Monthly Archives: September 2014

Competing Overseas: A different holiday experience

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To me, my children’s tennis has always been more than the winning of matches or competitions, instead it is an opportunity for personal development. Competition has always been a part of that, a mechanism to test your sporting skill and your wider skills.

When we watch red ball and see our children play in unusual places against children and with a scorer they do not know, that is a considerable challenge for them. Then when they move to orange ball and have to score their own matches and call their own lines, the challenge has increased further. It moves on again at Green and Full ball when matches can last 90minutes and even longer. All that time they are on their own, having to cope with their emotions as the game ebbs and flows. I think in many ways that is one of the most valuable skills they can learn.

This summer my children took this a step further by agreeing to take part in a competition at a local French tennis club. This wasn’t an international event for top ranked players across Europe. Instead it was probably the equivalent of a British grade 4 competition. As you may have seen from one of my earlier blogs, I agreed to enter the men’s open so we all had a go.

It was a fascinating experience. The first obvious point was communication. My eight year old daughter did not speak any French and my eleven year old a tiny amount. It was hard enough for them to go on court, communicate their way through the warm up and sort the spin (saying dead / alive or MacDonalds / Wimbledon was met with a smile). That was before they learnt to score in French, did you know for deuce you say egalite?. Discussing whether a ball was in or out was interesting and far more lets were played on their calls than normal. Then finally if you win asking your opponent what they would like to drink from the club bar and then buying it.

There was then all the cultural elements of playing in France. Players both children and adult are far more vocal in describing their play and use far more colourful language that would be permitted in an UK tournament. My children did not really understand but it was quite disconcerting for them to hear so much being said that they didn’t understand. Another difference was the whacking of tennis balls around the court after losing a point, game or set, some of which whistled past my child’s head. Then there was the encouragement from the side, often a number of people of giving their support to the local player. Though I did find it quite liberating that I could encourage far more vocally and openly said, ‘good patience’, ‘keep going’ and ‘right shot’ etc. Not coaching but certainly encouragement.

The final challenge for my son was playing his holiday friend, a French/English boy in the final. They had spent the whole fortnight playing on the court, in the swimming pool and this was our third visit too. Yet they had to play a final against each other. The final which lasted 3 hours was a titanic battle which left both players spent by the end. My son narrowly won, but with another child’s disappointment so evident, this tempered my father’s pride. What was lovely though was an hour later they were back in swimming pool together and then by the evening, our last night, they were playing doubles against two local men, in the men’s open doubles!

My children learnt so many lessons from their experience and to me the best one is that they now both want to learn to speak French so that they can communicate better. It was absolutely fascinating to watch their efforts over the week and if you ever get the chance to do the same, I would urge you to take it.

The French Way

French Federation Tennis

Tsonga, Gasquet, Monfils, Benneteau, Simon and Cornet. That is the list of the French players in the world top 30. Britain just has one, Andy Murray. We are obviously very lucky to have a two time grand slam winner and maybe French tennis fans would swap their six players for one grand slam win. It is though interesting that our nearest neighbour with approximately the same population has this number of leading players.

This summer I was fortunate enough to have a look at grass roots French tennis by taking part in an adult tennis competition and my children playing in the corresponding 11/12ans and 9/10ans events.

The first change was in the structure of the competitions. Each local French club had a week/2weeks of competition in turn. Probably the equivalent of a grade 4 or grade 5 competition in Britain. Rather than the event being completed in a day, the children’s event lasted a week and the adults two weeks. Just as in Britain they have ratings which in France start at 30/5, 30/4 and as the player improves they move to a 30/1, 30 and then to a 15/5. (See this thread for further details: The interesting thing with the competition is that not everyone starts at the same time. So on the 1st day of competition, the lowest ranked players against each other the winner go forwards and play against players who are ranked slighty higher, the winner again go forwards and play against the players who are ranked slightly higher. You may find that the best two players in the competition will not enter the competition until the semi final stage. There is a corresponding consolation draw for first round losers. The idea is that you will play a match against a lower ranked player which you should win, then a match against someone of similar standard as you and if you win that you’ll play someone better. This is quite different from a compass draw of16 were if you are the lowest ranked player in the draw, you might start against the number 1 seed and then have lose two further matches before you play someone of a similar standard to you.

In the French tournament at U12s they played best of three full sets. At under 10 best of three sets up to 5 games with sudden death deuces with a tiebreak at 4-4. The matches were much longer with my son playing a final lasting three hours. As a result the matches ebbed and flowed a lot more.

The under 10s competition was a green ball event on a full court, there was no corresponding orange event for under 9s, instead there was a mini tennis event fro under 8s.

The tennis club in the small town was a real focal point for the community with a very wide social spread of players and this annual competition was obviously a important moment in the calendar of the town. The competition ended with a meal on the final night when the prizes were presented too.

It was interesting for my children to play longer matches over a period of days and in some ways it felt less pressurised than playing 3 or 4 matches in a single day. The longer nature of the match for me as a parent spectator meant that I didn’t feel as nervous from the start. You knew your child could serve first, hit lots of double faults but at 3-0 down still have time to come back, very different from short sets. This seemed to mean that players could go for their shots more. When I came home and a few days later watched my son play short sets, it seemed over in a flash. Obviously the down side is that you play fewer matches.

I did find it a fascinating insight into a different system.