The Long Island tennis community has some of the sport’s best facilities, both indoor and outdoor, and best coaches in the world. With this wealth of talent available right in our own backyard, Long Island Tennis Magazine recently took the opportunity to pick the brains of some of these top coaches. What you will find below are some of the sport’s top instructors sharing their ideas and strategies from how to handle juniors, the differences between coaching girls and boys, the singles and doubles games, the benefits of 10 & Under Tennis and much more. Even the best coach can always learn an extra tip or two, and the following article will provide all players and coaches with a chance to learn from the cream of the area’s crop.
Meet the participants …
Great Neck Estates Tennis Center
Howie Arons is the owner/director of Great Neck Estates Tennis Center as well as the Boys Tennis Coach of BN Cardozo High School in Bayside, N.Y. Howie has coached Cardozo for 36 years, and has the most tennis wins in New York State history with 584 wins. He was USTA Coach of the Year in 1988 and USPTA Coach of the Year in 2007.
Glen Head Racquet Club, Home of the Early Hit Training Center
This is the 11th season of Carl Barnett’s Early Hit Training Center at Glen Head Racquet Club. Early Hit is dedicated to providing lessons, groups and training in its comprehensive ALPS program. Pat Etcheberry has worked with Carl as an advisor with the ALPS training program. Carl has concluded that students learn faster when they have core fitness, flexibility and explosive strength. Early Hit not only serves juniors as the program features nationally-ranked players in the USTA Open, 40s, 60s and 70s divisions.
Glen Head Racquet Club
Ricky Becker is the founder of JuniorTennisConsulting LLC, director of tennis at Glen Head Racquet Club, and high-performance manager at Glen Head Racquet Club. Ricky was named the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team, and was a top-five nationally-ranked junior. He has won numerous junior and collegiate sportsmanship awards and has a seat named in his honor in Stanford's "Row of Champions."
Long Beach Tennis Center
Twenty-six-year-old Jared Berse is currently director of junior development programs at Long Beach Tennis Center. Jared was Nassau County Doubles Champion and a state runner-up. He trained in Boca Raton, Fla. after high school, and then attended the State University of New York at Buffalo He has taught at Jericho-Westbury Indoor Tennis, as well as Camp Echo before joining Long Beach Tennis Center full-time.
Carefree Racquet Club
Ron D'Alessandro is the head pro and director of tennis at Carefree Racquet Club. Ron has more than 20 years of teaching experience, and is USPTA/USPTR Certified, specializing in teaching Cardio Tennis.
World Gym Bay Shore
Tracie Forsythe is the director of tennis at World Gym Bay Shore and has been the head tennis pro there for eight years. She was a top 10 nationally-ranked junior, and after being sidelined by an injury, went on to play number one for her high school boy’s tennis team for all four years. Tracie enjoyed playing for NCAA Division 1 Hofstra before becoming a full-time instructor. She now dedicates her time to helping her students prepare for all levels of play and assists them with preparing for their college careers.
As director of the IMG Academy Bollettieri tennis program, Rohan Goetzke oversees all aspects of the tennis program and ensures delivery of the optimal training and highest level of development to each male and female tennis athlete at the junior, high school, postgraduate, collegiate and professional levels. A native of Australia, Goetzke joined IMG Academy from the Dutch Tennis Federation, where he was responsible for the development and implementation of the nation’s tennis program from the junior through professional ranks. Prior to joining the Dutch Tennis Federation as technical director, Goetzke served as the national head coach of the Federation, working with top professionals including Robin Haase, Michaella Krajicek, Thiemo De Bakker and Arantxa Rus. He also privately coached Mario Ancic for several years, during which Ancic rose to 17th in the world. Additionally, he served as Richard Krajicek’s coach for more than 10 years, during which Krajicek rose to a number four world ranking and captured the Wimbledon singles title in 1996. From a team perspective, Goetzke has served as the Dutch Davis Cup coach for the past six years, and the Fed Cup coach for the past two.
Jay Harris is the regional manager of Sportime Syosset and Bethpage. Jay was the head men’s coach at Brown University for eight years prior to moving to New York. He left Brown in 2010 as the most successful coach in the 100-plus year history of that school’s program, having led the team to its highest national ranking ever (#33), to two straight Ivy League Titles, and to seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2005, Harris was named the Northeast Region Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the National Coach of the Year Award. Jay coached five singles players and 15 different doubles teams to the national rankings, including one All-American team. One of his players recently advanced to his second consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance, having been ranked in the top 50 on the ATP Tour. Before Brown, Harris coached at Bowling Green State University, where one of his players was Sportime’s own Regional Director of Tennis Mike Kossoff. At Bowling Green, Harris was named the 2002 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year after leading his squad to MAC Titles in 2000 and 2002. A former successful collegiate player at the University of Cincinnati, Jay moved to Miami University where he was an assistant women’s tennis coach, while earning his master’s degree in 1996 with a concentration in sports psychology. In addition to coaching many of the nation’s top tennis players, Jay has also worked with many athletes as a Peak Performance Consultant to enhance psychological skills, such as visual imagery, anxiety regulation, self-talk and goal-setting.
Bethpage Park Tennis Center
Steven Kaplan is the owner of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as the director of Reebok Academy for New York City Parks Foundation. Over the last 35 years, Steve has been the longtime coach of more than 500 nationally-ranked junior players, 14 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous touring professionals and prominent coaches. Steve's students have been awarded in excess of $7 million in college scholarship money.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Whitney Kraft is director of tennis programs at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and director of player operations for the U.S. Open. A native of Summit, N.J., Whitney brings more than 25 years of tennis experience to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Prior to joining the USTA, Kraft served as director of tennis for the city of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. where he oversaw the daily programming and operations of more than 45 courts at nine different facilities. As a tennis player, Kraft was a four-time National Mixed-Open Champion and most recently in 2006, Kraft was the USPTA International Championship 45 Doubles Champion.
College Tennis Exposure Camps
Ed Krass is the former Harvard women's tennis coach from 1986-1990 where the team won four consecutive Ivy League titles. He also was the assistant men's tennis coach at Clemson University from 1984-1986, where the team won two ACC Team titles. Ed is the founder/director of the College Tennis Exposure Camps, a camp for juniors, taught by head college coaches. Ed is also the founder of One-On-One Doubles Tournaments in an effort to boost junior development.
Tim Mayotte was one of the United States’ best tennis players during the 1980s. Twice during the 80s, he finished the year ranked in the world's top 10. Over the course of his career, he has recorded wins over the greatest players of his era, including Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and others. Besides reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon and the Australian Open, he also won a Silver Medal in the Olympics and represented his nation in Davis Cup action. For the last decade, Tim has shifted his focus to developing top American players and is currently running 360 Tennis at the Cunningham Tennis Center with his partners, Lee Hurst and Carl Thorsen.
Pat Mosquera is junior development director at Rockville Racquet. Pat is a USPTA- and USPTR-certified tennis professional and a certified QuickStart coach. He is also the coach of Rockville Racquet’s Championship Junior Team Tennis Program. In addition to 15-plus years at the Club, Pat has served as the director and head pro at Sun and Surf Beach Club for the past 16-plus summers. He is also the tennis director at the Ocean Club in Atlantic Beach, N.Y. and provides instruction to adults at Rockville Racquet through Adult Learning Leagues and Drills as well as private instruction.
Butch Seewagen Tennis Academy
Ranked number one in every age category in the East as a Junior and Men’s Open Division, Butch Seewagen was a finalist at the U.S. Nationals at Kalamazoo, and a two-time All-American from Rice University. Butch was a U.S. Amateur Champion before turning pro and was ranked in the top 70 in world and was holder of more than 15 national and international titles. A former coach of Ivy League Champion Columbia University and coach of four top 50 ATP players, Butch is co-owner of CATS: Children's Athletic Training School Inc. and Butch Seewagen Tennis Academy in Rockville Centre and Manhattan for children three to nine years of age.
Tennis To The Max
Fred Sperber did not start playing tennis until he was 29-years-old, when he started teaching at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station. Just 10 years, later Fred was coaching varsity girls and boys tennis at Comsewogue, and did so until he retired in 2000. After he retired, he returned to coaching tennis, first in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, and currently, at Oyster Bay High School. He began coaching full-time, first at Woodbury Racquet Club, where he ran the adult lesson programs and the men's leagues. He spent four years teaching and running the men’s leagues at Bethpage State Park. For the past five years, Fred has been teaching tennis and running the men's leagues at Eastern Athletic in Melville. After teaching tennis for 28 years, Fred co-founded Tennis To The Max with his partner, Tina Greenbaum.
Tonny van de Pieterman
Point Set Indoor Racquet Club
Tonny van de Pieterman is head tennis professional and program director at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club. Since 1998, he has worked with the best junior players of Long Island. Before that, Tonny worked at the Harry Hopman Tennis Academy in Saddlebrook, Fla.
The roundtable …
What do you think Americans coaches need to do to develop top professional players?
Howie Arons: The United States has unquestionably some of the best tennis coaches in the world. For the U.S to continue developing top level players, these coaches need to periodically evaluate themselves and their methods of coaching. To develop top professional players, the coaches must continue to educate themselves in the newest worldwide techniques both in the game of tennis, and in tennis-specific fitness. For example, what are the Russian coaches doing correctly that produces so many of the world’s top-ranked women? Why are so many Spanish men in the top 20? What can we learn from their successes? In the same manner that we expect our players to continue to strive for excellence, so must the coach.
Carl Barnett: The variety of team sports in America is what dilutes our talent pool. We are doing great things with and for our juniors. Our collegiate programs are so valuable they are full of students from around the world. Take a look at any major college program and half the team comes from outside the U.S. It then shouldn't surprise us that we are not the dominant force. Kids want to be with their friends. We need kids who just play tennis period from a young age. You can't be LeBron and Rafa it’s not going happen.
Rohan Goetzke: I believe that American coaches are doing a good job developing top professional American and foreign players. I believe that a focus on strong fundamentals at an early age―practicing as much as possible on clay; starting young with age-appropriate tennis balls like we see in the U10s―helps develop good technique, and a long-term development plan. It’s important for the coach to establish that a player should not expect immediate success, but must stay focused on winning. The coaches also have to work with the parents of players to make sure they are consistent with their message and stay positive. Being too overbearing does not allow the player to develop their own personal confidence which is important in a player’s personal life and for their tennis career. The player also has to love the game, and finding a good coach and group training environment at an early age is beneficial.
Jay Harris: To me, one of the biggest things holding our American tennis players back is time wasted with bad coaching. It is far too easy to be named an instructional tennis pro. No certification is actually needed; many pros were never decent players (not always needed I realize), and some pros don’t even enjoy the game! Parents are uneducated in many instances when it comes to both the level of the pro they have hired, and with the true playing level of their child. Many pros, in turn, hold on to players as a piece of property long after an ability to actually promote further development has passed. In the end, you have wasted months and years of stagnant progress and that is happening far too often even with America’s top junior players.
What needs to happen is a team-based approach. I am not sure the feasibility of this on a national level as there are, of course, an incredible amount of egos in the way, but at a local level, it is possible.
When I was picking a club for my own kids to train at in Rhode Island, I looked for this atmosphere, and it was actually hard to find. Most clubs had pros that were individual proprietors and would let alone steal another pro’s student than make a comment that might help that student or that coach in the developmental process.
When parents are choosing a training ground for their children, they need to find a cooperative environment where coaches are both trained in teaching the game, but also have a TEAM attitude. I love a club where the pros are communicating back and forth about each other’s students and are really working together to strive for improvement. A strong leader is needed to foster this kind of environment, but a club/academy has to have some great instructors whose prioritized goals center around growth in their students. If that is the focus, then all the success both with the players and the coaches will take care of itself.
I would love to see America be able to produce this. Until we do, we will have to rely on a bit of luck that the right players get connected with the right coaches before their development is stunted.
Tim Mayotte: That is a very difficult question as the list is so long. Motivational skills and helping a kid nurture and grow a player's passion is the most important thing. A big part of motivational skills would be to help the younger player learn to manage frustration and turn anger into focusing on the process. I also think an awareness of technical development is critical both in terms of the shape of swings and the technique of movement. Without great efficiency in these last two areas, a player's game will stall somewhere along the line.
Butch Seewagen: I don’t feel that the onus to develop top professional players falls primarily on coach’s teaching abilities. The level of coaching today is the highest it has ever been … never have there been so many qualified coaches. The mission is to increase the quality of the talent pool. The job is to identify great athletes and get them involved in tennis instead of traditional team sports. Tennis is huge in other countries, as in many places, tennis is the number one sport. They have the luxury of the best of the best going into tennis. The job of the USTA and the coaches is to get the best athletes to try tennis and then to keep them in the game. Once in our coaches’ hands, we will have no problem producing top players.
What qualities do you look for in a potential student that may set them apart from other juniors?
Jared Berse: There are several qualities I look for in my students that set them apart from other juniors. Number one is confidence. Having a high level of confidence helps students in pressured situations and helps them when times are tough. Confidence is something that all great competitors possess and when you think you can win and become a top player, it's a big positive. Motivation and self-driven work ethic are additional qualities I look for. Children who want it and are not forced to play are the kids I love to teach. When kids come to practice with lists of things they want to improve upon, then you know you have something. Great players always expect a lot from themselves and these are some important qualities I look for.
Jay Harris: In college coaching, recruiting is a major aspect leading to a level of success or failure. Coaches all look at different things, and most coaches’ ideals are centered around one word: Potential. Now, all coaches want the players with the best potential, but many different attributes are affiliated with expected future outcomes. I have the same desires in working with our John McEnroe Academy kids at Sportime as I did while coaching at Brown University. I look mostly at a player’s desire to truly want to develop. I love working with players who actually need to get better. I saw it in working with a guy like Jamie Cerretani, a former Brown player and now on tour having recently earned a win over Roger Federer, and I now see it with many of our players in the JMTA. There are, of course, physical athletic attributes that could raise or lower the potential of success, but to me, even with great athletes, it really comes down to that burning desire to be great. Those who settle will settle to be good. Those who will do anything it takes to be great will be great.
Tim Mayotte: First, I look for a young person who can focus. One who has a desire to win, but can tolerate frustration. A well-rounded athlete can be developed over time given the capacity. Finally, if the child has supportive parents; that is critical.
Butch Seewagen: Apart from the necessary athletic skill sets, the two qualities that are most important in a potential student are stomach and heart. The stomach is not the dog in the fight, but simply put, it is the fight in the dog. A student must enjoy the competition. It is from winning and losing that improvements are made. The heart involves the love of the game, and most importantly of all, determination. Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men/women with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Fred Sperber: I love to work with juniors who simply love to play the game. It matters little how skilled they are. All I am looking for is the desire to learn and get better. I never want to feel that I am on the court with a youngster who is there simply because their parents want them to be there.
Is there a difference between coaching girls and boys?
Carl Barnett: Every player is different. When coaching tournament players, you are developing skills, building fitness, scheduling and overcoming limitations. As director of tennis at Lutheran High School, I'd say the greatest difference with the boys versus girls is I tend to get more from encouragement with girls. With boys, I can push, leverage and demand a little more vigorously.
Ron D'Alessandro: I find the difference between coaching boys and girls is that boys tend to want to be more aggressive, while girls seem to play things safer, especially from the beginner to intermediate levels. Every student, whether they are a boy or a girl, has their own personality, skill level and ability. It is important as a coach to be able to adjust your teaching tactics for each individual player.
Tracie Forsythe: There are many differences between teaching boys and girls that range from anatomy used for technique, to the mental aspect of the game. I believe the technique is a much easier area to tackle and the changing of a girl’s natural passive nature is the hardest. Boys seemed to be hard wired to be aggressive and competitive, and girls are usually not as inclined to have a “blood and guts” attitude. Of course, there are always exceptions, but you can see the difference just by practicing overheads. The boys are more likely to go for the shot with the mindset that they are going to win this point with a bone-crushing winner and girls will be much more timid with feelings of uncertainty and a hope they don’t miss the shot. I feel that getting a girl to really be aggressive and love the feeling of dominating an opponent with more than just a grunt and a consistent moon ball is much more difficult than trying to get a boy to have some patience and consistency.
Steve Kaplan: While the technical demands of coaching girls and boys are similar, the interpersonal communication style needed is vastly different. At one time, solid groundstrokes, a reliable serve and good lateral movement were enough for success in women's and girl's tennis, but now, the athletic bar has been raised. Both girls and boys must learn a complete game to excel and reach their full potential. Interpersonally, however, coaching girls is a very different and perhaps a more challenging task then coaching boys.
Girls need to like their coach to fully respect and accept them. The expression "no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care" accurately describes the foundation of this relationship. Coaches who are patient, skilled and empathic listeners often excel at developing long-term positive coaching relationships with female students. The key here is to demonstrate that you understand your student, while leading them. If you agree and validate female students in excess, then you run the risk of undermining your role as a mentor.
Successfully coaching boys is way more straightforward. The goal is to demonstrate strong leadership skills, since most boys will eagerly follow a confident and competent leader. Some of the best male players have alpha tendencies and a need to control. An astute coach will recognize these players’ needs and know when to give them space to empower and when to reel them in to manage their anxiety.
Ed Krass: The main difference I see is the style of presentation with your coaching, as it matters more to females. A coach needs to choose their words carefully when coaching girls. I found the girls to be very enjoyable to work with because they seem to listen to every word you say. Additionally, it is all more "social" at the same age, for the girls than it is with the boys. One important note is to always give some positive feedback before making any corrections or providing advice. I know if this is not conducted in a sensitive manner, then most young females will deduct the coaching to be negative criticism! It is important, when coaching/teaching young females, that your delivery counts the most and how it is perceived in regards to positive or negative feedback. Be careful not to "overcoach" females, as this can and often backfires! Most importantly, make sure that the coach and the female player are both having fun on the drill court!
I have found that you can demand more effort from the boys by raising your voice and throwing in the fear factor a little more than you would with the girls. The boys, by the whole, do not seem to have the same amount of listening skills as girls do … this is where external motivation comes into play. Don't get me wrong … there are plenty of internally motivated, young male players. It just seems that a coach can get his message across better to a group of boys by raising their voice and giving immediate feedback that is not always perceived as "positive.” I have found that the style in which the message is given doesn't matter as much to the boys as it does with the girls. Coaching with substantial advice is paramount to coaching both the boys and girls, however, a coach needs to recognize that style of coaching and teaching counts for more with the girls than it does with the boys.
Also, most girls want to know the reason why they are doing a certain swing, strategy or drill, whereas boys will just go with the flow of the instruction unless the player is 100 percent headed to the Ivy Leagues, then you better pack your lunch and be prepared to explain your method and reasoning.
What should a parent’s role be in a child’s training?
Jay Harris: This, of course, is greatly affected by the tennis/sports experiences a parent has had, but I truly feel that a parent has to have an important role in the athletic development of their child. We have all heard the stories around the sports world of the extremely volatile father, or the aggravating and over-controlling mother, but let me tell you, there is truly a place for a controlled level of this sort of behavior that is essentially needed for the positive development of a child.
My dad came from the “Bobby Knight School of Coaching and Parenting.” He was tough, extremely tough! He had a way of looking at me that could immediately make me cry. He had this effect even into my college coaching days. My players at Bowling Green (my first college coaching spot) were actually all terrified of him! Some may, and did, call some of his antics abusive, but to me, no one could ever motivate me to seek success the way he did … no one!
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were some things that even he would love to take back, and that is where the control comes in. Parents need to control their own emotions, but they also must learn to let go of a huge need to control everything that happens. This is the world of sports. Not only is it impossible to control everything, it is extremely unhealthy to try. A parent’s role is to only control what their own “personal role” is, be it the chief motivator, the travel coordinator, the psychologist, or even the tennis strategist if that is where their expertise lies. But once this role is defined, the parent must put together a team (or find help putting it together) that will fill the other roles that are needed in terms of building their child’s success. And then that parent needs to allow those professionals to take over their own areas. I am not saying the parent should ignore those roles. The parent is still the director of the overall operation, but that parent needs to allow the greatness of the other role players to shine through. Micro-managing parents often work against members of their own team, and thus, only work to impede their own child’s progress without even realizing that.
Ricky Becker: Behind every really good player is a very involved parent. When a parent tells me that they want their child to be "a player," I will always ask them if they are ready to change their lifestyle to the necessary level to ensure that it can happen. This means, among other things, driving to practices and spending weekend evenings in tennis club lobbies for tournaments more than restaurants with friends. It also includes updating the coach on what the parent observes from tennis sessions that the coach is not at. Where a parent should not go is to tell the child or coach what needs to be worked on.
Jared Berse: Parents should have a major role in anything their children do. A parent should be very involved in a child's tennis activity, but need to know how to do so in the right way. Let the coaches do the coaching, while you as the parents should play more of the managerial role. Give the coach a chance to work with your child, and if it doesn't work out, then you have to do what's best for your child. Support is the best thing a parent can offer. Be prepared to listen and learn, and avoid the mindset where you think you know everything about tennis. Children need to be rewarded for hard work and not just wins and losses, and as a parent of a child who plays tennis, you can control that. Support, support and most importantly SUPPORT!
Rohan Goetzke: The role of the parent is very important. A player needs positive support from their parents. In most cases, parents are an important part of the equation. They fill many roles in driving the development of their child. They help their children by finding the best coaches, travel opportunities and providing the resources necessary for their child. At the same time, parents need to be aware of the boundaries that need to exist between being a supportive parent, allowing the player to develop, and allowing the coach to do their job. Oftentimes, the lines are blurred, and it creates a less-than-optimal situation for everyone involved, and might be detrimental to the development of the player in some cases.
Whitney Kraft: The recently-published USTA's “Positioning Youth Tennis for Success” says it best stated with the following synopsis: "Good tennis parenting involves a combination of providing support, knowing when to push, and focusing on the development process rather than on winning.” The "optimal parent push" means motivating a child without placing undue pressure on the child to succeed.
Tim Mayotte: The role of the parent is multi-faceted. At the core and most importantly, a parent must nurture a young player's passion by providing unconditional support, regardless of results. The parent must also help a youngster learn to embrace the process of taking on something that takes great skill, and hence, requires sacrifice and the willingness to tolerate and work through fears.
In junior tennis, players make their own line calls. How do you tell your players to handle a situation where they feel like they are being blatantly cheated?
Ricky Becker: Interestingly, this is the one area where the advice of a child's parents trumps my advice as a coach. I have always been of the mindset that the first bad call should get the question, "Are you sure?" And the second bad call should get an umpire. After that, stay proactive and get the umpire on any close call thereafter if the umpire leaves. I also tell my students that if they are going to play someone who they know first-hand will make a bad call to quietly get an umpire on the first ball that is anywhere close to the line. This way, they are saving themself from that big point when nobody is there. Interestingly though, I find that if a parent advises their child "to cheat back," that is what the child will do and I am pretty much powerless to do anything about it. This is the one area of coaching where this is the case.
Steven Kaplan: You can cheat back, but you shouldn’t and here is why … it will define you as a player and a person, and ultimately, limit your opportunities to improve and progress both on and off the court. If you cheat, you will be known to everyone as a “cheater.” It will make no difference to the tennis world that you are fiercely competitive, incredibly fit, remarkably dedicated and athletically gifted. These qualities will be ignored when your name comes up in conversation, as you will be simply known as that kid who “cheats” or “hooks.”
Perhaps your reputation is unimportant to you? Your reputation does matter to others, like college coaches for example, who seek players who will represent the team and school with honor, integrity and respect. Make no mistake about the extent to which your reputation for honesty is known to coaches, most check carefully and comprehensively.
As an honest player, you cannot completely stop others from cheating, but you can limit the extent and impact of those who would cheat you in the following ways. First, be polite and courteous to your opponent immediately before the match begins, as well as throughout play. It is human nature to treat others with respect when you are treated with respect. Cheaters will less likely cheat if you are nice. Second, question calls calmly, but firmly. Let your opponent know that you will not idly tolerate cheating, and you will not be bullied, but do so without bullying them. Third, if necessary, request a linesperson and ask for clarification on the rules they will use in calling lines. Sometimes, a linesperson calls every line, and other times, they just overrule calls. Sometimes, they will only be involved if you ask for an overrule. Four, have a rule book (A Friend at Court) with you at all times and know the rules. While many players and tournament officials do not know the rules, it is hard to argue with the rule book. Five, keep score and call it out clearly on every point. Be careful to not get too excited about calling out a winning score with too much enthusiasm. Remember, it is more difficult for an opponent to cheat you if you demonstrate empathy for their feelings. And six, be wary of opponents who question calls that are obviously correct. This is a rationalization for cheaters to begin cheating. Most cheaters do not believe that they cheat, rather, they see themselves as getting even by cheating back against those who are cheating them first. I have heard this called “reverse cheating” or “giveback cheating,” by parents, coaches and players. It is still cheating!
Sadly, behind most children who cheat are adults who impose enormous pressure on these young players to win at any cost. If you play a cheater, be compassionate and be grateful that you do not act as they do. Your reputation is far more important than the score or result of any match.
Pat Mosquera: I instill in my players the importance of having great body language to overcome any bad situation that can arise in a match. You can challenge a bad call firmly or you can get a referee, but nothing will make a stronger statement than showing your opponent a strong mental attitude. Let your opponent know that it will take more than bad calls to beat you. Showing strong body language will keep you in the game and will make you a winner both on and off the court.
Tonny van de Pieterman: Preparation is the key. During a tennis match, a player’s ego is exposed. The insecurities he or she may have about their game are being exposed by the opponent and they are doing his best to keep it all together. Under these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to deal with a situation in which you feel mistreated. Any surprises that may arise, like being blatantly cheated, will severely hinder one’s performance. As a coach, I try to prepare my players for these situations. If they are sure they are being cheated, they are to leave their racquet on the court and to go get a line judge. Just to have an objective person monitoring play should be enough to ease my player’s mind and set them free of any worries. I also try to instill in my players that the actual cheating of a few points, even if they are “key” points, will not be the difference in the outcome of the match. The reaction to it might make you lose a match you otherwise could have won. This is a much harder “sell,” however.
How important do you think it is for a junior to participate in doubles as well as singles?
Howie Arons: Learning to compete and developing as a solid doubles player can only improve the growth of a junior tennis player. Learning the skill set of doubles tennis is a “sure fire” way of also improving as a singles player as well. Volleying, approaching the net, finishing points at the net, and returning serve only help to improve the overall skills of a junior tennis player. College coaches are always looking for players who have doubles skills. Winning or losing a team match in college could very well depend on just one doubles point. Developing a doubles game and all the skills that go with it undoubtedly improve the overall growth of competitive junior players, and prepare them for the college tennis experience.
Carl Barnett: Most players will play doubles at some point in high school. All players will play doubles in college as it is part of the format. I feel that playing doubles makes you a better all-around player. You will find that you will play more doubles than singles when you reach the age of 35.
Ron D'Alessandro: I think it is important for juniors to play doubles, as well as singles. It helps improve your game in a different way than singles does. As a singles player, you can be primarily a baseliner, without having to get to the net all that often. Playing doubles tennis forces you to have better footwork, volleys and overheads. Also, since tennis is the sport of a lifetime, as you get older, playing doubles in inevitable.
Rohan Goetzke: Playing doubles is very important for the development of junior players. It teaches social skills, teamwork and is fun. The strategy and skills necessary to be successful in doubles are different in comparison to singles. It offers the possibility to develop a broader skill set and different strategic perspective. It makes a player more complete.
Jay Harris: It is a common thought that our American players do not play enough doubles tennis. I personally feel that not only is consistent doubles exposure and training important to develop doubles skills, but also that these doubles skills are highly important in the overall development of a singles player. Many players have earned their way on to a college team based on their doubles ability. I have had three of my Brown graduates earn their way on the professional tour via doubles success, and I had plenty of doubles successes with teams at Brown, so I may be a little biased, but I am of course not in the minority when it comes to preaching about the importance of doubles.
But what is being done about it? Are there junior coaches out there truly maintaining a consistent level of doubles skill training? It is all good for our junior players to be playing more doubles in tournaments than possibly they have in the recent future, but the training is where a majority of the true progression is going to take place. If players only really play doubles in tournaments, then they are really just becoming singles players playing doubles in tournaments.
It isn’t hard for college coaches to see who has trained to develop doubles and attacking skills. Those players who do it will undoubtedly keep finding ways onto great college teams, and I truly believe that those players will also be poised to produce the all-important word: Potential.
If you had to choose one player on the pro tour to be a role model for your students, which player would it be and why?
Carl Barnett: I would say Roger Federer because of his focus, form, fitness and fortitude. Roger is a class guy who has stayed healthy, has a strong work ethic to admire and has results unlike anyone else.
Ron D'Alessandro: If I had to choose one player on tour to be a role model for my students, it would be Roger Federer. He is an example of a true gentleman and an overall class act. You rarely see him argue or get upset with an official or even himself. When he wins, he is complementary towards his opponent and when he loses, he is just as gracious. He also seems to be a great family man, which depicts him in a completely different light, one other than just being a professional athlete.
Tracie Forsythe: The player I would choose to be a role model for my students would be Novak Djokovic. I know that Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time with the game to more than back up that title, but I feel Djokovic’s story is more than inspiring to just tennis players. He was a young man who came from a war-torn and impoverished country, and carried the welfare of his family on his back from a very young age. He then left his family to train for a goal that a million kids have and are also much better funded to achieve. Despite everything he had stacked against him, he beat it all and became a champion. Not only is he an amazing tennis player, but it is so refreshing to see a champion who expresses his happiness to be on the court. That’s what I would want my students to always feel, the love of the game.
Fred Sperber: There are so many great players on the pro tour, but the one I really respected more than all the others was Andre Agassi. Being somewhat undersized, his stature never got in his way. As the game became more and more dominated by physically imposing players, Agassi never let it intimidate him. I could never get over how incredibly coordinated he had to have been when returning 140-mph serves by standing in front of the baseline, hitting the ball on the rise. But even more impressive than his tennis skills has been his willingness to give back to the tennis community beyond the confines of the sport. He is very active in projects for the less fortunate and especially endeavors involving children.
How important is a strong playing background/ability to coaching juniors?
Howie Arons: As both a tennis director of a large junior program and as a current high school tennis coach, I feel that a coach who regularly works with tournament level juniors should have a strong playing background to be able to deal with the ongoing growth of a junior player. Developmental coaches who are prepared can do a good job with young beginning players, but to be able to take a junior to the next level which includes a great deal of match play and competition, the coach himself needs to know what fierce competition is all about. The only way to be able to coach a junior in these situations is for the coach to feel what that player is feeling at all times.
Coaches who have competed on a high level themselves whether in college, juniors, professional tennis or even open sectional tennis know more and have experienced many of the same feelings and therefore are better prepared to coach these high level juniors. Of course there are exceptions. Nick Bolletteri never played tournament tennis and became a great coach. However, coaches who have themselves competed in sectional and national events and struggled to become better players have a far greater insight into most aspects of tennis development.
Tim Mayotte: I think it helps, but is not essential. Nick Bollettieri is an example of a great coach with no playing background. A coach must be able to motivate first and foremost. He did that. I do think having played does help one understand the specific struggles a player faces technically, tactically and emotionally. Having played myself, I am motivated to find out about technique and how to deal with frustration alone on a court. That last skill is very much singular to tennis. Even in boxing and golf, a player gets help.
Pat Mosquera: Coaching equals teaching and motivation. Being a good teacher and a great motivator can be more beneficial to a player’s development and performance. Being a strong player can help, but it's not as important as having a great mentor and energetic person.
Tonny van de Pieterman: As a player, I have only worked with coaches that had a strong playing background. I believe that coaches with a playing background might be able to relate better with the stress a player experiences in competition. They might recognize the phases of development a player works through a little better because of their own experience. With all this said, “Uncle Tony” Nadal seems to be doing alright without much of a playing background.
Does a player learn more from a win or a loss, and why?
Tracie Forsythe: In my opinion, as well as in experiences as a tennis player and teacher, losing is what you learn the most from. In an attempt not to sound too crass, but getting your butt kicked around can separate the whiners from the winners. Players can be cocky and concerned only about wins. I can watch a terrible shot hit for a winner, and all I hear when trying to correct the technical error is, “Why is that bad … I won the point.” Tennis is an ever-evolving game and what works against one player or for one age group will not always work against another. It is necessary to always have competition to show you weaknesses in your own game. Losing also teaches you to have a tough skin and to persevere if being the best is really what you want.
Steve Kaplan: Rather than ask which is a better learning experience, consider that both losing and winning are most valuable when they complement each other. In a great learning environment, both losing and winning are important experiences. Losing is more than worthwhile, it is a necessary for success. The ancient proverb, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" is very valid when applied to tennis advancement. While every student is unique and responds differently to wins and losses if you read the autobiographies of the greatest athletes, it is clear that they hate to lose even more than they love to win. While losing can be a powerful motivator, nothing provides greater positive reinforcement than winning, and it's an important measure of success. In a dysfunctional environment, winning is likely less harmful than losing, but each has it cost.
Whitney Kraft: The player benefits from both winning and losing experiences. The important takeaway is that the player is competing, trying their best, and continuing to learn and develop. Playing the right amount of matches and at the correct level is of even greater importance.
Ed Krass: I will suggest that juniors watch themselves compete in recent matchplay videos against players at their own level. If they watch this video and take good notes on how their technique/shot-making did or did not succeed, how their strategy worked or didn't work, where the unforced errors lie, how their body language/intensity level was, then it doesn't matter so much as to who won or lost the set or match. The truth is in watching yourself play a few matches, on video, and that will help a player grow and learn about their game in the most effective and efficient way. A player needs to be under pressure to see all the "blemishes" in their game, so it might be advisable to see yourself lose a set or two on video.
The adage I like is that: "Winning gives a player an opportunity to gain confidence and losing allows a player to grow and learn more about the process needed to improve.” Players need to give credit where credit is due … the other player counts too … 50 percent of the match outcome depends on how the other player performs, so your job is to break the opponent down. Learn not to use excuses and admit that the other player was better that day, when you lose, and that you need to improve. A young junior must learn the proper balance of respect for their opponent if they are going to truly grow in this tough game of tournament tennis.
Butch Seewagen: Most coaches probably feel that players learn more from losing than winning, when in all actuality, both are very important. However, the timing of the discussion following a match is different. After a loss, a coach or parent should avoid any discussion of the match. Of course, polite, supercritical supportive comments are okay, such as: “Nice match,” “You’ll get ‘em’ next time,” etc. Any in-depth constructive criticism is best saved until the player has sufficiently recovered from the match and can rationally discuss exactly “what happened” with a clear mind. Although both winning and losing are “coachable” moments, I personally think that winning a tough match can have the most value. The caveat here is that the pupil did their own free-thinking in the match. A player is then able to intelligently discuss the strategy employed and the tactics used for the successful outcome. Giving a player a detailed game plan sometimes is useful, but often stunts the player’s development by prohibiting their ability to figure out “how to be successful” for themselves. When they do that, we see the most happy and empowered pupils.
Comment on the new proposed changes to college Division I Championships.
Steven Kaplan: The NCAA proposal to shorten the length and duration of tennis matches to promote the popularity of the sport to fans is both misguided and stupid, and I am hoping it's nothing more than a short-sighed attempt to make the game shorter. It's almost universally opposed by players and coaches, and it will have a chilling effect on the game.
I hate to be cynical here, but I see a larger and more insidious trend. Two of the premier trustees of the game, the NCAA and the USTA, are advocating tennis shrinkage. While these organizations should have the game's growth as their number one priority, they advocate that a more exclusive group of players, in shorter matches on smaller courts as progress. It's a trend of dilution and it's a greedy attempt at squeezing every last dollar out of the core of the tennis market and a step in the wrong direction. Of course, there is growth in some areas. Tuitions are skyrocketing, more foreign players are receiving scholarships that used to go to Americans and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is expanding its footprint. Expect ticket prices to rise as well.
Give your overall opinion on 10 & Under Tennis being good or bad for the game?
Ricky Becker: I think 10 & Under Tennis would be great if it was changed to seven- or eight-and-under tennis. I agree that younger kids need to feel some success to be drawn into the sport and the softer, slower equipment is great for that. What I think is a colossal failure though is that kids who are seven- through 10-years-old who practice with regulation tennis balls are required to either play with the slower equipment or play in 12-and-under tournaments and be completely overmatched. This will turn kids away from tennis even more! I feel that if the USTA took all of the money dedicated to 10 & Under commercials during the U.S. Open and gave it to more volunteer umpires at the local levels for USTA junior tournaments, we would retain more kids in our great sport. I personally know more stories of great athletes who left tennis because of the frustration of a lack of competitive officiating than of great athletes who left tennis because the ball "bounces too high."
Pat Mosquera: Ten & Under tennis has been around for a long time, just under different names. Remember Pee-Wee Tennis? Ten & Under is a great tool to teach players at the beginning stages, regardless of their age. The key to produce better players is very simple … find a coach that will make learning fun and teach good technique. The kids will learn to love the game and get better by having a solid foundation at an early age. Instead of focusing on competing on smaller courts, focus on building a solid process. This will produce better players. Remember, find a fun and knowledgeable coach for your child … a bad coach will not succeed no matter how slow the ball bounces.
What are some of your favorite drills?
Ed Krass: My favorite drills, for advanced tournament juniors, are match play-style, live-ball drills. I like singles drills where two players are playing out a singles point while the coach gets to start the feed with a variety of surprise placements to simulate real play, and the players can compete against each other for 4-5 points in-a-row, get an amazing workout, and learn at the same time! I also like two-on-two live ball doubles drills that spell winning! The variations of both teams starting at the net or one team closing in from the baseline or going back, to the baseline, to get that tough lob … teach the doubles teams about offense, defense and tracking assignments. It is important that the tactics are taught within a high-energy, electric training environment where players can feel the intensity and enthusiasm on the court! The teams that close the net fastest, with the right drills and coaching/teaching, will usually find themselves winning the majority of the doubles points, games and sets.
To teach serve-and-volley doubles skills that college coaches covet, I really like my camp juniors to play One-On-One Doubles competitions, which teach them how to serve-and-volley, return and close … all on half-a-court with the alleys included. The importance of "forcing" players, males and females, to work on their mid-court volleys, only breeds more all-court confidence later in other matches!
Jared Berse: I have lots of favorite drills. My favorite drill is a return of serve drill. Return of serve is one of the most important shots in tennis that I believe is not practiced enough. A drill I love is serving to my student from the middle of the court and having them return a ball cross-court or down the line, and then have them recover back to middle and give them a second shot. They then get to practice returning the serve and then prepare for that next shot to come back. This drill is done to both the deuce and ad court, and the second shot is either a forehand or backhand. Another drill I like is an approach-shot drill, followed by a reaction volley. It's very important to give children-adults volleys when they don't know if it's coming to the forehand or backhand. Making them come in for an approach and then react quickly for a volley is a very helpful drill which I enjoy.
Tonny van de Pieterman: Drills that result in having my students play “automatically,” without thinking, are my favorite. Often, one of the progressions in my drills have my students count while they are playing. This will preoccupy them from having more disrupting thoughts and often they will hit smoothly and effortlessly.
Fred Sperber: I don't necessarily have a favorite drill per se, but I certainly prefer drills that incorporate both the need for good footwork with lots of movement, and a variety of shots (forehands, backhands, volleys, etc.).