What helped our Junior Tennis Club win 28 premierships in 6 summer seasons?
We build tennis players from the ground up and cater for players of all levels. We have a lot of success developing players from first Hot Shots lesson to playing pennants and then for some of our kids, Super 10’s and then State/National tournaments and US College scholarship opportunities. But our focus is first and foremost to develop players to that Junior Club level of playing pennants.
The Tennis West summer junior competition runs from around October to April. It covers a span of around 6 months with an 8 week break over the Christmas holidays. Over the last 6 summers, Scarborough Tennis Club have entered 90 junior teams. We have managed to win 28 junior premiership shields in this time, meaning that over 30% of our teams entered, ended up winning the flag. This is higher than any other club in Perth during this period.
Each year it has been a pleasant surprise to see our most committed teams win their division and after 2 or 3 strong seasons I tried to take note of what we are doing which may be having an impact. There are plenty of other coaches/coaching teams who have a much longer list of state and national players. However success in junior club pennants is not just about your talented ‘private lesson’ kids, but also about those playing their first season or those in the middle divisions trying to find their game and get a real taste for the sport. I was brought up around country football clubs where you celebrate the team success. I played, my brothers played, my Dad coached and more or less the whole town (population 430) would gather each Saturday to watch and cheer on the Under 12’s, Under 14’s, Under 17’s, B Grade and A Grade. All teams trying to achieve club success.
Scarborough Tennis Club – Junior Shields 2018 to 2023
So what are some areas that have helped our junior club?
Play in the division you are at, NOT the division you aspire to be in.
It could be the kids wanting the recognition from their peers or a parent/s being a little too ambitious but playing in too high a division is not good for your team and club but also not always to your game. First and foremost, pennants is a team competition and your individual improvement goals are great but to play Div 1 and lose most weeks is not better than playing #1 Div 3 and trying to captain your side to victory. Yes, playing against better kids can certainly help your game at times but there are unlimited opportunities to climb the individual ladder of tennis rankings, ratings and results through tournaments. Some players are constantly trying to play ‘up’ to get better tennis but risk becoming satisfied with a ‘close loss’ or some ‘great rallies’. Where winning is a habit, so is losing so you need to be careful. Our philosophy is that unless a team has been dominating the season before (and the ratings don’t correctly reflect the domination) or a player has had something significant happen to their game, special requests to get a ‘manual rating change’ or ‘play div 1’ are an exception, not a norm. This can include kids who ‘club hop’ to play a higher position or division. Sometimes this may be warranted (no other players similar level at current club) but often times it will backfire with the extra pressure and different environment. So play in the level you are AT and then work hard to improve further over that 6 month period.
Structure your training year (periodisation)
We consider the pre season to start at the beginning of term 2, around April/May. The summer season, club champs and any school holiday tournaments are done and so it’s perfect to get stuck into any major technical changes at this time of year. Almost a reset where training is less intense, has less point play and is more focused on technique. The continental grip is a big one here where we introduce kids to slicing as well as the painful process of getting the serve and volley grip correct.
Then through term 2 and the first few weeks of term 3 we keep the focus on these technical changes and start to try out these new tools in modified games and activities. Kids will regularly practice drop shots (and yes they over use it sometimes), chip charge and topspin lobs. Towards the second half of term 3 and September/October holidays we increase the repetition and lift up the intensity of the sessions. This might involve more feeding drills than normal along with ball machine or hitting sessions.
In term 4 the season starts and we switch more into point patterns, tactics, return of serve and movement. They are getting feedback from the matches now so we can also try and help specific areas that are causing problems or further develop the shots that are working well. The summer holiday break should be full of either practice hits and matches with your team mates or for the more competitive, junior tournament play. I also encourage kids to really get involved with watching tennis at this time of the year. The Australian Open and lead up events work well here and kids can really find inspiration from this.
Then your players have developed some new techniques in term 2, worked on their consistency in term 3, improved tactically and physically in term 4 and had lots of match practice during the summer holidays to give them the rhythm and confidence in their game. So term 1 is all about continuing the momentum. Not adding new parts to their game but practicing lots of point play scenarios, increasing the volume of serves done in training and lots of competitive singles and doubles match practice and strategy.
Be a team player
To win pennants you need to win more than 50% of the matches. Sometimes you will fail and your team mates will have a great day and lift you up. Other days it might be you who gets the sore shoulders from carrying the team. You need to keep the same attitude either way. Team first. As previously mentioned it’s not a tournament so it’s not about the individual. It’s pennants and should be treated just like any other team sport.
If your set up to play doubles with Jimmy in the second doubles it might not be what you want but might give your team the best chance of winning both doubles. Lost your singles? Fill up your drink, get a snack and then go across and cheer on your team mate who is still battling it out. Good teams practice together so aim to train together in a squad as well as organise extra team practices. Even just having that 10 minute warm up hit before the match together as a team helps to build team morale. Wear matching club shirts, take team photos, enjoy a fun morning tea/lunch after the match and get to know each other on and off the court.
When I ask kids how they went on the weekend if they start with their personal results, I correct them by asking first “how did the team go?” before their individual results. As a club now we have had some good success, we educate our players on our culture of improvement and statistical history of success. We want them to play for something bigger than themselves.
Director and Head Coach