Get Them Ready to Play
Properly preparing juniors for sanctioned tournaments isn’t just about strokes and strategy. To stay interested and involved, they need to know the rules, regs and procedures, too.
As tennis teachers, coaches and programmers, not many things (besides inclement weather postponing our programs) fill us with more dread than a player putting down his racquet and walking away from the game due to a misunderstanding or incorrect assumption regarding competitive play.
Think about it: You, or a facility employee, recruited a junior, encouraged him to enroll in beginner classes, followed by private lessons and maybe a season of USTA Jr. Team Tennis, etc. Then, he registers for his first USTA sanctioned event. During the tournament, he’s uncertain about how to handle some things: the proper check-in process, incorrect line calls, the length of event, the 15-minute default rule, etc. He ends up forfeiting a match after arriving 16 minutes late. His score, “Default No Show” was posted on the Internet for everyone to see. How embarrassing is that?
Now, he says, he hates tennis.
Tennis competition, especially USTA sanctioned events, come with a truckload of rules and regs. It’s a lot for a beginner competitor to take in. So, who’s responsible for ensuring junior players are prepared?
Ultimately, the player himself bears the brunt of accountability. However, as a facility manager, program coordinator, tournament director or teaching professional, you have the power to cultivate the passion for tennis competition in the hearts of your junior players — and you can help ensure they’re prepared for competition.
After all, moving kids from on-court lessons to competitive play benefits you and your facility through increased program participation, more lessons for your coaches, traffic for recreational play and purchases from your pro shop. However, if novice players sign up for events unprepared, all that hard work you spent on recruiting and retention can go straight out the window. An unpleasant first tournament experience can result in player injury, low self-esteem, or worse, leaving tennis altogether.
So, what can we do to help our junior players? Plenty.
Know your players:
Some juniors have tougher skin and can handle the baptism by fire approach when it comes to tournament competition. However, many children may be too sensitive to deal with these situations early on. You need to be able to gauge player toughness. Or better yet, let parents know some of the expected pitfalls. Ask them, “You know your child; how do you anticipate your child will react when confronted with these hurdles?”
Get your entire facility involved:
Embrace the “it takes a village” philosophy to tournament preparation. Each staff member should be familiar with basic questions that both parents of novice competitors and the kids themselves will typically ask. When part-time employees don’t know an answer, they should (at least) know where to direct specific questions. Recruiting your entire facility to help out means you’ll score points for customer service and you’ll hit the jackpot when it comes to retention and referrals.
Encourage your coaches to become more involved:
“Parents and players appreciate when I teach more than the strokes,” says Sarah Witherspoon, a PTR certified teaching professional at the John Drew Smith Tennis Center in Macon, Ga. “I tell all my students, ‘Stay hydrated, watch what you eat, get plenty of rest.’ I let them know tournament formats may require three matches in one day — more if they sign up for doubles. When I warn them in advance, there are no surprises.”
For better results, post frequently asked questions on your website for parents and players, behind the front desk for all employees and on the bulletin board for everyone. If you provide literature for your brand-new players, include a Tournament Preparation sheet along with your welcome packet.
Talk to the experts:
It’s not just novice players who have questions; juniors climbing the ranking ladder need help, too. For this group, Rick Davison, USTA Georgia’s Director of Adult and Junior Competition, says, “Remind parents to utilize their district offices as resource centers for qualifying tournaments and ranking points. Many parents receive misinformation through other parents. Never assume a parent of a competing child has all the answers.”
Host a forum:
Educating new parents and players is on ongoing process. Why not hold several forums on a seasonal basis? Paul Tobin, head men’s and women’s tennis coach for Saint Francis University and ITA northeastern rep in Loretto, Pa., says, “Invite a guest speaker along with local area coaches.” Hosting forums provides parents with an opportunity to become tournament savvy. “Have one for novice players,” suggests Tobin, “and another for advanced players where college coaches are invited. Who better than a college tennis coach can paint a clear picture of NCAA tennis expectations?”
The competition prep forum not only boasts faculty exposure, it gives parents an opportunity to fully understand the tournament structure while providing a chance to ask questions pertinent to them and their situations.
When you help prepare your newbies for tournaments, you not only develop stronger loyalties between them and their families, you keep them in the game and coming back to your courts for lessons and leagues, and into your pro shop for racquet stringing and tennis apparel.
Tournament Preparation Sheet
Tournament directors sanction events through the USTA, so contact your USTA Section or District if you have questions. There are tournaments for novice players through experienced, competitive players. Learning the ins and outs of tournament play will help your junior move from novice to competitive levels.
To cover the rules of competitive tennis, the USTA uses “Friend At Court: The USTA Handbook of Tennis rules and Regulations.” (You can find it at usta.com under “Improve Your Game” then “Rules.”) “Friend At Court” also has rules for 10 and Under Tennis sanctioned events.
All players, even beginners, are held to these rules. Learning them takes time. Here are a few key rules, regulations and common practices to help you get started. Make sure your junior players and their parents are familiar with them. (Post or copy and distribute this list.)
Before You Play
- Arrive at your match site 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time.
- Once there, ask for the “tournament desk” (often, the tournament operates separately from the host facility; asking for the “tournament desk” will get you where you need to go.)
- Once at the tournament desk, check in for the event. This lets the tournament staff know you have arrived. Depending on the event, you’ll receive player information and may get a T-shirt, bag tag, or some other player gift. You only check in for the tournament once.
- Match check-in, not to be confused with tournament check-in, is done prior to the start of each of your matches. At match check-in, you are letting the tournament staff know you are ready to play. If you need to get water, use the restroom, stretch, or warm-up, do these things prior to your match check-in.
- Check in for your match 15 to 20 minutes prior to the scheduled match time.
- Make sure to ask about the match format: For instance, if you split sets, do you play a full third set, or a match tie-break? Do you know how to play a match tie-break? If not, make sure it’s clarified now! Most match tie-breaks are the first to 10 points by a 2-point margin. But make sure. Note: Before you begin playing a match tie-break, you are allowed to get an official to assist you.
- Once you check in for your match, you must remain within earshot of the tournament desk — your match could be called at any moment.
On the Court
- You are entitled to a five-minute warm up, which includes your serves.
- The server calls the score prior to serving the point. Call out your score loud enough so your opponent can hear you.
- Change ends after you complete odd games; 1, 3, 5, etc.
- If disputes arise, put down your racquet and go get an official.
- Never ask a spectator to call lines or settle disputes unless the tournament staff has appointed a designated person. (In 10 and Under Tennis, parents may be allowed on court. Clarify with the desk before entering the court.)
- Once the match is over, walk to the net to shake hands with your opponent.
- The winner is responsible for reporting the score and turning in the tournament tennis balls.
- Both players are responsible for knowing when their next match times are.
- If the format calls for a third-set tie-break, then the schedule may call for you to play three matches in one day.
- If the tournament offers doubles, and if you are winning in singles, be prepared to play three singles matches and one doubles match in one day.
- Never leave your cell phone on. If it goes off during a match, you lose a point.
What to Bring on Court
- A tennis bag with at least one or more tennis racquets.
- A cooler with ice, sports drinks and water.
- A small first aid kit, allowable medications, adhesive bandages.
- A spare pair of shoes, socks, hat or visor, T-shirt.
- Individually wrapped power or granola bars — only food you know won’t upset your stomach. Don’t eat if you aren’t hungry.
- Individually wrapped skittles or soft mints or some type of candy that won’t melt. Some players find this helpful when playing long matches.
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.