By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
WASHINGTON D.C. -- From 10 and Under Tennis to adult players to parents who want to take a more active role in their child's personal development, the Community Tennis Development Workshop (CTDW) each year serves as the meeting of the most tireless minds from all 17 USTA sections and the national level to discuss the future of tennis in the United States.
As part of USTA.com's coverage of the 2011 CTDW in Washington D.C., we went around to the workshops to discover which new ideas, initiatives and practices are pushing people towards the ultimate goal: To promote and develop the game at all levels.
Along the way we met the impassioned speakers delivering the presentations and come to know what drives their efforts.
Kirk Anderson, USTA Director of Recreational Coaches & Programs
Why he's speaking:
In addition to being one of only a handful of tennis coaches in the country to hold Master Professional classification from both the USPTA and the PTR, Anderson is also a parent and a grandparent keenly concerned with an epidemic gripping kids involved with youth sports:
They're dropping out. 70 percent of American children quit sports altogether by the time they reach their teenage years.
In many cases, sports stop being fun for kids when pressure from parents to perform becomes too great. A child at a tryout being "deselected," as Anderson states, can be crippling to their morale - especially when they still lack to emotional capacity to handle rejection - yet travel teams in tennis and other youth sports are starting younger and younger.
"I have never met a parent who doesn't want the best for their child, and most think they are truly doing what is best for their child," said Anderson. "But the system is broken. If it weren't, then why are kids quitting on us?"
Finding refuge from an adult generation obsessed with results - where it's in vogue to expect that starting children in sports as toddlers will provide competitive advantages - kids turn to activities where parents, and even coaches, are absent.
Feature Idea: Skate Parks
With USTA Player Development and coaches across the country constantly seeking to shape the next great American tennis generation, some would be surprised to know that the United States Olympic Committee recently found that the best young athletes, coast-to-coast, are training themselves.
"They're at the skate parks," said Anderson. "Trial and error is okay there. Kids experiment and imitate one another to get better. Self-motivation is born there, and they look at the park as a great place to make friends." Performance at the park requires all elements of skating to work in concert; there are no drills, or isolated technique building that can lead to boredom. Spontaneity rules without rules on spontaneity.
The half-pipe and the tennis court are essentially polar opposites in terms of adult presence. There is no formal coaching, or parents to call out distracting directions - you'd never hear "You need to get higher on that ollie, son!" while the child attempts the trick.
"Really, only a gatekeeper is needed when you think of grown-ups - someone to open and close the park and keep an eye out for safety purposes" said Anderson, adding: "The kids run the show and compete with themselves."
The constantly-moving skate culture goes a long way to disprove one of the many youth sports myths Anderson shoots down: That formalized practice serves as great for activity and fitness.
"What we know is that our tennis kids aren't getting the exercise or engagement they need when standing in line to practice - being shouted at across the net by a coach to shadow the kid at the front when they themselves want to be active, hitting on their own," he said.
"Coaches say they've changed the way they practice - yet in traveling around the country, I get off every plane and always see those same lines. Then, they'll try to tell you that kids 'love this' or 'love that,' but it doesn't pass the eye test. How could this be fun?"
How to Improve: Redefined Roles
Parenting is essentially another full-time job for a lot of working moms and dads in America, and no parent is infallible in their performance - you're doing your best, and so are your kids.
"Sports don't build character, but they reveal character," said Anderson. "What sports like tennis will do is put kids in a prime position to display character, so parents had better take care in cultivating and nurturing that character.
"What do James Blake, Sam Querrey and the Bryan brothers have in common? We've talked with their mothers and they all can remember times when they themselves pulled their sons off the court in front of their friends and coaches for bad behavior. Roger Federer's father told him as a kid: 'Losing is fine - but never, ever cheat.' The results of good parenting are alive in those teachable moments, good or bad."
As a parent who really cares about a child improving in tennis, providing kids an opportunity to play - even for your driveway, it is inexpensive to buy a racquet or two and some balls - is crucial. Unstructured play, and a parent's acceptance, has its benefits and like at the skate parks, kids will see other kids and come on over.
"It looks fun - it passes the test," said Anderson. "Plus, in that driveway or schoolyard environment, the kids are setting up their own rules and learning to resolve conflict in their own world."
A last lesson - know when to talk and what to say. Wayne Bryan, father of the aforementioned Bryan brothers, is regarded as one of the most successful coaches in the U.S. today but will say nothing to a player for 24 hours after a loss.
In relation to his own sons, the first words after any match reflected the attitude of a parent - not as a coach - and were always the same:
"Burgers, pizza, or tacos?"