At the recent Junior Sectionals tournaments, many of Southern California’s finest young talents were front and center, competing among their peers for 2017 bragging rights. These junior players exemplify some of the disciplines that often lose their significance in the adult game.
Let’s consider what adult players can learn from watching SoCal’s exceptional young athletes.
Fundamentals are paramount. Juniors perform under the constant eye of coaches, developing their game and firmly establishing consistent fundamental skills. As a result, young players engage in long rallies with impeccable groundstrokes, and their movements are calculated to maximize potential. Watching juniors lock and load every stroke – pulling the racquet head back before attacking every ball – is a fine example of a simple skill that can fade with adult players as they mature and the pace of the game decreases.
Flat feet hath no fury. Juniors are rambunctious and full of energy, so it stands to good reason that they are always in motion – in between points, awaiting points, and sometimes even on changeovers. Believe it or not, this is a great way for adults to avoid injury. Consider the 43-year old legendary baseball player Ichiro Suzuki, who has played 16 years with only one brief stint on the disabled list (for an ulcer, no less). An outfielder for much of his career, Ichiro would stretch in the field between each pitch – his arms, his back, his legs – to keep his body in motion and his muscles loose, contributing to his longevity. Junior tennis players display that same kind of practically perpetual motion.
Sun’s out, fun’s out. There’s plenty of pressure and stress in life. On the court, bask in the healthy competition. You’re among friends, so feel free to enjoy yourself. Cheer for your teammates, grab a beverage afterwards. Real life will be there when you get home, but on the court, have the same kind of fun you did when… well, when you were a junior.
Now let’s turn the tables. While juniors have boundless energy and enormous athletic potential, adults have experience and maturity on their side. What can juniors acquire from their adult counterparts?
It’s great to be young. Juniors recover at light speed and rarely need to tap into the “reserves” to make it to the end of a match. They are Rafael Nadal at his pinnacle, floating around the court with ease and unleashing power at the flick of a wrist. They are Iron Man at 100% capacity. They are the fastest Wi-Fi around. Enjoy it… while it lasts. After all, today’s Rafa is pretty darn good – but he’s not that Rafa anymore.
There’s no need to panic. You thought you were playing well, and all of the sudden you’re down 0-40. Granted, you’ve dug yourself a little bit of a ditch to climb from. You’re also three quick points away from deuce. Breathe. Calm down. Push harder – it’s very much within reach. If tennis players lost faith at 0-40… well, there’d be no tennis players. Everyone’s been there, and everyone’s made the comeback dozens of times. Make it one of those times.
Keep it positive. Every player, at one time or another, growls at themselves for lackluster play. After all, sometimes the best person to give you a kick in the pants is You. But the mind is a powerful tool, for better or worse. If you spend an entire match reprimanding and belittling yourself, you might actually believe it. Find your fundamentals, shuffle your feet, and get into the game – every comeback starts with one simple point.
– Darryl Nash / SCTA