JTCC Director of High Performance Oliver Akli explains how to ensure tennis is a sport for life:
Tennis is a long life sport. You can play this game your entire life. Especially, if your foundation and fundamentals are solid, you can really enjoy yourself as you grow older. In today’s game, everyone has a tendency to be so focused on rankings for kids, and wanting them to compete with the best boys and girls, and not play with any worse players, but the sport contains a wide variety of levels. This leads to the question why do we not want kids to play these slightly lower level players, when they can work on their weaknesses or learn something new from them?
We often put so much pressure on young players that by the time they are 14 or 15 they don’t want to play anymore because the game isn’t fun for them. They don’t enjoy their tennis and the worst thing that happens is they start losing to those players they did not want to play with when they were younger. Why??? The answer is because when these players were younger, they only focused on winning, winning and more winning, rather than addressing the fundamentals and their long term goals for tennis. On the other hand, those kids who might not have been perceived as such good players were motivated and working hard on their long term game style (technique, tactics, movement on the court, etc.)
Tennis is a game where you can’t miss many steps in the developmental process because it will come back to hurt you in the long run. We therefore need to take our time and focus one step at time in the process to make sure kids are enjoying the game of tennis. This will help players become true students of the game and problem solvers. They will learn to be creative and efficient when things are not going well on the court.
For me, tennis is like an art. If you want to be a good artist, you have to know how to move your pencil on the paper to produce the image or drawing you have in mind. Tennis is very similar in many aspects. It is a simple game, but you need to master certain skills for your game to become artful. You need to know how to move on the court by focusing on your fitness and how to use the court correctly based upon where you want to hit the ball. You need to have a game plan before you go onto the court and before you play each point. You need to have an image in your mind before you start moving the pencil on the paper or the racket on the court to become a true artist.
I have learned tennis in a very simple way by focusing on it one step at time with solid fundamentals since I was 10 years old. Tennis has given me discipline, confidence, and helped me think quickly not only on the court but also in any situation I encounter in my daily life.
If you look at the way Roger Federer is playing right now, you can tell that when he was younger he focused more on his style of play. He also played a number of other sports growing up including soccer and squash. This has all helped him him to become very creative on the court with his movement and ball placement. However, right now, he is more focused on his discipline and playing textbook tennis because he already has a plan before he gets on the court. He is not trying to be too clever but instead he is just playing clean, simple and pure tennis.
For all young players your coaches can help you out with everything and every point you play, but what are you doing on the court to help yourself become a student of the game? Are you too reliant on the coaches to do everything for you? These are questions you should ask yourself. When I started I used my hand to play then I transitioned to a wooden racket and finally to a graphite racket. I don’t think I missed any steps when I was growing up. These days, every kid likes to jump from racket to racket, even if the racket is too big for them or the weight is too heavy. This is an area in which I would urge young players and their parents to go slow and not change simply for the sake of it.
The bottom line is this: do we want to keep kids healthier when they grow up and be able to play a great lifetime sport, or force them to quit because they aren’t having fun, or are getting injured every two weeks because they are being rushed into switching to heavy rackets, chasing rankings, or being made to play up in older age groups? Young players need to learn how to be on court with everyone to get them prepared for the future. They need to focus on their technique, their fundamentals, and their movement on the court when they are young and ensure they are not overly focused on their ranking. You can’t miss too many steps in tennis; otherwise, it is going to impact your game negatively down the line. It is therefore important to maintain a balance by playing with your all your peers (your level, above your level, and below your level when working on your weaknesses).
All in all, be prepared to talk to your coach as an up and coming player to make sure you have a development plan and that the equipment you are using is appropriate. For parents, you need to let your kids gain experience in other sports such as soccer, baseball, golf or basketball just to get a different set of skills and thinking processes that will refresh their minds. Balancing out other sports with tennis, especially when they are younger, will help get them relaxed and gain confidence.
“Trust Your Training”
Komi Oliver Akli