Frequently asked questions
Can you make sure my kid gets to practice/compete against better kids?
The short answer to this question is yes – sometimes. The long answer is: We believe it’s best to train with a variety of players. The strongest players learn, over time, to perform at a high standard regardless of the opponents’ level. This is a challenging skill that most people learn the hard way i.e. losing to players they “perceived” to be weaker. If we take the opportunity away from a student to occasionally play a weaker opponent then we lose the opportunity to teach them this crucial skill. Tennis is a game of strategy, tactics, and mental toughness - not just technical skill. Sometimes the most difficult opponent is one who doesn’t have great strokes but who plays a challenging game style, plays better tactically, or is mentally tougher. The dreaded, misunderstood “pusher” is the best example of this type of player. Therefore, we strive to have kids play stronger opponents (25%), opponents of similar ability (50%), and weaker opponents (25%) all whom represent a variety of game styles. This approach most closely resembles the competitive environment kids’ face in the real world.
What is 10 & under tennis?
10 and under tennis, also referred to as Quick Start or Youth Tennis, is the use of low compression balls with smaller court dimensions and appropriately sized racquets which enables kids to learn to play tennis quickly and properly. In our view it is one of the best things that has happened in junior tennis development – ever. Here’s a quick review of some of the advantages of this approach for anyone new to the scene. Quick Start scales the game down to the size of the players - common sense that is used in all other junior sports (baseball, soccer, basketball, football). This enables kids to hit the ball more often from the proper strike zone which, in turn, allows them to develop the proper grips and strokes at an early age. This is in contrast to the traditional use of yellow balls on full courts which force little kids to use extreme grips and exaggerated strokes to deal with balls that consistently bounce above their shoulders (or constantly move backwards in order to get the ball in their strike zone). Quick Start allows kids to learn tactics and develop a well-rounded game at a younger age – one example: a kid who is 4 feet tall can’t learn to come to the net on a regulation size court, even if he or she volleys well they can rarely reach the ball due to their size; the modified court size solves this problem. Also, slower balls (more time) and smaller courts (easier court coverage) make it much easier for kids to rally and play. The end result being that more kids get hooked on playing the game.
Can you make sure that my kid gets to play with a specific ball (yellow, green, orange)?
The short answer is yes, most of the time - if that’s what you really want. May I suggest, however, that you consider the following:
*Think development not age - The first thing that has to happen for ANYONE to learn to play and enjoy tennis is that they have to be able to control the ball and rally. A beginning player, regardless of their age or size, can learn to do this faster using modified balls and court sizes for the same reasons that a kid 10 and under can.
*Don’t be in a hurry -One of the biggest misconceptions about quick start is that moving to a bigger court means that you are a more advanced player. If a kid can’t rally or hit the ball properly on a smaller court then things get worse, not better, when they move to a bigger court. Granted, it feels easier because the standard for hitting the ball properly is much lower – there is more space in which to hit the ball. Many well-meaning parents feel better because their kid has “moved up” to a more advanced level. The reality is that quite often the reverse is true. When you lower the standards for success (i.e. bigger court with less incentive to hit properly) kids develop slower and it is harder for kids to develop great fundamentals that pay off in the long term.
*Transitioning isn’t a big deal - Transitioning from one court to the next - red balls (36ft court) to orange (60ft court) to green (78ft court) to yellow (78ft court) - isn’t that challenging for players who have established some basic level of technical skill. It’s the same game no matter what court size or type of ball you use – there still two sidelines and one net, good strokes and consistency are rewarded, you have to move your feet and focus, etc., etc.
*Value the training benefits - Using low compression balls enables us to level the playing field, so to speak, when we want to have players of different ages and sizes play and/or practice against each other. This increases the pool of potential practice partners. One the best practice match ups we had recently was between a 14 year old boy and a 10 year old girl using a green ball (bounces about 75% as high as a regular ball). The points were longer because the younger (smaller) player was able to get more balls in her strike zone and keep the ball in play. The older (bigger) player had to hit more shots because it was harder to hit winners. Both kids played at full intensity, which is rare in practice matches, because they knew they would have to play their best to win. From a practice value standpoint it doesn’t get much better than this – for both players.
What is the best schedule?
Junior clinics are offered Monday thru Thursday 4:30 - 6:30. Saturday 9-10, 10-12, and 1-3. We schedule in 8-9 week sessions during the school year. Class descriptions and registration forms are on our website.
The best schedule for each player depends on a variety of factors: age, interest, goals, level, tournaments, vacations, etc. You can schedule daily or weekly based on your needs but we always suggest, if possible, setting up a consistent schedule rather than attending sporadically. If we can help with the details of setting up your schedule just let us know.
How do you “stratify” the group?
This question was asked by a new parent a few years ago, it was his way of asking how we grouped our players relative to skill levels. Following are the basics.
If your child is already in our program, we know his or her skill level relative to other kids because competition is part of every clinic; and our players rotate up and down on a ladder based on results. However, we often have kids who compete well but need work in other areas (technical, physical, mental). We take all this into account as we plan our clinics.
For players new to the program we will first get some background on age, experience, rankings, etc. before suggesting a class that might be appropriate. During their first clinic we will assess their skill level continually during clinic and will base our assessment on both observation and competitive results. By the end of their first clinic we have a fairly good idea where they fit in relative to our other players in the program and can plan accordingly.
If we see that your child is too far on one end of the spectrum (either too strong or too weak) relative to the other players in the class we will contact you to suggest a more appropriate clinic. At the end of every session we evaluate the players in each clinic and will contact you if we think we need to adjust their schedule.
When are the good kids coming?
That is a hard if not impossible question to answer, even though it’s one we hear often. Let’s just say that we work hard in our planning before, during and after every clinic to make sure that our players are challenged competitively in every session. We use a “ladder” based system that insures that every kid gets to play against a variety of skill levels and game styles over time.
We don’t base our program on the construct that labels one kid and “good” and another “bad”. Our perspective is that every player has strengths - areas that can be built upon; and every player has weaknesses - areas in which they need to improve. We encourage our kids to respect every player as a good practice partner, focus on playing to a high standard, and realize there is value in practicing and competing with players of all levels. In short, it’s less about “who” is there and more about “how” you play (performance), “what” you bring to the courts (effort), and “where” your head is (attitude).
What is the curriculum/content of the clinics?
We have developed a weekly curriculum that we follow each session. Each week we have theme topics that focus on technique, strategy, and mental skills. We use a variety of drills, games and “stipulated” point play to help kids learn not only to “hit” the ball properly but to “play” the game well.
Clinics start with a dynamic warm up that involves agility, balance, and coordination. We move into technique work followed by games and drills designed to help the kids learn to use their skills in a competitive environment. Lastly, we end clinics with movement oriented drills and games designed to improve their speed, agility, and conditioning (the kids call this “fitness”).
How are they doing?
We have found that the most effective way to provide feedback on the progress of our students is through personal interaction (rather than report cards, forms, etc.) with the player and/or parent. You can contact us anytime by phone or e-mail to request an update. Some helpful guidelines:
If your child is taking private lessons then their coach is your best resource for detailed feedback on how their doing. We are happy to give you information as often as you’d like on their progress but, generally speaking, it’s best to work in blocks of time (1-3 months) where we can establish priorities, set goals, and evaluate progress.
We have weekly staff meetings during which, among other things, we discuss the progress of specific players. Quite often it is helpful to get feedback from all our coaches before getting back to you.
We run on 8-9 week sessions during the school year (10 weeks in the summer) so it’s usually best to check in as a session ends or starts. Of course if there are any issues we need to deal with mid-session we will contact you.
It helps us greatly if you can be specific with your request. Generally speaking, there are four areas of the game we look at in developing players: physical, technical, mental, and emotional. This can get fairly involved, particularly with advanced players, so it’s best to narrow things down at the beginning so we don’t bore you with a lot of details you don’t need.
Often parents simply need advice on the various issues that come up in junior tennis. Just let us know when to call you and we will help in any way we can. Junior tennis can be tough on parents, sometimes you just need someone to listen which we are happy to do as well.
The BEST time for us to interact with parents is during the day (usually late morning/early afternoon) by phone, e-mail, meetings, etc. We love the opportunity to connect with parents and want to be able to devote our full attention to you. The WORST time to discuss issues, scheduling, player progress, etc. is just before clinic, during clinic, and/or right after clinic (although we know this is the most convenient time for parents). Clinic time is when we devote our full attention to the kids.
How do I know what level to sign up for?
If your kid is already in the program sign up for the level they are presently in. If they are new, contact us with some background information and we can point you in the right direction.
What do you do if it rains?
If it is raining or if the courts are too wet to play, we will cancel and reschedule for an alternate clinic. A voicemail update will be on the CTA phone (704-556-1001) one hour before any session in which weather looks to be an issue. We also will try to email if time permits. But sometimes the weather comes upon us pretty quickly, so we always want you to feel in control with access to a voice message.
When are my kids’ friends coming?
Some behind the scene information might be helpful here: peoples’ schedules are constantly changing (transportation issues, sicknesses, doctors’ appointments, school conflicts, dads rather than moms get involved, etc.) therefore we are reluctant to tell you when your friend is coming because we don’t want you to be disappointed if they don’t show up to a scheduled clinic. Keep in mind that our first priority is that kids have fun and get better at tennis. One benefit of clinic is that you can widen the circle of players with whom you play/practice (maybe even make some new friends) which means that you won’t always play with your friends in clinic anyway. Another benefit is that clinics provide a consistent, structured environment designed to help players improve regardless of who is there on a particular day. We do understand that having friends in clinic can make it lot more fun which is why we encourage friends to schedule to attend on the same days if possible and connect when we play end of clinic games, doubles, etc.
Why does it like it takes so long for my kid to improve?
Tennis is a fairly easy game to learn to play but a difficult game to learn to play well. Particularly if your kid is pursuing the game competitively it’s easy to underestimate how much time/effort is required to see improvement. To improve in tennis you have to get better in four areas: physical, strategic, technical, and emotional. As the saying goes, “a chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link”. For example a player may have made great improvement technically but emotionally and/or physically hasn’t matured yet. It takes time for all the pieces to come together, particularly when you are working with kids.
To use a financial analogy, investing in your kids’ tennis future should be like saving for retirement. Have a long term perspective without getting emotional if market takes a downturn in the short term. Put what you can afford into a plan that makes sense for you and stick to the plan. Check in on your kid to make sure they are working hard, maintaining a good attitude, giving their best effort, and enjoying the process. If that is all happening then over time kids always get better.
How does my kid get to the “next level”?
One mistake people make here is to focus on outcome goals first - attaining a certain ranking, making a team, beating a specific person, etc. – and define attainment of that goal as getting to the “next level”. This is a dangerous way to think because once that outcome goal is achieved there is a natural tendency to relax. Great players understand that there will always be a “next level” so they learn to enjoy the process of improving regardless of how far they’ve come.
The key is to define what performance areas you need to improve, prioritize them, and then get to work. Following are a few basic principles. First, play/train more often. This seems obvious but you’d be amazed how many people come to us who say they want to improve but don’t have the time and/or willingness to train. Second, practice with intensity. Make sure that you make the most of the time you do have. Lastly, find out how the people you will be competing against are training and DO MORE THAN THAT. This usually involves players taking the initiative to do things on their own - play practice sets, hit serves, workout, etc.
How do we find the right coach / get lessons?
If you’re new to the program, the bios which are posted on the website are a good place to start. Players who are in our clinic program often find they connect well with specific pros, so it’s often helpful to attend some clinics before moving forward. Either way let us know of your interest, if you have a specific coach in mind, and if you have a general idea of when you might be available. We will do our best to match you up with a coach best suited to your needs. Keep in mind scheduling is often the most challenging part of this process but we’ll always do our best to find times convenient to you.
I addressed these answers to parents assuming that they, rather than their kids, would be the primary audience reading an FAQ section. However, many of the answers might be helpful for kids to read (I hope) – parents, please pass along as you see fit. Also, I intentionally edited these answers for brevity. If it would be helpful that I expand on any of these topics or you have questions not covered here, let me know and I’ll get in touch with you directly.