Monthly Archives: July 2013

Being a Parent of a Tournament Tennis Player

With the Fox Chapel Junior Open coming up on August 5-9 I thought it would be a good time to give some advice to parents of both first-timers and veteran junior tournament players.

I want to start off by disclosing that I am not yet a parent but I can sympathize with the feelings and emotions you go through watching your children compete. I know that if I am ever fortunate enough to be a father I would do anything for my children.  I understand how seeing your child in pain from a loss is difficult.  The truth is in a tennis tournament all but a few players are going to lose at some point in time.  The pain of losing is difficult however I want to see if I can give you a different perspective for a moment.  When a child comes off the court crying from a loss it is difficult to watch.  As a parent of course your first reaction is to attempt to take away their pain but take a moment to really understand why they are in pain.  They are in pain not because they lost but because they care.  They invested a lot in improving their tennis game and it hurts to come up short.  Think about something in your life you worked really hard for and it did not work out like you planned, plain and simple it hurts.  This kind of pain is natural and it can actually be a good thing.  Instead of trying to immediately take their pain away point out to your son or daughter that it hurts not because they lost but because they care and caring is an important and nobel thing.  In fact, it is a red flag when a player losses and does not care about it.  When that scenario happens it shows the player is really not engaging in their tennis game and that is a problem.  Pain is a necessary part of the game, growth, and improvement.  Remember, there will always be breakdowns before breakthroughs.

Another very important thing to remember is that there is a triangular relationship between the player, coach, and parent.  The role of the coach is to mentor, teach, and develop the player.  The role of the parent is always first and foremost to be a parent.  Remaining a parent can become a little difficult on match day because we all want our children to have a great performance and sometimes the parent begins to coach because the coach is not there.  I am not saying it is a bad thing to remind your son or daughter to warm-up or help them check in, especially if they are young or this is their first tournament.  The first few tournaments are nerve racking for players and parents because it is all new and a big learning experience.  The big thing to remember is to let your child know that you love them unconditionally.  Win or lose you love them just the same.  Being angry with your child because they lost is never something I have seen be a positive for the long-term relationship.  When a child knows their parents love them unconditionally they feel much more comfortable to have the freedom to fail.  That means they can go out to compete putting it all on the line knowing no matter what happens their parents will love them just the same.  In my experiences this approach is much better for the parent-child relationship in the long-term.  When a child knows their parents love them regardless of the outcome it improves the chances for a solid performance by relieving some stress in an already stressful environment.

Finally, watching your son or daughter play a match can be downright difficult.  What does a parent do cheer, clap, be silent?  FIrst, It is hard to watch your child compete knowing you have zero control over what is going on.  All you can do is watch it happen.  If you pay close enough attention you will notice how often your child looks up at you right after points.  They miss a shot in the net and they look up at you.  They hit a great shot to win the point and they look up at you.  They are looking up to see your reaction.  They do this because they are looking for your approval,  after all you are their parent and the single most influential person in their lives.  The very best thing parents can do for their child during the match is to remain neutral with your emotions.  That is easier said then done but give them a look of encouragement when they make mistakes and looks of encouragement when they are successful.  Just encourage them to do their best, after all that is all parents and coaches can ask.

I hope this post helps give you some ideas on how to better handle the stress of being a parent of a junior tennis player.  And do not let me scare you either believe it or not tournaments are some of the most enjoyable and fun experiences of a junior player’s career.  It is wonderful to spend time together as a family and make lifelong memories.  It also is fun to test out some of the skills they have been learning and practicing.  If you like the post please share it and leave a comment or question below.  I would be happy to keep the conversation going.

If you are interested in learning more check out my friend and fellow coach Frank Giampaolo’s ebook The Tennis Parent’s Bible.  It is full of wisdom to help parents successfully navigate junior tournament tennis and maintain a healthy and positive relationship with their son or daughter.

Tennis Parent Bible

Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced?

What is it that separates a beginner from an advanced tennis player?  How can a 15 year-old be a beginner and a 10 year-old advanced?  This gets confusing so let me sum it up in a simple phrase.  Beginning tennis players use their hands to swing the racket, intermediates use their arms, and advanced players use their entire body.

What separates players’ abilities is the integration and coordination of their stroke.  If you watch a beginner they will mainly use their hands and wrists to make contact with the ball.  An intermediate player will be slightly more integrated and swing primarily with their arm.  Finally, an advanced player will use the entire body to swing, generating power from the ground up.

This concept of integration is nothing more than coordination or athletic ability.  It is not unique to tennis, it applies in all sports.  An advanced baseball pitcher simply has a more integrated overhand throwing pattern.  A sprinter who integrates their arms and legs will always be faster than one who just utilizes the legs.  A boxer who just uses their arms will always be weaker than one who generates power from the legs and hips in their punch.  I think my point is coming across here.

So how does a young athlete get integrated movement patterns?

Young athletes, regardless of the sport, become coordinated with practice and a variety of movement experiences.  It is that simple, there are no short-cuts.  Let looks at tennis for example, the more balls a beginner hits the more the brain seeks out to perform that movement pattern efficiently and the arm becomes integrated with the hands.  The more tennis balls the intermediate player hits the more the brain seeks out efficiency and integration of the trunk, hips, and legs develops.  So how is it that a 15 year-old can still be a beginner or intermediate?  They simply have not hit enough tennis balls to develop an integrated movement pattern.  How can a 10 year-old be advanced?  Well in those 10 years the player has hit enough tennis balls to make the pattern integrated.  It is that simple.

So why is it some players become integrated faster than others?

I think some players become integrated in their movement patterns faster than others for two main reasons.  First, the more movement and athletic experiences a child has under their belt the easier it is to transfer between sports.  For example, it is always easier to teach children who already own an integrated overhand throwing pattern to serve because the transfer is simple.  When children are coordinated and have lots of kinesthetic (body) awareness it becomes easier to learn new athletic skills.  Second, quality instruction helps tremendously.  With the right instruction a coach can get a child to feel the difference between swinging with their hands, arms, and entire body.  They key to the instruction though is getting children to feel the difference.  A coach can talk and explain and demonstrate until they are blue in the face but children cannot see themselves perform skills, they can only feel themselves do it.  In my experiences if I can get a child to feel what an integrated swing feels like it sticks very quickly.  It is much easier to repeat a feeling than it is piece together a bunch of verbal cues.

So what can parents do to help their child become integrated?

Parents can help with the process in a couple of ways.  First, hit or toss tennis balls to your child often.  The more practice you give them the faster they pick it up.  Second, do not limit them to just playing tennis.  In fact, let your children do as many sports and activities as they want, especially when they are very young.  The more movement experiences, the more overall kinesthetic (body) awareness and coordination they develop.  Finally, do not worry too much about perfect technique, instead focus on their effort.  When a children is praised for their effort, especially from such an influential person as their Mom or Dad, it will motivate them to practice tons and there is no short-cut to collecting practice hours.

Coach Slezak’s Crystal Ball

I literally have a crystal (possibly glass) tennis ball.  My girls tennis team got it for me as a gift last season.  They had no idea how useful this gift was going to end up being for us all.  The story I am about to share with you is one of the greatest long-term motivators ever and it all has to do with gazing into the future through a crystal tennis ball…

Coach's Tennis Crystal Ball

Coach Slezak’s Crystal Ball

Everyone who has ever set a goal and worked tirelessly to accomplish it knows that is takes a lot of sacrifices along the way.  Regardless if the goals are academic, athletic, or otherwise they will undoubtedly require a person to make sacrifices along the way in order to achieve it.  Kind of like paying a toll on the highway to proceed to your destination.

So where does the crystal ball fit in?  Well I pull out my crystal ball in front an individual player or the entire team.  I swirl my hand around making some magic and I tell the player I am gazing into the future….  What is that I see?  I see you years from now winning tournaments and achieving a high ranking, a college scholarship, or a team championship.  Then I see all the newspaper and tv reporters wanting to interview you asking, “How is it that you achieved this great accomplishment?”  The player answers, “Well I stayed focused on my goal, listened to and trusted in my coaches, learned from my losses, hit extra serves, did extra running, did extra technical work, and studied matches on the tennis channel.  I worked relentlessly hard to achieve it.”

After I go on and on with this story I ask the player, “Would you be willing to do all that extra work if I could guarantee those results?”  The answer is always, “Yes!”  I then go on to explain that most people are willing to commit to pay the price for a guaranteed result.  Do this, this, and this and you will get that.  If this was the way it was in tennis more people would be doing it, believe me.

I then go on to tell them that in life there are no guarantees and the same is true in tennis.  I wish I could gaze into my crystal ball and guarantee specific results, but that is not how it works.  However, what sets great players apart from the rest is a willingness to commit to the unknown.  Most people are not willing to take a risk and commit to an unknown or to no guarantee.  You see all that can be guaranteed is that doing the work will get you closer to your goal.  It doesn’t mean you will reach your goal tomorrow or even 4 years from now.  Players have to be willing to commit to the unknown and when they do great things usually happen.  Committing gives them the daily motivation they need to do all the extra work just for the chance at an opportunity to reach their goal.  It it typically those who commit to the unknown who become truly great.

I would like to thank my mentor Coach Chuck Kriese for teaching me the now famous “Crystal Ball Motivational Method” with me.  I used this exact story today in tennis camp with the advanced players to keep them focused, intense and motivated to train in the almost unbearable heat.

What is the Deal with Protein Supplements?

On the fitness and athletic training side of the equation I get questions about supplements all the time.  I had a great conversation with someone about protein and I thought what a great topic for the blog.  So here you go everything you wanted to know about protein in a succinct blog post…

What is Protein and Where Does it Come From?  

It is critical to begin by understanding what protein is and where exactly it comes from.  Proteins are simply amino acids linked together by a peptide bond.  The configuration of the amino acids and their peptide bonds is all that separates the protein in steak from that in tofu.  During digestion all proteins are broken down into their smallest unit which is an amino acid.  The human body then uses these amino acids as building blocks for new proteins and tissues in the body.  In essence the proteins you eat get broken down into amino acids and then those amino acids get rebuilt into new tissues in your body.


There are two kinds of amino acids, essential and non-essential.  Do not let the names fool you, both types are essential for the human body.  Non-essential simply refers to the fact that your body can synthesize or make these particular amino acids.  Essential means your body cannot synthesize them and must be consumed through a person’s diet.

Proteins come from both plant and animal sources.  Proteins that come from animals contain high amounts of essential amino acids.  Plant sources of protein are typically low in one or more more essential amino acids.  The concern of getting enough protein or essential amino acids from diet alone is not typically a problem in the USA because of the wide variety of food sources.  If you are a vegetarian I would recommend meeting with a registered dietitian to ensure you are doing some unique things to get all the essential amino acids in your diet, it is very manageable with the right knowledge.


What Makes Protein Unique?

Protein is unique compared to the other macronutirents carbohydrate and fat for two main reasons.  The first reason is obvious, the body uses carbohydrate and fat mainly as energy sources and protein mainly to rebuild tissues.  Which by the way the body is constantly turning over new tissues, remember that for later because it will be important.  The second, and less obvious reason protein is unique is that it cannot be stored.  Carbohydrate can be stored as a form of sugar and fat can be stored, well you know how.  Protein on the other hand cannot be stored for any long period of time.

How Do I Use This New Found Protein Knowledge?

Now that you know what proteins are the next step is to know when to eat them.  The rule is pretty simple, it is much more important WHEN you eat your protein than HOW MUCH you eat.  Remember you cannot store protein and your body is constantly turning over new tissues, even more so if you are involved in training for an athletic sport.  It is much better to eat portions of protein throughout the day and have a constant source of amino acids in the body versus eating one protein heavy meal and getting all the amino acids at once.

What Kinds of Protein Should I Eat?

Protein can come from a variety of sources both animal and plant.  In general the rule for animal proteins is that the less legs they have the better the source.  I got that from a colleague of mine, Dr. Chris Mohr R.D. and it makes perfect sense.  It basically means that the best choice for protein is fish or seafood (no legs), chicken or turkey next (2 legs), and finally the beef and pork (4 legs).  You can also mix in some things here like greek yogurt and other dairy items.  Great sources of plant proteins include beans and nuts.  Remember it is not so much about how much protein you eat but spacing it out throughout the day so their is a constant source of amino acids in the body.

So Where Does a Protein Shake Fit In?  Does It?!

IMG_1889First, you have to understand what exactly a protein supplement like powdered whey protein is before we go any further.  Whey protein is the fluid left over from making cheese.  Think curds and whey from little miss muffet.  Whey has a high level of essential amino acids and is easily absorbed by the digestive system.  Manufactures of protein powders basically dehydrate the whey and the powder left over is then bottled and sold.  The whey can be refined into 3 different types and the level of refinement is the difference between the qualities and prices.  Whey Powder is the least refined, least expensive, hardest to mix and consists of about 10-15% protein and 65-75% lactose.  Whey Protein Concentrate is more refined and is anywhere from 25-90% protein and 10-55% lactose.  Finally, Whey Protein Isolate is the easiest to mix, most refined and is almost pure protein with > 90% protein and < 1% lactose.  Whey Protein Isolate is by far the best quality but it is also the most expensive.  This is the exact reason why I personally use Pro Grade Protein, because it is whey protein isolate.

Now that you know what whey protein is let me explain that it is a dietary supplement.  The term dietary supplement infers that it is used to supplement a person’s regular diet, not replace all protein sources.  By far the best way to consume protein is in whole foods like animal and plant proteins.  So why would someone want to mix whey protein into a shake a drink it?  The answer to that is actually pretty simple.  Remember it is more important WHEN you consume protein opposed to HOW MUCH protein you consume.  At times it can be tough to cook meat for lunch or get access to a good source of protein at a meal and this is where a protein shake can fit in.  There also is a window of opportunity post-workout where the muscles can absorb and utilize amino acids and if you are not going to eat after your workout here is where a protein shake can fit in as well.  A whey protein shake made with skim milk is a great post-workout drink.  Finally, eating eggs, fish, chicken, steak, and meats can get expensive so consuming some whey protein can save some money over time.  Ultimately protein supplements are not for everyone but they definitely have a place for many.


So that is a very quick and dirty overview of protein.  You need protein on a daily basis to provide the amino acids your body needs to turn over tissues.  Your body does not store protein for long durations so it is actually more important when you consume protein versus how much you consume in one meal.  The best sources of protein come from whole foods.  Whey protein is a dietary supplement and comes in a variety of refined levels with whey protein isolate being the highest quality.  Adding whey protein into shakes or to food can be a great way to meet individual protein needs and possibly even same some money.

I personally use whey protein in a shake form post-workouts because I do not typically eat within an hour or two of exercising.  I also like to add it to my breakfast oatmeal to get the day started with a source of protein.  If you really want to know I utilize Pro Grade Protein Powder.  It is a little more expensive than most because it is whey protein isolate.  For full disclosure I partnered with Pro Grade to provide my clients access to the highest quality supplements.  I figure if people are going to use supplements they should get them from a reputable company versus some of the others out there.  If you want to try it out and you purchase through my online store I do make a commission.  Hope this 1300+ word blog post cleared up a lot of misconceptions about protein and will help you get better!

Pro Grade Banner

What To Look For in a Coach?

Today I want to give you some things to consider when selecting a tennis coach for your child.First, you should not taking choosing someone who is going to work with your child lightly.  This person is going to spend and enormous amount of time with your child over the course of years and more importantly have a tremendously ability to impact their life.  I know some kids who spend more time with the coach of their chosen sport on a weekly basis than with their parents.  It is critical that you get to know the coach and make sure you know about their character, integrity, and just the kind of person they are in general.  Take a look at how he or she interacts with their other students.  Do they yell a lot? Are they generally positive or negative?  Just take all of these things into consideration.

Second, it becomes important to have a conversation with the coach at some point and define their role in your child’s life.  A coach can have a tremendous impact on the character of your child and tennis certainly is a wonderful metaphor for life.  Do you want your coach to teach these valuable life lessons when the opportunity arises? Do you want the coach to simply stick to teaching the technique of tennis and that is it?  Is the coach the kind of person who is willing to teach more than just technique?  These are all important questions to ask and help to clarify roles and expectations.

Third, ask what is the level of knowledge and teaching experience a coach has?  Coaching is teaching plain and simple.  I always look at myself as a teacher first and foremost.  There are many coaches with decorated playing backgrounds but being a player is much different than being a teacher.  Look for the teacher first.

Finally, the game and athletic demands of a tennis player have changed significantly in the past 15 years and it is critical to have a coach who throughly understands the aspects of technical stroke production, shot selection, and athletic skill development.  Look for a coach who focuses on long-term athletic development.  What that means is do not look for the coach who offers to provide the quick fix, there is no such thing.  Instead, look for the coach who looks out for a player’s long-term development.  When you plan for the long-term you get the best results and less injuries if training volume and methods are appropriately accounted for.

To close, remember maybe the most important thing of all, make sure your coach genuinely cares about your son or daughter.  No one cares what a coach knows, until they know the coach cares.

Windshields & Rearview Mirrors

Sticking with the driving metaphors…  This concept also comes from Tim Elmore’s Blog, Growing Leaders.  In Tim’s book, which I highly recommend Habitudes for the Journey he explains this concept of Windshields & Rearview Mirrors.  Basically when you drive a car you can see behind you through the rearview mirror and in front of you through the windshield.  The rearview mirror is wonderful to glance at to see where you have been but spend too much time gazing behind you and you end up crashing!  When driving a car it is definitely best to focus on what is in front of you. The same is true for life.


What a profound metaphor for a tennis athlete as well.  It never hurts to glance back at past accomplishments and successes because they can help you in understanding where you have been and where you are going.  However, it is best to focus most of your attention on looking ahead to what is to come.  This mindset sets the stage for a wonderful source of energy and long-term motivation.  It also keeps focus on the process of getting better day-in and day-out.

Tollbooth or a Roadblock?

I follow a blog written by Tim Elmore entitled Growing Leaders.  It is full of wisdom for parents, coaches and anyone who works with young people.  I read a lot of Tim’s work because he is all about developing leadership skills for future generations.  A lot of his work fits in with my coaching philosophy.

PA Turnpike Toll Ticket

PA Turnpike Toll Ticket

Recently he wrote a blog post where he introduces this concept of Tollbooths versus Roadblocks.  I thought this was such a great metaphor for a developing tennis player and I want to share it with you.  I am not going to steal Tim’s words so here is an excerpt from his original blog post.



As we move through various stages of our lives, we reach junctions—points of transition—where we must shift gears and slow down. Suddenly, we realize we have to pay a price to proceed. It’s like a tollbooth. The price might be a tough decision we must make or a situation we must leave behind; it may mean a class we must take or a job we must quit. For many, it could be a career that won’t seem to launch as we had planned. It can be anything that is costly to us. It’s at these moments that we discover that the junction will either become a tollbooth or a roadblock. We either choose to pay the price…or we can’t find it in ourselves to do what is hard. And we get stuck. – Tim Elmore

After reading this I hope you see how it fits in with a developing player.  Each athlete is on their own journey with a unique destination.  Some want to play high school tennis, some win a junior tournament, others secure a college scholarship, or maybe even compete professionally.  Regardless of the desired destination they are all on a journey to get there and along the way there will be sacrifices to be made and tolls to be paid.  If players look at these points where they have switch gears and slow down as tollbooths versus roadblocks that will stop them forever they’ll keep growing and developing.  They will also learn a valuable life lesson.  Some tolls or sacrifices will have a higher price than others but knowing it is something they must do to continue on their journey is a great long-term motivator.  Thank you Tim for posting this on your blog it is a wonderful metaphor.

Urgency Motivates Action

IMG_0322Have you ever had a great idea but never did anything with it?  What is it that separates a person with a great idea from the person who turns their idea into reality?  ACTION, plain and simple.  Action is the only thing that separates someone with a great idea into someone who turns a great idea into a reality.  So many people have great ideas but they are afraid to take action on them because they are afraid to fail.  I have had all kinds of great ideas like this website or my tennis camp and I would be lying to you if I said I was not afraid to put myself out there but I decided to take action anyway.  Sure I messed up a ton of stuff along the way, my old website alone looked archaic compared to this one and the instruction at tennis camp continues to get better each day.  In the process I have learned a ton and taking action on ideas has become easier and easier and my ideas get bigger and bigger.  For example, I will have a published book coming out on youth fitness this fall!

So you are probably wondering what does all this have to do with tennis or fitness?  Well I want to share with you my recipe for getting people to stop being fearful and take action.  My formula is simple, I create a sense of urgency to take action.

A very wise tennis coach by the name of Vesa Ponkka explains the environment he tries to create for developing tennis players as one where they have “plenty of time, but no time to waste.”  That phrase is pure genius because it provide the two necessary things to be motivated to take action daily, yet not be crippled by the fear of failure.  When someone feels a sense of urgency, like they have no time to waste, they take immediate action.  When your car breaks down you have to get around so you take urgent action to get it fixed.  It becomes the #1 priority.  When you know someone else is working hard and is competing to beat you to the finish line it becomes very clear you cannot procrastinate and must begin taking action right now.  A sense of urgency is a great motivator both short and long-term.  At the same time when you know that the finish line is not in the immediate future but a far off long-range one you also feel as though you can have setbacks and failures along the way without them being detrimental to your progress.  Collecting failures is a necessary part of the process, just as a baby fails many times before they can walk on their own.  It is this sense of having plenty of time that diminishes the fear of failing along the way.

So if you want to lose weight, get lean, become stronger, or improve your tennis game all you really need to do is take action.  Not just take action once but take action on a daily basis with a sense of urgency while at the same time realizing you have plenty of time to reach your goal and a failure or two along the way is part of the process.  As Coach Vesa Ponkka says, “take action as through you have plenty of time, but no time to waste.”

Do You “Play Tennis” or Are You a “Tennis Player” ?

IMG_0326Do you play tennis or are you a tennis player?  I think there are some distinct differences between the two.  In my opinion, those who play tennis are focused mainly on participation goals.  I should note right here that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with having goals like being a part of the team, using tennis as a means to exercise, or playing socially.  In fact, I think participation goals are wonderful for children and adults in more ways than I can count.  However, participation goals should not be mixed up with performance goals that a tennis player is striving for.  Performance goals are what make tennis players, well players, and include things like starting on the varsity tennis team, winning a particular tournament, or striving for a certain rating or ranking.  Becoming a tennis player takes a deeper level of commitment, work, and sacrifices than just playing tennis.

To conclude this post I want to let you know that playing tennis or being a tennis player are both very valuable things.  I have coached people who are focused on simply playing tennis for exercise and other participation goals.  These people have learned a ton of life lessons through the sport of tennis and then applied them to different areas of their lives.  I have also coached players who focus heavily on performance goals.  These players have improved and also learned valuable life lessons.

Neither is right or wrong, in fact, they are both wonderful avenues to pursue the world greatest game, at least in my humble opinion.  Knowing the difference between the two, the choice is up to you whether you want to simply play tennis or train to become a tennis player?