I'm happy to introduce the first installment of a new feature on zootennis, which will tap the professional expertise of Andy Brandi and Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Today's question: "Should I play up?"
One of the most misunderstood areas in junior tennis is the concept of playing up. The idea that players need to be tested at a higher level to develop might be a dangerous proposition.
The ITF recommends as guidelines that players play 25% of the time with players below them, 50% with players of their same ability and 25% with better players. With this in mind, how many times do we as players or parents follow this?
Some of the reasons for playing up might be that you are dominating in your age group. This means that you are getting to the semis, finals or winning every tournament you enter in that age group. This applies to local, sectional and national level tournaments.
Our philosophy is that we recommend to our players that they first win in their age group before they move up. By following this guideline players will:
1-have the chance to learn to win and develop confidence
2-prevent injuries from playing with older and stronger opponents
3-learn to play with pressure. Sooner or later you will have to play with pressure when you are expected to win.
A few months ago I had dinner with two of my former students, Kathy Rinaldi Stunkel and Lisa Raymond. Kathy was ranked as high as 7 in the WTA singles rankings. Lisa Raymond has won numerous Grand Slam doubles titles and was ranked as high as 15 in the WTA singles rankings.
In our conversation about developing successful players, they both felt that players need to prove themselves from the ground up. In the first pro tournament Kathy played, she had to go through pre-qualies and qualies before she made into the main draw of the tournament. By the time she got into the main draw she felt like she had earned it. Her game proved that she belonged at that level. In no time she was ranked in the top 50 in the world!!!
In Lisa's case she worked her way into the top 100 in the WTA rankings in two summers of play while attending University of Florida. The two US Open wild cards she got she earned by winning the NCAA singles crowns. By the time she turned pro, she had tested the waters enough to be ranked in the top 100 and knew that she could play with the best of them.
One of the biggest issues we deal with is whether or not a player should play up. Parents are adamant about their kids playing up. In one instance, the junior would play well when playing up but did not fare as well when he played in his own age group. Nerves got the better end of him. He would lose to players he was supposed to beat!
So ask yourself, have you earned it? Have you proven yourself? If you have, best of luck!
Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches' Q and A in the subject line. Next month they will answer a question on how to deal with nerves when playing in national events against tougher competition.
In the next Q and A, Harold Solomon, a finalist in men's singles at the 1976 French Open, will answer the question: why should juniors train on clay?