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Sat, April 20

Howard: The path to playing professional tennis is a true test
My Point

This column is not for the faint of heart if indeed you have a child who has a goal of playing top level college and preferably professional tennis. It’s a dedication of time, money, hard work and willingness to give up most of the other things life has to offer and then there are still no guarantees.

And its not just for that one child, it involves the whole family. Either you are all on board or some people get destroyed, short-changed or abandoned along the way. It’s soul searching at its best.

Are you and your child ready to devote from the age of 8 to 10 years old two to four hours a day to train with one of your local pro’s or attend a tennis academy? Do you have the funds for a tennis professional for a couple hours a week ($60/80 dollars an hour), plus the cost of hitting pro’s ($30/40 an hour) and/or the cost of the academy ($300 - $1,000 monthly) if indeed there is one where you live?

Factor in getting them to and from the courts, school work, and within a short period of time going to a multitude of weekend tournaments to become tournament and competition tough that once again costs a fair amount of money in hotel’s, entry fees, gas and food.

Unless you’ve already made your fortune, this normally means one parent is making the bacon while the other is dedicated to the cause with the child.

What used to be fun family vacations to beautiful sites are now spent going to sectional and national tournaments around the country because getting a better and better ranking is the key to reaching the goals that have been set.

If you happen to live in a rural setting and your child is starting to do well, you may have to make a decision to move to a hub that offers better training yet, or send your child to one of the better academies to get more training and better daily competition.

The USTA (United States Tennis Association) might get involved if they see promise in your kiddo helping with a certain amount of expenses and training, first in the section they belong and then with good results on a national basis at one of their training centers.

Obtaining a world ranking (ITF) in the juniors of at least 55 or above normally will get you child into the junior slams which is amazing, but very expensive. The expenses even shared with the USTA will probably cost the family around $75,000, which really limits who gets a fair shake in this world when it comes to what most top colleges are looking for, a top national/world junior ranking.

Around the junior rankings and starting at about the age of 16 the best players are now also entering and focusing on junior professional tournaments called the “Futures Tour.”

The idea is to go as far as you can into each event on the tour and try to obtain WTA or ATP professional points for a professional world ranking, while at the same time playing better and better opponents.

You are paying for yourself and a coach to hit one or two tournaments a month at an average cost of about $5 to $7,000 a month.

During this time you get to decide if you’re really ready for the tour or that maybe college tennis should be your destination for now, which is what the majority of these tennis juniors end up doing.

The college journey not only gives you a great opportunity to develop your game, but during the summers to still hit the different tours around the world that make sense.

And for those players who don’t have the finances to go this course, there are still many other opportunities to play sectional tennis events, be on a USTA sectional team for development, and on graduation from high school obtain scholarships at a community, NCAA Division I, II or III level college depending on how good you’ve become with the time and effort you’ve been able to devote.

The odds of playing professional tennis are not very high, but if it’s in your blood and you just have to go in that direction - more power to you.

Then the next battle will be saving enough money to pay expenses to stay on the professional circuit for 12 months to see how you do. If you can get a ranking in the top 120 in the world you’re definitely off and running, and if it’s not going anywhere after a year it’s time to do some more soul searching.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.

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