Why Would You Want Your Kids to Play Tennis?

Tennis parents, look at these facts and make your own calculations:

  • Odds of becoming a tennis pro 2 in 10000 or 0.0002. That does not seem possible.
  • Break even for a pro is #150 or approx. $160K year. Dad how much do you make a year?
  • It takes 4-8 years to reach top 200, at a cost of $160K year that is between $640K-$1,28M.
    Mary, how much is our house worth?
  • Cost to train per year approx. $12K low end by age 15, you spent easily in 5-6 yrs. Roughly $60K.
    How many mutual funds can you buy with 12K per year?
  • Only 7% of top world 100 juniors will be tennis pros and only 1% will be top 20. Top in the world, not in the USA.
    Hey John, did you win state yet?
  • Until you win, you need to front end all expenses, ouch! But, I only make….

10,000 hrs. spent by age 18 with odds of 0.0002? 5 hrs. day for 10 years, I should learn to code…

JP article - Why Would You Want Your Kids to Play Tennis?When one looks at the cold facts, there is absolutely no reason what so ever to aspire to be a professional player, and the cost and investment of time is just mind blowing. Add to this list the randomness of injuries, bad coaching, mental factors etc.

These variables and experience combined with the real facts make the decision to pursue a pro career delusional. But, none of those horrible stats are why I encourage both of my kids to play tennis and to play it extremely well.

I want my kids to play tennis, because I feel that there is no other sport that will prepare them for a life where they need to practice everyday, compete every other weekend, win and lose, laugh and cry, become part of a team, make friends and of course exercise daily and learn their nutrition in an obese country, and last devote their daily life to better themselves knowing full well that there are many other players better than them.

You see, when my kids are practicing hard every day, I on the way home, make sure to relate the practice to life in the future, let’s say he was on fire that day working towards a big competition, I tell my son how I’m preparing for a huge presentation at work or pursuing a business account that we need for the business. Sometimes, also he has to deal with a big loss. Well, at work I also have those experiences and often have to deal with them. Their tennis experience If properly focused will help them in the future, I assure you.

As I look forward a couple of years from now I see my kid at 15, practicing very hard, being fit, focused, worried about how to increase the speed of his serve, savvy with in nutritional and working extremely hard everyday towards a goal, as opposed to other kids in his class, who with too much time in their hands, are looking for ways to get high, getting in trouble, out of shape, drunk and planning orgies, etc. I think tennis keeps them, focused, determined, challenged and by the time they turn 18 ready to be champions in life.

Through tennis, I will have taught them the value of time and how to use it. You see at 18 my kids will have learned the principles needed to succeed in life: independence, self reliance, decision making, hard work, balance, determination, standing up after a big fall, disappointment and joy, they will experience the cost of winning and the sacrifices needed to get there, they will learn from losing and having to get up from it and understand that losing is only feedback. In essence, they will be properly trained to succeed in their lives.

Unlike other parents, who falsely dream a pro career for their kids and the riches tennis will bring, I use tennis to make my kids better citizens, better sons and daughters, someday a better father and mother, better people all around. Better Americans. While it would be great to get a scholarship to a great school, emphasis on great academic school, not any school that has tennis. I have to plan for that eventuality as coaches make little money.

We know that the time we spend together, the adventure of tennis made us closer as a family, kept us working towards a common goal and made our journey as parents and kids the most enjoyable way to spend time together, to bond, to get better, to grow as champions, to make new friends, to travel and stay in lousy hotels because that’s all we could afford, to play younger and older competitors and to laugh together. To live the journey of this experience we know as parenting and life.

Wow, it seems to me that I have found a way to prepare my kids for their professional careers and it is not in tennis. I’ll take tennis’ horrible odds, knowing full well that for my kids there is simply no other way I would have chosen to spend our time together, to prepare them for when they leave our nest, to be able to fly for themselves and be champions in their own life. I love you tennis, I love you. Javier.

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Can mobile phone help juniors in tennis?

Picture of Marcin Bieniek

Marcin Bieniek

Every day counts. What was great 10 years ago now it is called „obsolete”. You can have your own opinion about different subjects but the truth is that if you want to move forward you have to accept new technologies. Nowadays number one tool that all people can’t live without is mobile phone. Can we use this device to get improvements in tennis? Definitely!

When I was 14 years old mobile phones were innovations. I remember times when big companies implemented first phones with mp3 player as well as first times we could buy mobile phone with camera. Of course the quality of the picture was highly blurry but it didn’t matter. Everyone wanted to have new mobile phone even when the only possible entertainment on this device was playing snake. These times are definitely gone. Modern world gives completely different possibilities.

What can we do with mobile phone in 2017? We can surf the internet all day long in any place in the world. There is no limitations according to taking great pictures, recording high-quality videos and sharing these pieces with friends in seconds. Additionally mobile phone gives possibility to search all information: from education to entertainment. We can also listen to music, download helpful apps and book hotel in just a few clicks. It all looks spectacularly positive so why do we often complain at junior tennis players looking at their phones all they long?

Junior tennis players love their phones. If you go to the tournament it is surprising if you see athlete without a phone. Me, many other coaches and parents don’t fully understand the reason behind these actions but if we want to move forward we have to accept it. We had great childhood time without mobile phones but modern world is different. It is time to stop complaining and think how to use this situation to help our players achieve better results on the court. Is mobile phone designed just for entertainment? NO – it can be really helpful to your tennis career if you know how to use it.

You can’t change the fact that your players use mobile phone all the time, but you can show them how they can use it to improve faster as athletes. Here are examples of actions that your players can take to make mobile phone more tennis-friendly:

1. Watch tennis matches

We all know that we can learn a lot from watching professional tennis players. That is why it is really helpful to use mobile phone during tournaments to get some valuable lessons. Juniors spend a lot of time on courts or in hotels so it is a great opportunity to use these 20-30 minutes to learn from Rafa or Serena. Additionally it can have a good motivational boost before the match.

2. Scout your opponents

Internet has everything – scores, matches, videos etc. Too many times players limit their scouting just to look at past results of the next opponent. Unfortunately this information gives you no advantage while preparing successful strategy for your match. Look for videos on YouTube or contact players who played your rival before and try to get more info about strengths, weaknesses and game style. With this approach your mobile phone will be really helpful and can help you win this match.

3. Have visualization app

Visualization is used by many top athletes so our juniors should implement this training tool too. There are many visualization apps available on the market that provide instruction and peaceful music to help you relax and focus. Now you can make your phone your private mental coach. Isn’t it worthy?

4. Do your tennis journal

Tennis journal doesn’t take too much effort from player but it can be really helpful in long-term career. When you note down your daily plan, thoughts and eating habits it is much easier to take conclusions and make necessary changes or continue good work. Without this knowledge you will always guess about reasons of stomachache or poor training sessions so take few minutes a day and note on your phone several important aspects. You have always mobile phone with you so all you need is willingness to take some time and have positive impact on your career.

Maybe juniors spend too much time on their phones but there is no point to complain at it all the time. Times are different so our approach has to be different too. Let’s use this electronic device also for tennis improvement because it is possible. Implement given tips and give tools to your players to use phone for more than just Facebook.

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Time Lag Between “Knowing” and “Doing”

Ray Brown

Ray Brown

A long and complex mathematical computation may take several trials to complete. Each trial is a practice run at getting it right. The combination of trial followed by “gestation” can take as much as three days. After three days there is a good chance the solution is right.

There is no difference between this activity and learning to hit a tennis ball in that it takes a lot of trials to get it right. We know from brain evolution that mathematical skills were built on top of physical skills requiring many of the same processes in the brain. However, physical skills also required the development of a neuromuscular infrastructure that is not required in mathematics.

The implications are significant. When a student of tennis believes that they have got the stroke right in only a few days, it may be true as far as the brain part of the stroke is concerned. But they still cannot execute correctly. The difference is that the neuromuscular infrastructure to “hit it right” takes far longer to develop. Hence the student may become frustrated because their view of what is possible does not agree with what their body can execute. This is particularly true of juniors.

This frustration may be acted out in various ways that are mostly unproductive. Whereas if they understand that there is a significant time lag between getting the right sequencing in the brain versus developing the neuromuscular infrastructure to execute the stroke, there might be less frustration. The frustration can also delay development significantly.

Patience is requires to allow for the time lag between “knowing how to execute” and “being able to execute”. There is no cure for this time lag but the exact amount of time from “knowing” to “doing” can be reduced by separate training activities.

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Does Anyone Really Know How to Produce Champions? Part II

Does Anyone Really Know How to Produce Champions? Part II

coach mullins

Coach Mullins

As I mentioned in Part I of this blog, I strongly believe the coaches we need to be celebrating and rewarding are the ones that are finding ways to help children be passionate about our game. These are the coaches that are truly developing players and not just managing and smoothing out the edges of the already polished tennis player.

There appears to be some snobbery in our sport and the coaches coaching the “better” players seem to think they are somehow “better” coaches because they work with elite players. I know I have definitely been guilty of this at times earlier in my coaching career.

Some people claim coaching the top players is extremely challenging because they can be “difficult to work with” in a team setting or as individuals. I find this sentiment quite laughable. In my experience, the easiest players to coach are the top ones. Getting to work with extremely self-motivated, highly skillful, hardworking players is easy.

Yes, maybe they have some superior attitude and their rate of improvement is hard to measure. But the most difficult and rewarding thing about coaching is keeping people motivated when they are struggling, teaching new skills that appear complex and creating a culture of hard work, passion and love for the game. Personally, I am huge fan of the coach who nurtured a child’s passion for tennis, not the one who reaped the accolades for the almost-finished product.

I have been fortunate to coach at a number of different levels and I believe my skill set is best suited to the current demographic I am working with (NCAA Division I). I learned this very clearly when I started coaching my 6 year old son and his buddies. I realized I had very little idea of current best practices and how to ensure I was helping them with their technique while having a lot of fun! I gained a new appreciation of just how difficult it is to keep kids engaged and eager to come back for more.

When it comes to tennis, I can’t help but wonder if we are expecting our coaches to know too much in a lot of different areas and never really become experts in just a few. Tennis is such a vast game, with so many different shots, movement patterns, fitness considerations, injury prevention, mental and tactical situations to master. We don’t expect our teachers to be proficient at teaching every grade level.

During my playing career I was extremely lucky to be tutored by some outstanding coaches. I was fortunate to work with a technical coach who restructured my game when I was very young and held me to a high standard of technical ability. As I got older, I began to work with coaches who gave me a better understanding of the tactical aspects of the sport. It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned the physical nature of tennis and the type of toughness that was required to succeed at a higher level.

It appeared that over the course of my career the right coach came into my life at the right time to help me understand a new layer as to what the sport required. I don’t know that if I had stayed with the same coach all my life I would have been as well rounded a player. Some players stay with the same coach their whole life and have amazing careers.

Again, proving that there is no one path or magic pill for producing great tennis players. I know for myself that I did not make it on the professional tour because I did not have the required mental aptitude nor was I willing to sacrifice other areas of my life. I don’t blame anyone, have any regrets or think that if I had grown up playing on hard courts, or had more resources or a top 10 player from my home country to look up to or anything else that it would have been any different.

In conclusion, I believe we need to continue to improve education for not only coaches and players, but for parents too. We also need to understand that we live in global world and tennis is a very global sport. What is so bad about players leaving countries to go elsewhere to develop their passion? Is it truly the federation’s job to develop players? At the top level of tennis, it is more about individual names than the country they represent.

Players are playing for themselves 98% of the time and not for their country. Federations don’t have to be responsible for developing elite players past a certain point. Let the private sector take care of that and let players go wherever they want to go. The best always find a way; that is why they are the best.

This is not an opinion I would have held when I was playing or even 5 years ago. But as I gain a better understanding of globalization and relate this back to the world of tennis, I can see more clearly now that our focus appears to be in the wrong place at times.

Let’s set a solid foundation for our players, provide adequate training facilities and a logical tournament schedule and ranking system. Most importantly, let’s get our best coaches working with our young players and figure out how to make tennis as relevant as possible throughout the world.

Tennis federations everywhere have consistently failed at developing champions. No one truly knows what it takes, so let’s stop holding them accountable for such an unrealistic target. No one is responsible for creating champions other than the individuals themselves that want to achieve greatness.

Let’s reward those that get the most children passionate about tennis and turn the spotlight on these individuals on a much more consistent basis. We all have a responsibility to ensure the future of our game. Let’s stop pitting one development system against another. Let’s stop going into our silos and only associating with those coaches who are working with players of a similar level. Let’s stop telling kids to go “pro” when they should be going to college.

And let’s all put our knowledge and resources together to encourage future generations of tennis players. The more children we have playing tennis, the more we will have to celebrate.

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Does Anyone Really Know How to Produce a Champion? Part I

Does anyone really know how to produce a champion? Part I

coach mullins 3

Coach Mullins

Did Erik Spoelstra suddenly become a worse basketball coach when Lebron James left the Miami Heat? Was Bill Belichick a bad coach when he got fired from the Cleveland Browns, and will he have the same success after Tom Brady retires?

Would Phil Jackson have won 11 NBA titles if he was the coach at the Minnesota Timberwolves or was his timing just impeccable?  Is Boris Becker responsible for Novak Djokovic’s recent domination, or would John Smith be having the same impact on Novak’s game?

These are just a few examples of why I am a little dubious about how much impact a coach really has over elite athletes and who is truly responsible for athletic success at the highest levels. It obviously depends on the sport but in some sports I just don’t believe it matters as much as we seem to think.

Portuguese soccer, Spanish tennis, Hungarian shot putting…….I hear a lot about pathways to athletic excellence and have read countless books upon the topic. Every time a country produces a couple of champions in a sport, everyone loves to talk about the system this federation adopted and how we need to copy the exact same pathway in order to achieve the same results. Coaches get a lot of praise and are paid vast sums of money to write books and give presentations about their “system” of greatness. They get wooed by other federations and teams to sprinkle their magic dust and create the next batch of champions.

Then, when you put these same coaches in a different culture with a fresh staff, and a hundred other new factors, they don’t produce the same results. There are plenty of recent examples like David Blatt at the Cleveland Cavaliers and Louis Van Gal’s time at Manchester United. Did these coaches suddenly lose their coaching prowess? I don’t think so! It is just the nature of sports at the top levels.

So what does make a Champion? There are too many variables to keep track of when it comes to producing individual champions or championship winning teams; luck being one of them. I am absolutely not saying that the coach is irrelevant, but I do believe that at the highest levels in most sports it has very little to do with the coach and everything to do with the individual players.

There are always improvements that can be made to nurture and develop talented players. However, many unique nuisances or chain of events need to align for truly great athletes to succeed at a world class level. There are factors deep within societies, far beyond the scope and knowledge of anyone to truly comprehend and be able to mitigate when trying to produce champion athletes.

If you speak to the top 100 tennis players in the world, you will see that each one has a completely different story to tell. Some come from wealth while others have very limited means. Some had success as juniors, others have been slogging away well into their late twenties. Some like to lift heavy weights, others do Pilates.

The list is endless and you will rarely find two players who have experienced the same path. Ultimately, this type of achievement depends upon the individual’s talents and how passionate, desperate, and hungry they are to make it. There are plenty of talented players out there who have all the physical and technical attributes to win.

The question, though, is this: who truly has the one-in-a-million mindset and collection of necessary life lessons to do the hard, lonely work day in day out while relentlessly believing in what they can accomplish despite any setbacks?

Of course, there are things we can do as a nation/ federation/academy/coach to help with the process and these players are no doubt going to need guidance along the way, but at what ages does it really matter?

I am really impressed with the LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development) guidelines and I hope every country does better to adopt these general principles so that we have athletes playing a lot of sports in their early years.  Yet at the end of the day, trying to create the next Roger Federer is like trying to create the next Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet or Michael Jackson. It has to happen organically.

When it comes to tennis development, I believe the more people we have playing tennis, the more likely we are to produce great champions. While there may be exceptions to this rule, it is always a great place to start. Tennis is a difficult sport and kids are eager for instant proficiency and success these days. If enough children play, then the elite will rise to the top as they always do. Most importantly, if we have a lot of children playing and loving our sport, then our sport is in good hands for a long time to come.

The best and brightest usually find a way to succeed despite their limited resources, lack of opportunities to compete, or outdated equipment and facilities. Furthermore, I contend that these very challenges could potentially contribute to the breakthroughs these athletes make.

Let’s stop worrying so much about identifying the most talented individual player and figure out what we need to do to grow our sport for decades to come. Our energies as an industry would be best spent figuring out exactly how we are going to get more children playing the sport and keeping them involved for the rest of their lives.

My opinion is that we are, at times, rewarding and praising the wrong coaches and “development systems”. We need to find ways to reward and praise those heavily involved in the grassroots of tennis. Increase their access to adequate equipment, coaching education and filter more time and money to increase the efficiency of their jobs so they may affect twice as many children as they do. Personally, the coaches I most admire are the ones with a copious amount of passion for developing young athletes and getting them excited about what tennis has to offer.

Another reason why I love college tennis is because it keeps players in the game longer and involved in the sport. Tennis is a very global sport and at times I see coaches, federations, academies, or colleges make decisions in their own self-interest and not necessarily in the interest of their players and their sport.

To be continued. Part II of this blog will come out next week where I expand on some of these thoughts and talk more about the role of tennis federations in the development of players.

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