In the March/April 2019 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine, I discussed my formula on junior tennis success. In short, it goes like this …
Ten percent of junior players walk onto the tennis court for the first time with clear-cut talent; 80 percent of junior players walk onto the tennis court for the first time and will go as far on the junior or collegiate circuit as their effort, commitment and proper guidance takes them; and 10 percent of junior players walk onto the tennis court for the first time and just find tennis extremely difficult.
Any well-educated coach will tell you that you need to learn good technique, develop a weapon, think on the court, control your emotions and get into good shape. This is all true. From my 30-plus years of being around junior tennis, there are many other things that come into play when it comes to a player reaching their potential. In the last issue, I expanded on five of these factors, which were Athletic Confidence, Flexibility, Parents’ Commitment, Sibling Influence, and Social Distractions. Below are five more:
1. Environment: Winning culture
It’s no surprise that talented players from different countries come in waves. Americans dominated in the 70’s, then there was the men’s “Swedish Invasion.” Then came a wave of good men’s Spanish players as well as a bunch of good of men’s French players. The last decade or so has seen a bunch of good Russian women’s players. The last few years we have seen a nice wave of American women’s players. Success breeds success. When you see a peer have a good result, it gives you belief that you can do it too. This doesn’t just apply on the macro level of country versus country, but also intra club. When you see players at your club that are on your level have a good result, it gives you the belief that you can do it too and gives life to your goals. This probably breeds more success than a particular coaching formula any one club may have.
2. Decision-making on the fly
How fast can the wheels turn in your head mid-point? The ball is really dropping, do I need to slice it or can I still roll it? My opponent is really covering cross-court, do I have time to set up and hit down the line? That ball is coming deep … do I take it on the rise or back-up? The amount of decisions one has to make in a tennis match is remarkable when you really think about it.
3. The ability to see the big picture at a young age
It is important that while a young child might hate losing, they are open and willing to develop their long-term game. Two specific examples are not pushing the ball and working on volleys at a young age. I remember a 10-and-Under-tournament where the number one kid in the East was practicing drop overheads with a coach before a match. Yes! Hitting a drop shot when they had an overhead at the net! At the time, all the parents watching in the window thought it was brilliant because after-all, the kid was number one in the 10’s! However, this was the epitome of working on things that only work at younger age groups and his ranking dropped tremendously once he reached the 14’s.
4. Core strength
This is an area that is fortunately getting more and more recognized in tennis training over time. If you look at pro tennis players, some have strong arms and some are almost scrawny. Some players legs are very chiseled (usually the counter-punchers) and some just look athletic. All successful tennis players have that six-pack. The core moves your kinetic chain along more efficiently, as well as prevent getting low with your shoulders (a no-no), prevent injury and even help you breathe better.
5. Perceived needs versus wants
The old coaching adage is “How badly do you want it!?” Really, the more apropos statement would be “How badly do you need it!?” Ask an international junior player. If they want to go to an American college and they cannot afford to go without a tennis scholarship, they will run through a wall in their training to get better. A junior player who wants to get better, but doesn’t need a scholarship or will hit their college of choice solely through academics, just won’t have that same “Eye of the Tiger” approach. This perceived need will intrinsically motivate more than anything else.
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club. He independently coaches high-performance juniors and adults of all-levels year-round at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. He has coached hundreds of ranked junior players. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Tennis Teams, and was ranked number four in the United States in the 18 & Under Division.