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USTA SC Teaching Pros Attend National Training Center

February 25, 2010 02:10 PM

What an amazing weekend in California! Not only was the weather beautiful but it was an overwhelming experience because of the wonderful company of some very knowledgeable people.

The first day we covered Quickstart. This is going to have a huge impact on the tennis world in the United States and will help us achieve our goal of growing the game of tennis! For those of you who may not have heard of Quickstart I will give you a quick breakdown of what all 10 and under kids in 2011 will be using.

Ages 8 and under will be playing on a court that is 36 feet by 18 feet with a racquet size of up to 23 inches and a red foam or felt ball. The net height will be 2’ 9” while the scoring will consist of the following: 2 out of 3 games with each game being a 7 point tiebreaker.

Ages 10 and under will be playing on a court size that is 60’ by 21’ (singles) or 60’ by 27’ (doubles) with a racquet size between 23” and 25” with an orange low compression ball. The net height will be 3’ while the scoring will consist of the best of 3 sets, with each set being a 4 game set with a 7 point tiebreaker being used for the 3rd set. 

Later that night we were in the company of some tennis legends. Tracy Austin, Tom Gullikson(Gulli as many call him) and Jose Higueras. Tracy is a two-time US Open Champion, Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, and former World No. 1 on the WTA Tour. She is the youngest player, male or female, to ever win a major (age 16) and youngest to achieve a world No. 1 ranking. Aside from her tremendous achievements on the court, Tracy has been the USA Network’s face of the US Open along with John McEnroe for 16 years (she deserves a medal for being alongside him for so long!). 

Tom Gullikson is currently the Lead National Coach for the USTA. He has worked with several top players including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Todd Martin, Andy Roddick and the Bryan Brothers. He was the Captain of the Davis Cup Team from 1994-1999 as well as the 1996 Men’s Olympic Coach for the United States. As a player, Tom was ranked as high as 34 in the world.

Jose Higueras is currently the Director of Coaching for the USTA and has worked with many of the world’s best players. Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Jennifer Capriati and Mary Joe Fernandez are some of the players Jose has worked with. As a player, Jose was ranked as high as 7 in the world.

After dinner we had a Panel Discussion where we went over various topics and were allowed to ask questions to the panel. In addition to the three I listed above, Martin Blackman, Senior Director, Talent Identification and Development of the USTA joined them on the panel. Throughout the night, we listened attentively as these extremely knowledgeable people went on to explain to us about the Making of a Champion (Tracy Austin), how to develop great players in the united states and how to compete against foreign players (Gulli and Jose) and what we can do as tennis pros to create a unified system of coaching (Martin Blackman). At the end of the discussion, numerous questions were asked, including the following; “How many matches do you think juniors should play per year?” They all agreed that between 80 and 100 matches should be played. “How many practice sets per week would you like to see the kids play?” Jose, Gulli and the gang agreed that 10-12 a week would be ideal, this got me thinking about how many of our kids in South Carolina actually play that many per week. I would guess somewhere around 10% of the kids might. 

Throughout the rest of our time in California, we spent a lot of it on the court, doing numerous hand feeding and racquet feeding drills and talking about the importance of being able to connect with the players on court. Another important thing we talking about was the Coaching Philosophy of the USTA. They believe that successful players never stop learning skills and developing their game. The 5 Principles were also covered and I want to share those with you.

The 5 Principles
· Patience – Teaching tennis takes tremendous patience, passion, and discipline from the coach and player.
· Progressions – Everything that is taught must follow ordered progressions based on the fact that the game of tennis is played first, with the mind and eyes, secondly with the feet and lastly with the hands.
· Parameters – From the onset of training, teaching must be executed carefully within the parameters of proper technique and with appropriate progressions.
· Planning & Goals – Practices must be planned with a clear goal in mind and executed using the appropriate progressions. The coach should always communicate the goal of the practice and the focus of the player.
· Problem Solving – Great players are problem-solvers. Players need to learn how to think and problem solve independently. The coach’s job is to show the player the correct path to follow. 

I want to go into Progressions just a little more so that you can understand the importance of them.

Progressive Drills
· Foundational Teaching 
      - ABC Training (Agility, Balance, Coordination) 
      - Sending and Receiving 
      - Basic Stroke Production
· Hand Feeding: Recognition, Movement, Base
· Racquet Feeding: Simulate Match-like Variables of Spin, Pace, Height, Depth, Placement
· Live Ball 
     - Player with Coach 
     - Simple Controls 
     - Point Situation 
     - Simulated Point or Matchplay
· Isolation – Problem Solving

After an amazing trip, I knew we were all anxious to get back out on the court with our own kids and implement some of the new things we had learned into our own programs, except instead of wearing shorts and t-shirts in 70 degree weather, we’ll be bundled up in sub 40 degree weather! I wish the best of luck to everyone in 2010.

Carl Hocker Jr, Head Tennis Professional, Country Club of Spartanburg