Kane Dewhurst, director of Vida Tennis, discusses the transition period between junior and senior tennis.
To live your dream, the fantasy versus reality! As kids we all dream about the day we raise our arms in glory after clinching match point. In your back yard or at your local club, you dare to dream. It is your own personal piece of history that no one can take from you! So why is it that we dream; fame, fortune, lifestyle, peer gratification or personal satisfaction? It is my belief that truly great champions play for one reason, personal satisfaction.
There are many reasons as to why talented juniors don’t fulfil their potential or goals; trapped in the wrong environment, caught up in an idolised lifestyle, injuries, cop outs, motivation, and pressure. These are all reasons why they lose their way in the development years between junior and senior tennis. So what happens to so many aspiring juniors whose dreams never come become reality? I call this Lost in Transition!
For a lot of former players like myself, it is very interesting working with elite juniors. All of them are pursuing the same objective but for a range of different reasons. Many possess images of the ideal lifestyle, travelling the world, staying in nice hotels with people turning up to watch them compete. On the surface this may be true, but the public only sees images that the media portrays. Realistically however these idealised images that saturate the main media are the end results of many years of hard work. Behind the scenes life is very different with long days spent on the court and many arduous hours spent in the gym. The blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices often go unnoticed. Aspiring juniors don’t see the less attractive elements that go into becoming a professional athlete. They are rarely confronted with the reality of waiting at airports, living out of suitcases, with no one to provide them with home cooked meals, and most importantly being absent from their family and friends. These are the factors that hit home to our juniors within the first few months on the road. Sacrifices they thought they could handle just got a whole lot harder. This harsh reality is compounded further in the instances when a positive support structure is also absent, and as a result juniors will often lose their way.
Throughout junior years, kids are often surrounded by their parents, their coach’s and their friends. They train and compete in familiar environments, and are more often than not safe in their comfort zone. So what happens when they are thrust out on their own, young adults in the dog eat dog world of pro life?
Unfortunately at the time they need support the most they often find themselves alone to sink or swim and the sad reality is, more often than not, they sink. The small percentage of players that swim that make it are the ones who have either been guided and are prepared for the transitional stage, or the players who have strong support structures around them once they take the next step in their tennis career.
Alvin Toffler once said, “One must always think of the big things while one is doing the little things, so that the little things have direction.” The road to becoming a professional tennis player is a long and windy one, with plenty of stepping stones as well as stumbling blokes. Tennis is an individual sport but placing the aspiring player in the correct environment is paramount to the development of the player in more areas than just hitting tennis balls. Creating strong work ethics, developing habits and routines from a young age holds the player in good stead once they are cast out on their own. Bad training habits are very hard to break towards the end of your junior career and should be eradicated from a young age. It is a common misconception that talented juniors seem to think that a good junior career will automatically lead to a successful senior career. I call this the “Hollywoodmentality.” Instead of getting out there, taking responsibility and making it happen; they wait for it to come to them. The environment around them must continue to support them, keep things going in the right direction with positive reinforcements and continual hard work.
As a coach it is a constant battle to get junior tennis players to adapt to a necessary and committed definition of hard work. “Great things come when you have a great desire to have them,” (Charles Chaplin) but often the big picture seems so far away and at times unachievable. The constant setting and assessing of goals provides stability for the player. “A goal a day keeps the future okay.” (Dina Glouberman). Results should not be the primary focus, rather the short term goals that are leading to big picture.
So where do talented juniors go once they are no longer juniors? It is very rare for players at 17 or 18 years of age to be ready to make their mark on the professional scene. Their game, mind, and bodies are still developing, but like a bull out of a gate, they dive straight in the deep end. Many players like myself, look back at their career and say “I wish I had done that differently!” But the harsh reality of the situation is that you only get one shot at a tennis career, and you want to be able to hang the racquets up at the end of the day with no regrets.
It is commonly acknowledged that the mental side of tennis is the dividing factor between good and great. Therefore when a young player experiences the senior level for the first time they are more often than not out of their depth tactically, emotionally and often have much less experience than their opponents to handle situations. In the initial stages they haven’t developed the emotional flexibility they need to absorb losses and regain confidence immediately. How do they handle the situation? It is my belief that their junior environment must prepare them for this period. John McEnroe was quoted as saying, “disasters can happen even when things are going well. For me, the disasters have almost always occurred inside my own head.”
The last three years I have spend time with elite juniors at many National and ITF events. It is far too common to hear excuses both during and after a match. The more successful players will have already begun to use there minds to analysis and implement the lessons that they are constantly learning and preparing their minds for the next step. Players must get themselves out of their comfort zones as often as possible in training so they are more prepared for the unpredictability of a match situation. The more they prepare the more they will be able to deal with unexpected factors as they unfold.
Junior tournaments have also highlighted to me the need for physical development from a young age. This is an aspect far too often over looked during the developmental and transition years. At both National Junior Tournaments and lower level ATP events the trainer works overtime trying to keep up with the constant ache’s and pains of the players. Young bodies must be balanced and strong for a player to survive the riggers of day in day out professional tennis life. The knowledge and habits must again be instilled at a young age so when the junior is put out on a tennis court, they can execute each movement effectively and efficiently with no fear of hurting their body. It is very common to see under developed bodies around satellite and future events. Again, people are a product of their environment and the habits they have created.
“The real great make you feel that you can become great.” (Mark Twain) Environment is an interesting word. What does it actually mean and how does it fit with tennis? Each individual player has different needs and requirements, therefore the correct environment for a player will differ slightly form person to person, but the underling rationale is that they can continue to grow and develop their game in a holistic manner. Many touring professionals travel with their entourage, coach, partner, trainer, friends. They try to create the best environment for them to perform. Other’s travel with just one, and some travel on their own. Which ever it is, they have come through the development years with the knowledge and skills that will hold them in good stead for the obstacles that they will face. The have the support net work around them to help keep direction no matter what adversity may arise.
For all the aspiring junior players looking to embark on a tennis career, control what you can control, place yourself in an environment that will help you with the many facets of becoming a professional tennis player, not just now but will help guide you in the future, when the real obstacles arrive. Play for personal satisfaction!