Monday, October 4, 2010

Yes, I'm watching Biggest Loser on October 5

I'm only watching this because it's my job.

It has nothing, I repeat, NOTHING to do with the fact that Anna Kournikova will be featured.



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Utah judge sentences kids to tennis

Utah's Judge Andrew Valdez knows the value of tennis, how it can transform lives and give hope and opportunity to at-risk youth. These days, troubled youth are given the opportunity to play tennis with him, where he shows them how to change their lives.

See the video here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Venus gives the world a free tennis lesson

Ever wondered what makes Venus Williams such a great tennis champion? Now you can pick her brain, during what is thought to be the world's first virtual tennis clinic.

Friday, August 6, 2010

QuickStart hits the White House

Some local kids attending tennis camp at the White House got an extra bonus, as President Obama stopped by to provide some encouragement.

The event was part of
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to combat childhood obesity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

QuickStart Tennis on 9News

USTA Colorado promo'd the QuickStart Tennis format on 9News with Suzie Wargin on Tuesday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How to make the Great Outdoors great again

I remember summers as a kid, a time when my mom would shoo me out the door at 9am, hand me a couple pb & j sandwiches, some water, and make me promise not to get into too much trouble. I'd come home around 6, exhausted from a day outside on my bike or in the park. If you ask me today what I did for those 9 hours, I wouldn't have a clue. I swam, rode, played football, tossed the frisbee, built forts out of discarded pallets behind the KMart, and generally hung out.

During those summers, I developed a love-hate relationship with zinc oxide, which was the only product that seemed to keep me from bearing too close a resemblance to over-cooked bacon, but always left white smudges on all my shirts, not to mention how uncool it is to be seen with zinc oxide all over your face when the girls came 'round.

But today's a different time, a different place. Kids aren't enjoying the Great Outdoors the way we used to. They don't hang out in parks, they register for sports camps, and they don't play pick-up anything! It's a shame, really, that today's generation isn't enjoying the Great Outdoors. But how do we convince kids that going for a ride, or a hike, or a swim in a lake, is more fun that shooting zombies or stealing cars in a virtual world, all done in the comfort of your own home with the a/c turned up full blast?

It comes down to the parents. Share with your kids the joy of the outdoors – whether you're on a bike, a hike, or just taking a walk after dinner. Allow yourself to explore the wonder of your own neighborhood, the flowers, the bugs, the birds. Go fishing. Rent a kayak and paddle around a lake. Go down to the local school and shoot hoops, toss the ol' pigskin or play tag.

Showing your kids how to enjoy the Great Outdoors will open up a whole new world for them, even if they never leave the neighborhood.

Parents: stop taking your kids to tennis lessons!

It's boom time again for tennis. With more than 30 million people picking up a racquet last year, expectations are high that the sport will continue to experience the sort of growth that makes retailers and facility managers giggle in anticipation.

But there's one demographic that seems to be lagging in this resurgence. Kids, specifically, the 10 & under variety, are vastly under-represented in organized play opportunities. Considering the sales of junior racquets (designed specifically for kids in this age group) are up almost 90% in the last decade, the scarcity of youngsters competing in leagues and tournaments is puzzling.

In 2009, USA Soccer registered 1.1 million kids on 10 & under teams. That same year, just 11,436 unique players were competing in USTA sanctioned 10 & under tournaments nationwide. Junior Team Tennis didn't fare much better, with only 6,500 kids registered in the 10 & under division. In Colorado, there are fewer than 150 unique 10 & under competitors, and just 362 registered JTT players in the 10 & under division.

If you're trying to develop the next generation of American pro tennis players, these types of numbers are not likely going to get it done. Even on a purely recreational level, these numbers reveal a soft spot in the system, as industry projections are that only 2% of all 10 & under tennis players are involved in ANY type of competition.

Consider this – recent studies indicate that a vast majority of youth sports participants (35-70%, depending on the sport) quit by the time they are teenagers. The number continues to nose dive as teens become adults, as recreational play opportunities dwindle. Tennis, on the other hand, seems to favor late bloomers. Whereas the numbers for 10 & under competition (recreational leagues and tournaments) are relatively small, the numbers for all USTA leagues and sanctioned tournaments are comparatively huge. So what's going on with our youngest players? Why are so many kids taking tennis lessons, yet so few playing tennis?

While the answer to this question is quite complex, the solution is simple. QuickStart.

I know many of you are familiar with QuickStart Tennis, the latest play format developed by the USTA (and many others) for kids 10 and under, but for those who need a refresher, QST is to Tennis what Little League is to Baseball – it's age-, size-, and ability-appropriate tennis for kids 10 and under. Shorter, narrower courts; shorter, lighter racquets; slower, less-lively balls; and kid-friendly scoring combine to bring tennis down to their level. But what makes QuickStart QuickStart is that it is not just another teaching application until the kids are big enough to move to a regular court. It's regulation play.

Other teaching applications – like USPTA's Little Tennis and a hundred variations seen in clubs and facilities across the land – break out the mini-nets, the shorter racquets and the foam balls to introduce kids to the concepts of swinging, hitting, timing, etc. This traditional method is where kids learn to play tennis.

In the QuickStart format, kids don't learn to play tennis. They play to learn tennis.

Kids learn sports best when they are continually engaged and having fun. And what better way to make sure kids are engaged than to have them playing games, rather than learning the fundamentals of how to hit a backhand volley?

Besides, the practice of bringing our children to tennis lessons seems to be a sure-fire way to turn them off. When was the last time you heard a child say he was hustling off to a soccer lesson? There's nothing inherently wrong with the traditional "tennis lesson". That's probably how you learned to play tennis. But there's something going on with that age-old formula that isn't serving our future generation of tennis players.

Perhaps it's that we expect too much from our young players. I see it all the time, a tennis teacher will bring a handful of kids out on court for a "QuickStart" lesson. Of course, they have the QuickStart approved scaled-down equipment – the short nets, the smaller racquets, the foam balls, the short courts. The instructor proceeds to toss balls to each child, while the rest of the group dutifully and patiently awaits their turn. After two or three attempts at a volley, the child goes to the back of the line to wait for their turn to come again.

Are we to assume that equipment size is the only thing that separates a 6 year old from a 43 year old? As a parent, I can assure you that by the age of 6, a child hasn't yet developed the patience or attention span required to learn this way. Why would you go through the hassle of providing kids the age-appropriate tennis equipment if you're going to give them an adult lesson? Does the term, "picking daisies" ring a bell?

It's this type of hackneyed thinking about orthodox tennis lessons that has kept the younger generation from becoming active participants in organized tennis.

I'm not a tennis instructor, but in a former life I was a ski coach and instructor. And whether you're teaching skiing, or tennis, or any other sport, there is one rule that I think many instructors ignore: there is no learning without motion. It doesn't matter whether a kid is freezing on the side of a hill watching his instructor diagram the perfect turn, or waiting in line for her turn to hit a volley, at that moment there is no fun, no joy, no learning.

You want to know the prescription for getting more kids playing organized tennis (and maybe even developing the next generation of American superstars)? QuickStart Tennis. Here's why:

First, by getting kids out and enjoying the sport on a recreational/competitive level, QuickStart helps develop tennis skills and confidence early on. Teaching an 8 year old using shorter courts and kid-friendly balls, then switching to a full-size venue with standard-issue balls for match play is a recipe for shattered nerves and crushed egos.

Second, as young players progress from the initial 36-foot court (8 and under) to the 60-foot court (9 and 10 year olds) with a bit livelier ball, they can take their skills and strategies with them. Learning to compete on a 78-foot court teaches a youngster three skills: 1. hit the ball hard; 2. hit the ball really hard; 3. hit the ball really really hard.

Third, kids shouldn't have to wait until high school geometry class to learn about angles.

Fourth, you can drill for hours in "simulated match play", but there's really no simulation that can simulate the emotional, physical and mental challenges that are part of a real tennis match, whether in a tournament setting or playing junior team tennis. Regardless of your age, there's a lot to learn about yourself in these situations. As parents and coaches, we should be very excited about these opportunities for growth.

Fifth, and finally, we have got to start building the foundations for the future by investing in new QuickStart courts, or at the very least, striping our traditional courts with QST lines. So far, few facilities have been willing to make this investment in the future of our sport, but both the USTA and Intercollegiate Tennis Association have gotten behind the campaign by issuing guidelines allowing for the additional lines.

Colorado is lagging behind other states that have been quicker to build new QST facilities, or stripe existing courts with the QST lines. To date, only one dedicated QST facility has been completed. Imagine what can happen in 5-10 years if our facilities get behind the QST movement and begin offering true competitive opportunities to the 10 & under crowd. Imagine how much fun our kids will be having when they develop the confidence that comes with competing in a nurturing and confidence-inspiring environment.

The time for QuickStart is now, and not just as a teaching gimmick or a catch-all phrase for foam balls and short racquets. Instead of enrolling your child into another round of tennis lessons, maybe you should insist on having them play tennis instead.