Has Your Child Outgrown Their Current Training Environment?

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.

Picture of Todd Widom

Todd Widom

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.

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Everything is Amazing and Nobody is Happy

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David Mullins

If you have not seen this rant by Louis CK, I recommend you go to YouTube and watch it. If you don’t have time just read on and come back to it later!

He talks about how fortunate we are to live in a time with the conveniences that are afforded to us, yet we go around complaining about what is wrong in our lives rather than embracing the opportunities that many in the western world get to enjoy. The reason we find this rant funny is because it is so true. We can all relate to what he is saying, and it helps to add some humour to our many petty complaints about our pampered lives.

What I find troubling is that a high percentage of collegiate tennis players are quite unhappy with their student-athlete experience. They get to their college campus full of excitement, a little scared and a lot clueless. They have been told that their college days will be the best days of their lives, but fail to understand that they can only be the best days of their lives if they are willing to go through some adversity. It seems to me that nobody wants to explain why college can be some of the best years of your life.

Yes, college offered some of the best days of my life, but I would hate to think that my best days are now behind me for the rest of my time on this planet. Let us not start by putting all this pressure on college to be the countdown to some of the worst days of your life! The value I gained from college, and more specifically college tennis, were borne from the harder or more uncomfortable challenges that I faced.

I remember the hardest workouts, not the easy ones. I remember the long, grueling road trips in a small van, sometimes up to 12 hours, not the quick trips to our local rivals. I remember the crappy hotels we stayed at sometimes, not the high scale ones.

I remember eating at CiCi’s pizza rather than the fancy Italian restaurant after we won a big match. I remember the injuries, getting my scholarship reduced after my freshmen year, breaking up with my girlfriend, late night study sessions, the heartbreaking losses. I only vaguely remember the party nights, the easy classes, the comfortable wins, the light workouts, the mid-afternoon naps.

I remember the difficult, less enjoyable experiences, because I grew in some way from these adversities, and I use the word adversity here very lightly. The small challenges during my four-year college career helped me become the person I am today and I would not change any aspect of those four years.

I am eternally grateful to my college coach for how hard he was on me, and for disrupting the comfortable little bubble I had created for myself. I did not know it at the time, but those were going to be the moments I cherished the most and would remember 15 years later.

I see many players wishing their time away. Counting the days until their next day off or semester break. They talk about how hard their lives are and how stressed they feel. They just want things to be fun and easy. They actually come to college thinking that it should be fun ALL the time, and when it is not fun, they get very mad, and usually blame the coach.

They are doing everything possible to numb themselves from these non-fun periods with Netflix marathons, ice-cream and, in some cases, alcohol. Very few are embracing the challenge of growing through this critical phase in their adult development.

They seldom possess a clear purpose, defined goals or ask themselves, “WHY?” They just react and assume that life should always be about the good times.

Student-athletes have more now in terms of resources (money, people and facilities) than ever before. Full scholarship athletes now get an extra few thousand dollars a year as a cost of attendance stipend. Many of them will use this for fashion purchases!

Their locker rooms are filled with food, they get new tennis shoes when they need them, they have managers to string their rackets and wash their clothes. Tutors help them with their academics and they have psychologists on hand should they need someone to talk to about how difficult it is to be a student-athlete. This list could go on for pages, but you get the picture. So, why does it suck?

We have probably got to the point where student-athletes are being given too much in terms of resources and too many safety nets have been put in place to prevent them from failing. I don’t believe we are doing these young people any favors now or in the future.

So, what’s my advice?

Be a problem solver for your team and coach rather than looking for places to manufacture problems. I had a player last year complain that our team did not receive as much clothing as some of the other sports teams on campus. Rather than being grateful for the incredible clothing, shoes, and equipment she received, she was envious of what the other teams were wearing. I wish I was making this up, but it’s true!

Too many players are looking around at what is wrong, what they don’t have, what “negative” thing their coach said. Instead, they should be focusing on what they do have, all the positive things their coach said, and how fortunate they are to have such a wonderful opportunity. They are their own worst enemy and the more they seek the good times, the more disillusioned they will become with their own lives.

I hope for my kids and future generations of students and student-athletes that their college experiences are filled with adversity. That they have coaches, professors, classmates and teammates that challenge their ways of thinking.

I hope they have many character building experiences so that they can differentiate between what is actually difficult, and what is just a minor setback. I hope that they struggle just as much as they have fun so that they can appreciate both sides of the coin. I hope they don’t have an expectation that life is linear and should never be hard.

I hope that their parents recognize that their kids are 18 now and should be fighting their own battles. I hope athletic departments look to back up their coaches and help these student-athletes build higher levels of resilience. I hope that all this leads to them becoming more interesting people with more interesting things to contribute to this world.

Lastly, I am hopeful they are grateful and realize that everything is amazing if they are getting to participate in collegiate athletics at any level.

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Check Your Team’s Scores From Anywhere

Being a hardcore fan is a lot of work. Not only do you have to show up to local games when they happen, but you have to show your support even when the team is away or not even playing. When that happens, there are a variety of ways to check on them to see how they’re doing, but none are as convenient as the CBS Sports app. With this one handy application, you can monitor each of your favorite teams with a push of a button. Sound too good to be true? Let’s see what other features this app has.

Watch Games in Real Time

If you’re not by a television when your team is playing, you don’t have to worry about missing out on the action. Because this app is connected to CBS Sports, you can watch games from your phone. However, if you have a spotty connection or don’t want to eat up all of your data, then you can use Android LiveScore to see the results as they come in. This way, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can root for your team.

Follow Any Sport

Although supporting your main team is always a priority, there are plenty of times when you want to see what’s going on with other teams in other sports. This app allows you to manage your sports easily so you can stay on top of the action without ever having to search for anything. Simply pick your favorite teams, and it will notify you every time they play.

Plan Ahead of Time 

Do you know when your team is playing next, and do you know who they are playing against? With the best sports app around, you can find out that information within seconds. Plan the rest of your week or month by setting reminders for games so that you can be sure to tune in when it’s going down.

So, when it comes to supporting your favorite team and following them, CBS Sports makes it easy for you.

Sponsored by CBS Sports

Does Your Child Lack Confidence?

Picture of Todd Widom

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.

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Ingredients of an Outlier

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John Cavill

An Outlier is something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body OR a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.

For the past 2 years I have had a book called ‘Outliers… The story of Success’ sat on my shelf. Written by Malcolm Gladwell, this book has been recommended to me by several people but only until recent I have made the time to read it…and I wish I had done it 2 years ago!

Call it luck, fate, fortune or coincidence but these are some of the ingredients of an Outlier, or someone who has achieved exceptional things in their life. The book looked at numerous exceptional achievers, their upbringing, parental guidance, financial background, intelligence quotient (IQ), where they grew up and many other influential circumstances. People like Bill Gates and pop legends like The Beatles all have attributing factors that have align to realise their success. What fascinates me is that in a world of endless opportunities, why do a few stand miles above others.

This book got me thinking about a lot of things but one of the major messages I got was that success cannot be achieved alone and opportunities are essential. Many people know of the Bill Gates story so I will try and make it brief, as this is a great example of being fortunate to have opportunities. Gates was successful because in 1968 he was taken out of the public schooling system and started the 7th Grade at a private school in Seattle.

Coincidently, that year the school started a computer club which was funded by the ‘mothers club’ fundraising. Most colleges didn’t even have a computer but the computer they had was also one of the most advanced of its time, so Bill Gates got to start programming from a young age on the best machine.

Then Gates had a rare opportunity to access free computer time at the University of Washington because a mother of one of the children at his school was able to present this opportunity, so his evenings and weekends involved hours or programming.

After this he access more free computer time in exchange for working on a piece of payroll software. In one 7-month period, Gates and his cohorts ran up 1575 hours of computer time which equates to 8 hours a day for 7 days a week! Due to Gates huge amount of experience of programming, in his senior years of High School he was asked to work on some software for a power station.

All of this experience was gained within a 5-year period in an era when computer time was expensive and there was scarce access. The opportunities Gates got were incredible and this allowed him to drop out of his first year at Harvard and set up a little company called Microsoft!

This story isn’t uncommon to other achievers, for example, the opportunities Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray were given and the support from their family, but opportunities are not enough!

I some paths of life, intelligence will enhance your opportunities of success but it is also known that super intellect does not equal super success.

From what I observe in tennis and those I know who have also gone on to be top performers in their sport, without the support of parents, coaches, schools etc. who present these opportunities and enable the players to train and compete, then their opportunity to be better tennis players is immediately compromised.

The chance of every junior tennis player being fortunate to have the support, financial assistance and access to facilities is something they should be grateful for as millions of others don’t have this fortune. BUT by being one of the fortunate few, that is not enough and there are two key ingredients missing that no one can give you! They are called HARD WORK and PERSERVERANCE.

Like with Bill Gates at his machine, David Beckham taking free kicks and Nadal on the practice court not even stopping for water, those who choose to fight to become better will and no one is born great or as a good tennis player.

By putting in hours and making sacrifices like successful people do, players may not be rewarded immediately but one day their time will come and then they’ll appreciate how lucky they are to be given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams!

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