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Holding Court: The Tennis Court That Is!

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Since my last blog, where I shared my disappointment in not being invited to the summer evaluation officiating program, I made a commitment to refocus my energy on other things. After all, life is more than just basketball, right?  (There, I said it!)

I decided to re-engage with tennis, a sport that I loved as a youth, but have not played in decades. In doing so, I discovered  that not only do I still LOVE the sport, but I have an opportunity to expand my momsTEAM perspective beyond officiating and sport parenthood.   With tennis, the officiating hat is off, and replaced with that of a  player on a doubles team, as well as a player being coached.  

Here are some of the insights I have gained so far:

  1. Social Tennis Teams:  For adults only???   I joined several social tennis "meet-ups" where adults of mixed ages and skill levels convene weekly to play. As we  take the courts and form teams,  we chat and warm up, and it is clear that our mutual goal is to enjoy the game and the camaraderie. As with all social groups, players migrate to teams where they have friends and/or the skill levels are more closely matched. Everyone plays. Players rotate in and out after points or games. We take turns. We have fun. My only complaint is that not everyone brings a new can of balls!   Peer pressure plays a  big role in managing the expectations of overly serious players who place winning over fun. These players are quickly identified and often will either change their behavior, or simply stop coming. In one match, I volleyed the ball, and it hit my racquet strings twice.   I immediately self-called the violation-- and the opposing team laughed and said, "So what!?-- Play on!"-- Amazing.  This begs the question:  If adults can create leagues focussed on fun, where teams form freely, and rules are self-regulated, then why can't adults create similar leagues for their kids where fun is emphasized over winning?   Good question.... 
  2. Good coaching: Its not for just kids anymore.  Its for 55-year-old comeback kids! After the first two tennis meet ups, I realized that  my competitive instincts are still very much alive. I wanted to have fun, but I also wanted to play well, and win. ( There, I admit it!)  So, to improve my overall game and play competitively (in a different league), I enrolled in private lessons and tennis "boot camps" where instruction is provided by USPTA  or USTR certified professionals and coaches. Working with these coaches is rewarding, not only because of the quality of instruction,  but to experience first hand, the kind of coaching that momsTEAM has been advocating for years.  Coach Frank, my boot camp instructor, coaches for the local tennis academy, an organization well known for preparing youth prodigies for USTA-level competition. As an adult intermediate tennis player, being coached by him was a thrill. The boot camp is structured by skill level. By grouping players in this manner, Coach Frank is able to deliver a consistent set of instructions and drills and expect a consistent level of play by all in return. This is important because a mismatch of skills at a competitive level of play can  result in frustration and injury.  Coach Frank emphasizes tennis fundamentals as the basis for player improvement at any skill level.  Fundamentals not only improve one's game, but minimize the chance for injury.  Proper footwork, for example, fosters speed, stroke efficiency, energy conservation, power and balance.  I know from personal experience that my poor footwork caused me to trip and fall, bruising my knee( and ego, both of which have healed nicely since. Boot camp also emphasizes player conditioning and hydration as integral parts of the game. Much of the boot camp requires foot drills, stroke drills,  laps, and water breaks. Coach Frank encourages open one on one discussion as he helps me correct bad habits in my game. His drills are effective.  His positive attitude is infectious. I can't wait to go back.

My private lessons are led by Coach Nick and provide a different but equally rewarding experience.  Coach Nick played collegiate men's tennis and is presently going for his USTR certification.  He is also a middle school math teacher, tennis coach, full time husband and father to a three-year-old daughter. During breaks we discuss coaching youth teams and he shares the all-too-familiar stories of  parents and their attempts to assert  influence on placement of their  ten-year-old child on the team or the local tennis ladder. He mentions that these parents often comment to him how lucky his daughter is; that she will be playing competitive tennis at a young age. Nick's response is,  "She'll play tennis if she wants to.  It's completely up to her."  I had to smile.  Coach Nick represents a growing generation of  youth coaches who are dads as well who support their childrens' right to choose, rather than making the choice for them and living through them.

Thanks to Coaches Frank and Nick, my tennis game is on the upswing and I can envision tennis as a welcome addition to my lifelong fitness protocol.  More importantly, if Coach Nick and Frank are any indication of the future of youth sports, then we at momsTEAM have a great deal more to celebrate as we  see our beliefs come to life through coaches such as these two. 

Thank you Coach Nick and Coach Frank. And thank YOU, momsTEAM!