Here is an interview with Todd Widom. He is a former Top 200 ATP Professional in both singles and doubles. Coach Widom is TennisConsult.com expert and Owner of TW Tennis.
When did you start to play tennis?
I started at the age of six at the country club of Coral Springs, Florida with Shawn Craig.
Do you remember your first tennis tournament?
The first tournament I played was in Coral Springs and I forgot the score. This taught me a quick lesson in score keeping!
How did you start coaching tennis?
I started coaching at a local academy in Florida after the 2010 Australian Open. I coached at the academy for a couple of months and then started working with one player privately which turned into a very small system of high-level players. I believe the system, which I have now, is the best way to maximize the players’ time to achieve their goals and dreams.
What are your goals as a professional tennis coach?
The goals I have for each student I train is to come up with a plan and work towards achieving the students’ goals and dreams whether it is college tennis or professional tennis.
There are literally hundreds of tennis academies in the US. But only a few good world class juniors are developed at these academies. Why do you think that is?
From a tennis development perspective, I believe that when a coach takes on many students and tries to mesh the players with different objectives, there will be problems. In addition, I believe that the students are a product of their society so the parents need to be very aware of who their child is surrounded by. The business plan of these academies is quite simple, the owner is trying to maximize profits and there are the assistants who are simply there to follow instructions and take home a paycheck. So what type of effort are they going to put in? I am not sure how you have top notch quality with this business plan.
Can the USTA Player Development program produce the next Sampras or Agassi?
From the interviews I have read about the USTA, they understand what it takes to develop high level players. However, knowing and doing are two very different things. The private tennis sector in the United States has always produced top notch professionals and I believe this is true because it is imperative to have a very close relationship with your coach. It is a true bond and that is what all the top players have. You essentially cannot have multiple coaches throughout the year and expect to have steady and consistent progress. I definitely do not believe in taking the junior player out of their comfort zone at home and with their coach which has worked for that particular player for them to reach a high level. Why change something that works? This plan for the USTA backfired and this country lost many top level juniors that could have gone on to do some special things with their talents. I continually make very clear to the parents that the window is very small to maximize the players’ talents. If not managed properly, the goals and dreams of the player will not be a reality.
What are the main reasons for the loss of dominance of US tennis players on the world stage?
There are many reasons for the loss of dominance in this country. I have heard and read things like our top athletes do not choose tennis. That is true but we have great athletes in tennis even though it takes a backseat to other sports. It all starts at the entry level. Many of the children and parents have not done their research in where to put their children in terms of their tennis development. There are a lot of great marketing schemes out there and the parents many times are sold a Ferrari and they get a Kia. Tennis is a big business and it all depends what you want for your child. If you look at the major sports, college is a pathway to becoming a professional. We need more tennis players coming out of college tennis and becoming successful professional players. Although, this is easier said than done. Coaches like myself in the private tennis sector are working with players and obtaining great results. The private sector coaches need funding from the USTA. I see plenty of talented players that go the college route and getting a job after college is their job. They do not have professional aspirations which is tough to see cause maybe someone has not supported them in trying to be the best they can be. From my perspective, going to college and getting a job is easy compared to testing yourself weekly against the world’s best tennis players and athletes, but you have to have the will and desire to do that knowing that it is a very difficult avenue to take. What I am saying is that too many of our athletes are taking the easy way out, and I think if they had the proper support emotionally and financially, they would put their best foot forward towards a professional career in tennis.
Many tennis academies offer 25 hours of tennis and fitness a week, plus players spend the weekend competing in tournaments. What do you think about this schedule for 12-16 year-olds?
With children at academies from ages 12-16 years old, I am not sure how you train 25 hours a week at an extremely high quality plus play tournaments on the weekends. If the intensity is high the vast majority of kids will not be able to get through this week. In my five years of coaching, I have only had one or two kids that could get through this type of week with this amount of hours with the intensity and focus that I demand. The players I train have had to build up to being able to handle this type of workload. I went to normal public middle school and high school in Coral Springs, FL and my day consisted of a three mile run, very physical tennis training for 2-3 hours, plus a session of fitness for about another hour. There were days where I had to just relax on the bench for twenty minutes after the workout due to exhaustion before I got up to go home. I do not see that with many of the kids, as they have not been given an education into what it is going to take to play high-level college tennis or professional tennis. My goal as a coach is to also make sure that the students are not surprised about the workload when they go to play high level college tennis. In my opinion, I would have not done my job properly if they cannot handle workouts in college or training with other professionals.
What should be the ratio between the time spent on the court and the time spent on fitness for pro players? What about for juniors?
The time spent on the court compared to the time spent on fitness whether you are a professional or amateur all depends on where you are at in your tennis career and what you need to be working on. Juniors need many different things based upon each and every person, and each and every person is different and this is why I cringe when I see many of the juniors all being taught the same thing in a cookie cutter mold. Since professionals are more produced players then juniors, they need to spend a great deal of time on fitness but it also depends on that individual as well.
What are your tips for young tennis players who dream about a professional career in tennis?
My tips for young tennis players who aspire to be professionals is to find a tennis professional who cares for you and your development first and foremost, and develop that bond. If you think you are working hard, work harder. There are kids all around the world who are absolutely working their tails off to have a professional career in tennis. Their single focus is tennis and not education so you need to maximize your time each and every moment you’re on the court or doing physical training. If you see anyone working harder then you in your area, state, or in the US, you better work harder cause that is the only way to make a living at this game and it’s only going to get more physical. Study the game. Most importantly, enjoy the process and smile on the court cause tennis does not last forever.
What can you advise to tennis parents and coaches?
My advice to parents is to pay very close attention to what is going on in your child’s development. This does not mean that because your child is not having great results, they are going nowhere in their development. They should have a balance of winning and losing. If you’re winning too much, that’s not good and if you’re losing a lot, that’s not good either. There is a lot of great marketing out there so from a parental perspective, you need to look past that. You should be able to tell if the coach is doing a great job or not. Many of the players I train wish they started with me earlier and I wish they did as well. You cannot recover the time lost in your child’s development.