Note to parents

I had to decide, as we updated the website this spring, whether to include these letters. They were written 10 years ago to a group of kids finishing their junior tennis careers and moving on to college. My reason for including them is based on a concept from a book called ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey – “begin with the end in mind.”  Assuming you hope to be a “highly effective” parent, I thought it might be helpful to read about successful tennis kids at the end of their junior careers.

Hopefully, by reviewing these letters you’ll also get insight into the world of junior tennis and what CTA is all about.  Each of these kids lived the same life in junior tennis your kids are living now (or soon will). You’ll notice in most cases that there is some type of struggle, hardship, or adversity and you may recognize similarities to the challenges your own kids will face.  Tennis served not only to reveal, but to shape the character of these kids.  It took years but it was really something to watch.   

It may be encouraging to know that all these kids have done just fine in later life.  I’ve been to a few of their weddings.  Some had great college tennis careers and some moved on from tennis in college.  One is a banker, another a writer; one is a pastor, another a nurse.  I’ve lost track of a few; odds are they’re doing just fine.

Coach Bill

Note to parents - 2008

It has taken some time writing these notes to your kids; I think I may be getting sentimental in my old age.  Each one has been special to me and I will miss interacting with them (and you) on a weekly basis.  Over the many years that your kids have spent with us, there have been various challenges you as parents have had to overcome.  I have spent time with each of you discussing whatever the “issue of the day” was.  The common themes included:  clinic issues (when do they get to move up?), tournaments (why do they always have to play the #1 seed), psychology (why is my kid so mentally fragile?), dealing with other parents, coaches, and kids (why are people so mean?), etc. The list could go on.  Having been involved in the world of junior tennis for some time, I often find myself feeling sorry for parents with young kids that will be following the same path your kids have in tennis.  There are many pitfalls; it is often confusing and invariably emotional.  Each of you has come through the process successfully; you have asked the right questions and worked through the challenges.  I hope that you have concluded, as I have, that the effort has been worth it.  Although you will rarely get a thank you from your kid, know that your parenting has enabled these kids to become the quality people they are.  I know that their experiences in tennis (and at CTA) have played a big role in each of their lives; and you made that possible.  You chose to entrust myself and our staff at CTA with helping to raise your children, for that I am grateful.  Each one of these kids have enriched my life in their own unique way.  Thanks for loaning them to me for these many years.

Coach Bill

John – Character

In our 20+ year history of Charlotte Tennis Academy, if I had to choose one player to represent what we are about at CTA, it would be you.  This is not because you started out in our program as a 6-yr old Mighty Mite and ended as a college bound player, but because of whom you have become as a person.  As we have often discussed, my proudest moments watching your journey over the years haven’t been the State Championships  or high rankings but rather the tough losses and challenging moments in this often difficult world of junior tennis, which you walked through with character and class.  To get to the level you have achieved you had to be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and risk much emotionally. I’ve seen you many times under pressure on both a big stage and a small stage, playing people who were your friends, and sometimes not.  You never once backed down from a challenge.  Sometimes you lost and sometimes you won but you always did it with respectfulness and sportsmanship. 

I could give you many specific examples of this.  One would be last year’s tough loss at the State Clay Court Tournament.  You had just won the Qualifier and would win the State Hard Court Tournament a few weeks after.  Your opponent, as you well remember, played incredibly well and of course was primed to play you as the number one seed.  (I can still picture the between the legs winner he hit in that tie breaker like it was yesterday.)  As you well know, I am intimately familiar with the kind of pain that you were experiencing immediately following that match.  I watched you respectfully shake hands with your opponent, come off the court, acknowledge the various well wishers and stop over to briefly chat with me acknowledging how well your opponent played that day.  I’ve seen you do this more than once and if I project myself back to your age during challenging moments such as that I know that I was never close to exhibiting that level of respectfulness and sportsmanship.   Just know that this aspect of your character is what enables you to achieve what you achieve both on the court and off.  As you know, over these next few years, you will continue to face challenges and I expect that you will have continued success.  You have been well prepared through the numerous people who have supported your throughout your junior career, particularly your parents.  They have done a great job in guiding you and providing perspective on what is important in life and where tennis fits into that equation.  They have given you room to chart your own course and you have made the most of it.

As we have discussed before, you have grown into a ‘big fish’ in a ‘small pond’ in our world at CTA and in the Charlotte area.  I know that in your early years in junior tennis, CTA was the biggest pond you could envision.  The first day you moved up to Tournament Training and made it all the way to the top courts with Paul Bartholomy and the other big boys doesn’t seem like that long ago. In time you became the ‘big fish’ in our pond.  Like Paul B. and John Boetsch before him you had learned the value of performing to a high standard regardless of ‘who’s in clinic today?’  For this reason, you had become a role model for our younger players.  I can count on one hand the players (and even fewer parents) we have had at CTA who truly understand this concept.  This understanding will come in very handy in these next few years.  Short term, as you are well aware, the big fish- small pond dynamic will be reversed; but you will most likely become a big fish again soon.  I think you will be a pretty good swimmer either way.  Just know that in the coach Bill hall of fame you, Paul and John are tops in the ‘I will perform to my highest standard regardless of who is there’ category.  I predict that you have impacted someone in the next group of players who will understand and embrace this concept.  It’s a very tough club to enter.

You have enriched my life and those around you. Thank you is all I can say.

Devon - Joy

You have been with us at CTA for (I know what seems to you) a very long time. For me things move a bit quicker.  My mental picture of the not so recent past is of you (about 4 feet tall) running around in clinic fearlessly going to the net, hitting winner volleys against kids who seemed twice your size.  You would turn around with a big grin on your face because you just loved to do that; it gave you joy. Flash forward 8-10 years to the summer following your senior year, and in you drive in that supersized Toyota (you look like you’re still 10 years old in that thing).  Out you go onto the courts, and there you go right back up to the net.  But now you’re all grown up and have been hitting those volleys for all these years.  And here comes that smile again; you can’t hold it in and you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, so you turn your back to the net.  Unless, of course, Johnny or Andrew are on the other side, in which case there would probably be some trash talking.

On the occasional days when you have found tennis challenging, frustrating, etc., I knew that if you could reconnect with that feeling of joy you would be okay.  It is who you are as a person – you love to move forward, you love to go for it, you love to have fun.  Plus now you have SKILLS!

Of course, I am happy for what you have achieved in tennis and I think you will really excel in college tennis world.  However, I think of you as much more than a tennis player.  Your accomplishments academically, athletically, and musically are truly impressive.  I don’t know if those Clover High choral concerts will be the same without you carrying them.  How you have balanced it all these last few years and kept that smile is beyond me.  Oh, wait a minute, I know your parents pretty well, and you’ve been using them as role models – I get it.  I’m going to miss your mom’s pasta sauce by the way (she has been one of the top moms in the pro appreciation department), but not as much as I will miss seeing you hitting those volleys every day. 

Connor – Balance

You are one of the more balanced, mature players I have coached.  I say this because you have always been able to process the world around you, make decisions, and carry them out.  Specifically, I am thinking of your early years playing tournaments – the commitment of time/energy, the practicing, and the constant challenge of tournaments.  Even then you always had an even-keeled maturity. I suppose you were about 14 or so when you decided to lead a more balanced life – continue to play tennis, prioritize school, pursue music and have a social life.  I remember thinking to myself then, ‘now, there is a mature kid who gets who he is and what he is about – comfortable with himself (a rare quality for a kid or adult).’  I won’t give you all the credit, though; your parents are pretty good role models in this regard.  You lucked out.

I was just thinking about the summer after your junior year when you worked at CTA and played all day with the kids in camp.  You had not played a competitive tennis tournament for 2 years or so, but two things really stuck out to me.  First, you just absolutely loved the game and enjoyed the sport for the fun of playing tennis.  If I could bottle that and sell it to people pursuing tennis for rankings or going to play college tennis I would be rich.  Second, you are a darn good tennis player, as you had formed good habits early (may have been some good coaching somewhere along the line).  That summer you were playing Johnny straight up in clinic – and the guy had just won the Qualifier and States, for goodness sake!  Some of the pros had commented on this, wondering why you no longer played tournament tennis.  I admit the thought briefly entered my mind as well.  But then I realized that was exactly what you wanted, to play tennis on your own terms, as part of your life – not your whole life.  That struck me as impressive, and I have learned a lot watching you navigate the waters these last few years.  You are a fine example of what I think CTA is all about.  Tennis should be the means to an end, not the end in itself – you understand that as well as anyone.  I know that you will apply your balanced perspective and maturity to your future pursuits.  These qualities will serve you well. 

Julia – Tenacity

I hope you don’t mind that I used you as an example with some parents whom I met with this week. Their daughter has been struggling with dealing with her emotions, staying focused and performing to a high standard regardless of the circumstances.  (Does any of this sound familiar?)  They wanted to know if there was any hope for their daughter’s overcoming her struggles on the court.  They asked, ‘Why hasn’t she gotten this yet?’ ‘Why is this so hard?’ ‘Why are we doing this?’  Since I was there to offer support and provide some answers I needed inspiration, and I thought of you.

I can’t think of a player I have coached who has come so far, so quickly in this area.  Less than a year ago I often wondered if you would make it through an entire clinic without having a ‘meltdown.’  During this time I know you questioned why you even should be out there.  It would be so much easier to just stop.  But you didn’t stop.  You kept coming and facing the challenge, remaining in a place of discomfort.  It has been inspirational for me to watch the desire, commitment, discipline and work ethic you have shown.  As we have previously discussed, many college bound players, once they finish the college decision process, just drop tennis until college tennis begins.  What you chose to do was work harder.  Over these last six months you have not had one clinic or lesson where you didn’t consistently perform close to your ability level and hold it together emotionally.  My goodness Julia, I hardly even noticed that you were in clinic half the time these last few months – this is a good thing!  You have come so far.  You now have perspective, emotional maturity and competitive skills which match your considerable physical skills.  This is a tremendous accomplishment!

You have become such a fixture in my coaching world and in the fabric of CTA.  It has been an absolute joy to be a part of your life these many years.  I consider it a privilege to be able to share the struggle with players like you and a few others who achieve the level of success which you have achieved.  As you’ve learned, the higher the level, the more challenging are the struggles.  Like all of us, you are on a journey and for the next few years, that journey will include pursuing tennis at the college level.  As you know, that means that you will have ups and downs, unexpected challenges and enter into situations where you’ll have to face your fears. Because you have done the work, you will find that you are more capable than you realize and can handle more than you think.  You are fortunate to be doing something you love and will be building relationships that last a lifetime through tennis (as you already have). Whatever continued rewards from tennis you reap will be richly deserved. 

I’m quite sure that in the years to come I will be using your story as an example for players and parents to help them through their struggles in the world of junior tennis.  You will continue to be an inspiration to me and to others.

Merideth – Toughness

I am trying to remember when I have not been your tennis coach.  I know I taught tennis before you came to CTA - it’s just kind of hazy.  I step back today, and I’m writing about my recollections of you and the other seniors this year.  Many thoughts come to mind.  One is how much you love tennis and what an important role it has played in your life; it has been a blessing for me to be able to share that with you these many years.  Another is how tough and resilient you have been in pursuit of the sport.  On the surface, you are one of the nicest people I know (a couple others being my daughter Kara and your mom).  But I have been around when the going got really tough for you.  Most people don’t have the toughness to deal with a two year stress fracture in their back and stay hopeful, positive and keep moving forward the way you did.  Most people can’t deal with the challenging dynamics that you dealt with in high school tennis and lead by example the way you did.  Most people don’t have the academic discipline to achieve what you had in the classroom and get a full scholarship to college because you are good at school!  As a sports guy I wonder, who does this? You are one tough, smart, disciplined kid wrapped up in a nice package – impressive and inspiring.

The scrapbook you put together last Christmas was meaningful for me in many ways.  It was great to see you grow year to year in each picture (weird how I kept staying the same though.)   Also, it was symbolic of how quickly and beautifully you, and so many of the other players I have been fortunate to coach, have grown up.  I know it will be an inspiration for me in the years to come.

You have developed many fine qualities through tennis, probably due to facing so many challenges. Tennis was the mechanism, a means to the end of you becoming the person you are today. Toughness can be a very useful thing. 

Kelli – Maturity

I am writing a few thoughts to our CTA seniors today. You are part of this group who grew up together on the courts of CTA (like your brother and sister before you) and developed many life skills (perseverance, self-discipline, courage, etc.) through the challenges you faced on the tennis court.

Reflecting back, I remember you being the quiet little sister for a while, doing what little sisters do – keeping your head down, doing what’s expected of you, and not making any waves.  During the last few years, you blossomed into your own person.  You grew to think for yourself, communicate well with others (thank goodness), and deal with the challenges of sports and life. I remember once thinking to myself after discussing whatever the ‘issue of the day’ was that you had grown into a mature, strong young woman. Of course, you had gotten quite good at tennis - but that was just the outcome of the process, the effect and not the cause, a means to an end.  Tennis was one of many things helping to shape you into who you have now become.  You represent, for me, why we do what we do at Charlotte Tennis Academy.  It is not about whether you win the tournament, play #1 in high school, or play college tennis, but about the life skills you develop during the few years you spend pursuing the sport seriously.

A brief recollection (I don’t know if you remember this day… must have been 3-4 years ago):  You and your sister Kristen were in clinic with Alex C. and Carson G. (two strong teenage guys with southern, national rankings).  I decided to have you two play the boys that day.  It should have been mismatches and I can’t remember who played who.  I told the boys: no let ups, focus, and play with 100% intensity. I told you girls: don’t be intimidated, make balls if you can touch them, hustle, stay focused, and try 100% of the time. For the next 30-45 minutes you and Kristen ran for every ball, stayed positive and intense, never backed down, and made them finish every point.  You both got crushed. The boys got to practice staying focused, closing out points from mid court, and earning every point.  You girls learned how to deal with pace and stay mentally tough, among other things.  It was valuable, productive practice because you all focused on playing to your own standards. For me, it was a “coaching moment”, one that I remember because it required all four players to exhibit qualities at the same time that are hard to attain. I don’t know if you even remember this day but I will always remember it as one of the many happy, inspiring moments that you have been a part of at CTA.  I hope you don’t mind if I use this story once in a while to educate some of our players and parents.

Andrew - Transformation

You have been one of my favorite players to coach. Few people bring more passion and commitment to the court every day.  For many years this was your greatest strength and biggest weakness.  As you have matured, you have learned how to channel that energy in positive ways versus letting it derail the process.  You said to me shortly after winning the States how much about life you learned through tennis and how thankful you were.  I went home thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’  I was struck with how much you had grown emotionally and intellectually.  This, of course, occurred in the context of the physical transformation you have undergone in the last two years.  Few people have the ability to become as disciplined about fitness and nutrition as you have become.  Emotionally, mentally and physically you are way beyond your years.  It has been a privilege to be your coach and have a small part to play in the process.  To anyone who has paid attention, you are an inspiration.

This winter you and I had an epic battle which lasted until late one night.  It was the middle of winter with no one else around, pitch black except under the lighted court, and probably 25 degrees outside.  We were both wearing T-shirts and had steam coming from the top of our heads.  This was the first time I was able to play you straight up, full out, holding nothing back.  It was obvious that you had come a long way physically and that night, it became very clear that you had ‘gotten it’ mentally and emotionally.  No matter what the outcome I knew you would compete, staying positive and focused.  I could play you as an equal, not having to keep my coaching eye on you as we played.  When we finished I remember shaking your hand and looking you in the eye.  I think I said something cheesy like ‘You became a man tonight.’   When I think about it now, this was one of the truest, purest coaching moments I have had.  Later during the summer we had another battle.  This time it was in the baking sun at 3pm on one of the hottest days of the year.  It had to be at least 110 degrees on the court.  Again you never stopped competing, genuinely embracing the challenge.  You became stronger as we played and you took pleasure pushing yourself to the limit.  Of course, I know you have that in you; it is who you are now.  It has been a true privilege for me to share this great sport and those moments with you.  Your personality, energy, and intelligence (your tennis IQ is off the charts, by the way) are going to take you far in life, my friend.  You have a bright future ahead of you.

Francis/Angus Walker – CTA family

I have been inspired recently to write a few thoughts to the CTA seniors who will be leaving to go to college.  Neither of you are technically in that category this year but you both are as much a part of that “family” of kids as anyone.   And you definitely feel like part of my family.  Angus, you left for college a year ago but when you were able to hit in this summer it was as though you never left.  You were a fixture at CTA and my coaching world for a long time and I can’t think of a time when you didn’t contribute to whatever clinic/lesson you were in.  Ever since I saw you hitting all day on that backboard at O.P. during a tournament (you were probably about 13) I knew tennis would be a big part of your life and that you would get pretty good.  I can spot passion for tennis when I see it – and you have it.  It has been great to see tennis play such a big part in your life and at college.  I hope you realize what a gift that is and make the most of whatever opportunities come your way.

A while back my daughter came home for dinner and as we started eating she asked, “Dad, why do we like Angus so much?”  We all laughed.  You hardly ever spoke, you always had that sly grin on your face, and you never (until recently) returned any of my voicemails or texts.  It is a mystery, but whatever “it” is, Angus, you’ve got it.  My sense is that under the surface, you are a great, funny guy, and I think women dig that quiet thing anyway.  Don’t ask me why, but I miss having you around, even though you just started to leave coherent voice messages this last year.  I just know that you will always be a part of the “CTA family,” and it has been a joy to be a part of your life.

Francis, I have gotten emotional at times as I’ve been writing notes to our seniors recently, and thinking about how much I will miss them. But knowing you are moving to Toronto, I don’t mind telling you that I will miss you just as much.  You are a very special part of our CTA family having grown up on our courts just as all these kids have.  One day about a year ago we were in clinic, I remember you had to play Johnny Banks and he was being purposefully easy on you.  I told him to play full out and that you could handle it.  He was conflicted because he thought of you as more of a little sister than an opponent, but he did what I told him.  Of course, you handled it beautifully and never backed down.  Flash forward to the end of the summer when we were in clinic and there you were drilling with Johnny again.  He was crushing balls, but you just backed up a few feet, used his pace and crushed every ball back.  John never even thought twice about playing all out with you, and hitting with you was some of the best practice he got all day.  This is a great compliment to you, an indication of how much respect people have for you and how far you have come as a player and person.

Like your brother, you are a person of few words. One thing I’m sure of is that you always know what’s going on when tennis is involved.  You have what I call a high tennis I.Q. - you get the game, know where to be, where to hit, and how to figure out a winning strategy.  Even when you were little, when we did stipulations in clinic you were always ahead of the older kids.  You could figure the game out first and ask the right questions.  I think tennis will continue to be a big part of your life, and in the short term I know it will help you connect with people quickly when you move.  Long term, if you stick with it and work hard I think you may be surprised at how far you will go. You have the fundamentals, know how to compete, and love the game. These are great qualities to take with you.

We will miss you at CTA and you will always be a part of our family.