So You Want to Become a Tennis Playing Professional? Part 2
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Last month, I focused the first part of this series of wanting to turn pro on the most important key ingredient: desire. In this second part, I want to describe the realistic chances of turning pro as well as further evaluate what it takes to do just that!
What are the Chances?
The idea of turning pro often is scoffed at among players and even teaching pros. Like any sport, the top echelon is only open to a very small percentage of those who participate in the sport. However, if some players actually do turn pro, then there must be something that allows them to set this goal and reach it! Many believe it is a rare amalgamation of athleticism, opportunity, and drive. Well, I can tell you that while certainly all pros possess a high level of athleticism, it is not as significant as a player’s drive and desire. Likewise, there are many cases of players reaching the top levels of their sport with limited opportunity. Again, in every one of these cases, the level of drive and desire were superior. Desire is the one absolute if a player is to reach the goal of becoming a professional.
This explanation should encourage nearly all players who have reasonable athleticism and reasonable opportunities to play, learn, and practice along with a set of lofty goals. If one sincerely wishes to become a professional, then there is nothing wrong with working towards this goal. Should it consume the player? I suppose it depends on how we define “consume.” However, if a player sincerely understands the requirements of becoming a pro, (the drive, determination, dedication, discipline, desire, and sacrifice), and is thoroughly committed to such goals, then it will be natural for that student to become immersed in tennis -- and so here, being "consumed" is, I submit, a good thing. Unfortunately, a lot of pros, parents, and players themselves view such an obsession as unhealthy, or, at best, a waste of time. However, if we observe today’s teens, with their obsessions for I-Pods, MTV, Teen-idols, video games, and other questionable activities, why would we label a person who is obsessed with tennis as being any worse? For me, I would be very happy if my child became obsessed with tennis. Such an obsession would provide the child with life-skills: goal-setting, learning to deal with victories as well as defeats, perseverance, and the desire, drive, dedication, discipline, and sacrifice that all pros (and successful individuals in any pursuit) have.
Today, there are more ways to “study” the game than there has ever been. Books, videos, DVD’s, and Internet Web Sites are all within reach of anyone who wants to play tennis. There is ample opportunity for players to know for sure what proper strokes, footwork, and strategies look like. It only takes a little time and an Internet browser to find nearly everything you might need to know about tennis.
The reason I wrote both TENNIS MASTERY and my new book, COACHING MASTERY was to accomplish at least two specific things: make sure that those interested would understand the chances of reaching “skilled levels” of play and then to provide the right progressions that provide the proper and most effective ways to reach such levels. The purpose of this series of articles is similar: make sure that those who are capable are not misinformed to the point of not reaching out to their dream.
Obviously, the earlier you start your training, the better your chances at competing at professional levels. Today, we are seeing teens, too young to drive, reaching professional ranks. It is not a fluke that Richard Williams claimed his two young daughters would eventually be crowned “Number One” in the world. Venus and Serena both trained in a very deliberate and progressive methodology that Richard established. (And, this progression was augmented with several pros as the girls developed.)
The problem with many parents, (it will be the parents who likely are the ones who will encourage youngsters, at least initially), is that most are not equipped to train their children within the ways I consider important in terms of building a foundation that can lead to professional play later on. Many parents go through that common “my kid is better than your kid” mentality and train kids to win now, instead of developing long-term levels of progression and improvement. Such training focuses on short-term success. The problem with this approach is that the skills necessary to win at ten twelve are not the same as those required to win at eighteen. In fact, most players who train within an advanced foundation will lose initially to less prolific players who simply push, bunt, hack, or dink the ball back enough times to win a match.
So how does a parent avoid creating an unrealistic expectations regarding the reality of any particular child’s potential? The answer is in simply offering the teaching methods that give the child the greatest chance to advance and then see how they do. It’s really simple, actually. Too many parents see their kid win matches, using usually less-sophisticated or less-prolific methods against kids who are working to master recognizable, effective methods. Parents thump their chest and hold their kids up as if they had just qualified for the U.S. Open, and believe they are well on their way to such accomplishments. Yet, often, these are the kids that get passed up down the road, by the very kids they beat early on. I have seen it a thousand times. Then, the kid gets frustrated and quits tennis.
Obviously, different kids are more open to learning tennis at younger ages than others. My daughter, who listens very well, and is very dedicated to doing things right, (like playing the piano or performing Karate moves with intent and mastery), was able to be introduced to the grip and swing patterns very early, even though she was not as gifted an athlete (for that age, compared to some others). At four, she knew how to keep score, was able to hold a continental grip, had a superior swing on both wings, and she had not yet even stepped on a tennis court! She developed the proper stroke techniques before she ever attempted to hit a ball.
My son, on the other hand, who is now four years old, has much better coordination than my daughter did at that age. Yet, he can’t be told anything without grabbing the racquet and saying, “I can do it myself.” He will be a challenge to teach the Advanced Foundation to, at least as early as I could do it with my daughter. But, even with my son, I still emphasize the Advanced Foundation when he will let me show him a particular stroke, which is not often.
As we start the 2008 tennis season, it is important to have young kids watch professional tennis. Seeing a live tournament is one of the most motivating opportunities for inspiring young kids. Kyla, my 9-year old daughter who has been featured in several of my articles focusing on training a youngster, will be going to her first Pacific Life Open in March. I hope she gains a fresh perspective and new level of excitement from watching the pros practice, warm up, and play in this prestigious event. I hope too, that those of you reading this newsletter will be motivated to do a little dreaming too!
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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