With tennis professional parents, we were so mindful of our children playing too much tennis; the last thing we wanted was our kids to hate the game we grew up to love! In order to make sure we were following the right path, we consulted numerous coaches and parents before we started the plan. The real irony is that it is pretty darn easy to know what to do – all one has to do is be tuned into your child.
For example, if little junior insists on hitting balls against the garage door, it is pretty clear it is his desire to play. Our family had a basketball hoop attached to the garage and no matter what the Milwaukee winter conditions, I was seen shooting and dribbling for hours and hours. To add to this obsession, the ball would get so cold that it would not bounce anymore; I’d run into the kitchen and put the ball in the sink and have the hot water bring the ball back to life. Minutes later, I was outside pumping jumpers until the ball lay flat each time and I repeated this until darkness. “Kinda” crazy, right?
One of the real challenges for many children today is the role of the parents. Without a doubt too many moms and dads are living vicariously through their kid’s successes and then are too attached to see the big picture. In short order, parents are sending their kids to a tournament a week and they won’t stop talking about points. It starts to get real crazy when little junior has a friend who is doing better in tournament competition. Now, the competition is on and each family will try to outdo the other; long practices seven days a week and an endless event schedule.
Before one knows it, the nine year old child has withdrawn from his favorite Elementary School, no longer hangs out with friends and now eats and sleeps the game of tennis. Wow!
In most cases, it is a foregone conclusion that this child will start to deal with nagging injuries. Usually, tennis players, like golfers, must cope with the lower back pains. Also, the incidence of hip problems has risen dramatically in the past decade. When tennis players play a typical point, a player moves in four or five different directions per five seconds of action; the knee is not built to take that strain and will give out.
Strangely enough, the physical problems may seem minor compared to the mental implications of devoting your entire life to tennis at too early an age. If the player is too obsessed with tennis, he probably is not growing intellectually or socially. If not guided well, the on-line schooling could be a farce; he may only be doing the bare minimum and not stretching his mind at all.
In the last seven or eight years, I have known at least 30 or 35 kids enroll in the on-line programs so they have ample time to train for six or seven hours daily. Except for one player, Bjorn Fratangelo (2011 French Open Junior Champion) of Naples, who is contemplating a pro career, the others are all trying to head to a good U.S. University. Now, in one particular case, this particular young man has not been in a classroom in many years and now is enrolled at the University of Virginia – one of our finest state schools in the country. As luck would have it, he will be fortunate to make the top ten on the second ranked tennis school in the nation. So, as he struggles to make the line-up, what about his academicrequirements? Remember, he has not been in a classroom since Middle School and now he is competing with some of the finest young minds in the country. Our daughter, Mallori was a UVA (University of Virginia) double major and graduate; she was impressed with her classes and the competition in the classroom. Needless to say, this fine young man will soon realize his stiffest competition will be students and professors, not just hitting his forehand down the line to win a big point.
Recent Barron Collier graduate and tennis star, Brett Clark has been on the right track since he was playing in the ten and under competition. Even though he has always been a highly-ranked Florida junior tennis player, he has stayed in school and flourished. Next year, he is headed to the University of North Carolina on a big tennis scholarship and, thanks to his dad, he is enrolled in the Business School. Yes, Brett had to give up a lot of weekends to keep up his top rankings, but he was meeting many different people along the way to help develop his social skills. Combined with his Naples friends (school and tennis) he was able to grow on and off the court. As one Naples pro friend Tony Martin (former college coach) told me recently, “I will put my money on Brett Clark and Matt Browne (and all of the others who stayed in school throughout their junior tennis careers) doing well in college because they are well prepared for the next step.”
It has been well documented that junior tennis players often play too much but what about adult tennis players? If I had to pinpoint one HUGE concern, it would have to be injuries. It is a proven fact that adults need more time to recover and if this process is interrupted, certain physical problems could last forever. In my case, I was the only player on my university team that did not get injured as I never missed a match or practice due to a physical ailment. But, at age 40, my body took a serious detour and has not been the same since. Get out your calculator: Two knee surgeries, one serious elbow surgery, arthritis in the right shoulder and plantar fasciitis that has stuck around for almost a dozen years!
Every adult player needs to get away from the game to stay fresh mentally and physically. So, if you are an avid CTA and USTA player, one must find ample time to get away.
In a perfect world, there would be a one month break after the conclusion of the CTA season in March. Now, this cannot work for a variety of reasons. With so many players heading north for the summer, the USTA must get the schedule rolling.
Devoted tennis enthusiasts play a few matches each week and in between, players work hard on the practice court. During this arduous week, it is imperative that this competitive player sneak in some rest time. Tennis is a physically and mentally grueling game and to play well, one needs a clear head.
In the end, tennis is supposed to be fun; work hard, play hard but know when to get away- – hit the beach, read a great book or watch your favorite football team on a Sunday afternoon. This is a great game; put fun first and you cannot go wrong.
Doug Browne is the Hideaway Beach Tennis Director and the new Collier County USPTA Pro of the Year. Additionally, Doug has been the International Hall of Fame Director of Tennis this past summer. Doug has been writing his tennis column for the past fifteen years and welcomes your feedback.