A Letter from a Tennis Mom

This letter was written by a tennis mom

The best website I ever came across when I started taking my daughters’ tennis endeavours seriously is Tennis Consult. I have 2 daughters I thought were good players. My junior ended up as a doubles runner up 2015 in South Africa for doubles U10. Having researched all the material on Tennis Consult I had a very RUDE AWAKENING indeed. Competitive tennis is addictive and attracts A Drive parents and personalities. And parents who tend to live vicariously through their children.

I love tennis. I was a dancer, gymnast, provincial athlete, never a tennis player until my 30’s. Then I started playing at 30 and was HOOKED on tennis! My daughters inherited their father’s ball skills and I thought it was GAME, SET AND MATCH. Weekend after weekend we attended tournaments across the country, winning and losing tournaments. It was a fabulous family affair. I will never regret that aspect nor will I regret the sense of order and self-discipline my daughters learned as a result of competitive tennis. In fact my brother in law was the MD of an International Banking Institution and his criteria for employment was to employ candidates who competed in any sport at a Provincial or National level.

Last year we met a seasoned tennis father who had personally spent hundreds of thousands of rands exploring, developing, hungering after his daughter’s tennis success. When I read your impartial, empirical article on the actual costs involved and statistics of the number of tennis wannabees who actually succeed in a LUCRATIVE tennis career, his disappointment his inflated goals and ideals for his daughter began to resonate with my own realisation that one has to approach this “monkey on the back” with extreme caution and a whole lot of research and pragmatism.

If your children are not playing, training blood sweat and tears and LOVING THE GAME of their own accord, FORGET IT. Use competitive tennis as a means for intilling self-discipline, the art of negotiation, success in a competitive corporate world and health aspirations for your child. Just another Mummy’s crazy thoughts! Love it or leave it I don’t care!

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How to Attract More Girls to Play Tennis

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John Cavill

There are four times as many boys playing tennis in the UK compared to girls, so what is the reason for this and what can British tennis coaches do about increasing the numbers? I always like to write about topical items that I’m involved with and we recently did a survey of the number of girls in our programme at Stony Stratford Tennis Club. We seem to be attracting a slightly higher percentage of girls than the national average with 28% of our weekly development programme being females. The percentage then drops rapidly if you look at the number of teenage girls, which only account for 5% of the programme. In our competition programme which is designed for those wanting to regularly compete, we have 50 players of which 8 are girls.

I would highly recommend that any coach takes an hour to study the stats of their programme as it gives you a clear picture of the programme demographics and areas you may wish to improve on. From the information I have gathered, we decided that we need to increase in the numbers of girls playing from the ages of 5 to 9 years old. The reason for targeting this age group is because those who are still playing as teenagers all started when they were under 10 and those that wish to compete also tend to start playing when they are young. By increasing the base of under 10 girl tennis players, we increase our chances of retaining more girls into their teenage years and more that want to compete. We have also seen that girls like to be with other girls so if you have a group who grow up together and are friends, that social element counts for so much if they are to continue playing for many years.

Off the back of this information, Tennis Works have recently launched an ambitious scheme aimed at encouraging more girls to take up tennis which starts in primary schools across Milton Keynes. We have also secured support and funding from the club, the Bucks Lawn Tennis Association and local schools. The project which is title ‘Girls Tennis’ aims to introduce more than 1,000 girls to the sport in its early stages.

The project has three phases; schools, free demo, club coaching. I compiled a database of schools and created a letter explaining the scheme, opportunities and benefits which was emailed to the school. The scheme starts with fun coaching sessions at the schools which last for 30 minutes each and are aimed at girls in years 1, 2 and 3 (ages 4-8). The best way to fit the sessions in with the schools is to run them during their PE session. For that session, the class would be split into boys and girls of which the PE teacher would take the boys and we would coach the girls. The feedback from the girls is great as they loved having a sports session without boys! We have to maybe go into the school over 3 different afternoons due to the timings of their PE sessions, but this worked well for everyone. At the end of the day all the girls went home with a letter selling the benefits of tennis and offering a free ‘girls only’ session at the club.

The parents then sign their daughter up via the contact details on the letter (we use an online form but an email address is also effective) and we communicate further with them on which day their free session will be. So far, this is where we are with the scheme and we are going into a number of schools over a 6 week period to promote Gils Tennis before the free demo sessions at the club start.

Once everyone has attended the free session we will offer them opportunities to continuing playing at the club with a subsidised ‘Girls only’ course that runs in small blocks of 6 weeks. The reason for this is that it keeps the course cost low, girls much prefer being in groups with other girls and the parents feel happy about not committing to a long term programme until their daughter has settled in.

With female participation in tennis being far less than it is with males, the only way this will be addressed is with the commitment of the schools, parents, coaches and club. Tennis is a great game and it’s not about looking for the next Maria Sharapova but to increase female participation for the enjoyment and health benefits tennis provides.

Our target is to get at least 45 new girls playing regularly at the tennis club which will increase our girl participation figures to around 45% from 28%.

I hope that this article helps you reflect on what can be done in your own programme which will have both financial and sporting benefits for the future.

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‘Fix it’ Coaches

‘Fix it’ Coaches – Why real change can’t happen until there is first trust

Picture of Allistair McCaw

Allistair McCaw

Something that I often notice in the coaching world is that us coaches just love to ‘fix things’. We start with an athlete or team and we just want to jump right in there and fix everything as fast as possible! We want to show the athlete and others just how much we know.

Our minds are racing with ideas and we think we have all the answers! However, the mistake we make is doing this without first taking the time to build a relationship and better understanding of the team or athlete.

Especially in working with elite or professional level athletes, this can be a huge mistake. We need to understand and respect that before any change can happen, trust and respect must be present first.

Let me put it this way, would you trust someone completely after just 1 week or a month of meeting or working with them?

You cannot force an idea or message on someone who is not yet ready to receive it. We must never underestimate the power of planting a seed first. That’s why it’s important to first build up a relationship and gain the trust of the athlete or team, before you try and start changing things.

‘Fix it’ coaches might sometimes have the right ideas and actually have the answers, but to have a ‘buy in’ from the athlete or team when it comes to changing or introducing something new, there must be first a ‘believe in’.

Taken from the ‪#‎mccawmethodbook‬ – Coming June 2016!

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Finding Talent!

Picture of John Cavill

John Cavill

I think the heading of this article is very provocative in itself as what we define as ‘talent’ can mean so many things. Usually this term is associated with finding young tennis players who have good potential to develop further and this is based on several factors; physical, technical, tactical, mental and environmental.

The first 4 performance factors are regularly referred to in the world of tennis and are very important but the environmental factors which help shape a players destiny is usually the overriding power. Everyone is a product of their environment, whether they copy good or bad examples OR learning from examples how not to do something. The second born child is usually further developed by the age of 5 than the first born and there is no other reason apart from the younger child had to adapt and strive to keep up from a younger age.

Without the elder sibling, the younger siblings probably wouldn’t be as advanced. When you take this example back to the tennis court, if you have a player who is striving to improve against players who are better than them, they will usually improve more than working with players who are at a lower level. I regularly have this issue when dealing with parents who want their child to move up to the next group as they are the best, but the next problem is that if they move up, the player who was below them will also not want to be top in the groups and so the issues escalate!

It is important that no child is comfortable during their development and they should constantly be challenged and making mistakes. Through this process their decision making and ability to adapt will improve far more so that when they have developed all their skills by their late teens, they should be highly independent adults on the court.

Coming back to the subject of this article…how do we find talent? My belief is to start with the parents! If they are not going to commit to endless hours of bringing their child to the tennis club, sitting around at tournaments, paying for all the coaching and equipment, then that child will be limited. The parents also set the foundations for the child and create the standards to which they should live their lives. If the child is brought up on junk food and video games then you can’t reasonably think that they are going to be great tennis players.

Parents who are positive, set high standards and give unconditional love to their child are giving their child the best chance to achieve. Discipline, manners, confidence and self-respect are all vital areas that are learned at home and reflect on the tennis court. Unfortunately as coaches we have very little influence over our students in these areas as we only spend a fraction of our week with them.

During the holiday camps at our club I am constantly looking to find children who I feel would benefit from being in our competition programme. I always start with the person…do they love playing tennis? Are they attentive? Do they try their hardest? If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions then they are invited. That they are athletic, coordinated and fast are also important but if there has been one thing that I have learned from my 21 years of coaching, that is to never label too young. It’s amazing how many players I’ve thought would go on to play at a higher level than they achieved and others who have by far exceeded my expectations despite not being  great athletes.

My approach to developing players is very simple…get as many playing as possible, keep the enthusiastic and dedicated players together, work them hard with high standards and be prepared to adapt / move players into other groups based on their individual progress.

The label of ‘talented’ is also a dangerous place as tennis players can assume they will win and achieve just because they have been told this. People who think that someone has talent probably haven’t seen the amount of hours and practice they have put into being talented! People assume that ‘finding talent’ is the process of finding people who are already good but I believe that coaches should be ‘finding potential’ as talent will be developed from potential after hours of hard work. Try and sow as many seeds as possible, cultivate them the best way you know how and watch the flowers grow!

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Can We Have a Real Conversation about Tennis Nutrition?

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Coach Mullins

Last week I read an article about the seven foods every tennis player should eat. It was the same age old sports nutrition 101 about eating pasta, chugging Gatorades, having energy chews on hand at all times, and, my all-time favorite, ensuring you have a chocolate milk to get that all important protein after practice.

I can’t believe that this kind of garbage is still being pushed out to the general public, and I don’t understand why more people are not questioning these nutritional practices.

Firstly, the more I learn about nutrition, the more I realize what we don’t know. There is so much advice out there and whether you are following a paleo diet, a vegetarian diet, a ketogenic diet, or just eat a standard western diet, you probably believe that you are right and everyone else is wrong. Kind of like religion, I guess! Basically you probably are right about your dietary choices IF it is working for you, and you are free of illness and have abundant energy. Well intentioned nutritionists and doctors will be happy to provide you plenty of advice. But unless they have put you through rounds of genetic and food allergy testing, they really have no business telling you how to eat and what foods you will best respond to, both in life or on the tennis court.

Every person is unique and processes foods in different ways. What is good for me may not be beneficial for you, and vice versa. I might thrive after eliminating eggs from my diet while you might need 3 eggs a day to be at your best. There are so many factors at play when it comes to nutrition, including (but not limited to) our genes, sleeping patterns, stress levels, the types of toxins we are exposed to, the amount of sun we get and many, many more.

Sure, there are general best practices as not everyone can afford to get all their food allergy ratios tested, but common sense tells us that consuming products with tons of ingredients that we cannot pronounce can’t possibly be good for our long term health. Yes, it may benefit our performance and maybe even our recovery (which I doubt) in the short term, but so do many natural products without the long term downside.

Unless you are following a ketogenic diet (I don’t know of any professional tennis players that are), you will need to be consuming sugars and carbohydrates during your tougher training sessions and matches in order to provide sustained energy and to stave off hormonal and metabolic downregulation. Just because a food is energy dense does not mean that it is nutrient dense. Stay away from all the sugary energy gels and sports nutrition bars. Instead make some of our own easy-to-digest, nutrient dense energy bars or balls at home. You can make these with nuts, fruits, seeds, or buy some bars at your local health food store with as few ingredients as possible.

This idea that we need protein within 20-30 minutes of finishing a workout has been proven to be wrong. You only need the extra protein if you are trying to gain significant muscle, will be working out again within 8 hours or if it has been several hours since your last meal. Chocolate milk does have a good ratio of protein to carbohydrates but the amount of sugar and the indigestible nature of dairy for most people does not make it a good post workout recovery drink. Instead, buy a high quality protein powder and mix it with some coconut milk and some leafy greens if you really need to consume some protein after practice.

Remember, not all matches and practices are equal so having someone tell you that you should eat certain foods every 20 minutes during practice or after practice is not good advice. There are probably many days when we don’t need to supplement anything as long as we are having nutrient dense meals. You may have a very technical workout with your coach that did not require too much physical effort, or you may have won a match 6-0, 6-0 and not be playing again for a couple of days.

Unless you are really trying to gain muscle, it’s best to listen to your body and be honest about what you need nutritionally. Your body expends a great deal of energy digesting food and some foods are more digestible than others. Do you want to save that energy for the tennis court or have it wasted on digesting an unnatural product that is probably not benefitting your health or your performance?

In short, you should eat as much protein as your body needs for repair and recovery (about 0.55 grams per pound of body weight) unless you are trying to build mass. Consume the rest of your calories from healthy fats and vegetables.

On and off the court, you should experiment with your diet and figure out what really works for you. It’s important to educate yourself about the many inflammatory foods out there you are probably consuming that are impacting your performance, your recovery and, more importantly, your long term health.

I am not going to tell you what you should eat, I am simply providing some better options, asking you to really explore the nutritional advice you have been provided up until now, and to not fall victim to the intense marketing campaigns out there backing these nutritional sports products. I have figured out exactly what works for me with a lot of trial and error and self-experimentation. Although what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, I encourage you to keep experimenting until you find what does work for you, therefore enabling you to take your game to the next level.

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