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Reaching Your Tennis Goals

Q. “I just turned 14, and I am getting pretty serious about considering a career in tennis, despite the fact that I just started to play around 2½ years ago. Since I started to play so late, I don't want to run out of time to take the right path towards my goals in tennis. So what I wanted to know is which way would be the most appropriate way to go pro?

1) Play USTA Tournaments, play for my high school team, and let my career unfold from there, or

2) Go somewhere where I can train (like a tennis academy), play USTA tournaments and hopefully get a chance to get onto the junior tour."

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:

You don't speak to the issue of how you are playing. What level can you compete at? These are important issues, as you do not want to play up and quickly become discouraged because you are not getting the results you want.

You should go to a respected local pro and discuss the possibilities about what you should do. It appears to me that you may be rushing to get to the highest level, which you may not be ready to do. It's best to set attainable short goals first, evaluate the goals after established short range goals are met, make the proper adjustments, then establish new goals to get there in a reasonable timetable and within your ability to attain them.

From Cathy, Grapevine, TX:

You should work your way up the ranks in the USTA junior tournaments, which any of the academies would have you do, as well. This gets you match tough and proves you can persevere and improve your game against all kinds of players. Either way, your academic education must still take a priority. Even if you go to a tennis academy, be sure you don’t short your education. Anyone can have a career-ending injury. Education lasts a lifetime. Good luck!

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

WOW, Rodrigo. Tough situation to be in. Sounds like you are still confused. Your wants may be exceeding your needs. You said, “I am getting pretty serious about considering a career in tennis.” At 14 you need to be serious, not getting serious, to even consider tennis as a career.

Tennis offers many avenues to be successful. However, playing professionally is only tougher than being an NBC Wimbledon announcer. Very few can pass the test.

By the questions you have asked, it sounds like you already lack in tournament match play?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

How did I do with Team Tennis?

How did I do at my last tournament anywhere at any level?

Was I competitive?

Do I have enough training at this point to play competitively at my age group at the USTA Tournament at any level anywhere?

Do I have the financial support system to move forward?

Do I have the emotional support system for competition?

First, you must have family who will support you, both financial and emotionally. Most of all, they must be willing to devote time or be willing to allow someone of maturity to get you to and from match play.

You need to train with a teaching pro qualified to get you competitive at the boys’ 14 level in two and a half years.

You are 14, have been taking lesson, practicing and have played with the guys. You have limited, organized match play, and you want to move on.

Get involved with the best teaching pro in your area whom your parents can comfortably afford.

Show your want and desire and earn a scholarship with a local pro. (I have high school players working for training by working with others less experienced.)

Play matches (a lot of matches), preferably USTA Team Tennis and low-level USTA matches, and earn your way up through competition.

Play for your high school team.

Check out Dennis van der Meer’s Tennis University at Hilton Head, S.C. There you can attend school and work on becoming a teaching professional.

Go to college as a player or to become professional coach, PE teacher, marketing agent – whatever you find as you place.

Be prepared for change.

In closing, play to have fun, and enjoy everything you do – this includes the tough parts. If you have what it takes, you do everything within your control, and truly believe it is possible, you will reap more than you sow. It’s all out there just waiting for you.

Check out Timothy ("Tim") Mayotte, a former professional tennis player from Massachusetts. The tall serve-and-volleyer learned his game playing on the public courts of Forest Park in Springfield, Mass. Besides being a great tennis player, he has written many articles and training info.

From Lindylou, Bensalem:

This is advice from a parent who has been through the junior system with her daughter. My daughter got a tennis scholarship to a Div. I school, and we considered that a tremendous success. She just graduated and is a TV reporter for CBS. The whole tennis experience gave her tremendous confidence.

1. Setting the goal of being a pro is too high to reach at first. Set smaller, achievable goals first, and meet them one by one. Examples could be - I will enter so many USTA tournaments this year. Another goal could be to get to the quarterfinals of some tournament, or even to win the first-round match.

2. Take lessons from a pro. This could take awhile to find the right one but is worth the search. Look at how they play – that is what your game will look like. Pay the pro to watch you play a match. (There is a difference in the way you play in practice, and the way you play a match.) Then he can see what you really need to work on.

3. There are three aspects to consider in your development, and all are equally important – your basic talent, conditioning and mental toughness. Mental toughness can take you a long way and will win you matches maybe you shouldn't have won.

4. Do not play high school tennis. In general, it is a waste of time, and the competiton is weak. The main problem is most high schools insist you make every practice, and this takes away time you could put to more productive use.

5. Definitely do USTA tournaments. Start with local, then go up to district and as high as you can. Your ability will take you to the highest level you can go. Let us say you are good enough to be playing at the national level by the time you are 16 or 17. This is where college coaches can see you. If you are good, the USTA provides many, many opportunities for player development, such as zonals, where they take the top kids from each section and provide them with special competition.

6. So I would advise you to take the USTA path and participate in junior tennis tournaments. No need to go to a tennis academy. Todd Martin and others did not and did fine working on their home courts.

7. When my daughter (who was a top player in our section) went to one of these zonals, which was for the 160 best junior players in the country, they told us, "There are 160 of you here, and you are the best in our country, and maybe ONE (MAYBE ONE) of you will be good enough to go pro."

8. A more realistic goal would be to get a college scholarship. Or if you don't do that and just love the game, you're a winner!

9. Check out the careers of Donald Young and Alex Kuznetsov – top junior boys who are just starting pro careers. Read about them, and see what they did.

Good luck.

From Eric R., CA:

Always ask yourself, "Is this level easy or a challenge for me."

Build confidence at the local level, build rock-solid strokes with no weak second serves and an all-court game first. That is essential.

How do you tolerate a challenging defeat? I have seen some young players crushed mentally after going to Nick’s in Bradenton, Fla. They were big fish in their little home country pond, but they were not ready for international-level juniors at camp.

If you are going to succeed at the international level, you need to have mental and emotional strength under intense pressure. Federer lost more than he won when he first went on tour. Steady retrievers like Nalbandian, who beat him over and over, tested his temper and patience more than his shot-making talent. He grew through the fire of adversity like iron forged in a kiln of intense heat.

Are you ready for this type of challenge? There are ups and downs for this type of path. To get to the top is not a straight uphill journey. Rather, it is a series of bell curves going hopefully in a final positive direction.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

Being a world-class tour player is thinking big, man. Being an all-state high school player might even be thinking too big. You’re 14 – you should be winning USTA events in the 16-and-under division. You probably should go to a school/ tennis academy, like Bollettieri’s or Hopman’s in Florida. You need to do weights and play tennis or cross train daily. You will have to live and breathe tennis, both on and off the court.

Now, as for playing tennis your whole life and all the positive benefits of tournament and league play, you should maybe consider college tennis, which is no walk whatsoever. You have to be darn awesome for that, also. I wish you luck. It’s fun to dream big dreams and work really hard to achieve them.

Remember, mental toughness is key in tennis, besides a big serve, awesome groundstrokes, great net game and having all the shots mastered. You need to be so athletically gifted to be No. 1, so tough, so dedicated. But it’s the sport of a lifetime, so have fun, good luck, and win some big matches, and make your high school varsity team, and win almost every match.

From Ann L.:

Check in with both your coach and family – do they know you are interested? What do they suggest? It is always good to talk it over with them.

As your tennis "family," I would suggest you should always give it your best shot. It is a wonderful way to thank the people who introduced you to the sport and to challenge yourself.

You cannot turn pro at 14, so you have time to try things. Why not enroll in some intense training over the summer and vacations. It will require a tutor if you work with a coach a lot throughout the year, unless you are very focused.

Let people help you and find out what you will do best. How does that sound?

From Robert E.:

You didn't start too late at all. I started tennis around the same time you did. The most important thing is to love what you're doing and really enjoy it. You should've chosen the tournament route.

Play all the time to make up for time that you lost. Do you have a favorite pro player? Get all the videos you can of that player and watch them over and over. You'll learn a lot that way, too.

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