game to get through a long tournament.  Best of luck to your son or daughter the next time they play Super National Clays Courts or any other clay court tournament.

Written By Todd Widom

This article was prompted by an increasing number of parents over the years contacting me for a truthful assessment of their child’s tennis. It is not so easy to receive the truth for some so I am here to give you the truth.  Many parents get very excited when their 12 or 14 year old is obtaining excellent results.  Does it mean that the child will go on to do great things in tennis?  Maybe, but in many cases the real answer is no.  The strategy of spending money is easy, because as long as your child is winning everyone is happy.  However, you may not be so happy in the later stages of your child’s junior career when they need to peak to get into a great school.

The essence of what I am getting at is if you think your child is having great results, be prepared that you are going to keep investing in his or her playing career. The issue is that you want your child to peak when he or she is 16 to 18 years old and what you must face is the reality that your child is going to require the necessary tools to attend a great university or maybe play professional tennis.  Just because your child is winning, does not mean that they have the necessary foundation and tools to play great tennis in their last couple of years of junior tennis, which is when it matters most.

The younger divisions of junior tennis are for learning and developing your game for when you are older. What parents must understand, is that your child should be learning how to train, compete, construct points, have a great attitude, and be mentally prepared.  There is no time to be trying various strategies, or going from academy to academy.  You will lose precious time and no child has that luxury.  Certainly, if an academy or coach is not working out then a change is required, but due diligence and research is required to find the right coach.

When a person gets an opinion from a doctor that they need surgery, they should get a second opinion. The same holds true in tennis.  When a student is looking for a new coach or to improve on something in their game, they should interview coaches, obtain a second opinion, and select the one they feel like will get them to the best place in their game.

In addition, when your child is figuring out what college they would like to attend, they should have a list of schools, research them and visit them. I counsel many kids and their parents on these issues.  You are making a financial investment in your child’s tennis, and your child is making a commitment to tennis.  In addition, the coach is making an investment in your child and their tennis career.  What I keep seeing over and over again are junior tennis players not peaking from sixteen to eighteen years old and this is not only a very significant problem, but this is also a costly mistake the parents absorb financially and the player absorbs physically, mentally and educationally.  Even though each case is different, what I can tell you is that the majority of kids do not have the solid foundation required to play at higher levels of tennis.  As a coach, mentor, friend, and teacher to my students, I make sure that all aspects of what creates a strong and solid foundation are set into motion from day one.  This is the only way I know how to do it, and I am not merely a coach.  My business actually started this way as parents were panicking that they have spent all this time, effort and money, and at the most important juncture of their child’s junior tennis career, their child is faltering, their foundation is cracking and their dreams are quickly dissolving into thin air.  Do yourself a favor and get your child assessed by someone experienced so that you will save yourself major headaches in the upcoming years.

CaptureWritten By Todd Widom

I find it quite amusing when I attend junior tennis tournaments and see the teenagers huddled around each other either socializing or trying to snap a photo to put on social media. Then all of a sudden, their name is called and they need to rush to the court to play a tennis match.  They may win or lose, but if they do not perform up to their parent’s standard that they have set for their child, it will be a rough car ride home or back to the hotel.  The “cool” kids that love tournaments so they can see their friends usually do not do well.  Their mentality and preparation is wrong.  For the serious kids, socializing is for outside the tennis facility.  When you are at the tournament, the serious kids are there to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to win.  Everything else is secondary.

For all the parents reading this article, the next time you attend a junior tennis event, just take a step back and see who is hanging around at the courts all day with no purpose. It is going to be the vast majority of kids, but also keep in mind that the vast majority of kids do not have goals and a purpose for why they play tennis.  There will be a couple of kids sprinkled around the event away from everyone else warming up properly, stretching, re-gripping their rackets, and maybe listening to music in a quiet secluded setting.  They are not around many other kids socializing and listening to all the noise around them.  These teenagers are there at this event and they have a purpose.

For many of you who have read my previous articles, you know that my tennis background was training with a couple of Argentine disciplinarian coaches who produced some of the best amateurs and professionals in the United States. I trained with these phenomenal coaches from when I was 6 years old all the way to 26 years old.  As I reflect on how I was and what went through my mind preparing for a tournament, it went something like this.  Tennis for me was a blast from day one.  I was obsessed with everything about it.  I grew up and played with the best players in the country and in the world since I was 6 years old.  I had two main coaches that truly cared for the students.  They trained you multiple hours every day.  You did not just take a lesson and then spend no time with them the following days.  They were truly there for you to produce you into a champion.  They were not running a lesson factory away from the other students.  Tennis for me was a way to better my life.  What this means is that if I could hit that tennis ball better than most, I could find a way to better my life in something I truly enjoyed doing.  I felt the love from my coaches because they knew I would run through a wall to win a point or perform the drill properly.  When there is this mutual desire by both parties to go the extra mile, there was no way I could not be a serious prepared tennis player at a tournament.  To goof off at a tournament meant to me that I did not respect what they were doing for me, and what my mother was doing for me since there were tremendous sacrifices to see how good I could be.  I was a reflection of their phenomenal teachings and I would not let them down if I could avoid it.  You see, I was striving to be a top notch amateur and then professional, but I felt that they cared so much and wanted it for me as well, so we were in this process together working our tails off.

Playing junior tennis in Florida in my generation was very difficult. The talent pool was large.  If you did not prepare well in practice or in the tournament arena for your matches, you were not going to be successful.  I would watch some of the top players and I knew that to ever beat them, things had to be done properly.  I was also a top-notch player, but I knew that if something was off, it would be a quick match and I would not win.  These players would be away from the rest of the competition at events and you know they were getting ready for a prize fight.  There was no socializing for these players.  They were there for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win.  I was not the only one trying to better my life by hitting a yellow ball better than the rest.  When I went to tournaments, I rarely stayed at the tournament hotel because for me the competition took place on the courts and I did not want to spend time or socialize with the competition outside the “boxing arena.”

In closing, if you ever wonder how you fulfill your potential in this game, it is to perform many aspects of preparation well, but to have the proper guidance so that your goals can become a reality. I am not saying that your child should not socialize, but what I am saying is that the tennis facility is there for tennis.  The socializing for the serious children is outside of the tennis facility.  It is very easy to see who these focused children are at a tennis tournament.  What many children and parents need to realize is that tennis can open countless doors and the skills they learn on the tennis court can be lifelong.  Many of these skills are not taught by studying out of a book in school.  From very early on, I had a dream of playing professionally, and I knew tennis was the one thing I was best at, so when you have those thoughts of bettering the future of your life through tennis, you are going to have to do things better than most people.  There are kids all over the globe trying to get college scholarships or make it on the ATP Tour.  What separates your child from the rest? Remember, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

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