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Hardscrabble Scramble
August 2002 Article

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Results Are In -- Your Pro Knows

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Mike Whittington

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.

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


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