Monthly Archives: February 2014

Unforced Errors

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How many times have you watched your child receive a soft second serve, their eyes light up, they move into attack their ball, unleash a forehand topspin down the line… only for the ball to sail a metre long? Maybe they’ve hit a good serve, their opponent plays a short return to their backhand, they stalk the ball, hit a vicious double handed backhand only to hit the ball too flat and the ball hammers into the net.

As a parent it can be heart breaking to see the look of anguish on our child’s face and the slump in their body language. We try and remind ourselves of coach’s words and lines in books that for younger children, the important thing is that their intention are right, the execution will come with practice.

This may be right but at the same time, we want our children to have success, win matches and there is no doubt that children who can reduce their unforced error count will win more matches.

One of the things that I have been talking about with my son has been, can he reduce his number of unforced errors so that he stays in the point longer. He has commented on other children that they don’t necessarily hit the ball any harder but they just keep getting it back.

This week, coach was unavailable so I took on the role of hitting partner. We agreed that we’d both work on reducing the number of unforced errors we made. First we warmed up and played lots of points but did not keep count. In the second half of our practice we began to play tiebreaks but created our own scoring system. The agreement was, if you won the rally with a winner you got one point but if you lost the rally with an unforced error, the other player got two points. This really focussed our minds. However at the same time we did not just ‘moonball’ or play ‘pattercake’ tennis we went for our shots. By the fourth tiebreak he was making fewer unforced errors and hence thrashed me. We both left the court with smiles on our faces.

In his next competition, he was up against a really good player in the first round. I never expected him to win but we talked about staying in the point as long as possible. The match unfolded and after losing the first set, I decided to keep some records of the second set. I could see he was playing really well but if the score board did not show this I wanted to give him some evidence of his improvement.

I kept count of unforced errors and winners and there in black and white was the fact that my son was making the most unforced errors. However this was not the true tale. This was two boys who were slugging it out from all round the court. They were putting everything into their shots and rallys were regularly longer than 20 shots. At some occasions my son just had to lean over this racket to collect his breath.

To me, this was the situation were an unforced error isn’t an unforced error. If you’ve hit 15 shots from all angles of the court and run 100s of metres and then hit it into the net, you haven’t made an unforced error, instead you’ve been pressurised.

In terms of the score line my son lost comfortably but he came off the court pleased as he knew he’d played well and he forced the other player to work hard to win the match. This then becomes our job as tennis parents to highlight that positivity of progress. Our unforced error would be just looking at the score line or our own statistics. Our winner is any smile on our children’s faces.

What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Children need a break

Do you ever wonder if you have allowed your child to be sucked into a constant round of one competition after another? Then ask yourself, is this healthy? Finally consider, how will this impact on your child’s long term love of the game?

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I realised in the last few months that my son has played competitions pretty much none-stop for the last three years and he only turns eleven in a month’s time. Three years ago it was red ball and the race to get the Red 1 rating as well as chasing medals. Two years ago he moved up to Orange ball and there was the challenge to get from Orange 4 to Orange 1, with a final push in the summer of getting those 20 wins in regional competitions and the holy grail of the Orange 1*. This was delicately balanced with his aim of winning the summer county leaderboard. Competition soon changed to Green ball and whether it would be possible to get his Green 1* through Grade 3 competitions and still play enough grade 4s and 5s to see if he could win either the winter or summer Green county leaderboards. Hopefully this will become more straightforward nows with Grade 4 and Grade 5 competitions also counting towards the race for Orange and Green 1*.

When he moved up to Full Ball, there was an enforced rest during September whilst school priorities took over before I (in all honesty) pushed him back in the fray of more competitions, with ratings, leaderboards and now rankings proving the new collectibles. As his growing body began to creak, I realised that he had been constantly competing for a long time.

I began to think of the comparison to other sportsmen and women; they would all have some kind of break. There has been a debate over a number of years about a mid-season break in the football season and that is in addition to the summer break. It has often been commented on, that after World Cups footballers often struggle the following season due to the lack of rest.

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Whilst in tennis, players will generally have a break from competition in November and December. There has also been discussion over whether the window should be longer prior to the Australian Open. John McEnroe was insistent a few seasons ago that Andy Murray should have taken a break and Roger Federer did take a break before the grass court season that year.

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It is important to remember that young athletes are constantly growing which places considerable stress on their joints and muscles. Hence they are at more risk of injury than adults. Finally we need to question does the constant round of tournament to tournament run the risk of taking the fun out of the game?

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I am already thinking should I begin to plan specific breaks from competition over the next year. When is the best time to place these? Should I follow the pro’s and place one window from October half term to Christmas holidays and then maybe have another break prior Easter before Aegon Club tennis starts? What of my daughter, who is starting Orange Ball, should I do the same thing and plan breaks for her?

After all, my aim in the tennis journey is that they have a skill which they enjoy using in their teenage years and all through adulthood and not that they are burnt out and jaded before they turn thirteen.