Well, another summer holiday is over, and it’s been another unusual summer. The last two years we’ve stayed at home. No holidays, only one proper day out in that time. This summer hasn’t been any different. Instead it’s been the summer that N’s got into playing tennis tournaments, and those have been our outings, often combining with a meal out afterwards.
Previously N’s not played many tournaments other than local friendly matchplays. His coaches have never really mentioned them before and certainly haven’t pushed them or discussed them, whereas I know a local coach who pushes all of his team players to do as many as possible. N’s old mini orange coach took them for one of the tennis camps over the holidays, and the first question she asked him was whether he’d been playing lots of tournaments. So it depends on the coach and how invested in their groups they are. I’ve found all the way through his playing, that I’ve had to chase, question about teams, and now work directly with the club to get the teams entered for the leagues.
County training squad players are expected to play at the annual County Festival championships, so he wanted to get more matches in and practice more. So since tennis opened up again at the end of March, he’s played a couple of matchplays, and wanted to enter a few tournaments over the summer.
Types of tennis tournaments
Tennis tournaments vary according to the type and grade. From local club level tournaments at grade 7, through to countywide grade 5, 4 and 3. Matchplays tend to be played over a couple of hours, playing shorter matches against more people. Day long tournaments can last a morning, afternoon or even all day depending on draw size. Draws are usually 8 or 16 for mini tennis.
Over the summer and other school holidays, there tends to be several weeklong tournaments. These can be county championships, or tournaments for all different age groups, hence that they last all week, with different ages playing on different days. These usually sit at grade 4 or 3 level.
For Grade 4 and up, if a tournament is oversubscribed, entries are accepted on the basis of recent form for mini tennis players. So for N, he’d not got recent form because he’d only played lower level tournaments that don’t count for recent form points. So he was determined to get a place at the grade 4 and 3 tournaments he wanted to play by playing more.
Planning a summer of tournaments
So I had to trawl through the LTA website to find suitable tournaments within an hour’s drive that would tie in with my weeks of leave and his tennis lessons. In the end I had to make a spreadsheet for all his tennis so I knew what was on when.
Early summer he had a local friendly matchplay. It was at my old 6th form school’s astroturf which is not a surface he likes. He didn’t really enjoy it, and although he won 2 matches, he’s not wanted to go back and play there again. It’s a shame because they’ve been doing weekly matchplays, and he’d have had the opportunity to try playing against some children in the next age group up, so he’s missed out on extra experience and practice against different people.
We also travelled to Oxford for a grade 5 tournament. It was at the tennis club I joined when I lived up the road post university. It’s definitely been improved since I played there (all of twice, going to Rusty Rackets evenings). Unfortunately he only got in 2 matches because one person turned up despite being ill, so N’s extra match didn’t happen. He struggled against the 2nd seed, but had a good game against another boy despite losing. It gave him a bit of confidence that he could play good tennis.
I’d spotted a week long tournament, Grade 4, in Abingdon, so he entered that one too. Because our club is in Warwickshire, N doesn’t get to play many children from our own county, so it’s nice to broaden out the players he sees – although most children entered in tournaments do tend to drive in from other areas of the country.
It’s great getting to see all these amazing tennis clubs, although it’s sad how poor the availability of tennis clubs and courts are in the north of our county. A couple of years ago they’d done a campaign and had approved an indoor tennis centre to be built, funding was agreed. But then nothing progressed and Covid hit. Despite all the thousands of houses being built and expanding our town, noone’s worked with the developers to suggest getting a tennis centre built. I’m gutted because it would be great to have one near us.
Again N only had 2 matches. They tend to play compass format which is where the winners go right in the draw, and the losers go left so they end up playing more similar level people with a ‘consolation’ side of the draw. But for that you need a set number of people – the boys were missing 1 to complete the 8 needed, hence the missing match.
His first match was against a county training friend. It was quite a close game, N’s serves were much better, and they had some great rallies. N ended up losing before his next match was against one of the younger county players who does a lot of tournaments, and wins. He lost, but again was quite pleased with how he played. It was amazing to watch some of the boys at the top end of the draw, but it was the match between the number 1 and 2 seed girls that was amazing. I can’t believe how good some of these children are, when they’re only 10 years old.
Finally it was nearing the end of the holidays and the County Festival. Most counties hold their closed tournament in the same week. N had originally entered singles and doubles, but without a partner, he decided to pull out early on. Maybe next year he’ll try it.
I wasn’t sure how high the standard would be given there would be lots of stronger county team players, and some very strong U9s playing up an age group. But the standard was mixed, from the very good, to those who play a bit and are still keen to give it a go in tournaments. The boys had a large group of 14 entered (compared with only 6 for the girls equivalent age group – they’re also the same ones who play in most of the tournaments, so they’re all friends). He recognised some from county training, but others don’t play in tournaments usually so were unknown.
N was drawn to play a 9U player who plays up. He’s excellent (his dad’s a very good coach in our area), so N knew he’d be unlikely to win. But he came off the court having enjoyed playing, and pleased that he got more points than he expected. Several games went to deuce. His serve looked to have been more consistent too.
His second match he stormed to a 4-1 first set win. But then the opponent got wise to N’s right hand serve, so won that set back. The tie break ended up going in the opponent’s favour. Again, N was pleased generally with how he played. Once they got to a longer rally, N tended to win those which is a positive.
Unfortunately the draw should have had 16, so N then hit a bye so missed a match. His last match was another close one. It went to a 3rd set tie break, with N winning it convincingly. So he ended on a high – and it means he’s finally won a match in a higher standard tournament. Hopefully it gives him a bit of a boost that he can play in tournaments and win.
Club tournament fun
Our club doesn’t organise tournaments generally which is a shame. But having only 2 courts means you can only have small ones, so they stick with an adult annual one. Last year they ran a fun parent and child tournament, but it wasn’t that serious, so there was a bit of frustration for those children who play in the team because the rules were made up which made it confusing. This year, we had a free Sunday morning junior club session, so we decided to organise a fun tournament for our green team players, plus one of the U9s who was keen to also enter.
Unfortunately we couldn’t upload scores to the LTA website because our club doesn’t have the tournament software access, so it’s just for club glory. But I organised a round robin, and as we only had 90 minutes, they played short tie break sets to 7.
The timing worked really well, and the kids just got on with it. I wanted to use it to help us work out team order. There were some really close matches, and the final match between N and his friend was the decider. N had a shocker, with a lot of mis-hits, so ended up losing. Only one team player couldn’t make it, so I’m not sure where to fit him in the team but I think we’ll probably keep the girls together where possible. Hopefully we’ll continue to do a few of these tournaments through the year. The children enjoy them, and it’s nice to see them getting in some friendly competitive play.
Now it’s the end of the holidays and we’re trying to sort out potential tournaments into the autumn, as N asked to do 1 or possibly 2 a month if there’s a big gap between league matches.
Should children play in tennis tournaments
Playing in tournaments isn’t for everyone. I’m surprised N’s so keen given he loses most of his matches. I think it does take a certain type of child to keep going unless they are kids that regularly win.
It is very noticeable who plays in lots of tournaments. There’s a professionalism, and confidence in taking part, signing themselves in and asking the tournament organiser who they’ve likely never met before, for balls and practice time. I know at N’s age, I’d have been too shy to do them, and I think it’s good for N to push himself out there a bit more. Asking to knock up with other children he doesn’t know on court beforehand.
Lots of the really good players tend to have a father who’s a coach, or who’s a very good player – they warm up with them beforehand. And often, there’s more than one child in the family who plays. You just know that tennis is serious for the whole family.
Sometimes you do see children crying on court, or afterwards. Like any sport, children need to learn to be a winner and loser. It can be hard to learn, and if the child gets really upset, then maybe they should stick more to the social side. Or point out what they need to learn from the match, and how they can improve in future. N’s always quite pragmatic – he does tend to externalise when losing ‘they’ve had more coaching’ or he moans about the courts. But now he’s a bit older, he can start to point out what went well with his game, and what he wants to work on. Losing for him, means he’s striving to improve and better his game. I’m proud that he soldiers on, and wants to do better for himself. He wants to improve his game.
Benefits of playing tournaments
Tennis is great for the social side and just hitting a ball, but ultimately it’s a sport, and it’s about matches. If you play matches, you might lose, but there’s a lot of benefits, and their game will improve.
Playing a wider variety and ability of players will challenge and stretch you more. There’s no point just playing the same people time and time again, as you’ll never improve.
Sportsmanship – it can only be learnt by playing competitively.
Confidence in scoring. In mini green, they need to be able to score Fast4 (normal tennis scoring without advantage at deuce), and tie breaks. Adding to that they need to decide if balls are out and call. This includes having the confidence to stand their ground if their opponent argues, or if they believe there’s been a poor call.
Meeting and making new tennis friends. If you’re seeing the same people at different venues, it’s nice to see friendly faces.
By playing more tournaments you can see coaching needs and ability gaps. We can see that the type of coaching N gets needs to change. You see how others play, and know to improve you need to work at certain things. That’s our next challenge, to get availability for privates for a higher level coach on top of what he already does. It’s not easy as the level 4 coaches don’t tend to be available outside of school coaching.
Increases the understanding of placement and strategy, recognising weaker shots of opponents. One of N’s opponents who was losing after the 1st set, could suddenly read N’s serve, and every time on the right hit the same winner. I could easily see it watching, but N hadn’t twigged that. More tournaments allows you to see more.
Playing more means better fitness.
More experience on different court surfaces. We have hard courts at our tennis club, but N’s played on astro. artificial clay and indoors, since playing more.
Opportunities increase. If you want to get into county teams, you need to be playing matches (and winning). N first got into the county training squad when in mini orange. He was proposed by his coach. But they would have checked his results (which at that stage were much better as he’d won quite a lot of league matches, and matchplay matches). If he wants to get in the squad next season and for older age groups, he needs to be winning matches. Yes his work ethic is good. But he’s not currently in the top 8 in his age group based on results, so he’s not likely to get back in again..
It’s inspiring. When you see how good some of the other children are, it gives you ambition to strive for more.
Mental strength. If you can keep focused on one point at a time, you can get through hard matches, and see some positives in your game. It’s a good mental strength to take through life.
Even if you decide tournaments aren’t for you, it’s great to have that experience to take into your social tennis, or any other sports you want to do. If N decides in future he wants to be an assistant coach, or continues playing and wants to do some coaching qualifications, having had tournament experience can be a benefit to support peers or younger children wanting to start.
It will be interesting going forward to see how N’s enthusiasm lasts when going into the school year again. Especially as he gets older.
Do you children play sport competitively? What benefits do they get out of it?