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Sat, Oct. 19

Column: Charting your own tennis path

If you're a parent of a junior that enjoys the game of tennis you may or may not be educated on the progression of events and tournaments that your child(ren) needs to take to continue to grow in the sport.With this knowledge you can set realistic goals and continue to reach desired levels in a competent manner, no matter if it's playing high school tennis, earning a college scholarship or even what it takes to compete on the tour.The first levels of entry into the game of tennis are QuickStart Tennis, Little Tennis, Tiny Tots, etc. These programs are set up on smaller courts with lower nets, and with racquets sized down for kids ages 3 to 10 years old. They are working on early motor skills, using simple formats and are out on the court about two hours a week.From there it continues to unsanctioned junior tournaments run by your local club, City Parks and Rec or local United States Tennis Association (USTA). These events are designed to whet the interest of kids and to set future tennis goals. Now they might be playing three times a week for an hour or more.There are 17 sections that make up the USTA and you live in the Southwest Section here in Prescott. Sectional junior tournaments are next, where the most formative competitive play takes place. Tournaments are point-based and many of the sections have levels of tournaments that range from 1 to 7 that graduate players as they improve. The more points a player gets, the higher the ranking, and a schedule of tournaments should be set for your junior with one or more a month. You are now devoting around 1 ½ to 3 hours per day, depending on your commitment.At this point the family has to spend a great deal of time and expense getting their kid to tournaments and events all over the western United States. And if you become an elite American junior player, even further distances. Sometimes your local and sectional USTA division will help with some of those expenses, but you have to inquire. The national junior tournaments (levels 1-5) are separated by age groups - normally 18, 16, 14, 12, 10 and under age divisions. Many of these kids will earn college scholarships and have the talent and potential to pursue tennis as a career. The time commitment is now 3+ hours a day including fitness, weight training, etc., and still one or more tournaments a month.So, now you have a national ranking and the next rung is a world junior ranking. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is organized to help you reach the next level which are tournaments graded from the lowest level of 5 to the highest at 1. Wouldn't it be fun to qualifying for the junior grand slams? Playing at the international level is intense and you are totally focused on your dream of playing Division 1 college tennis and maybe more. (Visit www.playerdevelopment.usta.com and click on ITF Junior Rules, under the High Performance topic for more information.)College tennis can mean a lot of things and it's possible to play even at a 4.0 level at some junior colleges. But if you're looking at an NCAA Division 1, you'll need to be the cream of the crop. Many college players earn some scholarship money, but remember you need to have a decent academic background and getting your degree should be the top priority. You are now at the highest amateur level of competition and you've most likely put in around 6,000 hours and have been training three hours a day for six years.From this point you can continue to Futures and then Challenger professional events, which are lead up money tournaments that help you earn points for the top ATP/WTA tour, which is the BIG SHOW. Now you've reached the point of over 10,000 hours or 3+ hours a day for 10 years, plus fitness and training.So now you know. Go out and follow your dream.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or choward4541@q.com)
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