I just came back from the USTA High performance camp in Boca Raton, Fla. Several of the best 11 and 12 year olds from across the country, as well as their primary coaches, were selected to participate, including a student of mine, Brenden Volk. I have a few observations from this experience that I would like to share.
On the positive side ...
The players, as well as the USTA coaches did a great job of putting forth great, all day efforts despite the extreme 105-plus heat index every day. Brenden was a strong performer, and I was proud of his effort.
The USTA national coaches in particular, Kent Kinnear, Andres Pedroso and Mike Sell are true professionals. They are passionate, compassionate, dedicated and attentive to the players. No one here was talking on their cell phone for half the lesson! Brenden and all the other young players had a great time. I think an experience like this can build camaraderie and a sense of unity amongst players, and the national coaches encouraged this team atmosphere.
On the negative side ...
While the day was well-organized, allowing time for a warm up and cool down with each play period, the execution of these ancillary sessions was poor and this is alarming. Despite the great resources of the facility, including the dedicated services of a full-time trainer and gym, the fitness sessions were poorly, and sometimes incorrectly, explained, haphazardly conducted and not integrated into the play. It is difficult to identify and correct mechanical weakness without first identifying and correcting the players' underlying physical weaknesses and imbalances. This was not addressed with simple functional mobility testing and here is why I use the word "alarming."
If a tennis coach is incompetent, then the result will likely be under performance. If a fitness coach is remiss, the result may be an injury that was not prevented or even worse, promoted! In 11- and 12-year-olds with open skeletal growth plates, these injuries may be serious and permanent. I don't lose sleep over my student's double faults; however, if they get an injury that I could have prevented, then I am concerned.
There was also no discussion about nutrition. I talk about the importance of proper and well-timed nutrition all the time, but I don't have the credibility of the USTA.
Perhaps Brenden would have cut his Sprite consumption down and replenished his glycogen window each day with the USTA reinforcement.
The USTA is an institution, and like most Institutions, it is comprised of people. The coaches here are great, but the system is lacking.
My personal goal as a coach is to develop the best-educated players that I can. I think many players and parents share this ideal, and I am hoping the USTA might consider this a worthwhile goal and expand the scope of its teaching to address these deficiencies.
Steve Kaplan is the owner of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as the director of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation. Over the last 34 years, Steve has been the longtime coach of more than 600 nationally-ranked junior players, 15 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 $8 million in college scholarship money. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.