In my June article I discussed the importance of practice
among junior players and setting appropriate goals. The
point of my article was not to put down junior players but
to get some feedback from players and parents about the
goals that they have and the amount of practice they put
in to reach these goals.
I have to admit that I was a little nervous about the type
of feedback I would receive. Obviously telling juniors
they need to practice more is a touchy subject and I opened
myself up to plenty of criticism. I received more emails
on this subject than any I've ever written for
Tenniserver.com. Believe it or not, 99% of the feedback I
received was positive and in agreement with my article. I
received emails from all over the world, from parents,
players, and coaches. After taking some notes from several
of the emails I received I was able to put together some
ideas with these results:
- For most of the junior players in the United States, a
minimum of 10 hours per week practice during the school
year is needed to compete at the open level in most states.
Using my state as an example, if a player makes it a point
to put in at least 10 hours of practice, they usually can
be ranked in the middle of the rankings for the state.
Obviously this is just a basic starting point and some
states are more competitive than others.
During the summer this amount of practice time should be
at least 18-20 hours per week. Of course if you were
competing at a national level this would be much higher.
- The practice time has to be a commitment from the junior
player and not the parents or coaches. The parents and
coaches need to be there to assist but not force a player
to practice. Back to the original article--if the player
doesn't have the desire to put in the practice, they need
to adjust their goals accordingly.
- The practice time does not have to be lessons and
clinics!! So many times when a teaching professional
emphasizes court time the first thought would be more
lesson income. That is absolutely false! Junior players
need to spend more time on ball machines, backboards, and
match play. These things are the homework. The pro
conducts the class through lessons, the player does the
homework through extra play, and the tournament or
competition is the test. Participating in a tournament
unprepared is no different than taking a test when you
haven't done the homework.
- Competition teaches things that players can't learn in
normal lesson or clinic situations. Players will learn
and improve at a much quicker rate if they are competing
at some level.
Now I'm sure I'll receive more feedback from this article
as well but these are simply the results I have compiled
from information I received from all over the world. Most
players know that if someone has superior athletic skill
they may need less practice and a less skilled player will
need more. And there are times when a parent can't
understand why their son/daughter isn't winning. There
could be several answers but you always have to look at
the natural athletic ability of a player and mental
toughness of a player. As hard as it is to admit, "some
players have it and some don't."
Almost half of the e-mails I received were from parents
wanting to discuss the possibility of a professional career
for their child. As McEnroe would say "you can't be
serious!" Unless a player is already competing at a high
national or collegiate level I would suggest getting that
thought out of your mind. I had a dozen or more inquiries
about the pro tour from players and parents of players
that weren't even competing in sanctioned tournaments yet!
To me this is a scary thought.
I learned quite a bit with this experiment and it confirmed
to me the things I thought were true as far as junior players
and their goals were concerned. I have one bit of advice
before leaving the subject.
Get as much knowledge as possible from your local/club
teaching professional. When you think you need more help
than what he/she can give you, then your ranking should be
very high. Your local instructor knows your game, knows
your goals, and knows how much you are willing to practice
to achieve those goals. In most situations I think good
teaching professionals will help you reach realistic goals.
A teaching professional has nothing to gain by a junior
player failing so he/she will do everything he/she can to
help. Give them a chance and many times you'll find they
have all the tools to help you reach your goals.