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Improving Through Experience

By John Curtis am often asked what prepares a young tennis player for playing at the collegiate level. Over the course of 25 years in the business, my answer has evolved. Between my role as head coach of the NYU Men’s tennis team for 10 years (including scouting prospects nationwide) and my current role as owner of Manhattan Tennis Academy, I have come to believe that the answer is two-fold and the elements are largely interdependent. First, any successful player must have mastered the fundamentals. As discussed in greater detail below, a player who has not mastered the fundamentals will be limited in their ability. Second, is the more elusive element of experience. When I refer to “experience,” I’m not simply referring to the amount of time that a player has been actively engaged in learning tennis. While the length of time played is of course almost always directly correlated to success, I’m

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referring more to the mental maturity and stability gained through experience. Mastering the fundamentals What does it mean to master the fundamentals? This goes well beyond developing strong forehands and backhands. Just as important are the often-overlooked fundamentals of timing, agility/footwork, coordination and balance, what I refer collectively to as core athletic skills. It is my experience that in the last few years, these fundamentals can often be sidestepped in order to fast-track a student into playing at a level beyond their own ability. This includes ensuring that a student is engaged in a level of play that is appropriate for their age and skill level. It goes without saying that, for example, a five-year-old boy cannot master his serve while playing from the baseline with a 27-inch racket. Rather, appropriate equipment in this day and age is critical to cultivate strong fundamentals. This is precisely why the USTA developed their 10 & Under initiative. It is critical for parents, instructors and students alike to ap-

New York Tennis Magazine • September/October 2016 • NYTennisMag.com

preciate that a player can only master fundamentals when given the appropriate equipment in the appropriate setting (i.e. court size, ball colors, etc.) For instance, my academy devotes just as much time to teaching agility skills and mental awareness as we do to honing groundstrokes. If a child is rushed into learning strokes or tactical skills, even the slightest of shortcomings in their game will be exacerbated over time and ultimately exposed to their opponent as the level of competition increases. Experience and mental/emotional maturity The second most crucial aspect of preparing a student for collegiate level tennis is ensuring that their mental/emotional game is rock solid. That is, ensuring that an individual has learned how to temper themselves mentally and emotionally through difficult match situations that will be present at the collegiate level. How does one cultivate a strong mental/emotional game? In my experience, this can only be understood

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New York Tennis Magazine September / October 2016  

U.S. Open Edition

New York Tennis Magazine September / October 2016  

U.S. Open Edition

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