In this month's installment of Coaches Q & A, Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida addresses this question:
Q. We can't afford a full-time tennis academy or a private coach. Can you suggest some less expensive alternatives that would help continue our 14-year-old's development?
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A. There are many ways for junior players to develop their games who for one reason or another don't have access to an academy or a private full time coach.
When I was a junior growing up in Maryland I would take one private lesson a week and would spend the rest of the week working on the information that I learned. My father would attend the lesson and then we would go out during the week and practice the skills that I had been taught.
Since it's often very difficult to find one coach that does a great job of teaching all of the needed tennis skills, I would go to a variety of coaches who had the reputation for specializing in a particular area of the game.
A junior player could also share a lesson with another junior of approximately the same skill level and that way the player could afford to take more than one lesson a week. In some parts of the country there are coaches that have after-school programs that are more like opportunities for players to get together and play matches. Often these practices are supervised, relatively inexpensive and allow the players the opportunity to get good match play on a regular basis.
Juniors who have excelled in their sections can apply for USTA grants which can help to supplement the funding necessary for the junior's development.
Local help, drilling
If I didn't have access to a private coach or a good academy, I think I would find the best coach in my area and enroll that person to help me develop a plan for my tennis future with the understanding that he would be my primary coach, but that I would from time to time use other coaches to help me develop all of the areas of my game. I would set up with other top juniors in the area a regular practice schedule for drilling and playing matches.
When I was young I took advantage of asking the best men's players in my area to play with me on a regular basis. Many of these players were highly ranked in my section and some were top national and international players. These older players were more than happy to play with me and often offered advice about my game, my style and my technique. Many of them took pride in my accomplishments and ended up being a great resource for my development.
Play as a guest
Even if a junior player can't afford to attend a full time academy it is often possible to play matches at some of the academies in the afternoons with the academy players. The staff at these academies will often offer advice on match play, shot selection, and your mental aptitude during these practice matches.
Other coaching resources
I also think it is a good idea to contact the local head of the USPTA, USPTR, and the USTA to find out about any free or minimum cost programs in the area. Finally, depending on the junior's age, local college coaches who run their own programs outside the school can be valuable resources as long as everyone is well aware of the NCAA rules regulating participation with college and university programs.