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So You Want to Turn Pro?
Part III - A Leap of Faith
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
A few months ago, I started this series on the issue of a player who may want to turn professional…as in a “tour” professional.
One thing about this series is that, in reality, the same processes described will be the same for that of any player who wants to reach their true “tennis potential.” That is, an adult who obviously is too old to consider training to become a tour professional can still become a very skilled and competitive tennis player using the same methods discussed in this series as that of a young junior player who may be wondering if they “have what it takes” to become a pro. The only difference will be how these methods are implemented. Adults won’t necessarily have the kind of time to put into training and competing, nor will they necessarily have the physical attributes associated with professional-level tennis, even on the Senior Tour.
I recently had a 40-something beginning student ask me if, given that she had started so late, he still had time to develop herself as a truly competitive level player. And, I only had to point out a couple of my 40-year-old ladies who I had been training for the past two years to answer their question. YES, a late-comer to tennis can achieve very high levels of skilled tennis. These two 40ish “young” ladies were now playing at the high 4.0 level. It is a lot of fun for them—and for me—to see them pass up and beat (soundly) many of our other local ladies who have been playing tennis for decades! But, these 3.5 level ladies never take lessons, or, those that do don’t employ more advanced methods in competition in such a way that the new methods become their natural playing methods. Thus, they continue to languish at the same level for life!
The Professional Path
While there is a “pathway” set up by the USTA in which junior players can follow (and should follow) who want to reach higher and higher levels of competitive play, such a pathway does not provide a training pathway or what I call a training “blueprint” to follow. Unfortunately, even our USPTA and PTR training certification programs are rather obscure about creating an “optimal” training regiment or progression that players and pros alike can follow. There is almost a “political correctness” that is harbored by our various national and international programs that refuse to establish a specific “training pathway” that provides for a logical, concrete and proven methodology to ensure that players are not going to fall short in reaching such goals. Rather, such programs tend to offer more general recommendations, leaving the specific training mantra up to each and every teaching pro.
Players are left to seek tennis help from “qualified” teaching pros who, they hope, will guide them towards their goal. This is one of the reasons I have written both my first book, TENNIS MASTERY, and recently released my newest book, COACHING MASTERY. I wanted to share my experience from 35 years in the industry and help players from all over the world, gain a level of understanding of this problem.
The professional path is one that really is a simple understanding of two needs:
- Stroke development
- Playing or Competitive Development
As I have mentioned in previous articles, stroke development must provide long-term understanding and mastery of methods that don’t “have to” change. At the same time, these methods must provide a natural evolution of a player’s strokes and a process that allows the player to establish an “advanced foundation.” Finally, the method must also allow for a player’s personality and idiosyncrasies to emerge and not be stifled. However, this process is a double-edge sword: most advanced methods are seldom natural or comfortable. Thus, a player, one who wishes to seek higher levels of play will need to make such methods “become” natural through dedicated training. When players succumb to learning methods that are initially comfortable, they usually fall short in reaching their playing goals because such methods, while initially feeling natural, are not effective in hitting more prolific shots or defending against more effective shots hit by our opponents.
The second part of this pathway involves the employment of such methods consistently in competition. That is, a player who has a long-term goal of reaching a professional level must learn to be patient in gauging their success in terms of wins versus losses. Typically, players who are trying to master more advanced technique will lose regularly to players who are using more comfortable—but less effective—methods. This is because players opting for the comfortable mode are hitting with more confident patterns. While such methods are effective against inexperienced players, players who learn more advanced—yet more unfamiliar, and thus less confident—strokes, over time, will not only gain comfort and familiarity with such methods, but over time, they will gain confidence.
Thus, the players who wish to turn pro must balance the need to “train” their technique, refine their technique, and polish their technique, with the need to employ this technique in competitive opportunities…time and time again!
USTA Tennis Pathway
Starting with introductory USA Tennis programs, the USTA’s Junior Tennis Pathway includes the following progressions, each of which are specific competitive programs (except for the CTC’s—Competitive Training Centers).
Progression I: Ralleyball, Micro Tennis, Novice Tournaments, Junior Team Tennis. As you can see, no mention of a specific training pattern, only games-based progressions. While certainly a key to player development as it pertains to competition, players “must” be aware that it is at “this” stage players will adopt the grips, stroke patterns and footwork patterns that will be the foundation to the way they play. Unfortunately, the vast majority of junior players at this level only learn how to “play” tennis--establishing a foundation is not often the goal at this stage.
Progression II: District Sanctioned Tournaments that count towards a player’s ranking.
Progression III: Competitive Training Center: This is for those few players who exhibit solid foundations and have a sectional ranking. Here, the vast majority of juniors playing tennis will be left out because of their poor foundation and, thus, a lack of a sectional ranking.
Progression IV: USTA Divisional Circuit Tournaments
Progression V: USTA Sectional championships, Open Championships, Regional Age Tournaments
Progression VI: Zonal Team Championships: The “top” juniors in each section and only players who meet specific Endorsement Requirements. (Playing in a minimum of sectional tournaments for that season.)
Progression VII: USTA National Championships
Progression VIII: International Tennis Federation Junior Events (ITF)
Progression IX: Collegiate Tennis, Entry-level Professional Events
As you can see, there is a specific “playing” pathway that all junior players will want to explore. However, the real factor in getting to each of these progressions is how the junior player has developed his/her foundation. Because, like a vast number of adults, any foundation that “must” change is subject to the emotional and physical frustration that always accompanies changes that “must” occur for a player to reach skilled levels of play.
Leap of Faith
I sub-titled this article a “Leap of Faith” because players who decide to turn pro must not only have faith in the methodology they are learning, (and often times are initially losing with!), but they also have to approach tennis as a devout religious person might approach their faith with an unfailing dedication to the religion.
This might be a bit tongue-in-cheek, (not much, though!), but the reality is, a young player must think about tennis all the time. While it doesn’t have to consume the individual, it is well documented that those players who indeed made it to the pros immersed themselves in the sport. Here are some of the things that a young player should “want” to do:
When not on the court, be thinking, “What can I be doing right now to improve my tennis?”
This can include finding good books on tennis, studying tennis web sites, (like TennisOne.com!), watching tennis on television, and doing things that don’t need a tennis court to execute practice elements. These practice elements can include:
Ball bounces: Ups, downs, on the edge of the racquet.
Ball catches: Tossing balls up and learning to catch the ball on the strings without the ball bouncing off; both sides of the racquet)
Hitting on a wall
Practicing volleys with a partner even when not on a court. (I remember hitting volleys with my father in the rain and inside a pineapple packing house when on a family vacation when I was about 12…my volleys have always been one of the best parts of my game!)
Making sure you have at least one regular hitting partner who is as dedicated to tennis as you are (as best you can).
Making sure you have a large number of practice balls so you can maximize your practice…and, when no one else was available, work on your serve.
Making sure you have a USTA Card and know what tournaments are available and then play in as many you can.
Most importantly, if I truly wanted to turn pro, I would make sure I did all of these things “without being asked or being told!” As for me, the minute I needed to be urged, prodded, or nagged, is the minute I knew I really didn’t want to turn pro.
This last comment is why so few players actually don’t make it to the pros. It has very little to do with absolute athleticism…and everything to do with desire, as I mentioned in my previous two articles. Players must be sincere about such a desire. And, if they are, then the drive and dedication to doing everything will never feel like a chore--but as an opportunity.
Next time, I will talk about the mental mindset required for a young player or an adult, how to develop it and train it, and how to reach the highest levels of tennis.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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This 21 year old Israeli woman continues to march up the rankings since her professional debut in 2004. Peer has reached the quarterfinals of the Australian and US Open, but still looks for a break out performance at one of the big four. In 2007 she held wins over Ivanovic, Kuznetsova, and Vaidisova. She favors a grinding baseline style of game, drives a heavy two fisted backhand, retrieves exceedingly well off both wings, and she can finish a point when the court is open. Check out Shahar Peer's strokes the TennisOne ProStrokes Gallery.
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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