In February, I had the opportunity to travel to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida. Over 100 administrators and coaches from the 17 USTA Sections were invited to participate in the 2019 Junior Pathway Symposium. I attended with the contingent from the USTA Southwest. The purpose of the Symposium was to align the efforts of the stakeholders around the country to the USTA's Net Generation program goals. Specifically, the focus was on the philosophy and procedures for developing junior players through Red, Orange, Green, and Yellow, and growing the players through these stages based on their skill level.
From the first presentation, I knew that the Symposium was going to be a very valuable experience. Neeru Jayanthi, M.D. started us off with an in-depth discussion on early specialization in sports, and the data that has been collected about early specialization and injuries. Although it was a tennis conference, it's important to remember, for the physical and emotional health of our players, that it can't be all tennis, all the time.
Throughout the next three days, we had a series of presentations regarding the future of tennis development and the junior pathway through tournaments, competencies, and early development camps. We spent time on court discussing performance levels and assessing players, developing an awareness of the distinct levels for each stage in a player's development. Some of the best conversations came through our group work, during which the coaches and administrators came together to talk about best practices to help players, parents, and coaches all come together as a more united front.
I gained a tremendous amount of respect for those at the USTA who are leading tennis development in this country at the national level. It is very easy to be on the outside, looking in with a judgmental eye. For those who really care about the sport and the children we are developing as players, it was clear that these leaders are passionate about their mission, and are trying their best to make a positive impact.
I have been working with shorter racquets, softer balls, and smaller courts for nearly 20 years. I grew up as a coach under the Aussie Mozzie tennis program, which led to the design of Hot Shots Tennis in Australia. After 7 years in the UK, under the LTA's Mini Tennis program, I moved to the US when the USTA's Red/Orange/Green program was in its infancy. I created and implemented two junior development programs before we launched the IJP Tennis program in 2016. So, I have seen a number of approaches to junior player development. Each has its strengths, but none is perfect. I don’t even know if "perfection" exists, but I do know that every year that passes, the ideas and programs keep getting better, and I keep learning and improving as a coach.
The USTA and Net Generation are the way forward for all junior players in this country to enjoy the game of tennis, and play it for their entire lives. This is a life sport and these pathways allow kids to learn and love the game from a much younger age, and develop their passion for the best sport in the world.
It's been several weeks since we've seen triple-digit temperatures, so I think it's safe to say that fall is here. Our players battled through the hottest conditions over the summer. They worked extremely hard, and showed great improvements. As I always say, summer is the time I see players make their biggest improvements. The tough conditions really challenged the kids (and their coaches!). Since school has resumed, we have been building off of that great momentum from the summer.
I had been working with a talented group of Orange Ballers for several years. I was beyond happy when they all transitioned to the Green Ball at the beginning of June. Three of our players have been selected to the USTA's Green Ball Early Development Camp, and we now have a fresh batch of Orange Ballers poised to follow in their footsteps. Our Red Ball program is growing every week. Since the summer, we've added two new classes, including one for 4- and 5-year-olds to work on their hand-eye coordination and basic movements.
Our program is built on the belief that there are different skill-sets that junior players must develop before advancing to the next stage of court and ball. Red Ballers work on basic athleticism and introductory tennis-specific movements. Orange Ballers learn basic footwork patterns, how to hit with top spin to control the ball, how to find the ball in their strike zone, the fundamentals of a platform serve, and how to play matches. Our Green Ballers work on more advanced skills, such as taking the ball on the rise, complex hitting strategies (hitting the ball cross court, then down the line), transitioning to the net with a slice backhand, using a slice serve to open up the court, and of course, competing on a full-size court.
Moving from one color to the next is a big deal. As exciting as it is for the kids, it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of coaching to have a player learn the necessary skills to transition to the next stage of their development.
To help us guide our players from stage to stage, we recently added a great new coach from the UK, Steve Etchells. He has been a welcome addition to our awesome coaching staff. Steve has an extensive background in teaching, and is excited to be on-board to help develop our junior players.
With our amazing fall and winter weather, we have just entered into tournament season. There are tournaments and events for junior players nearly every weekend, from Junior Team Tennis to highly competitive USTA-sanctioned tournaments. If you ever have questions about tournaments for your players, please don't hesitate to speak to Karen, Steve, or me.
As we prepare for the IJP Tennis End-of-School Celebration this weekend, I have been reflecting on the first half of the year. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and am looking forward to continuing that progress through the summer and fall.
We were very well represented in the high school season this year by Katie R, Bradley, Katie B, Sydney, and Ryan. Success came in many forms—from making the team for the first time, to achieving excellent individual and team results. Katie R was a state doubles finalist in her division, and along with Sydney, made the quarterfinals of the team competition. Bradley helped lead his team to a state semifinal appearance, and also played in the state doubles tournament. As a freshman, Katie B played in the state tournament in doubles, and helped her team reach the finals. Ryan earned a spot on his team, and will have a big task next year defending his team’s state championship title. Also, Coach Karen led her high school team to the quarterfinals of the state competition. High school tennis is great for our older players, as it is a fantastic team environment, and always presents healthy challenges, like making the team or earning a higher position. Plus, it is great for our high schoolers to push our younger Yellow Ballers in practice (while the younger ones are nipping at their heels!).
Our young gun Orange Ballers have been working tremendously hard this year, with the results to prove it. Their major focus has been the development of racquet control in the various strokes. The use of the continental grip is a key part of our younger players’ development, as is understanding how to absorb the ball onto the strings while using this grip. This allows players to not only develop sound volley technique but also help with their serves and overheads by becoming more comfortable with the grip. We had a handful of Orangies selected for the USTA Early Development Camps, and expect more in the coming camps. These camps are designed for young, motivated players to foster athletic development, match tactics, and stroke production.
We can’t forget our Red Ballers! I observed a class last month and am really happy with the solid foundations they are are building. They have the entire movement and shot pattern down: split, unit turn, set up, swing, & recover. It is fun to watch, and I am excited to see the little ones grow into Orange Ballers.
I spend a lot of time educating my students, but also make time to educate myself, as a coach. If I wasn’t open to learning, then I would not have developed into the coach I am today. And I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing coaches and tennis minds over the years. Recently, I was selected to coach at the USTA Southwest Section Team USA Camp. The 3-day event at ASU included a coaches workshop, and two days of instruction with the players. I enjoyed the interaction with the USTA faculty and the other high-level coaches in the Southwest. I was happy to help this section (and myself) grow and improve.
Moving into our summer season, our theme will be "efficient movement." Players will learn movement patterns from the back of the court, using fewer steps to cover more ground. Bigger steps, without wasted energy, will allow players to cover the court better. Our players are learning to absorb the ball with a big drop step, to move wide to the ball and then step inside the baseline to take time away and control the tempo of points. We’ll also take these efficient movement patterns to the net. Players are working on a 2-step volley to explosive to the ball, and practicing moving for their overheads. We aim to train our players to be all-court players, and great all-around athletes.
Although the heat can be off-putting, summer is a vital part of a player’s development. Without the day-to-day worries of school, and with the opportunity for consistent repetition, players can make huge jumps in their games. You can see our summer schedule here.
See you out there.
Welcome to another installment of Matt’s Point. It’s been a great start to 2018, with our players having great successes both on and off the court, from winning tournaments to the USTA's Early Development Camps to awards and accolades in the classroom. Plus, our Arizona winter has been spectacular, as expected.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the ProAm event at the Phoenix Open. This event creates such a buzz around the town, bringing in so many people from other states and countries. There are certainly worse places to be in February! As I watched the players tee off, I couldn’t help but notice how effortlessly they swing the clubs, and how they hit such long distances from their easy-looking strokes. The pro golfers were truly impressive. NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers was playing in one of the final groups of the day. After he hit his tee shot, someone pulled out a football and the group started throwing it around (Jordan Spieth has pretty good hands, by the way). Before they approached the green, Rodgers threw the football into the stands. Again, I was amazed at his ability to throw a football from the middle of the fairway to the upper level with what looked like a simple flick of the wrist. The golfers and Rodgers made it look so easy.
On the way out of the course, we passed the driving range, which was filled with professional golfers practicing for the following day. This was an awesome reminder that those refined mechanics, that enviable technique, and the ease at which they produce their swings (or throws) are anything but effortless. It takes years (or decades) to achieve the appearance of effortlessness. It is the countless hours of practice and hard work that creates this aura of ease to the spectator.
Days before this, I had seen Roger Federer win his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. He has, without a doubt, the most effortless-looking strokes in tennis. He is so smooth, and he glides across the court. What we don’t see is his dedication to being the GOAT: the countless hours of footwork exercises, the strength and conditioning training, the continuous refinements to his technique so he can play this sport for years to come. This is the reason why most players his age are on the seniors tour, while he is still mixing it up with (and beating) the young guns.
At IJP Tennis, we ultimately want all of our players to have the same effortless swings and footwork that we see with the professional players. It’s our job to guide the hard work that is required to get there.
What a year!
IJP Tennis celebrated its one-year anniversary earlier this month. It’s been an amazing year, and I wanted to reflect on how far we have come in such a short span of time. This program was created to grow young, aspiring tennis players. While that is certainly happening, I realize that we too have grown a lot in the last 12 months. It did help that we had over four years of IJP Tennis, before launching our own program, to build the foundation of what we are now.
Twelve months ago, it was just me, on one tennis court. One Saturday earlier this month, we had all eight courts going with players from Red through Yellow Ball, Dynamic Athlete Performance Academy (DAPA) running the fitness sessions, and the ACEing Autism program. It was such a joy to look over all the courts and see so many kids enjoying this sport.
We also welcomed a new coach this month: Karen Fleissner. Karen joins us from the Chandler Tennis Center, where she has been working with Red-Orange-Green players for several years. She is passionate about teaching junior tennis players, and we're excited that she is joining our program. She is helping us broaden our development levels, allowing us to add more classes for our new players.
Let's not forget our players! They have all progressed and have shown significant improvements this last year. Recently, we had four players win tournaments on the same weekend! We have some players being selected for USTA development camps, and others participating in their first tournaments. We also have fellow IJP Tennis players joining up to play doubles together, which is great to see! Every player in this program should be so proud of his or her hard work and commitment.
Given the Thanksgiving season, I must say that I am truly thankful to everyone who has supported us over the last year. I see great potential and promise for the players in this program. Across all of the stages of development, I believe that we are advancing skills and managing development to help all of the players achieve their goals. And I don't limit this to just hitting tennis balls—it's also about instilling work ethic, manners, sportsmanship, and etiquette. We don’t just build great tennis players, we want to help you build great people!
Thanks again for all of your support. We are excited for the next 12 months!
Note: With the recent launch of the DAPA fitness program in IJP Tennis, Matt's Point's guest contributor is Ashley Church.
Hello IJP Tennis families. My name is Ashley Church, and with my husband Tim, we run the Dynamic Athlete Performance Academy (DAPA). I met the Campbells when Niamh came to me as a physical therapy patient, rehabbing from shin fractures. Fast forward two years, I am still working with Niamh (and now Zara) to improve their athletic performance through a dynamic strength and conditioning program.
Having worked with these young tennis players to supplement their tennis instruction with Matt, we are proud to partner with IJP Tennis. Our philosophy is to help athletes minimize injuries and maximize their potential, and we are passionate about strength, conditioning, and fitness for young athletes.
Tim and I founded DAPA in 2015 when we relocated from Hermosa Beach, CA. We sought to create individualized sport-specific strength and conditioning programs that focus on improving the athlete as a whole (balance, coordination, strength, speed, agility, plyometrics). As we train athletes in all planes of movement, our goal is to reduce risk of injury (we call this "Pre-Hab") with a large emphasis on core and glute stabilization--a strong foundation from which to move.
Both Tim and I have been lifelong multi-sport athletes and have sports-related careers. I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a full-time physical therapist at the Fischer Institute. I have been in the fitness industry for 10+ years. I grew up playing soccer and basketball, but underwent four knee surgeries. Although these injuries ended my soccer career, they led to my professional career. With this experience, I always envisioned creating a youth athlete program that focused on educating athletes, and training them to perform better, reduce risk of injury, and prolong their athletic careers.
Tim has a Master of Education, teaches physical education, and coaches indoor and sand volleyball. He was a diver in college, and took up beach volleyball during his graduate studies. He quickly became a high-level beach volleyball player, competing in AVP and NVL tournaments. He even played for Ireland in the Olympic qualifiers. He has 15+ years of coaching and training experience, and is passionate about coaching and helping young athletes improve, not only their skill in a sport, but also the foundations of movement.
We look forward to getting to know all of you, and working with your young tennis stars.
Note: To learn more about DAPA, you can visit the website, or contact Ashley or Tim.
Note: Matt's Point's guest contributor is Chad Campbell.
This summer marked the fifth anniversary of IJP Tennis, and this fall, we'll celebrate our first year running our own program (if you haven't heard the story of IJP Tennis yet, Elana wrote about it here). With these milestones to observe, and some other exciting news to share, the time was right for me to make an appearance on Matt's Point.
As most of the IJP Tennis families know, my daughters, Niamh and Zara, are heavily involved in the programs: Orange Ball group, Green/Yellow Ball group, match play days, etc. Aside from an occasional few minutes out on the court, our son, Euan, hasn't really been involved in tennis. Euan is on the autism spectrum, and until last year, we hadn't found the right formula for getting a racquet in his hands. We were introduced to a nonprofit in Los Angeles called ACEing Autism, which was founded by Richard Spurling (a former teaching pro) and his wife, Dr. Shafali Jeste (an autism researcher). ACEing Autism operates internationally, running tennis lessons with a specialized curriculum for children on the spectrum. I met with Richard at the USTA Pro Circuit event in Fountain Hills, and we discussed launching an ACEing Autism program here in Phoenix. After several months of planning, we have our start date: October 14th.
We are working on some exciting activities related to our inaugural session of ACEing Autism, and we'd love it if you join us in whatever way you can. We have created an ACEing Autism page on our website that covers everything we are doing, but here is a summary:
The Fourth of July break roughly marked the halfway point for our first summer of IJP Tennis, and it has been an amazing summer thus far. I wanted to use the occasion to let you know how things are going.
Summertime is a great opportunity for budding tennis stars to make their biggest improvements of the year. There are no day-to-day stresses associated with school or homework, and tennis is a welcome relief from the "I'm bored" syndrome! Summer provides the opportunity to increase time on court, resulting in more balls hit, leading to greater volume of stroke repetition for accelerated improvements.
In Arizona, however, we can only get so many hours on court during the summer. It gets unbelievably hot here! With temperatures exceeding 110 degrees, and extremely low humidity, it can get dangerous. Safety is critical: sunscreen, hats, hydration, frequent breaks, and shade. Our summertime schedule was built around the Arizona heat and the belief that we can achieve quality practices during the "cool" periods of the day.
I have been so pleased with all of our players this summer. I have seen some awesome improvements. Our younger players have been developing hitting patterns and complex spin serves, and our Green and Yellow ballers, who have been grinding away in the mornings to beat the heat, have been working on an array of tough exercises involving complex footwork and movement patterns.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. Enjoy Wimbledon!
Note: Given that yesterday was Mother's Day, we thought that this week's post required a mother's touch. Matt's Point's guest contributor is Elana Campbell.
For those who don't know me or haven't met me yet, I am Elana Campbell and am a co-founder of IJP Tennis. I am British, and grew up in a town just outside of Manchester (coincidentally, in the town where the infamous Fred Perry was born). I'm also mummy to Niamh, Zara, and Euan. This week, I'm writing as a guest contributor from the perspective of both a mother and a founder of a tennis program. For my friends who knew me back in my school days, the mere thought of me being associated with a company related to sports would have been laughable! But, I've certainly grown an appreciation for sports, and especially tennis, over the last nine years.
Rewinding back to 2008, we were living in Chicago. Niamh was 2, and Zara was just an infant. Living in the city, there wasn't much space to run around or play sports, so Niamh and Chad would play baseball, with a plastic bat and soft balls, in the atrium of our apartment complex. Before she turned 3, Niamh was hitting pitched baseballs--pretty good hand-eye coordination! In the autumn of that year, we made the trans-Atlantic move to London, and we found ourselves only a few tube stops from the hallowed "All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club" (aka Wimbledon)! With no baseball leagues in the UK, we started Niamh in a park district tennis class. She could really hit the ball...holding the racquet like a baseball bat! The coaches helped rid of her of the baseball technique!
Niamh loved tennis, so we kept her playing. We went to Wimbledon and the ATP World Tour Finals, and became bigger fans of the sport. We eventually joined a club that had indoor courts to allow Niamh to play during the winter. That's where we met Matt. Niamh was 4, and we had never heard of the Red/Orange/Green/Yellow (ROGY) progression. Once we saw her play at a Red Ball lesson, we were sold! Matt coached Niamh (with Zara as the ball girl) until we moved back to the US in 2012.
On our return to the US, we were shocked at the lack of enthusiasm for the ROGY system. The US makes adaptations for children's baseball, soccer, and football--why not tennis!? Chad and I were quite frustrated and disappointed, but realised that there was a way to ensure that our girls' great start in tennis wouldn't get derailed. We created IJP Tennis, and asked Matt to join us. We started by developing junior programs for tennis clubs, first in Chicago and then in Arizona. Last October, we started "IJP Tennis" as our own operation.
That's our history. And in that history, there's something much more important than a chronology of events, and something more than just the sport of tennis. It's about family, community, common interest, support, and an outlet. IJP Tennis was created for our children. We've met some great people through tennis, and have great memories. Also, our son Euan, who is now 6 years old, was diagnosed with autism in 2015. Chad and I realised how important tennis was for both of our girls, as a place for them to escape, to be with friends, and just to whack the ball as hard as they can to release the stresses of living with a special-needs brother. As parents, we're happy that IJP Tennis is there for our girls, and if other families feel only a bit of this happiness, that makes it even better.
We hope that, for you, IJP Tennis is what it has been and continues to be for us: tennis and family. The children supporting each other, being honest with the coaches and during tournaments, receiving and giving constructive feedback, making friends, having fun, and becoming the best tennis player possible. As IJP Tennis approaches its 5th anniversary, Chad and I know that the relationship we have built with Matt over the years is about much more than tennis. It's been about setting out to achieve something great and being there for each other along the way. That's what we want for all of our tennis players. We want them to become the best tennis players they can be, while looking forward to coming to practice, improving their game, and creating lasting friendships around the love of a sport.
As far as Euan, he's not much of a tennis player yet. But, we've got great things planned for him and other children in the autism community. Watch this space!
Technique is important in every sport. I'd venture to say it is even more so in tennis. Anyone who picks up a racquet for the first time post-childhood would likely agree, Therefore, teaching technique in this sport is critical. I like to break things down, and teach each portion of stroke production. I've found that being precise with what you are teaching can achieve greater improvements.
If you took the top 10 male and 10 female players in the world, and filmed them hitting a forehand, would they all be the same? Absolutely not! There are core elements that exist for all players, but each has his or her own distinct positions, angles, or movements. It's like a unique signature, on the tennis court. These nuances are influenced by physical capabilities, style of play, and coaching. If you've seen one forehand...you've seen one forehand. This leads me to ask: Why do coaches try to teach the same forehand to every player?
Over my coaching career, I have learnt how to break down a stroke to help the player. I teach four basic components to hitting a forehand: (1) preparation or take-back of the racquet, (2) dropping the racquet head into position to allow a top spin or flat shot, (3) the contact point or strike zone, and (4) the follow through--what happens to the racquet after contact.
If you can break down each stroke into these core elements, it allows the player to focus on one thing at a time. It's easy to tell the player what to adjust after each stroke, but what are you really working on? What's the priority? "You need to load that right leg, change the racquet angle on your set-up, contact the ball further out, and relax your wrist through the contact point." Huh?! When I work technique with a player, I might just work on the set-up of the forehand for the lesson, talking about the adjustments needed for a high ball, rally ball, low ball, and transition ball. The player can focus on this one aspect and carry it into the next hitting session. Teaching technique is...technical. This very focused instruction can become muddled if the scope is too broad.
As technical as I get in my lessons, please be unafraid to ask detailed questions to your children. Next time you ask your child what they worked on in class, try to get more specifics about the practice. I hope your conversations go something like this:
Thanks for reading. Have a sensational week out there.
Matt's Point (get it? Match Point!) is Matt's blog covering all the goings-on at IJP Tennis.