Its a great pleasure to welcome Lisa Stone today. Lisa is the founder of radio podcast ParentingAces – the Junior Tennis and College Tennis Podcast, where she discusses all different aspects of being the parent of a tennis player. Can you just take a little time to describe how Parenting Aces first came about? You must have learnt so much from the show so far?
Thank you, Mark! I started ParentingAces during my son’s freshman year of high school. He had been playing competitive tennis for about 6 years at that point, with the goal of playing Division I college tennis, and I was very frustrated by the lack of information available to me as his parent, both from our governing body and from his coaches. I looked into a group on Facebook comprised of former top junior tennis players who were now all grown up and started posting my questions there. I began to get some amazing responses from the group members – they were incredibly generous with their knowledge and experience. Finally one group member messaged me privately and said, “You know, Lisa, if you have all these questions as the parent of a junior player, don’t you think there are other parents out there with similar questions? Maybe you should take all of the information you’re getting from our group and put it on a website!” And that’s how ParentingAces was born! The podcast didn’t come about for several months after, when I was approached by coach Jason Haynes to host a show for tennis parents as part of his UR10sNetwork. About a month ago, I decided it was time to move on from that network and do my own separate podcast, ParentingAces – the Junior Tennis and College Tennis Podcast.
Yes, I have learned an incredible amount from the people I’ve met and interviewed over the years. Mostly what I’ve learned, though, is all the mistakes I made along the way! And that’s what I try to share with my readers and listeners in hopes they can avoid making at least some of those same mistakes.
Thank you Lisa. So, firstly I am really interested in discussing this topic. Many of you have read my recent blog on profiling tennis coaches in Academies. Please read it here if you haven’t… http://www.socialtennis.com/blog/important-portray-positive-image-coach-academy/. I am really interested in a parents perspective of this…. If you were sending your son to an Academy, how would you choose the Academy? Would you be looking at the coaches first, or the reputation of the Academy, or the cost? What other factors would you consider?
The more I learn about youth sports, the more I realize what a huge impact the coaches have on the overall experience for the child. With that in mind, I would say my first questions about an Academy would have to do with the coaches – what is their background and training, what is their philosophy of coaching children and teens, who are their mentors, what type of relationship do they see themselves having with my child (i.e. do they see themselves simply as a coach there to teach my child how to play tennis OR do they see themselves as a guide there to help my child develop as a human being?). Of course, the reputation of the Academy is important, but not in terms of how many champions they turn out each year. Rather, I want to know their reputation among other coaches and parents in terms of providing a safe learning environment, taking the time to connect with each individual player (not just the top performers), and the off-court work they do with the kids. If it’s a residential Academy, what type of non-tennis activities will my child get to do? Will there be structured classroom/academic learning that is monitored by certified teachers? What type of food will my child be served? What will his responsibilities be in terms of doing chores? What type of supervision will the children have off the court and in the living quarters? The cost is important, for sure, but I would want to know the answers to the questions above so I could determine whether the price of the Academy is worth the investment.
Seeing that you feel that finding out about the coaches is the most important thing in choosing an Academy, do you think that having a paragraph about each coach is enough for you to choose the Academy? What if the Academy decided to give detailed profiles of their coaches?
No, I don’t think a one-paragraph description or bio is enough for me to make a decision about a coach or an Academy. A detailed profile would definitely be better, but I would still want to talk to parents whose children have worked with the coaches and get their perspective. The summer before my son’s junior year in high school, we decided to send him to an Academy in Spain for a month. We spent extensive time on the phone with the Academy director as well as several families who had been there to find out exactly what our son would be experiencing. It gave us the peace of mind to send him so far away from home though it was still a bit scary, I have to admit!
You have had the experience of having to choose coaches with your son I am sure! How did you choose your son’s coaches? Do you think that tennis coaches are profiled well enough by their federations and by the Academies they work for? From reading my blog you know my opinion, however I am looking for a parents perspective?
Overall, I think coaches need to do a better job. In the US, you can basically take an online course and call yourself a tennis coach. There are many coaches out there who are committed to continuing their coaching education, who engage with wise mentors on a regular basis – mentors in tennis and sports and those outside of sports. Some coaches are simply good marketers – they approach families at junior tournaments and try to convince them to leave their current coach/Academy based on the performance of one or two of their players. There are Academies that do the same thing, using bells and whistles to attract players and their families without really offering quality coaching or programs. The onus is on the parents to ask the right questions, to do their due diligence, to make sure they choose the proper coach(es) for their child.
What are your personal thoughts on becoming a professional tennis player? Would you recommend going to an Academy before turning pro or going to College first?
I’m a huge proponent of college tennis, especially as the age of the top pros gets older and older. I know there are some players who might not benefit from even a year of college and for whom it is totally appropriate to go straight to the tour, but for most juniors college seems to be a smarter choice. There are so few players who make a living on the pro tour and having at least some college under your belt first just makes more sense to me. But, for someone who is contemplating turning pro, it’s crucial that they choose the RIGHT college program, one with coaches who know how to help them develop for that next level and who will help provide the right training and competitive atmosphere to position them for success once they leave school.
As a tennis parent yourself, what do you think are the pro’s and con’s of Academies over College Tennis?
That’s a loaded question! For someone who has no interest in academics and wants to focus entirely on their tennis, college is NOT the right choice. Being a student-athlete, especially at the Division I level, requires an incredible amount of discipline both on the court and in the classroom. The days are long, leaving little time for a life outside of school and tennis. During the dual match season, student-athletes are missing a ton of classes as they travel around the country competing at various colleges, but they are still required to do the school work and turn it in on time, so time management is a crucial skill to develop right from the start. That said, being in a team environment and playing for something bigger than yourself can be a great learning experience for these kids, most of whom have only played for themselves as juniors since there are so few team tennis opportunities. If you look at the list of professional players who went to even one year of college, there are very few in the Top 100, especially in singles. But, getting inside the Top 100 is very difficult even if you decide to bypass college, so I have to go back to my point that having the college education and experience can only benefit most of these kids.
Finally on a totally separate note, Serena Williams has just announced she is 20 weeks pregnant. Congratulations to her! That was an amazing achievement to win the Australian Open while she was pregnant! Do you think this could spell the end of Serena now? She will be 37 before she comes back, could the Serena era of womens tennis be about to end?
Oh gosh, I hope not! I don’t think you can ever write off Serena! If she decides to return to the tour, she will do it – of that, I have no doubt! And, if she decides to return, I can’t imagine she’ll be satisfied unless she returns to the top of the game. She is an amazing athlete, an incredible competitor, and a very strong spirit. The game won’t be the same once she does finally decide to retire, so I hope that’s not for many years to come! Kim Clijsters came back strong after having her first child. I suspect Vika Azarenka will, too. So, Serena definitely has other players she can turn to for advice and support. I wish her all the best with her pregnancy and new motherhood!