I have been working within a junior pathway program for the past 17 years. Starting in Melbourne at Dingley Tennis Club with Pee-Wee tennis, using a foam ball on a 36-foot court, to this past weekend working with some of the best Orange Ball kids in the USTA Southwest at the Early Development Camp.
I like working with junior players at all levels. As I say to parents, I am less concerned with the current ability or level of a player, and more with focus, desire, and work ethic. I must admit, however, I do have a real passion for developing kids on the Orange Ball. It is an important time for skill development, and I've had such great success with this age group in Chicago, and this momentum has carried over to our program here in Arizona.
The Orange Ball phase is for players generally aged 7 to 10. It's played on a 60-foot court using the orange low-compression ball. The skills developed during this phase, for me, are the most critical. As the court is notably larger than the 36-foot Red Ball court, players encounter new challenges, such as more complex footwork patterns, developing racquet head speed from a longer baseline, and generating spin to control serves and groundstrokes. Also, juniors need to start understanding match tactics, as Orange Ball play, when done well, starts to closely resemble "adult tennis."
I have found that the Orange Ball phase is generally overlooked in this country, and this bamboozles me! After four years, I still cannot figure out why there is such push back. For those who miss out on Orange Ball, the proof always manifests later in their development. You only have to walk around a 10s or 12s tournament and focus on the players' technique. The difference between a player who developed through Orange Ball and a player who did not is quite obvious—at least to me. Orange Ball graduates move and play differently, and the most telling area—even for parents—is the serve. Why is this? Players need time (and proper insruction) to develop, and Orange Ball is a crucial part of the development!
Our Orange Ball program is doing fantastically well. We have roughly 8-10 kids developing through this phase. We have three players that are at the elite Orange Ball level (and eligble for the USTA camps I worked at over the weekend). We also have a couple of kids who recently graduated from Red Ball. I know that, in six months time, these kids will all be playing and looking amazing!
I'm so excited to have a strong foundation in this program. Both Kel and I take such satisfaction in building our players from the beginning. Our Orange Ball classes run on Monday and Wednesday from 4:00 to 5:30.
For a free 30-minute evaluation please feel free to contact me.
I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving break. We had a quiet week with many of our players having a well-earned break, spending time with family and friends. I think it's important for everyone to take a break and use the downtime to recharge and reflect. These rest times are not only good for your body to recover, but more so for your mind.
During the lessons we did have this past week, I spoke with some of the kids about where they were this time 12 months ago. Last year, one student had just been diagnosed with double stress fractures in her shins, and was just starting a 6-month stint of recovery and rehab. She wasn't able to run or do any exercise for months, and was was quite distraught about it. Now, 12 months on, she is absolutely tearing up the court with amazing tennis. What a transformation...what a year!
It's these times and these situations that we can all reflect on.
Something I have always wrestled with as a coach has been how to start lessons. Early in my career, I would have the kids do a quick couple of laps around the court and then a light stretch before starting to hit. Only when I stopped and questioned myself about what I was teaching my students during this time did I start to become more creative with how I begin my lessons.
My goal now is to make my players start thinking and moving as soon as they step foot on the court. They need to think and move with a purpose, from the word "go!" It's all about establishing good habits. They need to develop the routine they will use for tournaments during practice!
Below is a video of a student I worked with over the weekend. The drill was the first racquet skill exercise of the lesson. My goal during this exercise is to simulate movement and stroke patterns that will occur during every point. Students are challenged both physically and mentally during this exercise. Please DO attempt these exercises at home!
Please send me any questions or comments you have. Have a sensational week on the court.
Sunday was the last day of the season for the ATP tour. The match was between Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic, and decided the year-end world number 1. It was the first time in history that the final of the ATP World Tour Finals decided this. Murray played some of his best tennis of the year to take the victory and the number 1 ranking. It took Andy Murray 11 years as a professional tennis player to achieve this ranking. Many of his coaches and the people supporting him have been there from the start. This sport certainly takes commitment and patience.
I often speak with parents about their child's progress through this sport. I always make it a point to emphasize to parents (and my players) how long the journey is from Red Ball to, for example, the ATP finals. It's too easy to fixate on the present moment--how many serves did she hit in, whom is he hitting with today, when does she move to the Green Ball class? I always assess players with an eye on the beginning and the end: how/when/where did the child start tennis, and where is he or she headed on this journey. The ending, of course, is speculative, but it does shape the pathway. And it is the pathway that matters. The pathway is that long journey. There will be lots of bumps and turns along the way, with lulls and rapid accelerations. It's a long road, so you need to "pan out" to see the whole thing.
If there is one piece of advice I would give parents, it is: Be very choosy in selecting your coach (or coaches), and then trust your coach. Try out different coaches and programs, and find the right fit. Find a coach that is genuinely interested in your child's progression as a player and a sportsperson. This trust, to be sure, is not a blank check and does not mean turning a blind eye to short-term progress. But, if you believe in the coach, the program, and the vision, the consistent message, presence, and focus will help in achieving those longer-term goals and outcomes.
This weekend's ATP Finals showed how healthy tennis is, as a sport. IJP Tennis is also doing quite well. Week by week, our program is growing. We have new players streaming in, and new classes launching each week. I know this is the start, but we are off to a flying start!
I wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
I am so excited to announce the arrival of IJP Tennis's newest team member: Kel Orsi. Kel comes to us with over 18 years of coaching experience. He started in Australia and has traveled the world, working in many high-level programs including Chris Evert Tennis Academy. His coaching expertise is evidenced by the many successful juniors he has developed, and the top-100 ATP players who have trusted him as a coach and trainer.
I had the pleasure of working with Kel in London for 7 years, and I gained tremendously from his wealth of knowledge. Kel's attention to detail on technique is unmatched by any coach I have seen during my playing and coaching careers. Not only are our players lucky to have Kel on board, I feel very fortunate to be able to again work side-by-side with the best coach I know. It's rare to find a coach who has knowledge, playing ability, and a great personality. Kel ticks all the boxes, and our kids are going to benefit greatly from him.
This week, we attended a level 3 tournament to support one of our up-and-coming 10 & under juniors. It's so satisfying to see the progress of young players. Watching a junior's on-court tennis skills improve is one thing. Witnessing a young player learn how to carry him/herself during competition and develop mental toughness and composure that helps them off the court is whole other experience. It brings me so much satisfaction. Tennis is about so much more than just forehands and backhands.
Two weeks in, and we have our first junior groups up and running. Last week, we held our first Orange Ball class, and this Thursday will mark the start of our elite program. We plan to start our Green Ball groups during the week of November 21st.
What a unbelievable start to our program! Thank you again to all of our great families. Feel free to drop me any questions or comments you may have.
Welcome to my new blog! I am excited and privileged to be able to provide an update on all of the amazing things IJP Tennis's program is providing for its players.
The first week of November was truly monumental, as it marked the beginning of our very own junior development program. For the past 4 years, we have been operating very successfully through other programs. We decided that it was time to create the program I've had in my mind for many years. And this was Week 1 in that quest.
We have already had a great turnout of young, aspiring tennis players. Nothing is more satisfying than developing young athletes from the beginning of their tennis development--from Red Ball to Yellow Ball.
Over the past 18 months, I've had the pleasure of working with so many kids wanting to make tennis a sport they can love and succeed at. Most kids had no foundation of stroke development. In a relatively short time frame, we now have three kids participating in the USTA development camps. Many of our players have started to see success in match play and tournaments. And most importantly, all the kids have a love for this great sport.
The most rewarding part of the week was teaming up with ACEing Autism, a fantastic organization bringing tennis to the autism community. I had the pleasure of working with a young boy who is on the autism spectrum, in a clinic conducted by ACEing Autism. Coaching is not about always working with the best or most talented players; it's about modeling a love for the game, for all the students you work with. If you build the love, the results will come.
Feel free to drop me any questions or comments you have. Thank you to all who are supporting our program.
Please join IJP Tennis in supporting the CopperWynd Women's Pro Challenge at CopperWynd Resort & Club in Fountain Hills. We especially excited about the involvement of ACEing Autism, which will be running free clinics at the tournament, and is a beneficiary of the tournament.
The tournament runs from Sunday, October 30 to Sunday, November 6. The ACEing Autism clinics are on Thursday, November 3 and Friday, November 4. Details regarding the clinics are below.
We hope to see you there!
We are very excited to announce the launch of IJP Tennis! The company has been around since 2012, but we have always operated through other tennis organizations--essentially setting up and running the junior tennis programs. And while we have learned from, and are thankful for, our tennis club contract partners, the timing and circumstances were right to start our own program. For many years, Matt, Elana, and Chad have had the goal of building an elite junior tennis development program, and now we will set out, in earnest, to realize that. We have secured a great facility at Arcadia High School. We have 8 courts, 7 days a week. We have also brought on Kel Orsi (another Aussie!) as our Director of High Performance Programs. Kel has an outstanding tennis C.V., and we are excited to supplement our program with his experience, knowledge, and passion for the sport. If you'd like to learn more about our program, and how we can help your junior player reach the next level, please contact us.
Matt's Point (get it? Match Point!) is Matt's blog covering all the goings-on at IJP Tennis.