Monday, November 26, 2012

5 Biggest Junior Tennis Instruction Myths

Take these 'tips' with a grain of salt
Formal tennis instruction can speed up the learning process.  But it doesn't hurt to have multiple viewpoints on some of the information still being offered out there. Here are a few things you may hear from your child's instructor that don't bear up under close inspection.

Tennis should be your #1 priority.
At some point most advanced level junior players narrow their focus to one sport. The question is, when should that be? Conventional tennis wisdom used to say the earlier, the better. Stick a racquet in their hands at age 4 and never let them touch a bat or a golf club. Recent research is proving otherwise for tennis. It seems tennis is what is known as a 'late specialization' sport. Youngsters should be encouraged to sample as many different activities as time and family schedule will allow. Even just running around in the back yard will do! This helps them become good all around athletes, which helps them become better tennis players. Focusing on tennis exclusively too early runs the risk of skipping this important step. If a player decides tennis is for them, the early teens are a great time to make tennis the priority. Here's a great article by Paul Lubbers with the biomechanical details.

If your young player can't handle yellow balls and full 78 foot courts, forget it - they will never be much of a tennis player.
Like everything else on earth, tennis instruction is evolving. Here in America, this is a relatively recent event. As world rankings tell us, the rest of the tennis world is far ahead of us in their evolutionary path. In Europe and elsewhere, the progressive method of instruction has been around for years. Young players learn with modified equipment (lower nets, smaller racquets, slower balls). As they master each level, they move up until they are physically ready for the full courts and 'real' (yellow) balls. Are there some 5-year-olds who can bang the ball from the 78 foot baseline? Sure, just like there are a few Tiger Woods and Andre Agassis. Are they a tiny minority of total players? Yes. If your child is assigned to a 'red ball' or 'orange ball' class, do not despair - rejoice! They will be learning improved techniques faster, will spend less time unlearning things they learned to help them cope with oversized equipment , and will be less likely to drop out due to frustration. Still not convinced? Watch this video.

Private lessons are the quickest path to the pros.
Certainly PLs can be an important component of instruction. But players need a well-rounded tennis experience that includes private and group instruction, team play, match play, and just plain old recreational 'pick up' play. The more you play, the better you will get. But that doesn't necessarily mean you need a private lesson five days a week. Conversely, lots of matches without instruction does not always lead to improvement. Much depends on your tennis goals. Players hoping to reach the top 100 will have different priorities from players hoping to make the high school team. Here's a good article on this topic.

Your student should be hitting 300+ balls per one hour lesson.
Back in the olden days, a tennis coach stood across the net next to a ball cart and fed balls to the students for 50 minutes (the other 10 were devoted to two ball pick-up sessions). Times have changed. Today's coaches realize the importance of live ball drills and match play, both of which greatly reduce the number of balls fed/hit per hour. Does this mean your student is getting less instruction? No! It means they are getting a well-rounded tennis experience that includes more realistic on-court situational play.

Lessons and tournaments and hard work will all but guarantee a college tennis scholarship. 
This is not exactly a myth, but if you do the math, you will find only a very small percentage of players in any sport actually end up getting a sports scholarship. This article by CBS MoneyWatch puts the number at around 2% of high school athletes (regardless of sport) getting an NCAA college scholarship. My estimate for tennis is around 5%. So if your high school team has 20 players, one of them will get a scholarship. However, there is some good news. Tennis is a sport that can be enjoyed at any age. Also, just because you have not been offered a scholarship does not  mean you cannot play team or club tennis for your school. And of course the USTA's 700,000 members are waiting to welcome you with open arms when you enter the world of adult league play.

The ice caps are shrinking, temperatures are rising, Burma is now Myanmar, and the Twinkie is no more. Everywhere we look, things are changing, and that includes tennis. If you don't believe it, just check how many different types of tennis balls are hanging on the display at your local sporting goods store! When you get new information on the court, do your homework. Do some Googling or check with a tennis professional you trust before making any major decisions.