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Junior to Senior – Making a Tennis Champion

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

BBT Cup | Avoid pre-match anxiety | 10 rules

Being a highly ranked junior – a blessing or a curse?

Most juniors would welcome the opportunity of being highly ranked in the top five or state level. It is amazing how stubborn these players become in their resistance to change, even despite the best efforts of their coaches. International level junior players may be unwilling to add a quality net-game to their predominantly baseline approach. Others may be unwilling to come to terms with the fact that they may have to change their forehand or service so that it can become a real weapon. These changes will frequently involve some disorientation of feel, a short term increase in unforced errors, losses to players they previously beat comfortably, and slump in ranking. Early Peaker’s and Maturers Some players are fully mature at eighteen, and basically have reached their tennis peak at this time in terms of their game and what they can do with it. Players who fit into this category tend to be average, to slightly below average, in height and perhaps physical strength. Their technique is sound, they concentrate well and compete well, and have had highly successful junior careers. They have worked very hard both on and off the court, but may lack some flair and brilliance. These players who have maximized their talent by 18 struggle to have a real impact at satellite tournament level and, sadly come to realize that despite their diligence and application a professional career is not an option. Their only possibility for ‘making it’ would have been for their coaches to have shown sufficient foresight to realize the players’ potential long-term physical limitations, and to have convinced the players to abandon their sound, but basically conservative, methods and adopt a more aggressive approach to shot-making. Being small of stature doesn’t preclude a player from being successful, but players with such a stature, in combination with a sound but limited style of play, are not going to survive.

Why many highly ranked juniors don’t make it to the pros.

The factors that contribute to success in the juniors ranks may make little contribution to success on the professional circuits. The million dollar questions. The most valuable type of assistance that could be given to any young, developing player is ‘The right advice’. But where do kids find that right advice?? It is possible for you to have a highly successful junior career by developing a game that features; playing with extreme safety, in terms of hitting the ball high over the net with exaggerated top spin – attempting few aggressive or high-risk shots, and allowing your opponent to ‘commit suicide’ by becoming impatient or bored, and subsequently making high percentage of unforced errors. - being a retriever, working off an opponent’s pace, moving effectively - - being mentally tough, and a very solid competitor - - concentrating effectively - - knowing how to structure points effectively by using a ‘SAFETY FIRST’ APPROACH. This safety first approach preys on the inconsistent habits, mental fragility, impatience and poor strategy of the majority of juniors. It may be a successful for quite a number of years, even right through the juniors if it is coupled with athleticism. It will not hold up, however, in the professional ranks. Weapons are required at the higher level. A heavy penetrating forehand, a huge serve, or an aggressive serve and volley game. The foundations for these weapons must be established in the early junior years, and become an intrinsic feature of your game as you mature physically. It is devastating to watch young players venturing onto the satellites after a fine junior career, only to suffer soul-crunching defeats because they just don’t have a weapon to hurt their opponents. Their former strength, safety and consistency just won’t cope with the barrage inflicted by opponents who now step in, take the ball early, munch it into the corners, and don’t miss. Unfortunately, when reality hits home, it is frequently too late to make the necessary changes, because their technical foundations are not sufficiently sound. It’s going to be a power game. It’s going to be a Seles – Williams - Philippoussis type of game where boys or girls are just going to bang the balls from both sides for winners. I’d develop three weapons – weapons for both sides, plus a very big serve. (John McEnroe)

Think long-term!

With young players (and their parents) hungry for success in junior tournaments, it is tempting for coaches to work towards achieving immediate results instead of long-term development. But a coach’s priority must be the long-term development of their pupils. In Australia, the dramatic rise of Mark Philippoussis reinforces the value of ranking long-term development ahead of junior success. Although promoting long-term development is the responsible course of action for coaches, in practice it is not always an easy course to pursue. In most cases players and their parents place great importance in junior results, which puts pressure on coaches to give their clients what they want. Often, one or more of the parties may not be willing to sacrifice those early rewards. Many students will practice brilliantly and try new shots, but in match situation their instincts and desire to win inevitability lead them to revert to match strategies which have proven successful in the past. The effect of this could be limited by reducing the number of matches juniors play over a certain period of their development or through selling the benefits of the short-term sacrifices more effectively. Parents can prove an even more difficult hurdle as some appear to gain more satisfaction from their child’s success than the child does. The problem can be compounded by offers from other coaches suggesting that their rival coach’s long-term strategy is nonsense. Sadly, a lack of initial success from pupils may reflect badly on the coach. Given that gaining new pupils and maintaining old ones are the bread and butter for the coach, we are faced with a dilemma. If the coach is serious about the potential of one of their pupils, then it is up to the coach to sell the benefits of the hard work and short-term sacrifice to the parents and pupil. It would be nice if the coach could rely on the support from administrators and selectors in this situation. This raises the issue of whether or not those involved in selecting children for scholarships and representative teams should take into account potential and willingness to make sacrifices rather than placing a heavy reliance on results. If they do, the selection becomes subjective and parents are notorious for voicing their dissatisfaction when their son or daughter has been left out. The question has to be asked: What is the purpose of the selection? To win at all cost, or to further their development?

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