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Lessons or Tournaments

Q. My boys – 13 and 10 – are fortunate to be in a free tennis program that has achieved statewide fame. This program caters to people who cannot afford ongoing training. Now the coach is saying that the kids need to play in USTA tournaments. After comparing players that have received expensive tennis coaching I find that my kids do not measure up. The only kids that go to team tournaments from this program are the ones that receive expensive private coaching on the side. Would it be more of a emembe to pay for private coaching or go to tournaments?”

From Vincelle C., Missouri

It would seem to me that you have a little quandary. It really depends on how the boys are doing with the free lessons. If they are doing well and are consistent in their play, tournaments may be the way to go if the feel they can do well. On the other hand, if they are not doing so well and need to improve on some of the basics or advanced methods, private lessons would be more beneficial so when they do play tournaments, they will feel comfortable and do well.

From Susan

PRIVATE lessons are essential if you expect to learn correct strokes. Group lessons are fun, but privates are where you improve.

TOURNAMENTS are important to learn how to win. It’s difficult to win that last point. Even the pros find ways to lose after having numerous match points. Tournaments teach you to be mentally strong. You can’t learn that in any lesson.

Americans are way behind in the vast tennis world because private lessons and junior tournaments are expensive. Only families with a lot of extra money can afford what is necessary. This is why so few Americans are near the top of professional tennis right now. Men or women.

European governments pay for their up-and-comers to receive proper training. This is why the Europeans are taking the best college spots too. If you have a lot of money, good for you, otherwise your child will be lost in the crowd just like a lot of other talented American youngsters wanting to get better.

Obviously the Williams sisters’ story tosses my pathetic views out the window. They are the exception. And good for them. They worked hard for their success.

Sorry to be so negative but this is the way I feel. Tennis is all about how much cash you have.

From John T. and Earl P., San Bernardino, CA

If you’re getting good quality free individual lessons now and the instructors think your children are ready for a novice or satellite tournament, then see if your youngsters have the love for competition by entering them into some tournament. See how they react to winning and losing. Do they want to improve? Did they realize someone was better skilled or that they didn’t have the skill? If they don’t have the passion or love to compete then save your money until they do. The free lessons should encourage competition and tournament play included at some level sometime in the development program, usually within the first 6 months.

From Ruthie

I really recommend the play versus coaching. Get the boys in Little Moe International. They play 8 to 15 games per day for two days. Good exposure. Any tournament is worth its weight in gold. They always learn so much from the competition. I am just another tennis player with a view.

From Sean, Loudon, TN

Where we come from:

Our stories are similar in that we started our tennis July ‘05 in an almost free program offered to fellow homeschoolers. It was very low key. There was one 14-year-old boy who had played a tournament and lost and he was by far the best of the group. Joshua, now 12, and Hannah, now 15, enjoyed the program but it wasn’t a big deal.

The end of summer came and our coach grouped our kids with another group of similar-caliber players and took us all to the TN USTA team tennis state tourney in Nashville, 3 hours away. Partly because of the road trip, and partly because we all enjoyed the tournament, once we were back we looked online at USTA.com and located the non-ranked tournaments in the Knoxville area. We have played for a year and half.

What we’ve done:

We played for 9 months, every unranked in Knoxville, and sprinkled in a few ranked. We found only a little difference. It just depends upon the luck of the draw. Your child could play the No. 3 in the state or someone enjoying their first tournament. We went coach free, except for me. After 9 months we started looking at youth programs and found them very expensive. To save money, keep me involved, and attain better coaching, we hired a high-quality coach for an hour a week. I stayed on court and took notes and picked up balls so the kids got their money’s worth. It has been fantastic! I drill the kids on what they learned at the lesson during some family practice time between lessons and we save lots of money over a 3-night-a-week training group. The kids still need to play other kids so we sign up for cheaper group clinics and USTA team tennis league in the spring.

Until a shoulder injury for Joshua and Hannah moving up to 16 and under, both my kids had earned a ranking in the 30’s. Partly because we participated in a lot of tournaments and partly because we had good wins.

We so enjoy the tournament experience! There are hard players, cheating parents, and all that, but there are wonderful kids, wonderful parents and great program facilitators who work hard to make it fun and competitive. We’ve found some clubs do a better job of hosting a tournament than others, and prefer to attend there.

I hope my wordy e-mail provides you with some insight and coaching options.

From Shawn B., Bloomfield Hills, MI

Your children will benefit from the tournament experience. Keep if fun and don’t worry about the results. Ultimately, playing matches will help them determine if they want to compete or continue as recreational players. When my daughter began to play USTA tournaments, we described her participation similar to a dance recital...she would practice, practice, practice. The tournaments were a chance for her to use her skills and over time have some personal success. If you don’t place emphasis on winning, rather on confidence and playing ability the boys will learn to love the game!!! The ultimate success on the court! Good Luck!!!!

From Thomas C., Toney, AL

Regardless as to whether you stay with the free program or go with private coaching, your boys will need to learn to compete against other players. As a collegiate coach, I have seen a number of young players who have beautiful strokes that are the result of hour upon hour of ball striking drills; however, when it came time to play a competitive match, they suffered because they had not learned how to compete in a match type situation.

If your boys have developed to the point where they have “out-grown” the free program, then it may be to their advantage to have private coaching.

Nevertheless, they will still need tournament play in order to put the pieces together and to fully develop as players.

From Jenny H.

I think these go hand in hand. You can take all the private lessons and clinics you can and spend a ton of money, but unless you apply “real life” USTA tournaments (or any tennis tournament for that matter), those lessons won’t mean a thing. It’s the only way I think any rising tennis player can make the application from what they have learned to the court is PLAY THE GAME. My daughter-10/11- had taken a year’s worth of lessons but once she started playing in tourneys she was really able to apply what she had learned and actually understand what the pro had been talking about!! DO IT!!

From Lynn G., Nashville, TN

Tell Ruth that she should keep her boys in the free program and play her sons in USTA events. College coaches look at participation in USTA events as showing a “commitment” to improvement and growth. Also, the USTA tournaments are by far the best way to teach players to deal with the stress of competition. Every round a player advances in a tournament, the stress increases a little bit more. Mental toughness is taught by play in USTA competition.

From Gary, Newton, MA

Lessons are great, but without being tested in competitive play, they are useless. This game is as much mental as it is physical. The only way you (and they) will know where they stand amongst their peers is to play tournaments. There is pressure in these tournaments and often it is those who are strongest mentally who win. You only get strong mentally by competing, and in my opinion, failing once in a while. If you have to make a choice of lessons or tournament play, I would advise you to put them into tournament play AS LONG AS they want to play tournaments. If they don’t want it, don’t waste your time or money.

From Katherine, Portland, OR

If your children intend on playing high school tennis someday, then entering tournaments would be the choice to make. Tournament play has a lot of lessons to be learned that cannot be taught with just private coaching such as how to deal with various opponents, how to manage nerves, how to keep playing and change your tactics when you are down, how to keep pressing on when you are winning. Tournaments will give them “hands on” experience. Perhaps supplement with some private coaching periodically just to keep technique in check or to work on a strategy for upcoming tournaments. Just drilling and perfecting your technique are great if they never plan on competing. Having had two high school players myself, tournaments were great preparation for the school season and state tournaments.

From John S.

I am wondering why the coach said they need to play in tournaments now . . . does he think they are ready? Is he not willing or can no longer coach them? Coaching is essential – especially at such young ages to develop their games and stroke-production further. Tournament play is good experience to develop as well. The boys need to get “tournament tough.” So, I would get another coach’s opinion and see what he says after watching the boys play. Sorry I can’t be more absolute with my answer.

From TG, Mississippi

Since the boys are older and are doing well you would probably be saving money to let them go ahead and play tournaments. Sounds like they must be true atheletes. If they were going to play in high school and college a little instruction wouldn’t hurt though.

From Marilyn H.

I suggest you get them the training they need to be competitive. USTA tournaments can be very brutal and kids who are not prepared properly can get very discouraged very quickly. If they really want to compete, find a novice tournament for them to start out with. Don’t push them to compete until they want to. It also gets very expensive to travel to a lot of tournaments. Get them involved in school tennis activities if those are offered. See if there is local team tennis organized in your community.

Lots of options. Take it slow. Development of skills should come first.

Another thought is that they could be good opponents for each other if they can get along. Especially if they are developing at the same rate. Hope this helps.

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